“We won that round.”
“Eh? Then how come we’re in the dungeon?” Naruto glared at his sister over the top of Hinata’s head. He was leaning against the stone wall while she leaned back against his chest, his arms around her waist.
“Hey, we didn’t had to fight against all the warriors in the Kaze.”
“That’d be better than rotting away here!” Naruto yelled. Hinata winced and shushed him, rubbing his arm to try and calm him down. He grumbled and held her tighter. “I don’t get all this stuff about the ‘purity’ of the Kaze.”
He felt, rather than heard, Hinata sigh, and pulled away enough to look at her face. “You understand?”
She sighed again. “It sounds like something my father would say. That the strength of the clan lies in the purity of each member.” She shook her head. “In fact, I’m almost positive he’s said just that.”
“And in a way he’s right,” Sora said.
“What! You mean you agree with that woman!” Naruto shouted, gesturing wildly with one hand.
Sora shook her head. “When I said that the strength of the Kaze used to lie in their character, I didn’t just mean their reputation. Their strength of character actually made their taijutsu better.”
“What do you mean?” asked Naruto
“You have a friend back home named Lee who doesn’t use ninjutsu or genjutsu, right?” They nodded. “But would you say that he’s an easy mark?”
Naruto thought back to the fight between Lee and Gaara. He shook his head.
“Taijutsu is the use of chakra in a different way from ninjutsu. After generations of working only on that method, the Kaze were experts, much in the same way that I’m guessing your friend Lee is. They could do things that you would have thought impossible. They moved faster than anyone I have ever seen, could slow their enemies’ movements down or even completely stop them. There were times I swore they could fly.”
“Well, the Kaze attributed their ability to do this to clear-sightedness. Basically, because their intentions were good, they were able to focus without clouds of anger or aggression distorting the view. The old Lady, Nori’s mother, thought that they could keep the clouds at bay while learning to use ninjutsu, (;) that the purity of the Kaze’s intention could be kept.”
“And the bitch upstairs didn’t think so?”
Sora shrugged. “I’m not sure what the bitch upstairs thought. As the leader of the branch family, she stood to lose a lot of power if the old Lady continued her reforms into the political structure of the Kaze. Nori’s mother was good friends with Nanashi, and so it wouldn’t have been out of the question for her to be at least considering political reform.”
“So that’s why she hates my mother so much,” Naruto said darkly.
“Well no one can be universally liked. In any case, shortly after Nori’s mother pleaded her case, she began to introduce small, beginning jutsus into the ranks. Transformation, substitution ; things that could be easily integrated into battle. She knew that it was going to cause trouble among the ranks, but she was positive that is was the right thing to do.
“Less than six months later, Nori snuck into the girl’s dormitory and woke me up. His mother had been killed and they were searching for him. Nori had never wanted to lead the Kaze, and now that his only living relative was dead, he was leaving. He only took me because he knew his mother would have wanted it.”
They stared at her and she looked away. She knew it sounded cold; the two of them simply running away without avenging her death, Nori only taking her because he knew that it was what his mother would have wanted. But they hadn’t been the same people then that they were now, and she didn’t know how to explain that.
As if sensing that she wasn’t going to understand the answer, Hinata didn’t ask the question that was hanging in the air. “Why did Nanashi send you here if things were so unstable?” she asked instead.
Sora winced. It was actually a trickier question than “How could you do that!” she thought had been coming. “Nanashi wanted me somewhere where I could learn taijutsu without having to learn ninjutsu, at least for a while.”
“Why?” Naruto asked.
“Because of my bloodlimit,” she said, and there was so much shame in her voice that it brought Naruto and Hinata up cold They knew that she hadn’t used her bloodlimit in the first few years she had been with Yasu, but they had always assumed it was because the nature of her ability had always needed to be kept secret from the general public. But then why the shame in her voice?
“In any case,” Sora continued, “the important thing is that it sounds like the Lady is starting to waver and loose support.”
“What makes you say that?” asked Hinata.
“The fact that the guards were willing to support my position and call for a council. With the addition of some jutsu use she opens herself up to accusation of hypocrisy. With any luck, we won’t have to fight the whole clan to walk away free. Best case scenario, they just let us go and don’t pursue us.”
Naruto snorted. “Best case scenario she keels over dead.”
“But then who would take her place? What would keep it from being someone just as bad as her?” Hinata asked, looking up over her shoulder at him.
“Raoul could,” Sora said softly. They both turned to look at her. She scowled. “I’m not saying we should get involved. In fact, overall I think that getting involved in the political life of the Kaze would be a bad idea. I’m just saying that potentially Raoul could take over.”
“Who’s Raoul?” Naruto asked. His brain was becoming a mess of Kaze names and faces.
“Shweta’s son and Shivani’s older brother. My guess is that he was the guard who questioned the Lady’s orders. He has his father’s looks about him. Their family was typically the Captains of the Guard”
Naruto was about to question her some more, when a guard appeared at the door of their cell. “You,” he pointed at Sora with a stubby finger, “Stay here. The two of you come with me.”
“Like hell I’m going to stay here while you take the two of them away!” Sora said, almost snarling at the guard.
“Oye, Nee-chan, don’t worry about it. We can take care of ourselves,” Naruto said, standing and helping Hinata to her feet.
Hinata was far from convinced that leaving without the only person who seemed to understand what was going on was a good idea. However, defying the guards seemed to her to be an even worse one.
“The Lady wishes to speak to them,” the guard growled, “without your presence. What YOU wish is of no consequence.”
“Well, she is just going to have to learn to listen to my wishes!” Sora yelled through the bars.
The man snorted. “You must not have trained them very well if you are so afraid to let them go for a few minutes.”
Sora’s blood boiled. “How dare you! They are better trained than all of your stupid little Kaze warriors combined! You would think that a past-its-prime, fading clan would be a little more-“She stopped abruptly as she realized that while she had been screaming at the guard, Naruto and Hinata had slipped out through the door and into the hallway.
“NARUTO! You get your ass back here in this cell right now!”
He waved at her and stuck out his tongue. “Hang tight Nee-chan, we’ll be back.”
“HINATA! Don’t you let him drag you away, I know that you are more sensible than this! Damn it you two GET BACK HERE!”
“I have been advised by my council that perhaps simply killing you is not the best policy.”
Oh, well that was nice.
It was now almost four in the morning. Neither of them had slept any, and having just finished coming through the mountains that morning, it was only sheer adrenalin that was keeping them going. The couple stood next to each other in front of the Lady, who was now surrounded by what they assumed was the council she had spoken of earlier.
Hinata fought the urge to grab for Naruto’s hand. She was a fighter, stronger now than ever before; she could stand on her own two feet; she didn’t need to hold on to him for comfort. She shook slightly, but she held her ground.
Naruto glared at the Lady. “That’s because we did nothing wrong, you stupid old hag!”
Both of them expected the woman to explode, but instead she was strangely calm. In a way, it was more frightening than her explosive behavior before with Sora. Something had changed since the last time they had seen her.
She smiled cruelly. “Instead, you will be asked to prove the intentions of your teacher.”
“What do you mean?” Naruto asked.
The Lady smiled again and started studying her nails. “Well, Sora claims that she has been thinking about what would strengthen the Kaze since the day she left. Therefore, it would only make sense that her apprentices, blood relations or otherwise, would be raised as Kaze.”
Hinata got a bad feeling in the pit of her stomach. “We did not become her apprentices until a little over eighteen months ago. We were raised in the Leaf.” A vague sense of panic was rising up within her. She took a deep breath and continued to hold her ground.
Naruto kept staring at the woman as almost palpable tension built up between the two of them. He had just found the scattered remains of his family, and now this woman wanted to insult his mother, call his sister a traitor, and kill all three of them.
He was not going to stand for it.
“That does not change the fact that she has obviously been teaching you at least some of the Kaze trainings. The question is, did you receive enough?”
“What do you mean ‘enough’?” Naruto yelled.
The guard, whom Sora had identified as Shivani’s older brother Raoul, stepped forward to speak. “Having been taken on as students by a member of the Kaze, you are currently considered to be whites. Tomorrow, you test for your blacks.”
Naruto’s mind raced as he tried to remember what Sora had said about the testing and ranking process for the Kaze. You wore a white uniform with a white sash until you tested for your blacks. You still kept your white sash though until you tested for your red. But the tests themselves he couldn’t remember much about.
Dear lord, he hoped there wasn’t any history on them.
The Lady of the Wind smiled, but it was a smile full of mockery. “And if you can pass the test, all three of you will be considered members of the Kaze.”
Hinata realized that there was something going on here that she didn’t understand. The Lady was acting as if this was a victory. She swallowed hard. Was there something about this test that they could not pass?
“Ha! We can pass any test you give us!” Naruto shouted.
The Lady arched one eyebrow. “Really? It will be interesting to see how the students fare when the teacher herself couldn’t pass.”
Hinata paled. “What do you mean?”
“We reverted the requirements to pass to blacks back to the original requirements a few years ago. Despite the fact that Sora passed to blacks before she left, she doesn’t know all of the requirements. You both have to know all of your sets, both the individual ones and the partnered ones. Sora never learned all of them.”
Hinata breathed a sigh of relief inwardly. No, Sora hadn’t known all of them. But Nori had, and he had been a stickler for technique.
Naruto resisted the urge to shove the fact that they knew them into the woman’s face. Nori didn’t want the Kaze to know he was alive, so until they could figure out how they were going to cover for the fact that they knew all the sets, they were going to have to keep it a secret.
The Lady yawned and they could both tell that it was just for effect. “And then of course there’s one other thing.”
“Which is?” Naruto ground out.
“Why, the fight of course. A traditional Kaze duel to the death.” She smiled. “Without any jutsus.”
Sora sat with her back up against the wall of the cell. Stupid little squirts. When she got her hands on them...
She sighed, and absent-mindedly drummed her fingers on her knee. She wondered what that bitch upstairs was planning. The council could advise and put a lot of pressure on her, but they couldn’t actually force her to do anything. She was the sole ruler of the Kaze.
She could hear talking amongst the guards at the end of her cellblock. She peered through the bars towards the exit. The door opened, and she was shocked to see Raoul walking down the hall towards her.
“I don’t have much time,” he said, his voice low and rumbling. “Shivani is standing watch for right now, but if anyone sees her, they’ll be suspicious.”
He smiled ruefully. “She’s something of a fan of yours.”
Sora groaned. “You’re kidding me.”
“She got in huge trouble a few months ago for putting a big red stripe in her hair. She has been following the attempts to make the movie for months.”
Sora’s heart stopped. “What movie?”
“The one about the end of the dGra Klesha. Sora, most people think you and Yasu died. There’s only been the occasional sighting of you and none of her in the past four years. Where have you been?”
She sighed. “Yasu got married, then she had a kid and then I started training those two upstairs.” She looked at him, clearly apprehensive. “What are the bitch’s plans?”
Raoul shook his head. “The council was able to convince her that it would be a bad idea to just execute the three of you. Unfortunately, what we managed to get was not much better.”
“They test for their blacks tomorrow. If they pass, you are all considered members of the Kaze. If they don’t, you are all traitors and executed.”
“Shit!” Sora breathed and rubbed her hands over her face. They were going to keep her locked up in here. She wasn’t going to be able to do anything; it was all going to rest on them passing the test. She hated being useless.
“The Lady has put them into a sealed training room for the day. Shivani thinks she can get them out and I can bust you out of here. We’ll get the three of you through the wall, and from there you should be able to...”
“Why would we leave?” Sora asked.
Raoul stared at her. “Sora, you left the Kaze after only training here for three years. You yourself just barely passed the test for your blacks and the standards have increased since you were gone. There are things they need to know that you couldn’t possibly have taught them.”
Sora grinned. “Those two could pass the test for their red sashes. They’re good. They took down two of your Kaze warriors each.”
“Using ninjutsu. If there is so much of a hint that they are using ninjutsu, genjutsu, bloodlimits; anything that is not straightforward taijutsu, they are going to be disqualified and killed. Plus, they need to know sets and patterns that you never learned.”
“They know all the sets, they’re partner trained) they can handle this.”
“How the hell would they-“Light dawned in Raoul’s head. “Nori. Dear lord,we all thought he was dead.”
“Keep thinking that. The last thing he wants is for people to decide that he is the right person to take over the Kaze.”
Raoul ground his teeth together. “He’s willing to hide away somewhere while the clan that his ancestor’s built goes to hell?”
Sora shook her head. “My understanding is that he thinks that putting him in charge would just send things to hell faster. Come on, Raoul, you know as well as I do that he wouldn’t want to be Lord of the Wind.”
Raoul sighed. “It’s been eleven years. I had hoped he had changed.”
Sora shrugged. “Those who want to take charge of a whole clan for the right reasons are a rare breed. Most of us aren’t that insane.”
He took a deep breath. “How green are those kids?”
“What do you mean?”
He looked her dead in the eye. “The Lady restored what she called the original requirements for the test, although I can’t find any historical references to it.”
“The final part of the test is duels between those potentially moving to blacks and a new blacks pair. Individual if their not partnered yet, pairs if they are.”
Sora rolled her eyes. “That’s nothing new.”
“It’s to the death.”
“WHAT!” Sora grabbed the bars in front of her, pulling herself in close. “But that’s ridiculous! Every time you test, you loose half your young fighters!”
“She was adamant on the issue; said it was going to keep us on our toes and in top form. It was one of the first things she did when she assumed power.”
They were silent for a second. Then it dawned on Sora. “She used it to weed out the last of those who she wasn’t sure were loyal to her.”
Nori nodded grimly. “Some of them. Other’s she poisoned. I’m pretty sure that’s what happened to my mother. Shivani and I have had to fight to keep alive. She passed the first test, but just barely. Her partner is very good, but if she gets up against someone much stronger than her, I’m not sure what’s going to happen.”
“Raoul! Someone’s coming!” Shivani whispered.
Sora smiled. “Don’t worry about us, we’ll make it out just fine.”
He frowned. “That’s not all that I’m worried about.”
Apprehension began to unravel in Sora’s chest. “What do you mean?”
He looked at her hard. “Unless the Lady changes the rotations, Shivani and her partner are going to be your kids opponents.”
Sora paled and her eyes went wide.
“Raoul!” Shivani whispered.
Raoul took one last look at Sora, shook his head and headed back down the hall. She leaned against the bars of her cell.
Dear gods, what had she gotten them into.
It was only ten o’clock in the morning and already it was too damn hot.
Naruto was not in a good mood. Not only had he been awake for almost 24 hours, had his family insulted, and was going to have to take this stupid test in a few hours, but he had been shoved inside a room that felt like a sauna and left to roast all day. He was exhausted and all he really wanted was to wrap his arms around Hinata, bury his face in her hair, and go to sleep. Instead, he was staring out the window of the small white-walled room they have been given to use until the test, watching the heat rise in waves off the pavement and tiled roof of the Lady’s tower. He groaned. It was the first time he had Hinata alone in private in weeks; in fact, it was really the first time since he had asked her to be his girlfriend, and it was TOO DAMN HOT!
He stared at her lying on the floor on her stomach, fast asleep. They had been given white Kaze uniforms to wear until the test. She had opted to take off the jacket and sleep in just the pants and blouse. His eyes drifted over the bare midriff of her back. He wanted to run his hand along it, but they were both already sticky and he was worried it would wake her up.
He realized what he had just been thinking.
Aack! No! He was NOT a pervert! He shook his head violently, as if trying to shake the thoughts free. He let himself fall backwards and look up at the ceiling.
Damn it, nowhere should be this hot. He shifted uncomfortably on the thin straw mats laid out on the floor. He stared at the ceiling and groaned.
Hinata sighed and opened her eyes, propping her head up with one hand. Pretending to sleep just wasn’t working for her. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
He jerked his head over to look at her. “You’re awake?”
She nodded. “What’s wrong?” she asked again.
He looked back up at the ceiling again. “It’s too hot.”
When she didn’t say anything, he looked over at her. A year ago, he wouldn’t have been able to read the expression on her face, but now he could tell that she didn’t believe him.
“It IS hot,” he grumbled.
She smiled slightly. It was so like him, she realized, to blow the minor inconvenience out of proportion and completely ignore the larger, much worse issues at hand. “You’re worried about the test, aren’t you?”
He waved his hand frantically in a dismissive gesture. “That? Nah, nah; that’ll be a piece of cake. We go in, win the fight, and all walk out free. Easy.”
She lay her head back down on the mat. “It’s to the death.”
He swallowed hard. “I know,” he said.
They were silent for a long time; Hinata staring at Naruto, Naruto staring at the ceiling.
“Do you think we’ll make it?” Hinata whispered.
“Huh?” Naruto asked, turning to look at her. “Of course we’ll make it!”
She looked at him uncertainly. “Naruto...”
“Aw come on! You saw how those guys fought outside the hotel; we can take them easy!”
Hinata bit her bottom lip. “But that stuff that Sora said they could do; slowing people down, practically flying...”
“Eh,” he said shrugging. “She said they can’t do it anymore, so why worry?”
She sat up and looked down at him. “If you’re not scared about losing, then what’s wrong?”
He looked up at her, and his eyes that were so rarely serious were suddenly deadly calm.
“Haku asked me to kill him,” Naruto said quietly.
Hinata’s eyes widened slightly. He had told her about the incident at the bridge in Wave Country before; about thinking that Sasuke was dead, about the partial blackout that came with the uncontrolled tapping of Kyuubi’s chakra. But he hadn’t told her this before. Every time she thought that she had reached the last of the burdens he carried, there was another one.
She moved closer to his side, still not touching, but just a few inches away from him.
He continued to stare past her at the ceiling. “He wanted to die because he didn’t think he was useful to a man who I thought was a monster.” He shook his head. “I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t kill someone who was standing there asking me to kill him, especially not for a monster.”
“I don’t think that whoever we fight tonight will be asking us to kill them,” Hinata said softly.
“That woman is a monster!” Naruto spat angrily. “And in order to prove to her that they’re worthy of their rank, they’re ready to kill their comrades or die at their hands. But...” his voice trailed off.
“But what?” she whispered.
His eyes started to dampen at the corners. “I thought Zabuza was a monster too. But then, once Haku had killed himself...” He looked at her, confusion clear on his face. “What if she isn’t the heartless monster that I think she is? What if she honestly thinks that this is the right way to do things? And what if the people who we are going to fight tomorrow really do want to die if they aren’t strong enough to serve her?”
“That’s not right,” said a voice from the doorway.
Naruto immediately sat up and looked at the door. Shivani stood in front of the closed door carrying a tray, a sad, almost regretful look on her face.
“What are you doing here?” Naruto asked, rather loudly.
Shivani winced. “Shhhh! If anyone hears that I’m here, I’m going to get in deep trouble.” She moved quickly and quietly into the room, her lanagha flowing around her feet, and set the tray down next to them. Her dark hair had been released from its bun and shimmered in waves down her back. She tucked some behind one ear, revealing the typical heavy gold earrings of the Kaze.
“I brought you something to eat. You’re going to need your strength for the test tonight. I wasn’t sure whether you liked spicy food or not, so I got things that weren’t too hot. There’s rice in that pot and that’s chicken tikki masala. I put lassi in the pitcher and there’s naan in the basket and-”She stopped when she realized they were staring at her. “What?”
Hinata looked at the huge spread of food piled up on the tray. “Why are you doing this?” she asked. “You said yourself that you’re going to be in deep trouble if anyone catches you here.”
The girl smiled softly. “Because you need to win.”
“Eh? Why would you say that?” Naruto asked suspiciously.
She sighed and looked out the open window. “I’m too young to really remember what life was like before the Lady came to power. But I know this isn’t the way things are supposed to be.”
“What do you mean?”
She shook her head. “My brother and I were members of the line of the head of the guards. Our whole family has been killed; we’re the only two left. Some mysteriously wasted away, some were executed for treason, and some died in the tests.” She looked at them hard. “There was something wrong with the tests.”
Hinata swallowed. “What do you mean wrong?”
“It’s happened occasionally over the years. All of a sudden warriors will just choke. People who have been fighting all their lives will suddenly just stand there as someone kills them. The Lady says that it is the fates who were striking down the wicked.”
Naruto snorted. “But you think she’s screwing around with the warriors.”
“These were my aunts, uncles, cousins! I knew them, and they were no more wicked than the next person!” she cried.
“How have you escaped?” Hinata asked.
“Raoul made sure that I was partnered as soon as possible and that the partner I received was from one of the Lady’s staunchest supporters. In order for him to pass, I must pass my tests as well.”
“You mean, if one partner dies, the other one automatically fails? So only one person dies per test?” Naruto asked.
Shivani shook her head. “They are expected to lay down their life as penance for failing their Lady and their partner. You only need to kill one, but both will die.”
Hinata shook her head. This was getting worse and worse with every fact they learned. “How can she do that to her own people?”
“Very little of what the Lady does has to do with concern for her own people. Raoul thinks that perhaps in the beginning she was at least concerned with her own legend. Apparently she always wanted to be the greatest leader the Kaze had ever known. But beyond that ambition all she knew was that she jealous of the last Lady. So when she began to show signs of weakness, when she tried to introduce jutsu to the Kaze, the Lady seized her time to strike. Many people were afraid of what jutsu might bring to the Kaze, so they backed her.”
“We’ve become exactly what we’ve feared: a people lost in evil, unable to do the things that made us respected in the first place. We’re no better than a street gang in a fancy house.”
“But all that is going to change now that Sora has returned!”
“What do you mean?” asked Hinata.
“Don’t you see? She’s finally returned after all of these years to come and save us! For years she has traveled around the West, ridding people of the Klesha. She became one of the greatest legends in the world! We were all worried that she was dead, but now I see that she was in fact just waiting to come back to where it all began; the place where she first started to train. It all comes full circle! Sora will vanquish the Lady and restore the Kaze to the glory it had at the time of her departure!”
Naruto and Hinata just stared at her. Sora as savior was not a concept that they were getting their minds around easily. Plus, Shivani has a couple of key points wrong. The Kaze was not the first place she had trained; she had been training her whole life. And Sora had definitely not been waiting around to rise and strike down the evil Lady. She had made it clear that her Klesha hunting days had ended when Yasu and Nori decided to settle down and get married. And Sora hadn’t been expressing any intention to try and cause a revolution within the Kaze.
Naruto and Hinata looked at each other. Naruto rolled his eyes and turned back to Shivani, opening his mouth to speak. Hinata realized that if she didn’t jump in quick, Naruto was going to deal with the issue in his typically direct, and sometimes completely insensitive, manner.
“Shivani,” she started to say, and then realized that the girl was looking at Naruto with the same adoration that had previously been directed towards Sora.
“And she brought you!” Shivani said with so much worship in her voice that it stopped Hinata dead in her tracks.
“Huh?” Naruto said, taking a step back as Shivani was now leaning in rather close, stars in her eyes.
“Your Nanashi’s son! You don’t have to be shy about it, the whole palace knows about it now! Of course, a lot of people don’t believe it, but I do!”
“Ah, well...” Naruto laughed awkwardly, sticking one hand behind his head. What was wrong with this girl?
Hinata knew exactly what was wrong. Suddenly she noticed that not only was Shivani’s hair unbound, but she was wearing makeup as well, her eyes large dark and smudged. The fact that she was wearing a lanagha instead of her normal Kaze uniform went from an interesting side note to a key piece of information.
She could practically see the little hearts dancing around Shivani’s head as the girl continued. “Even since I was a little girl, I’ve always known that Sora was part of my destiny. I’ve read everything I ever could about her, but somehow I missed the fact that she had a brother, one just a few years older than me!”
“Well, you know, we just met up again a few months ago,” Naruto said, taking another step back.
“I saw the way you stood up to the Lady. It was wonderful!” She stepped forward
Naruto shrugged and took a step back. “She insulted my mother.”
“She has done far worse and yet no one has stopped her.” She stepped forward, eyes shimmering.
He nervously took another step back. What was WRONG with this girl? She started to take another step forward, but he waved his hands in front of him like a shield before leaping backwards. He pointed to a point on the ground in front of him. “Hey, hey, you stay back there!” he yelled. He didn’t know what was going on, but he was stopping it right now.
Shivani’s face fell as she stepped back. “I’m sorry, I just...” Her voice trailed off and she looked out the window towards the Lady’s tower. “I wish...” All of a sudden she collapsed to her knees crying, tears flowing down the sides of her cheeks.
Naruto looked at Hinata, panicking. What did he DO?
Hinata was just as lost as he was. She could understand being a little upset by Naruto telling her to stay back, but not the wide-mouthed sobbing that Shivani was doing on the floor.
They looked at each other. “You’re the girl,” Naruto mouthed.
Hesitantly, Hinata headed over to the girl’s side, kneeling down next to her and putting her arms around her shoulders. “It’s okay. He didn’t mean to sound so...harsh,” she said. A second later, Shivani had latched herself onto Hinata and was crying into her shoulder.
“Yeah, yeah,” Naruto said, crouching down in front of her. “I just couldn’t figure out what the hell you were doing.”
Shivani looked up at him through teary lashes. Her makeup had started to run, leaving dark streaks down her face. She hiccupped.
Hinata rubbed her back. The girl hiccupped again and then started to pull away, moving to sit cross-legged across from Hinata. She rubbed her eyes and nose with the back of her hand.
“I’m sorry, it’s been a rough day,” she said, sniffling slightly.
Hinata looked at her worriedly. She still wasn’t convinced that all of these tears were just about Naruto. She reached across to cover one of Shivani’s hands with her own. “What’s wrong?” she asked, in the kind but firm voice that she had heard Yasu use with Miki.
Shivani took a deep breath. “It’s not that I don’t believe this is the right thing. I just wish things were different.”
“What do you mean?” Hinata asked.
“I wish she had never become the Lady, I wish mother hadn’t died, I wish she hadn’t set things up the way they are, but...” she shook her head. “In the end, I suppose that the only thing that matters is that everything come out all right in the end.”
Hinata smiled at her. “That’s right.”
“Yeah, yeah, that’s the way to look at it,” Naruto added.
Shivani smiled awkwardly at both of them. “Sora and my brother used to be friends when she lived here. Did you know that?”
They both shook their heads. There was something about the tone of her voice that was causing unease in both of their stomachs.
Shivani nodded. “They were. Nori was older then them, so they didn’t hang out as much, but they were friends too. She said that you both know all your sets, so you should be able to pass that part of the test.”
They nodded uneasily. They could pass the first part no problem, but they weren’t sure about the second part.
Shivani sniffed and gave them a watery, forced smile. “Then everything is in place.” She rose to her feet as if getting ready to leave.
“Huh? Ready for what?” Naruto asked.
She looked over her shoulder at him. “For the fall of the Lady and the rebirth of the Kaze. Sora has returned and the circle of fate is closing. Once all of you are members of the Kaze, everything will go back to the way it’s supposed to be.”
Naruto and Hinata looked at each other uneasily. This was definitely not what Sora had in mind. “We still have to pass the test,” Hinata said uneasily.
“You will. You said you know all the sets.”
“Well, there’s still the fight to pass,” Hinata reminded her.
But Shivani hadn’t forgot. She smiled weakly at them. “Just remember that you only have to kill one of them. Once one is dead, the match is lost.” She started to back towards the door. “Remember, you have to win. Once you do, everything will fall into place.” They could see tears running down the sides of her face as she started to cry again, but before they could stop her she had run out the door.
Naruto stared after her blankly for a second, then growled in frustration. “What the hell is WRONG with that girl?” he yelled.
Hinata reached out to grab his hand. “I’m afraid that I know.”
Naruto banged the back of his head against the stone wall. “Shit!” he swore.
Although less inclined to express it that way, Hinata was feeling similarly. They thought they had the whole situation pieced together at this point.
At midnight they were going to start testing for their blacks. If they lost, they were executed. If they won, they were members of the Kaze, free to leave with Sora. However, in order to win, they were not only going to have to potentially reveal that Nori was alive, but also kill Shivani, who was convinced that they were saviors of some type, sent to save her clan. Her belief that she had everything worked out was so strong that she would let them kill her easily. However, her belief was based on an ideal about Sora that was completely off; their teacher had not come here to liberate the Kaze. If they killed her, chances were it wasn’t going to do any good.
It looked hopeless. Lose and get killed, or essentially execute a young girl on false pretenses.
Damned if they did, damned if they didn’t.
“What are we going to do?” Hinata whispered.
Naruto rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands. “Are you sure she’s the one we’re going to fight?” he asked.
“Pretty sure.” She shook her head. “The way she was crying...”
“She doesn’t want to die,” Naruto finished.
Hinata looked out at the shadow-less tower. “I think we have about 12 hours until the test. That gives us time to come up with a plan.” She sighed. “If there IS a plan that can get us out of this.”
Naruto crossed his arms over his chest. “No,” he said.
She looked up at him. “No what?”
“I refuse to believe that we’re in some sort of dead end. There is a way out of this,” he “stated stubbornly” stubbornly.
Hinata stared at him in awe for a second, and then smiled very slightly.
“You think so?” she asked, knowing what his answer would be, but needing the reassurance anyway.
“Of course! Come on, we’ll have it figured out and still have time to get some sleep.”
They started working on a plan.
Sora’s plan was to run for it. She would wait, let them get through the sets and such, and then, in the middle of the fight when no one was expecting it, she would swoop down, pull them out of the fight, and they could all run. They would head up to the mountains; maybe stay at the monastery for a while and figure out where to go from there.
She stood next to Raoul in a small room overlooking the main courtyard. Her hands and feet were supposedly shackled, but she had put them on herself, allowing for her to easily open the locks. She looked around at the people sitting and standing both on the outer wall and around the edges of the courtyard below. She frowned; when she had been here, there had been at least three times as many warriors. The bitch had depleted her own numbers.
Sora wondered what it would have been like if all of this had never happened; if Nori’s mother had stayed in power and she herself had stayed here, growing up to be a Kaze warrior instead of one half of the dGra Klesha.
She stopped herself. Hadn’t she herself told Naruto not to think that way? It was just as easy to ask what would have happened if the clan she had been born into had never been killed, or if the son of a bitch who called himself her father had never taken her in. You can’t change life once it happens.
But that didn’t mean she couldn’t wish that this hadn’t happened to the Kaze.
Raoul leaned down to whisper in her ear. “You’re going to wait until the middle of the fight?”
She nodded. “Hopefully at a point where they’re winning; that way no one will be anticipating it.”
“What changed your mind about escaping?”
“They might be willing to kill someone they think of as evil, but Shivani?” Sora shook her head. “Shivani’s just too sweet. They know her as something more than an enemy at this point. They’d never be able to kill her.”
“What if you’re wrong?” he asked uncomfortably.
She shook her head. “Don’t worry, those two would never kill just to pass some test.”
Unspoken, the possibility neither of them wanted to think about floated through the air between them. No, they wouldn’t kill to pass the test. But to save each other or to save her? That she wasn’t certain of.
Naruto and Hinata stood staring at the huge wood and iron doors that lead out into the courtyard.
In just a few minutes the doors would open and they would step out into the night to take the test. They had overheard the guards saying that every available member of the clan had come out to watch.
They looked at each other, and Naruto reached out to take her hand. She nodded, and looked away. They had a plan, but the chances of it working were slim to none. One slight change and people were going to start dying. One misstep, and everything could go horribly wrong.
Plus there was a very strong possibly that they simply weren’t skilled enough to pull this off. There were ANBU level skills that they were going to have to use, and they were still genin.
Naruto looked down at his and Hinata’s joined hands. Was this what it felt like to be acknowledged? To have people’s lives in your hands because they trusted you?
And Naruto suddenly found that this was one of the few times in his life when he was actually afraid.
Hinata felt him stiffen, and squeezed his hand.
The doors began to open.