The numbers of the Kaze may have been depleted in Sora’s mind, but in Naruto and Hinata’s there were still plenty of them. The members lined the wall around the courtyard, sat on the edges of balconies, and stood in groups on top of the wall. Everyone was wearing either black or white, even the women who had opted to wear a saree or lanagha instead of their Kaze uniforms. They looked strange and foreign, reminding the pair just how far away from home they were. Red sashes blazed and heavy gold jewelry glittered.
But nothing flashed more than their eyes.
Naruto looked around, stunned. Somehow they had managed to plop themselves down into the middle of a clan-wide identity crisis. Everyone had realized that this fight was important; more so than if it had really just been about Sora’s intentions while away or whether she had always meant to return. The reputation of the clan was at stake. Here were two fighters who had been trained by a woman who left the clan before the coup. They were going up against two who had been raised under the new regime. The potential implications of the outcomes of the fight were huge. Add that the woman who trained them was Sora, that the three had potentially come into contact with the old heir to the throne, and that Naruto was Nanashi’s son, and you had a volatile situation.
It was like the first time they had entered the courtyard, just over twenty-four hours before, but magnified tenfold. Every pair of eyes was on them, watching them intensely, trying to figure out the potential of these two teenagers standing in front of them, looking slightly uncomfortable and out of place in the white uniform of a Kaze apprentice.
The guards flanking either side of them came to a halt in the middle of the courtyard. Stopping, Naruto and Hinata looked at them, and then back towards the Lady’s tower. The doors at the top of the staircase leading towards the throne rooms were opening. From them emerged over two dozen Kaze guards, in what Hinata assumed were formal uniforms: black silk edged in gold and embroidered in wind-like swirls.
In the middle of them, being carried in an ornate gold chair, came the Lady of the Wind. She wore crimson, which stood out sharply against the sea of black uniforms that surrounded her. The silk of her saree draped around her and over her head in large, iridescent folds. The guards set the chair down, and the Lady stood to move to the edge of the dais before the stairs, silk spilling out behind her.
She lifted her chin and looked around the assembled clan. “We are the Kaze, the children of the Wind. We were gifted by the gods with the Shino-To-Be and Shino-Tsu-Hiko in order to be the guardians and protectors of the world in dark times of fear and chaos. This is our divine right and divine mission. Beyond the temporary come and go, our laws are those of righteousness. And we will defend it by any means necessary.
She gestured to Naruto and Hinata with a sweep of her hand. “Before us stand two who would test to prove that they possess the qualities of a Kaze; that they should be considered equals among us. They claim they know as much as those among our own ranks. They even wear the white uniforms that symbolize the purity of the young Kaze warrior.”
Her face twisted into a sneer and her voice filled with icy contempt. “Personally, I cannot see any way that two people from the outside, trained by one who was part of a reign that was almost our demise, can possibly compete on the level of the purity of the Kaze today. However, though I am strong, I am not without mercy, and the laws handed down by our ancestors are clear. Therefore, I have decided to give them the benefit of the doubt.
“Uzumaki Naruto and Hyuuga Hinata, you have come here to test to move from being an apprentice to being a full warrior under the House of the Kaze. Are you ready to begin your test?”
Hinata and Naruto both took deep breaths. “Yes,” they said, almost as one.
“Then prepare to run through the basic sets. You will begin with the drum.” She turned and regally walked back to her throne.
They looked at each other, silently wishing the other luck before turning and walking away from each other. They moved into the ready stance.
“Standard fighting sets, set one!” someone called out, and the drumming began.
They began with the protocols, bowing and meditating, before moving into opening stance and beginning the first set, a simple series of punches and kicks strung together with basic steps. When they finished, the man called out for set two and drumming began again.
They kept going through all the standard sets, until Hinata was called to perform the Shina-To-Be sets. Naruto stepped aside as Hinata moved into position to begin her sets. He could hear whispering in the crowd behind him.
“He’s not going to know his sets. The girl might have been able to learn hers from Sora, but she never learned the Shino-Tzu-Hizo sets.”
“He has to know them! They wouldn’t agree to the test if he couldn’t do it!”
“I’m not sure the Lady gave them a choice. Watch, as soon as he begins his sets, Sora will come swooping down and try to run off with them.”
“Guys, look at the girl!” Naruto smiled at the awed voice as Hinata did a series of complicated kicking flips down the center of the courtyard. “Did you see the height she was getting on those!”
Someone scoffed at the comment, but Naruto didn’t turn around to see whom. “Yeah, but that doesn’t mean she’s good in a fight.”
“I don’t know; she’s fast, and her form is good.”
“It doesn’t matter anyway. He’s not going to be able to do the Shino-Tsu-Hiko sets, and neither of them are going to be able to do the partner sets.”
Naruto grinned to himself. They didn’t have a clue what he and his Hina-chan could do.
Hinata finished her sets and moved off to the side to give him space to run his. Their eyes locked as she backed away and he advanced. This was the beginning; up until this point, it had simply been a matter of running through the sets, something they had been working on everyday for over a year. Everyone here expected them to know these sets.
But they weren’t supposed to know the next.
The second that Naruto started running his, everyone in the courtyard was going to realize that someone other than Sora had taught them.
It was the point of no return. Up until here they could still just run. After this, they had to stick with the plan, no matter how difficult it seemed.
Hinata was hesitating. Her role was extremely difficult and her confidence wasn’t high. It had only been by the barest of margins that Naruto had convinced her that she had even a remote chance of being able to pull her half off. Now she was once again balking slightly at what was going to be required of her.
She had always messed up on missions with her old team back in Konoha What was supposed to prevent her from messing up now?
She suddenly realized he was smiling at her, in a lopsided, here-goes-nothing kind of way that was so typical of him. If she hadn’t known him as well as she did, she would have sworn that he wasn’t really worried about anything at all. That this was just another training drill, one more time Nori or Sora was going to make him run his sets.
But she did know him, probably better than anyone ever had, and she knew that he hadn’t been all that crazy about the plan either. He had viewed it as their only option, the only possible way to get out of a horrible situation. The only way out without killing someone.
And once he said he was going to do something, he didn’t go back. He was going to give it everything he had, and so she was going to do the same.
She bit her lower lip, and nodded.
“Shino-Tsu-Hiko Standards; Set one!” A man yelled. The drum began. Naruto turned towards the top of the stairs where the Lady sat and bowed.
He began set one, parrying high and low before moving into a series of sweeps. Instantly the courtyard started to buzz with noise. Looking up at the Lady sitting in her golden chair, Hinata could see her face was pulled and her lips pressed together in rage. She obviously had intended for them to be disqualified here.
They had started in on dangerous ground.
Naruto finished set one and waited for the caller to announce the next set. However, before the man was able to do so, the Lady interrupted him.
“Who taught you those!” she demanded, fire flashing in her eyes.
Naruto looked up at her and grinned. “Sora,” he said simply.
“Sora does not know the Shino-Tsu-Hiko sets! She is a Shino-To-Be fighter!” The woman glared down at him. She was large and furious and despite the pulled face and incompetence she had shown as a leader, it was easy to see why the Kaze had put their faith in her in the face of change.
Fortunately, Naruto was not easily intimidated. And Hinata had come up with the perfect way to deal with the question. He looked at her as if she was stupid. “If she doesn’t know them, how could she teach them to us?” he asked.
Up in her small room, Sora repressed a grin. They couldn’t have picked a better answer if she had told them what to say herself. It dumped the entire question straight into Sora’s lap, making it impossible for the Lady to question what Naruto said. There was no way for them to contradict each other; whatever Sora said would apply to all of them. She could have learned them secretly before she left, or Nori could have taught them to her years ago, or she could have even learned them somewhere else. Whatever she said was going to be their story. And, at least for right now, she was inaccessible for questioning.
The Lady fumed and glared up at the window where Sora sat. Sora smiled and waved as best she could with her shackled hands. Take that, bitch!
One of the honor guards approached the Lady. “My Lady, may we continue?”
With one final glare at Sora, the Lady nodded, sitting back down in her chair, turning her attention back towards the boy standing alone in the middle of the courtyard. Her plans were unraveling. She had intended to end the test here; to never have them fight.
Still, what was the harm in having them fight? They wouldn’t be able to win without jutsus, and would therefore be disqualified. Even supposing that by some miracle they were able to win, it was simply two more Kaze lost. She would even be rid of one who was rather troublesome. She would have the brats killed later on; she could say they tried to kill her and have them executed for treason.
If they were Kaze, she could do whatever she wanted to them. She was the Lady of the Wind, and the Kaze were hers to do with as she pleased. That was what she had gotten when she became the Lady of the Wind. That was why she has master-minded the coup.
But that didn’t mean that she was going to let them win. It just meant that she had all of her bases covered. She smiled towards one of the towers as she watched Naruto move through the sets.
One needed a few tricks up one’s sleeve to stay on top. And if there was one thing she intended to do, it was stay on top.
The buzz in the courtyard continued to grow with every set that Naruto completed. And when Hinata moved out to join him in the partner sets, the Kaze stopped whispering.
“Did you see that! They’re halfway through the partner sets and still haven’t messed up!”
“The Lady’s right, Sora didn’t learn these before she left! It was impossible to get her to work with anyone! Who could have possibly...”
“Nori, it’s the only explanation. No one ever received conformation of his death. He must still be alive somewhere and taught them.”
“Maybe he’s coming back,” someone said hopefully. “Maybe he wants to return to become the Lord!”
Naruto gritted his teeth as he turned so that Hinata could move past him before going to the ground in a sweep. First Shivani and Sora, and now the rest of the Kaze and Nori. If the damn Kaze wanted to get rid of the Lady, then they should just get rid of the Lady, not wait until some sort of savior came and rescued them.
The drumming continued and Naruto and Hinata worked through their sets, until finally it was over.
They stood side by side in the center of the courtyard, fighting to control their breathing. It took over six hours to run all 36 of the sets; fifteen of the basic, and seven more of each specific type. Despite how frequently they had been practicing the sets, it still took a lot of energy to get through them all. And they still had the fight in front of them.
The Lady glared at them, but she did not appear to be as rattled as they had expected. Or as rattled as they had hoped.
Oh, how she wished she could have disqualified them on something, but everyone had seen how well they had done. But it didn’t really matter. She still had the situation completely under control.
She stood up and walked to the edge of the dais. “You have successfully completed the first part of the test, proving your knowledge in the basics. Now you must complete the second, and prove your ability to apply them.” She gestured to her right with one hand, and from behind the honor guard stepped Shivani and her partner.
The man was obviously older than Shivani by several years, broad-shouldered and muscular. He dwarfed the girl standing next to him, glaring at them with hard eyes buried in sharp features. Next to him, Shivani shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot, staring at the ground a few feet in front of her. Hinata looked at her as her eyes flicked up and down. Shivani was steeling herself, Hinata realized. Readying herself to be killed for the good of her clan.
The Lady looked back at Naruto and Hinata quickly and sneered slightly before turning back to the pair of fighters standing by her side. “Araksaka Shivani and Gupta Toril, you have been brought here today to prove yourselves deserving of your rank as warriors of the Kaze. Before you stand two who think they are good enough to pass into your ranks. Either you remain among our ranks, or you give up your places to them in death.”
“Uzumaki Naruto and Hyuuga Hinata, the only way into the ranks of Kaze warriors is though these two. You must prove yourself worthy of taking their places by killing them in battle while maintaining the purity of the Kaze. This means you shall use no ninjutsu, no genjutsu, and should either of you be polluted by a bloodlimit, you may not use that either.”
Hinata sucked in her breath sharply. They hadn’t thought they would be able to get away with using her bloodlimit, but oh, how she had hoped. Executing the plan without it was only going to be that much harder.
The Lady smiled. “And let me just clarify that if I feel you are doing anything that would compromise the purity of the Kaze I will disqualify you immediately. Anything bizarre and you are out.” She turned with a sweep of her saree. “Fighters take your places!” she called out over her shoulder, returning to her chair.
Naruto and Hinata turned and moved to the back of the courtyard as Shivani and Toril started to come down the stairs.
“It’ll be just fine, Hina-chan,” Naruto whispered reassuringly.
She was shaking ever so slightly, suddenly looking more like the little girl who left Konoha than she had in months; she was even staring at her hands as they walked and pushing her index fingers together, an old gesture he hadn’t seen her do in months. She was strong; he knew she was! But somehow she was starting to forget.
She started when he put his hand on her bare arm, just above her elbow. She looked up at him with wide eyes. She was terribly, terribly afraid that she was going to mess up.
“Hey, hey”, there’s nothing to worry about!”
“I can’t do this!” she whispered harshly, so low that Naruto was barely able to hear her.
“Of course you can!” he said back, but his insides were twisting into huge knots. It was going to take a miracle for them to pull it off, but damn it, they were going to do it! He didn’t care how far-fetched it was!
“I always mess up on missions!”
“You’re not going to mess up on this one!”
“I’m going to get us both killed!”
“You are not going to get us both killed!”
“I’m going to kill her!”
“You’re not going to kill her!”
She looked at the Kaze, who were staring at them doubtfully. They had made it through the first part of the test, and now she was falling apart. The tide of public opinion among the Kaze had turned, and they were now looking at them like some sort of joke. Sure, they had done the sets perfectly, but standing there in white uniforms, now rumpled and stained with sweat, they looked like nothing more than a pair of teenagers.
Her breath started to come faster. She was on the verge of panicking.
“Hinata!” Naruto’s voice cut through the haze and she found herself staring into two large blue eyes, her face held in place on either side by his hands. Everything about both of them was tense, but when he spoke, it was in the off-hand manner he usually used. “Come on, Hina-chan! You’re going to be the best head in the history of the Hyuuga clan, and I’m going to be the greatest Hokage ever. ! We can handle this, no sweat!”
She didn’t understand. How could he be so certain about things that they had yet to do? How could he say these things when there was always the possibility that they would fail? She knew he understood how remote of a possibility it was that everything would work out the way they wanted. Why didn’t that frighten him as much as it frightened her? Knowing how much she messed up, how could he have faith in her?
“Hina-chan,” he said, leaning down to touch his forehead to hers. Her heart pounded in her throat. “You’re being silly. You’re not the same person you were when we left Konoha.”
And that, she realized, was the crux of it all. She wasn’t back home. She wasn’t with her clan; she wasn’t even in Konoha. She was here with him. And he had seemingly unshakable faith in the two of them.
So how could she not have it as well?
She squeezed here eyes tightly shut and when she opened them, Naruto was relieved to see that the fear had been driven away. She smiled up at him, slightly. “We did say we were going to win this, didn’t we?”
He smiled, relieved that she had pulled her self back together. “And we don’t take back our words.”
“You ready?” she asked quietly, but there was a caged energy behind it that had been missing before.
He grinned down at her. “Let’s get wild.”
They turned to face forward. Toril sneered at them. He leaned down slightly to talk into Shivani’s ear. “Look at the idiots. They’re scared out of their skins. This will be a piece of cake. Even you should be able to handle the girl; it looks like she’s going to fall apart. Just don’t do anything stupid.”
Shivani sighed and nodded. She suspected that Toril would run once she was dead; he wasn’t the sort of guy to kill himself for his so-called “honor”. He tended to be temperamental, rash, and rather self-serving. He had thrown a fit when he had been partnered with her, and Shivani had suspected that her brother had threatened him before he finally agreed.
“Warriors, are you ready?” a voice called out. Shivani and Toril nodded.
“Challengers, are you ready?” Naruto and Hinata took a quick glace at each other and nodded.
Toril immediately rushed Naruto and Hinata, leaving Shivani trailing behind him. Naruto started his own charge, while Hinata swept out to the side. The two men met in a clash in the center, neither of them getting through the others defenses, the blows they were throwing not really landing.
Hinata came in from the side, headed for Shivani. The girl went into a low crouching stance, waiting for her. Naruto spotted her coming in and grinned.
Shivani put one hand on the ground, ready to throw a tundic kick at her. After all, she had to make it at least look like she was trying to win. She was expecting Hinata to come in straight, but instead, she jumped into the air at an angle that would not have her coming down on top of Shivani, but on top of Toril.
But Toril must have sensed something behind him, because all of a sudden he shoved Naruto away and whipped around and out of the way. As Hinata came down next to him instead of on top, Toril kicked her in the side. With no ground beneath her feet to steady herself with, she went flying across the ground, nearly landing in the crowd.
“Hina-chan!” Naruto yelled as he ran over to her side.
Toril turned to glare at Shivani. “You’re supposed to watch my back!”
She looked at the ground. “I’m sorry, I thought she was-“
“It doesn’t matter what you think! I don’t have the energy to baby-sit you!” He turned back to where his opponents were getting to their feet.
“Are you all right?” Naruto asked Hinata.
“Yeah, just a little shaken up,” she replied, dusting the dirt off the front of her white pants.
Naruto stared hard at Toril. It was unreasonable, he knew, to hate a man for kicking his girlfriend in a fight where they were supposedly trying to kill him. He could hardly blame the man for defending himself when Hinata attacked him. Hinata wasn’t even really hurt. However, Naruto was going to be damned if he didn’t do everything he could in order to keep him from laying a hand on her again.
He stood up, hands clenched at his sides, and stared angrily at Toril. The man sneered back at him.
Naruto had to remind himself not to start summoning shadow clones or whip some chakra into a Rasengan, but he managed to reign himself in. But he wanted to throw everything he had at this man so badly.
He approached again, coming in at an angle that indicated that he was headed towards Shivani, before making a last minute turn to clip kick at Toril. Toril managed to block the kick, but not the fist that snaked its way mysteriously into his gut. He wheezed and staggered back a step.
On her dais, the Lady frowned. The two outlanders had proven themselves to actually be good at fighting, and so far they hadn’t even look tempted to resort to ninjutsu. At this rate, it was highly possible they would win. Time to put things a little more off balance. She looked up at one of the towers. There was a flash of light from a window, as if someone was bouncing sunlight off a mirror. The Lady nodded and the light flashed twice more.
Up in her room overlooking the courtyard, Sora quietly slipped out of her shackles. It was a little earlier than she has intended to come make her save, but if the Lady was using jutsu, she needed to get in there before either of the kids got hurt. They weren’t going to be able to run very fast if they were injured.
“You going?” Nori asked.
She turned to look at him and smiled. “Gotta get out of here before things get too rough. You wanna come?”
He smiled sadly back at her and shook his head. “I still have hope that we’ll turn around sometime. This is my home; these are my people and I cannot abandon them.”
She shrugged. “Your funeral. But if you could keep the confusion high until we get out of the walls, I’d appreciate it.”
“I’ll do my best.”
“Alright, let’s get the party started!” Sora shouted. She moved to put her foot up on the windowsill.
And found there was a wall where she wanted to put her foot.
“What the...?” She reached out with her hand and it stopped halfway through the opening”. Frustrated, she growled, pulled back, and jammed her hand towards it again. It stopped in the exact same place.
She turned and ran to the door, pulling on the handle. It was more than locked, it was sealed shut.
“Goddamn it!” she yelled, jamming her hands together and running through a series of seals. “Levels Scan no Jutsu!”
“We’re locked in?” Nori asked.
“No we’re not locked in, we’re sealed in you idiot! Aw, damn it!” Whoever had put this up, they were good. It was a nice strong seal, one that was going to take a while for her to break down.
“But who could have put it up?”
“Looks like your Lady isn’t so pure!”
He glared at her, biting his tongue to keep from rising to her bait and say he knew that.
She performed a few more seals and then slammed her hands flat into the seal on the window, pumping chakra into it. The air rippled out from her hands, the invisible wall bending under the force of her attack. But when she pulled back, she had barely made a dent in it.
“Damn it!” she cursed under her breath. She ran her hands through the seals and then slammed her hands into the barrier again.
Down in the courtyard, Naruto and Hinata worked to split Toril and Shivani up. They needed to separate them so that no one would be able to see what Hinata was going to do. They were easily holding their own, and wearing the opposition down, but they hadn’t managed to get into a good position to execute the plan yet.
Unfortunately, while Toril might not have been aware of the fact that Shivani was planning on letting herself be killed, he was aware of the fact that he was a superior fighter, and that her death was essentially his. He was watching her like a hawk, constantly standing in front of her and guarding her from harm. It would have been sweet, IF he hadn’t been doing it for such obviously selfish reasons.
Hinata stood halfway behind Naruto, waiting for him to start the attack. The idea was to blitzkrieg Toril while Hinata slipped past and took out Shivani. She dropped her breathing and focused on the girl in front of her. She knew this part; she could do this.
Naruto rushed in towards Toril, sliding up under his parry in order to grab him around the neck, bringing his leg back seemingly to knee him in the stomach. Toril shifted his weight back and prepared to throw Naruto off, only to find that instead of kneeing him, Naruto had jumped in the air. Just as Naruto’s feet left the ground, Hinata spun down and swept her leg under Toril’s feet, sending him crashing to the ground with Naruto on top of him, ready to drive an elbow down his face.
Spinning up to a standing position, Hinata turned towards Shivani. Her hands were up in a guard and her eyes were wide. She threw a kick that they both knew was pulled, and Hinata slipped through her guard. Praying that she hit the right spots, Hinata struck the chakra holes in Shivani’s forearms. Instantly, the girl’s hands went limp from the elbow down.
Hinata did a large turning step out of Shivani’s range. Glancing over at Naruto, she saw him duck under Toril’s arm, plant one foot behind him, and slam his hand into his throat, sweeping him to the ground.
Good, she had time to make one more pass. She turned back to Shivani, who was staring down at her arms in awe. She swung her arms back and forth slightly at the elbows, almost hypnotized by the motion. Hinata again started her approach in, and this time Shivani just stared at her. She was about to go to work on the girl’s shoulders when something stopped her.
Naruto slammed his foot into Toril’s ribs and was about to wrap his arm around his knee and break his elbow when the boy slithered out from his grasp. Toril sprung up onto his hands and flipped away out of range.
“Damn it!” Naruto said. He had to keep him busy before he could go over and protect Shivani. He saw an opening and moved to deliver a nice solid kick to Toril’s ribs.
And then suddenly Naruto felt his body being pulled in different directions by invisible forces. The light in his eyes started to pixilate into different colors and the edges to everything became fuzzy. His body was fighting to move the way it wanted as invisible forces pushed and pulled on his body.
The breath was knocked out of him when Toril landed a solid kick to his solar plexus. He gasped for air and went spinning across the courtyard floor. Toril smirked and went after him. Naruto looked up and was able to catch a vague sense of movement before a hand reached down and tossed him into the air. A series of devastating blows landed all over his torso before he once again landed on the ground with a loud thud.
Naruto planted his palms on the ground and started to push himself up. “Damn it, you’re using genjutsu!”
Toril drew himself up as if he was highly offended. “I would never think of using jutsu!” he yelled.
“Damn it!” Naruto growled. “I know what genjutsu feels like and that was genjutsu!” He pointed an accusatory finger at Toril.
The man turned to the front of the courtyard. “My Lady, I swear to you that I have not done what this idiot accuses me of. I would never do anything that would corrupt the Kaze in such a manner!” There was a false, rehearsed quality to his speech, as if he had been told what to say.
The Lady smiled. “And I believe you.” She turned her head to glare at Naruto. “You will not make false accusations towards those who serve the Kaze loyally! The fight will continue and there will be no more attempts on your part to shift the blame for your poor performance!”
“I’m not shifting the blame, you stupid old hag! I’m telling you he’s cheating!”
“That’s enough! If I hear one more word out of you the fight is over and you and your partner will be executed. Begin!”
He looked over at where Hinata was standing. She looked at him and nodded. She had felt the jutsu too.
Anger started rushing through him. His hands balled in fists of rage on either side. They had made the rules and now they weren’t even playing by them, damn it! Something inside him began to uncoil.
Screw the Kaze! Screw the plan! They were about so see how the Kaze felt about being outnumbered two to one by Narutos!
He was about to lift his hands to start the seal, when a pair of arms slipped around his waist and a small person pressed herself into his back.
“Don’t,” Hinata whispered.
Suddenly, it was as if all of the anger simply drained out of him, leaving only frustration and a bit of sorrow. He laid one of his hands over hers.
He couldn’t rage. They needed to move forward with the plan, no matter how impossible it seemed now. He couldn’t take off like a loose cannon just because he was angry. It had been one of Nori and Sora’s most drilled points. He had to maintain a degree of control over his emotions; not to suppress them, but to channel them in something else.
Naruto frowned. Something had sparked a memory.
“There’s one part of the Kaze training that I think you should start thinking about.”
“Huh? Nani?” Naruto asked in confusion. Why would he have to think about it? Why wouldn’t he just do it?
“Beyond the forms, Shino-To-Be and Shino-Tsu-Hiko have what are referred to as principles. Once you’ve mastered the forms, you move into a place where the actual punches and strikes you use aren’t where your focus is going. They happen automatically. Instead you are looking towards a, well, almost a feeling. There’s the principle of engulfing, the principle of disorientation, the principle of devastation, and a half a dozen more.”
“So you want me to start thinking about these principle things?”
“Well, we’ll be starting you off really early, and there’s a limited amount I can teach you because I left before I could get much, but I think it’s important to get you started.”
Nori smiled. “Because before you can learn the nine principles, you have to learn intention. And I’ve never met someone who could be as intent on doing something as you.”
While he and Nori had played around with the idea occasionally, he had never even come close to being able to using the principle. Focus had never been his strong point. But standing in the middle of the courtyard with Hinata’s arms wrapped around him it was suddenly easy. He needed to buy Hinata time. But instead of trying to hit Toril, he needed to beat him.
“I got it Hina-chan,” he said, and she could tell from the tone in his voice that he was okay again. She squeezed him once and then let her arms slide from around his waist.
He turned to grin at her over his shoulder. She blinked and then smiled back.
Turning back towards Toril, Naruto breathed in deeply and started to gather chakra in his core, pulling it around the spiral in his stomach and into a tight ball. With every breath he took, he drew the chakra tighter and stronger, pulling it around and around his center.
Ten breaths. Then focus on the goal.
He stared at Toril, while the man sneered. “What are you, an idiot?” he asked.
But the elder Kaze in the audience had gone completely silent.
Set your intention.
He wasn’t going to let Toril anywhere near Hinata. He was going to overwhelm him so much that he wouldn’t even be able to think about what was happening to him.
Let the chakra unwind and go.
With a sound that was halfway between a scream and a yell, Naruto ran at Toril. The man stood there in shock. The difference in the energy was almost palpable. Even though the attacks were the same, the moves he were using no different than before, the feeling was like night and day.
And Toril had no idea what to do.
Everyone in the courtyard was able to feel it, and while the younger members were looking at each other in confusion trying to figure out what was going on, the older ones were staring in dumb shock. They watched as one of their best young fighters fell helplessly under Naruto’s blows, unable to even really block them effectively.
The Lady shook.
Up in the room, Sora was trying to figure out what was going on and why there was suddenly so much commotion in the crowds. “What the hell is he doing?” she asked.
Raoul just stared. “Intention,” he whispered.
“What?” Sora asked.
“Intention. Dear god, he’s using intention.”
Sora crossed her arms and glared at him. “You wanna stop babbling like a mad man and tell me what the hell you’re talking about?”
“It’s the first of the principles; the ways to harness chakra that the Kaze developed. The idea was that you focused your chakra behind a certain principle and then it sort of takes over you and guides you towards success. Intention was the first one you had to master before moving on to the others.”
“Wait, he’s going to surrender control to his chakra?”
“Well, he sets an intention and directs himself completely towards the intention.”
“Isn’t that just being focused?”
“Sort of, but you focus on the intention of your actions and not the actions themselves. You let your chakra take over that part.”
Sora stared at him briefly before running her hands through her hair and cursing. Letting the chakra take over? How the hell could this be a good idea for a boy with the chakra of a demon fox coursing through his veins? What the hell had Nori been thinking?!
“Aw, shit! Well this is just great!”
“Sora, I don’t think you understand.”
“Sure I do; Nori the idiot is trying to push the boy farther than he’s ready to go!”
“Well, from the looks of things, he’s ready. Nothing happens if you try to use intention and you aren’t skilled enough.”
Sora snorted. Sure, nothing happened to people WITHOUT a nine-tailed demon fox sealed inside them, but what the hell was going to happen to her brother!
“I’m going to bust out of here, and when I do, I’m going to take them back home and I am going to give that Nori a piece of my mind before I get Yasu to help me pound him into the ground!” She furiously started pumping more chakra into the barrier.
“We can’t do it anymore!”
“Can’t do what?”
“Use the principles! We lost them.”
“Wait, back up; what are you saying?”
Nori sighed. “Once the revolution happened and the current Lady took the throne, the principles started slipping away. I haven’t seen anyone use them in years. The Lady says it’s because we lacked the purity the principle of intention requires.”
“You mean all those things that you used to be able to do, the things that you lost, these principles; my brother is out there doing them right now!”
He nodded. “I don’t know what will happen now.”
Toril stumbled back under Naruto’s assault. The strikes were coming too fast for him to parry them all, and too fast for him to really return with his own offense. They were one hell of a distraction.
And that was exactly what Hinata needed.
Hinata prepared to make her final pass towards Shivani. Her heart pounded in her ears like a drumbeat, drowning out all other sounds.
This was it. She couldn’t slowly take Shivani down; Toril and the jutsu together weren’t giving her the chance. She had to hit the main holes now. The idea was similar to that of the 64 Hands of Hakke all the holes would be sealed and she would be unable to move her body. Hinata had been doing it in stages, in hopes that by the time she started on the dangerous ones, Shivani would be immobile enough to keep her from messing up her aim. The girl was cooperating with her strikes, but she didn’t understand the precision Hinata needed. She had to hit all of the holes just right.
And she had to do it without being able to actual see where they were. She was relying on pure training and instinct to guide the ends of her fingers to the points. However, with the Gentle Fist style, missing wasn’t a question of not having an effect on your target.
Unless she hit this just right, Shivani wasn’t going to collapse like Naruto had in the Chuunin exam.
Closing the holes put a person out for a while until the chakra levels naturally built up enough to re-open themselves. However, hits to the organs would do serious damage. It had taken Hinata months to recover from her fight with Neji.
And if things went too wrong, Hinata would kill her. Which, while it was Shivani was expecting, was not what Hinata wanted to do.
As Hinata rushed forward, Shivani closed her eyes, preparing herself for death. She started to throw a parry that they both knew would be too late. Everything was lined up perfectly.
Then she felt a pull on her back, as if an invisible hand was pulling her hips and her shoulders in opposite directions. The light in her eyes went bright and then fragmented into a million spots of color.
She screwed her eyes shut and reached in blindly to try and partially seal the final holes.
The jutsu released and she stumbled past Shivani, her over-extension making her tumble to the ground. She quickly turned to look over her shoulder at Shivani. Naruto and Toril stopped in mid-punch to stare.
The crowed hushed. Eyes went wide.
Sora stopped trying to take down the barrier and simply stared. She and Raoul were both white as ghosts, gaping at the scene before them.
“No,” Raoul whispered.
Shivani lay in a crumpled heap on the ground.
She did not move.
She did not breathe.
Slowly, one of the Kaze doctors approached the ground where Hinata still stood by Shivani’s body.
Bending down on one knee, he picked up her hand and pressed his fingers to the inside of her wrist.
He shook his head.