Soul of Fire

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Baki, member of Suna's advisory council and former jounin instructor of the Sand Siblings, dithered outside the door. Security around the dome had doubled following the most recent invasion, and since the Kazekage and his siblings were known targets, their personal guards had tripled. Gaara, Temari, and Kankuro never protested the increased watch nor did they try to shake their protective detail, but Baki knew it wore thin on all of them.

At lunch and the following rest hours during the hottest part of the day, the Sand Siblings retreated into their rooms. Security never slackened, but it was less obtrusive. Baki hated to barge in on Temari and Kankuro during what was effectively their only alone time, but with Gaara at the Kage Summit, Temari was the one attending to official business.

Then again, by this point they would have noticed him hovering, so he might as well go inside. Baki knocked politely on the door and stepped into the room. He paused just inside the door. The room was in shambles, food spilled and furniture broken, and all six of the guards assigned to Temari and Kankuro were lying on the floor either unconscious or dead.

Baki touched his radio. "Get a med-team to the Siblings' rooms, and call up our best tracker team." He listened for the confirmation. "And someone bring me a messenger hawk. Two hawks."

He had to send a message to the Kazekage informing him that his siblings had been taken, but Baki also needed to send a message to Konoha. With the Sand Siblings captured, the only known Uzumaki descendants were in the Village Hidden in the Leaves.

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Lumi Yuen, jounin of Getsugakure, approached the border to the Land of Iron with all due caution. In the past decade, Kage Summits had expanded to include all minor Hidden Villages, however emergency Kage Summits were invitation-only and restricted to the leaders of the major Hidden Villages and samurai country.

He didn't want to attract the attention of the samurai guards and be driven off, but he didn't want to sneak in—if he even could sneak in—and be arrested for it either. That was a fate he had to avoid at all costs. Yuen had a responsibility not only to Getsugakure, but the entirety of the minor Village network.

For almost two years, shinobi and civilian families with blood-ties to former Uzushiogakure had been disappearing across the Elemental Countries. At first, the Hidden Villages had researched the problem individually, but every shinobi sent to investigate disappeared. For the smaller Villages, even the loss of a single jounin was devastating, so at the last Kage Summit, jounin escorts had cautiously probed each other with carefully selected questions.

The problem spanned the continent and all of the Villages were affected, except it seemed the five major Hidden Villages. Now, all of the masters in the search network agreed that the major Villages were suffering the same problem, they simply didn't know they were losing people. It was an idea Yuen knew he had never considered, but some of the major Hidden Villages had populations larger than some of the smaller Elemental Countries, they didn't have the ability to track their host nations' populations the way minor Villages could. Not to mention, Konoha had one of the only openly serving Uzumaki descendants—Naruto was in every Bingo Book printed these days with a bounty so large no one Village could possibly be expected to pay it—but he was practically untouchable.

Still, at the last Chunin Exams rumors spread that something had clued the major Villages into the problem. Rumors had already spread that the Kazekage and his family had come under attack. Now, the reality of an emergency Kage Summit with the missing Uzu-descendants as a focus meant they really were aware of the problem. Even if all of the minor Hidden Villages' spies were wrong, and the Kage Summit was about something else entirely, it was the best opportunity to present their findings to the Kages.

Yuen wasn't exactly thrilled to be chosen for the task. As one of the only shinobi to survive an encounter with the Uzu-hunters—the special defense developed by his clan had saved him and his second-in-command if only barely, the rest of their cell hadn't made it—he had been charged with coordinating the search in Getsugakure. When it became known exactly how rare surviving a direct encounter was, he was placed in-charge of the coordinated search for all of the minor Villages. He had also been given charge of a genin-team in order to allow him to attend the Chunin Exams and have a ready excuse for being with shinobi of other nations. His little sister had been horrified. He had been horrified too, if for a completely different reason. Though after her defeat at the Suna Exam, Tsuko had redoubled her training.

Yuen gave the border guard one last look and sighed. They could have at least sent a Village Master with him. One of them might have been recognized. He stood deciding to take his chances. If he approached and explained the situation, they might breach the Kages' meeting to report his presence. If he tried to sneak in, they'd probably arrest him before he could get a word in edgewise. The Summit might be over before the samurai remembered him, if they ever did.

"So, what are you doing exactly?" asked a voice from above him.

Yuen almost jumped out of his skin. He looked up and saw a familiar red-headed shinobi of the Leaf perched on top the boulder where Yuen had taken refuge. Of course, the hair was the only familiar thing about him. The black kosode and hakama were a solemn change from the blue and red outfit the man had worn during the chunin exams. His clothes were much too loose to be proper shinobi attire, but then, everyone knew that Leaf-nin were crazy. The giant sword on his back was another recent addition and significantly more intimidating.

"Kurosaki Ichigo!" he blurted then silently berated himself. He was a jounin. Jounin didn't blurt.

The red-head narrowed his eyes. "Do I know you?"

Yuen raised a silver-brow. The Lumi Clan was one of Getsugakure's more predominate clans. Their kekkei-genkai and their distinctive silver-eyed, silver-haired appearance usually had some impact on their opponents. Of course, Kurosaki was from Konoha where the Hyuuga's pure white eyes were a common sight.

"You fought my sister in the Chunin Exams," said Yuen. He added at Kurosaki's blank look, "Lumi Tsuko of Getsugakure."

Kurosaki's gaze drifted to Yuen's hitai-ate and his expression cleared. "Right, the one with the shield that..." He sketched the shape of a crescent moon in the air. "Is she okay?" he asked. "I overestimated how hard it was and then she didn't move when it broke. Then I didn't see her after."

Yuen closed his eyes briefly in pained remembrance. "She's fine. Tsuko's taken harder hits in practice." Not many, it was true, but training wasn't any good if it didn't prepare you for a real fight. "She just didn't expect a genin to be able to break the moon shield"—which was her fault for underestimating her opponent—"and she knows better than to stay in place after it's been broken."

She did now at least. Tsuko had been attacked with every weapon at every speed imaginable since their return from the Chunin Exams. She was jumpier than a rabbit with a falcon on the loose. But next time she wouldn't freeze when someone broke through her defense. Not that was likely to happen with anyone less than an experienced jounin as her opponent. It was considered an ultimate defense for a reason. Kurosaki Ichigo must have monstrous amounts of chakra. But he was supposedly related to Uzumaki Naruto, so it wasn't entirely surprising.

"Can you get me into the Summit?" asked Yuen.

Kurosaki eyed him skeptically. "And why would I do that?"

Yuen suppressed his irritation at being questioned by a genin. It was perfectly reasonable to ask about his intentions. He wasn't invited to the Summit in the first place.

"This emergency summit is to discuss the disappearances of citizens with Uzu lineage, is it not?" asked Yuen.

Kurosaki tried to keep his face still. The fact that he was already scowling helped, but Yuen watched his expression intensify to true anger. That was enough confirmation for the jounin.

"I have information pertaining to the disappearances of Uzu descendants across the Hidden Villages for the past two years," said Yuen.

Kurosaki's anger was replaced with surprise and a touch of relief. He was still scowling though. "This has been happening for two years?" he asked.

"At the very least," said Yuen. He wasn't the sort to go around spilling classified information. But the Master of Getsugakure had tasked him with getting the Kages to listen, and he was pretty sure Kurosaki was his best chance at getting past the perimeter. "That's when the minor Villages began to notice people going missing and started to investigate. I have a list of missing citizens and shinobi and a report of our investigation thus far."

He waited for Kurosaki's judgement. After a moment, the redhead nodded and stood up. It irked Yuen slightly that the genin hadn't even bothered to stand at the sight of an unknown shinobi. Kurosaki should have been on high alert the moment he saw Yuen sneaking around. Then again, this was the guy who had arm cut off in the middle of a match and had barely reacted. Maybe his sense of self-preservation was ridiculously low. Then again, maybe he was just that dangerous. But Konoha wouldn't try to sneak a non-genin into the Chunin Exams.

"Stay here," said Kurosaki. He drew a hand across his face and a white mask appeared.

Yuen felt his blood run cold. "Is that an ANBU mask?" he didn't squeak.

"Stay," repeated Kurosaki peering down at him with gold-on-black eyes.

There was something different about his voice. Some bizarre feature of the mask that doubled the sound. It struck a note of pure terror in Yuen and for a moment he didn't think he could move. Then Kurosaki looked away and the feeling passed. The redhead jumped into the air. His form shimmered once and then he disappeared completely from view.

"What the fuck?" demanded Yuen. Since when could Konoha-nin vanish into thin air? The fourth Hokage had had that Flying Thunder-God technique. But that was different. It used seals like a summoning. It could be used by anyone, even if no one outside of Konoha had figured out exactly how to replicate it.

Yuen was still struggling with the idea when Kurosaki returned fifteen minutes later. He was accompanied by Uzumaki Naruto, Yamanaka Ino, and an unfamiliar samurai, probably one of the guards. For some reason, Kurosaki had taken the time to change clothes. He was back in the blue outfit he wore during the Chunin Exams. He also switched primary weapons, exchanging the massive sword for a much smaller bokken.

"Here he is," said Kurosaki blandly.

All three of Kurosaki's companions looked disapproving. Yuen tried to remain calm but the atmosphere was making it difficult. What had Kurosaki said to make them this angry? Uzumaki looked ready to explode.

"I can't believe you snuck out when you knew you were a kidnap risk!" yelled Naruto.

Yuen relaxed slightly. They were mad at Kurosaki not him.

Kurosaki's seemingly perpetual scowl deepened further. "I'm fine."

The samurai coughed to interrupt. "While I would love to know how Kurosaki-san evaded our patrols, could we focus on the shinobi in front of us?"

No matter how necessary, Yuen did not appreciate having everyone's focus shift back to him. He was shinobi. Going unnoticed was part of the deal. Then Yamanaka smiled at him, which made everything worse.

"You're Lumi Yuen, a jounin of Getsugakure yes?" she asked.

Yuen nodded carefully, not entirely sure where this was going.

"You're one of Getsugakure's few S-Class shinobi according to the Bingo Book," she continued. "It's not everyday we see someone of your caliber playing messenger."

Yuen took a moment to find his calm. He knew about the Yamanaka's abilities but met her eyes anyway. "If you've been investigating missing Uzu-descendants, then you know that anyone less skilled would have been unlikely to make it here."

Yamanaka grimaced. "So we've discovered." She formed her hands in a seal. "Allow me to confirm."

Yuen braced himself for the invasion. A blink later, he was falling forward. He shot his hands out to stop his fall to the ground and looked up at the Konoha-nin.

"He's clear," said Yamanaka. "And he has information that would be useful to the Kages."

Yuen thought of the scroll sealed inside his flak jacket and the long list of names and dates of disappearances. Getsugakure had lost fifteen shinobi and almost thirty civilians to this menace. Other villages had lost even more. It hurt to know they couldn't avenge their fallen comrades without help, but if the Major Villages could stop the slaughter, then Yuen was willing to swallow his pride.

"Yes," he said. "Yes, I do. Please grant me audience with the Kages."

"It's your lucky day," said Uzumaki brightly. "The meeting is about to start."

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Konohamaru was a little depressed by the emergency Kage Summit. While it was an honor to attend, there wasn't all that much to do. The samurai were the ones providing security. The shinobi were just there to show off unless they came under attack.

Not that Konohamaru wanted to be under attack. Naruto, Tsunade-sama, and Ichigo would be primary targets if this weird Uzumaki-kidnapping group targeted the Summit. Konohamaru didn't want anything to happen to any of them.

Then again, Konohamaru wouldn't be much use against anyone who could steamroll three of the most powerful shinobi in Konoha. The Sarutobi heir had little doubt that Ichigo was one of the strongest shinobi in the village, even if he'd only been a shinobi for less than six months. Anyone who could fight head-on with the samurai general, even during a practice bout, was no mere genin.

Konohamaru scrutinized the currently unoccupied training ground. The Tsuchikage had been kind enough to restore it to its pre-fight state. But she couldn't make the grass grow back in, and there were several dark lines of new dirt where Ichigo and Mifune-soutaicho had destroyed the earth. Konohamaru was pretty good at Earth Release, but he didn't think any of his attacks would scar the ground forever, not yet anyway.

Hanabi appeared at his side. Her expression was serene but also a tiny bit rueful as she surveyed the scene.

"It's not like we knew he was as strong as a Kage when Kurenai-sensei told us to teach him how to use chakra," she said.

Konohamaru groaned. "I know. Like, what did he even need us for if he could already do this?"

"We needed him to get through the Chunin Exams," said Hanabi frankly.

Konohamaru lowered his head. It still stung his pride that he had needed almost eight years to earn a promotion to chunin. Circumstances had worked against him, and against Hanabi too, but that Tsunade-sama thought they needed someone as strong as Ichigo to help them out was almost worse.

"But Ichigo needed us to teach him about chakra and being shinobi," added Hanabi.

"Maybe," said Konohamaru.

He had been too young to fight in the Fourth Shinobi War, so his interaction with real samurai had been limited. But now that he had spent some time in the Land of Iron, he was beginning to see why everyone mistook Ichigo for a samurai at first glance. There were plenty of shinobi swordsmen, but they were all shinobi first.

Ichigo wasn't a shinobi for all he wore a hitai-ate and followed the Hokage's orders. Konohamaru should have noticed sooner that Ichigo was limiting himself to match their pace. He and Hanabi had been more proficient in ninjutsu and genjutsu, but Ichigo should have crushed them in taijutsu, yet he never did anything more than beat them soundly. Even in the Chunin Exams, Ichigo had been very careful to only use moves that genin would know, so that his fights would be fair.

Shinobi didn't care about fairness. They cared about completing the mission. In Konoha, they cared about their comrades too, but they weren't afraid to do anything to win either. Ichigo wasn't like that, or at least, he didn't seem to be. Konohamaru hadn't seen him in a real fight yet.

"Oi, Konohamaru, Hanabi!"

The man in question called out to his teammates as he approached. Kon waved at them from his shoulder. Ichigo's irritated scowl morphed into the neutral expression that meant he was pleased to see them but wasn't willing to show it. Neither Konohamaru nor Hanabi had been able to figure out why Ichigo was so dead-set against smiling, but they had both become adept at interpreting his frowns.

"You're late this morning," said Hanabi.

"Sorry about that. Naruto decided he needed to yell at me for awhile," explained Ichigo. "Then people kept stopping me to ask about my fight with General Mifune."

Konohamaru and Hanabi exchanged alarmed looks. Neither one wanted to know how Ichigo had managed to upset Naruto of all people, who had been bouncing off the walls with happiness at the idea of having more family. Konohamaru flicked his fingers at Hanabi. She shook her head to defer back to him. He flicked his fingers more sharply. Hanabi narrowed her eyes. They quickly devolved into the signaled equivalent of "you ask," "no, you ask," which they had perfected to an art form after their many years of association.

Konohamaru was in middle of referencing mission number one-eight-six-b, which indebted Hanabi to him semi-permanently for life in non-lethal situations, when Ichigo sighed and said, "One of you ask."

"This spirit energy stuff you used to fight General Mifune," prompted Konohamaru skipping over Ichigo and Naruto's family problems for another time.

"And that escapee from T&I," added Hanabi.

"And that army in sand," continued Konohamaru.

"And the guys who kidnapped us," muttered Hanabi.

"Can you teach us to use it?" asked Konohamaru.

Ichigo stared in confusion. "You want me to teach you to use spirit energy?"

"Yes," said Hanabi.

"Why?" asked Ichigo. "You can already use chakra."

Konohamaru and Hanabi exchanged a hopeless look. Ichigo really was terrible at thinking like a shinobi.

"Why did you learn to use chakra if you could already use spirit energy to fight?" asked Hanabi as patiently.

Ichigo stared at her in irritated confusion. "To blend in? Because people were threatening my family and I needed to warn them off? Because no one else in the Elemental Countries uses spirit energy the way I do and they didn't recognize that I was a threat? Because Hokage-sama told me to?"

Konohamaru was almost surprised Ichigo listed blending in as a motivation. Ichigo, despite his best efforts, wasn't capable fading into the background. The hair, the height, and the scowl didn't help him much in that regard.

"That's the point," said Konohamaru addressing their main concern. "No else uses spirit energy the way you do."

"And since no one else uses it," explained Hanabi, "no one would see it coming."

For the briefest instant, Konohamaru could see the words "that's not fair" trying to form in Ichigo's mouth. But their genin teammate knew the importance of an edge in battle and swallowed the words before they could escape.

Instead, Ichigo ran a hand through his hair and twisted his neck to look at Kon. "What do you think?"

The lion-doll shrugged. "They both have above average spirit pressure," he said. "There's no reason they couldn't learn."

Ichigo looked at Konohamaru and Hanabi. "It's not that I won't," he said at last. "But the average shinigami spends six years of dedicated study at the Soul Arts Academy, and the majority only end up as strong as genin. You're both strong chunin already, I don't know how useful it would be."

Konohamaru scowled. It was obvious that Ichigo was not an average shinigami. His lecture on Soul Society after the Suna invasion and the personal history he had shared with them made that obvious. But having an advantage over other shinobi was only one of the reasons he and Hanabi wanted to study spirit energy.

"Maybe we can't learn enough to use spirit energy," said Hanabi. "But can we learn enough to see what you're doing?"

"It's weird fighting beside you and not being able to tell what you'll do," added Konohamaru.

Ichigo considered it for a moment. "That might be possible. Locating people based on their reiryoku is a high-level technique but sensing reiatsu is a pretty basic skill."

"They did notice when you stopped projecting reiatsu before the Chunin Exams," added Kon. "It's not impossible."

"You mean, when you were trying to suppress your chakra and it felt like you disappeared?" asked Konohamaru. "Because that was…"

"Creepy," said Hanabi. "It was creepy. Can we do that?"

"You'll have to learn to sense your own reiatsu first," said Ichigo almost smiling.

"Teach away," said Hanabi gesturing at him impatiently.

"You want to start now?" asked Ichigo.

Konohamaru shrugged. "Why not? Unless you have something you'd rather be doing?"

"No," said Ichigo carefully. "I've just never taught anybody how to sense spiritual pressure before. I'm not sure where to start."

"Well, how did you learn?" asked Konohamaru.

Ichigo stiffened and a haunted look filled his eyes. Konohamaru looked at Hanabi in alarm. Her pointed stare reminding him that asking Ichigo about his past was hit-or-miss. Konohamaru wasn't expecting something as benign as training to have such a horrible response!

"Let's not do that," said Ichigo at last. "You and Hanabi sit down lotus-style."

Konohamaru and Hanabi settled cross-legged on the ground. Ichigo removed his bokken and used it to mark a large circle in dirt around the pair of them. He sat down at the edge of the circle and looked at them seriously. Even Kon managed to look somber.

"The easiest way to sense your spiritual pressure is to measure it against someone else's spiritual pressure," said Ichigo. "So I'm going release my reiatsu and you're going to stand up and walk out of the circle while fighting it off."

"That sounds easy," said Konohamaru.

"It sounds simple," corrected Hanabi. "If it was easy, anybody could do it."

"You've got the idea." Ichigo smirked. "Brace yourselves."

Konohamaru opened his mouth to demand a better explanation when the suddenly the sky fell on his head. It felt like he was transported to the bottom of the ocean. He struggled to breathe. He couldn't imagine moving a single muscle. To make matters worse, Ichigo looked completely relaxed. Kon even waved at them.

It took all of Konohamaru's concentration to turn his head to look at Hanabi. She had fallen onto her hands and dragged herself maybe an inch forward before pausing to gather her strength. Konohamaru pitched himself sideways and dug his fingers into the dirt to pull himself along, desperate to reach the edge of the circle before he was crushed to death by whatever Ichigo was doing.

"This isn't some mission to be completed by any means necessary," said Ichigo angrily. "Stand up and walk out of the circle or lay there and die."

The force of Ichigo's spirit pressure doubled-down and Konohmaru crashed to the ground with a groan. Over the roaring in his ears, Konohamaru heard an echoing thud from Hanabi. He had the vague idea that they looked less than dignified, flopping around on the ground like landed fish. If he had known this would happen, he would have waited until they were back in Konoha to avoid embarrassing the village in front of rival shinobi.

"Is that it?" demanded Ichigo. "Is that all you can do? Is this how your dream will end? Crushed into the ground along with your body? Where is your desire to live? Where is that Will of Fire I've heard so much about? Are you or are you not a true shinobi of the Leaf?"

Konohamaru felt the words like a blow. Ichigo was his comrade. How could he doubt Konohamaru's resolve? Then again, Konohamaru wasn't behaving much like a Leaf-nin at the moment lying on the ground and waiting to die.

This was a technique, wasn't it? Konohamaru and Hanabi were in this position because they had asked Ichigo to train them to feel spiritual pressure. If this was training, then Konohamaru had to focus. His instructors always said, the way you train is the way you fight. Konohamaru wouldn't go out like this.

"I'm a shinobi of the Village Hidden the Leaves," growled Konohamaru. He couldn't move his body, but he could still move his chakra. He concentrated his focus on his hands and arms and began to lever himself up. "I am going to master a thousand ninjutsu. I'm not going to lose here."

"Is that so?" asked Ichigo. "And what about you Hyuuga Hanabi? Are you also a shinobi of Konohagakure?"

"Byakugan," spat Hanabi. Chakra flooded her eyes and her head popped off the ground. Her shoulders quickly followed. "Konohamaru, it's like using taijutsu! Enhance your body with chakra!"

"Right," gasped Konohamaru.

He called on his chakra, funneling it into his muscles and bones rather than shaping into a ninjutsu. Ever so slowly Konohamaru struggled to his feet with Hanabi doing the same beside him. Konohamaru wasn't sure how long it took, he had lost track of time during that initial crush and hadn't had the focus to spare since, but finally he and Hanabi were standing upright.

"Not bad. Not bad," said Ichigo. "You stood. Now, go forward."

The direction of the pressure changed. Instead of pushing down them like a weight, it was now gripping them tight like a vice. Konohamaru's feet slipped and the pair of them crashed into each other. It was familiar feeling. They had fought dozens of opponents together standing back-to-back like this over the years.

"This sucks," panted Hanabi.

"At least we're standing," said Konohamaru.

"Do not fall over," growled Hanabi. "Or I swear I'll land on top of you."

Konohamaru flinched at struggled to press ahead. Unsurprisingly, he made zero progress. He could feel Hanabi moving faintly against his back, but she had no more success.

"Do you have any tips?" asked Hanabi.

Konohamaru looked over at Ichigo and Kon. The stuff toy bounced—bounced!—excitedly on Ichigo's shoulder.

"Yes!" said Kon. "Have you ever tried to break a rock in a single punch?"

"Hasn't everybody?" asked Konohamaru. "When you're trying to bring something like that down, you focus all of your energy on the weakest spot and it gives way."

"That's for hard-fist users," muttered Hanabi mulishly.

"When you're sealing a tenketsu, you don't put your energy everywhere, that's wasteful. You target a specific point," said Ichigo drily. "But the point is: you don't punch the stone, you punch to the air beyond the stone. Or you don't touch the tenketsu, you push your chakra into the tenketsu."

"Focus hard and follow all the way through," added Kon.

"But how?" demanded Konohamaru. "When you're doing whatever to hold us here?"

"It's a contest of spirit," said Ichigo. The bastard still hadn't bothered to move from lotus position even though Hanabi and Konohamaru were on their feet. "I'm using my spirit to keep you in place. Your spirit has to cut through mine. Right now, it looks like I want you to stand still more than you want to move. I have a hard time believing that's true."

"And if we don't manage to move?" asked Hanabi.

"I am squeezing you together right now. You might end up having to share a funerary urn," mused Ichigo.

"No way!" yelled Konohamaru as Hanabi hissed, "Absolutely not!"

Ichigo just stared at them doubtfully. Konohamaru pulled his gaze away and focus on the ground beyond the circle. If this was a challenge to Konohamaru's spirit, then he would win! He just needed to move forward. Kon's rock explanation was surprising helpful. But Konohamaru wasn't the kind of physical powerhouse who could punch through a wall even with chakra enhanced muscles. Konohamaru was an ninjutsu expert. He used tools.

Konohamaru imagined Ichigo's spirit pressure wrapping around him like a silk tapestry hiding him from sight but also preventing him from moving. The ground outside the circle was his target was on the other side. And Konohamaru was the kunai slicing through woven silk to complete the assassination.

Konohamaru took one precise step and then another and then another. Konohamaru first step outside the edge of the circle carried him over two meters. He was putting that much chakra into his steps. As soon as Konohamaru stopped, he collapsed to the ground. Konohamaru focused on his breathing and how nice and easy it was. He was seriously considering never moving again.

A shadow fell across his face. Konohamaru opened his eyes to the confused-and-not-quite-sure-how-to-show-it gaze of Sai. Sakura was standing next to him looking unimpressed by Konohamaru's success.

"What were you doing?" he asked.

"Training sucks," groaned Konohamaru and promptly remembered that someone else was training with him.

He rolled onto his side to get a look at Hanabi. She had made it out of the circle too and done it without flinging herself across the training ground afterward. She was standing up, unmoving, with her head twist halfway around that meant she was trying to stretch the sight of her Byakugan just that much further.

"Do you see something, Hanabi?" asked Konohamaru.

"I'm not—" Hanabi cut herself off and concentrated. "Yes! Yes! It's Hinata-nee-sama and her team! They have someone on a stretcher! I think they're injured!"

"What?" Konohamaru hurled himself upright and promptly collapsed again.

He had the vague impression that Hanabi had fallen too. There was enough activity from the older shinobi to suggest something had happened. Sakura and Ichigo were yelling at each other.

"—makes shinobi and does nothing to restore the physical body," Ichigo was saying. "They fought for their lives today. Let them sleep for now. They'll be ready for what happens next."

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Some of you may have noticed it took more than two weeks to write this chapter, but life happened. I am doing okay right now. Thank you everyone who reviewed or PM'd me inquiring about my status.

I'm not going to say when the next chapter will be up because look what that got me. But there will be a next chapter eventually.

I hope you enjoyed this chapter of Soul of Fire. Thanks for reading. Please review!