Chapter 49: The Paradox of Fate
Chouji was frantic as he tried his best to stop his food from spilling from his lap, as Ino violently kept shaking his arm in excitement.
"C'mon Shikamaru!" Ino's voice screeched, her voice lost over the roar of the crowd.
He bit the inside of his cheek as beads of sweat trickled down his forehead. His face was contorted in deep concentration on the thin, black line racing across the dirt field. As it twisted and curved in pursuit of the blonde-haired girl backpedalling away, he had to fight his instinctual urge to brush away the sweat gathering above his brow.
The crowd was alive and on its feet. After simply waiting and watching the stone dome for the majority of the last match, they were excited to finally get things going again, and this match was certainly proving to be entertaining.
"You can do better than that Shikamaru!" Naruto loudly hollered from the platform, earning a tiny glare from the Nara in question, before returning back to the matter at hand.
"Hehehe, lazybones is actually doing pretty good for himself. Don't you think, Hinata?" Naruto chuckled.
His cheerful demeanor slightly faded when she simply nodded and kept staring down at the arena floor. He grew quiet as he glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. He was really starting to grow worried, and he didn't really know what to do.
Ever since she had returned from her match with Jay, she had barely said a word. After clamping Sasuke and himself into a firm hug, she refused to lighten her grip for a good 5 minutes before she finally settled down. Afterwards, she had simply murmured that she wasn't ready to talk about it and took her place along the balcony.
Of course Sasuke wasn't much help. He glanced across Hinata and sent the boy a small glare, to which he simply shot him back a look that said, 'Hey, you're better at this emotional thing than I am.'
So here he was. He just felt stuck, not knowing what to do as one of his best friends seemed to be in lockdown.
He was about to speak when he noticed Neji making his way towards them. The pale-eyed boy simply ignored Naruto's glare as he casually took a spot next to him at ledge.
He glanced past the irritated blonde at Hinata, who was still staring down, deep in thought.
"Congratulations are in order, Hinata-sama," he spoke, stirring her from her daze.
She glanced once in his direction, before mumbling a soft thank you, placing her hands along the railing.
"Despite that… I cannot help but feel slightly disappointed," he slightly scolded, waiting for her reaction.
"She won, didn't she? Quite ferociously to boot," Sasuke defensively responded, sending him a slight glare from her other side.
"Oh, I must agree. I've honestly never seen her quite that angry before. I'm referring to the rest of her performance."
Hinata sent him an odd look as he pushed off the railing and walked past her. He stopped alongside her, and without turning his head whispered, "I could see everything."
Hinata felt her face grow hot a she realized Neji had seen her mild-breakdowns inside of the maze.
"And if I could see them…" he trailed off.
This time, she felt her heart drop, as a cold feeling spread across her chest. Naruto grew increasingly worried as she started shaking and her head whipped around towards the other side of the stadium.
"That's right. Most of the clan, including the council, surely saw it as well," Neji finished.
Her grip on the guardrail threatened to bend the thin metal frame. She felt her breath hitch as wave after wave of embarrassment and fear race across her body as the implications started settling in.
"So what?" Naruto cut in, stepping between the cousins, "Whatever happened, she was under a form of genjutsu the Hyuuga have never had to deal with before. They'll understand that."
Neji chuckled as he cast his attention towards Naruto. "Then you really don't know much about the Hyuuga council, do you? The main branch is far too prideful to admit that any form of genjutsu would be able to surpass the byakugan, especially one developed by a genin of all things."
Sasuke clenched his teeth, as he knew the older boy was right.
Neji glanced back at his cousin, who refused to meet his eyes as she continued to stare at the ground, shaking.
"Even in victory, you're still fated to be a failure," Neji scoffed as he started to walk away, but was held in his tracks, as Naruto clenched onto the back of his collar.
He felt himself twisted around to find Naruto directly in his face.
"Care to repeat that again?"
"Gladly. The same could be said about you as well," Neji replied, staring straight back into Naruto's glare.
As much as he wanted to see this play out, Sasuke reached out and grasped Naruto's hand on Neji's collar.
"Naruto, don't do anything stupid. It's not worth getting disqualified for starting a fight now."
Naruto growled as he stared back at Neji's relaxed eyes, whose gaze simply seemed to be begging him to take a swing.
As he was about to open his mouth, an incredulous roar burst from the crowd, garnering their attention. Shouts and boos rained from the crowd as Shikamaru started walking away from the blonde-haired girl who stood frozen in place, absolutely shocked by what she had just heard.
"What did he say?" Naruto asked in confusion.
"He gave up," Kankuro chuckled from the other side of Sasuke as he watched his sister began ranting at the Nara's retreating backside over her false-win.
"HE WHAT?" Naruto exclaimed, momentarily forgetting his quarrel with Neji as his eyes whipped around to follow Shikamaru as he made his way back.
Naruto let the Hyuuga go, as he joined in with the conclave of boos that showered down from the rest of the crowd. Neji simply dusted off his shirt as he flattened out the wrinkles in his collar.
As the crowd continued to boo, the announcer came back out and tried to gain some control back over the stadium.
"WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU, SHIKAMARU?" Naruto exclaimed as the lazy Nara, arrived from the stairwell.
"What? Can't help it if I run out of chakra. What a drag too. I almost had her," he sighed as he rubbed the back of his neck.
A tick mark grew on Naruto's forehead as he angrily tapped his foot.
"Oh, of course you did. I bet she was running you ragged the entire time," Naruto huffed in exasperation.
Shikamaru shot him an irritated glance. "Where you actually watching the match?"
"Of course I was, until that stupid bastard starting bothering Hinata-chan. Speaking of which, I-"
"Dobe!" Sasuke cut in.
"If you're really that riled up, now's you're chance."
"Huh?" Naruto asked, tilting his head in confusion.
Sasuke rolled his eyes and simply pointed at the screen above the stadium, where Naruto's face was plastered alongside Neji's.
"You're up," Sasuke said, glancing back at Neji as he calmly made his way towards the staircase.
"About time," Naruto growled, cracking his knuckles.
"Likewise," Neji smirked as the two made their way down the steps.
"Now why did we have to watch from somewhere like this. Honestly, with all the money you make from those "novels" as you love to call them, surely you could have afforded somewhere better than this."
"Now, I'm sure Jiraiya-chan has his reasons. Besides, would you honestly rather be the center of attention as everyone stared at us?" an elderly man's voice responded.
"That's not the point! He could have at least picked somewhere less windy," the elderly woman's voice responded.
"All right. Settle down you two. It's main event time," Jiraiya smirked as he stared down from his spot on top of the arena.
"So it is," Fukasaku replied as he turned his attention from poking fun at his wife to stare down at the arena below. He had been mildly surprised by Jiraiya's summons, especially for something as casual as watching some exams.
Dropping her false irritation, Shima glanced up at Jiraiya. "While it's always lovely to spend time with you Jiraiya-chan, something tells me you didn't call the two of us out here simply to watch your latest student. What's going on?"
"Call it a hunch," Jiraiya replied as his eyes scanned the surrounding rooftops of the arena, before settling his gaze on the Kage press box.
"A very unsettling hunch," Jiraiya finished, narrowing his eyes on the sitting form of the Kazekage as he conversed with the Hokage.
"Expecting trouble?" Fukasaku asked.
"Possibly. Let's just say I'd rather be safe than sorry about some sketch intel."
"Well, we'll be happy to lend a hand if things go south, right Pa?"
Fukasaku nodded as he turned his gaze down to the tiny speck of blonde-hair, making his way towards the center of the field.
'So this is the one Huli has been telling me about," he mused as he watched the boy get into position across from his opponent, 'Just what troubles are you bringing us Naruto Uzumaki?'
Jiraiya was wrestling with his own thoughts as he stared down at his student. For better or worse, today was the day everything changed.
"Naruto, come here for a minute." Jiraiya called motioning the boy.
He groaned but willingly jogged over to the old man, and patiently waited for what he had to say.
"What's up sensei?" Naruto asked after an odd period of silence.
"I'm about to make a call, but I haven't really decided if it's the right one yet."
"Huh? Whaddaya mean?" he asked cocking his head to the side.
Jiraiya chuckled as he ruffled the boy's hair. He was just too pure.
"You know what, we'll talk about it later, but for right now just remember this."
Jiraiya was quiet as he watched Genma approaching the two boys.
"I want you to go out there and announce to the world: I am here!"
Genma could feel the tension in the air between the two, as he got ready to start the match.
"Alright, don't take things too far you two," he warned giving them each a hard glare, "Alright, if you're both ready, then you can begin."
Neither opponent moved as the crowd roared in excitement. They simply stayed rooted in place staring the other down.
Neji smirked before asking, "You have something to wish to say before we get started?"
"Yeah, as a matter of fact I do," Naruto replied with a glare. He paused for a few seconds before responding, "I've been waiting for this. Not just for what you did in the forest, but also for how you've been acting towards my team. I do not appreciate how you've acted towards Sasuke or myself…"
He paused as he glanced at the girl in question, whose full attention was now firmly fixed on the two of them.
"… and especially towards Hinata-chan."
Hinata felt her face feel flushed as she felt him stare back and forth between Neji and herself.
"I may not be the smartest guy in the world, but don't think I haven't noticed your effect on her, and not just from today. Any time you're brought up, it immediately places her on edge. I may not know the full story, but I do not take people bothering my team lightly. I don't care if you are her cousin, I do not tolerate bullies."
Neji seemed unaffected by his words as he began to settle into his opening position.
"The words of a child. I think it's about time I showed you how pointless your little dream is, by reminding you of your place here and now."
"Likewise," Naruto responded as he also settled into his opening stance.
Silence swept over the arena as the whole crowd waited with bated breath for someone to make the first move.
Neji was silent as he glared at this opponent, tensing up at the slightest movement.
Naruto smirked as he watched the frown on Neji's face. He suddenly jolted his body, causing Neji jerk in alarm, preparing for the boy's oncoming assault. Instead, he grew frustrated as the blonde simply faked him out and continue to stay in place.
A smile crept along Naruto's face at the boy's reaction, before he burst out laughing.
Not letting his guard down, Neji remained frozen, as the boy calmed down to a chuckle.
"You know, Neji, as much as it really pains me to admit it, we actually have a lot in common."
"Oh really," Neji replied, raising an eyebrow in disbelief.
"Sure," Naruto replied shrugging, "both of our fighting styles are actually pretty similar. All it can take is one touch and, poof, game over. All you got to do is touch me and shut down my chakra system, and I just got to tap you to place a gravity seal."
"However," he smirked as chakra began swirling in his gut, racing throughout his body and causing Neji to tense up in alarm, "There is one critical difference in our styles."
Neji narrowed his eyes. "And what's that?"
"Long range," Naruto smirked as he leapt backwards two times, before biting his thumb. He smeared the blood across the palm and raced through several hand signs before shouting, "Summoning Jutsu!"
Smoke erupted from the ground, obscuring the boy, causing the crowd to murmur in excitement. As the clouds faded away, their murmurs turned to confusion as they stared at the tiny orange and blue toad sitting between the boy's legs.
"What the hell is that?" Ino asked in slight disgust, as they stared down at the strange creature squatting in front of Naruto, "Is that a frog?"
"A toad," Asuma corrected in mild astonishment as he leaned forward in his seat. Now this was getting interesting.
"I didn't know anyone else beside Jiraiya of the Sannin had access to the toad contract," Ko responded in shock. As a summoning expert himself, he fully understood the rarity of seeing the summons of the Toad clan in person.
"Today's the day, huh boss?" Gamakichi asked as he glanced around the arena, taking in the sights and sounds of this new environment.
"You bet. You ready to go?"
Gamakichi nodded agreement as his gaze finally settled on the Hyuuga boy across from him.
"Wait, wait, wait. Are we fighting Mr. Pretty Boy over there? Honestly how you built him up, I was expecting more," he shrugged as he gazed Neji up and down.
Neji ignored their ridiculous banter as he carefully eyed the tiny creature. It had cost Uzumaki quite a lot of chakra for him to pump out this creature. While he would call him one any day of the week, Uzumaki was admittedly no fool when it came to combat. His battles involving Lee and the Cloud-nin had certainly demonstrated that. He kept up his guard as the tiny toad plopped onto the boy's head.
"Well certainly seems like a festive occasion," Gamakichi commented glancing around the arena, "It's really working up my appetite. We really should cook something. Hungry for barbeque?"
"Starving," Naruto smirked as he glanced down at Neji. "I'll bring the matches-"
"-and I'll bring the oil!" Gamakichi finished as the two of them began racing through hand signs.
"Collaberation: Katon: Toad Oil Flame Bullet!" the two cried in unison, as the oil launched from Gamakichi's mouth was ignited by Naruto's fire.
The resulting fire roared to life, rushing across the field. Neji leapt backwards, vaulting hand over foot, and launched himself up the wall of the arena. The burning oil slammed against the concrete, pooling below him, causing him to face intense heat of the updraft.
Gamakichi and Naruto leaned their heads back as they launched another volley of the burning oil.
Neji quickly began racing along the wall, as the burning oil crashed in his tracks. He glared as he reached into his pouch and launched a barrage of shuriken at the immobile blonde.
The blonde simply reached into his pouch and tossed a single kunai up in the air. Gamakichi's tongue burst from his mouth, wrapping around the tiny hole in the handle. In one fluid motion, his tongue whipped around, knocking the shuriken from their intended baths, much to the audience's excitement.
Neji grunted as he leapt from the wall, and fell to the ground with some mild discomfort. Ignoring the feeling in his knees, he pushed himself up and began racing towards the pair.
He dodged as short volleys of burning oil were launched at him, before the pair began running through new forms of hand signs.
"Suiton: Pressure Stream!" Gamakich shouted as water erupted from his mouth.
The stream of water struck Neji in the shoulder, slightly veering him off course, but he was able to recover as he leapt and bent over the blast of water, as he grew increasingly closer.
'Pretty Boy's got some fancy footwork,' Gamakichi thought in irritation as the boy continued to draw closer.
Neji leapt up into the air, soaring over the duo's heads, causing Gamakichi to cut off his jutsu. Neji landed behind them, and swiftly slid into a low kick, sweeping Naruto off his feet. Neji continued his momentum and twisted around, his arms poised to thrust. As his body turned to face the falling boy, Neji's palm flew forward, aimed for the boy's shoulder. As he was about to land the first blow, something slimy and wet firmly wrapped around his arm and forcefully tugged him off balance.
Neji followed the appendage wrapped around his wrist, and glared up at the toad that had finally left his perch from Naruto's head.
"Made you look," a voice taunted below him, causing his eyes to widen as he glanced down at the blonde below, who had his own arm outstretched, inches away from his bare skin.
The blonde's devious smile was in full force as he reached up and tapped Neji's outstretched arm, causing a black pattern to burst to life on his skin.
Gamakichi reared his head back and yanked the Hyuuga boy off to the side, allowing Naruto to leap up off his back.
Neji pulled as hard as he could against the small creature, but he was shocked by the amount of strength the tiny toad seemed to hide in its body.
'Fine,' he cursed to himself as he quit fighting against the creature. He wrapped his arm around more of the creature's tongue and grabbed hold of it with his other. Squeezing down as hard as he could, he began forcing as much chakra as he could into the muscle.
Gamakichi released him instantly, squealing in pain as the muscles in his tongue began to painfully constrict.
Neji made three steps towards the creature, before he suddenly found it incredibly hard to move. He grit his teeth as he fought simply to remain on his feet. He tried to glance behind him, before a fist was smashed into his face.
He reeled back as Naruto smashed him once in the mouth, before ducking under the Hyuuga's arm. He thrust forward delivering a solid hit to the boy's gut, as Neji swung his arm towards him.
He ducked under the blow, and as Neji's arm sailed over his head, he crossed his right hand into a seal.
Neji's eyes widened as he felt the weight on him increase, as it became even harder to stay upright.
He tried to turn to defend himself, but was surprised to find something wet smack against his face. He gasped as he glanced down to see tiny toad delivering a kick with its long legs to his stomach.
In any other situation, Naruto would have laughed. It was almost comical to watch Gamakichi fighting so earnestly with his tongue uncomfortably sticking out of his mouth, but this wasn't the time for that.
The two of them took turns darting in and out, taking shots at the Hyuuga genius, as he struggled to put up any resistance through the gravity seal.
The crowd was honestly shocked as they basically watched the village pariah deliver the prodigy of the Hyuuga clan his noble ass.
They were not the only ones. Hinata and Sasuke were just as surprised as they were. Hinata had constantly lived her life watching Neji's back as a shadow she never thought she'd over come. To see Naruto dealing with him so easily was...incredible.
Sasuke was surprised to see this much efficiency out of the dobe. His fighting style had improved a lot. Of course, he was fighting against an opponent who couldn't fight back, but he could still see how much he had improved.
It was in his eyes. The way they tracked Neji's movements. It just held more experience than it had the last time he watched him fight. Sasuke had a hard time suppressing a smile. Sure, he had to admit he was enjoying Neji face some karma, but the itch that had been born from watching Naruto's fight with Ehl was back in full effect.
He needed to know how they stacked up.
Neji panted as he glared across at the two figures, patiently waiting for his next move.
Before he could even make a step, Naruto rushed forward, sliding under his guard and sweeping his legs out from under him.
As he fell in the air, his eyes widened as the tiny toad launched itself straight at him and smashed him with both legs, sending him flying.
He groaned as he slid against the ground, until he came to an uncomfortable stop. The gravity seals were making it almost impossible to move. Even the simplest of movements were an ordeal now.
"Having fun yet Neji? Cause we can end this now if you want," the blonde taunted with a thick smile on his face. "As fun as wailing on you is, I don't think kicking the Hyuuga prodigy while he's down will look good on my resume, when I'm applying for Hokage."
Neji couldn't help but chuckle, as he forced himself to face Naruto out of the corner of his eye.
"Stilling clinging onto that ridiculous dream of yours?"
"What of it?"
"Heh, it's funny that you actually think that somehow you'll become the Hokage. The spot held for the greatest shinobi in the village will not be taken up by some random orphan everyone looks down on."
Naruto was silent as he took a deep breath. He raised his hand in a sign, and Neji buckled as the gravity seals increased to an incredibly uncomfortable degree. He grunted as the ground beneath him actually cracked from the weight.
Against Lee, Naruto had been sure to slowly increment the amount of gravitational force that affected his body in order to prevent the boy from seriously hurting himself. He saw no reason to continue that courtesy now.
"Yeah, we're done," Naruto replied as he glanced over at the judge, who was slowly making his way across the arena.
As soon as Naruto turned his attention away, Neji closed his eyes and began focusing his chakra into his head.
"Honestly, I'm a little disappointed," Gamakichi croaked as he hopped next to Naruto's side.
"No kidding. Nice work by the way. Alright Gamakichi, let's start heading b-"
Naruto was cut off as he suddenly felt a surge of chakra violently explode behind him. He whipped around only to face a fist two inches from his face.
His eyes could only widen in surprise as he was sent flying back across the arena.
"What the he-" Gamakichi cried before he was violently kicked into the air. He felt his breath knocked from his body as he tumbled across the ground. The tiny toad squeezed his eyes open to see a shining figure dart towards him, before his body exploded in pain once again.
A fist firmly buried in his gut, before he was sent crashing into the concrete wall of the stadium. Before he could get up, he felt himself being squeezed as he was forcefully lifted up.
Naruto shook his head as he tried to clear his blurry vision. He had actually flown across the entire arena before smashing into the concrete wall. He placed a hand against the wall to steady himself as he glanced across the meadow.
"I'm sorry I seemed to disappoint the two of you, but I do hope that this makes up for it," the figure proclaimed before slamming the toad one last time against the wall, where he exploded into a pile of smoke.
Naruto's eyes widened as he watched Gamakichi get dispelled back to Mt. Myoboku. While he certainly felt guilty for the toad, he had a feeling that Gamabunta's anger about the state of his son was the least of his problems right now.
Neji's byakugan seemed to be twice as intimidating as he stared his opponent down.
Neji let out a long breath as he continued to feel his body adjust to this state.
"Inner Gates: Gate of Opening complete," he coldly stated.
'Oh shit…" Naruto thought as flashbacks of Lee started dancing in his mind, 'I am not going to be a human beach ball again!'
In the stands, Lee watched on in frustration as he was forced to watch Neji utilizing the same technique that he had worked so hard to achieve.
"Go ahead, Lee. I know you have something to say," Gai said, as if reading his mind.
"Sensei… you taught him the Inner Gates as well?"
"Indeed. As much as it may hurt seeing Neji using that technique, you need to remember that he is also my pupil, and I cannot turn my students away when they ask for help."
Tenten glanced back at him in surprise. "Neji actually asked you to teach him that?"
"Indeed," Gai replied, crossing his arms, "As you both know, Neji can be quite stubborn about opening up, so you can imagine my surprise when he approached me asking for help. After the preliminaries, he approached me asking me to teach him the basics of the technique. As much as he hates to admit it, Neji understood how challenging young Naruto would be as an opponent."
He glanced down at Lee with a light smile, "You'll be proud to hear that he even admitted that he would not have been able to keep up with you if he had faced you in the preliminaries."
Lee's eyes widened as Gai continued, "So he understood the danger those gravity seals presented, and he needed a way to continue to fight unencumbered, if Naruto was able to get past his guard. Just as you did, he saw the Inner Gates as a method to overcome the weight limit."
"I…see," Lee responded gazing back down at his rival.
Gai watched his young protégé watch on, but decided to remain silent. This was not the place for this kind of talk.
"And next…," Neji cried out as he focused even more chakra in his brain, "Inner Gates: Gate of Healing! Open!"
Naruto covered his eyes as the swell of chakra caused the wind to whip in his face.
Neji slightly struggled to contain the overwhelming energy, as it traveled through every cell in his body. He had never felt so alert. With the limit removed from his brain, his mind was racing over four times its usual rate, allowing him to process more information than ever before.
His chakra began working throughout his body. Repairing any damage that had been caused by Uzumaki's earlier assault.
After a few seconds, he let out a sigh in comfort. He honestly felt incredible.
The gravity seal left on his arm barely even registered to him anymore. It hardly even-
Neji's eyes widened as he felt the seal's force increase yet again. It wasn't nearly as bad as it was before, but he certainly could still feel its effects.
Naruto was beyond shocked. Neji was currently pushing five times normal gravity and still on his feet.
The current seal he had placed on him was at its max. He would have to apply more if he wanted to slow him down anymore.
Without wasting anymore time, Naruto raced towards the Hyuuga adjusting to the latest change in gravity.
Naruto leapt through the air, aiming a kick at the boy's head, which he was easily able to block. Naruto leapt back before attempting two more strikes, which were met with the same level of ease.
Tired of just waiting for his opponent, Neji finally began striking back. Naruto found himself truly struggling to keep up with Neji's blows. They weren't too fast for him to follow, but now they were about even regarding speed. It was now all up to whose taijutsu form was stronger, and unfortunately he knew between the two of them who had the other beat.
"You know Uzumaki, you were right earlier," Neji calmly stated after his latest barrage of attacks left a trail of purple welts along Naruto's forearm. He winced as he felt the jyuuken do its work, causing his muscles to painfully contract.
"How so?" he grunted as he tried to knock away, the seemingly faster strikes.
"We do have similar styles; however, what sets us apart are our weaknesses."
Naruto felt confused before hissing in pain as Neji got a surprise jab into his ribs.
"I must thank you for pointing out my weakness in long range. I will be sure to remedy that. Your weakness, however, will not be so easily rectified."
Neji then proceed to land one punch to his face, before leaping over him.
Sensing the momentary weakness on Neji's landing, Naruto whipped around as fast as he could to deliver a strike while he was vulnerable. Fist extended, he whipped around only for his heart to stop as he came face-to-face with someone else.
Her eyes began to water, as he realized his fist was only inches from her face.
His breath hitched in his chest as Neji lunged through the vision of Hinata to strike a jyuuken strike straight to the boy's lung.
Naruto's eyes widened as blood erupted from his throat.
"You're too sentimental," Neji commented as he began lowering himself into a very familiar stance.
"Checkmate, Uzumaki," he declared as his fingers began glowing blue.
"Two Palms!" he cried out as Naruto could do nothing to stop his fingers from jabbing into his skin.
"Four Palms! Eight Palms!"
Sasuke and Hinata could only watch in frustration as Naruto was violently bombarded by more and more hits every second.
Finally, Neji reared back for his final set. "Eight-Trigrams: Sixty Four Palms!"
A fountain of blue erupted across Naruto's body as Neji's finger's danced across his skin, shutting down every single chakra point they came in contact with.
With a final shout, he slammed his hand into Naruto's chest, sending him sliding back a foot and a half. The boy heaved as he tried to breathe and stay on his feet, before eventually, his legs gave out beneath him.
Neji was heaving himself as he rested on his knees. Performing each of the movements of the 64 Palm techniques while being weighed down by the gravity seals was no easy task.
However, he chuckled as he regained his breath and made his way towards his opponent.
"I must say Uzumaki, I am quite impressed. I might have to take back what I said. You're not a complete failure after all. At least not as much as she is."
"Sh-shut up!" Naruto growled as he forced his head to look up at Neji. He grit his teeth as he glared up at Neji. His smug grin only pissing him off more.
"Grrrr. What is your problem? I'm used to people hating me, but why are you so cruel to her? She's done nothing to you!"
Neji's eyes flashed as he glared down at the blonde.
"Nothing to me?" he repeated, "Everything their fault! Both her and the rest of the Main Branch!"
"What….the hell… are you talking about," Naruto gasped between breathes.
Neji glanced towards the genin's stands, and watched as Hinata shied away under his gaze.
"It seems you're behind on your Hyuuga history. Allow me to fill in the blanks that Hinata-sama failed to fill in."
Naruto watched on in confusion as Neji removed his headband and silently began unwrapping the binds around his head. As he finished removing the final layer, Naruto was surprised to see the black marks adorning his forehead. While he didn't know exactly what it was, his brain was dissecting it almost by instinct.
"Is that… a seal?" he panted.
"The Caged Bird Seal," Neji angrily responded, lightly tracing over the design with a finger.
Hinata watched on in guilty silence, unaware of the tiny light emitting from her pouch as a white symbol etched itself into a scroll.
He angrily glared across the stadium towards the VIP box towards one man in particular. On the outside, Hiashi Hyuuga met his nephew's glare with the same detached look he gave everyone. On the inside, he sighed, as he knew what was coming.
Neji glared back at Naruto before angrily pointing at the seal. "This is a mark of suppression. Something forced onto all of the branch members at birth in order to keep us in line. Simply because of the order in which we are born, any member of the Hyuuga may be forced to wear this for the rest of their lives."
Naruto frowned as he saw Neji's muscles tense before he continued, "It's quite impressive in it's cruelty. Would you like to know what it does? Imagine I were to disobey an order from on of the clan's elders or perhaps a main branch member didn't approve of my tone when speaking to them. Regardless if it's deserved or not, any one of them can activate this seal and you can take my word that no matter how much you might believe you're in now." He glanced over Naruto's disheveled form before closing his eyes and continuing, "Would be blissful relief compared to what it does to you."
For once, Naruto had nothing to say, as Neji glared up at the Kage box. "It must be nice for the rest of the village. To act oblivious and pretend that they don't allow this... slavery to exist within their village's walls."
As he ended his rant, Neji glanced back down at Naruto's troubled expression. He saw him glance over towards Hinata as asking her to verify if his story was true. Her refusal to meet his gaze told him everything he needed to know.
"She failed to mention that little detail, didn't she? That half of her clan was forced to live as slaves."
Naruto was shaken from his stupor and grit his teeth as he glared back up at Neji, "Fine. That really... REALLY sucks! But what does that have to do with Hinata?"
True fury engulfed Neji's face, as he shouted, "She's the reason my father is dead!"
As Neji recounted the story of the Hyuuga Affair, even Sasuke felt no small amount of pity for Neji. It all started to click to him, as he remembered his first conversation with Hinata regarding Neji just before they entered the Forest of Death. Glancing down at her, he was surprised what he saw. The way she held herself was completely different than what he expected. She did not shudder or shake, in fact, he was surprised by how relaxed her body posture was. There was no violent outburst of guilt or sadness. Instead, it was all in her eyes. Her large, lavender eyes expressed more than her actions ever could. They were almost glossed over, etched with guilt, pity, and misery; all the while, two constant streams of tears trailed down her cheeks.
He was silent for a few moments before whispering, "You know that isn't your fault right?"
She simply shook her head, her gaze never leaving Neji's face, contorted in anger and pain. "Yes, yes it is," she murmured as her tears began to puddle at the bottom of her cheek.
Sasuke fell silent, before a frown settled onto his face.
"So you're telling me at three years old, you somehow intentionally planned to be kidnapped by Kumo?"
The question completely caught her off-guard, causing her to break her stare from Neji. She turned to face Sasuke, who seemed to be ignoring her gaze.
"W-what do you mean?"
"Exactly what I said. You said it was your fault. So you're telling me that somehow you were able to arrange someone to kidnap you at three years old?"
"I don't… I don't understand..."
"I'm not going to repeat myself. Did you or did you not?" he replied more sternly this time, casting an eye on her.
"O-of course not!" she responded, taken aback by his tone.
He let out a breath from nose, before turn his gaze back to the field. "Then stop saying it's your fault. Stop burdening yourself with guilt for something you didn't commit. I can understand it is upsetting, but I don't want to hear you keep blaming yourself for things outside of your control. Are we clear?"
Hinata remained silent as his words reverberated inside her mind.
"Are we clear?" Sasuke repeated slightly louder, with a hint of irritation.
She remained silent for a few more second before she lightly chuckled. She couldn't help but suppress the tugging on the edges of her lips, as the tiniest of smiles lit up her face as she realized what he was trying to do.
She nodded as she finally began wiping away the trail of tears that had been gathering on her cheeks and under her chin.
"For the record," she slowly said as she rubbed her face against her sleeve, "You're going to need a deeper voice if you're going to try acting like sensei."
Sasuke seemed to ignore her lsat comment as if he hadn't heard it, as he continued to stare down at Naruto's beaten form.
"Alright, pity time is over. Start paying attention. This match isn't over yet."
Hinata was silent as she returned her attention back to the match at hand. She felt horrible as she gazed upon Naruto. His new clothes where torn and tattered, as well as stained from blood and dirt. She could feel Naruto's gaze as he turned his attention back to her. She didn't want things to end here for him, especially after all of his hard work.
Finally, she shook herself as he broke her gaze, and turned back to respond to Sasuke.
"What do you mean? Did you see that he has a plan?"
"No, he has nothing, but this match still isn't over," Sasuke responded with certainty. Shimarau raised an eye brow as the pair's conversation came to an end, and he took a place next to Sasuke at the railing.
"Why do you say that?" Shikamaru asked, glancing up at him.
"Because it's him. That idiot just doesn't know when to stay down," Sasuke replied with a light smirk.
Shikamaru was silent for a second, before lightly chuckling and turning back to the field. Hinata also giggled at his remark as she turned back to the match.
Sasuke was right. It was one of the many things she absolutely admired him for. His one creed that she had taken to heart more than any other. The will to never give up.
Half a minute earlier...
Neji was silent as he finished his story regarding the passing of his father.
"This is my fate now. To forever be a slave to an unworthy family. Forced to be held back, simply because my father came out a few seconds after hers."
Naruto remained silent as he lay in the dirt. His body was aching and it was difficult to even breathe, but regardless of that, his brain was running a mile-a-minute, fully digesting Neji's story. He winced as he turned his head to glance across the arena towards the balcony, until his eyes fell on Hinata. It was obvious how guilty she felt. His gaze softened as he mind flashed back to the first time their team had ever met as a group.
Of course she had been shy and nervous, but she calmy stood up and said, "Erm... hello. My name is Hinata Hyuuga. My likes also include reading, as well as flower pressing, and my family. My dislikes…" Her thoughts trailed off as she thought about the divide in amongst the Hyuuga. "…are rather personal to my clan. And my dreams are…" She blushes as she shoots Naruto a quick glance, before pinching herself and holding her head up high, "To become the next leader of my clan, so that I can finally unify both houses."
As his memory needed, he couldn't help but weakly smile as he watched Sasuke try to cheer her up in his own way, before shifting his gaze back to Neji.
"You're so full of shit," he muttered, making sure Neji would clearly hear him.
Neji's eyes flashed in irritation as he lifted his foot and began firmly applying pressure to Naruto's back.
Naruto only chuckled under Neji's display of force. "For someone with x-ray, binocular, and 360 degrees of vision, it's amazing how blind you are."
Naruto pushed his head up and shouted, "She cares about you all so much. All she wants to do is help you, but you just put her down and belittle her. Are you sure she's the one suppressing you?"
Neji's nostrils flared as he applied slightly more pressure, before swiftly lifting his heel from Naruto's back and backed up.
He turned to walk away, but turned one last time to say, "Placing my trust in her would be pointless. She is far too soft to run the clan. Besides, it's not as if she has any chance, especially after today. Her behavior inside the maze was pathetic, and it was observed by the entire council. Trust me, it did nothing to help her perception in the elder's eyes. She'll never have the support to become clan head."
"Well, it can be kinda hard to gain any traction when even your family keeps putting you down," Naruto shot in, causing Neji to pause.
After a few seconds, he shook his head and turned to Genma. "Referee, this match is finished. I'm done wasting my time here."
Without another word, Neji began making his way across the arena. Before he was even halfway back towards the stands, he paused as he heard a slight whistling sound.
Instinct kicked in, and his head jerked to the side a kunai sailed past his face, lightly cutting his cheek.
He whipped around with a frown to see the blonde barely on his feet with one hand on his knees and the other outstretched win front of him.
"Where... do you think... you're going," Naruto panted, "I'm not finished with you yet."
He grit his teeth as head raised his head to meet Neji's gaze.
"I... am still standing!"
"A fact that can be easily remedied," Neji responded in kind, before rushing back and forcefully shoving Naruto off his feet.
Naruto slid a few feet before painfully falling backwards onto his back, where he spent the next minute gathering his breath, before he worked up enough energy to push himself to his feet.
'I'll give him this, he doesn't know when to give up,' Neji thought as he watched Naruto teeter side-to-side, trying to stay on his feet. "This is pointless. What do you hope to accomplish? It is impossible for you to defeat me in your current state. You can't even access any chakra. Why do you keep getting back up?"
Naruto was silent before he slowly raised his hands into a single hand sign.
"Because… you called us... failures."
He closed his eyes as he forced his body to begin tugging towards the mark along the middle of his stomach. He gritted his teeth as he pushed his body to reach out and clamp onto the swirling body of chakra, as a loud roar echoed in his mind.
Suddenly, Neji found himself fighting to keep his balance as a wave of violent chakra flooded accompanied with strong winds swept over the stadium.
"What… What the hell is this?" he thought incredulously. He winced as he fought to cover his eyes from the strong winds, but even with his byakugan, he was still confused at what was going on. He was left shocked as he watched a strange, new source of chakra, drowned in a red, malevolent aura begin flooding throughout the blonde's body. His entire chakra system should have been blocked off, but Naruto was somehow forcing this ridiculous chakra through his body's network.
Not only was it flowing, but this chakra was also forcing open all of the blondes chakra points he had closed off in his earlier attack.
"What is this dark chakra?" Neji cursed as he could only watch as this strange, red chakra erupted from the boy's stomach, spreading out in every direction. "Or... is it even chakra at all?"
"There it is again," Hinata muttered as she and Sasuke braced themselves as the waves of heavy chakra washed over them. She had been only half-conscious at the time, but she could still vividly remember the feeling this chakra from their mission to Wave. While the chakra still held a malevolent feeling to it, it felt incredibly more reigned in than before. However, that didn't mean it was something to scoff at. It still made the hair on her arms stand on end, and fill the air with a thick, heavy feeling that seemed to press down on her.
She was forced to remove her grip on the railing to cover her eyes, as her face was assaulted by the onslaught of wind. Sasuke on the other hand didn't even seem to mind the wind. In fact, his eyes never let the sight of his teammate as this red chakra swirled around him. Sure, he had known about the blonde's "tenant" ever since the team's little hear-to-heart in Wave, but believing and seeing were two very different things. This was the first time he was actually conscious to experience the "demon's" chakra in person. He was shocked by just how... overbearing it was. It felt like heavy bursts of hot gas were being blasted against his body, and that was without even mentioning it's biggest affect.
It was as if a presence was simply rolling through him in waves. The closest thing he could compare it to was Zabuza's killing intent, but even that paled in comparison. Zabuza's intent had been overbearing, but it had carried an almost manufactured feeling to it. It was almost like he could tell that the rage and anger weren't directly intended for him.
But this... it almost felt personal. As if he were the true target of all of this presence's anger. All that hatred and anguish directed straight at him.
But what really struck him the most was from whom all this was coming from. While he had accepted his teammate's status as a jinchuuriki, it was almost as if it never truly settled in to his mind. The guy was just too naive and upbeat. The idea of the village's ultimate demon inside of him of all people just never clicked with him.
But now, being bathed in the glow of this chakra, Sasuke felt like he was truly beginning to understand the situation his teammate was actually in. His eyes flashed red as the picture of Naruto's engulfed by a sea of red was burned into his mind. Even as the chakra continued to flow over him, it couldn't stop a new feeling that was rushing over him.
Naruto was uncharacteristically silent as the strange chakra finally stopped thrashing out and spreading in every direction. As he let out his breathe, the chakra seemed to settle and began focusing solely on his body, forming an aura around himself.
When he finally opened his eyes, Neji was taken back by the sight. Gone were his bright, blue eyes. In their place, were two bloodshot, red eyes with sharp, slanted irises. He never broke Neji's gaze, as he calmly withdrew a trident-style kunai from his pouch.
'Impossible! Does… does he have a kekkai genkai?" Neji thought as he tried to understand what exactly was happening. 'Just... what is he?'
Shaking himself from his stupor, Neji grit his teeth and began raising his own chakra. As he forced his energy to flow through his body, he could not stop Naruto's words from before echoing in his head.
"Well, it can be kinda hard to gain any traction when even your family keeps putting you down."
'Shut up... Shut up!'
"Why? Why won't you just stay down?" he growled as he took a few slow steps before racing full tilt towards the blonde. His hands erupted in blue chakra as he prepared to deliver another stroke.
This time to his heart.
"Why?" Naruto repeated before he too rushed forward. As they finally drew upon each other, the blonde tossed his kunai forward towards Neji's head. He almost smirked at the throw as he easily tilted his head to miss the blade. It was almost as if he wasn't even aiming for his head.
Just as they were within inches of each other, the blonde indignantly cried, "Because that... is MY fate!"
Ignoring the blonde's words, Neji swept under his arm and pressed forward towards his chest. The blonde seemed completely unconcerned about the glaring weaknesses in his guard as Neji reached forward to strike him.
And then, just as he was about to land his hit, it happened.
He simply vanished.
Gone in a yellow flash.
Dumbstruck, Neji could do nothing but continue his path forward before the blonde suddenly returned to his byakugan's field of view, hovering right above his back.
Neji was beyond shocked, but what actually scared him was the massive concentration of chakra that was forming in Naruto's hand.
The heat from the Rasegan bathed his palm, as he glared down at the wide-open back of his opponent. He tightened his grip on his kunai as he twisted mid-air and slammed the blue orb into the small of Neji's back.
It was only a matter of seconds, but to everyone in the crowd, it felt like hours. All of the older shinobi recognized the technique instantly. Every single one of them mouthed the words that screamed from the boy's lips.
Dust was sent flying as Neji was slammed into the earth beneath him. Tears stung his face at the pain, as a combination of burning and tearing flashed in his mind.
Despite this, when he would look back to this day, he would remember the blonde's next word's perfectly.
Naruto was silent as he stood over Neji, before he finally met his gaze and said, "Maybe fate does have a plan set out for us to follow, but what gives anyone the right to say that they know what our fate is? The circumstances of one's birth do not dictate your destiny, only your starting line. You decide what your destiny is, and then you work as hard as you need to make sure it's a reality."
Neji didn't know what to say as Naruto turned away from him.
"Accepting 'fate' is just the same as giving up. Maybe there is some destiny for each of us, but its impossible for anyone to know what it is until it's over; until then fate is what you make of it."
Man, it's been awhile, hasn't it? Good to be back.
The invasion should finally kick off next chapter, and we can actually get into the 2 big fights of this arc (That's right. I said 2. Team 7 and the Sand Siblings aren't going to be the only ones in the spotlight. Let me just say this: after these fights, you'll understand why I've been holding off the release of the Kitsune Gaiden until the end of this arc).
Also, I know I changed it before to some confusion, but I am going to have to do it again. I know the Fox Hellfire jutsu colors are not correct as of this moment, but I plan to go back through everything and change them.
FOR THE FINAL RECORD: the colors change from 1) red/yellow, 2) to blue and finally 3) to white. That's it. End of discussion. Now it's correct.
Last thing: I know I've been gone quite a long time, and with that comes the doubts and worries about the story being dropped and left unfinished. Those are legitimate concerns, but I'd like to say this: you all have been so supportive and we have gotten so far that I would find it a shame to not finish this work. I plan to go as long as I can, but, even if the worst-case scenario comes to pass and I can no longer push myself to write this story, I would not just leave you hanging without it's resolution. In that scenario, I would post one last chapter telling you guys how the story was going to pan out completely. I say knowing how a story would end without getting to see is much better than just being left hanging. That being said, I don't foresee that happening (because honestly, if it came to that and I started typing up the full plot summary, I'd probably get back into it).
Anyway, sorry if the quality wasn't up to the norm. Mostly planned the fight from old notes, and couldn't find much to add. I'm just getting back into it.
Since it's been such a long time, I thought it'd be a good idea to do a refresher on everything that's going on so far (since I honestly need one myself).
- Ria and Tai are the orphaned grandchildren of the Tsuchikage, who are currently residing in Konoha after Ria suppressed her memories due to the trauma of losing her parents.
- They also have an older brother who was kidnapped by a mask-wearing Uchiha the same night they lost their parents.
- Their parents were assassinated by a man named Bossa Zaufu, who is the right hand man of the Iwa elder, Yuuta Tsubasa.
- Iwa's mole, Yoshio, is currently living within Konoha's walls and seems very interested in growing closer to Inoichi Yamanaka.
- Hinata's scroll just activated yet again, signaling yet another story from the Otsutsuki history. This time it seemed to react to Neji's story regarding the Caged Bird Seal.
- An unknown member in the Hyuuga's viewing section took an extreme interest in Sasuke's sharingan. It also seems that this mysterious individual has been conducting deals with Orochimaru, trading information and access to his labs for stolen byakugan.
- Jay, Ko, and Ehl are members of Team Tesla, who seem to have a secret agenda from the Raikage that has something to do with Naruto
- After inheriting the contract from Kitsune, Naruto's personal fox summon is an energetic, yellow fox named Kimi, who happens to be the daughter of the Fox Matriarch, Empress Lady Xi.
- Hinata also has a summoning contract exclusive to her clan that has yet to be revealed yet. (Just to temper your anticipations, I'm just going to be up front and tell you that the reveal won't come until after Tsunade returns to the village. Saving it for Hinata's last fight of Part 1.)
- The fox elder Huli seems to be aware of all of Kitsune's secrets. He also happens to be a close friend of Fukasaku, the toad elder.
- Jiraiya has been investigating Uzumaki shrines to learn more about the Reaper seal in the hopes of freeing the Yondaime from the stomach of the shinigami.