Choji rolled forwards, form expanded to the point where his green jacket made him resemble an emerald-colored boulder. Dosu's eye widened at the oncoming attack, melody arm whirring at the ready. As Choji rotated against the ground, he brought notes of sound rolling with him. The sound nin thrust his metal gauntlet out, clutching his hand in an attempt to try and refocus the force of wind against Choji instead of with him. It succeeded for a few seconds, but the Akimichi's insistent rolling meant that Dosu could not keep his motion at bay for long. Soon enough, the human boulder rolled through the shield of wind, hurtling towards Dosu at a force that was perhaps even greater than before.
Dosu acted quickly, slamming his arm down against the ground to create intrinsic vibrations within the stone. Using his sound jutsu, he converted those sound-waves into an uprooting geyser that carried him just over Choji's rolling form. The Akimichi boy did not squash his opponent like intended, instead colliding with the wall and deflating into his usual size.
"Keep it up Choji, you almost got him." Shikamaru clapped.
He was showing significantly more interest in this fight then he had with the previous one, but that wasn't saying much since he showed Ino and Sakura's battle as much attention as most did their fingernails.
Choji stumbled out from the wall, before setting a surprisingly determined gaze upon Dosu. He clasped his hands together in seals, before calling:
"Expansion release: bouncer blowout!"
Suddenly, his plump form expanded out into a sphere again before beginning to bounce towards Dosu. Over and over again, he slammed against the concrete like his body was made at rubber, and with a surprising speed at that. However, the sound nin did not look even the slightest bit concerned. He easily outmaneuvered the bouncing boy's path, moving so quick Choji had no chance of keeping track of him, let alone redirecting his bouncing attack towards him. Each bounce sent vibrations of sound through the air, much to the delight of Dosu's melody arm. The boy lashed his hand down, bringing with it a waterfall of pure sound-waves crashing down against the boys back.
"Aaaah!" Choji cried, as the weight of a lead balloon was thrust upon him.
The sound was stagnant and unmoving. It was a pillar of inactivity and one that kept Choji from ever re-expanding outward. Dosu clutched his palm, ordering this force to start compressing in on itself. Choji's bloated ball body began to wobble under the ever-tightening weight, before, with an explosion of soundwaves, he was sent falling to the ground in his regular form. Judging by the lost look in his eye and twitching of his body, the crowd assumed there was no way he would land cleanly…
And they were right. Choji slammed against the ground hard enough to cause his still-somewhat gelatinous body to just about turn into a manhole cover for a second. He instantly bounced back to his original form, but by that point, Dosu had already started stalking his prey. His one eye gazed over Choji like he was a starving peasant and the boy was a free three-course meal. After all, Dosu liked to play with his food…
"Boop." He laughed, shooting out a stray soundwave that sent Choji's limp body comedically flipping through the air.
He did so again and again and again, the multiple loose rotations he was putting him through making it almost seem like Choji was about to break a bone. Whereas Dosu's eye had previously burned with the flames of battle, now it had been frozen with sadistic amusement. Soon enough though, his common sense prevailed as he realized to continue sonically juggling his foe's limp body the way he was currently would be a bad look all things considered. He dropped him to the ground, lurching over with melody arm at the ready. Before Choji could even start comprehending his vision in anything above abstract colors, the melody arm was slammed against his forehead protector.
"Huh?" Shikamaru exclaimed, wondering exactly why Dosu had specifically targeted Choji's most protected area.
The answer revealed itself with the clash of metal on metal. A loud reverberation echoed through the room, most prominent against Dosu's arm and Choji's temple. With yet another clench of his palm, Dosu converted this sound into a harsh force that burrowed into his foes head. Choji practically flew backwards, head stinging with an endless array of punches echoing directly into his skull. Dosu braced, looking set to pounce on him yet again, before Genma darted in front of the two.
"Choji Akimichi has been knocked unconscious. The winner of this fight is Dosu Kinuta, who will face Shino Aburame in the final stage." He said, flashing a stern gaze towards Dosu.
Despite his victory, the Sound ninja couldn't help but display a slight bit disappointed in his exposed features.
Sadistic prick. Shikamaru mentally noted, watching on from the balcony with distain.
Dosu soon walked himself back up to the balcony, with little fanfare from anyone including his remaining teammate. Choji was quickly escorted to the medical wing to the sadness of practically every ninja still watching.
"Damn it." Naruto growled to himself.
The three Team 7 members had been hoping for a collective sound knock-out but that appeared to be off the cards now. Sakura looked on with a similar sadness, before the subconscious touch of her lips sent the residual taste of glue sizzling into the top of her mouth.
"I really wish I didn't use that tag." She groaned, not appreciative of the chalky sensation that had been welded onto her mouth.
"Oh, I've got a mint I could give you if you want that?" Naruto offered, reaching into the small zipper pockets that lay on the inside breast of his hoodie.
"That'd be great, thanks!" Sakura said.
With that, Sasuke snapped to life.
"Don't take it, Sakura." He instructed.
"What, why?" Both Naruto and Sakura called out simultaneously.
Sasuke's gaze settled on the Uzumaki with a fierce glare.
"He literally just grabs a handful of mints from whatever restaurant has them and lets them fester in his hoodie for weeks. He gave me one once and it was at least forty-five percent orange fabric that had seeped in from the pocket."
"That's disgusting." Kakashi commented, while Naruto broke out into a rage.
"Come on, you had one bad one and the others I gave you were fine!" Naruto yelled back.
"Maybe If I had ageusia they'd be "fine" but I don't. They were all soggy and tasted like soap because you forgot to take them out before you put the hoodie through the wash."
Sakura, who at this point had begun to look a bit revolted, turned to Naruto with a queasy grimace.
"Ya know what, the glue taste is starting to fade by itself anyway…"
"Sasuke you're a dirty liar!" Naruto screamed, while the Uchiha struggled to hold back a laugh.
A clap of Genma's hand brought their attention back to the center of the exam hall.
"Attention everyone, the next battle of the chunin exams is about to begin!"
A brace came over the crowd yet again. With the pool of nominees shrinking every fight, the likelihood of your fight being next drastically increased. Kin looked over at Lee, Lee looked over at Sasuke, Sasuke looked over at Gaara, Gaara looked over at Neji, Neji looked over at Hinata, Hinata looked over at Shikamaru and Shikamaru looked down at his hands. A quick spin sent the two-barrel displays rolling and eventually landing on the first name.
The second wheel spun.
If a photo had been taken of Hinata's immediate reaction, it could very well have been used as the textbook definition of shook. Seconds passed and she remained completely frozen, jagged bolts of fear running through her insides and freezing her body whole. She was a stagnant object, unshackled by the chains of the current reality no matter how hard they tried to pull her back. That was until Kurenai put her hand on her shoulder.
"Don't let yourself be intimidated Hinata. You can be incredibly capable in these situations if you focus." She instructed.
Hinata nodded, trying (and failing) to put on a brave face. Meanwhile, Neji's own expression was a deep smirk. He was relaxed, almost too relaxed as he walked forward. However, his motion was stopped as a hand grabbed his shoulder. He turned back around to see Guy staring at him with perhaps the sternest countenance he'd ever seen from the goofy man. It caught him slightly off-guard.
"Don't do anything you might regret." He instructed.
Neji shrugged the hand off with ease.
"I won't." He replied calmly.
He spoke normally and clearly, not atypical to any other time he did so.
In a way, he wasn't lying.
With a stark contrast in their posture, the two Hyuga's both made their way down to the arena floor. Neji seemed roaring to go, almost amped for the occasion. For anyone that had seen his usual reserved nature prior to the fight, it looked as if a spirit of some kind was possessing his body. Hinata on the other hand, looked positively frail. Eyes wide, face stuck in the crevasse of her jumper. It was like a towering; stable ironwood tree had been matched up against a dandelion stuck too far from its flower patch. This divide only grew deeper as Neji reached up to his headband. With a slick yet harsh pull of his hand, he discarded the wrappings and exposed his forehead to all those in an attendance.
"What the hell?" Naruto muttered, channeling the emotional aura of those around him.
A deeply entrenched green seal rested on Neji's head. It was small and insignificant, barely visible to those who looked on from the balcony yet with the way Hinata reacted to it, he may as well have inexplicably pulled out a handgun. Her shaking intensified, bones rattling with the nervousness of what was to come. Neji in the meanwhile only smiled further. This seal was far more than just a simple tattoo. It was a beacon of the bloodied history of the Hyuga clan shining brightly over all it could see.
You could almost here the thunder crackle in the background.
The rumble rattled through the walls as Neji's young, inexperienced eyes gazed out the window. Despite being indoors, the storm-brought rain still found itself pattering onto his back, seeping through the thin protection of the tin roof. In his field of view sat the regal Hyuga compound. Its foundations were solid and made out of material so fine that it was almost as if the rain was too scared to touch it in fear that it would somehow be put in an unescapable monetary debt. The compound was safe and secure, each room vast and spacious and each person content and protected. It seemed like a far-away dream from where Neji sat now. In truth, he didn't truly understand why him and his father couldn't live in there. There were already several rooms dedicated solely to housing foreign diplomats, surely one could be given to him and his father?
No, of course not. They were branch house. They were allocated to the same small shacks that had been lazily tucked in to the very back of the compound's walls. They were small, too small for more than one person to conceivably live in. Should Neji extend himself out fully now, he'd almost certainly end up kicking his father in the stomach. Not that the man would see it coming. He was too busy working on the fireplace, attempting to create a warmth big enough to conquer the tears of the leaking roof while also not burning the whole house down by accident. Neji couldn't help but dislike the fireplace, as it's presence not only meant the specter of draft had already began to permeate through their living quarters but the clothes, he'd spent so much time folding were now required to be roughly scattered to the back of the room in fear that they might catch fire. That's just how it was when you had no cupboards.
"Father, can we ask the elders if we could stay in there for the night? There's no one staying in the spare quarters, I checked the roster and- "Neji began to say.
Hizashi turned to him with a knowing but bitter smile.
"I already asked them. They said they'd already locked them down for flood risk."
Neji's expression immediately fell.
"Oh, alright." He said, dejected.
Soon, his fathers hand knowingly wrapped itself around his back. The residual warmth of the flickering fireplace melted into him, but its balminess was unquestionably fleeting.
"Come on, it's alright here, just the two of us. It's cozy, isn't it?" Hizashi attempted to uplift.
Neji smiled back, but it was clear that this was no more than placation. His father just sighed and moved his body back to the fireplace.
"Don't worry Neji, living like this builds character. You'll appreciate it when you're older."
That's what his father always said and at this point, Neji had stopped appreciating it as much as he had when he was younger. At age seven, his young mind had only just started to grasp the servitude he'd been born into and it wasn't reacting to it well. From what he'd began to understand, there were two houses of the Hyuga clan, the branch and the main. The main was the "true" Hyuga clan, those who managed its resources and bartered with politicians. The branch was meant to protect the Byakugan, which was what the seals on their heads intended to do. Should they die, their seals would activate and keep enemies from excavating the secret of the eyes.
At least, that was in theory. As the day's past, Neji couldn't help but become more and more convinced that the reason he and his father were in servitude was simply a way of receiving labor and protection without coughing up the money that that usually entailed. However, he quickly pushed these thoughts out of his mind. Surely it made sense, surely the next heir must be so amazing that their bondage must have been necessary to protect her, right?
"Ah, so paint diagonal stripes down here?" Hizashi asked the elder who stood next to him.
"Yes, yes, that's right."
Neji resisted the urge to scowl. The elders were all very similar in how they spoke. It was as if they thought the branch house was purely made up of incredibly dumb children who needed exact directions for everything they did. The man's posture was relaxed and uncaring, projecting an unearned air of superiority over the two, which was ironic since the man himself was quite fat and in his old age, barely looked taller than Neji.
It was so strange, he thought. Even though he hadn't exactly mastered his byakugan, he could estimate that one strike would be enough to cripple the old man permanently. However, for some reason this man was to be considered his direct superior. It boggled the mind, enough so that Neji didn't even feel the paint brush in his hand slipping before it was too late. It fell to the ground, sending a splatter of liquid white scattering over the deep green floorboards.
"Oops. Sorry." Neji exclaimed calmly, leaning back down to grab the brush.
When he looked back up though, a storm of fury had appeared in the old man's eyes.
"Ignorant brat." He grumbled, slamming the back of his hand into Neji's face.
Had the Hyuga youth been any more on-guard, he would have easily blocked the attack but due to his current predicament, the blow sent him spiraling to the ground. His face immediately stung while globs of the previously-spilled white paint found themselves knotted within his brown locks. The man looked down at him with the stench of a power-drip radiating from his very fingertips, but that didn't last long. Hizashi's paternal instincts kicked in and overruled even the strongest semblance of branch house mentality. He darted towards the elder with a speed Neji had never seen a human, hell, anything moves at before. Half a second more of pause, and the elder would've had his jaw split clean off his body, but even in his old age, the man retained his keen reactions. With a fearfully quick raise of his hand, he tiled his fingers into a seal. Almost instantaneously, the green ink of Hizahi's seal began to twist and contort.
Just like that, the man fell to the ground writhing in pain. The seal flickered with tight strands of green chakra while the ink began to extend itself over his skin like a virus corrupting stray sells. It was almost like shards of glass were being jammed directly into his brain. Heat, fear, anger, resentment, every emotion gave the pain more and more power. After only a few seconds of the seals activation, pools of tears began to well up in Hizashi's eyes, distorting their lavender hue. His brain was too preoccupied to try and hold them in.
"Father!" Neji screamed, attempting to crawl over to his parent.
Before he could provide even the slightest comfort, the elder stamped his hand. Neji retracted like a wounded animal, looking up at the man with a newfound fear fresh in his eye. Ironically, if he'd just viewed him this way from the start, this situation grew that much more improbable. The elder roughly adjusted his own robes, less sadistic and more completely uninterested in the branch house members now that there was no chance, they could hurt him.
"Fucking branchies…" He grumbled under his breath.
Perhaps he was more irritated than anything. He turned to Neji with what could be described as both a glare and a sigh, paying nearly zero attention to the man that was spasming under his command.
"You, get a mop and clean up the paint." He ordered.
Neji barely heard him, his focus laying more on his father for the moment. It was only when the Hyuga elder delivered a swift but somewhat relaxed boot to his chest that he snapped to attention.
"Get a mop now." The old man repeated
Neji nodded, but his body stayed stiff. A few seconds were lost to him just watching the visceral contortions of his father before he couldn't take it any longer. He dashed out of the room, snapping his eyes shut to try and keep the trauma-forced tears from falling. Even with his vision obstructed, the location of the mop was still hardwired into his brain. He rushed into the general bathroom, reaching into his pocket and clutching his daily permit. Branch house were not permitted to use the same facilities as the main house, and must have a written permit signed by a main house member to enter them. Luckily, there was no need for Neji to pull it out as the bathroom was empty for now.
He made a quick beeline for the storage room, retrieving a mop and a bucket before rushing back over to a nearby faucet and switching it on. It may have seemed like an unneeded haste for tasks so minuscule, but as Neji collapsed to his knees in front of the glass mirror, this speed was proven to be warranted.
It didn't make sense. The brutality of the elder, the pain his father was put through, the primitive thrashing that made it seem like he was breaking his own bones to escape said pain. He'd always understood they were treated differently, but it had never been that bad. Never. His small fingers raised up to his face, their adrenaline-spurred warmth cutting through the sickly cold of the unstoppable tide of tears. In the mirror, he found himself tracing over the stained green ink of the seal. Even when though wasn't activated, it still throbbed and pulsed, sending nasty images into his brain. He'd never paid it much attention. Now he couldn't take his eyes off it.
It wasn't supposed to be this way but Neji didn't know why.
Over and over the broom swept through the thin layer of dust that had coated the Hyuga halls. It wasn't much in the grand scheme of things, but it was enough to justify the elders calling Neji out to sweep it up. Strands of colorless muck flossed themselves through the bristles of the broom, entangling themselves in its grip before folding into the crevasses of the dustpan. Even as his father recovered and weeks passed since the incident, Neji couldn't help but feel a passive unease wriggle into his mind whenever he entered the compound. Even the tiniest mistake in his duties shot the image of Hizashi's animalistic pain to the front of his mind.
Eventually, his intended sweeping path lead him into what he presumed to be an empty training room. However, as he entered, he was immediately greeted with the sound of weighted hits. Palms clashing against one another, the air of battle. He turned slightly from his sweeping to find a small girl sparring with a much taller lady. The girl was young, no older than six, and he recognized her almost instantly. That was Hinata Hyuga, the heir apparent to the entire clan. He vaguely recalled that they were direct cousins but he'd never really seen her in a scenario where she wasn't being patrolled by what felt like eight thousand body-guards.
The lady she was sparring with was an older Hyuga woman, who looked to be in her mid-thirties. Her name escaped his young brain but he'd definitely seen her around before. She was extraordinarily lanky even when not compared to a partner who wasn't even four foot. Much like her looks, her movements were graceful and elegant. He quietly resumed his sweeping, trying to keep it to a minimum so as to not disturb the two. The sounds of his brush strokes melted into the pattering of the attacks, the pair of noises merging into a lazy rhythm until, with one final strike against the older woman's palm, one of them ceased.
"That's enough for today Lady Hinata. As always, you should practice your speed and tightening up your movements." She said.
Hinata nodded, before slumping down against the slight wooden steps beneath her. The lady turned toward the exit, stern gaze somehow becoming even sterner when she saw Neji. She marched over to him, brushing the hair from his forehead and exposing the seal. That same hand quickly snapped to an outstretched palm.
"Permit." She said.
Neji fearfully fumbled the broom, reaching into his jacket pocket and retrieving the small piece of paper. She snatched it out of his hand fast enough to nearly tear the page in two and analyzed it's handwriting as to make sure he hadn't forged it. After that, she promptly handed it back to him but not without giving him a stern warning first.
"Under no circumstances are you to interact with Lady Hinata unless it's absolutely necessary, understood?" She chided.
Neji nodded, which the lady seemed to dean satisfactory enough to allow her exit. From there, he resumed his sweeping pattern, dragging him and his broom around the room with dust fluttering under his delicate brushes. For a while, he attempted to act as if Hinata was invisible but the weight of her wide violet eyes staring into the back of his head was almost magnetic. Eventually, after making his way around the dojo for a little while, he looked up to meet her eyeline.
"H-Hello!" She exclaimed suddenly.
Neji was immediately caught off-guard. The gradually growing instincts of the branch house immediately told him to ignore her, or at least engage in a brief fashion, but these orders were lost to the abyss of his childlike curiosity. He smiled slightly, looking back up at her.
"You're my c-cousin, right?" Hinata said.
Neji nodded. Her demeanor was quiet and shy, traits he would have not previously pinned to someone of such a high status in the clan. Although he did suppose her mother had passed away just recently, so a hesitant tone was definitely understandable. However, she didn't seem to continue the conversation in anyway. This was clearly not by choice, as her nervous finger pressing and expression communicated, but just because she wasn't apparently capable. She just sat around for a few seconds before suddenly looking back up.
"W-W-Would you like to spar with me?" She asked.
He hesitated. By talking to her as much as he had, Neji had already been pushing his luck. However, he also couldn't help but be curious about the skill of the clan heir. In a roundabout way, her existence provided the reason for the branch house to exist. If he could just see what she could do, just a little bit…
It was just a light spar, what could go wrong?
"You broke her wrist Neji! What the hell were you thinking?!" Hizashi shouted, his anger potent enough to shake the branch house shack to its very roots.
In contrast, Neji sat forward and stared at the ground with a blank yet distinctly bitter gleam in his eye. She'd proven to be pathetic even by the most basic of standards. It wasn't his fault his grip had been too much for her brittle fucking bones to take. Harsh rain streaked down the window, all-too-familiarly leaking through the gaps in the tin roof.
"It's not my fault she couldn't defend herself." He replied.
"Oh, isn't it?! I've told you over and over again, you're a genius Neji, she's not on your level. Have some basic respect for the person you're sparring with for god's sake."
Neji looked up at him with a glare forceful enough to take the fearsome adult off his guard for just a second.
"If she's not on my level, why do I have to suffer while she lives in luxury huh? It's not right father! She can do anything she wants and I will always be forced to clean up for her won't I?! This is all I'll ever get to do, isn't it?!" Neji screamed.
He tried to force his eyes wide with anger, but puddles of tears soon began to well up at their bottoms. However, even these tides of sadness couldn't extinguish the flaming fury that loomed in his glare.
"Neji." His father said, trying in vain to calm him down.
"It's not fair! I don't want to be a sweeper for the rest of my life, I don't want to serve those main house pigs! I don't want this…"
His hands viciously clawed at his seal in a futile attempt to try and break his chains.
"Fucking thing onme! It's not fair, it's not fair, it's just not fair!" He yelled.
He looked up at Hizashi, the last of his hope fading from his eyes in real time. At the same time, there was desperation. Desperation that somehow, against everything he'd learnt across his whole life, his fathers next words would make the situation okay. With just this glance though, he realized this was a pipe dream. This was because in his father's eyes sat a faded resignation that seemed the logical endpoint of the anger that had reached a head in himself.
"Life's not always fair Neji." He said back.
Silence lingered through the cramped walls of the shack and it hit Neji harder then even the most brutal of insults could. After a few seconds of frozen motion, he lay down into his sleeping bag, thrusting the cheap itchy covers over himself.
"I hate living here." He said, barely above a whisper.
Hizashi looked back at the bundle of blankets.
"I know." He said.
It was a late-night months later that Neji found himself unable to sleep. Between the perfect temperature and the ambient crickets, it was, on-paper, a perfect night but he couldn't get himself to pass out. The covers weren't comfortable enough, he couldn't get into the right position, the pillow was too hot. All the placebic culprits were there and so, despite his complete stillness, he never found himself drifting off to sleep. This is why, when he heard his father rise up from his own sleeping bag, he began to become curious. It was far too late for him to be allowed in the main compound building, perhaps he was just going to get some water from the faucet outside?
As his father exited the room, Neji peered up through the small windows of the shack. Hizashi was heading straight for the gates. A sense of dread shivered down Neji's spine, uprooting a fear of the unknown through his stomach. Something was not right today. On his sweeping round earlier, he'd heard a group of elders angrily muttering about something. From what he could gather from anyone who was willing to talk to him, there had been an incident involving an on-the-ground Hyuga soldier guarding the Konoha border. A young group of refuges from a country called "Kumo" had found themselves attempting to pass through undetected, but in the resulting skirmish, the Hyuga soldier had accidentally killed a young girl. The political implications of this were lost on Neji, who simply wanted to see where his father was going so late at night.
Quiet as a mouse, Neji weaved through the darkness. Grass crunched against his feet while the cool night air brushed over his pajamas. Even with the burden of the branch house, he was a natural prodigy in every aspect of being a ninja, and that included stealth. He tailed his father with the furtiveness of a ninja twice his age, gently managing his steps so that the grass didn't crunch under them. This grass eventually turned to slick wood flooring as Neji continued to follow his father into the depths of the Hyuga clan's heart. He ducked behind corners, careful not to move too sharply and send the spotless floorboards squeaking. After around a minute of walking, Neji found his father entering a room. An awaiting light spilled forth from it, though it was quickly snuffed out when it's sliding paper door was closed behind Hizashi.
Neji's eyes tightened with the vision of the Byakugan, peering forth to make sure the coast was clear of any lingering guards or such. Upon seeing that it was, he dashed forward and slid down with his ear to the door. A jumble of voices filled his ears, however scrambled by the obstruction of the slider.
"Hiashi will be here in a few moments, but I think we should run over what you will be instructed to do Hizashi. After the incident at the border, the Raikage is demanding a "quid pro que" so to speak in the form of a high-ranking Hyuga member's body. Due to your similarities in appearance to your brother, we will be offering you. They will be unable to study the Byakugan, as we will activate your seal. The seal will be activated at midnight tonight, in which you will die."
Neji's heart stopped. He was paralyzed, body not moving despite his attempts to will it too. This had to be a joke or some sort of cruel prank. It had to be. In despite of reality and everything he knew, it had to be.
"Will you allow me to say goodbye to my child?" Hizash asked.
There was no fear in his voice but that only made Neji's stomach sink deeper. Silence passed, only a few seconds, but each one may as well have been years to Neji, who was still proving unable to process the events that were playing out directly into his ear. They seemed like a bad dream but the only thing dividing them from him was the inch-thick sliding door he rested on.
"That would be pointless and only serve to complicate matters."
That was it. Neji was about to smash into the room and start taking heads himself. He didn't care how much anyone in that room outclassed him or how a single seal from their hands could fry his braincells, the nauseating mix of fear and fury that was running through his brain was far too potent for commonsense to block. His body surged upward only for a swift hand to lay itself on his shoulder. He turned to the side and found himself looking up at the stern gaze of Hiashi Hyuga.
Neji desperately threw an attack outward, but to the head of the Hyuga clan, there was minimal difference between him attacking and him doing nothing. Hiashi moved faster than even his byakugan-enhanced gaze could hope to react to, effortlessly shutting down every major chakra point in the time it took Neji to blink. Drowsiness immediately began to overtake his body due to the chakra blockages. He tried frantically to keep the oncoming darkness out of his eyes, to somehow cling to consciousness despite the odds but he couldn't. The next few moments would always remain a blur in Neji's mind. He thrust his jelly-like arms out, trying desperately to reach out for his father, for anything but he could not even edge the door to see him one last time. He wanted to scream but nothing came out.
Thunder and lightning crackled through the stormy sky, illuminating and shaking the dark rain clouds who's drops soaked through the Konoha streets. Neji Hyuga, age 8, sat by a tombstone, not concerned in the least by the miniature rivers that were forming in his flowing brown hair. He was frigid, he was scared, he was alone. Not a tear came out. Instead, he just continued to stare down at the gravestone with cold dead eyes that betrayed their vibrant violet hue. His father's grave had been packed into a public graveyard for what he assumed were monetary reasons. Had it not been, the Hyuga may have packed the body into some mid-range grave site, but they had specifically picked the cheapest one they could find. His name was barely printed on the generic stone and his body wasn't even in the grave. It was purely symbolic yet he had found himself sitting next to it almost everyday since it had been installed.
Maybe it was the symbolism that drew him to it. Here was his father, a man who had dedicated his entire life to doing the bidding of the Hyuga clan and they had "buried" him amongst drug addicts and hookers. For some of his life, Neji had thought that despite the awful living conditions he'd been put through, he could consider the clan his at the very least but seeing this showed this was mere delusion. To be branch house was to be a Hyuga in name only. To be branch house was to have equal status to the dirt that each main house member stomped upon each and every day.
It was another day at this exact same spot that Neji observed a flock of birds descend upon the ground. All aside from one seemed to be diseased in some way, obvious sickness running from their boney limbs to their tattered feathers. Only one seemed in any way healthy but, as Neji tossed the crust of his sandwich to the pack, he noticed something. Despite the healthy bird clearly being the fastest and strongest, the other birds realized their strength in numbers. They formed a blockade around the crust, keeping the healthy bird from reaching anything but a few crumbs.
This was the Hyuga clan. A pack of diseased birds whose arrogance and luxury had meant that they no longer considered natural talent a positive for fear of losing their spot on the throne. They would much rather self-destruct trying to pull themselves up to heaven by their own brittle wrists than allow even the most talented ninja in the world take part in their dynasty.
Neji would show them that wealth and status were no match for the talents of a genius.
Neji had to show them.
As Neji discarded his headband, he did it not with shame, but with an overwhelming ecstasy. This was what he had been waiting for all these years. The stunned overseers, the fear on Hinata's face, it was all so gratifying. He was going to pummel the Hyuga's heir into the ground, all while displaying the symbol of the same people whose backs were broken to give her a leg-up. With an almost sadistic smile on his face, Neji eagerly waited for Genma to call the match on.
Neji would show her that wealth and status were no match for the talents of a genius.
Neji had to show her.