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A Naruto Fanfiction,
Chapter Seven: Of Gentle Sunlight and the Sahara, Part Three
I do not own any of the series used or referenced in this story. Said series are the properties of their creators and/or publishers.
When Hinata and I arrived back at where we'd left Naruto and Sakura, I promptly called a halt to the training. Naruto objected.
"Ne, ne, sensei! I can still..."
I shook my head and pointed to where Sakura was breathing heavily as she leaned against a tree. "You might be able to train, but Sakura-chan has nearly exhausted her supply of chakra. If we make her exert herself much more, she won't recover in time for tomorrow's training."
Naruto blinked and looked at me. "But..."
"I could help, but that would hardly be fair to Sakura-kun. Besides, it's getting late and I have a decent dinner sealed into a scroll."
"Ramen?" Naruto asked, as enthusiastic as ever.
I chuckled. "Of course, but you can't eat that constantly. Even with your metabolism, the massive sodium intake can't be good for you."
Naruto frowned. "Sodium intake?"
"Most ramen has a lot of salt, Naruto-kun," Sakura explained, her breathing having settled to a more normal pattern. "Recca-sensei is worried that you'll get sick if you eat too much of it."
I shook my head. "I'm not saying that you can't eat ramen, Naruto-kun," I elaborated, "I'm just saying that you shouldn't forget to eat other things, too."
"But... ramen," he objected.
"Other things are good too," I pointed out, "and I did cook this dinner myself."
Naruto promptly stopped objecting.
In a few minutes I had a decent picnic set up. It wasn't anything impressive, really, but I had gone through the trouble of preparing a few dishes that I knew my students wouldn't be familiar with. Latkes, for instance, were decidedly unknown in Konoha, as was the charoset that I'd used as the basis of dessert.
As I pointedly pushed some rice towards a wide-eyed Sakura I suddenly paused. Realizing that I'd forgotten to ask Hinata something during our earlier discussion thanks to my desire to bleach my mind, I decided to take a different approach.
"On second thought," I commented, "there is a type of training that we can do as we eat."
"Really?" Naruto asked. "What is it?"
I smiled. "A simple team-building exercise."
Sakura blinked. "What do you mean, sensei?"
I shrugged my shoulders. "As you become closer to and learn about your teammates, it becomes easier to work with them."
Hinata decided to speak up at that. "Umm... Recca-sama?"
"You can join in, too."
Hinata gave me what I interpreted as a grateful look at that before smiling and taking a latke, which she promptly dipped in the apple sauce.
"Umm," Sakura asked, curious at what Hinata had done. "What is that, anyway?"
"Ratoke?" Sakura sounded out.
"Latke," Hinata corrected. "They're a sort of potato pancake, really. By the way, Recca-sama, it has been a while since you made these..."
"Yep," I agreed. "I wanted Naruto-kun to try different foods, and, well..."
"You're the only person in Konoha who knows how to make them."
"Yeah. And, well... my mother used to make them for me when I was a child."
Naruto paused in eating an onigiri and reached for a latke.
"Ah," Hinata observed. "Of course."
Sakura blinked, obviously missing something in the exchange and knowing that she had.
"You dip them in the apple sauce," I explained to my golden-haired student, modeling the behavior with a latke of my own and placing it on my plate. "Anyway, the exercise is pretty simple. I'm going to give each of you three cards and a pen. Each of us is going to write down one question for each of the others on a card and then hand them to the people we intended them for. After that we'll each take turns answering one."
Hinata looked at me in concern. "Anything else?"
"Well, giving honest answers is a given -- don't lie. Other than that... I hope that I don't need to remind you that we're shinobi and that, as such, we have secrets. Try to ask something personal, but not too personal -- if the answer involves anything that you legitimately can't answer, either because of orders or because of clan secrets, or something that is considered classified, you can refuse to answer.
Naruto gave me a look.
"Yes, Naruto-kun, that's considered classified. Even if you have the authority to reveal it, you don't have to."
Hinata smiled brightly. "So we should try to ask something that's personal, but not too sensitive?"
"Yep. It would defeat the purpose of the exercise if we asked anything that would make us too uncomfortable... just think of this as something like a game of truth or dare."
"Truth or dare?" Naruto asked.
"It's an ancient party game that somehow managed to survive until modern times. You don't really need to worry about it too much; I doubt you'll ask anything too secret."
Naruto nodded and I passed out the cards and some felt-tip pens. A few minutes later I finished my own questions and handed them to my students. I'd finished my latke by the time that Naruto passed out his own cards.
"I suppose that I should go first," I began, flipping over my topmost card and reading it. "How do you get Teuchi-jiisan to let you use his bowls?" I blinked and looked at Naruto. "I don't. I know where he buys them and bought some of the same type. When I get takeout at Ichiraku, I just put it in one of those before I seal it."
Naruto nodded in understanding as Hinata giggled slightly. I could see where she was coming from; the expression on his face was funny.
"Perhaps I should go next?" Sakura suggested.
I shrugged at that. "Sure. Why not?"
"What is your father like?" she read before blinking and looking at me.
"I've heard a lot about your mother," I confessed, "and I have... experience... with her family, but I don't really know that much about your father." I paused for a moment, taking a sip of tea. "Besides, you learn nearly as much about someone from their opinions of other people as from their opinions of themselves."
In fact, it was an old trick. I'd learn a bit about her father from her answer, giving me a perspective on him that I could use as a starting point in forming my own evaluation of him. At the same time I'd learn a bit about how Sakura saw the man, which would be a nice perspective on her... not to mention learning a bit about her family.
The information would be invaluable when it came to manipulating them.
Sakura gained a thoughtful look as she sipped her tea. "Well," she replied, "I don't really know what to say. Father has a modest business as a merchant, specializing in food items. He owns the Hanamatsuya on Nakamura Street..."
I blinked at that, knowing the store. It wasn't that far from my apartment, but I didn't frequent it because several of the clerks were particularly nasty to Naruto. If Sakura's family owned that place...
I didn't let my grin reach my face, but I knew that I'd already won.
Sakura's reply, however, indicated that she noticed my reaction. "You know it, sensei?"
"It's pretty close to where I live," I answered her. "How did your father come up with that name, anyway?"
"Well," Sakura replied, "my mother's name is Nadeshiko -- after the flower -- and he started the store with my mom's dowry..."
"A tribute to her, then?"
Sakura nodded in agreement, taking another sip of her tea. "From what Aunt Mai has told me, it was her idea. They were already lovers, but..."
"They made the choice to marry for practical reasons?" I asked.
"Yes. Mother's dowry provided them with enough money to get started in the business, and Outa-ke's connections didn't hurt, either."
Naruto blinked, somewhat confused by this. "Outa-ke?"
Hinata decided to speak up. "Outa-ke is one of the more wealthy and powerful merchant families in Hi-no-kuni," she explained. "Sakura's mother was originally a member of that house."
"Oh," Naruto replied. "I see."
"I've had dealings with them before," I told the boy who I loved like a son. "They're pretty shrewd businesspeople, but tend to be a bit... eccentric."
Sakura chuckled at that. "I suppose you could put it that way," she offered. "Some of my relatives are... well..."
I raised an eyebrow. "Referring to Gibi-san?"
Hinata raised an eyebrow at the reference. "Isn't that the man who keeps on trying to break into your apartment to steal your underwear?"
"If it helps, Sakura-chan," I offered, "he doesn't want them for himself."
"It doesn't," she responded.
"Hey, sensei, what are you talking about?"
"One of Sakura-chan's cousins is rather obsessed with her aunt," I explained, "and her aunt is equally obsessed with me. Her cousin has been trying to get some of my underwear so that he could give it to her aunt."
Naruto blinked. "What the hell?"
I gave Sakura an apologetic look. I really hadn't intended for the conversation to go in this direction.
"The Outas tend to be... obsessive," Hinata explained, refilling her teacup. "They often seem normal unless the object of their... attentions... is involved, but have been known to be... rather extreme... when their 'special someones,' as they refer to their obsessions, are involved."
I chuckled. "Less than a day after she met me, Sakura-chan's aunt started a cult dedicated to worshipping me, to give you some idea," I clarified. "Their 'special someones' are usually a member of the opposite sex who's not related to them, and they usually pursue their 'special someones' romantically, but that isn't always the case. To use Gibi-san as an example, he doesn't want Mai-san as a romantic partner, but he is... rather obsessive... over her happiness."
Sakura shook her head, throwing off her mortification for a moment. "That's actually why she came to live with us," she commented.
"I was wondering about that," I admitted. "Anyway, Gibi-san knows that Mai-san would treasure anything of mine, especially if it was something personal." I shivered at that. "Frankly, the idea of Mai-san getting ahold of some of my underwear gives me the creeps... but I have to admit that it's relatively harmless when compared to some of the things that Gibi-san could be trying to take."
I occasionally had nightmares about Mai getting her hands on a certain cardboard box. She already tended to pop up out of nowhere.
"Sakura-chan's related to those people?" Naruto asked.
I nodded my head in affirmation. "It came as something of a surprise to me, too."
"But Sakura-chan's nothing like that!" Naruto protested.
Sakura sadly shook her head. "I have been."
"Don't be too hard on yourself," I admonished her. "Many of Sasuke-kun's fangirls acted like that... and most of them didn't have the excuse of being related to Outa-ke. Given just who you had as role models growing up, your actions were more than understandable." I paused for a bit at that. "Why do you think I apologized when I found out?"
"What are you talking about?" Naruto forcefully demanded, leaning towards me.
"Sakura-chan's actions towards Sasuke-kun while you were in the Academy reminded me rather strongly of several Outas' behavior at times," I told him. "It makes sense when you think about it, but I didn't know that she was related to them so I didn't know that she'd learned it from them. In other words, I thought that she acted that way naturally." I smiled at him. "I was wrong, of course, and she's managed to considerably exceed my expectations since then."
Sakura blushed and again shook her head. "No, sensei," she disagreed, "you were right... my behavior was inexcusable."
I frowned. "Polite denial is fine normally, but I was giving an assessment, not a complement. You acted the way you did because you didn't know better."
Hinata decided to interject her own thoughts into the exchange. "Please do not judge yourself too harshly, Sakura-chan. Recca-sama is not known for giving out undeserved praise."
I nearly rolled my eyes. I wasn't known for giving out deserved praise, either.
"Anyway," I interjected, wanting to get back to the point, "we've gotten pretty off-topic."
Sakura reluctantly nodded. "Yes, well, like I said, I don't really know what to say..."
"Hmm," I said, "that is a bit of a problem... I suppose what I really wanted to know is why your mother fell for him, but..." I shrugged. "Chances are that you don't know that."
"No," she admitted, "but I did ask Aunt Mai once..."
"She said that it was one of life's mysteries... that no one knew why people fell in love..."
I shook my head at that. "That... sounds like something that Mai-san would say."
Sakura gave me a strange look. "What do you mean, sensei?"
I paused, unable to interpret Sakura's expression. Oh, well. "Romantic love isn't that hard to understand. Predicting it is tricky at best, given the number of variables involved, but understanding it?"
Hinata gave me a riant smile before shaking her head. "Most people haven't spent years studying the human mind, Recca-sama," she pointed out. "Far fewer have had access to your home's research on the topic."
Sakura's head snapped towards Hinata. "What do you mean?"
"Recca-sama's homeland was very different from what we're used to," Hinata explained. "For centuries, many of the most learned amongst his people spent their entire lives researching the inner workings of the human heart. Recca-sama was once a student at a very prestigious place of learning, seeking to become one of them."
"It wasn't that prestigious," I pointed out. "My people had many such places."
"Your people valued knowledge and scholarly pursuits far more than we do," Hinata corrected, bringing up an old argument between us. "It was a place where thousands of scholars from all around your country gathered, seeking to improve or pass on their knowledge, a place famous enough that people were willing to travel thousands of kilometers to study there. You yourself told me of their library.... how many thousands of books did it hold?"
"The library didn't only hold books," I pointed out, "and I never had the figure for them specifically."
Hinata shook her head. "And yet at least a substantial portion of the main library's holdings were books, were they not?"
I shrugged. "Of course."
"You told me that the main library held over a million and a half items, did you not?"
Sakura gasped at that figure.
I sighed, knowing from experience exactly where this was going. "Yes," I admitted. "It did."
"There were other libraries as well, were there not?"
"Yes, there were."
"Then why do you insist that it was nothing special? You have told me that polite denial was not a custom of your people..."
"Because, by my people's standards, it wasn't," I insisted before noticing the wide-eyed expression both Naruto and Sakura wore. I sighed again at that. "Of course, local standards are something else entirely."
"Indeed," Hinata answered, smiling gently as she sipped her tea.
"You want to ask something, Sakura-chan?"
Sakura seemed to be dying of curiosity, but restrained herself. "No, sensei. I just... really want to know the answer to my question."
"The one on your card?"
I chuckled in amusement. "Well then, we'd best get back to my question, right?"
"Hmm. Have you ever spoken to your mother about romance, then?"
"Yes, but Mom's ideas..."
"I've heard quite a bit about her beliefs from Mai-san," I told her. "From what I've gathered, she's at least not hypocritical about them. While it would be an indirect way of answering my question, perhaps you could elaborate a bit?"
"Well... Mom always talks about trust and dedication..."
I blinked. "That doesn't sound off at all."
"Yes," Hinata agreed, finishing a kappa maki. "Trust is important in any sort of relationship... and is dedication not, in this context, another word for commitment?"
"Takes them a bit too far?" I offered, taking a sip of tea. "I suppose, but she's hardly the first or the only person to hold those ideas."
"More to the point, however," Hinata added, "is your mother happy with her relationship to your father?"
Sakura obviously didn't expect that question. "Yes," she answered. "She is."
"Then her beliefs are hardly maladaptive," I observed.
"Ne, sensei," Naruto interjected, "what does 'maladaptive' mean?"
"I meant that her mother's beliefs worked, Naruto-kun," I pointed out. "They aren't harming her and, from what Mai-san has told me, they actually helped her win her husband's affections."
"That's an... interesting way of looking at it," Sakura admitted.
"Isn't it?" I asked before taking a bite of an onigiri.
Sakura nodded, obviously not knowing what to say.
I swallowed my rice before continuing. "Now, to go back to the point, people tend to fall in love based on two factors: proximity/familiarity and emotionally perceived value. The first factor simply means that you don't fall in love with people who you don't know and are more likely to fall in love with people you know well, so we can dismiss it from the analysis... especially since we're talking about a member of Outa-ke imprinting."
"What do you mean, sensei?"
"I mean that I've seen members of Outa-ke decide that total strangers are their 'special someone' and that your aunt imprinted on me after a single conversation."
Sakura groaned again.
"Anyway, that brings us to your mother's beliefs about trust and devotion. Devotion is something that usually builds up during the course of a relationship, so I doubt that's it... unless, of course, your father was particularly devoted to his family or something like that?"
Sakura shook her head. "Mom hasn't mentioned anything like that..."
"Then we can stick with trust. In this case, it suggests that your mother either regarded your father as trusting or trustworthy and imprinted on him based on that. The fact that she is happy with him suggests that she was right, at least as far as their relationship was concerned."
"So when she talks about trusting someone enough to be able to wholeheartedly devote yourself to them..."
"She's saying that she trusts your father to that point," I stated, noticing that Hinata seemed amused by something. "Given that Mai-san's comments lead me to believe that she held her current romantic beliefs before she met your father, that's probably tied into why she fell for him."
Sakura again gave me a look that I couldn't quite interpret. "You can really tell that much from Mom's speeches?"
"Such a thing is to be expected of a jounin," Hinata remarked before again sipping her tea.
"It helped that I already knew a bit about your mother from dealing with Mai-san," I corrected. "Her family's tendency to imprint on someone who manages to impress them is also something that I've observed in the past."
"Impress them?" Sakura morbidly asked as Naruto shuffled uncomfortably.
"Hmm," I considered. "How should I explain this?" I paused for a moment. "Perhaps an example would be best..."
Sakura reluctantly nodded.
Seeing that, Hinata's smile momentarily took on a rather mischievous quality. "Perhaps the story of how Mai-san decided that you were her 'special someone' would suffice," she suggested.
I shrugged. "Don't you think that story's a little... personal?" I asked.
"Would that not aid you in answering her questions should she have any?"
"Not to me," I corrected. "Mai-san is Sakura-chan's aunt, after all..."
Hinata nodded. "That is why I suggested it," she remarked. "Would not ensuring that Sakura-chan has the ability to independently confirm your story lend it credence?"
I nearly sighed, figuring that Hinata was maneuvering me into something but not knowing what she had planned. Hoping for an out, I gave Sakura a pointed glance.
When she gave me a slight nod in response, I gave up and decided to play into whatever Hinata was planning, as much as committing to an unknown plan grated on my sensibilities. It wasn't that much of a bad thing, anyway -- I tended to agree with Hinata's goals.
"Well," I began verbally while using my communications genjutsu to ask Hinata what she was up to, "to begin with, I suppose I should mention that there is a much wider variety of teas available where I come from than here in Konoha. Flavored and unflavored... pu-erh, black, oolong, green, yellow, white... there's a huge variety of teas within each of those categories. By contrast, all of the teas here in Konoha are different types of flavored and unflavored green teas. Most people here haven't even heard of the other types."
"What does that have to do with anything?" Sakura asked in confusion.
"What Mai-san did to you was unforgivable, Recca-sama," Hinata commented using my communications genjutsu. "Beyond that, however, she represents a threat that I cannot allow to continue."
"Really? How so?" I silently returned to Hinata before answering Sakura's question. "In and of itself, not much... but I am also quite fond of tea, and I know a reasonable amount about it. Your aunt makes most of her profits from tea, doesn't she?"
"You are aware of her opinion of Naruto-kun," Hinata answered.
"Of course," I responded before continuing my explanation to Sakura. "I first met your aunt shortly after I first came to Konoha. I liked her at first; she was cheerful, friendly..." I shook my head. "I was looking for tea at the time, and she is a tea merchant. She later told me that she was amazed at the concepts of other sorts of teas."
Sakura frowned. "Is that why she keeps on pan-frying old tea leaves?"
"I cannot allow her to poison one of Naruto-kun's teammates against him," Hinata sent.
"I see. You're attacking her credibility?" I replied, again switching to answer Sakura. "Possibly. Oolong teas are produced by allowing the tea leaves to partially oxidize before drying them."
"I can get you a book on the subject if you'd like," I offered.
"That would be... nice," Sakura offered, visibly distracted.
"Yes," Hinata confirmed.
"You are aware that I've already taken steps to neutralize that possibility, right?" I asked before continuing my story to Sakura. "Anyway, my knowledge of tea managed to impress her. I'm not sure whether she'd decided I was her 'special someone' by the end of that conversation or decided on it later, but when I saw her the next day she was firmly convinced that I was a kami and had started a cult dedicated to worshipping me."
"We are ninja," Hinata returned. "The first rule applies."
I just smiled and sipped my tea.
After a moment, however, Hinata spoke up, this time verbally. "It is not unusual to want to get to know someone who impresses you somehow, but the Outas' tendency to make hasty judgments about who they wish to spend their lives with has caused... awkward situations... in the past."
"Are you referring to Outa Sakuya's feelings for Saotome Toushirou?" Sakura asked.
Hinata and I blinked in unison.
"I was thinking of Outa Momoko's actions regarding Sumitani Ginta," Hinata offered. "I am afraid that I am unfamiliar with that story."
I inwardly chuckled at the reminder of Momoko's story and wondered if she'd managed to figure out that Ginta wasn't interested in women. The last I'd heard, she was still in denial... even after following him into God-only-knows how many gay bars. Frankly, his habitual choices of clothing were enough for most people to get the picture.
I mean... come on. The guy walked around wearing pink leather pants. Even without the pink collar or the open vest, that should have been enough. The fact that he'd embroidered "Real men know how to take it up the rear" on the back of said vest made the whole situation just plain embarrassing. The fact that his behavior reminded me of one of his distant ancestors who had taken up the stage name of "Razor Ramon" turned the whole thing into a rather spectacular farce.
There was denial, and then there was Outa-ke.
"Yes, well, Momoko-san is a bit... special," Sakura agreed.
I had to admit that she had a point; the owner of the Peach Paradise was unusual even by Outa-ke's standards. Most people had figured out that, despite a brief resurgence in popularity during the early parts of the Divine Emperor's reign, Victorian-era formal gowns had gone out of fashion a long time ago... and, even then, the things hadn't been so frilly, used so much lace, or typically been made entirely out of pink fabric. The pink parasol lined with ruffled pink lace was, in my opinion, taking things a bit far.
Then again, it took a... err... different sort of person to run a shop like hers -- it specialized in things that would have either given Asuza Shiratori a toothache from the sheer cuteness or sent her on a kleptomaniacal rampage. My bets were on the former.
"I must admit that you've gotten me a bit curious, Sakura-chan," I commented. "What was that story you referenced?"
"Well," she began, "Outa-ke originally branched off of Kunou-ke. No one remembers how it started, but Kunou-ke and Saotome-ke are mortal enemies-"
Sakura stopped her explanation as Hinata and I spit out our tea in unison. "You mean that feud is still going on?" I exclaimed.
If it was... that explained so much about the state of things in Mizu-no-kuni. With a Saotome daimyou and a Kunou Mizukage...
The constant civil wars started to make a great deal more sense.
Sakura's eyes widened as she stared at me. "You know how it started?"
"If it's what I think it is, it dates back to the late Interregnum," I remarked.
"Family legend says that the feud has been going on since before the Age of Magic," Sakura stated in an awed tone.
"The Second Age of Magic," I corrected. "And that does suggest that it's the same feud, doesn't it?"
Sakura nodded, seeming quite distracted by something.
"Hey, Sensei," Naruto interjected, "what are you talking about?"
"I've made a special study of the life of a warrior named Saotome Ranma who lived in the late Interregnum," I explained. "He had several... disputes... with the Kunou clan of the time. I was just expressing my surprise that the feud is still going on."
"But wasn't that a really long time ago?"
"More than ten thousand years," I agreed.
"Sensei?" Sakura asked. "Mom and Aunt Mai have a running debate about which side started the mess..."
"Ah," I commented. "That much is rather clear cut. The Kunous were at fault."
"I have a few books that describe the events involved. You're welcome to borrow them if you'd like."
"What happened?" Naruto inquired.
"Well, the short version is that Kunou Tatewaki repeatedly attempted to kill Saotome Ranma and arranged a mob of men for the specific purpose of raping his fiancée on several occasions... although that wasn't everything he did and both his sister and his father were arguably worse."
Sakura and Naruto were taken aback by that.
"Personally," Hinata commented, "I'm more impressed by the fact that he was crass enough to bring a katana to Saotome-san's wedding."
I blinked. "Considering that he used it in an attempt to murder the groom, I doubt that they were too concerned about that offence."
Sakura stared. "He really did all that?"
"Yep," I agreed. "Then there's the fact that his sister showed up in a wedding dress so that she could take the bride's place. Things escalated until the event had to be called off because of the destruction of the building they were going to hold it in."
Sakura's eyes widened considerably. Naruto didn't seem quite as shocked, but Hinata just calmly sipped some tea, already knowing the story.
"It was bombed -- literally."
"I can see how that would start a feud," Sakura admitted, somewhat out of it, "but isn't that a bit... odd?"
I shook my head. "Not by the standards of Saotome Ranma's life," I explained. "We're talking about someone who once had to fight a monkey who practiced a martial art based on tea ceremony in a formal challenge."
Naruto about summed up most people's reaction to that tidbit. "What the hell?"
I grinned. "That wasn't the strangest anecdote I could tell you," I answered, "but to get back to that story..."
"Yes, sensei," Sakura absently replied, somewhat distracted. "As it's told in Outa-ke, Outa Sakuya fell in love with a man named Saotome Toushirou, who was the heir of one of Saotome-ke's bunke."
Translated, she'd imprinted on the guy. I could imagine the sort of chaos that would cause. "I assume that this caused quite a bit of trouble."
"Yes," Sakura agreed. "I don't know the details, but it led to a blood feud between the Outa and the Kunou. The Outa allied with the Saotome and fought for a time, but the Kunou were apparently particularly obsessed with destroying their former allies. I'm told that the Saotome tried to save them, but it wasn't enough."
"That is why Outa-ke is a merchant family?" Hinata asked.
"Yes. There were a few survivors, all of whom were merchants who happened to be outside of Water Country when events came to a head. They spent a long time in hiding, wandering from country to country until the men who would become the First and Second Hokage offered the survivors' descendants their protection."
"I see," I said. Things like that were a large part of how Konoha had been formed, after all.
"... I don't get it," Naruto stated, scratching his hair in a rather comic fashion.
I frowned. "I suppose that it is a rather complex story in some ways," I admitted. "What didn't you get?"
"Well... what's a 'bunke'? And what did you mean by a 'blood feud'?"
Sakura gasped, staring at Naruto. Even Hinata seemed a bit disconcerted by the question. I managed to avoid letting my displeasure show on my face, but my grip on my teacup tightened somewhat.
"I see that your education has been even more lacking in certain areas than I suspected," I observed, carefully keeping my voice neutral.
Naruto blinked and looked around, his eyes darting from me to Sakura and Hinata and back.
I sighed and relaxed. "Don't worry," I reassured him, "we aren't upset with you. It's just that someone should have explained those things to you a long time ago. It's a pretty long explanation, though, so I suppose that we'll be having another chat at my apartment tonight, won't we?"
Naruto blinked and nodded. "Yes, sensei!"
I gave him a warm smile in response. "Good." That said, I turned to the sole member of our group who wasn't officially my student. "Hinata-chan, would you like to go next?"
"Of course, Recca-sama," Hinata gracefully responded, taking a look at one of her cards and reading it. "Why are you acting like that?" Hinata paused, her face momentarily going into an exaggeratedly cute expression of confusion as she turned to face Naruto. "What do you mean?"
Naruto visibly blushed and refused to meet Hinata's gaze.
"I think that he's talking about your attempts to make me bleach certain memories from my mind," I suggested.
Hinata blankly looked at me for a moment before blushing. "Oh."
"So perhaps a better way to phrase it would be, 'Why are you acting like you wouldn't mind if Naruto-kun asked you to help him try out everything described in the second part of the kama sutra?'"
Naruto nodded at that, his blush deepening.
Hinata frowned. "I am not helping him to find a willing eunuch," she stated.
"Okay, most of them," I corrected.
"Because I wouldn't mind," she answered, giving Naruto a look as I felt her chakra pulse slightly. The orange-clad boy promptly passed out with a nosebleed.
"Oh dear," Hinata softly exclaimed. "Do you think I overdid it?"
"Perhaps," I admitted, "but he should get the picture now."
Hinata gave Naruto's unconscious form a soft smile. "I hope so," she gently remarked.
I shook my head and started the task of gathering the food that Naruto had bled on. It wouldn't do to eat it in that condition.
"Umm, Sensei," Sakura asked, "what were you talking about?"
"You mean the Kama Sutra?"
"Yes," Sakura confirmed.
"It's an ancient Hindu text that offers advice on a number of things related to love and romance. Very little of what it has to say is applicable to modern times, and most of that is in the second part of the text, which deals with various sexual practices."
Sakura blinked. "And the bit about eunuchs?"
"There was apparently a class of eunuchs in ancient India who worked as bathhouse prostitutes."
"Just... how long ago was that, anyway?"
"About twelve thousand years," I answered.
"Wow... it's been going on that long?"
I dropped the scroll that I'd readied as an incident that I'd rather have forgotten came unbidden to my mind. "Please don't remind me," I chided her. "There are some things that I'd prefer not to think about... and how do you know about them anyway?"
Naruto stirred slightly at that exclamation, drawing my attention to his prone form. "Oh my," I remarked, desperately trying to change the topic to something that wouldn't remind me of what had happened during a certain mission, "Naruto-kun really seems to be out of it."
Hinata started poking her fingers together.
"Alright," I asked, "just what did you do?"
"Umm... I sort of... umm... created another modification to the standard focusing techniques for... umm... killing intent..."
I blinked. "Just what emotion did you... wait. You used lust?"
Hinata nodded, blushing.
"I barely felt anything," I observed.
"I... umm... don't... umm... feel that way towards you..."
Oh, right. The standard focusing techniques wouldn't work if you didn't feel the emotion or emotions you were projecting... and you had to feel them towards your target. Mild annoyance was enough for killing intent, but in this case....
Well, it was nice to know that the whole Electra complex thing really was full of crap.
That still left the dilemma of what to call Hinata's new technique, though. Erotic Intent, maybe? No, that wouldn't do.... Sexual Intent? Sexy Projection? Oh, well. I'd just leave it up to Hinata.
Looking at where Naruto was still passed out, I sighed and sealed the ruined food into a scroll. "Right, then. I guess I just have to take care of one more thing."
One cup of water to the face later, Naruto awoke with a start. "What was that?" he asked, staring at Hinata. "It felt like a thousand tongues licking me all over..."
I nearly chuckled at that. When a person was exposed to a high enough level of killing intent, they began to feel a sympathetic reaction of sorts as their system began to unconsciously "read" the "intent" of the person projecting it. As levels rose, these reactions developed into phantom pains which became increasingly more "real" until the victim's own system became convinced that they truly were real and shut down.
Applied to Sexual Intent... I could see why Hinata was blushing. Naruto had just literally felt the entirety of one of her fantasies over the course of a single moment.
What Naruto had just said...
I did not want to know that.
I slowly turned my head to face a blushing Hinata. "You're really determined to make me break out the mind-bleach, aren't you?"
"Sorry, Recca-sama," Hinata apologized, pushing her fingers together.
"As for what you felt," I told Naruto, "hopefully Hinata will tell you, but if she doesn't, ask me when I'm drunk -- preferably when I'm very drunk. I don't want to remember the conversation."
Sakura decided to butt in at that. "What do you mean?"
"Umm," Hinata replied, sparing me the trauma, "it was a sympathetic reaction to my desires...."
Sakura quickly turned to face Hinata. "Wow. Could you teach me that technique sometime?"
"Of course," Hinata answered, quickly regaining her composure. "It is not that difficult."
I groaned. "Moving on... Naruto-kun, it's your turn."
"Hey, hey, what's a 'sympathetic reaction'?"
"I will explain later," Hinata offered, "so it would be for the best to move on and spare Recca-sama the trauma of answering."
"Thank you, Hinata-chan," I commented.
Hinata blushed at that. "It is the least that I could do under the circumstances."
Naruto scratched his head. "It's really that bad?"
"No," I answered. "It's not really bad, but there are some things that fathers don't like to think about regarding their children. The answer to your question ties into one of them, so..."
Naruto seemed puzzled by that statement, but decided to move on anyway. "Oh," he stated, flipping over a card. "Of the Hokage, which do you admire the most?"
I turned towards Hinata as Naruto read and found her leaning in with interest. A simple question that would reveal quite a bit... as expected of my surrogate daughter.
Naruto didn't even hesitate before answering. "The Fourth, of course."
I blinked and snapped my head to face Naruto. "Why..." I trailed off, not trusting myself to keep the various secrets that I needed to under the circumstances.
Naruto just smiled at me in response. After a moment's pause, I decided to move on and took a look at another of my cards.
"Just where are you from?" I read, realizing that it pretty much had to be Sakura's question. "Well, I spent the first few years of my life in and around a city called 'Miami' which was part of a state called 'Florida' in a country called 'America.'"
Sakura blinked, obviously never having heard of either.
I chuckled at that. "Don't worry too much about it, Sakura-chan," I reassured her. "It's not your fault that you don't recognize any of them. Most people in Konoha wouldn't, either."
Mai, on the other hand, would.
Sakura reluctantly nodded. "You're a long way from your home, aren't you?"
"You could say that," I amusedly answered. "In fact, it's true in more than one sense." At that my tone became considerably more somber. "But... the fact of the matter is that it isn't that simple. For a while I thought of Konoha as my home, of the people of Konoha as my own... before the kyuubi's attack changed everything...."
Sakura again nodded her head and took a look at another of her cards before blushing profusely. "Questions of society and approval aside, would you object to sharing a boyfriend with another girl, assuming that the girl in question was a close friend?"
While less simple than her question for Naruto, this question would reveal even more about Sakura's character than Naruto's could have. I expected no less of Hinata.
I turned my full attention to Sakura, noting that her blush had deepened considerably as she considered her answer and glanced between Hinata and Naruto. "Umm," she muttered, poking her fingers together in imitation of Hinata's most noticeable nervous habit. "That is... err... what exactly do you mean?"
Hinata took a sip of tea as she watched Sakura's antics and raised an eyebrow at the question. I wasn't entirely sure how she managed to make the entire thing look elegant and graceful, but Hinata somehow accomplished it. "The usual objections to such an arrangement either involve the way other people look at such matters or an inability to get along with one of the other people involved. I was asking whether you had any problems with such a situation other than those."
Sakura's face had acquired a nice tomato-like shade at this point. "And by share, you mean..."
"I would think that the meaning of that particular phrase would be rather obvious. I was referring to the idea of either allowing your significant other to become involved with another woman or becoming involved with a man who was already involved with another without disrupting the existent relationship." Hinata paused and tapped her chin with her forefinger. "Of course arrangements wherein two or more women knowingly become involved with a man at the same time also qualify," Hinata explained, briefly smiling at Naruto, who was clutching his nose in an effort to avoid passing out from blood loss.
I had started to wonder whether it was humanly possible for Sakura's face to redden any more. As she heard Hinata's answer Sakura promptly demonstrated that it was.
"Umm... that is..." Sakura embarrassedly dawdled before answering the question in a half-whisper. "Not really..."
With that admission Sakura's blush somehow managed to deepen even more as Naruto lost his battle to restrain his nosebleed and fell into blissful unconsciousness. I, however, sighed and started cleaning up the food. It was a waste of a perfectly good meal, but...
Oh, the cover had managed to protect the mochi. Cool. The stuff was a pain to make.
Still, though, the answer had its implications. Contrary to what people often seemed to believe, life wasn't a zero-sum game. Realistically speaking, the Prisoner's Dillema was usually a far more accurate analogy... and Sakura's answer suggested that she understood that on some level. Well... either that or that she had bisexual leanings, but I wasn't going to go there.
"Umm... Hinata-chan?" Sakura asked. "Was that... umm... err... were you... umm... suggesting anything?"
"At the moment, no," Hinata answered, much to Sakura's relief, "but I will tell you that had I been asked that question I would have given a similar answer."
Sakura looked in Hinata in momentary surprise.
"Please understand that Naruto-kun's happiness is important to me," Hinata continued. "My intention is to stand by him and take whatever he will give. Should we merely become friends I will accept that although I do not intent to make a secret of my feelings. I will count myself as truly blessed should more develop, but... in the end I will be satisfied as long as Naruto-kun is happy." Hinata sighed at that. "I suppose that what I am trying to tell you is that should you develop feelings for Naruto-kun or decide to pursue a romantic relationship with him I will not object."
Sakura's eyes widened as she stared at Hinata. "You... really love him, don't you?"
Hinata shook her head. "I believe that Naruto-kun and I lack enough emotional intimacy for my feelings to be considered such... in the romantic sense, at least."
I frowned from where I was rolling out a scroll. "Triangular theory?"
Hinata nodded in response.
I sighed at that. "Dr. Sternberg's theory was more concerned with categorizing and describing types of love than determining whether or not feelings qualify as it," I chided her. "Besides, it's hardly the only appropriate theory."
"What are you talking about?" Sakura asked, obviously not following the conversation.
"Sorry, Sakura-chan," I apologized. "Hinata-chan was referring to a theory about love that was created a bit over ten thousand years ago by a psychologist named Robert Sternberg. He proposed that love could be categorized based on three components -- intimacy, passion, and commitment."
"Intimacy, passion, and commitment?"
"Yes. Intimacy is how emotionally close you are to the other person, passion is... well, the physical side of things, and commitment is the determination to maintain the relationship."
"Isn't that a rather... cold way to look at it?"
I smiled. "Perhaps," I admitted, "but that sort of theory is more concerned with accuracy and objectivity than anything else. Besides, it's not nearly that cold in application."
"I'm not entirely sure you do. For instance most of Sasuke-kun's fangirls possess plenty of passion for him and are fairly committed to his pursuit. As such the best thing they could do to further a relationship with him was..."
"To... seek intimacy with him?"
"Emotional intimacy, not physical," I elaborated. "In other words, to try to be his friend. As I've said before, there are reasons why it might not have worked in his case, but that would generally be the best approach to start with."
"But wasn't the problem that Sasuke-kun lacked..."
I raised an eyebrow, although the way I wore my hitai-ate reduced the effectiveness of the gesture. There were some disadvantages to covering most of my eyebrows with it but I felt that doing so was worthwhile under the circumstances. "Of the three, intimacy is the easiest to directly establish and the one that tends to be most reciprocated. Trusting him and taking him into your confidence would have likely received a similar response, whereas a direct expression of passion or commitment would not. That wasn't the problem that I was referring to, however -- the specific reason was on the other end."
"What do you mean?"
"In addition to the issues created by the possibility of efforts being directed at a mental image of a person instead of the person himself, as was the case with Sasuke-kun's fangirls, adding an element of emotional intimacy was the best way for them to deepen their own feelings."
Sakura apparently hadn't thought of that. "What?"
"In romance, as in many other things, nothing is gained if nothing is ventured. True, sincere love produces a generally different pattern of responses and behavior than simple infatuation... and Sasuke-kun almost certainly would have noticed the difference."
"That... really would have worked?"
"There are very few certainties in romance, Sakura-chan," I remonstrated, "and there were other obstacles involved. Had I been advising you on ways to win his heart, I would have had to address them as well."
"I'm glad that you understand. To get back to the point, though, the triangular theory didn't really have much to say about what qualified as love. Besides, it described relationships, not feelings."
"So... you're saying that all of that... doesn't mean anything?"
"It means quite a bit," I corrected. "It just doesn't mean what Hinata-chan thought it did. That's actually a fairly common problem among beginners who learn about psychology." I sighed and turned to address the other conscious member of our group. "A very famous author once described love as a condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own. Think about your and Naruto-kun's happiness in that light."
Hinata blinked, visibly taken aback as she stared at Naruto with an expression that I couldn't quite read. We at there for a bit in companionable silence as I didn't want to say anything to break the moment.
After a while Naruto began to stir and Hinata's expression changed, melting into a gentle smile. Smiling myself, I shook my head and finished sealing away the ruined food.
"Ugh," Naruto commented. "What hit me?"
"I believe that would be the thought of a threesome," I told him.
Naruto promptly had another nosebleed and passed back out.
Sighing again as I noticed that Hinata and Sakura had both blushed at that exchange, I gathered some water into a sphere and splashed it into Naruto's face.
This time Naruto awoke with a start, sitting up and facing me. "Ojisan, I just had the strangest dream..."
I smiled and shook my head. "A second or two isn't long enough to have a dream, Naruto-kun."
Naruto looked between Sakura and Hinata for a few moments before his face reddened to match theirs and he hurriedly moved to a proper sitting position while pointedly not looking at the two of them.
"Seeing that Naruto-kun's awake, should we continue?"
Still blushing, Hinata took a look at another of her cards. "What is your opinion of your team so far?" she read.
I leaned forward in anticipation of her answer.
"Recca-sama," Hinata lightly chided, "if you wanted to know that you merely needed to ask. There was no need to set up this entire game in order to receive an answer."
I scratched the back of my head. "Maybe not, but the reasons I gave were perfectly valid."
"Ah, yes," Hinata knowingly replied. "They were. They merely were not all of the reasons that you possessed."
"Can you blame me for wanting to know?"
"Of course not." Hinata paused for a moment. "That aside, it worked."
"Wait a moment," Naruto commented. "You mean that all of this was just so that sensei could ask you about your team?"
Hinata shook her head. "It is not that simple. I suspect that Recca-sama wanted to ask about my team. Given that objective, he searched for a way to accomplish as much as possible while creating an opportunity to do so. This, in turn, caused him to think of the idea of a team-building exercise."
"Yes," I agreed, "although that wasn't everything." I paused, noticing that both Naruto and Sakura were giving me odd looks. "What? We're ninja. Are you really that surprised that I'd use something like this to ask you questions that I've been wanting to or that I'd propose a game like this to create such an opportunity?"
Naruto and Sakura glanced at each other before shaking their heads in unison.
"As ninja, we will be expected to take note of more than the obvious," Hinata added. "Many call this 'looking underneath the underneath.' While Recca-sama has issues with the semantics of that saying, he does not dispute the importance of the skill described by it."
"Part of the traditional training for that involves training exercises like this one," I continued for her. "The traditional approach is to not tell the students the objective of the exercise or to leave out parts thereof. The theory behind this is that doing so forces the students to figure the objective on their own, thereby teaching them how to do so." I shrugged. "One problem with that approach is that the teacher doesn't always get to hear the students' speculations on that matter, depriving him of the ability to correct any mistakes on their part. Another is that the teacher doesn't traditionally tell his students what he's doing, meaning that they don't always speculate when he wants them to."
"Recca-sama has a reputation as the most unconventional shinobi in Konoha," Hinata stated. "Things such as this are part of the reason."
"And by that she means telling you what I'm doing and why," I tossed in. "I may be sneaky, but I'm also up-front about it. I was planning on saving this explanation for after we finished the exercise, but Hinata-chan here ruined that plan." I smiled at her to make sure she knew that there were no hard feelings before turning to my students. "Just don't expect that sort of help in the future. Now, Hinata-chan, I believe that you have a question to answer."
"Yes, Recca-sama," Hinata answered. "To start off with, Shino-kun seems to have the correct mindset for effective teamwork and team strategies and his kikai should complement my own abilities in a number of tactical situation. On a more personal level, he's rather... difficult to read. While this is in many ways a good trait for a shinobi, it does mean that I will need to withhold further judgment until I have the opportunity to gather more data."
"Aburame tend to be like that," I observed.
"Yes, but it makes it difficult to befriend them. Acting in a somewhat more open manner would have the effect of making them considerably more approachable."
"I suspect that it's a defense mechanism," I explained. "When you consider the typical reaction to the Aburame family's fighting style and their relationship to their kikai..."
"Hey, Recca-sensei, what do you mean?" Naruto asked.
"The Aburame family uses a species of insects called 'kikai' that survive by eating chakra as part of their fighting style, Naruto-kun," Hinata answered, "and allow the kikai to live within their own bodies."
"Many people find this rather... disconcerting," I supplied, "and the Aburame are rather socially isolated. I was suggesting that at least part of this isolation was deliberate on their part in order to protect themselves from the pain that results when someone they care for discovers their kikai and rejects or distances themselves from them."
"But that's stupid!" Naruto objected.
"Is it really?" I asked. "The people who manage to penetrate such a mechanism are unlikely to reject them because of the kikai. The Aburame may not have many friends, but those that they do have tend to be extremely close... well, personally speaking, anyway."
I had far fewer problems with them than I did many other clans within Konoha. Most of the problems that I did have with them were summed up by the statement that a drone's life was meaningless when compared to the welfare of the colony, a statement which had once been made in the context of the debates surrounding Naruto. Sure, the Aburame were one of the few clans that, as a whole, weren't stupid enough to equate Naruto with the damned fox. They were just too damned willing to sacrifice lives... notably including one specific life. To their credit, however, that didn't mean that they wanted to do so. They'd stayed out of the debates for the most part, and remained effectively neutral.
It was more than many families in Konoha could say.
"But that's a discussion for another time," I finished. "Hinata-chan?"
"Should I continue?"
"Kurenai-sensei has been very kind to me so far and seems genuinely interested in her students' welfare and success. She has made an effort as both a role-model and something of a mother-figure to our team, although she seems to have taken a particular interest in me..."
I raised an eyebrow at that. "Suspiciously so?"
"No," Hinata answered, shaking her head slightly. "I believe it is because I lack a true mother-figure and we are both kunoichi."
I nodded my head in understanding. Hinata's mother had died shortly after her younger sister's birth, and while many of the branch houses' females were willing to mentor Hinata somewhat, that idiotic seal acted as a rather significant social barrier.
"And your other teammate?" I inquired.
Hinata's hand clenched slightly around her tea-cup. "Kiba-kun shows the potential to become a competent shinobi in the future," Hinata allowed, "although his romantic overtures are less than welcome. It does not help that Kiba-kun appears to be of the same school of romance as a stereotypical caveman." She paused for a moment at that as she cocked her head slightly to the left. "Minus the club, anyway."
Sakura blinked at that. "What does a club have to do with anything?"
"While inaccurate, for a very long time there was a stereotype common to popular imagery involving a courtship method that consisted of a caveman knocking a woman out with a club, dragging her to a cave, and having his way with her. By saying that Kiba's approach was similar but without the club, Hinata was saying that Kiba's romantic approach was both overly direct and at least somewhat crude."
Hinata's face flushed as she promptly did a tomato imitation. "Recca-sama!"
"Although she was apparently hoping that the two of you wouldn't catch the reference," I admitted. "It is, however, quite fortunate that he didn't attempt the club approach. You know what my response would have been."
"I assume that you have retained possession of the chainsaw and hockey mask that you used to deal with those rapists in Tea Country?"
Hinata shuddered. "Please refrain from demonstrating such... techniques. There are some modifications of sennen goroshi that I would prefer be lost forever."
Sakura and Naruto glanced at each other before visibly deciding not to ask.
"Right," Naruto stated, flipping over a card and reading it. "Why do you wear that orange outfit?"
I blinked. That wasn't the sort of question I'd expected from Sakura. It was tricky to get a good look without anyone noticing, but I did manage... and confirmed my suspicions when I found several marks that made things look like Sakura'd started to write out a different question before hastily changing it.
"It was a gift," Naruto stated. "Besides, I like orange."
I chuckled at that and flipped over my last card, curious as to what Hinata had asked me. "How is it possible for you to become intoxicated when drinking?"
I turned towards Naruto and Sakura who both seemed somewhat confused at that. "I'm immune to almost all poisons," I clarified. "I've been known to use some of the deadliest toxins known to flavor my tea. Hinata-chan was wondering why I get drunk off of alcoholic beverages if I don't show any effects when drinking liquid sarin from a liter bottle."
As a side note, whoever said that sarin was tasteless had obviously never tried drinking it. The flavor was subtle, but unmistakably there.
Sakura seemed confused. "Sarin is..."
"A very powerful poison. A single drop touching the skin is enough to kill most people."
"You can drink that?"
"And the same goes for any poison?"
"Not quite," I corrected. "I found that out the hard way during the Kyuubi's attack."
Sakura nodded, remembering what she'd been told of the toxic effects of the Kyuubi's chakra in the Academy's lectures. "So alcohol is another exception?"
"No," Hinata answered, "it is not. Recca-sama has mentioned to me that he is immune to alcohol poisoning and the long-term effects that excessive alcohol consumption has on the liver."
"But... how's something like that possible?"
"It is rather unique, isn't it? It's a unique ability of mine that will one day be passed on to my children, should I have them," I replied. "In short, it's my kekkei genkai, although I'm the first person to have it."
"Didn't you say that those 'kekkei genkai' things were inherited?" Naruto asked. "How could you have one if..."
"If I'm the first one to have it? You remember what I told you about when I was summoned, right? About how I was changed?"
"What do you mean, sensei?" Sakura inquired.
"Recca-sama did not always look as he now does," Hinata answered, "nor did he always have his kekkei genkai. His appearance and ability are both the result of an event that occurred approximately twenty years ago."
"Anyway," I continued, "to answer Hinata's question, my ability is rooted in my subconscious perception of an effect. If it is something that I would consider to be that of a poison, it is totally nullified. If it is not, it remains unaffected. As such my kekkei genkai does not prevent me from taking medications, nor does it protect me from inebriation."
"By the way, I'd be grateful if you didn't tell people about that. The exact limits of that ability aren't something that I advertise and I'd rather my enemies not learn them."
"Of course, Recca-sama," Hinata replied. "I thank you for trusting me with your secret."
I firmly shook my head. "The fact that I trusted you enough to tell you that secret was never in doubt and it's information that will probably aid my team on missions...." I suddenly stopped as I sensed an unfamiliar ninja approaching and lifted my hand to warn my students. "Someone's coming."
It turned out to be a messenger sent to inform me that the medic-nin in charge of Sasuke's case wanted to talk to me... which meant that I had to interrupt our little game. In some ways it was unfortunate that I didn't get to hear either Naruto's answer to the question I'd given him... or Sakura's answer to Naruto's. I might have taken a different approach to several things if I had.
Oh, well. Things worked out... eventually.
A few minutes later I arrived at the hospital, secure in the knowledge that Hinata would be able to clean up what was left of my little picnic. Finding Sasuke's medic didn't take long and I soon figured out why he had wanted me there.
He was getting ready to discharge the Amazing Emo Wonder and wanted me to be there. Joy. I discreetly incinerated the discharge papers in petty revenge, forcing him to fill them out from scratch... and, incidentally, giving me some time to check on my duck-haired student.
Just to be sure, I used a minor contract to summon a few worms and instructed them to stay out of sight and ensure that I got some time alone with the idiot.
As I entered the room, I was unpleasantly unsurprised to see Sasuke staring out the window and brooding. "Hello!" I greeted, projecting a cheer into my voice that I certainly didn't feel. "Feeling better now?"
Sasuke's gaze snapped to meet mine. "I suppose," he responded.
"Good, then! You know, we never did get to test your sharingan. Would you like to try to activate it now?"
Sasuke blinked. "You can..."
"Activate your sharingan? Of course not. I can, however, try to help you to do so."
"How is that possible?"
"There are several things about the method that I intend to use that you probably shouldn't learn quite yet, but remember that I know the conditions required for activating it."
Sasuke scowled. "Why don't you want me to know those details?"
"Because one of the conditions is rather difficult to achieve if you know what I'm doing."
Sasuke nodded. "You think that it can be done now?"
I shrugged. "The first thing to check is to see if you've already activated it, actually," I corrected. "That's easy enough. For the rest... well, there's a few things I could try."
If life-threatening danger wasn't required, I'd just force him to follow my movements as I moved faster than he could track. That was easy enough for me to do to someone at his level, and using psychological tactics and killing intent to generate a burning need to do so wasn't difficult, either. If real danger actually was needed, I could always wait until he got out and use hanabimichi no ame. The thought of Sasuke dodging a dynamite rain was pleasant... although hanabimichi no ame technically generated a rain of trinitrotoluene. I didn't think that it mattered, though -- a rain of lit red sticks of explosive substances was a rain of lit red sticks of explosive substances. Bugs Bunny would be proud.
"Umm, Sensei," Sasuke commented, tearing me out of my pleasant fantasy, "you're scaring me."
"Oh, sorry, Sasuke-kun," I apologized. "Anyway, as I told you earlier, focus a bit of chakra to the eyes. You want it to be fire-natured and if you start to feel pain you're using too much."
Sasuke closed his eyes and scrunched his face up in concentration. A moment later he opened his eyes and looked at me with unchanged irises
"Right," I said. "You're focusing your chakra as I described?"
"Then focus on my hand," I instructed, holding out one arm. Concentrating slightly, I released some chakra from my palm. As I forced the chakra to take on the properties of a flame, I inwardly smiled at the sight of my student's eyes widening at the sight of the ball of flame that had formed above my hand.
"This," I explained, "is called magatama. It's created by a type of fire-style chakra manipulation that's completely different from what your family took pride in."
"Advantages?" my perpetually moping student asked.
"This sort of katon ninjutsu can be used from any part of the body and is far easier to do without handseals than the sort that you're used to. Additionally, even if you use seals, jutsu done in this style generally take less time to execute than those done in a more traditional manner." I shrugged, careful to avoid letting the fireball touch anything. "On the other hand, this method doesn't scale up very well -- as jutsu get larger and more elaborate, it quickly becomes more and more difficult to generate enough magatama for the technique."
"So... this 'magatama' is quicker but less powerful than my clan's techniques?"
"Generally speaking, yes," I agreed, "although that's something of an oversimplification. Personally, I learned how to make it because of its advantages against the sharingan."
"Advantages... against the sharingan?" duck-boy parroted.
"The sharingan can't copy jutsu based on magatama," I elaborated.
Sasuke's eyes widened. "How's that..."
"Possible? Creating magatama is a highly personalized skill, depending greatly on the fine nuances of your chakra's nature. Because I've been trained in creating it, I understand the process and could generate magatama even if my chakra's composition were to suddenly change. On the other hand, someone who was simply imitating what I did without understanding the processes would fail unless their chakra was identical to mine..."
"... and everyone's chakra differs slightly," my student finished for me.
I nodded in confirmation. "Since chakra is a combination of mental and physical energies, to have identical chakra to mine would mean to be identical to me in both mind and body."
That, of course, was still a gross oversimplification. The tiniest nuances in chakra could impact the process to generate magatama in ways that were difficult to predict. Kei used to say that to use magatama was to embrace chaos, to recognize that things were never the same from one instant to the next. I didn't fully agree... but the truth was that generating magatama was never quite the same, even from moment to moment within the same person. Because of the dynamic nature of chakra forcing it to become magatama required an intuitive understanding of the process by which it was created and an intimate "feel" for your own chakra that few ever bothered to obtain.
I had found learning it to be strangely easy. Magatama had just seemed to come naturally to me for some reason.
"I see," Sasuke replied. "Can you teach me how to do this?"
"Of course," I told him. "I was planning to do so anyway, although I'm going to wait until after you activate your kekkei genkai. Anyway, are you still focusing that chakra?"
Sasuke blinked and focused again. I felt a brief surge of his energies, confirming that yes, he had stopped the flow at some point during our conversation and inwardly sighed at the chakra I'd wasted maintaining the fireball.
"Anyway, focus on my hand, not the fireball. Try to make out the flow of chakra from my palm."
Taking that as understanding, I generated a bit of killing intent -- less than I'd used on him the previous day -- and focused it on duck-boy. "The killing intent is also needed for this process, but I'm not sure how much I'll need to use. When you can see the flow of energy, try to describe it to me and I'll stop raising the level of killing intent, okay?"
"Yeah," Sasuke acknowledged, sweating a bit.
Slowly raising the level of killing intent as I maintained the ball of magatama, I focused more on the psychological side of things. "By the way," I casually mentioned, "did you know that I once killed over a hundred people with killing intent alone?"
Sasuke gulped and started sweating. If I hadn't needed to keep up the act I would have grinned.
Using my free hand I tapped my chin in a move carefuly calculated to appear as a nervous gesture. "Of course, I've been known to slip on occasion. It's incredibly hard to generate a precise amount of killing intent -- most people learn to conceal theirs and to generate as much of it as they can... sort of an all or nothing approach." I sharply raised the level of killing intent that I was generating. "See what I mean?"
Sasuke seemed to be trying to stare a hole in my hand by that point. By the time I had reached the amount of killing intent I'd used to knock him for a loop the previous day, he seemed sure that he was about to die.
I wouldn't let that happen, of course. Besides, generating enough killing intent to actually kill someone was tricky at the best of times. I'd had to use a series of jutsu to boost my killing intent far beyond what I could normally generate when I took out that army... and there had been survivors anyway.
Okay, so the "survivors" had promptly died for other reasons. The point remained.
As that thought passed through my mind, Sasuke suddenly flinched and reached for his throat as his eyes turned red. I quickly lowered my killing intent a bit to give him some breathing room before I started raising it again.
"Seeing anything yet?" I asked.
"Yeah," Sasuke nearly croaked. "Your chakra... it's almost... consuming itself?"
With that I dropped the aura of killing intent and dismissed my ball of magatama. "That's one way to put it," I agreed.
Sasuke nearly fell back into his bed in relief as his eyes returned to their normal color. After a few moments of shivering, he looked at me with his eyes once again red.
Taking a look, however, I noted the absence of tomoe.
"Damnit," I cursed.
It took a few minutes of testing, but we eventually figured out the nature of this "new" doujutsu. Sasuke had full use of the sharingan's ability to see chakra and its resistance to genjutsu. That was it. He didn't have the sharingan's ability to predict motion. He didn't have the sharingan's famed copy ability. He didn't even have the sharingan's other genjutsu abilities. Fortunately for my plans, he had the important powers. The loss of the other "features" of the sharingan was something that I could deal with.
Sasuke did not take the revelation of his damaged sharingan very well. As the idiot moped, unable to see the sheer magnitude of what he'd been gifted with, I focused some chakra and snapped my fingers. A loud crack resounded through the room, startling my emo student out of his brooding.
"Are you done feeling sorry for yourself?"
"How... how can you say that? My family's heritage... how can I defeat Itachi if I'm not even a proper Uchiha anymore?"
I glared at him. "Proper Uchiha? Your family's heritage? Do you think that either helped your clan against your brother? You're not going to beat Itachi by relying on your family. And for your other ambition, I assure you that your genes are undamaged -- this will not affect any children that you might have in the future. Besides, you might someday look on this as a blessing."
"A blessing?" Sasuke incredulousy asked.
"Yes, a blessing," I agreed. "I take it that your family didn't tell you about the sharingan's price or about the flaws of the mangekyou?"
"There is no such thing as a free lunch, Sasuke-kun," I lectured, "and there is no such thing as a perfect technique. Everything comes at a cost and nothing is perfect. Ever since he killed Shisui-kun, Itachi has been slowly going blind. That's one of the flaws of the mangekyou." I paused for a moment at that. "Come to think of it, that might be why he left you alive. He might have wanted to have a spare set of sharingan available for when his eyes failed."
Sasuke obviously hadn't considered that.
"If that's the case, this certainly put a stop to that plan, didn't it?" I chuckled at the notion. "Besides, I don't know the specific nature of the degeneration associated with the mangekyou. If it causes accelerated cataract formation or retinopathy, for instance, a transplant would take care of the problem, but it's also possible that the loss of vision is caused by damage to the optic nerve or the visual processing pathways in the brain. If that's the case, a transplant would be futile."
"I was speculating on just how the mangekyou sharingan causes vision loss. I know that it does, but I don't know the details of how. Depending on that, it's possible that an eye transplant would restore the user's vision, but it's also possible that it wouldn't."
"The other obvious flaw is that the techniques of the mangekyou sharingan require extremely large amounts of chakra. While they're powerful, they wear the user out quickly."
Sasuke's perpetual scowl deepened. "I see."
"Now for the sharingan's price... do you know anything about hakkeshou?"
"Doesn't that have something to do with divination..."
"And with inyou manipulation of chakra," I agreed. "Hakkeshou was originally an ancient form of divination based on inyou philosophy; we've adapted its notations and descriptions for use in ninjutsu."
I'd had to learn far more about inyou -- what the Chinese had called "yin-yang" -- than I'd ever really wanted to while studying ninjutsu. The philosophy involved was a very large part of advanced jutsu design, and the practical effects were complicated enough that I'd considered it a major accomplishment when I'd managed to distill them into slightly under two hundred pages when I was writing Principles of Ninjutsu. Considering that the entire book was slightly under four hundred pages long, that was saying something.
"Inyou manipulation of chakra...," Sasuke muttered. "Isn't that dangerous?"
"It can be," I confirmed. "If done externally, it can also be relatively safe -- several of your classmates have family jutsu based on external inyou manipulation. Most medical ninjutsu techniques also involve it."
Sasuke nodded. "I see. And internally..."
"If done internally, inyou manipulation almost always produces a kinjutsu of some sort. The Akamichi clan, for instance, uses internal inyou manipulation in most of their clan jutsu. As kinjutsu go, the Akamichi clan's jutsu are relatively safe, but that's only because they buffer themselves against the negative effects of their techniques with an extremely large caloric intake. The amount of food that an adult Akamichi can require after using some of their more powerful techniques is... disturbing at times."
The expression "I could eat a horse" was not meant to be taken literally. Admittedly, I'd never seen an Akamichi actually do so, but that had more to do with the economic value of horses than the ability to do it.
From what Chouza had said, cows were not only generally cheaper, but they were more filling as well. I had not wanted to know that.
I'd wanted to see a demonstration even less.
"So that's why Chouji is such a fatass," Sasuke muttered.
"Oh, trust me, he'll be needing that store of energy... he'll be losing it and regaining it pretty rapidly once he starts on some of his clan's more advanced techniques, and I'd be honestly shocked if he lived past fifty even if he doesn't die on a mission. There's a reason why there aren't any Akamichi clan elders...."
"Power always has a price, Sasuke-kun," I reminded him. "I already told you that, didn't I? The Akamichi are among some of Konoha's heaviest hitters in combat, posessing techniques which can turn the tide of a war. They may not be the fastest or the most accurate of Konoha's ninja, but in terms of sheer physical strength and raw striking power, few can match the Akamichi. They view their shortened lifespans with pride, as a mark of their dedication to their friends. It's the reason why their clan's symbol is a butterfly -- something transient, fragile, and short-lived, but beautiful while it lasts."
"You sound like you admire them," Sasuke observed.
"I used to," I cheerfully agreed. "Then I found out that they're a bunch of hypocrites. You do remember what I said about the Fourth Hokage's last request, don't you?"
Sasuke frowned. "You mean that they..."
"Actually," I corrected, "they mostly stayed out of the matter as far as I could tell." I waved my hand, dismissing the topic. "Anyway, to get back to the point, the sharingan also involves internal inyou manipulation."
My power-hungry student's eyes widened as he looked at me in... horror? Disbelief? Anger? I couldn't read his expression, but... if he couldn't handle that much, there was no way in Hell he'd be able to handle everything I knew. Sometimes it seemed like the sharingan had been created by a particularly deranged Mikaboshi cult. It might be amusing to tell that to duck-boy, but...
No. I had a job to do.
Holding out four of my diagnostic tags, I showed them to Sasuke. "This tag," I explained, pointing to one of them, "is a recording of a fully-mastered sharingan." I then pointed to the second. "This is a recently-activated sharingan with only two tomoe." I pointed to the next in the series. "This is an Uchiha who had yet to activate the sharingan." Pointing to the final one, I finished. "And this is the recording I just took of your eyes."
Sasuke nodded, looking at them even though he had no idea what the various symbols meant.
"If you look at the readings closely, you'll note that the sharingan seems to polarize the chakra flows in the user's head as it develops," I stated, pointing to one of the chakra flows described on the tags. "This flow, for instance, is in the major shin state in the inactivated user, while it's in the major ri state in the recently-activated user and the major da state in the fully-matured sharingan user."
Sasuke blinked. "Shin state..."
I shook my head. "Ah, yes... any quantity of chakra has four major properties: its amount, its shape, its nature, and its state. The amount and shape can be pretty much anything and are exactly what they sound like. The nature is usually neutral, fire, wind, lightning, water, or earth. Some people have kekkei genkai which allow them to generate chakra of other natures, but that's pretty rare."
"Yes," he confirmed. "I remember reading about that..."
"Fire consumes, wind cuts, lightning pierces, water and earth hold," I explained. "The state is the final major property; manipulating this is called inyou manipulation."
"The state... is complicated," I continued, shaking my head as I uttered a spectacular understatement. There were a total of sixty-four total states possible, and even the fact that you could view them as combinations of two "sub-states" didn't help much, considering that the two sub-states behaved in completely different manners and had separate control cycles based on both the Former Heaven Sequence and the Later Heaven Sequence. "For now, all you really need to know is that the major da state is the more strongly you than the major ri state, which, in turn, is more strongly you than the major shin state."
"So that flow becomes more and more you as the sharingan develops."
"Yes. Similarly, other flows become more and more in. It's an overall pattern -- as the sharingan develops, certain flows of chakra in the brain widen and carry more energy, while the overall flows polarize along the lines of in and you."
"And what you said about internal fire-style manipulation?"
I pointed to several marks on the tags. "Here," I said. "These are the critical flows to the eyes associated with initial activation and the use of the sharingan's powers. Note that they carry fire-natured chakra in the activated sharingan."
"Ah," he remarked, staring at the description.
"In your case, note that the flows are generally following the pattern of the fully matured sharingan without the aspects of state polarization." I shrugged. "Frankly, your chakra flows look more like those of the byakugan than the sharingan."
"So I'm not really an Uchiha-"
Sasuke promptly shut up as I applied a bit of killing intent. "No, you just have a new doujutsu. I only brought it up because it wouldn't really be appropriate to call it 'sharingan' and any technique needs a name."
Sasuke blinked, taken aback. "What would you call it?"
I paused at that. "Well... there is the matter of tradition to consider," I remarked. "Tell me, how does 'Deus Ex Machingan' sound?"
"Dzuusu... ekusu... mashingan?" Sasuke sounded out. "What kind of name is that?"
"It's an old Overworld nickname for the sharingan," I explained, neglecting to mention that it was most commonly used by people who intensely disliked the Uchiha clan and Sasuke in particular. "I thought it'd be appropriate."
"From the Overworld?!" Sasuke exclaimed. "I see... your world has more knowledge of the Overworld, so..."
"... that's how I know about the sharingan?" I finished for him when he trailed off. "And while your statement is technically true -knowledge of the Overworld is certainly far more common where I'm from -- that's not the whole story."
It wasn't like knowing things about the Overworld was uncommon in the Overworld. Here, where the only contact with the place had come in the form of people summoned from there, it was... considerably more rare.
"To get back to the point, are you familiar with the effects of chakra inbalance?"
Sasuke shook his head. "I've heard some bad things about it, but..."
"Well, chakra inbalance is what happens when the balance of a person's chakra becomes too far tilted in the direction of either in or you. The symptoms can vary considerably depending on just how severe the inbalance is and which direction it's tilted in, among other things, but it's almost always a very... nasty... condition."
"While an inbalance has a number of negative effects, inbalance in the direction of you can accelerate healing and inbalance in the direction of in can slow bleeding. There have been cases where ninja have deliberately created a temporary inbalance in their own chakra to take advantage of those facts. It's an extremely dangerous tactic, but..." I shrugged. "Have you heard of a ninja named Uchiha Fubuki?"
Sasuke winced, obviously recognising the name. Considering that the woman had been nicknamed "Uchiha's Living Corpse" for the way that her skin had lost color, her blood had started clotting in her veins and her body had started rotting away in the weeks before she'd died, I couldn't blame him. What had happened to her mind before her death hadn't helped with her nickname, either -- while Fubuki had once, by all accounts, been an extremely vibrant woman, she was described as an unfeeling puppet in those times, a doll just going through the motions of life. Of course, that was before things had gotten... worse.
"That was a pretty extreme case of chakra inbalance in the direction of in. Inbalance in the direction of you is equally unpleasant, in a completely different way."
It also made an excellent cautionary tale. Fubuki had copied a rather powerful technique from an enemy combatant while on a mission. What she didn't know at the time, however, was that the jutsu was only meant to be used sparingly and as a last resort. If she'd used it as it was intended, there wouldn't have been a problem -- the minor inbalance the jutsu created in her system would have fixed itself in time -- but the technique had quickly become one of her favorites. In the end, her own father had been forced to kill her when she had attempted to literally eat him alive.
Of course, the fact that her father was a former ninja named Uchiha Kai who had retired to run a weapons store caused me to think of the whole thing as more than a bit ironic. Oh, sure, his name didn't use the kanji for ash, but he had a prosthetic hand and was known for his use of an explosive-capped staff and a sword whose function I couldn't help but compare to that of a chainsaw.
If I didn't know the answer, I'd wonder just what was with the world I'd been summoned to.
"Every living thing, every organ in your body, and even every individual cell has its own natural balance. One of my concerns about the sharingan is that its use may cause a number of localized inbalances of that sort." I shrugged. "Of course, that's just speculation. It's also possible that the modified flows are part of your brain's natural balance and that they are, as such, relatively harmless, but..."
"You have reason to believe that they're not?"
I nodded solemnly. "Yeah."
"Quite a few things that I've noticed over the years, really. If you read the records, you'll find that a lot of your clansmen showed... changes... in their personalities after the engagements in which they activated their sharingan. It's ranged considerably, but..."
"You think that this is because the sharingan effected their minds?"
"You know, Uchihas tended to activate their sharingan during their first real combat or their first major brush with death. Many of them lost friends or comrades in those missions. Some changes would be expected from that, but... I've spent many years studying the human mind and how it works, how it reacts to various things... the change that Uchihas exhibited after activating the sharingan was far greater than the circumstances of the missions they went on can account for."
"That's... the worst of it, I hope..."
I nearly burst out laughing. "The worst of it? Hardly. That's not even close."
"... what? How could it be worse?"
"Well, you do remember what I told you about the sharingan, dopamine and addiction, right?"
My emo student shuddered at the reminder. "Is there more?"
"There's one more thing that I think you should know... and this is probably both the most important and, in a way, the worst of it. Tell me, have you ever heard of a man named Charles Whitman?"
"Charusu Uetoman?" my brooding student sounded out. "No..."
I nearly sighed at his mangling of the Texas University tower shooter's name. "Charles Whitman was a former member of the military forces of a country called the United States of America. He was happily married, and a respected member of his community." I shook my head. "One day, he murdered both his wife and his mother before he climbed a tower at a school he'd once attended and started killing people at random. His rampage only ended when several police officers climbed the tower and killed him."
"I see. Why are you mentioning this?"
"He wrote a letter before he did it. To translate it into Japanese, 'It was after much thought that I decided to kill my wife, Kathy, tonight after I pick her up from work at the telephone company. I love her dearly, and she has been as fine a wife to me as any man could hope to have. I cannot rationally pinpoint a specific reason for doing this.' Tell me, does this sound familiar?"
Sasuke's eyes widened as he shook his head in dawning horror. "No..."
"Another rather interesting section of that letter talked about how he'd spoken to a doctor for two hours about how he'd felt overwhelming, violent impulses. He asked for an autopsy to be performed after his death to see if they could find what had caused his... condition. Do you know what they found?"
Sasuke didn't answer, shaking as he stared at me.
"He had a brain tumor -- a type of growth -- pressed against a region of the brain called the amygdala." I pointed back to my seal tags, showing duck-boy a single flow that was common to all of them. "That chakra flow also passes through the amygdala, and serves to stimulate its function. While I don't have a recording of the mangekyou, you'll notice that the flow grows stronger as the sharingan develops."
"You... you think that..."
"I don't know for sure, but it makes sense, doesn't it?"
Sasuke pulled his legs to his chest and started crying. I couldn't blame him.
"I doubt that the normal sharingan is quite that bad. It might cause some aggressive tendencies while in use and might account for some of your clan's arrogance, but past a certain point..." I shook my head. "I don't know why Itachi killed Shisui-san. He might have wanted power, he might have had another reason. We may never find out. The mangekyou, however... there's no such thing as power without a price, Sasuke-kun. Remember that."
And, with those as parting words, I left the room to look for Sasuke's medic. The sight that greeted my eyes, however, wasn't what I had expected.
"The worms," Sasuke's medic sobbed, clutching his knees as his colleagues tried to comfort him. "Ninja worms eating my paperwork... and no one else can see them... no one else can see them!"
I blinked and discreetly dismissed my earlier summons. No way was I letting them pin that one on me. Besides, my worms were more likely to use bazookas or exploding sheep than to eat the discharge papers. Nope, not was my fault.
I did, however, score some points by helping to calm him down with assurances that no, he didn't have to fill out that discharge form again -- Sasuke would be quite fine waiting until the shift-change. Given his emotional state, I didn't want him to be discharged quite yet anyway.
Omake by Akun
Recca had a lot of things that popped up from the Interregnum, far more than he would have expected possible.
There were some things he could have done without, but in a weird way, it was almost nostalgic to possess some of the items he had, even if they weren't the most useful or even all that understandable in modern day.
He had DVDs of some of the campiest of kung fu classics, starring martial arts masters Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, and Jackie Chan, as well as some of their finer works; he has the cheese-tastic Power Rangers, in both their original japanese versions and the admittedly butchered Saban versions; and he had some french films that were so overly poetic, they bordered on nauseating.
But to this day, he still wonders if the decision to loan those videos to a particular curious child had been a good move or a bad one.
Considering that the boy's appearance didn't look all that close to the what he would have in the future, even the name didn't really click at the time, so Recca could be forgiven for accidentally inspiring the bizarre result of what would eventually become one of the most famous Taijutsu masters of the Naruto world: Maito Gai.
Now, to Maito Gai's credit, he know these were just movies or TV shows, and that some of the stuff was obviously fake or done with special effects.
After all, there were plenty of plays that made subtle use of low-level area-effect genjutsus that could be caught on film.
Still, this didn't stop Maito Gai from becoming a strong fan of all three genres.
Of course, the one thing Recca never counted on was how persuasive Maito Gai would become with a source material.
The first week after Maito Gai had become a jonin-sensei, Recca had just happened to be in the mission office to see Neji Hyuuga, Rock Lee, Tenten and Maito Gai enter, all wearing various colored spandex.
Neji was wearing blue spandex and seemed to almost preen in it.
Rock Lee, departing from the original version, had taken up red spandex.
And Tenten wore the traditional pink spandex seen on a good number of the females from the various series her outfit was based on.
This alone wouldn't have been bizarre if Chouza Akimichi, Inoichi Yamanaka and Shikaku Nara hadn't entered shortly thereafter.
Also wearing various colored spandex suits.
Recca brain hit overload as they began posing.
It went into meltdown when Anko Mitarashi let out an excited squeal and asked if she could get an outfit as well.
Recca never did find out about the annual cosplay contest with the huge prize for first place.
Bonus omake by Akun:
Sarutobi: Minato, Orochi's escaped! Find me five Jonin with Attitudes...
Recca: Okay, just so everyone is clear, I'm NOT going to be the gum-smacking bimbo.
Kaido: That's okay, you're more likely to be the uber-powerful Sixth Ranger, who curbstomps all of our enemies until you join fully. But we need a gum-smacking bimbo... Hmmm.... (looks meaningfully at Asuma, then at a box of Nicorette gum, then back at Asuma)
Asuma: Don't you dare say it.
Omake by Forbin
Recca: "Be especially careful with this contract, it's powerful and you must perform the summoning ritual exactly correct or who knows what might happen."
Uchiha Kai: "Yeah, yeah I got it. Gimme the scroll."
*Several hours later.*
Uchiha Kai: "Huh.. what were those magic words again?"
Bites his thumb and makes the hand seals for Kuchiyose no Jutsu while shouting out the special incantation given to him by Recca, "Klaatu Barada Ni- dammit what's the last word?"
Years later as a fireside ghost story it is still whispered that Kai disappeared in a strange swirling light; only having time to give an unearthly scream that gave nightmares to even the strongest of shinobi. He was never to be seen again.