Disclaimer: I don't own either Naruto nor Avatar. They belong to Masashi Kishimoto and Nickelodeon respectively.
A/N: First of all I should probably apologize for the god awful long time it took to finish this chapter. I really should have had this done months ago, but due to a combination of various things, like stuff in real life, a whole bunch of distractions and my good old enemy writer's block, things just seemed to grind to a halt as far as my writing was concerned.
However, now I've finally got a new chapter to show you and I hope that there's at least a few of you out there left that are still interested in reading it. I know it's short, but that's because I decided to save a good chunk of what I had originally written for the next chapter, just so that I could have this out sooner and let you know that I'm still alive. ^ ^;
So without further ado, here's the seventh chapter of Naruto: The Last Shinobi. Please enjoy.
Naruto couldn't help but let out a small groan when his face was suddenly touched by the first rays of the day, the sun slowly rising itself from the horizon. It coaxed the young man to return from the land of dreams, something which was only further helped along by the heavy snores of Appa laying nearby.
They had set out from Gang Kou the previous day, but not before Mrs H'u Xū had managed to convince them to stay and enjoy a breakfast big enough to sustain a small platoon. After having made sure that they had everything they needed, and made a few last-minute purchases from the ever busy marketplace, they'd said their goodbyes to the kind, elderly couple and left the harbour-town at noon.
They had then spent most of the quiet afternoon travelling through the air on Appa at a leisurely pace before finally setting up camp in a rocky quarry, which would serve as Aang's training ground the following day.
Naruto briefly considered the option of simply turning around and get back to sleep, but stopped himself when he heard the sudden rustling of fabric as someone went out of their sleeping bag. After letting out a yawn, the young shinobi opened a tired eyelid, curious to see who could be be willing to get up at such an early hour.
"Today's the day!" Aang exclaimed happily as he jumped high into the air before landing on the ground next to Naruto and Sokka. "Can you believe it? After all that time searching for a teacher, I'm finally starting Earthbending. And this place is just perfect!" he cheered while wildly gesticulating at the vast, rocky environment that surrounded them.
Naruto would have normally complained about Aang being so loud this early in the morning, but he couldn't help but grin at the younger boy's antics and enthusiasm. He was completely able to relate to the excitement that the young monk was feeling at the prospect of learning a new, awesome technique.
The blond teenager let out a loud yawn before sitting up from his sleeping bag, stretching the last bits of tiredness from his body. "Excited, huh?" Naruto asked with a grin while reaching for his new over-shirt.
"You bet I am," replied Aang with a beaming smile as the older boy rose himself onto his feet. "With this I'll be one step closer of mastering all the elements. Just thinking about all the cool stuff that I'll be able to do is nearly giving me goose-bumps."
However, not everyone took being woken up so early in such a stride, something which they found out when they heard the sound of a low, angry grumble. The two of them turned their heads in its direction only to see Sokka glaring up at them with tired eyes.
"Oh, were you still sleeping, Sokka?" Aang asked with an apologetic smile. "Sorry."
The young Water Tribe warrior was way too tired to give either of them any of his usual witty and sarcastic retorts. Instead he simply decided to pull the cover of the sleeping bag over his head before burying his face as far into the soft fabric as he could while letting out an exasperated groan.
Suddenly, a loud rumbling shook the ground, causing everyone to turn their heads just in time to see the stone walls of Toph's Earthbent made "tent" explode with a bang, stirring up a big cloud of dust. Once it finally died down, it revealed the young Earthbender standing with her fist pumped into the air.
"Goo~ood morning, Earthbending-student!" Toph exclaimed with a wide grin on her face.
"Good morning, Sifu Toph," greeted Aang, giving the girl a respectful bow as she walked up to him.
"Hey, you never called me 'Sifu Katara'," stated the freshly awakened Water Tribe girl tiredly as she sat up in her sleeping bag and folded her arms over her chest.
"Well, if you think I should..." Aang replied sheepishly while rubbing the back of his head in slight embarrassment.
Sokka suddenly bolted into a sitting position, glaring at them all while grumbling angrily. Honestly! The sun was barely even up yet and people still thought that it was a good idea to start making as much noise as possible, completely disregarding those that still wanted a few more hours of shut eye. The nerve!
"Oh, sorry, Snoozles. We'll do our Earthbending as quietly as we can," Toph said, ending her words in an exaggerated whisper. The blind girl's lips then spread into a wide, shit-eating grin right before she slammed the heel of her foot down onto the ground, causing Sokka, still inside his sleeping bag, to be unceremoniously shot straight upwards into the air, screaming for dear life all the way.
"Ah, so that's what I must have sounded like," stated Naruto thoughtfully as he observed Sokka's rise and inevitable fall. He winced in sympathy when the boy finally hit the ground with a thud.
Thankfully, he didn't seem to have been hurt at all as he quickly jumped up onto his feet and skipped over to Toph and Aang. Looking as intimidating as a guy still inside his sleeping bag could, he glared angrily at the two of them while muttering out a long series of incoherent grumbles before finally hopping off, giving them the bizarre impression of a caterpillar that had been raised by kangaroos.
"So what move are you going to teach me first?" Aang asked, quickly getting to the matter at hand as he walked up next to Toph, his eyes filled with excitement and an eager smile spread across his face. "'Rock-alanche?' The 'Trembler'? Oh, maybe I can learn how to-!"
Aang was promptly cut off by Toph as she simply held out a hand, silencing the exuberated boy just as he was about to start suggesting even more crazy, high-level techniques that it was obviously way too early for a newbie like him to even attempt. "How about we just start with 'move a rock'?" she dead-panned before walking off, expecting the young Airbender to follow her.
"Sounds good. Sounds good," said Aang, barely missing a beat as hurried to catch up with his new teacher.
"Hey, Toph, is there any way I could help?" Naruto asked with an eager look on his face, causing the younger girl to stop and turn to face him.
"Hm, let me see," said Toph as she feigned a thoughtful look. "Do you happen to be able to shoot boulders and reshape the earth with nothing but your will and a simple motion?" she asked with a raised eyebrow.
"Er, no," he replied while scratching the back of his head sheepishly.
"Then I'm afraid you won't be of much use right now," Toph answered bluntly with a shrug. "But if we ever happen to need a moving target, I'll let you know," she added with a smirk and continued on her way. Aang offered the older boy an apologetic smile before following her.
Naruto pouted childishly as he watched them go. While the girl may have had a point, he couldn't help but feel slightly put off by the rejection. The young shinobi didn't have much time to dwell on this however, his attention being drawn elsewhere as Momo suddenly climbed up onto his left shoulder, holding the blond's forehead protector in his paws.
"Hey, thanks, Momo," he greeted the lemur with a grin before patting him on the head. "Want to go and see what those two are up to?" Taking the low chirp as a yes, he tied the headband around his head as he turned to Katara. The young Waterbender seemed to have put away her sleeping bag and was now currently in the process of braiding her long hair. "Hey, Katara, do you want to come with us?" asked Naruto.
"Sure, just give me a minute," she replied with a pretty smile.
Naruto's attention was then once again directed elsewhere when his stomach suddenly let out an audible growl. "Guess it's time for breakfast," he chuckled lightly as he met Momo's curious gaze.
He walked over to their collective luggage, being careful so that he wouldn't wake up Appa, and started rummaging through their bags in search of something to eat. It didn't take long before his hand brushed over something that managed to bring a grin to his face. "Jackpot," he said as he pulled out a bag filled to the brim with Mrs H'u Xū's home made rice cookies.
They'd had the fortune of trying them out the day before as the kind, elderly lady had made an extra large batch, just for them, and insisted that they took what they couldn't eat in one go with them on their journey. The mere memory of the taste was enough to make his mouth water.
Without another word spoken he opened the bag, handed one cookie to the lemur on his shoulder before they both started crunching away on the tasty goodies.
"Starting the day off with sweets, are we?" Katara asked with an amused smile as she walked up to them, having just put the finishing touches on her hair-loopies.
Both Naruto and Momo, their cheeks filled to the brim with cookies, gained a nearly identical look of sheepishness on their faces. They glanced briefly at each other before wordlessly reaching out and offering what was left in their hands that they had yet to stuff their faces with.
Katara just waved them off with a smile. "No, I'm fine. But you should probably save some of them for Sokka. He managed to down an entire plate all by himself yesterday and I figure he'd like some more."
Once they were done and had joined Toph and Aang, the blind Earthbender had already begun the preparation's of Aang's first lesson. She'd formed a pair of large boulders which they were now both standing behind and once the spectators had taken a seat at the sidelines, the Avatar's Earthbending training could now officially begin.
"The key to Earthbending is your stance," Toph began explaining before easing herself into a stance with her legs spread and her knees bent, giving her better stability and balance, while raising her closed fists just above her hips. "You've got to be steady and strong. Rock is a stubborn element, so if you're going to move it you've got to be like a rock yourself."
"Like a rock. Got it," he replied as he tried his best to mimic her.
"Good. Now, the actual motion of this one is pretty simple," Toph said as she raised herself to her full height, turning her body parallel to the rock while still facing it.
In a flash, Toph bent her knees and thrust her fist forward, punching the massive boulder dead on. The rock was sent hurtling across the ground, kicking up a cloud of dust in its wake before it finally smashed itself against the cliff side with a loud bang.
"Okay, are you ready to give it a try?" Toph then asked as she turned to an awed Aang.
He took a deep breath to steady himself. "I'm ready," said Aang while easing himself into the same stance that Toph had shown him. The young Avatar narrowed his grey eyes, staring intently at the boulder in front of him as he focused himself before making his move.
However, when his fist connected, instead of moving the rock like Toph had done, he instinctively used Airbending instead of Earthbending and hit it with a blast of wind. He let out a startled scream as it propelled him backwards, going at an incredible speed until he was finally stopped by slamming into the large frame of the still sleeping Appa.
"You know, I'm new to this whole Bender-deal," Naruto said as he turned to Katara, "but something tells me that that wasn't supposed to happen."
The female Waterbender didn't respond as she immediately rose herself to her feet and ran to see if Aang was okay. Naruto shrugged before following her.
After having helped the disoriented Airbender back onto his feet and dusted him off, they walked back to Toph and the rock which hadn't even budged as much as an inch.
"I don't understand what went wrong," stated Katara, her brows furrowed in confusion. "He did it exactly the way you did."
"Maybe there's another way," said Aang with a thoughtful look on his face as he began to approach the rock. "What if I come at the boulder at a different angle?"
"No, that's the problem," stated Toph flatly, stopping the boy in his tracks by grabbing a hold of the back of his clothes. "You've got to stop thinking like an Airbender. There's no different angle, no clever solution and no trickety trick that's going to move that rock. You've got to face it head on. And when I say 'head on', I mean like this!"
Toph roughly shoved Aang out of her way and jumped, throwing herself at the rock with a roar. Without hesitating for even a second, the young Earthbender bashed her head right down against the large boulder and smashed it to pieces.
Naruto let out an impressed "whoa" at the sight and Aang couldn't help but jump back at the sudden fierce display of his Earthbending teacher's aggressive attack. However, once the surprise had died down, feelings of disappointment over his own failure started to well up within the boy and he gained a very unsure and dejected look on his face.
Katara frowned when she saw this and went to follow Toph as she started walking away, wanting to share a few words with the younger girl. "I've been training Aang for a while now," Katara said, trying to be as diplomatic as possible. "He really responds well to a positive teaching experience. Lots of encouragement and praise. Kind words. If he's doing something wrong maybe a gentle nudge could help him in the right direction."
"Thanks, Katara. A gentle nudge, huh?" Toph folded her arms behind her back as she appeared to actually consider the things that Katara had just said. "I guess I could try that," she finally said as she offered the older girl a small, innocent smile.
While she hadn't thought it would go so easy, Katara was nonetheless pleased that Toph was able to see things her way and returned her smile. However, as soon as she turned her back to the young Earthbender and started walking back to Aang and Naruto, Toph flashed the two boys a wide, toothy and almost sinister grin.
Naruto glanced at the Airbender by his side, noticing the nervous sweat starting to form on his brow and hearing him let out an audible gulp.
"She's going to kill me, isn't she?"
"It looks that way, Aang," replied Naruto sagely while patting the uneasy Avatar on the shoulder. "It looks that way."
"Keep your knees high, Twinkle Toes!" Toph roared as she egged Aang on.
If Toph was actually indeed following Katara's advice of being more gentle with Aang, then she most definitely had a very different definition of the word than most people.
During the hours that followed in the canyon, Toph drilled Aang through the basics of Earthbending by engaging him in several rigorous activities involving the element; like carrying heavy boulders on his back, punching solid rock and balancing on tall stone columns, while at the same time trying to keep his balance when his young teacher made an attempt to throw him of.
Toph was actually pushing the boy to such a degree that Naruto didn't have that much trouble picturing Rock Lee doing the same kind of exercises as part of his regular routine.
At first Aang was clearly having a tough time, having to grasp and get used to a way of thinking that was the complete polar opposite of what he had grown up with. But after a few (or rather a series of) initial failures, Aang was actually gradually starting to become more and more successful with the many different training activities.
The young monk's progress didn't go unnoticed by Naruto who couldn't help but feel impressed by just how quickly he seemed to get the hang of the exercises that Toph was putting him through.
"He seems to be getting better," he commented as he was sitting cross-legged against a rather large rock, his over shirt unbuttoned as he basked in the sunlight.
"I suppose so," replied Katara while absent-mindedly scratching Momo behind the ears, the lemur having taken a comfortable seat against her lap. "I just hope that Toph doesn't push Aang too hard."
"Nah, I'm sure he'll be able to handle it just fine," Naruto said with a grin. Despite all the excitement that the last few days had offered, seeing the two younger kids working so hard was starting to make the blond feel slightly restless and made him want to do some actual training himself. He had yet to find a way to make his Rasen Shuriken safe to use without causing massive damage to himself and he wondered if he would be able to come up with a solution before he managed to get home.
He was suddenly brought out from his reverie when he noticed Sokka walking up to them with heavy steps and a noticeably sour look on his face. "Can you believe her?" Sokka grumbled as he polished his battle club with a rag. "Toph took my club and had Aang play whack-a-rock rock with it!"
"So?" Naruto asked with a shrug. "I thought that the whole point of a club was to smash things with it."
"Well, that just shows how much you know," stated the young warrior dryly. "This happens to be a fine instrument, designed and crafted to crush the skulls of both your enemies and your prey," he held it up in front of him and pointed at it like he was explaining things to a three year old, "it was NOT made to be used as a tool for turning rocks into a fine powder!" He then got a thoughtful look on his face, examining the club from a few different angles before turning to his sister. "Katara, do you think that this looks like a crack at this part here?" he asked in a somewhat worried tone.
"It looks fine, Sokka," stated Katara after barely giving the weapon a glance before turning back to look at Aang's training.
Sokka pouted until his eyes fell on the bag between Naruto and Katara and his mouth instantly watered as he recognized it. "Rice cookies!" he exclaimed happily as he reached for the it, licking his lips wolfishly in excitement. However, once he'd actually grabbed a hold of it, he frowned when he felt just how light it was. He held out his hand and turned the bag upside down, but to his great dismay all he got was some crumbs.
"Where's all the cookies?" he asked, his voice a bit hollow as he stared at his hand in disbelief.
"Oh, sorry about that," Naruto apologized with a sheepish grin while rubbing the back of his head in embarrassment. "I guess they were so good that we just sort of happened to eat all of them. Sorry, man."
"I told you we should have saved some of them," chided Katara.
"Who told you you could eat my cookies?" Sokka roared as an almost comically large vein started to throb at his temple.
"I said I was sorry and..." Naruto paused and blinked for a second. "Hey, what do you mean about your cookies?"
Thankfully, before a fight had time to break out, the sound of a burp drew everyone's attention to Momo. The lemur was lying lazily on his back, resting one of his small paws on a very clearly noticeable pot-belly while looking tiredly at the very last rice-cookie which he was currently holding in front of his face. He then turned his head and locked his big, green eyes with Sokka's, starting an intense battle of wills.
"Put that cookie down! NOW!" Sokka demanded angrily after a moment of silence.
Without skipping a beat, the lemur immediately put the whole cookie into his mouth, chewed a couple of times before finally swallowing it down with an audible gulp.
Everything was silent for a few seconds. Katara and Naruto glanced nervously at Sokka, waiting for the inevitable eruption to occur. It started with his right eye twitching, but it didn't take long before Sokka started pulling at his hair, his eyes looking like they were just about to pop right out of his skull as sounds that wouldn't normally be considered human escaped his throat.
"Sokka, take it easy now. It was just some cookies," Katara said with a hint of worry in her voice as she tried to reason with her brother's better side.
"I'm sorry, Katara," Sokka huffed before sticking his nose in the air, "but I'm just far too upset at the moment to care. Instead I'm going to deal with my problems the same way any mature and reasonable young man would."
"Oh really now. And what would that be?" Katara asked flatly with a single eyebrow raised.
"By going out and kill me some food," answered her brother matter of factly. "And when I do, I won't be sharing it with any of you," he added, pointing at them all with his club before stomping off towards the sparse forest just outside the quarry.
Katara couldn't help but slap her palm against her forehead and let out an exasperated groan over her brother's childish behaviour.
"Um, is he going to be okay?" Naruto asked. He really didn't want to have caused something that could potentially make things awkward and unpleasant between them down the road.
"He's fine," Katara grumbled with an annoyed frown while folding her arms over her chest. "He'll be back in a few hours after he's had the time to cool off that big, stubborn head of his. Don't worry about it," she finished, offering the blond a comforting smile to ease his concerns.
About half an hour later, Toph called things to a halt. Truth to be told, she was actually pretty pleased with how well her student had managed to handle her little "warm ups" so far. At first (even though she would never admit it) she had actually been a bit worried about how long it would take for Aang to get the hang of things, not really looking forward to the possibility of having to spend weeks on repeating the same baby-stuff they had been doing over and over again.
In fact, he was coming along surprisingly fast so far. But being the Avatar, having already mastered all of this well over a thousand times in his past lives, may have had something to do with it, Toph shrugged inwardly.
Anyway, she thought it was about time that she took her pupil's training to the next level.
"This time we're going to try something a little different," she began explaining to them all. "Instead of moving a rock, you're going to stop a rock. Now get into your horse stance!"
After Aang had done as he was told, Toph pointed up at a slope in front of them. Or rather, to be a bit more specific, the massive round boulder that stood at the top of it. "I am going to roll that boulder down at you and if you have the attitude of an Earthbender, you will stand your ground and stop it."
While Toph described her plan, all colour drained from Aang's face, his eyes seemingly widening to twice their size as he looked up at the large, foreboding rock.
"Hm, this actually reminds me a little bit of something that my own master put me through a couple of years ago when I had some major trouble learning a technique," mused Naruto.
"And what was that exactly?" Aang asked expectantly, hoping to get some form of advice from the older boy.
"He pushed me down a ravine," answered the blond with a wide foxy grin, causing everyone present to make a double take. "Yeah, he probably figured that all I needed was some proper motivation in order to get the hang of things. I can't really say I appreciated it at the time, but thankfully I managed to pull the technique off and save my hide."
If it was even possible, Aang suddenly looked even more nervous now than he did before as he couldn't help but notice the sudden thoughtful look that Toph had gained while rubbing her chin.
"I'm sorry, Toph, but are you absolutely sure that this is really the best way to teach Aang Earthbending?" Katara asked with a hint of dread in her voice as she glanced up at the large boulder. She was understandably worried about Aang's well-being and definitely didn't want to see him get injured due to some freak training accident. "There has to be a better way."
"I'm really glad you said something there, Katara" replied Toph with a small smirk before suddenly yanking Aang's sash off from his body and tying it around his head, effectively blindfolding him. "This way he'll really have to sense the vibrations of the boulder in order to stop it," she explained before giving the older girl a thumbs up. "Thank you, Katara."
"Yeah, thanks, Katara," Aang stated flatly with just a hint of bitterness in his voice, at which Katara could only give a sheepish smile in return.
"Hey, don't worry, Aang. I know you can do this," Naruto said cheerfully before giving the younger boy a slap on the back. "Break a leg!"
"That is really not the best choice of words in this situation, Naruto," Katara grumbled as it didn't exactly help to lighten her anxiety.
With all that said and done, it was time to begin. Naruto, Katara and Momo were once again standing at the sidelines as they waited for things to get started. The young Waterbender had her hand tightly clasped together and a worried expression set on her pretty face. Naruto spared her a sideways glance before fixing his eyes on Aang, hoping that the boy would be able to pull this off.
Beads of sweat were streaming down Aang's face as he sensed the boulder rolling closer and closer at an incredibly high speed. He could hear the way smaller rocks were being crushed under its weight and how the earth trembled beneath his feet as it approached him. But just as it was about to hit him...
He jumped out of its way.
It continued to roll past him for a couple of seconds until it was finally stopped when it crashed into a rock wall. Aang removed the blindfold from his eyes only to see Toph, stomping towards him with a look of barely restrained fury on her face.
"I... I guess I just panicked. I don't know what to say," Aang said hesitantly.
"There's nothing to say!" Toph spat angrily. "You had a perfect stance and a perfect form, but just when it got right down to it you didn't have the guts!"
She jabbed Aang in the chest, causing him to slump to the ground and look up at the girl with a defeated look on his face.
"I know. I'm sorry-"
"Yeah, you are sorry," growled Toph with an angry snarl as she got right down in Aang's face, cutting him off mid sentence. "If you're not tough enough to stop the rock, then you could at least give it the pleasure of smooching like a jelly-boned wimp!"
"Now, do you have what it takes to face that rock like an Earthbender?"
He remained silent for a few seconds, before averting his eyes from her face as he finally answered her. "No. I don't think I do."
Naruto couldn't help but frown at this. Not only for what the young monk had said, but also because of how defeated he had sounded. "Come on, Aang. You can't give up now," Naruto said as he walked up beside the boy. "Give it another try. I'm sure you'll be able to do it if you just give it another go."
Aang averted his gaze, unwilling to look the shinobi in the eye and see the disappointment lying therein. He closed his eyes and remained silent, even as Naruto called out to him a second time.
However, this only served to agitate Naruto. As he looked down at the boy, a scowl crossed his face and he clenched his fists at his sides. "Fine," he nearly growled. "You don't want to say anything? Fine! I know things may be tough, but you can't just throw your hands in the air every time something doesn't go right! If you act like this during training, then how the hell are you going to-"
The young Jinchuuriki turned silent when he suddenly felt someone take a sharp hold on his arm. As he turned around, he was surprised to find himself face to face with a very angry looking Katara. For the first time since he'd met the girl, her warm, inviting eyes had become cold with disapproval, aimed specifically at him.
"Naruto, not now," she said to him with an unmistakable edge in her voice before turning to Aang and helped the boy back up onto his feet. "Aang, it's no big deal," she said, now in a much gentler tone while offering him a comforting smile. "You'll take a break and try Earthbending again when you're ready. Besides, you've still got a lot of Waterbending to work on. Okay?"
"That sounds good," he quietly replied, his eyes still focused on his feet, as Katara lead him away.
"Yeah, whatever. Go ahead and splash around until you feel better," scoffed Toph as they left. Without saying another word, she angrily went her own separate way, leaving Naruto as the only one behind at the training site.
The young Jinchuuriki let out an exasperated sigh as he moved a hand through his spiky hair. "Well, that could have gone better," he stated bitterly.
A/N: Well, that was chapter seven. Since I don't have a beta at the moment it may not be as polished as the previous few, but I still hope you enjoyed it. As I stated at the top, a good chunk of what's to become chapter eight has already been written and I'm seriously going to try and get my act together and write more. ^ ^;
With that said, this is ChaosGhidorah signing off.