- ナルト- 幻脅威宴
Chapter Eighteen: Party Start (Part One)
"Winner, Uzumaki Naruto!"
There was a long interval of silence following the announcement, as if the world needed a moment to digest the most unbelievable of statements.
"He…won…" Ino muttered very slowly and very softly. Sakura nodded dumbly.
"Onii-sama…" Little Yurina's cheeks were awfully red, mostly out of holding back the tears gathering in her eyes.
She's emotive like that.
"Well," Naruto began, crossing his arms in front of his chest. "I think that proves my point…whatever it was. It got all fuzzy at some point with all the KICKASSERY!"
Looking up, the blond quickly noticed Yuria's airborne form…so he stepped aside.
The Higashiyama Clan winced when their former member fell flat on her face.
"I've said it before, but you REALLY gotta work on your landings."
"WHAT THE HELL, NARUTO!?" Yuria cried the moment she pulled her face off the dirt. "Why didn't you catch me!?"
"Huh, I was supposed to catch you…?"
"WHAT KIND OF FIANCÉ ARE YOU!?"
"I still don't feel my left arm! I'm hurt here, you know!"
"I refuse to marry a wuss like you!"
"Oh, really!" Naruto's voice also went up in tone. "I need two hands to carry you, but I only need one to kick your ass!"
"How can you kick someone with your hands, moron!?"
"I'm just awesome like that!"
They went silent after that, staring at each other with poorly concealed grins.
Naruto rolled his eyes. "Was there any doubt?"
"I know!" Yuria exclaimed pointing at her former clan and Naruto's acquaintances. "Those idiots over there kept swaying between 'oh, he's so cool' and 'oh, he's so dead'…it was annoying!"
"We were not," Yurimi softly muttered.
"Their lack of faith is disturbing."
"I know!" Yuria insisted.
"Only you believed in me, Yuria; you're a true friend."
Muuu, Sayuri too! Sayuri knows onii-chan's aweshum!
"Ah, right, right, Sayuri too. Sayuri's the best."
"But, you know, you have two more fights after this. Think you can handle it?"
"Yup! No biggie!"
Naruto could not prevent Yuria from trapping him in a headlock.
"Well aren't you cocky, you puny human brat! Rub-rub-rub-rub!"
"Gah, knuckles…stop that! Ow! Yuria!"
Some distance away, Sarutobi Hiruzen watched the two's antics with a bittersweet melancholy. The feeling he got when he met Naruto and Yuria in his office had come back, full force.
The realization that Naruto was about to step into a path of his own.
Naruto, are you sure you want to go there…?
"…to the world of youkai…"
Honestly startled, the Third Hokage offered a strained smile to his Sand Village counterpart.
"Ah, no…it's nothing…" He tried to divert the Kazekage's curiosity. "But, really, for Naruto-kun to have progressed so much…as the Hokage, I'm very proud of him."
"Humm…but, well…" The man in the blue and white cloak turned his gaze to a specific zone in the stadium. "Well, if he has the favor of youkai, it's not such a surprise…"
"Now, now, please give credit where it's due, Kazekage." Sarutobi's smile was genuine this time. "It was just thirty days. To learn so much in so little time is commendable. And those were not youkai techniques, save for the Kitsune Fire."
"Yes, yes…" The Kazekage rested his right arm on the armrest and placed his chin on his right hand. "That space-time technique is a simple self-summoning, using the identical chakra patterns of the Shadow Clone Technique to replace a seal or a contract…it's more like, Naruto-kun creates a contract with himself every time he creates a Shadow Clone. It's such a simple concept I'm almost astounded it has not come up before."
"Well…it's not a very chakra-friendly jutsu," Sarutobi admitted. "Someone probably has thought about it, but sacrificing a Shadow Clone like that is not something just anyone can afford to do."
"Yes…but it's that 'Nine Tails Technique'…that one is surprisingly creative. Large, stable chakra constructs like that…just from the chakra expenditure, it's A-rank, easily. But, really, that stability…it must be rotation?"
There was a tiny, needle like reconstruction of Naruto's Tail Technique 'pouring' out of Hiruzen's right index.
"To keep such a large chakra construct from dispersing upon release, he has to keep the chakra in constant motion. Continuous, ordered rotation is the most efficient way to go at it. It's somehow similar to the Fourth Hokage's Rasengan." The tiny, drill-like needle of chakra dispersed soundlessly. "But, then, how did Naruto stand on it? The rotation would have…"
"He stopped the rotation halfway, and made the rest of the 'tail' by densely packing his chakra together. That includes the horizontal potion of the 'stilts' of course." The Kazekage chuckled. "A most unorthodox, inefficient and unstable method."
With identically odd faces, Naruto and Yuria turned to the audience seats. It was Yuriyo, calling out to the victor while fluttering a white piece of cloth with her right hand, not unlike the damsel granting her favor to the victorious knight after a joust.
"What's with her?" Yuria muttered.
The half-Void then flung the piece into the arena, and Naruto swiftly caught it in his right hand.
"Uhh, thank you, I gue—what the!?"
Yuria grimaced at the rather risqué article of female underwear in Naruto's hand. "Just how shameless can a person be…?"
"Wait a second!" Naruto suddenly exclaimed. "Yuriyo! Where the hell did this come from? You don't wear panties!"
Yuriyo sweetly smiled to the gaping shinobi and kunoichi behind her. "He knows me too well." Her smile quickly turned into a devilish grin, true to her nickname of Succubus Lily. "E-very-nook-and-cra-nny~"
Kiba passed out due to blood loss and obstruction of breathing pathways. Hinata's reaction should not even be mentioned at this point.
"I don't know that much about you!" Naruto retorted. "I don't want to know that much about you!"
"Hey! That's rude!"
All eyes turned to Higashiyama Yurina, who had suddenly pressed her thighs awfully close together and wrapped her arms around them.
"O-Oi, don't tell me…" Ino muttered.
"ONEE-CHAN!" The teary-eyed half-Celestial moaned. "How did you even do it?"
Yuriyo wriggled her fingers in a rather suggestive way. "I've got maaaaa~gic hands~"
Naruto glanced at the lovely white panties, and then shoved them into Yuria's hands, all the while blushing madly.
At the contestant's room, a group of young boys and a girl were rather appalled by the whole thing. They could figure out the facts from the loud voices and Naruto's actions in the arena.
"I must learn that technique. Perhaps I should start calling her 'sensei'."
Uchiha Sasuke very smoothly leaned away from Aburame Shino.
Three separate jutsu, each invoked by one of the three ladies.
The three jutsu completely different from each other, but regardless, when layered together they were the ultimate concealment.
The top most seats in the stadium were covered by a wide yellow roof. It was on this roof where the three ladies from a different timeline watched the Chuunin Exam Finals invisible to all.
"Waaah, that was so wonderful, onii-danna…" Higashiyama Sayuri uttered in a dreamy tone.
"Demon Husband?" Uzumaki (former Higashiyama) Mayuri mused in a flat tone.
"O-niiiii-danna!" Sayuri quickly corrected. "And why are you talking to me?"
Mayuri shrugged and turned her gaze to the arena.
"Hmm…typical Naruto." The voice came from the Empress of All Youkai, just before she smacked her fists together. "But that bastard, to ride me like a common animal…I'll kick his ass."
"She did not seem to mind…"
"Keep at it and I'll kick your ass too, Mayuri."
"The witch has a point, though," Sayuri insisted. "You may be the Empress of All Youkai, but that girl over there is the soon-to-be Uzumaki Yuria, onii-chan's fiancée."
"You're blushing, Empress-sama."
An unexplainable force pulled Mayuri's face into the path of Yuria's left fist.
"I don't make empty threats, Mayuri." She then glared at the nine tails standing to her right. "Do you have any witty remarks you'd like to make, Sayuri?"
"Ah...uh…nah, I…I'll just go hang out with the little me, if you don't mind…"
Sayuri disappeared in a blossoming swarm of tongues of flame, harmlessly dispersed in the morning breeze.
"Tch! Seriously…" She turned back to Mayuri, who was rubbing her sore cheek. "So? Any comments on the fight?"
"The only reason I am standing here is because you forced me to. I have no interest in that tournament."
"Damn, you're boring. Worst person to watch sports with ever."
"Does that mean I can leave now?"
"Like hell you can! I won't have you killing another Naruto! No way in hell!" Yuria fiercely clenched her fists. "When I remember breaking your doll last night, I…"
She shuddered. Even if she knew she was doing the right thing, killing her greatest friend was always hard.
"I don't see why you care so much about that soul. It belonged to a monster."
"How can you say that?" The outraged empress protested.
"That thing ceased to be human long before I slew him…the protagonist of 'Chuunin Exam Day'."
Silence filled the mostly deserted rooftop. The summer breeze played with Mayuri's colorless hair and Yuria's deep black.
"…Mayuri," Yuria finally spoke, turning to the arena below.
"I do try. From time to time."
The Silver Lily had stood off her seat and taken exactly two steps when her mother called her name.
"I would like to use the lavatory; there is no need to fret." Noticing a hint of motion further away, she continued. "There is no need for bodyguards, either, Kotonoha."
"Ooh, ooh, me too, me too!"
"Don't say it so excitedly, Riyo-nee-chan…" Yurina pouted, still doing her very best not to show more than should be shown in public.
Yuriyo entangled her right arm with Yurimi's left, as if they were best girlfriends. "Whatever, Yurimi-sama and I are going to have some real nice girl talk now, so see you around!"
While the two two-tailed foxgirls left, Neji was being taken out on a stretcher, and Genma commanded Naruto to leave the arena to allow the next fight to begin.
"Ah, sure. Right away, referee-san." He looked at Yuria. "You heard the man. Get back up there."
"Huh? You not comin'?"
"Ah, I want to see Sasuke before he gets down here." Leaning closer to his friend, he then whispered. "I'm a bit worried he has to fight that Gaara now."
Yuria's eyes sharpened. She could see Naruto's point.
"I'll be with you and the others in a minute, okay?"
"Hmm." The three-tails nodded. "Sure thing. Just be careful."
Like that, Yuria made her way back up the wall to reach the audience seats. As for Naruto…
Using the 'reeling grappling hook' technique he had shown during the fight, Naruto pulled himself towards the wide window in the contestant's room.
"'sup, everyone." A grinning young blond greeted the other Chuunin aspirants.
Shikamaru groaned and scratched his hair. "Man…you can't do things the normal way anymore, can ya?"
Naruto's closed-eyes grin widened a bit. "Ah, sorry, sorry." Not the most sincere apology.
"A magnificent victory, Uzumaki-sama."
"Ugh, were you watching the right fight, Shino? I almost got my ass kicked down there."
Our protagonist came face to face with his teammate. The black-haired boy, however, seemingly only had eyes for Naruto's swaying constructs.
"What the hell are those?"
Naruto almost rolled his eyes at the question. "What do you think they are? Tails!"
"Are you going to keep them out like that? It's kinda creepy…" Shikamaru commented.
"Ah, well…you saw how long it takes me to get them out on the first place…" Naruto explained. "I don't think Sasuke or Gaara would be so nice as to let me make them all over again during our fight, so I'll just keep them out with as little chakra as possible."
"He-heh!" Naruto is a sucker for simple praise.
He then noticed the important absentee.
"Eh? Oh-oi, Tamale!"
"Whatever. Where's Gaara?"
She frowned at the question, but answered nonetheless. "He's already on his way down."
Naruto frowned. The frown deepened when Sasuke began to make way to the room's sole entrance and exit.
"Oi, Sasuke! I'll go with you."
"…I don't need an escort."
"Who would want to escort you?"
"There are no toilets this way," Yuriyo stated in a light joking tone.
"Hmph," Yurimi was unfazed by the accusation. "You are perceptive in the most annoying way."
"Nah, I'm pretty sure grandma knows too."
"…maybe. It is of no importa—!"
They were both stunned into silence, as they were exposed to something they had little experience dealing with.
Raw, primeval killing intent.
With the sheltered lives they had lived since they gained their second tails, there was no way they could be acquainted with such undiluted thirst for blood and death.
Yurimi clasped her hands in front of her chest and took a step back, fighting against the powerful instinct to flee. Her eyes widened a little when Yuriyo stepped in front of her.
"You're the Matriarch and I'm the elder, so let me do what I have to do."
"…you are shaking."
"So are you, so shut up."
The half-Void's hands twitched nervously, and voices in her head snickered at how pathetic she looked in front of a threat she could not even see.
Just what the hell…
Her thoughts were blocked by two screams of unmistakable terror, which were themselves interrupted by loud crunching sounds, fascinating in their crudeness.
"Sasuke, that Gaara is dangerous."
There was an understanding between them, an awareness of the threat the Suna Genin represented. However, Naruto knew Sasuke remained unaware of the whole extent of Gaara's threat. How was he supposed to tell Sasuke the red-haired boy had a demonic tanuki sealed in his body?
How could Naruto make that sound any less ridiculous?
And then they, too, heard the succession of screams and nasty crunching sounds. Exchanging glances, the two hurried their steps, and arrived to a most unsettling scene.
Tendrils of sand danced around Gaara's form and two roughly human-sized blocks of hardened sand squirmed and shuddered disturbingly as they squeezed the blood out of the Jinchuuriki's latest victims. A disgusting splattering sound followed the stream of the darkened vital liquid as poured out of the sand and fell on the floor.
Waaa…nee, nee, onii-chan, nasty water's coming out of the sand…
This is Sayuri, the youkai who has never bled.
And on the opposite side across Gaara…
"Wa-shit! Kage Bunshin no Jutsu!"
Half a dozen clones came into existence around Naruto. Sasuke stared at the blond with a "what are you doing?" expression, but our protagonist had no time to explain.
Gaara's automatic defense kicked in immediately, and clone after clone were impaled to oblivion by the spear-tipped sand. However, Naruto only needed a single clone to make it to the other side, and one did.
Like that, Naruto stood in front of Yurimi and Yuriyo, his large chakra tails stretched to become a protective wall.
And that was when Sasuke figured out Naruto's 'teleportation'.
"You will not touch them, Gaara."
The redhead returned Naruto's glare with a cold stare that promised nothing but pain and death.
"Do you…not fear me anymore?"
Naruto shuddered for a moment there. It was there again, the doubt that plagued him.
It was Sasuke, still standing behind the Suna Genin.
"First you will fight me. Out there."
The group was swallowed by silence for a long six seconds. When Gaara began to walk forward, Naruto hurriedly pushed the foxgirls to make them step aside. Still he protected them with his tails, hoping to keep them out of Gaara's reach…or interest.
"I will kill you," the One-Tailed Beast's host declared as he stepped past Naruto.
"I guess you're free to try."
Sayuri will pwotect onii-chan.
It is certainly true: Sayuri is most definitely the ultimate bodyguard….when she's paying attention, that is.
Gaara's sand spear had not moved three inches before it was pierced a second spear of inky darkness. Then a second, and a third, and a barrage of overkill just to break a simple attack Naruto could have avoided in the first place.
The source was, of course, the same source of the heavy breathing Naruto heard behind him.
"Like this…like this…!"
Gaara turned his head to look back when he heard a fist slamming the nearby wall.
"To be afraid…of a mere human…how…shameful…how…preposterous!"
Yuriyo's left hand poorly covered her face. Gaara and Naruto in front of her could see her white-less left eye, stained by the same vile-colored ink of her shadowy spears.
Yuriyo's left hand soon followed the right on smashing the wall, and the two where then followed by Yuriyo's forehead.
"Tch…so…annoying…" Turning her head slightly to her left, she was met by Naruto's worried expression and Gaara's expressionless stare. "What the fuck are you looking at?"
Naruto only winced at the reckless pulse of killing intent, the first Yuriyo had ever released. To Gaara she might as well call him names. Deeming her below his notice, Gaara resumed his slow-paced march to the arena.
Sasuke and his teammate exchanged looks, and Sasuke shortly glanced at the half-Void.
"Just go in there and kick his ass. I'll have you instead of him as my opponent any time."
"That kinda bothers me for some reason…"
Naruto waited for Sasuke to be out of sight and hearing range to address Yuriyo. She was being tended to by her Matriarch.
"So you can touch the Void after all…"
Gently rubbing the older kitsune's back was the best Yurimi could do.
"So I guess that's the Void…"
"This?" Yuriyo chuckled darkly. "This is just a children's game. The Void is…God, I want to throw up…"
Naruto joined Yurimi and added his right hand to the massaging. Yuriyo had to admit, even without any technique, the two's intentions made the whole thing mildly soothing.
"What are you two doing here anyway? Really…making me worry like this…"
Now that brought a smile to Yuriyo's sickly-looking face. She turned around to lean her back on the wall.
"Now that's a very good question, Naruto, my dear. Yurimi-sama, will you tell us why we are here?"
"Eh? Yurimi? What is it?" Noticing Yuriyo stumbling a bit, Naruto was quick to grab around her waist. "You okay there?"
"Mighty fine. Just don't let go."
As for Yurimi, she had just been caught out of her groove. "Ah…umm…" For the very first time in this story, she actually needed to ponder her next words. "Master…well…I…I wished to express my congratulations on your success."
"Ah, ahaha…" A blushing Naruto scratched the back of his head with his free hand, unaware of Yuriyo very subtly slithering closer to him. "Ah, but it's just the first fight, I still have two more to go, so it's not time to celebrate just yet!"
"I see…" The seconds Naruto gave her by speaking were plenty enough for Yurimi to reset herself. Slave systems go. "But, Master, regardless…it is…a commendable achievement."
A familiar feeling struck Naruto in that moment. And no, it was in no way related to Yuriyo having latched herself to the left side of his body a little too intimately.
"Yurimi…" Naruto narrowed his glance as those words came out.
"This slave…honestly believes…" She moved a step closer to her chosen male. "…that commendable achievements…deserve rewards."
Naruto quickly let go of Yuriyo so she would not be dragged down by Yurimi's pounce. It was surprisingly thoughtful and very quick of thinking considering the circumstances.
"And that would be the reason we're here," Yuriyo concluded. Not that Naruto was paying much attention, and the half-Void certainly noticed. "You know, I don't like to be ignored." She grinned. "And guess what? I suddenly feel a lot better."
It was not really true: her eyes remained murky pools of darkness, and her nails looked like they belonged to a goth.
Still, she pounced.
Muuu, not fair! Sayuri wants to chuu-chuu toooo!
At least she did not set anyone on fire this time.
By the time Naruto arrived to the audience seats, Sasuke's fight was well underway. Kakashi was the first to notice his arrival, if only because Naruto approached from his general direction.
"Oh, Naruto, it's good to see…hoo…"
"Whatever you're thinking, stop," the blushing boy retorted with a bitter tone.
It was easy to understand Kakashi's strange pause in his sentence. Naruto looked, well, he looked like he had just stepped out of a few rounds in a tumble drier. Both his hair and clothes were a wrinkly mess, and his face, neck and what was visible of his chest revealed a set of rather conspicuous marks.
A serious Yurimi and a grinning Yuriyo stepped around him and back to their respective seats.
"Ara…" a mirthful former Matriarch began. "How fortunate of you two to have met Naruto-sama on the way here."
The younger lilies stared at their former leader as if daring her to say that like she believed it.
Yes, even Mayuri.
"Yes, most fortunate indeed," Yurimi agreed.
"Don't look at me, Hinata." Naruto covered his face with his hands. "Nobody look at me. I feel so violated."
Yuria glared at her half-Void niece. "What the hell did you do to him?"
Yuriyo grinned, patting her twin sister's thigh for good measure. "Nothing but healthy, adult entertainment."
What the hell's 'squishy'?
Apparently many wet noises were involved.
"Stop that, Kakashi," Naruto insisted.
"O-Onii-sama…" Yurina's twintails bounced cutely when she stood up. "A-Ano…con-congratulations on your victory! It was most impressive."
"I've seen better," Yuriyo muttered.
"No, you have not," Yuria countered. "I'm fairly sure this is the first non-practice fight you've ever seen…well, with humans."
"Ah…" Naruto smiled. It truly felt good to be congratulated by such an honest person. "Thank you, Yurina-chan!"
"Ah! Waa…" The adorable lily burst bright red; that boy's smile was just too radiant!
Yurine spun Naruto's hapless body around in an extremely dangerous way, even as his face remained deeply buried in her bosom. Kakashi did not know whether to envy him or worry for his life.
Eventually, she stopped, and Naruto was allowed to return to the world of the living. When he looked up at his merciless captor, he was met by a strange smile. It was Yurine's honest, sweet smile, but…were her eyes always that sharp?
"I'm very proud of you, Naruto-kyun."
Naruto blinked. This feeling…it was the feeling he often experienced with Kotonoha. And speaking of Kotonoha…
Yurine let go of the boy, presenting him to the two next people in line to greet him. Surprising everyone present, Higashiyama Yuri had stood off her seat to address the victorious young Chuunin aspirant. Yurimi's former attendant followed her just behind.
"My most sincere congratulations, Naruto-sama. It was admittedly a most entertaining match."
"Ah…" Still a bit uncertain of how to act around the might seven-tails, Naruto responded with a nervous close-eyes grin. "Umm, good to know you enjoyed it, yeah."
A few pairs of eyes widened when the tall Kitsune leaned forward to plant a chaste kiss on Naruto's left cheek.
"Keep an eye on your Hokage."
Naruto stiffened for a moment at the sudden words Yuri whispered to his ear. His eyes briefly drifted to the distant stage when the Third was seated, but he saw no reason for alarm.
The former Silver Lily returned to her seat, and it was Kotonoha's turn.
"Hey." The boy grinned. "I won."
The top-heavy swordswoman dropped to her knees. "You did. Are you well? Does anything hurt?"
"Ah, maa…I took a bit of a beating down there…" Naruto scratched the back of his head, and then glared at the front row of seats. "And Yurimi and Yuriyo did not help matters much."
"Master did not seem to mind."
"What she said," Yuriyo quickly added.
Naruto ignored her and turned his attention to Kotonoha. "But I'm fine! Give me a few minutes and I'll be ready to go!"
Hehee, Sayuri can heal onii-chan with her aweshum chakwa.
I thought the older you said that was dangerous?
It is. Very much so.
Somebody stop her.
There you go. And thank you.
I'll keep her in check, onii-chan.
…how come I never notice when you get inside me?
Ufufu, that would be because I'm the mighty, beautiful Kyuubi and you're just a puny human, onii-chan.
Don't say that with that happy tone!
"Are…are you sure?" The woman looked almost bashful. "I…am not very skilled with healing techniques, but I can maybe…"
"No, no, don't waste your chakra like that…" Naruto responded with an amiable voice, ignoring the two Sayuris inside him. "Thank you for caring, though."
Kotonoha planted her hands on Naruto's shoulders. "I am so very sorry Naruto-sama…to have doubted Naruto-sama's dedication, to have doubted Naruto-sama's victory, this Kotonoha, simply cannot forgive herself…!"
Naruto smiled. It was a tender smile, filled with respect and affection. "Thank you, Kotonoha-san." Noticing the woman's blatant confusion, he explained himself. "You were worried about me, right?"
"O-Of course! I would never…wish for Naruto-sama…to be badly hurt…"
Sayuri will pwotect onii-chan, so it's okay.
The boy shrugged. "If it happens, it happens. But I'd rather have Kotonoha-san cheering for me, okay?"
The four-tails' jaw trembled, but she kept the tears inside. "Of course, Naruto-sama!"
Kakashi and the other humans watched in utmost silence, the strange relationship between Naruto and the fox youkai.
The blond's clear blue eyes suddenly brimmed with excitement and anticipation as they caught sight of a very special person.
"Good job, boy," an unfamiliar voice interrupted him, however.
"Hum. That was actually a little bit fun," a voice identical to the first one followed.
Naruto looked to his right, to the source of the two voices.
"Ah, thank you; thank you, Yuriko onee-chan, Yurika onee-chan."
Yurika blinked, visibly surprised. "How…did you tell us apart?"
"Eh? Nah, just a lucky guess, hehe…" He paused. "Wait, I think this is the first time we exchanged words."
"It is," Yuriko agreed, and her sister pouted, obviously displeased with this.
"Why don't we get more screen time?"
"This is not an anime, you know…" Yuria muttered.
"The author has acknowledged that he has too many characters. You just happen to be the least interesting and less involving in the overall plot."
Sayuri's the pwoght…pwuth…pwotha…pwotagonist!
Yurika winced. "Such harsh and direct words, Yurimi-sama…it's kinda hot…"
"Since when did you become an M?" Her sister wondered.
Next to the twins, Higashiyama Yurisa greeted him with a gentle smile.
"Um! Thank you!"
Naruto was happy. Even if he did not get the ovation from the nervous public, this was more than enough. It did bother him that a family of foxgirls treated him better than the people he had lived with for years, but what could he do about that?
And then our hero met the Time Kitsune.
"And that, Mayuri-chan, is how you kick 'Fate's' sorry ass. I hope you learned something."
The pout he got in response was definitely the very first truly childish expression he saw on Mayuri's face since the day they met.
She had to admit that none of her visions in which Naruto defeated Neji matched the actual events she had just seen. Then again, the possibilities were infinite; to see them all before the event in question actually happened was fundamentally impossible, even if she could see multiple visions at the same time (which she could) or if she could fully control her visions (which she could not).
Naruto crouched down to properly meet her eyes. So as to not touch her directly, he grabbed the wide sleeves of her kimono shirt.
"You really need to learn to believe, Mayuri-chan. If you still can't believe in yourself, then believe in me."
Sayuri believes in onii-chan that believes in Sayuri that believes in onii-chan.
That was pointlessly repetitive. And an awful anime reference.
The ageless Kitsune showed an extreme sadness in her suddenly aged expression. Sadness at what? At herself and her hopelessness? At Naruto and his naivety? At the world and its mercilessness?
We might never know.
"I believe in you, Mayuri-chan."
Patting her right knee over her hakama, Naruto stood back up, leaving a troubled young foxgirl immersed in many thoughts and a quiet audience pondering the cryptic, one-sided conversation.
Finally, Naruto reached the last person. The one who had yet to address him, his fellow Genin excluded. And, in all honesty, the one whose approval mattered the most.
Speaking of the Genin, those who had yet to raise eyebrows did it at precisely this point.
However, the mistress did not respond; her eyes fixated on the scene in front of her. Naruto, then, insisted.
Setsuna idly waved a shooing hand.
"Don't bother me now, brat, I'm watching the Uchiha's fight."
Kakashi physically and very visibly recoiled at that, hissing at that most terrible sequence of words.
Naruto…remained astoundingly still.
"He actually has some decent moves; unlike the unsightly, haphazard thing you called 'Taijutsu' before we met."
Can I burn her?
Kiba winced and looked away. His sympathy went towards his blond colleague.
"Hmm…he's got the basics…and a good body. He could actually learn my style, instead of the bastardized version you so insolently came up with."
Most of the others present gaped at the rude and insincere woman; clearly remembering just who was the most interested in Naruto's newly learned legwork throughout the whole fight.
Naruto remained quiet, but not for much longer. When his voice came out, however, it was strained and very mild.
"Hmm…so Mistress is also interested in Sasuke…"
Like that, Naruto stepped around Setsuna's seat and towards the row behind, where Yuria was seated.
"What is it?"
Yuria did not know whether to look amused or disgusted.
"You are so jealous."
"You are jealous of the tsunloli paying attention to the black-haired pretty-boy. Oh. My. God. Naruto, please."
Naruto's facial muscles trembled as blood rushed to his cheeks.
"Wha-wha-wha—me!?" His voice shot half an octave higher. "Jea-Jealous? Me? Pfft!" He looked away with a strained expression. "Li-like I co-could possibly care who—who that violent, f-flat-chested woman is interested in! Hmph!"
It spoke lengths of Setsuna's concentration, the fact that she did not hear her student's rude words.
Yuria had settled on looking disgusted at this point.
"Naruto…that was disgustingly tsundere."
Naruto obviously learned more than combat techniques from the Loli Queen.
Yuriyo glanced at her sister. "What?" She spoke in a quiet tone because Yurina had done the same.
They were black.
While the taint in her eyes had disappeared at some point while she was making out with Naruto, her nails had not lost the unsettling color.
"No." Yuriyo did not allow her sister to take her hands into her own. "I can't depend on your chakra forever, Rina." Still, her comforting smile came out bitter and sparsely nervous. "This…has to happen sooner or later."
Yuriyo knew. She had read the Codex, after all.
Very soon, she would have to confront the Void.
"So…" A sulky Naruto spoke to all in the vicinity. "What have we missed so far?"
There was an important fight taking place, after all.
"Ah, well…" Yuria took pity on her fiancé and did not tease him anymore. "Pretty boy can actually run laps around tanuki boy and his sand."
"Tanuki boy…?" Ino wondered, and Naruto perked up. Even he could tell it was a bad idea to suddenly reveal Gaara's vessel status.
"Ah, ah, it's just a silly nickname…ahaha…"
Kakashi shot a glance of suspicion to his student.
"But, those moves…pretty boy's, I mean. They sorta remind me of Gai-sensei, only more…um, acrobatic?" Yuria admitted.
"That would be because he is using my precious student's Taijutsu, Yuria-kun."
Most of the group turned their heads to see the newcomers, the exceptions being Setsuna, who was focused on the fight, Mayuri, who had seen them coming about half a minute ago, and Yuri, who simply did not want to bother.
"Oh, Gai-sensei!" Yuria exclaimed. "And Lee!"
"Oh my God, what the hell is he wearing?" Yurika unconsciously jerked away from the green-clad apparition. Her sister only chuckled nervously.
This was the first time the conscious Lee met Yuria, so he was obviously surprised the short girl knew his name. Gai wrapped an arm around his shoulder; an endearing gesture that also helped the boy in crutches keep his balance.
"Yes! My student wished to see today's battles!" Gai patted his prized student's shoulder. "Lee! This is Naruto-kun's most youthful friend, Yuria-kun!"
"Ehehe…" Yuria swallowed the praise with embarrassed chuckling.
"Naruto-kun!" the eccentric Jounin continued. "While it is my student who lost, you still deserve my most sincere congratulations!"
"Um! Thank you, Gai-sensei."
"How come he gets the 'sensei' and I don't anymore…?" Kakashi muttered childishly.
"And you, Kakashi…" Gai expression took a more serious undertone. "To teach young Sasuke-kun Lee's moves to this extent…that Sharingan is truly fearsome."
"Sharingan!" Naruto suddenly exclaimed. "Of course! So that's why…"
He shot a short, wistful glance at his tiny sensei.
"What is this 'sharingan'…?"
Yurine quickly noted everyone was looking at her. "Ah…if I may ask…?"
Her half-Celestial daughter frowned. She knew very well that her mother always spoke in the third person. She usually did the same, after all.
Noting Gai was only staring at her; Yurine blushed a little and bowed curtly. "Higashiyama Yurine, Yuria-chan's sister."
"Um. A pleasure." Gai returned the bow rather hesitantly. He could not just extend the same courtesy he offered Yuria to other Kitsune. "The Sharingan is the Bloodline Limit of Konoha's Uchiha Clan. It allows perfect memorization of techniques…among other things."
"Even youkai techniques?" Yurine wondered.
"So we've abandoned all pretense of subtlety, huh…" Yuriyo muttered. "Can I take my tails out?"
"Please don't," Naruto deadpanned.
"Well, yes, but many youkai techniques are a little too straining for humans to use, so it's generally not worth the effort to copy them," Kakashi answered in Gai's stead, as Konoha's foremost Sharingan specialist.
"Hmm…how about Sage Techniques?"
Kakashi blinked. "Senjutsu...? Only if the Sharingan user knows how to create Sage chakra, I guess. The Sharingan does not provide that skill."
The gray-haired Jounin frowned. "How do you even know of Sage Techniques, Yurine-san?"
"Ufufufufu…" Yuri chuckled quietly.
"Ah, maa…ahahaha…" Yurine chuckled nervously and struggled to dodge the question.
Sayuri's a sage, too!
This is, in fact, a mistake. Sayuri can use nature chakra, but she is no Sage. Many people do not make this distinction, but in the strictest terms, Higashiyama's only Sage is Yurine. Then again, the techniques of Kitsune are completely different in fundament and form to those of Toads, so the term 'Sage' may not even be truly appropriate.
The Harmonious Lily looked down at her blonde daughter. With a gentle smile, she stroked the half-Celestial's soft hair.
"What is it, Yurina?"
Yuri frowned. Had Yurine not even noticed…?
"So Pretty Boy copied Lee's moves with this 'Sharingan' thing?" Yuria concluded, and Gai assented.
"Kakashi saw Lee's fight versus Gaara in the preliminaries using his own Sharingan."
"Gai…" Kakashi muttered in his 'do not reveal my secrets to the dangerous youkai' tone, only to remember the tall, voluptuous one already knew who he was.
"It's a shame that boy Gaara cannot make his sand move quicker…" Yurisa commented.
"That sand moves on its own. The boy has no control over it."
"Eh?" Yurisa looked at her older sister. "How…is that true, Yurine onee-sama?"
"Um." Yurine nodded. "You can tell by looking at the boy: how he behaves, and his reaction to the Uchiha boy's performance."
"You have a good eye, Yurine-san," Gai admitted, and the five-tails smiled curtly.
"Ah…I, kinda like this kind of thing…" Her smile smoothly took a bitter undertone. "I'd prefer children were not the participants, though…it bothers me. It bothered me to watch Naruto-kyun and his opponent hurt each other." She sighed. "But I guess this is your 'way of the Shinobi'?"
The adult Jounin did not respond to the subtle jab.
While the others exchanged words, the convalescent Rock Lee quietly watched the battle taking place in the arena. Sasuke was proving he had no reason to fear Gaara's sand-based attacks, to the redhead's growing frustration. The sand could not keep up with Sasuke's high-speed Taijutsu, and the Uchiha survivor was landing hit after hit after hit, slowly eroding through Gaara's Armor of Sand.
He had achieved the same thing in his prelims fight. However, for Sasuke to reach his same level in one month…it was incredible. Unbelievable. Unfair.
Would it always be like this? Short-lived moments of accomplishment and fulfillment, quickly shadowed by the so-called geniuses surpassing him almost effortlessly?
But, then again, Naruto defeated Neji…
"But…" Yurine continued her Sharingan discussion. "Even if you can memorize a fighting style…to reproduce it faithfully, it cannot be so easy…"
"Oh, no, not at all," Kakashi admitted. "Sasuke won't be able to keep that pace forever. He doesn't have Gai's or Lee's, or even Naruto's build."
"Kakashi-sensei!" Sakura suddenly complained.
"It is true, Sakura," the Jounin calmly stated. "Sasuke has not properly trained his endurance, and one month is not nearly enough for his muscles and bones to adapt to that kind of exertion."
"Fuun…" Yuria crossed her arms haughtily. "Then he's not such a big shot." Grinning, she looked at the humans besides and behind her. "Lee would totally kick his ass! Right?"
Rock Lee was not used to girls smiling at him like that.
"Of course!" Gai was more than willing to answer for his student. "Kakashi, your student is fortunate my excellent Lee is not able to defeat him with his superior Taijutsu! Right, Lee?"
"Uh…" After blinking a few times to digest the words, the young boy's expression brightened. "O-Ossu! Yes, Gai-sensei! As soon as I dispose of these crutches, I shall challenge Uchiha Sasuke one more time!"
"Yes, Lee! Show everyone your youthful power!"
"They are weird," Yurika muttered.
"Extremely so," Yuriko agreed.
"Ahaha, but…" Yuria grinned at the two humans' antics. "That weirdness is kinda cool, you know."
"We don't know you anymore," Yurika stated.
"You are no sister of ours."
"Rot in hell, you damn lesbians."
Yurina's sudden exclamation drew the group's attention back to the fight.
Gaara had resorted to hiding within a compact shell of hardened sand.
"Well, that does make things more difficult," Kotonoha mused.
Naruto, too, was musing on this new situation. So far he had not seen anything he could not handle from either, now that he had his new techniques.
Inside Naruto's seal, two Sayuris were also discussing tactics.
So, Sayuri, how would you deal with that sand shell?
Well…yes, but, it would take a while for it to burn the conventional way.
Are those your only answers to everything!?
If it works, why change it?
Naruto grinned. Sayuri, I love you.
Eh? Ah-aaah, o-onii-chan…saying such a thing all of sudden, I…
Onii-chan said it to Sayuri.
Little one, I'm quite sure those words were aimed at my beautiful self.
Mugiii! The Sayuri onii-chan wuvs is Sayuri!
It's me! ME!
It's Sayuri! Mugiiiiii!
"Uhh…don't hurt each other, girls…"
There were two very simple reasons Kiyoura Setsuna was so focused on the current fight.
She was truly interested in the Uchiha survivor, for she wanted to know whether the boy could become a useful pawn. He was her direct descendant, after all. Maybe she could even get him to hunt the Tailed Beasts for her, in parallel with Akatsuki's efforts. Of course, that would be a rather…long-term project. The boy undeniably had talent, but he needed proper instruction. If what little she learned about him from Naruto was true, he would also need to be knocked down a peg or two.
Children must be taught to respect their elders, after all.
She still wondered, though. Just why did Itachi let him live that night? Was Uchiha Sasuke solely the last sliver of Itachi's compassion? Or was there an ulterior motive only the rogue Uchiha knew?
It did not bother Setsuna substantially, but it was worth pondering it a little whenever she had the chance.
The second reason was that she was trying to do her best to ignore her heart, and mostly failing.
"Maa, and because I didn't want to disappoint my cute sensei, of course!"
"…my cute sensei, of course!"
"…my cute sensei…"
Setsuna frowned. That was not right.
Her body trembled, her lips quivered and her small hands nervously squeezed her cyan sundress, all this while she scolded herself with the same old arguments.
Do-do—don't be stupid, Kiyoura Setsuna! To revel in the praise of a worthless human child! It's like Makoto all over again!
Her ever-thoughtful heart pumped more blood to her cheeks.
Itou Makoto never looked at her like that. With eyes like those.
No…no…no! This is stupid! He's a stupid child with a stupid crush on his teacher! It doesn't mean anything to me! When I build the World of DFC, then…then I…
Setsuna came to the realization of just how little thought she had put into life after the birth of a world of nothing but lolis. And then she moaned in frustration.
How many mating seasons had she skipped again?
"Are you alright, Setsuna?"
An automatic reflex drew the small half-Kitsune to glare at her self-appointed nemesis.
"I won't have the likes of you worrying about me, Udder Woman!"
"Ha-haa…" The swordswoman could only make a strained smile in return. "The-then, how about your cute student behind you?"
Setsuna's vertebrae complained when she turned her head, to find herself less than two inches away with a worried-looking Naruto.
"Mistress…" He tilted his head to portray his question. "Are you alright?"
He might as well have proposed to her on the spot.
With such a close up of his brimming eyes, his slightly parted lips and his cautious tone, Setsuna took a direct hit of Naruto's devotion and concern towards her.
Naruto's eyes widened in alarm when Setsuna began to tear up. "Mi-Mistress!"
The word only made things worse, as it filled Setsuna's troubled heart with flowers and puppies and all sorts of nice, pleasant feelings.
After pushing Naruto away by smashing her hand on his face, the small half-Kitsune ran three steps before flickering away.
"Wha…" Naruto quickly shook his head and jumped to his feet. "Where did she go?"
"It's fine, Naruto-sama, please sit down," Kotonoha's mild tone seemed to dispel the strange mood.
"But, she was…"
"She'll be fine, she's a big girl," Kotonoha insisted before patting the seat Setsuna had emptied. "Would you sit with me, Naruto-sama?"
"That was sad," a strangely moody Yuria commented.
"Really? I thought it was amusing," Yuriyo mused.
"I don't hear you laugh."
"Setsuna has always been a very maidenly lady," Kotonoha commented, no with little amusement in her tone. "She would rather not be, but you cannot avoid being who you are."
On the battlefield, Sasuke was still testing Gaara's new shell of sand. His latest involved scattered shots of Housenka no Jutsu for whatever reason.
Muu…wimpy fire is wimpy.
For some reason Naruto found that sentence extremely amusing.
"Ah, sorry, sorry, Kotonoha-san…" Naruto ceased his quiet chuckling. "Sayuri said something funny."
"I see." The four-tails then mock-pouted. "I thought I told Naruto-sama to stop using honorifics."
"I thought I told Kotonoha-san to stop calling me Naruto-sama."
The woman decided to cut that topic short.
Standing on the thick branch of a tree near the stadium, Setsuna panted heavily and clutched that most annoying blood-pumping organ. Shaking her head, she struggled to keep the tears inside, feeling that, if she allowed those drops to escape from their confinement, she would lose.
Lose what, or to whom, she did not know. But she would lose. And Kiyoura Setsuna does not lose.
"I don't…!" She barked at herself in a restrained tone. "I don't, I don't, I don't, I don't, I don't!"
"Mistress…are you okay?"
"I don't…care…about you…"
But her mind reminded her of his words, of his smile, of his concern, of the attention he put to every single one of her words.
But her body reminded him of his touch, of the feel of his lips, of the warmth of his toned, hard body and of the electric delight she felt when he challenged her.
"I don't…that is just…!"
Desperation. The pathetic complaints of a body which has not found satisfaction in decades.
Yes, that excuse would work…for a while.
Setsuna's knee kissed Tobi's face at comedic super-speed, which obviously overpowers Tobi's space-time defense.
"Measure your words! Enfant stupide!"
Tobi was sent flying away, but he managed to land safely on another branch.
"What do you want?"
"Uuu…just…it's almost time."
"Do you think I don't know that?"
"Well, but, I just thought that you were having so much fun with Naruto-kun and his friends, so maybe…"
The masked man was stunned into silence by the tremendous spear of killing intent Setsuna unleashed upon him.
"Be silent, Madara."
Setsuna's Copy Wheel Eyes spun furiously, fueled by anger. At herself, at Tobi, at Naruto, at Itou Makoto, at Kotonoha, at the world that refused to grant her happiness.
She was not a child anymore. She did not 'have fun'. She did that once, and it only brought her regret and misery.
They disappeared together using Shunshin no Jutsu. Setsuna would refuge herself in her alternate identity. She would crush those bothersome feelings and focus on the only thing that mattered.
It was so close, just beyond her grasp.
The stadium suddenly trembled with a wave of awed voices.
The battle had just taken a dramatic turn.
"Umm, you know, I hadn't brought it up earlier, but I'm really kinda curious."
Kotonoha promptly turned to address her dear Naruto-sama. "What is it, Naruto-sama?"
The boy pointed at the shortest person present.
"What's with the chibi Hyuuga anyway?"
"Ah, Na-Naruto-kun…" Hinata was trembling for some reason. Most likely the fast succession of traumatic events. "She…tha-that is, my sister, Hanabi-chan."
The small girl only offered a curt nod of her head. Naruto blinked.
"I became acquainted with Hanabi-san some days ago," Yurimi further explained. "We met on the way and I invited her to join me, an offer she most graciously accepted."
"Please do not stare at me like that. It's disturbing."
Naruto tried a conciliating grin. "Ah, sorry, sorry…you just don't look much like Hinata. Except for the eyes, of course."
"I do not look much like Sayuri-sama either, Master."
"Hmm, true, that."
"Thank Inari for that," Yurika muttered, and her sister nodded in profound agreement.
Frowning at Hanabi's attitude, Naruto turned his attention back to the battle. Sasuke was busy dodging the latest wave of sand blasts. It was getting harder for him to get close to the sphere Gaara had used to protect himself.
"What's with her?" He did, however, complain quietly. Kotonoha heard this and giggled.
"I believe Hanabi-chan does not have the best opinion of Naruto-sama," she explained without bothering to speak in a quieter tone.
Hanabi did her utmost best to look haughty. She was surrounded by youkai who apparently liked the guy, after all.
"Fuun…" Naruto chuckled and shrugged. "No big news, then."
"Master should not look down on himself like that."
"Mah, it's okay." The orange-clad boy grinned widely. "I have you to make me feel good about myself, Yurimi."
The young Silver Lily blinked…and then blushed. "Of…of course. I am more than willing to do that." She nodded. "In fact, please allow me to share a number of ideas I would like Master to try on my most willing anatomy—"
"The conversation ends here, Yurimi," Naruto promptly deadpanned.
"…I understand. As you wish, Master."
Yuriyo snickered while her sister chuckled nervously.
"I believe I will have you answer a few more questions after the finals are over, Naruto." Kakashi tried to sound serious, but his face cover could not conceal the mirth in his tone.
Naruto rolled his eyes. "I can imagine."
"Ugh…I'm bored!" Yuria suddenly exclaimed, jumping off her seat to address the two combatants. Not that they would mind her, though. "For Inari's sake, do something already!" She fell back on the seat. "What kind of fight is this? 'Oooh, nobody can see me in my ball of sand!' 'Oooh, I can jump around like Sayuri!'"
Sayuri's not Bunny! Mugiiii!
"You guys SUCK!"
Lee's cheeks and lips trembled in strongly-restrained laughter. It was not youthful to make fun of others' combat prowess, after all.
Kiba and Naruto were not as well-educated.
"You're too good for me, Yuria," our protagonist confessed between snickers.
Meanwhile, the adult Sayuri continued her commendable attempt at convincing her younger self that bathing her opponents in nuclear fire was not always the answer.
Maa, maa, Sayuri…dear, listen to me. Sometimes you can't just burn someone. You have to use tactics, find their weaknesses and exploit your advantages.
Muu…Sayuri doesn't get it.
What's so hard to understand?
But, but…I'm a nine-tails! I can burn things! If it burns, it burns; if it doesn't burn...no, it ALWAYS burns!
That makes an awful lot of sense to me.
Onii-chan! Don't encourage her like that!
See? Onii-chan gets it! Waaaaaai!
A roar of excitement drowned out Naruto's inner voices and brought him back to the fight in front of him.
A thousand birds chirped as one.
Within the darkness of his sand shell, Gaara of the Desert…rambled.
"Insect…like an insect…Mother, do you really want to eat the insect…?"
Uchiha Sasuke was truly like an insect. A fly that refused to be swatted.
"No good….he's no good, Mother. The other one…the other one might be better…"
His Third Eye revealed Sasuke's latest strategy. After the black-haired boy had jumped all the way up to the top of the wall, Gaara had stopped chasing him around with his sand. It was getting boring, really.
He knew now that the amount of sand he had at the moment was not enough to capture his prey. He needed to overwhelm the Uchiha with a tidal wave; a barrage of sand whips, spears and hands.
But, well, he needed more sand.
"Grow, Mother…we need sand to grow…"
Falling to his knees, he gently placed his hands on the hard soil.
Sasuke began to run.
"A frontal attack! That's ridiculous!" Kiba cried.
Naruto quietly watched his teammate and his new jutsu. Sakura and Ino held to their seats tightly.
"With Sharingan it is possible," Kakashi stated.
"It will not work."
Yurina turned to look at her mother. Yurine was frowning, and her left foot tapped the floor impatiently.
The five-tails did not bother to look at her daughter. "Yurina-chan, Yuriyo-chan, please hold on tightly."
"What?" Yurine's half-Celestial daughter blurted out.
Sasuke reached ground level and immediately took aim for Gaara's shell of sand. The chakra in his left hand chirped eagerly. There was no reaction from the sand.
And then, the stadium shook. A single beat of overwhelming violence.
The ground trembled under Sasuke's feet, making him lose his balance and tumble down, the crackling chakra promptly dispersing aimlessly.
The audience screamed in alarm, many of them sliding off their seats. Gai hurried to grab his student, who was in a clearly disadvantageous position to resist the sudden quake.
Yuri, who apparently had not been affected, glanced to the other person calmly seated to her left.
"Thank you very much, Sayoko-san."
The Void Kitsune only nodded.
Yurine shot a fond smile at the person who had protected her, even if it was not really necessary.
"Thank you, Naruto-kyun."
She was not the only one. Yurina, Yuriyo, Yurimi, Sakura, Ino, Hinata, Hanabi and Mayuri all had a big chakra tail strongly embracing them.
"Hey! How come I don't get any help, you crappy fiancé!"
Naruto looked at Yuria's feet, strongly attached to the floor with chakra.
"Because I trust you and I know you can take care of yourself. Idiot."
Yuria was promptly blushing and speechless.
"Well, we can't take care of ourselves!" Yurika managed to blurt out before the stadium shook a second time, with prompt screaming response from most of the audience.
Yurine stood up while most were still regaining their bearings.
"You have to stop this fight!" She complained to Kakashi and Gai. "At this right, that child is going to—"
The stadium shook again. This time, tall piles of sand erupted like geysers all over the arena.
"What…sand!" Kiba exclaimed, making everyone notice the strange change in the stadium's geography.
Yurine pointed at the growing piles of sand around Gaara's spherical refuge. For some reason, her left foot had not stopped tapping the floor.
"Do you get it now? What he is doing?"
Sasuke was trying to get back on his feet when the ground shook a fourth time. He stumbled but managed to regain his footing, even as his feet sank into the sand.
It was then when he realized: the entire arena's ground had softened into fine sand!
"This chakra…" Yurisa, one of three acute sensor-types within Higashiyama (the others being Chiyuri and Yuri herself), muttered worriedly. "That boy…is he really human?"
"He's like Naruto," Yuria revealed, and the boy in question facepalmed.
"Wa-wait, what do you mean, like Naru-gyah!"
The ground shook a fifth and last time, interrupting Ino's inquiry and making her bite her tongue.
"Naruto-san, please hold my daughter tightly!"
Yurisa placed a hand on her daughter's shoulder…and it effortlessly pushed the little youkai to the side.
"Eh?" The blonde four-tails looked down at her child. "Ma-Mayuri!"
Those who could see her were shocked by Mayuri's appearance.
While her body slumped to the side, clearly disconnected from any conscious control, the small girl's eyes remained open; widely dilated in an expression of unspeakable terror.
"Mayuri-chan!" Naruto exclaimed. "Damn it, what the hell…?"
The tail! Onii-chan, pull the tail away!
"Eh?" He looked at the tail of pure chakra still strongly wrapped around the two-tails' tiny body. "Ah-damn it!"
Under the audience seats, in the candidates' waiting room, Shikamaru and Shino looked at each other, making sure the other was in one piece, before glancing at the Suna siblings, who looked like they wanted to be anywhere but in that stadium.
"GAHAHAHAHAHAHA! UCHIHA SASUKE!"
Gargantuan pillars of sand burst out of the ground, swaying and building bridges between each other, driving by Gaara's nonsensical whims. Sasuke looked in alarm at the sheer magnitude of this new threat, holding back on his second and last Chidori of the day.
Realizing he was still feet deep in extremely dangerous sand, he leapt away and back to the relative safety of the stadium walls.
"Sa-Sasuke-kun…" Sakura called weakly.
"This is insane…" Kiba muttered in mild shock. Gaara had truly gained an overwhelming advantage.
"Was that Doton?" Yuria wondered; a little miffed that, being a Mountain Kitsune she was unable to do such a thing.
"No," Kakashi explained. "He's sent strong pulses of chakra into the ground, compressing and then breaking it apart. To think he can do such a thing…"
"Sasuke-kun!" Sakura screamed when Gaara unleashed pandemonium upon the last Uchiha.
Sasuke was fast, and he could dodge the massive streams of sand that pounded the walls with fearsome force every time they missed him. However, as long as he stayed on the wall, his escape routes were limited and predictable.
"Ah!" Sasuke gasped when he found his right foot seized by a tendril of sand.
"He got'im!" Yuria exclaimed.
"No!" Naruto called out, but to no avail.
In the time of a blink, Sasuke was flung to the opposite end of the circular wall. His body smashed the concrete with tremendous force, and those in the audience who were still more worried about the battle than about themselves gasped in unison.
"Sasuke!" Naruto shouted. "Damn it, referee!"
Genma technically needed confirmation before making any announcements, but common sense told him that, even if Sasuke was still conscious—or alive—after that, there was no way he would be in condition to put up a fight.
"Wi-winner, Gaara of the—"
The stadium unexpectedly shook again, and Genma was brought down to one knee.
"He's lost it!" Temari exclaimed. "Why is this happening?"
Half a dozen behemoths of sand swirled like gigantic desert worms around Gaara's shell, gaining velocity and spelling Sasuke's doom.
"Kakashi-sensei!" Sakura cried for the aid of the first and only person she could think of.
"DISAPPEAR!" The berserk Jinchuuriki unleashed his colossal, shapeless sculptures after roughly Sasuke-shaped pile of sand attached to the wall.
"Damn it!" Kakashi cursed as he readied his chakra. There was no way he could make it…!
The six irregular pillars slammed the wall with thunderous force, completely covering it in an ochre layer which rose like a tsunami past the wall's upper edge and fell upon the audience on that side like tropical rain, unleashing panic that far surpassed the reaction to Naruto's new powers. The impact was fierce enough to shake the stadium a seventh time. Almost everything on the impact side was sent to the floor.
"Sasuke-kun!" Sakura repeated. "Where is…?"
"WHERE IS THE BLOOD?" Gaara's vicious cry silenced the stadium. "WHERE IS YOUR BLOOD; UCHIHA SASUKE?"
Naruto's eyes sought Kotonoha. The busty swordswoman was staring at the impact point with the eyes of one who has witnessed a miracle.
"I had heard the tales…but I had never seen it…with my own eyes…"
The others also could see it: a glowing sphere of eerie, almost unholy silver light, seemingly undisturbed by the terrible attack it had just received. Strange figures, disturbingly anthropomorphic, danced over the sphere's surface, howling and moaning and cursing their dark fate.
"Wha…" The strange sight made Ino shudder. "What kind of jutsu is that?"
Kakashi and Gai slowly shook their heads. In all their dealings with youkai, they had never seen such a thing.
"A jutsu I would have never shown to you humans," Yuri admitted with a steeled voice. "And a jutsu only one member of our Clan can use."
She then looked at the one who had invoked that technique. Her left hand was still extended in that direction.
"I am terribly sorry, Mother," Higashiyama Yurine confessed. "But no child will ever die in my presence."
She then looked at Kakashi.
"Go get him! He is still covered by sand…"
Kakashi was about to do exactly that, when new unexpected event interrupted him and caught everyone's attention.
Pristine, white feathers rained upon the stadium.
Yuri could not stop herself from giggling at the sight.
"Ara, how cute."
CHAPTER 18 - To be continued