Book 2: The Chunin Exams
Chapter 29: Fate
Leaf Village Stadium
Having parted ways with Naruto nearly an hour ago, Hinata had made her way over to the crowded stadium near the center of the village. She was wearing a light green blouse with a skirt, her dark hair tied back into a pony-tail. Thousands of people had been filing into the stadium since morning, the earliest enthusiasts having camped out the night before in order to get the best view along the rails. The atmosphere was electric. Something about watching trained fighters try and kill each other in an arena brought a strange carnal desire in people. Death, and of course, gambling. Even a whole block away from the entrance, stands were set up specifically for betting on which ninja was going to win.
She wasn't really a gambling person at heart, but she decided to stop by one of those stands anyway. Pamphlets were spread across the surface, detailing the competitors in the events and their projected skill level. She quickly flipped through one until she found a page on Naruto. According to the pamphlet, he was seeded last, and the odds against him were extremely high. Still, she couldn't help but smile a little bit when she saw the goofy Genin photo they used as his portrait. His eyes looked so different then. He looked so… young.
One of the pamphlets had the tournament tree printed on the front. Naruto, Neji, Gaara and Masahiro were on one side, and Sasuke, Kimimaro, Utakata and Shino were on the other. Shikamaru managed to luck out and get a pass the first round. But that meant that there was a chance that Naruto and Sasuke could both make it to the tournament finals!
With all the spare change she had in her ninja pouch, she purchased a betting stick for Naruto and the shady man at the stand wrote her name down in some sort of book. Even without the bet, she'd be rooting for Naruto with all her heart, but this way she got to keep a cute little memento with Naruto's name on it.
It took her another half hour to snake her way through the hallways and stairs of the stadium, leading her up to the very upper rows that were still available. Even the rail-seats were incredibly high up. The stadium was built this way, after all, to make sure that the competitors could go all out without accidently hurting the audience. By the time she neared the top of the stairway, the crowds were already roaring. Did she miss the start?! Naruto was fighting first, wasn't he?
To her immense relief, she looked down to the arena and saw that the competitors had just emerged from the entrance doors and had lined up in a formation in the center. Her pearl-like eyes quickly found the spiky blond hair of Naruto. She felt a vast surge of wonderful emotions fill her chest. That wasn't just her friend, or her teammate. That was her boyfriend.
She couldn't help but blush, and she tried to conceal her reddening face with her hands and cover her vibrant smile. Not that anyone up here would recognize her, anyway, but-
"Yo, Hinata," a familiar voice sounded off behind her. She turned around to see Kakashi-sensei emerge from the stairway doors. "Funny seeing you here. I was worried that I wouldn't make it in time to get a seat. I don't think I've ever seen a Chunin Finals so crowded before."
"That's because this is the first time everyone gets to see the Akatsuki ninjas in action," another familiar voice sounded off behind him. A woman with dark hair – nearly violet – walked out besides Kakashi. It almost looked like… no, that was definitely them same woman who led the second part of the exams! "And two Uchiha. And three Jinchuuriki. It's loaded!"
Hinata narrowed her eyes suspiciously at Kakashi-sensei. Why would he be watching the exams with Anko-sensei of all people? Was it a date? Or just coincidence?
"Come on, let's find a seat," Kakashi decided to say before she could ask, although it wasn't really her business. Still, she couldn't help but want to get back at Kakashi for all the fun he had been having at her expense, teasing her about Naruto all the time.
They ended up walking together to find one of the few empty rows. She couldn't help but nervously fiddle around with the betting stick in her hands. Please, Naruto-kun, be safe, don't get hurt, don't… "Oh my goodness!" she thought to herself before quickly shoving the stick away in her pocket. What was she thinking? If Kakashi sensei saw her with a betting stick…
She slowly turned to see Kakashi had noticed. To her horror, her masked sensei was giving her the smuggest look that he possibly could with only one eye and part of his face visible. Anko-sensei was shaking her head and chuckling.
"So did you bet on Sasuke too, or just Naruto?" Kakashi decided to ask her, his tone light and mocking. At least he didn't seem mad. Wait, oh no! She forgot to bet on Sasuke-kun! She hadn't even remembered.
"Just Naruto, huh?" Kakashi said with the shake of his head. "Figures. How are things between you two? You know, as dense as Naruto is when it comes to romance, you're probably going to have to make the first move. There's nothing wrong with that, either."
Finally, it was her chance to be smug and poke fun at sensei! "Oh, you haven't heard yet, Kakashi-sensei?" she decided to say as confidently as possible, despite her stomach being full of butterflies. "Naruto's my boyfriend now. We're dating."
Kakashi's eye widened in pure shock. Even Anko leaned forward with a raised eyebrow, saying, "Really? You and the blonde Uchiha? Nice. Congrats, kid."
Hinata flashed a genuinely dazzling smile. "Thank you!"
Kakashi still looked on in confusion and what appeared to be a hint of horror. She did her best to stifle a giggle before speaking up again. "Maybe you could treat us out on a double date sometime, Kakashi-sensei! Wait, you don't have a wife yet, do you? Or a girlfriend? Is that what you're trying to do now? Am I getting in the way?"
She was being brutal, but her sensei deserved it. After all of the times he poked fun at her liking Naruto, it was the least she can do. At least he nervously scratched the back of his head and chuckled. Anko was giving him a funny look as well.
Lucky for him, before he was able to answer, the Jonin proctor down in the center stage had grabbed a microphone and started the whole event.
"Ladies and gentlemen," Genma Shiranui, the proctor for the event announced with a booming voice that blasted through the speakers throughout the stadium. "Thank you all for attending today's event and waiting patiently for it to begin. Please find your seats. The event will begin shortly.
After turning off the microphone, Genma turned around to say something to the Genin lined up behind him. From all the way up here, Naruto looked small enough to fit in the palm of her hand. She decided to push chakra into her eyes and activate her Byakugan. Luckily, she wasn't sitting around any uptight Hyuga who might get mad at her for using their bloodline limit to better view a sporting event. But it was still informative. She could see all of the chakra sources of Genin competitors. There were most certainly three Jinchuurki; their chakra presence was stronger and more powerful than anyone else's.
After a couple of minutes of waiting, Genma took to the mic once again. "Ladies and gentlemen, thank you again for patience. We will now begin this year's annual Leaf Village Chunin Exams!" The crowds erupted into applause for about another minute, countless people waving around their betting sticks in the air with fervent anticipation. There were so many people… Hinata couldn't help but feel nervous on behalf of Naruto. She wondered how he was holding up to the immense pressure.
"Please rise for the arrival of the official party."
Everyone immediately stood up and watched the Kage's viewing platform with anticipation. After several moments, three figures robed in white stepped out onto the platform along the rail. The Hokage, the Amekage and Kazekage, all donning their official outfits.
"Everyone, please take your seats," the Hokage's voice echoed out over the countless thousands in the stadium. Hinata sat down and brushed off her skirt, casting yet another glance at Naruto. All the Genin were now standing at ease, looking up to the platform. "What a beautiful day, is it not? I would like to personally thank the Amekage, and the Kazekage, for being able to make it to today's event. Similarly, I would like to extend my thanks and welcome to everyone here. As I'm sure you know, we will soon be watching the Genin here before us test their mettle against each other with the goal of promotion to Chunin. The rounds will continue one after the other until there is a winner, but may I remind everyone that it is up to the judges of each village to determine whether or not their ninja will be promoted. With that being said, I hope everyone enjoys today's event, and their stay in the Leaf Village! The bonds that exist between our nations are fundamental to preserving the peace that we enjoy now. Let us dedicate this event to strengthening our bonds even further, in the hopes that we may one day find peace between us at last."
The crowd cheered again as the Kage all sat down. Within the minute, all Genin but two had exited the arena floor, standing apart from each other with the proctor in the middle. Naruto, her boyfriend, and Neji, her cousin from the Hyuga. To be honest, she didn't want either to get hurt, but she knew that Naruto was right. This was a fight to the death. You couldn't hold back and expect not to get hurt, especially with an opponent like Neji.
Please, Naruto-kun! Be careful!
"Show them what you're made of, bro," Sasuke gave him a first-bump and a smirk as he walked by him, all of the non-competition Genin returning to the waiting area. Naruto smirked back, not able to give a genuine smile and not really trying. Sasuke had no idea what Naruto was made of now, but that wasn't Sasuke's fault. He never really had time in the last month to sit down and talk with his Uchiha brother about what he had went through.
"I need to talk with him after this," Naruto made a mental note to himself. "I need to save our friendship before anything else can drive us further apart."
He didn't really expect words of encouragement from anyone else, but he was surprised when Shikamaru stopped him front of him with his hands in his pockets, lazily looking up at the immense stadium. "You know, I figured you weren't as stupid as you pretended to be at the Academy," his voice drawled on, slow and tired as usual. "But watching you fight in the prelims really confirmed it for me. Good luck, Naruto, do us proud, and maybe we can invite Iruka-sensei out to barbeque or something once we're all Chunin. I'm sure he'd get a laugh seeing the two kids in his class who nearly failed out get promoted to the same rank as him in under a year."
That thought actually made him smile and almost chuckle, but Shikamaru walked away before he had a chance to respond. Shikamaru was a genius. Lazy, but still a genius. Both he and Naruto were really far above the level of Genin by the time they graduated the Academy, but they had both nearly failed. They definitely failed for different reasons, though. As far as he remembered, Shikamaru wasn't actually trying to get the bare minimum, but was genuinely so bored and lazy that he-
"If you lose before you get to me, I'll kill you," a cold and evil-laced voice cut through his thoughts. He blinked and turned to find that Gaara of the Desert had also stopped to say a word to him. "Remember that."
"And let me guess," Naruto responded with a smirk, "If I win and make it to you, you're going to kill me?"
He couldn't help but chuckle as the red-haired Jinchuuriki paused and stared at him, the pure aura of murder around him. A month ago he would've been frozen and terrified at such a vicious killer intent pointed directly at him, but not anymore. Gaara's hatred and desire to kill was nothing compared to his own.
Naruto laughed and walked away to where Genma was waving him over. He turned to make sure Gaara could hear him and replied, "I can tell that is been a while since you've felt fear, Gaara. You've always been the hunter, haven't you? Don't worry. I'll help you remember."
As all the other dismissed Genin passed him, Naruto took a moment to look up at the immeasurable thousands of people watching and cheering in the stadium seating above him. A massive wave of nostalgia hit him and left him still and confused. Why would he feel nostalgia for an event like this? He had never been to anything close to…
Oh, now he remembered. It was all those years of watching the Chunin Exams with Shisui, promising his older brother that one day he would be down in the arena. He had promised that he would bring honor to the Uchiha Clan by winning the whole thing.
He chuckled darkly, anger and sadness creating a miserable mix inside his heart. No matter how hard he looked, no matter where he searched, he wouldn't find Shisui in the crowd, cheering him on. He wouldn't find the Uchiha Clan there to support him and Sasuke. They were all dead now.
Genma started explaining the rules of the tournament to him, but Naruto couldn't hear a single word. Everything else faded from existence except Neji Hyuga, standing a few yards in front of him. This village had taken everything from him. His father and his mother, and then the Clan that adopted him. And when he had close to nothing left, Neji had tried to take away Hinata as well. He didn't care about Neji's reason. He didn't care if Neji had been justified or not. After this fight, Neji would never threaten her again.
"Do you need me to repeat any of that?" Gemna asked, snapping Naruto from his dream like state. He shook his head. "You sure? Alright then. Good luck you two. Ready? The first fight of the day, Naruto Uchiha versus Neji Hyuga, begin!"
The crowd erupted into thunderous cheering as both Neji and Genma jumped back from center of the arena. Despite his confidence, Naruto couldn't help but feel a healthy bit of nervous excitement in his blood. Still, rather than jumping back, he slowly began to walk forward towards Neji. It wasn't like Neji had any long distance attacks anyway. He had nothing to run away from.
As he walked forward, he pushed chakra into his eyes to activate his Sharingan. Even now, he could feel his sinister chakra circulating through his system and up to eyes, begging for him to unleash it. It did wonders to calm his nerves.
For the first time since entering the arena, his eyes connected with Neji's sheer white Byakugan. Neji must've been confident that he would be able to see through any genjutsu Naruto tried to place, because he didn't shy away from locking eyes. To his surprise, Naruto found a surprising amount of revulsion in the blank irises of the young Hyuga. Good. That would make this all the better.
"You're finally going to pay for what you did to me," Neji shouted out to him, barely heard over the surrounding roar of the crowds. "I've been looking forward to this moment every day since you-"
He held up a single hand, forming a half-seal, as he continued walking forward. With nothing more than a shimmer, a shadow clone appeared in the air above Neji, flipping forward with incredible speed.
The clone's foot connected, slamming Neji's face downward, though he was still able to keep standing. By the time Neji was able to look up in shock, a dozen clones had appeared around him, all speeding towards him with kunai extended.
Moments before he was impaled, Neji spun inhumanly fast, pushing vast amounts of chakra around him that made Naruto have to squint from a distance. A force field of air, Neji's chakra pushed away all of the attacking clones like leaves in a storm, sending them flying away and dispersing. By the time he stopped spinning, Neji had created a small crater in the ground around him.
"Not going to let me finish my thoughts?" Neji called out mockingly, falling into an advanced form of Gentle Fist that he knew was a form preparing to attack. A line of blood was trickling down from his mouth; he must've bit his tongue. "No matter. The end result will be the same. Fate is not your ally today."
Naruto shrugged, crossing his arms in indifference. "This is a death match, not a drama show. The crowd wants blood, not backstory." Still, that rotation was incredibly impressive. Having trained with Hinata-chan, he knew that it was a particularly advanced technique only taught to the higher level Hyuga in the main branch who have mastered their chakra control to an absurd level. That Neji knew how to use it as a Genin told him that Neji was nothing less of a prodigy, despite being in the branch family. He wondered how the main family felt about that.
Neji smirked at him. "I can do that. Let me show you how I feel with my fists then!"
Naruto fell into his own relaxed fighting stance as Neji darted towards him, quickly closing the distance. Anyone else would probably have jumped back away from an approaching Hyuga. After all, the Hyuga are renowned masters of the greatest taijutsu known to the ninja world, so attacking a Hyuga from a distance was common practice for everyone.
Except the Uchiha. The Uchiha, with the Sharingan, had a distinct advantage over the Hyuga unlike anyone else. They could read and predict movements, and thus avoid getting hit and getting their chakra points blocked. And perhaps most significantly, depending on the level of the Sharingan wielder, a skilled Uchiha could actually copy and imitate the Gentle Fist style. For that reason alone, the Uchiha were always able to get a slight one-up on the Hyuga since their clans had formed, and the Hyuga avoided fighting against them at all costs.
Naruto had every advantage in this fight. Not only had he been sparring against the Gentle Fist nearly every day with Hinata, but he had watched Neji's fight against her in the prelims. His eyes had already tracked Neji's movements. He knew what moves were coming without even having to think about it.
Neji's first strike flew past his head without an inch to spare. Naruto continued to weave and dodge as Neji's fingers sought out his vital chakra points, treating his opponent's hands as if they were kunai. He could see the growing frustration on Neji's face as he danced around several different forms of Gentle First, blocking with chakra when dodging was impossible.
Neji's form was simply perfection, without a single misstep or mistimed strike. He knew better than to try and attack when he thought there was an opening. Every opening he could see was a calculated trap by Neji; the Hyuga was trying to bait Naruto to throw out a limb just so that he could close its chakra points. Naruto's crimson eyes snapped around at inhuman speeds just to track every movement. Hinata-chan, talented as she was, had never approached this level of proficient ferocity.
The moment he had seen Neji's rotation, he knew that he wouldn't be able to simply jump away and try and use ninjutsu from a distance. He would have to finish this up close and personal. All he needed was for Neji to make one mistake, one slip up, and he would have a chance to use his substitution technique to devastating effect.
"I can read your every move," Naruto baited Neji as he continued to swivel and avoid getting hit. He had to pause in the middle of his challenges as Neji refused to relent. "Every time you – miss I can – read your movements – easier than before!"
Neji snarled and pushed extra chakra into his hands, falling back into one of the forms he had used earlier. Perfect. Naruto had blocked the final attack last time with chakra in his hands, so he knew that Neji would try and overpower him this time around with a much stronger finishing blow.
He hurled a prepared kunai at Neji as he jumped back, connecting his chakra to it. Just as he had hoped, Neji did a minor version of rotation, deflecting the kunai and sending it skyward. The Hyuga sprung forward without a wasted breath. With the penultimate move, he struck through Naruto's guard hard enough to cause him to stumble.
He activated the substitution as he stumbled backwards, moments before Neji dashed forward and punched a hand through his neck.
The crowd audibly gasped as Neji swiftly dealt the killing blow. Instead of blood spurting out of Naruto's neck, he simply dissolved into a cloud of smoke followed by an explosion.
Naruto flew through the air after he had switched places with his kunai that he had wrapped an explosive tag around. Even through the fire and smoke, he could see the flash of spinning chakra. Neji had managed to use rotation again, even at such a close range! This would be a little bit trickier that he had thought.
The crowd cheered when they saw Neji emerge from the cloud unharmed. Most of the audience was civilians; to them, everything happening seemed surreal and magical. To the trained ninja, they watched with appreciation as both opponents managed to avoid death by such narrow margins.
Time to start going back on the offensive. Before he landed, he flew through several quick hand-seals, landing on the open palm wind seal.
"Wind Style: Air Bullet!" he mentally shouted out as he brought his hands to mouth, inhaling as much air as he could. Funneling the newly formed wind chakra to his mouth, he quickly spat out several head-sized compressed balls of air down at Neji.
Landing with a thud, he looked up to see that Neji had already begun spinning. The balls of air were immediately deflected as soon as they reached him, being sent in multiple directions. The ones that hit the ground around Neji exploded in large bursts of wind.
He froze as one of them was sent upwards to a section of a crowd. Did they… they set up some sort of defense, right?
The ball seemed to hit some sort of invisible force field in front of audience before it could do any damage. He let out a sigh of relief; it was probably his fault for not listening to Genma, who likely explained this beforehand anyway.
His eyes quickly snapped back to Neji, who stopped spinning and fell into another stance. "Don't you get dizzy spinning around all the time?" he shouted out to his opponent, all the while thinking about how he would attack next.
"You can't get dizzy if you can see in 360 degrees," Neji replied in a snarky tone, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. Huh. He never thought about it like that.
So he couldn't attack Neji up close; Neji's Gentle Fist would destroy any of his taijutsu, even if his eyes could keep up. From afar, rotation would nullify any ninjutsu attacks. And obviously, genjutsu was out of the question since the Byakugan could see through it.
This would be a battle of attrition then, and with his massive chakra reserves, Naruto had the extreme advantage. All he had to do was wear Neji out. He reached into his pouch and pulled out a kunai. If he was going to be up close and personal with a Gentle Fist master, he might as well bring a blade. Truthfully, he'd prefer to have a longer katana or even a staff, but he hadn't trained properly with one and he might end up just hurting himself.
With his other hand, he held up a half-seal and summoned two shadow clones to charge forward with their own kunai drawn. They'd either beat Neji, or he'd learn from their mistakes, so it was a win-win. As long as he had enough chakra, he could do this.
The clones charged forward at Neji, who fell into a defensive stance. One of the clones jumped high into the air and flipped behind Neji. He knew that it wouldn't do much since his opponent could see in all directions. But even if Neji could see behind himself, he couldn't punch behind himself.
The two clones attacked at the same time while Naruto watched from a distance. Neji expertly avoided their attacks and responded with brutally fast counters of his own. 'He's not just using rotation like he did before. It must take a lot of his chakra then. I'll just have to force him to use it until he can't, then!'
Before Neji even defeated his attackers, Naruto flew through the same hand-seals as he did before. "Wind Style: Air Bullet!" he mentally shouted out, pushing chakra out of his mouth and sending two large balls of compressed air flying toward Neji.
Right before the bullets with the group, Neji unsurprisingly spun around again, creating a large shield of spinning chakra around him. The shadow clones dispersed, and the balls of wind exploded on contact this time, the air shooting out around the entire arena. Naruto shielded his face from the strong winds, all while absorbing the memory of his clones. Alright, rinse and repeat!
He held up the cross-seal this time and created a dozen or so shadow clones around Neji, who had just come to a still. Naruto could see that he was breathing heavily now. It was only a matter of time before-
Neji sprung forward with a chakra-assisted boost and appeared before Naruto in the blink of an eye. "I'm not going to let you keep running away while your clones fight, fool!" he barked at him as Naruto as he drew his hand back to strike.
This was almost too easy. He smirked and substituted himself with a shadow clone moments before Neji's strike landed. Swapping himself with a clone was by far the easiest and fastest way to substitute, since his clones were entirely made of his chakra and their size was the same as his.
Right as Neji punched through his clone, Naruto activated the exploding tags in his clone's pocket from a safe distance. Neji must have seen the switch the instant after it happened, because he managed to make a slight turn before the explosion went off.
Naruto's crimson eyes caught the familiar sphere of protective chakra appear around Neji again, but he must not have been quick enough. Neji was actually thrown up into the air from the explosion, though from the look of it, he had managed to block most of the damage with chakra. Damn, he was seriously fast.
The crowd cheered after the explosion and cheered even louder when Neji flipped in the air and landed on the ground, seemingly unhurt. Naruto wondered how he was ranked in the tournament seeding, and whether or not anyone up there actually bet on him winning this match. If he wasn't already so wealthy, he would've put his own money down beforehand.
His dark eyes connected with his opponent as Neji was kneeling and catching his breath. "I can do this all day, Neji!" he called out across the arena to him, purposely making his voice as boastful as he could. "What, you're sweating already? Hinata-chan must've been holding back when she fought you!"
The audience obviously couldn't hear anything he was shouting out from so far away, so he made sure to put his arms behind his head and turn sideways to let them know that he was mocking Neji. Cheers immediately erupted again, and if he focused, he could hear laughter in the mix as well. Good. At least they were getting something of a show.
That's all this was, just a show. Naruto could've ended this battle with his Mangekyou the second it started. But, as he learned from the little experience he had, using his Mangekyou took a hell of a lot of chakra. That was obvious. But he also learned that the more chakra the opponent had, the more they could resist. Especially someone like Neji, who would sense the genjutsu. If Neji was worn out, and nearly out of chakra, then Naruto would be able to use the Mangekyou without nearly as much resistance. And he certainly had plans to use the Mangekyou.
Neji snarled and sprinted forward again, not wasting any time in retaliating. Expecting as much, Naruto flashed another hand-seal and caused a dozen clones to silently shimmer into existence around him. He laughed as Neji paused, no longer willing to blindly attack the clones that he knew could explode now.
"What's the matter?" one of the clones called out to Neji. "You can tell which ones are clones, right? Why aren't you attacking?"
The clones all charged in, variating between attacking in teams and attacking at the same time. To his pleasant surprise, several of the clones managed to get glancing blows in. One even managed to get a small cut into Neji's leg, though that one had been dispersed quickly after. Sure enough, when the last few clones all dived toward Neji at the same time, the Hyuga formed a familiar stance and began to spin.
"Now!" Naruto thought with a smirk, pushing a large amount of chakra into creating two other shadow clones across the arena. They all quickly formed the palm seal while Neji was still spinning, and before he had time to stop, shouted out: "Wind Style: Air Bullets!"
Several compressed balls of wind quickly shot out at Neji, though they all exploded harmlessly upon impact. But they didn't stop. Rotating between the three, Naruto and his clones continued to shoot out low-powered balls of air at the rotating Hyuga. Eventually, Neji would have to stop spinning. He may not be getting dizzy, but if Naruto's Sharingan was guessing correctly, he was currently expelling chakra from just about every point on his body. This may create an incredible shield extremely fast, but there was no way Neji could do it for long.
Seconds crawled by. Naruto and his clones didn't relent with their wind style attacks. The bullets may not be strong enough to kill upon contact, but the second Neji's shield dropped, he would definitely get hit.
Naruto had guessed right. For a moment, the shield seemed to flicker and falter. He quickly increased the ferocity of his attacks. Sure enough, right after one explosion of wind went off, Neji stopped spinning and tried to jump away. He was barely able to get off the ground before the next wind bullet exploded right beside him, sending him flying into the air.
Unlike last time, Neji wasn't able to flip correctly and land on his feet. The crowd erupted into cheers once again as Neji painfully rolled across the arena floor, managing to catch his feet and avoid slamming into one of the walls.
Even from a distance, he could see the frustration on Neji's face. Unless Neji had any new tricks, it was becoming obvious now how this match would end.
Naruto pushed the offensive. Not even allowing Neji to fully stand up, he charged forward with chakra boosting his leap, creating clones simultaneously around him. He still wasn't stupid enough to challenge Neji head on himself; as long as he had chakra to spare to make clones, he could wear Neji out with little risk to himself.
All of the charging clones threw their kunai at once as Neji was standing. To his surprise, rather than spin or deflect, Neji somehow managed to leap high into the air to avoid them. He flipped high and far enough to land against the wall of the arena, using chakra to stick to the side. When Naruto's clones jumped in pursuit, Neji hurled his own kunai down at them.
One clone was hit, but the rest landed around Neji on the wall with more kunai drawn. So Neji was even throwing kunai now, was he? The Hyuga made eye contact with the real Naruto, still standing alone on the arena floor, but knew better than to simply try and attack him. Now that Neji knew he could switch with his clones in an instant, it didn't fully matter which Naruto was the real one. They all could land punches.
With an enraged yell, Neji attacked the clones surrounding him. Even with their blades drawn, Neji was able to expertly weave around the swipes and attack back. But even as he dispersed clone after clone, the nicks and cuts that appeared on his body continued to grow in number. He punched through the final clone and leapt off the wall, landing some distance in front of Naruto. At some point, his normal ponytail had come undone, and his naturally long hair fell down across his face.
By now, Naruto had absorbed enough memories from his clones to charge forward himself. His Sharingan had been watching every minute detail from afar, and his clones' Sharingans had been doing the same as they fought. As he neared Neji, his mind instantly knew every move his opponent would make. He knew where Neji would strike first, and he knew where he was going to strike in return.
He created several shadow clones around him just in case, but charged forward with the calm determination to end the battle. Neji struck out like a snake the moment Naruto was within reach. Expecting as much, Naruto slid down on the ground at the last moment, using his momentum to execute a sliding kick. The Gentle Fist, or at least Neji's version of it, relied entirely on jabs and strikes. Their feet always remained grounded, always shifting throughout forms but never leaving the ground. Neji was forced to jump to avoid being knocked off his feet.
His follow-up attack was instantaneous. Using chakra to halt his momentum, he pushed off the ground with his hands and flew upwards after Neji, his feet leading the way. Without any way to have moved in time, Neji tried to cover downwards with his arms, but to little avail. Naruto's foot connected hard enough where he was almost positive he heard a bone snap in Neji's forearm.
He kicked again, this time at Neji's head. The powerful strike connected, forcing Neji's headband to fly off and causing him to reflexively cover his head with his arms. With a final push of chakra, Naruto kicked at his exposed chest with as much force as he could.
With the full force of his kick, Neji's exposed chest cracked under the blow as he was sent flying away into the air. Naruto flipped back down to the ground and looked up just in time to see his clones intercepting Neji mid-air, sending him back to the ground with their own barrage of kicks and punches.
Neji was pummeled into the ground. Hard. The smoke that arose around his body was dust and dirt flying up into the air, not his clones dispersing. The crowd's cheers were a distant roar as his crimson eyes narrowed down on his opponent. He stalked forward, going in for the finishing blow. It was time for blood. It was time for revenge. He wasn't going to let Neji off with just a-
His eyes caught movement and he snapped his body to the side without a moment to spare. A whip made of water lashed out of the smoke and struck out where he had been moments ago. Naruto blinked in surprise as the water flew by his head, with enough force to have cut clean through him. Water? Ninjutsu? From Neji?
Pushing forward, he hopped to the side as Neji jumped out of the smoke with an enraged yell, throwing forward another whip of water at him. He must be truly desperate to abandon his pure Gentle Fist and resort to using ninjutsu, something that would probably be punishable within his Clan. The Hyuga were a proud bunch. To them, Gentle Fist and their sacred arts were more than enough to take down any opponent, so to see Neji resorting to something else was probably infuriating.
He wasn't going to give Neji a second chance to turn the fight around. Dodging several more slicing jets of water, he spun and weaved forward, appearing before Neji in an instant. Blood was trickling down his enraged opponent's exposed forehead. Seeing Naruto this close, he dropped his hand-seals and attempted to fall back into stance. He was too tired, too slow, and too late.
Naruto expertly drew two kunai and stabbed them forward into Neji's shoulders. They sunk in, deep, while Neji roared out in pain. He didn't know much about which chakra points needed to be closed, but Naruto knew that Neji wouldn't be moving his arms any time soon.
His cruel and hate-filled crimson eyes connected with Neji's, no more than a foot or so away from each other. Naruto smiled.
"Wind Style!" He clapped his palms together slamming his hands into Neji, before pushing outwards with an explosion of his chakra. Neji was knocked away as if he had been hit by a charging horse, wind blasting out of Naruto's hands and sending him tumbling back to the center of the arena.
He cut of the wind and started walking forward again, his eyes entirely focused on his opponent. This time, Neji lay still in the center. The crowd was once against erupting with cheers and calls, but Naruto ignored them entirely, focusing instead on his prey. The familiar embers of hatred had ignited inside of his heart once again. He could feel the fire inside growing, begging to spread. Sinister hatred was leaking up into his eyes and into his mind. The Mangekyou was but a breath away, and the words of destruction sat on his lips, begging to be spoken.
He finally looked up and acknowledged the crowd as he walked forward to claim his prize. He could burn them all, couldn't he? Yes, yes, he most certainly could. His heart was begging for it. They all deserved it, after the years of misery they had put him through. It took all his effort to resist and funnel his hatred back to Neji. He had a mission, after all.
When he finally was within speaking distance, he stopped and stared down at his opponent. Neji was still conscious, covered in his own blood, struggling to get up. For the first time since the fight started, Naruto noticed Gemna's presence, who had also walked up to Neji. It looked like he was assessing whether or not to end the fight. His hand twitched.
Naruto wasn't having any of that. "Stand aside," he commanded, forcing Genma to look at him in confusion. He let his sinister chakra flow up into his eyes.
"What? It's not up to…" Genma's words fell short the moment he locked eyes with Naruto. They widened in fear.
He pushed his chakra and will into Genma, not allowing for any debate. With nothing more than a silent nod and a gulp, he backed away and allowed Naruto to advance.
As he closed the distance, Neji heard him coming and slowly turned his bloodied head upwards to look scornfully at Naruto. "You…bastard…" was all he managed to grunt out, a little blood dripping from his mouth as well.
"Stand," Naruto commanded with a cruel smile, pushing his chakra into Neji's eyes. It was the same thing Neji had said to Hinata in their fight. It was a harsh command, but Naruto was relishing every moment.
Neji gasped in pain and shock as his body started moving against his will. Even with the kunai still embedded deeply in shoulders, his hands and legs moved and pushed him upright. Slowly. Shaking. Wheezing. Finally, he stood up, eye level with Naruto. His eyes were filled with both hatred and confusion. But finally, as they focused in on Naruto's crimson eyes, they were filled with something that Naruto desperately longed for.
"H-How did you," Neji managed to choke out, his eyes locked with Naruto's Mangekyou, unable to turn away. "What are you…?"
He couldn't help but revel in the newfound hesitation and fear coming from Neji. "You were right at the beginning, Neji. The end result was always this. You were also right about fate. Fate has never been on my side. I've become a far greater monster than what I was born as, fighting against fate the entire way. You might have been born with greater talent, but I've acquired far greater hatred than you. You're upset because your dad was killed? Toughen up, fucker."
Neji looked like he wanted to bite his face off, but Naruto wasn't in the mood to even let him respond. He had a purpose for using the Mangekyou now, after all. It didn't take Kotoamatsukami to realize that Neji wanted to kill Naruto and Hinata. He didn't care about himself, but he needed to make sure that his protected his friend, at all costs.
"You are never allowed to harm Hinata," he commanded, pushing more chakra into Neji. Whatever hatred Neji had against the Hyuga, he could deal with it without involving Hinata-chan. "Forgive her instead."
To his surprise, Neji managed to laugh out at him. "Ha! You might have beaten me today. But mark my words. I'll grow stronger. I'll have my revenge against you, Hinata, and my Clan. I swear it!"
Naruto narrowed his eyes in annoyance. The command didn't stick. He figured it would be harder than just that, especially if Neji's life was dedicated to revenge. But resisting his command now was impressive, seeing as he barely had any chakra left. How did he manage to…?
He squinted when he saw a strange 'X' inscribed on Neji's bloodied forehead, subtly pulsing with chakra. Did that have something to do with it? Either way, he didn't have time to waste thinking about it. He would have to do a full dive into Neji's mind.
"We'll see about that," Naruto grunted, amassing even more of his spiritual chakra and pouring it into Neji through his eyes. Kotoamatsukami!
Naruto opened his eyes inside of the realm of Neji's mind. It was far darker than he remembered Gaara's being, and instead of being green, he saw a massive blue orb of chakra floating at the center. The entire area was illuminated with a soft blue glow. However, the largest and most immediate difference from his past experience wasn't just the color of the chakra itself. As Naruto floated forward, he saw that there was a giant obstruction in his way, preventing him from nearing Neji's mind.
"What is this?" he quietly asked to himself as he floating up to the blue chakra. It seemed like some sort of force field was blocking his way. He reached out to try and push through with a little chakra, but the moment he did-
"Woah!" he was immediately pushed backwards as energy pulsed from around the orb. Looking back at it, he saw black lines suddenly fade into appearance, enwrapping the brain in strange patterns like a constricting snake. The black lines all seem to grow and stretch across the orb until they met together in front like a giant 'X'.
He had already wasted enough of his spiritual chakra on Neji; he wasn't going to give up now. Floating upwards until he was directly in front of the strange seal, he inched forward and pushed his chakra ahead of him. As soon as he reached the seal, his chakra was dispersed and he was nearly thrown back by the force.
Damn it all. What sort of seal was this? Was this the 'Curse Seal' that the Hyuga used to subjugate the Branch Family? Why couldn't he get around it? As his anger and impatience swelled up inside of him, reminding him of the sinister power that he held within him still.
With all of his anger, he could just burn the seal away, couldn't he? He tapped into the Mangekyou's chakra further, separating it from what he was currently using with Kotoamatsukami. Strange that he was able to do that so naturally. The chakra inside of him that he used to enter Neji's mind was somehow distinguishable from the other chakra mixed within; Amaterasu. Whereas one seemed like a dimmer and lower source of burning embers, the other felt like a raging inferno. It wasn't hard to guess which was which. He would have to be careful to control the fire and make sure it didn't burn all of Neji's mind. Pleasant as that seemed, if he wanted to kill and burn Neji alive he could've just done it out in the arena.
But he couldn't just kill Neji. He promised Hinata-chan.
He focused his mind and chakra onto the seal in front of him and called forth the black fire within. Like all fires, his chakra wanted to consume everything. It didn't just want to burn the seal; he could tell that it wanted more. It wanted all of the chakra in front of him, and all of the chakra in Naruto's heart. It was with great effort that Naruto was able contain his focus on the seal and not unleash it all.
"Amaterasu," he whispered, sweat beading down his face as he locked his iron gaze on the seal. Almost instantly, a black fire ignited in the center of the 'X'. Naruto could tell that it was disappointed with his restrictions, but happy to burn away nonetheless. He would have to have a serious talk with Madara about this afterwards and discuss why he was able to discern 'feelings' from his jutsu at all.
The fire spread rapidly across the entirety of the snaking seal. The powerful black lines that had so easily repelled him moments ago burned away as if made of dry tissue-paper, dissolving in an instant. By the next time he blinked, the black fire was extinguished and the seal was nowhere to be seen.
Before he could move forward, another seal suddenly appeared in its place, flashing out with a blinding light.
"What the… Are you serious?" he groaned as he shielded his eyes, trying to look forward by squinting. "No wonder he's so pissed off all the time. How many seals does this guy have on his mind?"
Unlike the last black seal, this one glowed with a bright, white light, warm rays now filling the entire realm with a pleasant glow. Naruto pushed forward regardless, flinching in anticipation as he neared the seal. However, to his great surprise, he was able to float through this one and reach out to Neji's mind right through it.
"Thank god, I was starting to wonder if-"
Naruto watched in horror as Hiashi flashed a hand-seal caused his father to fall down to the ground in cried of pain. Tears poured freely down his face as his heart broke in half, watching his father suffer. Why did it have to be like this? Why did they have to suffer such a cruel fate, without any chance of ever fighting back? If their curse seal could even be removed, it had never happened before in the history of the Hyuga.
To his horror, Hiashi didn't relent. He activated the curse seal again with a fierce yell, slowly killing his father in front of the entire clan. No, no, please, no…!
"Hell no!" Naruto shouted out as he separated himself from the memory, blocking anymore from trying to flood his brain. He didn't care to relive Neji's most tragic memories. Not now, not ever. He had enough of his own misery to deal with. Still, having only accidently been in a memory for no more than a handful of seconds, his heart was already filled with Neji's misery.
That's not what he was here for. He pushed Neji's sadness out of his heart and reached down into his own hatred, trying to pull enough chakra to make his command set permanently. As soon as he felt that he had drawn as much as he could, he opened his eyes and carefully placed his hand forward again.
"Forgive Hinata," he spoke aloud, forcing his chakra onto Neji's mind. A pool of his will and chakra were swirling around in front of him, but to his great disappointment, it quickly dispersed and faded into nothing. Seriously? Even now, the command wouldn't set? Was he not strong enough yet to be able to go through with this?
He thought back to a piece of advice that Madara had given him in the past. He couldn't remember it exactly, but he recalled Madara telling him that it would be easier to convince someone to do something they already wanted to do, than to do something that they bitterly refused. Could he make this work if he changed the command to be less…strenuous for Neji?
"Don't harm Hinata," was all he managed to speak out, his chakra already flowing out of his body and covering Neji's mind. He wanted to be more specific and say more, but he feared it wouldn't stick again and he was running out of chakra and patience. He could now perfectly feel the hatred that was within Neji's mind. It was a murderous hatred. And he knew what that hatred would lead him to do. There was no way he had the current strength to erase that hatred entirely, but he could just barely divert it away from Hinata-chan.
To his surprise, his chakra formed an unreadable seal in front of him and imbedded itself onto Neji's mind. He held his breath. After a moment or two, the seal started to glow, but it didn't fade away.
It set! Hell yeah, it worked!
The strange giant seal that had appeared before he had set his own continued to glow a bright white color, enough so that the rest of Neji's blueish mind began to change into a different, lighter color as well. He had no idea what it could be, but as long as his own command-seal had set, then his mission was a success.
"Don't harm Hinata," Naruto commanded in a strained voice as he blinked his eyes again in reality. "I'm not asking you, I'm…"
He trailed off and stopped when he saw Neji's Byakugan pulse bright white. Seconds after, the light faded away, along with the veins along his temples. His pale, pupil-less eyes slowly but surely rolled up and back to his head, followed shortly thereafter by his collapse.
Neji hit the ground with a final thud.
Naruto was finally brought back to reality when the crowd erupted into cheers louder than ever before. It was unlike anything Naruto had every experienced before in his life. He was at the center of attention for the entire village, and they were cheering for his victory. But worn out as he currently was, he didn't even care to smile or wave at them. He turned his head back down to look at Neji.
What in the world had that white light been? Obviously it had something to do with the strange seal that appeared inside Neji's mind, but wat exactly was it?
Genma officially announced him the winner to the stadium. As he was about to turn around and walk back to the waiting area, he accidently stepped on something hard. He looked down and saw that it was Neji's headband, which he had kicked off earlier.
With a sigh, he bent over and picked up, turning around once again to toss it back to Neji. He had gotten his revenge already, and as sweet as it felt, he had no more anger to spare for his Hyuga opponent, who at the moment who was lying bloody and broken on the ground before him. A medical team racing out to the scene. He tossed the headband back down at Neji and shook his head. What a strange…
He had to double take back at Neji. Something was off about him…that it! The 'X' was no longer on his forehead!
Quickly turning around before the medical team pushed him out of the way, he started striding back to the exit. He had a bad feeling about that 'X' disappearing, and what the repercussions would be for breaking the seal on Neji's mind. But at least that could wait. The more pressing scenario was whether or not he was going to have to fight Gaara of the Desert or Masahiro of Akatsuki in the next round.
The two hooded men sat side by side, staring up at the giant tablet in front of them for the better part of an hour. The smaller one reached up to pull back his cover and remove his black mask. His bright, blonde hair was a stark contrast to the rest of his dark outfit.
"That's it?" Saito asked in the empty room, not needing to turn to his partner. His voice echoed eerily down the dark hallway behind him. "I'll need the Rinnegan to read any further? And what's that part about going blind?"
"'Alone you cannot stop the blinding hatred'," Tobi read aloud in a dark voice, "'You must seek the equal vision of another, one close enough to be considered your brother.'"
He chuckled darkly as he moved forward, closer to the tablet. "It's not a simple metaphor, trust me. Anyone who uses the Mangekyou Sharingan will eventually go blind with hatred, and lose their vision. That's the cost of having such power."
"But seek the equal vision of another," Saito responded, rereading the part again. "That means you can avoid it somehow, right?"
Tobi nodded solemnly, face still hidden behind his dark hood and orange mask. "The Eternal Mangekyou Sharingan. Madara discovered the solution to this puzzle long ago… in a way. In order to regain your eyesight and avoid going blind, you need to steal the Sharingan of your fellow brother, the Uchiha, and plant it into yourself. The closer that person is to you, the longer your vision will last."
"What?" Saito asked in confusion, the idea seeming repulsive to him. "So you have to steal someone else's eyes? And even then it won't last forever?"
"There is only one 'Eternal' Mangekyou," Tobi darkly desponded, crossing his arms and turning back to his disciple. "The Rinnegan. Madara discovered the secret. Until you have the Senju bloodline within you, you'll eventually go blind. And even if you switch out your eyes a hundred times, you'll eventually go mad. Your mind will be corrupted by the Mangekyou the more you continue to use it."
Saito reached up and put his dark mask back on before pulling the hood over his head as well. "And what about Naruto and I? We already have Shisui's eyes…"
Tobi cocked his head and looked down at his pupil. "Didn't you hear what I just said? The 'Eternal Mangekyou' doesn't really exist. The more you use your powers, the faster you will reach blindness and insanity. Back in his day, Madara used to lie to people and convince them that the Eternal Mangekyou could protect them from their inevitable fate. But that's all it is, a lie that led many to madness. Mangekyou users cannot escape their fate. Well, besides Naruto of course."
"Yep," Tobi responded, "That demon grants its Jinchuuriki incredible healing powers through its physical chakra. Naruto's eyes will be continually healed from that chakra, even if he uses more and more Mangekyou techniques. That may actually be a curse in disguise though, if you think about it. You'd be far more likely to misuse the Mangekyou if you knew that you weren't slowly going blind, and you might end up quickly becoming insane. Its power is addicting. Whatever the case, I'm sure Madara has a plan for Naruto, so I'm not concerned with it."
Saito crossed his arms in annoyance. "So I'm slowly going blind then, huh? Unless I somehow find a way to get the Senju bloodline, right?"
"Right, but even that is something decided by fate. You're either born with that bloodline, or not. Even Madara, in all of his cunning genius, couldn't figure out how to properly steal and copy the Senju bloodline into himself. I doubt anyone ever will."
Saito snapped his fingers and a small dark and empty portal the size of a fist appeared in the middle of them. "Come on, Tobi-sensei. It's probably time we get to the real reason we came here back to the village in the first place."
Tobi's voice changed into a somewhat lighter and happen tone for a moment, as was prone to randomly happen. "Oh man, I'm excited! I've spent a lot of my life trying to dig up old secrets, and I can't believe that one was hidden in my own village all this time. Let's go find us a scroll, shall we?"
And with nothing more than a swirl of wind, the two of them were instantly sucked into the portal.
Hinata straightened herself uncomfortably as she watched Naruto exit the arena floor. The crowds of thousands around her were still erupting with applause. Without a doubt, there wasn't a single person in the entire stadium who wanted Naruto to win more than her, but she found that couldn't bring herself to clap in excitement or joy.
She was relieved, without a doubt. Thrilled, even, that no one had been seriously hurt. Proud, to say the least, that Naruto had won and shown the whole village just how skilled he was.
But she didn't clap.
Kakashi ended up snapping her out of her daze. "Every time I think I'm starting to figure that guy out…" he stated just loud enough for her to hear him over the crowd, "That fight was about as confusing to me as Naruto is. Neji, using water-style? And what did Naruto do to him at the end?"
The question was left open ended, to her relief. Watching the match with her Byakugan activated gave her a pretty good idea of what had happened at the end. The pit in her stomach only reaffirmed it. Naruto had activated the Mangekyou and used it on Neji.
She had originally shrieked out in fear when she saw the chakra inside of Naruto morph from a light blue to a sinister black. Despite biting her tongue to conceal herself, Kakashi had without a doubt noticed. The Sharingan couldn't see chakra from this far away, so he likely didn't know what had happened. But as Naruto had walked up to Neji, she knew that there was a grand chance that her former clansman was about to die.
Every ninja had their own different hue of chakra, which normally is never visible to the human eye. As far as she knew, all the colors she had ever seen in people were light hued. But Naruto's had turned into a black fire; unlike the regular soft glow of chakra flowing through a ninja's chakra points, the Mangekyou's chakra had slowly spread through his body and his brain like a fire. Could chakra like that burn so brightly without leaving a mark?
All of the color had drained from her face when she watched the black chakra enter Neji. She wasn't sure if Neji himself would burst into flames any second, or simply drop dead.
What happened was probably much worse than either, in retrospect.
The black chakra had burned away the Hyuga's Curse Seal inside of Neji's brain. She had seen the flash. Without a doubt, the entire Hyuga Clan was also watching the same way she was. They had seen the flash too. Naruto had slain Neji…
Or so she had thought. Normally, when someone tries to enter the mind of a Hyuga or try and steal their bloodline limit, the seal will block them. As a last fail-safe, the seal will release and destroy the mind and eyes of the unfortunate Branch member before their bloodline can be taken.
But as seal was destroyed and Neji fell to the ground, she saw chakra flowing through his body still. New chakra, different from the color she had seen in him moments before. And most importantly, the seal no longer on his forehead confirmed that she wasn't seeing things. Neji was alive, and the seal was gone.
Did Naruto… did he even know what he did? Did he know what that meant? The entire Clan was watching! Every single member of the Main and Branch families had just watched someone remove the 'irremovable' curse seal from Neji. Every single one of them now was currently watching aghast as Neji was carried out of the arena on a stretcher, injured but very much alive.
She turned to look over at where the majority of the Hyuga Clan was seated elsewhere in the stadium. They easily stood out, being the only large section that wasn't clapping, cheering and jumping like the rest of the spectators. Their faces were aghast. Not a single member dared to even move.
"What's wrong, Hinata?" Kakashi jabbed her in the ribs, breaking her out of her trance again. "You don't seem that happy that your new 'boyfriend' came out victorious."
She shook her head to try and clear her thoughts, deactivating her Byakugan and sinking back into her seat with a tired sigh.
"It's… c-complicated," she ended up muttering before he could question her again. Her mind was going haywire thinking about what was going to happen now. Would they kill Neji? No, it wasn't his fault, right? Would they try and kill Naruto for this? They couldn't! Naruto was the village Jinchuuriki, and he –
"Are these seats open?"
She barely even registered the words of someone speaking behind her. The Hyuga Clan now knew that there was a way to remove the Curse Seal from someone without killing them. And they knew that there was someone who had to power to do it. She had to speak with Naruto! He needed to-
"Alright. Fine. I was going to sit here either way, you little bitch."
She turned in morbid shock as a very rude man slammed down in the open seat next to her without a care in the world, pushing her elbows off the seat rest and spreading out his legs. Seriously? She was in just the perfect mood to let out her growing frustration on someone, but she bit her tongue just in time when she saw who it was.
"Guren, sit your ass down already," the white-haired Akatsuki Jonin stated in his snarky tone. The giant scythe that she remembered him always carrying was nowhere to be seen, thankfully. "These are probably the last seats in this entire shithole anyway, and I'm not walking around anymore."
Great. As if the world was now trying to kill her with stress alone, the Akatsuki ninja who oozed death and nightmares with every breath was currently touching elbows with her.
It was going to be a long day, wasn't it?
The cheers from the crowd below finally began to die out and transform into the normal rumble of excited conversation as the two competitors left the arena. Or in Neji's case, carried out on a stretcher.
"That was a fairly good performance!" the Kazekage turned and congratulated the Hokage, his face showing a genuine smile beneath his traditional hat. The Leaf Village's leader was sitting in the middle of the other two Kage. "Efficient and confident, that blonde Uchiha. It's a shame that you had two strong competitors face each other in the first round, it'll hurt your chances of making it to the finals, Lord Hokage"
The Hokage's face was adorned with his normal calm smile, but was otherwise unreadable. "Oh, I'm not actually that concerned, Lord Kazekage. With how Naruto Uchiha has been performing as of late, I wouldn't be surprised if he ended up winning the whole thing!"
The Amekage, seated to the left of the Hokage, turned and gave him a knowing glance. The two of them knew about Naruto's new ability. The Amekage, more than anyone else, knew just how powerful that ability was.
"You seem quite confident in your ninja, Lord Hokage," the Amekage decided to speak up, having remained mostly silent since their arrival at the viewing platform. "But I cannot help but believe that it will be the Akatsuki who win today's tournament."
The crowd suddenly erupted into cheers once again, causing the three village leaders to turn and look at what was causing the commotion. The two next competitors had just entered the arena: Gaara of the Desert, and Masahiro of the Red Sand.
"Hm, are you quite sure about that, Lord Amekage?" the Kazekage amiably mocked, crossing his arms with a smirk growing across his face. "It looks like my son is up next to fight. Oh? And look who he's fighting against! That's a pleasant coincidence."
After squinting his eyes down at the two people on the arena, and referencing the names that he had on the tournament pamphlet he had in his hands, the Hokage decided to ask the obvious question. "What coincidence is this, exactly?"
The Amekage stoically stared forward, unwilling to respond. It was instead the Kazekage who broke the short but noticeably awkward silence that had occurred. "Masahiro is a renegade ninja from my village. The Amekage here decided to let him join Akatsuki instead of sending him back to my village for prosecution. So technically, I'm watching two of my own ninja fight each other right now. But that's water under the bridge now, isn't it? Even more than that, Gaara and Masahiro have quite an unfortunate little history together, if you would believe. It can't be anything but fate that led them here to fight today."
When the two fighters reached the center of the arena, Genma stepped in between them to restate the rules. The crowd waited with growing anticipation of the next battle, hoping that it would be even bloodier than the first.
"This will be quite exciting to watch, I assure you," the Kazekage continued, noticeable excitement in his voice. "Lord Hokage, is there any chance you could bring out a pot of tea before the match begins? My throat is rather dry."
"Of course!" the Hokage raised his hand and gestured for the Chunin behind him to follow through with the order. They must have been prepared for such a request, because within the minute, the Chunin emerged from the back room with a fresh kettle and three cups for the distinguished Kage.
The Chunin carefully poured a cup for the Kazekage, who gratefully accepted, as well as the Hokage, who followed suit. However, when he reached the Amekage, the young leader held up his hand to stop the Chunin before he could even pour.
"Not for me, thank you," he dismissed, waving him away and folding his hands back on his lap.
The Kazekage leaned forward with his cup in hand, giving the Amekage a sour look. "Oh, come on, Lord Amekage! Do you seriously doubt the integrity of the Hokage in his own home? Surely if he wanted to poison us, he would've done it beforehand?"
As if to prove his sincerity, the Kazekage took a sip of the tea, shaking his head in appreciation. "Hm, good stuff as usual."
The Hokage took a sip of the tea as well, nodding in agreeance. "Ha! Quite a bit better than the batch we had this morning, if I might add. But Lord Kazekage, please don't pester the Amekage so. He's free to drink what he likes while he is in my village."
The Amekage's dark spiral gaze shifted between the two other leaders for a moment, an unreadable expression on his face. "I apologize if that's what it seems like to you. I'm a cautious man, as you know; I don't test fate often. I'll pass."
Their attention quickly turned down to the arena when Genma announced to audience:
"The next fight, Gaara of the Desert vs. Masahiro of the Red Sand, begin!"
Thanks for reading another chapter! Hope you enjoyed the fight. I tried to make it quick and realistic, like how I envisioned it would actually happen.
Thanks yet again to Line464d, for proofing this chapter and catching several dozen typos! She's an author as well, so be sure to go and check out her profile on fanfiction if you're a fan of Fairy Tail!