Claymore and Naruto: Children of Destiny
Scene 07: Travelling Companion, Part 3
Standing at a window, arms crossed, Hilda stared out over the street with a detached interest while following the movement on the street below. There were villagers bunched together near the corner whispering, casting what they thought were subtle glances in the direction of her window. Beyond them were crowded streets lined with workshops, shops and stalls of various sizes and types. Hidden from the public view were rats roaming through the gutters, crawling through the garbage between buildings and sniffing at gaps in the walls.
A sudden uptake in the noise from the tavern below briefly captured Hilda's attention - laughter and singing, overlaid with the sound of a faintly jaunty tune. It didn't hold her attention for long however and soon enough she returned to her detached observation of the street below her, filled with faint pity. These humans lived in squalor, believing it was what separated them from wild animals, that it was what made them different than the Yoma.
They had no idea that it was the fact that they could come together in peace and create communities, that they could form family's and love each other. Help complete strangers despite the inherent dangers the world surrounded them with. That they could dream and give birth to art, they could create things that existed outside of the natural order, sometimes simply for no other reason than because they could.
They would never understand.
With a heavy sigh Hilda forced her pity for them aside least it distract her from the far more important task at hand; Seles was a town of amusement and constant festivities, important to the local area's trade and safety. There were bigger towns and villages of course, but not by much, but Seles was the cultural hub of the area and that made it the perfect hunting grounds for both an ambitious group of bandits and Yoma.
Which had made it easy for Apolline to find them free room and a doctor to care for the unknown man they found, the owner of Floatsom Inn had been more than happy to exchange such things after they had slain the only Yoma present. Making one last sweep of the village, ensuring that there were no Yoma lurking within its borders, she turned away from the window to face the rest of the room.
There was nothing outstanding for such a place, the only real difference was that the only bed was hidden sight by a half-wall, giving a half-hearted impression that there was some level of privacy in the room. Over all it was small, warm and comfortable; far more comfortable than any of them were used to quite honestly, but it suited their purpose for the moment and that was all that mattered.
The sound of a creaking floorboard drew her attention away from the room and to the entrance to the private section, just as the overweight and middle-aged doctor emerged. His features were hidden behind a thin layer of dirt and a tangled beard, and he was accompanied by a musty stench that forced her to fight back an instinctive shudder.
"Well?" Hilda asked, expression neutral. No point in offending the man after all.
"He'll live," The doctor said, rubbing a moderately clean hand on his neck "His shoulder was dislocated, so I strapped that up. I didn't bleed him much, didn't want to risk it with how close he must be to the limits of his strength. But he's not hurt inside, or at least I don't think he is, considering he's not seeping blood from anywhere."
"Are you sure?"
"As sure as I can be." The doctor answered, "He was in a fight that much is obvious, but I think the biggest problem for him is exhaustion."
"Thank you." Hilda said, inclining her head slightly "Your efforts are greatly appreciated."
"Think nothing of it." The man said waving a hand dismissively, smiling at her revealing several missing and blackened teeth, but there was a genuine kindness in his eyes. "Now, when he wakes he'll need rest, along with food - best something simple like water and cheese, or bread and milk. Other than that, keep the windows closed tight as the last thing we need is for him to catch some sickness."
Hilda nodded wordlessly, signaling that she both understood and that he was dismissed and the doctor left, taking most of his odor with him. She wanted to turn and open the window so that the fresh air could clear the rest of it away, but he had told her to keep them closed. Instead she put it out of her mind since she would adjust to it soon and thus no longer register it, and moved to the mystery man lay.
Stripped of his clothes and bound with thick bandages, made him appear even frailer than he had before. But that was actually the wrong term he wasn't really frail but rather lean, the way she and her sisters were lean. Without his shirt it was even more apparent that he was a swordsman, for on his back and his shoulders there were the old faded scars one could only gain from serious encounters with both training weapons and live swords.
It piqued her interest, who was he and why was he in that village? How had they missed him, what was his connection to that flash of light?
Questions without answers, or at least they were until he woke up, but by then they would all be on their way back to their own posts. At least, Hilda hoped they would be, provided that Galatea and Apolline didn't provoke the Seraph into attacking them. To be honest, all Hilda wanted was to go back to her little corner of the world; there was simply too much pressure involved with all of this.
Just as her attention began to waver from the young man and turn toward other things, she stiffened refocusing all of it on his face. It had been only for a moment, a split-second really, it could have been a trick of light or her mind...but for a split second, his features had blurred. Frowning she moved closer, studying his features intently and then cautiously probed his face with her finger but nothing seemed to change.
"In here," Hilda called back, stepping away from the bed while at the same time keeping her focus on him. Registering Lucia stepping into the 'doorway' to the room, Hilda addressed her comrade "Did you find anything at the caves?"
"Slavers." Lucia answered blandly. "Is there a problem with him?"
"No." Hilda said, reluctantly accepting that it had just been a trick of her eyes. Turning she faced the other woman. "The doctor said that outside of the obvious there is nothing else wrong with him, but we are to keep the room tightly sealed to ensure he does not catch some illness."
"I see." Lucia said, then after a long pause added with subtle humor "I take it there is a reason, besides the obvious, why your here hovering over a helpless man's bed?"
"I thought-" Hilda started before pausing to reconsider her words while ignoring what her comrade had implied. "When I was turning away, I thought he 'shimmered', like a heat mirage."
"Ah." Lucia said, frowning as her own attention shifted to the man. "He seems no different."
"I believe it was nothing more than my eyes playing a trick," Hilda commented before squeezing past Lucia and returning to the rest of the room. She was followed by Lucia who took a seat on a nearby chair, crossing her arms and legs, studying her idly. Noting this, Hilda raised an eyebrow "Is there something wrong?"
"No." Lucia said, shaking her head "Merely bored. At times like this I often wish that I had a hobby like a normal person."
"The room has a few books." Hilda countered with a negligent gesture of her hand. "Which I am sure are far more interesting than watching me."
"Perhaps." Lucia conceded, before shifting topics. "Speaking of interesting things, the creature Galatea faced in that village was far more than a simple Yoma, was it not."
Hilda noted that it was a statement rather than a question, and a topic that none of them had broached. Leaning against the wall next to the window, she crossed her arms and nodded. "Yes, but what exactly it was escapes me. All I know for sure is that it was not an Awakened Being nor the typical yoma."
"True." Lucia agreed, then frowning added. "Though I think there is more to this than we first thought. Did you notice that the village possessed no church?"
"Yes." Hilda said grimly. None of them were the most religious of beings, but it was still disquieting. "Though sometimes smaller towns do not have proper churches, they still have a statue or some other dedication to the Trinity, but the village lacked even that."
"Do you think that it could be true, the rumors that our handlers do not wish to speak of?"
"It all seems to fit." Hilda said heavily, a chill crawling up her back. "I did not wish to think it possible."
"I know," Lucia agreed. "We will have to inform the Organization as soon as we finish this assignment."
"Still it seems impossible." Hilda asked after a protracted moment of silence. "How would a cult like this even start?"
"I do not -" Lucia started before cutting her sentence off as an torrent of impossibly powerful Yoki flooded their senses.
It was like an invisible hand pressing against them, trying to crush them to the ground, smothering their every sense, leaving them paralyzed like a bird before a snake.
Luciela of the South was here.
Pamela was far from the best of swordswomen within the Organization, such distinction belonged to Teresa, but she was still far beyond the skills that any human could possess. Yet as she parried a series of near invisible slashes from Naruto, she could experience nothing but shock; how could any human improve so drastically in such a short amount of time? Admittedly he had not been completely ignorant in how to handle a sword, but his prior skills had clearly been gained from casual observation of a single-edged weapon.
Still, to have mastered the basics of what she had taught him well enough that he could easily match her, it was seemingly impossible to fathom.
"You learn quickly," Pamela said as they disengaged and stood across from one another yet again. His posture was slightly off, but trying to use that against him would be impossible, he was a trained warrior and was watching her every move from head to foot unlike most others who would focus on only the torso or her eyes. Her best bet would to overtake him with pure speed, surging her Yoki Pamela shot forward blade sweeping down at a right angle, but cleaved nothing but air.
Spinning quickly Pamela blocked his counter-attack, the air filled with a ear-hurting 'clang' as there blades met. Skidding away from the impact, both came to a stop and stared at each other once more. Then abruptly Naruto shot forward, attacking her with flowing arcs of gleaming metal – but rather than attempt to block Pamela instead dodged away from his onslaught.
That was something else that shocked her, his ability to keep pace with her; much as she made use of Yoki to increase her strength and speed, he could do the same with his 'chakra'. Noticing an opening in his assault she swept her blade around in a large arc, batting his blade aside and breaking his momentum, following up with a punch. There was a sickening crunch as her gauntlet covered fist made contact with his face, but Pamela was more concerned with the fact that he had some managed to flip her into the air in the same moment.
Hitting the ground hard she rolled with the momentum, before regaining her feet in a low crouch, sword slashing around in a wide arc in case he was following up the attack. Noting that she had struck nothing she stood and turned to face him, unsurprised to find that he lacked any hint of damage from her punch to his face. As much as she didn't believe him to be a Yoma, Pamela also had her doubt that he was purely human, chakra she could accept but his healing was something else entirely.
"You have mastered the basics of the sword far better than I anticipated." Pamela said, holding her hand up to signal that the match was over. Sheathing her blade as his disappeared in a cloud of smoke, she added almost thoughtfully "I begin to wonder if you are something entirely different than either a human or a yoma. You're progress is nothing short of baffling and the passive abilities you display are far too useful."
"I'm humain," Naruto said with a wide grin, blue eyes almost mesmerizing from his joy. Stretching out his arms and back he added almost absently "Its' nice ya know, I ain't been able to do this kinda trainin since I was a lot younger."
"Oh?" Pamela asked, cocking her head slightly as she studied him, while fighting a grin at his unusual speech pattern.
"Yeh, when I got older my trainin started to lean towards 'if I don't learn this, then I'll let everyone down and won't be able to save anyone'." Naruto explained, eyes dimming as he seemed to stare off into the distance. He snapped his attention back to her soon enough, eyes bright once more "Anyway, thanks for the help."
"Do not thank me, it was only a necessary measure." Pamela responded, wondering if she would ever know the truth about who and what he was. Neither human nor yoma, he was an enigma but one that she was oddly happy to go uninvestigated, there was just something about him that provoked deep trust. It was a strange sensation, as a warrior she had been trained from day one to trust no one other than her sisters and the Organization itself.
"Still, thanks." Naruto said, shoulders slumping as he added. "I only wish I could figure out how to fix the problem with you trying to use my techniques."
"It was only a passing interest," Pamela said after a moment of surprise, shocked that he had been trying to figure out the answer all this time. Part of her wanted to tell him to not waste more time figuring such a thing out, the only reason she had even asked in the first place was to see his reaction. If he had been a Yoma, once its bluff had been called it would have realized it had no other option but to attack and try to kill her. "Still, I am curious. Have you at least developed a working theory on how it would become possible for me to perform the techniques?"
"I guess," Naruto said, scratching his head "I mean, the only thing I could really come up with involves modifying the seal. That way it would actively try and pull your chakra out along the proper pathways. Eventually you'd get the idea and be able to do it on your own or at least that's the idea."
"I see." Pamela said, disappointed that it would require more work on his part. From what he had explained concerning the glyphs, modifying them required a great deal of time and caution, lest something catastrophic happen. But there were far darker implications of what such a modified glyph could cause in the hands of a warrior, if it forcefully drew yoki out, if something were to go wrong, a warrior could go past their limit.
Naruto had no idea of this, or at least he had given no indication that he was aware of the risk. Worse, all warriors were under strict orders to keep such a thing from outsiders, as it would jeopardize their relations with the humans. This left Pamela in the unenviable position of triyng to decide on if she should caution him about what could happen, or to allow him to discover the problem on his own.
"Well we did find you." A new, feminine voice said as two women suddenly emerged from the shadows of the trees. The one on the left, who had spoken, was the youngest of the pair and a little taller than Naruto with long ash-blonde hair. The other was roughly the same age as Pamela, with straight pale-blonde hair. Both came to a stop, adopting casual positions while exuding power and authority.
"Impossible," Pamela murmured, staring at them in shock. "I did not sense either of you."
"Why be surprised," the youngest said with a small smile, even has her eyes locked onto Naruto "We are high ranked warriors, well versed in suppressing our yoki until such time as it is needed."
"I apologize," The older of the two said, giving her companion a sublet look of annoyance "I am Apolline, Number 7."
"Galatea, Number 6." The youngest added politely, her gaze however remained firmly fixed on Naruto – who was watching them both like a hawk.
"Pamela, Number 40." Pamela answered, wondering absently if Naruto had been able to sense them given that he wasn't surprised. Setting that aside for late consideration, Pamela instead chose to introduce him to the two new arrivals. "This is Naurto-"
"The Serpah." Galatea interrupted her tone bordering on excited.
"Are you kidding me?" Naruto suddenly interjected loudly "How the hell did you even hear that name?"
"We have been tracking you," Apolline answered, giving him a flat look "And your reputation has spread rapidly in this area of Mucha."
"Oh come on!" Naruto protested heatedly, his face now a mixture of resignation and annoyance. "I mean...not only do I get a nickname that's gonna tempt divine wraith every time its mentioned, but I can't even outrun it?"
"It is a little annoying is it not," Galatea added helpfully. "But it could be worse, you could be called the 'Loud Blonde' like a younger trainee I know."
"Why are have you been tracking him?" Pamela asked, cutting across the conversation, the last thing she needed was to listen to Naruto rant. Of course it also had something to do with the fact that self-recrimination for ignoring her first instincts concerning Naruto was beginning to creep over her: they had been telling her he was far from normal, but she had ignored that and instead begun to consider him a comrade. However, the fact that Galatea and Apolline had not launched into an immediate attack spoke volumes about the situation.
Still, she needed to know why they had been tracking him and if he was indeed a comrade or something so dangerous that even high ranked warriors were cautious to attack him.
"The Organization noticed his presence and sent us to make contact." Apolline explained, glancing at a now grumbling Naruto. "It was deemed best to establish contact as quickly as we could."
"He is not a Yoma, nor do I think he is a Voracious Eater." Pamela said, frowning as she studied the man who was now watching all of them with a deep caution. "They do not send high ranking warriors after humans."
"That is because he is not strictly human." Galatea answered, her focus on Naruto intensifying.
"Perhaps it would be best if we continued this somewhere else." Apolline said neutrally, taking control of the situation. "We would like to discuss certain matters with you."
"Right." Naruto said slowly.
Pamela for her part wasn't surprised at Galatea's 'revelation', but now that it was confirmed that her own suspicions were correct, she could only wonder what exactly he was. If he wasn't a Yoma, Voracious Eater or human that only left one thing - eyes widening she couldn't help but stare at him. Could it be, was he a Male Warrior?
"What?" Naruto said, with mounting bewilderment, noticing her look.
"We have a room back at an Inn the village of Seles." Apolline offered somewhat uncertainly, making a gesture for them to move along.
"What?" Naruto repeated, frowning as he looked at each of them in turn.
"You may come as well." Galatea said, pulling Pamela's attention from Naruto. "Your Handler agreed that it could prove helpful in our discussion with him."
"Very well." Pamela agreed after a moment, reluctantly following Galatea. She glanced back at Apolline who was staring at Naruto, who was staring after them all in mounting frustration.
Naruto wasn't entirely sure what to make of his new found companions, Galatea was roughly his age and she seemed to be keeping a close watch on him. Apolline on the other hand was not only older but far more aloof, a sort of detached interest that a lot of older ninja prized. But what made them somewhat confusing was the fact that he got the distinct impression that Galatea's attention was mostly superficial and Apolline was more interested in him than she let on.
Pamela on the other hand was utterly ignoring him and he had the distinct impression that he would need to smooth things over with her the first chance he got. She had been on her way to being a friend, and he would hate to for her to backslide from the belief that he had been manipulating her. Of course, if he were younger Naruto would have already started badgering her relentlessly, but he had grown up enough to realize that some conversations needed to happen without his pressuring it.
Sighing heavily, annoyed that he was being so adult about things, Naruto started to hum; not the ramen song since he didn't want to push Pamela's buttons. Instead, and quite unintentionally, he chose the theme for the Princess Gale movies, which were some of his all-time favorite forms of entertainment. Part of his fondness for them came from the story and themes, another part of it came from the intimate relationship he had eventually formed with the star/princess of Yuki no Kuni, but mostly it was the fact that Princess Koyuki was both a good person, great ruler and superb actress.
Unfortunately his fond memories, both perverted and non-perverted, quickly dissolved as he remembered both Sakura-chan who in turned reminded him about their last mission as Team 7. They had been assigned to protect the actress Fujikaze Yukie that played Princess Gale, who was actually a disguised Princess Koyuki in hiding from her Uncle. It wasn't long after they had secured Yuki no Kuni from the tyrannical Doto and Naruto convinced Princess Koyuki to take up her responsibilities, that Sasuke defected to join Orochimaru.
Mood turning sour, Naruto stopped humming and decided to give in and try to strike up a conversation. Of course for that to happen he needed to find a topic to bring up, but he didn't know enough to talk about anything they would be interested in. Of course, when in doubt the safest way to start a conversation was to ask about comrades, and the only one he knew that wasn't present would work nicely.
"Sooooooo," Naruto drawled "How's Teresa?"
"Teresa?" Apolline asked, involuntarily glancing at him while her voice revealed a hint of surprise.
"Yeah. Teresa, Number 1," Naruto explained, making sure to pronounce her name correctly. "I met her awhile back, first one too...she was travelling with a young girl, Clare."
"She is fine." Apolline said after a moment, turning away, but the tone of her voice said otherwise.
"Bullshit." Naruto countered immediately, before his common sense told him that he should have just stayed quiet.
"Excuse me?" Apolline asked, glancing at him once more, an eyebrow arching up.
"She's not fine," Naruto countered defiantly, guessing that he was supposed to be intimidated by that gaze. Unfortunately for her, he had stared down the likes of Orochimaru, Kisame, Pain and countless others. All of whom were a thousand times more intimidating than she could hope to be, hell even Captain Yamato was scarier than her. "I could hear it in your voice, something's wrong with her."
"I can assure you that there is nothing 'wrong' with her." Apolline countered, her gaze turning flat and emotionless. "The Organization deploys us in such fashion as to make keeping in touch most difficult. However, as she is the strongest of us, I doubt naught but an encounter with an Abyssal One would prove lethal."
"Right," Naruto muttered, realizing that he wouldn't be getting anything else about Teresa out of the woman or the others. "And I have a bridge I want to sell you in Mizu no Kuni."
Apolline ignored that, as did the others, leaving him with his thoughts which mainly centered on the fact that the timing of was suspicious. He didn't want to think of what it could mean that something had apparently happened to Teresa around the same time as he registered that massive surge of chakra to the north. But he had sensed other sources of chakra present as well, each nearly smothered... forcefully he shoved his thoughts aside, resolving that he would need to handle one thing at a time.
First he would see what these women wanted with him, and address the fact that they apparently thought of him a male warrior. Much like Teresa had suggested which raised another interesting train of thought, but one that he pushed aside for the moment. If they thought him a male warrior, especially one that pre-dated the first generation of Male warriors, they would make false assumptions about his abilities.
Silently he offered praise to his god-father Jiraiya, Naruto had been crafty on his own, but it was only due to observing the Sannin creating cover stories on the fly during their training trip the he had learned to let them make their own assumptions and to fill in the blanks as needed.
So, if he was going to use this to his advantage he would need to be careful with what he revealed Teresa already knew the truth, but he didn't see her saying a word about any of it. The only other person that knew any accurate information about him would be Pamela but all she could tell them was his name, age, the name of his village and a little about his skills. So all he would have to do is avoid saying anything contradictory to what he had already told her.
He was just starting to work on the exact details when they reached the stone bridge that led them pass a lonely farm, when Galatea brought them all to an abrupt stop.
"She is here."
Naruto blinked, glancing at each of those present; Galatea looked grim, Apolline looked pale, and Pamela looked slightly confused.
"Art you sure?" Apolline asked.
"It is impossible for me to miss such Yoki." Galatea answered, looking at Apolline "She has just reached the far side of the village."
"Uh, who exactly is 'she'?" Naruto asked, blinking in confusion. He had been too intent on focusing ahead of him that he hadn't paid much attention to anything trailing him, and from these women's reaction it was going to be something bad. Unfortunately, neither Apolline nor Galatea acknowledged his question, and fighting back a flare of annoyance he repeated his question louder on the off chance they had went deaf.
When that failed he reached out, grabbing Galatea by the shoulder, turning her to face him. "Who is 'she'?"
"Can you not sense her?" Galatea asked, her gaze turning to him, silver eyes intense.
"Not really," Naruto answered, meeting her gaze evenly. "I have to be actively looking to find anyone, and besides I don't know that many people."
"Then take a look in the village," Galatea said. "It will be impossible to miss her."
"Or you could just tell me." Naruto groused, but closed his eyes anyway slipping into the ebb and flow of nature. Instinctively he noted their chakra, familiarized himself with it, and then moved outward toward the village. He located two more sources of chakra, but was immediately distracted by a large source of 'yoki' – equal to what Ichibi and Gaara had possessed during the Chūnin exam.
Naruto had the horrible suspicion that was only the passive chakra that flowed through all living things at any given time.
"That is the Abyssal One, Luciela of the South." Galatea said, her tone grave, somehow able to tell that he found his target.
"What?" Naurto asked, opening his eyes to stare at her, and then Apolline and noticed the dawning terror in Pamela's eyes.
"Art you unaware of the great powers?" Apolline asked, "Luciela to the fair South, Riful to the rich West and Isley to the icy North. The three Abyssal Ones, whom slumber deep within the earth and emerge only to feed as they desire."
"Yeah, no, Tersea mentioned them." Naruto said, frowning as he focused his gaze on the distance "But I mean, why is this Lucy-whoever here?"
"They began to stir with your arrival, Luciela no doubt wishes to confront you." Galatea answered "She barely tolerates the yoma that infest her land, but she brooks no rivals to her power."
"It was hoped that we could extract you from these lands before she tracked you down." Apolline added.
"The plan must be reconsidered now," Galatea said, with a frown. "She has caught up with us, her speed is greater than we knew."
"With the village lost, as are our comrades, all we can do is head to the central lands and from there to the Organization in the East." Apolline announced, turning her gaze on Pamela "You will take point. Eliminate any yoma that are in our path. Galatea will provide rear guard, we will be travelling at full sped at least until we clear the borders of Mucha."
"Wait!" Naruto shouted, staring at the three women in mute shock "You mean you're just going to abandon your comrades and an innocent village?"
"We are under orders to both bring you back to the Organization and to avoid confrontation with Luciela." Apolline said, attempting an intimidating glare. "Luceila even now is consuming the villagers, and when she finishes nothing will be left save ruins."
"You can't just abandon them." Naruto said, struck suddenly by the sense of familiarity, wasn't this similar to what so many had tried to do throughout his life and during the war? Sacrifice friends, comrades and family to ensure his safety? "We have to stop her, we can save them."
"Impossible." Apolline said without a hint of inflection. "As I have already said, our orders are to flee from the Abyssal One. The villagers and our sisters are already dead, all we must now focus on saving our own lives."
"No." Naruto said in disbelief, releasing her and stepping away, glancing at the others only to find no support. He couldn't let this happen, not again and not for him, he couldn't save the world alone he knew that but he also couldn't simply abandon people for his own safety. Resolve hardening he swept his gaze from each woman before settling his gaze once more on Apolline, prompting her to take a half-step away from him. "You're condemning a village to die, and none of you have the damn guts to admit it's not because of orders. You're terrified! Well screw you, and your orders, I promised a long time ago that I would never let fear make me hesitate and I'm not going to let your's do it either."
"You cannot be serious." Apolline said. "The power of the Abyssal Ones-"
"I don't care." Naruto all but growled, cutting her off. "To many lives have been lost trying to 'follow orders' or trying to keep me safe from something. So on the memory of all those precious to me, on the dream of my sensei and my fellow student, I will protect this village."
"I will accompany you," Galatea said abruptly.
"Thanks." Naruto said, glancing from her to the others before taking off with Galatea hot on his heels, whatever protests they might have had lost to the rushing wind.
It was insanity Galatea decided as they rushed toward the village; it was the only explanation for what they were doing. Oh, she could explain it away as her merely following previously stated orders to do whatever it took to ensure the alliance. That was certainly going to be her defense once she got back the Organization and they yelled at her about doing something so reckless, but the fact of the matter was it was insanity plain and simple.
Emerita assured her that in time she would be raised to a much higher rank; her strength was greater than the Organization realized. But, those were only words and Galatea had learned to take anything he said with a shade of doubt - he never told her the whole truth, always obscuring whatever intentions he had. Sadly Galatea could not simply wait for her limits to be revealed over time, she needed to discover them soon if she ever desired to achieve her goal.
Galatea wanted neither strength, rank, nor praise: instead she strove for something far greater and far more elusive - Perfection itself.
Admittedly facing an Abyssal One would be the quickest way to discover the limits of her strength and the depths of her skill, but if it had not been for Naruto's speech Galatea would never have entertained the idea of confronting such a being. There had been something in his speech, something primal and so very human that broke through her ingrained fear, allowing her to willingly join him in this insanity.
Glancing at her current comrade, she was once more confronted with his primal nature; he was focused, but it was more than that. In the clearing, when they had first met him, being in his presence had been like facing an oncoming storm. Now, as she studied the way his posture adjusted instinctively to the terrain as they blurred toward their target, she realized that the storm was soon to make landfall.
"When we get to the village, you need to buy me some time." Naruto said calmly.
"Oh? Why is that?" Galatea asked calmly, wondering why he was asking her to do that. She could feel his Yoki, it was still restrained, buried deep within him, but if she stared too closely she would be blinded by its radiance. It amazed her as well, because at the speed they were travelling, he should have been drawing on it to keep pace with her, and yet he wasn't.
"I need to set something up," Naruto answered as the village came into view. "Just a few minutes, five at most, and then I'll be there."
"Very well," Galatea said after a moment, adding "considering that I am about to face a being of unimaginable power and strength, may I ask why exactly your plan for this confrontation is?"
"I'm going to punch her." Naruto said with a quick grin, as the now smoking village came into view. As they entered the village proper he added "Really hard."
"And if that does not work?" Galatea asked making sure to keep her tone carefully neutral, unsure of if he was being serious or not. It was hard to tell, but part of her got the distinct impression that if anyone would do something so foolish as to simply punch an Abyssal One it would be him. Of course he was probably the only one capable of doing such a thing and living through the otherwise suicidal experience.
"Then I'll punch her even harder." Naruto answered as they skidded to a halt. Even from where they were at, the sound of combat filled the air. "Be careful."
"I will give it my best effort." Galatea answered dryly before continuing onward, reaching the fight in a matter of seconds.
It had once been a market area, but now the area had been reduced to blood drenched rubble and strewn bodies; the only living things present were a gravely wounded Hilda and Lucia who were sprawled helplessly at the feet of another woman. Whatever Galatea had expected of the feared Luciela, it would not have been what she found - The Abyssal One of the South appeared to be nothing more than an attractive woman in her mid-20's, with long reddish hair tied in bunches and wearing a ruffled dark burgundy dress.
The only thing that gave away the fact that she was anything more than the woman she appeared to be was the fact that Galatea could feel the strength of her Yoki. Unlike Naruto Luciela was not suppressing her power, creating the impression that she was much larger than she actually was, like some unscable mountain looming over her. For the first time that she could remember fear began to slowly crawl its way through her body; her heart thudded painfully in her chest, her mouth was suddenly dry and her hands were shaking.
"Oh," Luciela said softly with a hint of disappointment upon finally noticing her. "You're alone."
"Excuse me, Abyssal One of the South Luciela," Galatea said forcible ignoring her mounting fear, seeking to present the image of politeness and calm, while reaching over her shoulder to grasp the hilt of her sword. "I am Galatea, Number 6 of the Organization. I hope you do not mind but I have come to-"
"You should run," Luciela interrupted her in a surprisingly kind tone. "I am only interested in the one you travelled here with. Little children such as you have no place here."
"I will admit, I appreciate the advice and agree it would be wise if I were to retreat." Galatea said, managing a faint nod. "Unfortunately, I cannot do as you suggest. I apologize for being so willful about this."
"Staying will only bring you suffering and pain." Luceila remarked with a heavy sigh, remarkable like a mother berating a child "I suppose there is no other choice then."
"Thank you." Galatea said politely before launching forward in a blur of speed, her sword plunging for the chest of the off guard Abyssal One. Her blow however was turned away with such overwhelming force that it nearly ripped the sword from her grasp. Spinning around with the momentum Galatea adopted a protective position, wondering what exactly she had just struck, whatever it was had been moving far too fast for her to see.
Frowning Galatea shot forward yet again, this time spinning her blade in a hard circular swing, only for it to be deflected yet again. The vibrations from the impact against that seemingly invisible barrier shot through her hands and arms, but Galatea wasted no time in launched into another and another. Yet no matter how hard or fast she attacked, Galatea was completely unable to either see what she was striking or to slip past it, and it would be utterly impossible for her to manipulate Luceila's Yoki as she did other Yoma or Awakened Beings.
"It should be obvious now that you are unable to touch me," Luceila said as Galatea spun away from her while adopting another defensive stance. Luceila only tilted her head to the side in passive consideration. "Shall I enlighten you as to what the difference is between us?"
"It would be helpful," Galatea admitted before unleashing ten percent of her Yoki and propelling herself forward with blinding speed. This time her assault was not only deflected but something hard slammed into her stomach sending her tumbling end over end away from Luceila. Panting as she recovered in a kneeling position, Galatea couldn't help wondering if she should even bother going even further into her Yoki.
"It is fear." Luciela said with a friendly smile "Fear of your own power. It cripples you, and because of this fear you are little more than an ant attacking a mountain."
"That is it?" Galatea asked flatly before hurtling forward once more, trying to muscle the Abyssal Ones Yoki into giving her an opening. Unfortunately it was proving utterly futile, but this only drove her to try harder. "No offense, but I was hoping it would be something more enlightening that."
"It is still a core lesson of being a warrior isn't it? That fear of your own power." Luciela said, smiling pleasently. "That is the irony you see, your fear drives you until you achived that indescribable moment where you transcend it." Abrutply Galatea was sent flying away with a bone-rattling impact, crashing through a merchant stall before coming to a stop. "Until you attain that moment gersha, your fear will make you hold back."
Galatea said nothing in response to that, focusing instead on slowing her breathing and forcibly surpressing her yoki, aware that she had fallen into a trap. The longer the fight went on the more her frustration mounted, and the more frustrated she became the more of her power she unleashed. Luciela had been manipulating her the entire time and Galatea had fallen for it without even noticing.
"Ah, you noticed." Luciela said, her tone amused "You fight well for an inexperinced child, you grasped that you had no tactic to use other than to attack me directly. Now you also know that you must ignore everything I say, least you lose your human mind."
"This has been a learning experince," Galatea confirmed, resuming her battle stance, steeling her nerves.
"It's not over yet, gersha." Luciela responded lightly "It is a shame that you still haven't grasped the fullness of this lesson."
Galatea just barely caught the implication in her words that they held when her blade was torn from her hands, followed almost immediately by something cinching tightly around her throat lifting her off the ground. Hands coming up instinctively, she released her yoki in a vain attempt at pulling the thick appendage from around her throat, only for a jolt of pain raditaitng from her stomach to disrupt her efforts.
"You are somewhat interesting, do you know that?" Luceila murmured, finally releasing the throat of the now impalied Galatea. "It is a rare thing for a warrior to deliberately face me of their own will, and not only that, you have retained your confidence all this time. So as a reward for that, I shall not kill you."
"'m sorry -heh- are you -heh- hoping for thanks?" Galatea managed thickly, coughing blood, as she grabbed the slender arm that now extended through her lower torso.
"Not as such." Luceila admitted airly "But I do hope you'll answer my question. Can you remember a time before you were turned into the half-monster you are now, or have you completely forgotten the horror of your childhood?"
"I have -heh- forgotten my past -heh- because -heh- there is nothing -heh- in it worth remem -heh- bering." Galatea managed, eyes fluttering closed as she focused every erg of Yoki she had in preparation of rpaidly healing the massive injury she had sufferd. "All that matters -heh- is I am myself."
"I had a sister," Luciela said absently, yanking her bloodied arm free of Galatea allowing the warrior to fall to the ground. "Sometimes I can almost remember her."
"How-heh-nice..." Galatea grunted, dribbling blood as she concentrated on healing her body.
"Before you black out," Luciela said after a moment, staring at her in contempaltion. "I have to know, did you even once consider what exactly I could do to you if I so desired to?" To illustrate this point, Luceila held her blooded hand up "I could hold your heart, right here, if I thought it worth the time. I could strangle you with your own guts, if I considered it worth the effort."
Galatea didn't bother responding; instead she was desperately focusing her attention on healing the damage before she blacked out. If she could just heal the majority of the damage she could avert the dangers that would follow her blacking out, because once she passed out Galatea would either die from blood loss or her body could quickly go past its limits as it funneled Yoki into her wound unrestrained.
"Are you ignoring me? I am Luciela -"
The rest of her rant was cut short however as she was sent flying with a loud 'crack', by a punch from Naruto who had seemingly appeared from nowhere sans red and black jeacket.
"What-heh-took you..." Galatea managed, refusing to look up at him, furious that he would have to see her in such a state.
"Yeah, sorry, had to settle an issue." Naruto said, his tone turning concerned. "Are you-"
"I will live." Galatea grunted, cutting him off, glancing up at him through a curtain of her hair.
"Alright," Naruto said reluctantly before turning away, cracking his neck and knuckles he stalked off in the direction he had sent the Abyssal One flying "Let's rock."
First let me apologize for taking so long in updating, but life has been one hit after another. I won't get into the details, I've already mentioned at least one part of it in an earlier Author Note, and the rest I doubt anyone really cares to hear about.
Secondly, to be perfectly honest I'm not entirely happy with some of this chapter, but I figure that it might just be me. I'm never happy wtih anything I write (or draw, or well...ever do). I finally just bit the bullet and accept that you will let me know if there is any flaw, or if its all just in my head. Also, I do this because I know that as much as you guys deserve an update, in 3 days I will be laying waste to a 'mythical race of sentient machines' and thus forget about pretty much everything but the essentails. So either I update now, or I make you guys wait for another month or two: I chose to be nice, remember this, it only happens once in a blue moon.
Anyway, enjoy the update.