Winds of Change Chapter 5- Scholar's Mate
A/N: This chapter took much longer than the previous chapters because things got busier for me. I sincerely apologise for that. Unfortunately, I do not think I will be able to upload a new chapter every five days like I used to. I will, however, endeavour to at least make it once every ten days.
I will now go into the title analysis for Chapter 4- Giuoco Piano
For those who are not as well-versed in chess, The Giuoco Piano is one of many openings that chess players use.
Its main characteristics are how it places pressure on the F7 square but never actually initiates a major attack until much later in the game. In fact, it focuses more on development of pieces with little exchanges taking place, which is why it has earned the nickname of 'the quiet game' as well.
This ties in with what happened in the previous chapter as there was very little action going on but rather a lot of quiet development.
Another thing to note is that the Giuoco Piano is a variant of the Italian Game, where very aggressive moves are often made, like the Evans Gambit.
This reflects the development of the story, as Naruto started out very aggressively in the slave cages but then mellowed out and became far less aggressive in the new cage.
And now, on to the story.
Once upon a time, there was an eagle hatchling that was very curious. It would always go to the edge of the nest that it was born in and peer down, wondering about the world beyond the nest. The mother eagle always told the hatchling to not do that, as it was dangerous, but the hatchling never listened.
One day, a strong wind struck when the hatchling was at the edge of the next once more. The little eagle hatchling was sent tumbling over the edge of the nest and rolled all the way down the mountains and into the forests below it.
The little hatchling lay there in pain and cried for its mother, but the mother eagle was too far away to hear its baby's voice.
Something else did though.
A tiger cub that had recently lost its parents to human hunters heard the cry for help and found the eagle hatchling. The hatchling reminded the cub of itself and so instead of eating the little eagle, the tiger cub went into the forests to search for plants that could heal the hatchling.
The eagle hatchling soon healed thanks to the plants that the tiger cub. The two animals soon became best friends. They were always together, whether they were searching for food or sleeping at night.
The tiger cub often asked its best friend why it did not fly like the other birds it had seen but the little eagle always replied saying that he did not know how to.
One day, the two animals came upon a baby rabbit whose mother had been eaten. They invited the rabbit to join their group and the three animal orphans were the happiest animals in the forest.
However, something happened that destroyed their happiness. As they were playing in a clearing one day, some large eagles, far larger than the hatchling's mother had been, swooped down and took the tiger cub and the baby rabbit away. The eagle hatchling was left alone because it was so small.
It looked up at the sky and cried because it wanted its friends back but could not chase after them. The hatchling jumped up and down, flapping its tiny wings repeatedly but it could never fly. Normally, the hatchling would have given up by now but this time, its friends were in dangerous and it kept trying, and trying until it eventually managed to fly and chased after the large eagles who had taken his friends away.
-First half of the tale of 'The Eagle who learnt to fly'
The Sandaime's first retaliatory action was to throw the two bullies that had harassed Naruto into jail. It was a relatively easy task to do. After all, the two bullies had after all endangered a civilian and engineered a situation where said situation had gone missing from the village.
Not a single soul opposed this action. The shinobi simply did care enough about matters that did not affect while the civilians knew better than to protest to such an act. After all, if they protested, it simply gave precedent to future cases where civilians being endangered could be simply swept away. Any dislike or hatred for a small little boy was overwhelmed by their own selfishness and self-preservation instincts
Sarutobi's next target was the clerks who had purposefully misfiled the matron's report. For this next task, he chose to do the dirty work himself instead of letting his ANBU handle it. After all, there was the saying 'Two can keep a secret if one is dead.' While paranoia was up Danzo's alley more than it was his, one did not grow to be old and wizened as a shinobi by being careless.
On one of the lunch breaks, the Sandaime slipped into the office of the clerks and rearranged certain pieces of paperwork as he saw fit, and then exited quickly. Nobody saw him. Nobody even had the slight thought that someone had entered the office. The nickname of Shinobi no Kami was not idly given.
The Hokage did not have to wait long for his meddling to bear fruit.
Two days later, he had several prominent members of the civilian sector seated in front of him.
"Sandaime-sama. I must say that this is a grievous mistake made by the bureaucrats and it will cost not just us civilians, but the entire village as a whole. Something has to be done." One of them proclaimed passionately.
"Indeed. Unfortunately, the sad fact is that while the paperwork filed was not sent to the intended recipients, the paperwork was technically correct and as precedents have shown, my hands are tied in this issue. As much as I want to offer my aid, there is simply nothing that I can do."
"Ah yes, the issue with Uzumaki-san. That was such a horrid debacle. Has the poor child been found yet?"
"The search for Naruto-kun is still ongoing. Unfortunately, not many resources can be spared for the search effort considering who he is." The Sandaime replied.
"Why that simply cannot do! We will do our utmost best to ensure that Uzumaki-san is brought back as quickly as possible. In fact, I was thinking earlier of donating a sum of money to the search effort. With your support as well, I am sure that matters will proceed more smoothly, Hokage-sama."
"Thank you for your cooperation, Akizawa-san. It touches me greatly that there are people with such big hearts in Konoha. The Will of Fire burns brightly even amongst the civilians, it seems." The Hokage said as he smiled at them.
He then put his hands together in a gesture of shock, seeming as though he had just remembered or realised something.
"Ah! If we clear the obstruction for Naruto-kun's case, then perhaps we could also settle the matter of your tragic misfiling!"
The civilians perked up, smiles blossoming across their faces as they reached forward to shake the Hokage's hand.
"That would be excellent, Hokage-sama! Thank you for your time and I do hope that the search for Uzumaki-san turns out fruitful soon."
Sarutobi watched as the men who had obstructed him the most in his search for Naruto-kun left his office, bowing and smiling.
With this, he had cleared all obstructions, obtained his revenge and even managed to garner more funds in the form of donations.
Not a bad haul, if he did say so. An uncharacteristic smirk spread across his face. Nobody messed with him.
The Sandaime's next target was the Uchiha clan. This was far trickier than dealing with simple civilians, especially since the Uchiha were one of the more prominent clans in Konoha and he did not wish to alienate the Sharingan wielding clan too much.
The plan, though, was extremely in execution. The Uchiha valued their pride above all else, and it was there that the Sandaime struck.
If all went according to plan, the Uchiha Clan Head should be looking for him right about...now
Three sharp raps sounded on the door as his personal secretary opened the door and poked her head in.
"Hokage-sama, the Clan Head of the Uchiha Clan wishes to meet you on what he claims to be urgent matters. He has not set an appointment beforehand though. Should I send him in?"
"Please do, Kotona-san."
His secretary nodded and disappeared from view for a short while before the doors to his office and Uchiha Fugaku strode into his office.
"Good afternoon, Hokage-sama." Fugaku said as he bowed. No matter how enraged he was, the Sarutobi was still the Hokage and as such was accorded the respect to one befitting his station.
"Good afternoon to you too, Fugaku-san. Now, what can I help you with today? My assistant said that you had something very urgent that demanded my attention immediately?"
"Hokage-sama, I would like to know why we are given less time to handle our cases?"
"Ah, that matter. Have a seat would you, Fugaku-san? I imagine it must be quite uncomfortable standing like that." The Sandaime said, hinting that he could see how stiff and thus incensed the Clan was Head despite his expression of bland neutrality.
"No thank you, I am fine like this. Thank you for your offer, Hokage-sama."
"Very well then. Let us cut to the heart of the matter, shall we? The reason why I have reduced the window for the Uchiha Military Police to investigate a missing person's case to four days instead of the initial one week is because of the recent debacle over Naruto-kun."
"If the Uchiha had been allowed to continue investigations for another week by themselves, I am afraid the trail would have gone much colder since it has been established that Naruto-kun is not even in Hi no Kuni. Therefore, to prevent another case like this happening, I have decided that it would be more prudent to let the ANBU take charge of the investigations after the Military Police has done the groundwork."
That should have stung the Uchiha's pride by quite a bit. After all, the Sandaime had just insinuated that the Military Police was incompetent when it came to investigation and all that they were good for was combing the grounds like a hound and then providing the ANBU with information."
The Hokage knew he had hit home when he saw Fugaku draw himself up even more stiffly.
"The incident with Uzumaki-san is an anomaly. All civilians should have been easily located within Konoha by the Military Police and it was only Uzumaki-san's unique circumstances that caused him to be out of our reach."
"Ah yes, there was that misfiling of his case report, wasn't there? I was so sure that the Uchiha clan, being our premier shinobi clan, would have been able to avoid a mistake that a civilian could be excused for." The Hokage said, while he waited for the Clan Head's reply.
What would it be? Would he swallow his pride and admit to having made a mistake, or would he let slip that it had not been an accident, which would be a tacit admission of treachery? Either way, it played into his hands.
"That...was a grievous mistake that shall not be repeated again." The Uchiha eventually forced out. It was evident to the Sandaime how much the admission of weakness pained the Clan Head, and he revelled in it.
"That is why I am taking such actions, Fugaku-san. The Military Police made a mistake and while I am sure that esteemed shinobi like the Uchiha would not commit such an error again, the world we live in is not such a forgiving one. One mistake can cost us much. I hope you can see things from my side, Fugaku-san."
"Yes, of course. The Uchiha shall endeavour to remove this blemish from our honour. Thank you for your time, Hokage-sama." Fugaku said as he bowed and then walked stiffly out of the door.
The Sandaime smiled. It seemed like the Clan Head had received his message very clearly.
'I know what you were trying to do and the next time you try something like this again, you will be dealt with far more severely than this.'
He had learnt about survival. He had learnt about living. And then he learnt about pride.
They were hauling their third batch of bags for the day when Naruto caught sight of Takechiyo helping another boy with the bag that he was carrying. Naruto distantly remembered the boy as having dislocated his ankle the day before when he tripped and fell while carrying their packages.
Naruto immediately knew why Takechiyo was helping the boy then. The older boy was always like this. If someone was in pain, he would do everything in his ability to soothe the pain. If someone was extra hungry that day, Takechiyo would sacrifice his meal for that day to ease someone else's hunger. He was what Naruto could never ever be- self-sacrificing.
Unfortunately, if Naruto could see what his unofficial older brother was doing, then the overseer could as well.
"74178! What the fuck do you think you are doing? Get back to your own work right now!"
Takechiyo ignored the slaver and simply continued on his way.
"Ignore me, will you?" The slaver snarled before he sent the end of his whip flying at Takechiyo's face.
"When I answer, you better respond, god damned slave." Once again, the boy ignored the slaver and continued walking forward.
"Do you understand me at all, 74178? Got your mouth glued shut with cum or something?" The bandit sneered before he walked over to the boy and grabbed the small head in his hands, twisting Takechiyo's head sharply to meet his face.
"Think you're some hot shit huh, acting cool like this? Well get this right, you're just a fucking slave. My used toilet paper's too good for you to even sniff, so you better get rid of that dick up your ass and snap to it, understand?"
Takechiyo's only respond was to spit in the bandit's face.
That sent the slaver over the edge as he started to brutalise the boy, snarling curses with spittle spraying out his mouth. The boy raised his hands to defend himself but no matter how much he had been trained, his body simply could not match the strength of an adult.
Eventually, the slaver seemed to have calmed down a little as he stopped his blows, chuckling as he looked over his handiwork. The boy was barely recognisable from the immense swelling on his face along with his broken nose. The vicious lashings from the whip had carved bloody trenches through the boy's flesh, causing him to bleed profusely.
"So, have you had enough yet, little boy?" The bandit taunted as he pulled the boy up by his hair until they were face to face.
"Tell you what, I'm a forgiving man. You get down on your knees now and beg for forgiveness and then bark like a dog and I'll even give you medicine for your wounds. How is it? Good deal, isn't it?"
The bloody phlegm that was left on his face gave him all the answer that he needed as the slaver's eyes darkened.
"So, somebody wants to continue playing huh? Well, I don't mind!"
This time, not an inch of mercy was given and the sound of cracking bones was evident to all the slaves. Despite the punishment being dealt to him though, the boy never uttered a single sound and though his knees buckled many times, he never allowed himself to collapse.
The bandit finally ran out of steam and stalked away, panting heavily while yelling at the rest of the slaves to continue moving.
Despite his numerous injuries, Takechiyo picked up the two bags on the ground and never stopped until they reached their cage at the end of day whereupon he immediately collapsed onto the ground.
Naruto was immediately beside the older boy as he pulled out a water bottle that was filled to the brim and carefully used it to clean Takechiyo's wounds while he manoeuvred the boy into a more comfortable position.
"Naruto-kun, where did you get that?" Yuffie gasped as she sat down on the other side of Takechiyo, tearing a piece of bread into smaller pieces so that it would be easier for the older boy to swallow it.
"Stole it." Naruto muttered as he checked Takechiyo for internal injuries, having cleaned up the superficial wounds to the best of the ability.
Konoha's streets and back alleys were very educational for Naruto in his numerous adventures. After all, if one wanted to steal in a village that was watched over by shinobi, one had better be damn good. He had picked up his thieving abilities simply watching how the thieves work. It was convenient sometimes how everyone just ignored him no matter where he was.
It puzzled him to no end why everyone else healed so slowly. Did they actually like to feel pain? They should just make the pain go away like he always did when he focused. As his fingers moved over an unnatural protrusion, Naruto grimaced. Dislocations were horrible to have and it took a long time for even him to have them heal naturally. Luckily, he had more than enough experience in setting bones from his experiences in the previous cage.
"Sorry, gonna hurt." Naruto warned as he began the unenviable task of resetting the multiple dislocated bones that the older boy. Naruto was thankful though that there did not seem to be any broken bones. That would have made things much more complicated.
When Naruto was finally done repairing as much damage as he could, he began his interrogation.
"Why'd you do that?"
"Be an idiot."
"Huh?" Takechiyo was very confused now.
"No pain if you just answer and be good. Why'd you be so stupid?"
Takechiyo understood what Naruto was talking about now.
"Because I will never submit to them. I told you before about how they want to dehumanise us by using numbers. If I answer to them, then I am allowing them to win. I am accepting my identity as a number and I will not do that!"
Naruto could let that slide, even if it still did not make much sense to him.
"Then when overseer stopped. Why not listen?"
"Because of pride and honour."
Naruto scoffed at this. "Can you eat pride and honour?"
"It is not about tangible gains, Naruto. Even if one is alive, one does not truly live if he has no pride or honour. That is what makes us human.
Our honour is what keeps us in line and makes sure that we do the right thing, for one who lives without honour and restraint is one who lives like a beast, and a beast is meant to be put down.
Our pride in ourselves is what drives us to greater heights, so that civilisation as a whole can improve.
By wanting me to kneel in front of him, that bandit was trying to assert his dominance and thus superiority over me and I will not accept that. I will not accept that that scum is in anyway better than me, no matter what happens to me. I am Matsudaira Takechiyo and I will not bend knee before that pathetic excuse for a human!"
"You are Matsudaira Takechiyo and you are a boy with more bruises than brain cells." Naruto snorted as he rolled over and prepared to sleep.
He lay awake for a long time though as he pondered the concept of pride and honour in the dark cage that he was in.
He learnt about dreams.
The three of them were lying down on the ground close together, with Takechiyo in the centre of the group.
Naruto was focusing on moving his power around in his body as they chatted about idle things. While he no longer needed to fight now, Naruto's sense of paranoia had never faded after his transfer. In fact, his paranoia had only increased. After all, it had been too long since anything truly horrible to him and that just felt did not fit the natural order of the universe.
Yuffie was fiddling with the hairpin that her mother had given her shortly before she had been kidnapped by the slavers. Seeing as it was only the memento she had of her previous life, it was the most precious object she had in her possession and she kept it with her all the time.
That was when Takechiyo started a topic that had never been broached before.
"Do you guys have dreams?" the leader of their ragtag group asked.
"Yep. Every night. Hate them like hell." Naruto grunted before he shifted his head to look at the older boy.
"You want them? I'll give them to you for free."
That was when Yuffie chimed in. "I can give you my dreams too. They're quite nice. I think you'd have fun playing with Usagi-san."
Both boys looked at each other with the same expression on their face. They were boys, and boys did not play not with rabbits. Why did Yuffie always fail to grasp that concept?
"Uhh thank you, Yuffie-chan but I'm not talking about those dreams."
Naruto arched an eyebrow. "What other dreams are there?" Oh yes, he was so damn badass with that eyebrow raise and he just knew it!
"They are more like things that you want to do in the future; goals for you to aim for."
"Huh." Naruto grunted. Well, he knew for sure what he wanted to do and continue to do for as long as he could.
"Breathe. Sounds good."
Takechiyo could not help but face palm. He understood that the blond boy had gone through a lot but would it kill him to have a spark of a man's romance in his heart? Just wanting to keep living was so...bland.
"I want to see the ocean!" Yuffie chimed in. Even though Cha no Kuni had many coastal areas, she had been raised a distant away from the coastlines and had never seen the ocean before. Takechiyo's descriptions of the ocean had sent her imagination wild thinking about what it would look like.
Takechiyo chuckled as he patted the girl's head. "That's a good dream. Come on, Naruto, give me something better."
"What's the point?" Naruto grunted as he crossed his arms. "We're stuck here anyway."
"For now." Takechiyo answered. "We're only stuck here for now but someday, I swear that we will be free. I don't know how long it will take but we will be free and when that time comes, it'll be good to have something to aim for, no?"
"Well, what's your dream then?" Naruto asked. Although he acted grumpy and uninterested, Naruto's curiosity could not help but be piqued by what Takechiyo's goals for the future were.
"I want to unite the land. I want to bring everyone together and have everyone work together. Then, there will be no more fighting amongst all the countries. Everyone will dedicate their time and energy to fighting off evil. There will be no more slaves, no more murders. No more us. I want to create a Utopia." Takechiyo declared as he raised his hands to the sky as though he could see and reach the world that he was talking about above him.
Naruto could not help but scoff. "No wonder it's called a dream. Happens only when you sleep, Takechiyo."
"Hey!" the older boy exclaimed. He knew that his dream was one of the most impossible and outlandish dreams possible but he truly did want to accomplish it.
"But since mine is not good enough I'll steal yours." Naruto said as he raised his hand up too. "When you start to build your perfect world, I'll be there beside you, every step of the way."
Their clenched fists opened and they grasped each other's hands in mid-air, a gesture of their mutual promise.
Naruto learnt about protecting others.
"Hey Yuffie-chan, are you alright?" Takechiyo asked when they woke up for the morning. The normally chipper girl was extremely subdued that day and she was perspiring greatly even though they had not started work yet.
"I'm okay." Yuffie said as she smiled weakly. "I think my part of the bread was bad, that's all."
"If you say so..." Takechiyo said doubtfully.
"Really, I'm okay. You need to go first."
Takechiyo was normally the first one to lead the procession so that he would set the pace for the rest of the slaves. After all, someone else might set the pace too quickly, which would cause the weaker kids to be unable to keep up and thus be punished. On the other hand, if someone else set the pace too slow for the slaver's liking, that person would be punished as well.
Takechiyo did not mind that, as he was more than willing to take a few lashings if it meant that others were spared the suffering. However, it was apparent to everyone that while Takechiyo cared for all the slaves in the cage, he doted on Yuffie the most.
Upon Yuffie's further urging, Takechiyo reluctantly set off, but not before looking backwards and sending Naruto a significant glance. He knew that despite Naruto's gruff exterior, the only person in the cage that cared more about Yuffie than himself was the blond child. Naruto's quick nod caused Takechiyo to let out a sigh of relief as he jogged to the front of the line.
Naruto took his own sweet time to get up, timing it such that he lined up right behind Yuffie. The girl was sweet and easily contented, but that did not mean that she was stupid. She turned around to stare at Naruto while the younger boy simply grinned widely at her, unrepentant even though he had been caught.
Unable to do anything, Yuffie simply huffed in frustration as she turned around, though she could not help the small smile that crept onto to her face. Although being coddled like this annoyed her sometimes, she appreciated what the boys did for her and gave her a small measure of happiness in this pit of misery.
As she marched to the lifts though, she felt far more tired than she had ever been, even though she had not exerted any strength yet. More than once, she wobbled on her feet and would have fallen if she had not caught herself in time. After all, if she fell, she knew that Naruto would immediately stop the line to catch her and be whipped for that. She definitely did not wish for anyone to suffer on her behalf.
By the time they had arrived at the lifts, Yuffie was on the brink of collapse. She pressed on though, and smiled gamely at her partner as both girls started to drag the bag they were sharing to their location, all the while aware of how Naruto was dogging her every step even though he would normally never allow himself to walk as slowly as a girl.
She began to feel lightheaded the further they marched. In fact, it was beginning to feel as though her body was becoming lighter. Maybe she had sweated out the bad food in her stomach and that was why she now felt so light in contrast to the heaviness she had felt earlier? She felt so light that she could swear she was flying.
She was not flying. She was falling! Yuffie desperately tried to correct her balance but her body simply refused to obey her orders. She let out a slight cry of pain as her body collided against the hard, unforgiving ground.
"Oi! Get up now!" the slaver ordered as he cocked his arm back for the swing. Yuffie tried to push her body but she was simply too late. She could only lie there on the ground as the whip rapidly approached her. She squeezed her eyes shut, waiting for the incoming whipping.
The sound of leather impacting against flesh sounded out but surprisingly, Yuffie felt no pain. She opened her eyes and could not help but gasp when she saw Naruto standing in front of her as he growled at the slaver.
Naruto had absolutely no idea what he was doing. It went against all of the instincts drilled into him ever since he had become a slave.
When other slaves were whipped, Naruto simply continued his work and was thankful that it was not him. When he saw Yuffie about to be whipped though, his body simply moved on its own as he sprinted to stand in front of the girl, taking the blow for her.
"Get out of the way, boy. I'll give you one chance." The slaver said as he readied his arm. He recognised that blond boy and while he was confident that he could put down one measly kid, the rumours of what he was capable of stayed his hand.
"I'll carry the bag for her. You get your work done, she gets to rest, I get to help. Everybody's happy." Naruto replied tersely as he pumped the power through his body as quickly as he could.
"No deal kid, now move or I whip both you and her so hard that you'll wish you were dead."
"Oh really?" Naruto said.
Or at least he thought he had said it normally. What emerged was a mix between a snarl and a growl. Naruto crouched down, ready to launch himself at the slaver if necessary as he bared his teeth at the slaver.
A part of him gibbered at the back of his mind, telling him to stop this nonsense before he got injured or worse, killed but for some reason, he was able to ignore it. For some reason, the threat of death was not sufficient to move him. For some reason, Yuffie's well-being was more important to him than his own was.
It did not make sense to him but it did not need to because even though he was not dying, he felt stronger than he ever did, including when he was in Level 2. Naruto stood his ground and stared at the bandit, daring the adult to make a move.
The bandit, on the other hand, could sense that something was wrong with the blond slave and it was not just his attitude either. There was something unnatural about the kid that he did not want to mess around with but he could not simply back down either.
"What about the girl then? She doesn't look like she can even crawl, let alone walk and I'm not letting her hold up the entire line." The bandit sneered.
"I'll carry her."Was Naruto's reply.
With no reply to that, the bandit stalked down the line.
He had won? Naruto had no idea how, but he had somehow won that conflict. But that was the priority here. They still needed to get through the day before they could tell what was wrong with Yuffie. Hopefully Takechiyo knew something about this like he seemed to know about everything.
Kneeling down, he moved Yuffie onto his back with the other girl's help and then started hauling the two bags to their destination. With the power boost he had received, this was nothing much to him. Naruto only hoped that it would last long for him to last through the day.
Amazingly enough, the power boost remained all the way until they were back at the cage. Naruto placed Yuffie down on the ground as gently as he could before he collapsed much less gracefully on the ground.
Naruto squeezed his eyes shut as the after-effects of using the power for so long struck at him. He bit his lip to keep himself from letting out any hint that he was suffering. It felt like liquid fire was flowing through his body instead of blood. He hurt so much all because he had chosen to prioritise another person over his own well-being. Somehow, he did not mind.
"Naruto, are you alright?" Takechiyo asked, his face pale. He had never seen the blond child display any signs of weakness no matter how much he went through but here he was now, barely holding in his screams of pain. What Naruto was going through now must be pain that was unimaginable.
"Check on Yuffie." Naruto grunted. "She got worse over the day."
The little girl had never stopped perspiring throughout the day even though she had started shivering after the second batch. That worried Naruto more than anything, because one shivered when one was cold but if one was cold, one did not perspire. It did not make sense to Naruto and he hated the feeling of having yet another thing happen that he could not do anything about. He hated being helpless.
"She has a fever." Takechiyo finally declared after some time.
A fever? Naruto distantly remembered hearing that word from his time in the orphanage. Some other kids had gotten a fever. Not knowing what it was, Naruto had pouted that the other kids had gotten something that he had not until the matron had told him that it was something bad that made one feel very bad.
"How do we help her?"
"We need medicine for a fever but only the bandits have medicine here and there is no way they'll give her any unless she is close to dying and by then it might be too late. Plus, a high fever might damage the brain permanently that cannot be cured by any medicine in anyway."
Takechiyo sighed despondently as he clutched his head. "I don't know what to do."
The bandits had medicine? Well, things were not hopeless yet then, Naruto concluded as multiple plans ran through his head. But first...
"Feed her." Naruto said as he pulled out another bottle of water that he had nicked earlier.
Yuffie found it too hard to chew the solid block of rock that was their dinner so Naruto moistened the bread with the water he had stolen, making it easier for Yuffie to swallow her meal.
When all of them were done with their meagre meals, Naruto sidled up next to the girl.
"Hey Yuffie, can you lend me your hairpin? I promise you I will return it to you later."
"Of course, Onii-san, I trust you." Yuffie replied as she smiled up at Naruto.
"I'm Naruto, you know, not Takechiyo." Naruto replied as he pocketed Yuffie's hairpin.
"I know, but you look more like an Onii-san than an otouto since you protected me." Yuffie then looked up at Naruto with large, doleful eyes. "Is that not okay?"
There was no conceivable way Naruto could say no to that, especially when the girl was not feeling well.
"Fine. I'll be your Onii-san. Now be quiet and go sleep." Naruto grumbled.
"Hai, Onii-san!" Yuffie said as she closed her eyes.
When Naruto was sure that that everyone else other than Takechiyo and him were asleep, he put his fingers to his lips, indicating for the older boy to be quiet while he gestured with the other hand for Takechiyo to go to the gates of the cage.
"Takechiyo, you know what the medicine looks like, right?" Naruto whispered.
The older boy nodded in response.
"Okay, good. I'm going to get us out of the cage and then we're going to go and look for the medicine. Okay?"
Takechiyo stared at the blond child for many long moments, his mouth opening and closing as he thought about something that he wanted to say, and then aborted it. Finally, his face hardened into a determined look as he nodded his head, earning a grin from Naruto.
The Matsudaira scion watched in awe as Naruto inserted the hairpin into the lock of the cage and after some deft movements with his fingers, unlocked the door of the cage, causing it to swing outwards.
"Learnt it from where I was" Naruto said as he crept out of the cage, keeping a lookout in case one of the bandits decided to pass by where they were. Seeing that they were clear, Naruto motioned for Takechiyo to exit before he closed the gate behind them, making it appears as though the cage was still locked.
The two of them sneaked through the tunnels, scouring every nook and cranny for the medicine that they needed, occasionally ducking into unlit corners to avoid being seen by passing bandits. Finally, Takechiyo stumbled upon what he needed in a bag that was left unattended.
"Jackpot!" he gasped as he cradled the precious medicine to his chest.
"Jackpot? Is that the name of the medicine we're looking for?" Naruto asked as he examined the medicine that Takechiyo was holding. "It doesn't look like any kind of pot I've seen before though."
"No, it's not the name of the medicine. Jackpot is just something you say when something happens that is good for you."
"Huh? Why not just say yay? Actually, why is it jackpot? Why not tompot, harrypot, queenpot or kingpot?"
"It's just like that!" Takechiyo said, flushing as he hurriedly stood and started to return to the cage. Naruto did not let up though.
Stubborn was as good as his first name. Middle name was not good enough.
"But why do you use it? There are so many other words to use." Naruto pestered Takechiyo when they were back in the cage.
"Because I find it cool, okay?" Takechiyo finally exclaimed, blushing furiously while Naruto snickered. Takechiyo swore he was never going to use that word ever again in his life.
The next day, when Yuffie was fully recovered and thanking her two Onii-sans repeatedly, Takechiyo could not help but mull over Naruto's incredible ability in all things related to stealth. As he sat there thinking, a plan started to form in his head as he started to smile widely.
"Hey guys, how do you feel about escaping from this place?"
Naruto learnt about hope.
The first thing that they did in preparation for their eventual escape was to sneak out of the cage after everyone was asleep to scout out the tunnels that they were in. Takechiyo had of course objected to leaving all the other slaves out of the loop and the escape but Naruto had put his foot down.
In his opinion, twenty children trying to escape was just impossible while three small children trying to escape actually had a chance of succeeding. Besides, once they were free, they could always lead Takechiyo's family back here to wipe out the bandits and free all the slaves, not just the ones in their cage. The older boy had reluctantly conceded that point.
In their explorations, they, or rather, Naruto, stole several things that would be necessary for their escape. He nicked some pieces of paper along with a pen that they used to draw a map of the tunnels that they explored. They also found spare keys to the slave cages that Naruto quickly grabbed as well.
All of these were stored in a small hole in a hidden alcove that they had found. Non-perishable food was also stored in their little treasure hole.
As time passed, Naruto, unbeknownst to himself, turned five.
Their hidden storage had more and more things added to it until one day, the map and the plan was complete. They were ready to attempt their escape.
They crept through the tunnels, all of their hearts hammering wildly in their chests at the thought that this would be the last time that they had to see these tunnels. Their experience in sneaking through the tunnels allowed them to easily reach the first checkpoint, which was the slave cage number three.
They paused near it as they checked to make sure the coast was clear, before Takechiyo and Yuffie hurried ahead to their hidden alcove. Once Naruto was sure that his family was safe, he unlocked the slave cage and crept in, shaking one of the older boys awake.
The slave jerked away, mouth opening to shout out but Naruto had pre-empted and covered the boy's mouth with one hand while he chopped at the boy's throat with the other, cutting off the shout.
"I have the keys for all the slave cages. Open them up, and we can all escape together." Naruto whispered.
"Why don't I just escape alone, huh?" The boy whispered back after he had gotten his breath back.
"Because one slave is easily caught. If you have many slaves running out together, they might miss you."
The older boy immediately saw the sense of what Naruto was saying and nodded his head, signalling his assent to his role. Naruto wordlessly passed the spare keys over to the boy and snuck away, making sure to keep to the shadows so that no one could see where he was going.
He met Takechiyo and Yuffie in the hidden alcove where they waited with bated breath. This was the riskiest part of their plan. If things did not happen as they had predicted, then they were screwed.
They strained their ears and soon heard the sounds of multiple children cheering and grinned at each other. The second part of the plan was completed.
The freed slaves quickly sprinted off in different directions, navigating through the pathways that they were most familiar with. Some of the bandits that were closer to the slave cages moved to investigate the ruckus and promptly raised the alarm when they discovered that the slaves were escaping.
"The slaves are escaping!"
Heavy footsteps thumped on the ground as multiple bandits rushed into the slave pens from above, passing by the three children while they prayed desperately that no bandit would manage to find them where they were.
Miraculously, they were never found.
Once they felt it was safe to venture out, the trio grabbed the things they had pilfered and sprinted up the tunnels with all their might. No matter how much their lungs burnt or how much their muscles scream in protest, the children never stopped. Incredibly, they never encountered a bandit. It seemed like their plan to lure the bandits into the slave pens and the other tunnels where the slaves had escaped to was a success.
They lost count of how long they sprinted for but they were eventually rewarded for it for in the distance, they could see a speck of what must be natural sunlight shining into the cave tunnels.
Suddenly, all their exhaustion washed away from them as they laid eyes upon that dot of light. Hope swelled within their chests. Their breath came easier and their feet became lighter at the sight of freedom. Freedom was in their grasp!
And then the world crumbled around them.
The ground shook so hard that they were flung to the ground.
"What is going on?" Naruto shouted out as he rolled to the side to avoid being impaled by a sharp rock.
"I don't know!" Takechiyo shouted back as he too tried to scramble to safety. "I think it's an earthquake!"
Just as the children began to regain their balance, a second, and then a third tremor struck the cave. Naruto narrowly avoided being crushed by a rock, but the rough surface of the rock managed to graze his right arm, shaving off much of the skin and flesh on his arm.
"Naruto Onii-san!" Yuffie cried out in distress as she saw the blond boy bleed. Heedless of her own safety, she rushed towards Naruto.
"No, get back!" Naruto screamed but he was too late. He watched, horrified, as a boulder as large as three grown men dropped on where Yuffie had been standing.
"Yuffie-chan!" both screams shouted out as they rushed forward, only for even more rocks to drop down on her location.
The tremors eventually stopped and the boys tried to move away the multiple rocks that had dropped onto Yuffie but they were simply too heavy.
Naruto dug deep into himself and pulled out far more of his power than he had ever commanded but it was not enough. The rocks were simply too large. He was not giving up though. If he couldn't lift them up then he would break them!
Naruto punched the first rock with all his might but only succeeded in crushing his own fingers. They healed in mere seconds though and Naruto swung again. And again. And again. Takechiyo had taken to picking up rocks from the ground and using them to pound at the rock. Both boys knew deep in their hearts that the sweet little girl was mostly crushed beyond recognition but they refused to give up. A manic force drove them on as they refused to accept the fact that Yuffie had died.
"Man, the explosives sure did a number on this cave huh."
"You can say that again. Boss, where did you get them from?"
"That's for me to know and for you maggots to find out!"
Naruto and Takechiyo turned their heads to see many adults walking down the tunnels while they laughed at the latest comment made.
"Oh? What's this? The welcoming party? So, keep 'em or kill 'em, Boss?"
"Just kill them. Plenty more inside if we want to get some fresh blood."
The two boys felt despair in their very souls. The slavers were behind them, and these new adults in front of them wanted to kill them. There was no way they could escape this death trap. There were too many of the new adults in front of them and all of them were armed to the teeth. They were doomed.
Takechiyo suddenly thought of something that he had caught. Explosives?
"Did you cause this cave-in?"
"Sure did!" one of the adults laughed. "Awesome explosion wasn't it? Wait, I don't need to tell you that. You were right in the middle of it!"
Takechiyo saw red. The men in front of him were the ones who had caused the cave-in. They were the ones who had foiled their escape but more than that, they were the ones who had killed Yuffie. Their numbers and strength did not matter to him. He would kill them if it was the last thing that he did.
With a roar of defiance, Takechiyo charged towards the men, causing them to laugh at the sight of a nine-year old attacking a group of adults head on.
One of the men swiped casually at Takechiyo, only for the boy to casually duck under the careless swing and deliver a chop to the man's wrist, causing him to drop the sword.
Takechiyo quickly picked the sword up. It was far larger than he was used to, but it was better than nothing right now. Without a single moment of hesitation, Takechiyo plunged the sword into the heart of its previous owner, killing the man immediately.
The mocking laughter stopped as all the gathered men witnessed the death of one of their own. All of them drew their weapons as they advanced upon the lone boy silently and then suddenly attacked in tandem.
Takechiyo could tell immediately that these men were not bandits. They had too much skill and discipline to be common bandits. Mercenaries then? What were mercenaries doing here though?
Any momentum that Takechiyo could have had after killing the first man was lost as the men surrounded him. It was all he could do to defend himself.
He deflected a blade to the side and stepped to the left to avoid an overhead slash from above. A quick duck prevented him from decapitated. As he rose back to his full, Takechiyo thrust his sword up, hoping to use the speed and power gained from rising to power through any guard that the mercenary would put up.
Unfortunately, his target stepped back instead of blocking and batted Takechiyo's purloined sword to the side, leaving the boy unable to defend himself from the incoming attack.
The gleaming blade descended on him from his left and Takechiyo knew he was too off balance to dodge the attack. He was a Matsudaira though and he would flinch away from death. He kept his eyes opened as the blade that spelt his doom approached him before it suddenly disappeared as Naruto cannoned into his attacker.
Takechiyo noted that Naruto seemed more...feral. More savage. But that did not matter. He knew that the both of them could not possibly hope to survive but with Naruto at his side, hopefully they would bring down as many of the bastards as possible.
Takechiyo's plans for a defensive battle were spoilt though when Naruto barrelled into another mercenary. Thankfully, the mercenaries were caught off guard by the speed that Naruto displayed and were unable to react in time. The child samurai quickly took advantage to land as many blows as he could in the window that Naruto had created with his reckless charge.
That was when a voice sounded out.
"Don't kill them. They're interesting."
Takechiyo could not help but grin at this. This would only make it easier for Naruto and himself. These mercenaries would soon regret their hubris!
A few minutes later and Takechiyo soon realised that the mercenaries had not overestimated themselves. Rather, it was Takechiyo that had overestimated his own abilities.
Other than the first mercenary that he had killed with a surprise attack, he had been able to land only glancing blows on the mercenaries while they whittled away at the two children. The older boy was covered in multiple injuries that while non-fatal, drained much of his blood and thus his energy from him. Even Naruto who seemed to never run out of energy was slumped over in exhaustion now.
Takechiyo moved forward to support Naruto in another of his berserker charges but his knee buckled under him. In no time at all, he found himself pinned to the ground by no less than three mercenaries. The former slave looked up to see Naruto in the same situation that he was in.
"Not bad at all for two little runts." One mercenary said. Takechiyo recognised him as the leader and burnt the image of him into his mind. He took note of the shoulder length and memorised the different earrings that the man wore. The cruel and slanted eyes were unforgettable, as was the hook nose that sprouted above the cruel smirk that the man wore.
He would remember that face, along with the black leather armour that he wore and if he managed to escape alive from this, he would hunt down this man one day and deliver the retribution that he deserved.
Naruto, on the other hand, had never stopped struggling ever since he had been pinned down. In fact, his struggles had only intensified as this position broke back unwanted memories of how he had been held helpless while bandits tortured his family.
He wished he could strike that bald man that was the main person pinning Takechiyo down. He would tear his face apart and scatter his intestines across these tunnels. Naruto roared as he gained a sudden boost of strength that allowed him to throw the men pinning him down off him.
Even though he was too far away from the bald man to hit him, Naruto slashed at the air instinctively and that was when things turned surreal. A red hand shot out from his own hand and, mimicking Naruto's actions, slashed at the man's head.
The bald man reared back, avoiding decapitation but was unable to prevent the claws from raking across his face. He howled in agony as the blood and his eye boiled from contact with the red claw. The boy that he was pinning down took advantage of his pain to try to escape.
Enraged and in pain, the bald man reacted instinctually and stabbed his sword down.
The howl of rage and pain from the blond boy was deafening.
Naruto learnt of revenge.
A/N: First of all, I wish to say that I am really pleased with my chapter title choice, as it is very symbolic of what happens in this chapter.
Also, I hope that my portrayal of the Sandaime is to your liking. Personally, I always detested how many other fanfics had their Sandaime as either a useless, bumbling fool or a useless bumbling fool that turned into a tyrant over night.
My image of him is a master in everything he does, including manipulation and politics. I believe he is as capable, if not more in these matters as anyone else.
Finally, please do review!