To say that the group from Konoha was impressed with the Emperor was an understatement. Before them, on a high throne, sat a figure clad in royal robes of black and red, accented with golden threads. They could all feel the aura of power and majesty radiating from the person that managed to do the impossible and created a peaceful kingdom out of chaotic lands. Despite their best efforts, none of the Leaf shinobi could see the Emperor's face or even his hair, as both were covered by a large hood and a golden mask. The voice of the young ruler was also beyond recognition, as it seemed to have been deepened by something, making it sound very unnatural and frightening.
'Clever move kit. The mask has a seal inscribed in it to change the wearer's voice, and adding the hooded cloak was a nice touch,' Kurama thought to himself. It was clear to him that Naruto didn't want reveal his identity as the Emperor of the West to his former comrades just yet. 'This will be very interesting to watch.'
"I will ask again, what is your group doing in my Empire, Jiraiya of Konoha?" The calmness of his question was unnerving. While Jiraiya had some experience in dealing with figures of power, he very much doubted that his usual tactics would work on this man. Nevertheless, the old sage had to do his best, as there was too much at stake here.
"Your Imperial Majesty, let me first express my awe your kingdom, and our gratitude at being able to witness the greatness of-"
"Flattery will get you nowhere, old man," Kurama interrupted rather rudely. "If there is something that's looked down on in this court, it's hidden agendas disguised by hollow compliments. Here you either are honest and blunt or you try to be smart and find yourself kicked out of the palace."
"My Prime Minister speaks wisely. I don't need nor desire to hear what you think of my kingdom, no matter how highly you admire it. What I do want to know is the reason as to why your group sneaked here under disguise, in a manner befitting of assassins and thieves." The shinobi all shivered at the statement and knew that if the wrong words were said, their lives would be endangered. A small hand sign from the Gama Sennin made sure that the others would stay quiet and leave the talking to him.
"We came here with a very important message from both Konoha and the Fire Daimyo." Jiraiya took a scroll out from under his robes and presented it before the young ruler and his advisor. "The Godaime Hokage wasn't sure what state the Western Empire was in, so we were instructed to travel with extreme caution, as to not jeopardize our mission in delivering this scroll to you, Your Highness." Kurama took the scroll from the old sage and opened it. After reading the contents, the demon lord nodded towards the young Emperor, who acknowledged the gesture in kind.
"I must study the contents of this message and present it before my council. Are you able to wait for the answer?"
"We are," Jiraiya confirmed, though his instincts were warning him that something would happen very soon.
"I'll give you my answer in a week. This no trivial matter and it demands that I'll present it before my council and listen to their opinions. Only then make any kind of decision." The Emperor's words sounded plausible and logical, though the group from Konoha was rather disappointed that they had to wait several days before knowing if their mission was a success or not. "There is, however, another matter that I have to resolve right now, mainly, what will I do with you?"
"If it's not too much trouble, Your Majesty, we'll just find some motel in the city and wait for your decision." Jiraiya wasn't sure if his diplomacy skills were enough to convince the young ruler before him. Something about that question just unnerved him.
Kurama chuckled loudly, making everyone focus on the humanized Bijuu. "It won't be that easy, old man. You lot are the cause of an international incident and we have to deal with that." Then his face turned very serious as he directed his crimson gaze towards Kiba. "The sultanate of Kahji'Ma is a very important ally to the Empire, and you assaulted their ambassador! And don't even try saying anything about diplomatic immunity!" Kurama barked when he saw Kurenai ready to voice her objection. "You lot sneaked in here without an official announcement, the consent of the Sei Empire, or any regard to our laws, therefore your group won't be getting any of the privileges normally assigned to foreign diplomats." A satisfied grin crossed the demon lord's lips. "If I had my way, I would give you the punishment that those cat folks would enact. It's fairly amusing in the right circles."
"And what exactly is that?" Tenten couldn't help her curiosity, but seeing the fox's smile widen, she quickly regretted asking that question.
"Ever heard the saying 'cat got your tongue'? Let's just say that the Khaji take it quite literally, by ripping out the victim's tongue with sheer force." Seeing as the Konoha ninjas' faces quickly became green with disgust, Kyuubi couldn't help but deliver the finishing strike. "I was once a witness of such an execution on a slave trader. The poor bastard's tongue was ripped from his very throat, making him choke on his own blood. Ah, how delightful his screams were..."
"As entertaining as Kurama's sadistic tendencies are, we should focus on more important matters." The Emperor had quite enough of his advisor's attempts to scare the living daylights out of the intruders, no matter how funny it was to see his former comrades squirm under the pressure. "All of you will be contained within this palace's grounds, under the constant surveillance of the Shiroma guards, as well as the royal guards, and your group will be separated as to prevent any kind of information exchange and scheming behind the Empire's back." The young ruler looked down upon the shinobi from the eastern countries, his gaze seemed to pierce through their very souls. He quietly signaled for the guards to come closer, nine of them flanking the group of foreign ninja. "These guards will take each one of you to your living quarters within this palace's grounds. Before you protest this separation, Jiraiya of Konoha, take it as a simple precaution from my position. I am well aware that these shinobi and kunoichi are talented and well-trained in their respective areas, therefore I can't have you all in one place, where you'll be able to combine your strengths and overcome weaknesses, supporting each other in a unified assault." The air suddenly chilled as the Emperor directed his hard gaze on the Toad Sage, making the old man very uneasy. "Should any of you cause any kind of trouble for any of my staff or this palace's guests, I will not hesitate to execute you all on the spot myself." This short sentence at the end, backed up with a dose of potent killing intent, silenced any kinds of protest from Konoha's team.
"We will abide to your rule, Your Majesty." Jiraiya had no other choice. The Land of Fire was in dire need of the Sei Empire's assistance, so there was no room for mistakes or sneaky approach, at least not at this very moment. 'With any luck, I may be able to see if Naruto is here and maybe even talk to him.' It was hopeful thinking for the old shinobi, but the chance of meeting his student and godson was still there, no matter how small.
"Well, this is a little unexpected..."
When his team was walked out of the throne chamber, Jiraiya was the first to be separated from the rest, and brought to a different part of the palace, flanked by two guards. They took him to a chamber that was most likely to be his quarters for the rest of the week, furnished rather modestly, with a regular bed, a small night table beside it, and a desk under a not too large window. While from time to time Jiraiya liked the luxury of the many motels he stayed in during his travels, as a ninja he was used to even worse conditions of living.
The room didn't surprise the old sage, but rather the person who was already waiting for him there.
Uzumaki Naruto, the blond genin he came to know all those years ago, now a man of enormous power and status, stood before Jiraiya, his arms crossed over his chest, while his blue eyes, once full of wonder, joy, and a little mischief, were now cold, calculating, and unforgiving. So much has happened since that day, so many things were said and done, so many accomplishments achieved... And yet, the only regret Jiraiya had now was inability to help his godson more.
The blond man didn't let his old teacher finish his statement. In a single blink of an eye, Naruto crossed the distance between them and sent a powerful punch to the super pervert's stomach. It was enough to make the once powerful member of the Legendary Sannin stumble over. If not for the blond's support, Jiraiya would be lying on the cold floor right now. After a few moments of uncomfortable silence, disturbed only by the wheezing sounds of the porn writer's attempts to catch a second breath, Naruto was the first to speak.
"You have some nerve, Ero-sennin." While his voice became a little deeper and more mature over these years, there weren't any warm feelings in it. All that Jiraiya felt was great anger and grief, as well as a deep disdain, all currently directed at him. "Tell me, why are you here? Why can't Konoha leave me alone, even after throwing me out?!"
"Naruto, they made a mistake-" Another punch, this time a right hook straight into his jaw, successfully stopped Jiraiya from talking, and this time he was thrown to the marble floor.
"Mistake? MISTAKE?!" Naruto's furious voice echoed in the small chamber like a loud thunder. "From the very beginning of my life I was scorned, ignored, and hated by that damn place! When I finally got some recognition, it was quickly squashed by the council! Then they sent me to rescue my best friend, only to almost get killed, and they have the gall to banish me for it! The only mistake I see here is that I didn't leave on my own sooner!"
"You...can't...mean that..." Words struggled inside Jiraiya's mouth. That last punch really hurt, and he now had trouble speaking clearly enough. "Your...dream..."
"Was a childish delusion. It would never have come true." That one blunt statement was more painful than anything the old man felt now. "I met both of my parents after Kurama's seal broke seven years ago, and they explained everything to me. I know the real reason I was made into a Jinchuuriki, how they are chosen from people who are closely related to the current Kage of particular hidden villages. About the custom of members of my mother's clan holding Kyuubi, and how she was the one before me. My own father sacrificed himself to save the village that spat on his dying wish the very next day." Pausing for a moment Naruto gave the fallen sage a long look. He saw something that took him by surprise, though the cold expression on his face never changed. "What happened to your arm?"
"This?" Jiraiya asked while revealing more of his left arm, or at least what was left of it. Instead of a normal human arm, there was a wooden prosthetic, very well made and evidently capable of conducting chakra, as far as Naruto's keen senses could tell. "A little something that I got after a skirmish with an old student of mine." Jiraiya commented offhandedly. "A little over four years after your banishment the Akatsuki started to move around and get the jinchuuriki of the Hidden Villages. You may remember two of their members, Uchiha Itachi and Hoshigaki Kisame. They came after you during our mission to get Tsunade."
"I remember. Keep this short," Naruto curtly replied.
"No need to be snappy," Jiraiya commented under his breath, then went back to his tale. "Me and a large squad of ANBU managed to track down and corner several of them, one of which was my former student from the time of the Third Shinobi War. Turned out that he was a puppet leader for the organization. I walked away from that fight with a severed arm, six cracked ribs, four more broken, damaged lungs, and a few more life-threatening injuries. None of the ANBU with me survived, and the town we fought in was completely obliterated by just one jutsu of his." The old man sighed deeply, reminiscing one of the very few moments he was close to death.
"How can a one man be capable of such destruction? Even here there are very few that could take out a whole town in one go." While there were many warriors in the Imperial Court with significant power and skill, more so if one would count the Empire's allies, Naruto could only think of a dozen people that were capable of such feats.
"He possessed a legendary dojutsu, one not seen since the time of the Sage of the Six Paths, the Rinnegan. I don't know if he was a direct descendant or if it was something else that caused him to gain this bloodline. This dojutsu made it possible for him to master all five chakra natures, and what's more, he used six dead bodies, all of them with Rinnegan eyes, calling themselves Six Paths of Pain. Each of his bodies had different abilities, each more deadly than the next, while their eyes had the same vision as all the others, meaning they each saw what the others saw." Jiraiya looked towards some point in the distance, losing his focus a little. "His name was Nagato. I met him and two of his friends, Yahiko and Konan during the Second Shinobi War in the outskirts of Amegakure. I trained them for almost a year before we parted ways. Then I received a message saying that they all died, but obviously that wasn't entirely true. Yahiko died during a revolution in Ame and that is most likely what pushed Nagato over the edge." Jiraiya's eyes became a little misty at the memories of the three cheerful orphans he took under his wing so many years ago. "Seems that I'm a true failure as a teacher, with all my students either dead or banished, while I could do nothing."
"Spare me your theatrical grief," Naruto said coldly. "It's far too late for any of that. Now tell me, just what is Konoha planning in trying to get the Emperor's approval of this alliance? Or better yet, explain to me how things could be in such a bad state!"
"Huh?" Jiraiya's clueless response made the blond almost fall on his face.
"Don't 'huh' me, Ero-sennin!" Naruto yelled. "We have reports about Konoha's situation, shinobi losing their rights for the sake of civilians, the council throwing their weight around, the Hokage being only a figurehead-"
"What the hell are you talking about?" The old sage looked like he was utterly surprised at those revelations, and wasn't sure if his old apprentice was joking, bluffing, or just misinformed. "I'll admit that after you left we lost many important contracts and alliances, mainly from the countries you made major impacts in during some of your missions, but nothing you just said took place. Tsunade was quite adamant in making up for the lost profit and even managed to cut costs in the Council, both on the Shinobi and Civilian sides." Jiraiya thought a little while, pondering over what he just heard. "I'll also admit that the spies of the West are quite good, but thanks to an anonymous tip I got two years ago, my own network was able to send them on a wild goose chase with some major events. If not for that little info my whole network would be in shambles thanks to the Emperor's own spies."
Naruto narrowed his eyes to merely slits as a strong aggravation slowly built up inside his body. Oh, he was very sure about the identity of this mysterious fellow. 'When I get my hands on that accursed priest, I'll make sure that he won't be meddling with the state secrets or the Empire's operatives ever again!' Despite those dark thoughts, the blond man couldn't help himself but laugh loudly, mostly at the irony of one guy, no matter how extraordinary, managing to play him, the most powerful man on the whole continent, the former prankster king that could fool the elites of a ninja village, like an instrument. One would find such facts terrifying, but Naruto could see here what his former Jonin sensei called "underneath the underneath".
"What's so funny?" Jiraiya asked a little confused.
"I'm just imagining how Kurama will react to the fact that his spies were compromised by one man." Naruto answered with a large grin.
In a secret chamber, deep down under the palace's dungeons, the Prime Minister of the Sei Empire, a Bijuu in human form, once known as the Kyuubi no Youko, now famous as the Enpatsu Shakugan no Uchite, Kurama was observing the conversation between his former container and Konoha's Toad Sage through the special ability he gained during the Unification War, Kokoro no Me (Eye of the Mind). He wasn't spying, more like supervising. Through the length of those seven years since Naruto had left his home and country, the demon took it upon himself to protect the young blond, and raise him to be a warrior that wouldn't be afraid of any foe. Thanks to the mysterious powers of master Guan Do, the one that broke the seal and gave him his current form, it was much easier to fulfill this goal.
Currently however, the whole camber was filled with potent killing intent. A sensory ninja wouldn't be able to stay sane after feeling such monstrous amount, and even veteran shinobi wouldn't be able to stand it for too long. Thankfully for the whole capital the room was sealed to prevent any leaks of secret informations and that meant sound, light, strong emotions, and chakra were all absorbed by the seals in the walls. Neither Kurama nor his agents of the secret service needed light to see things, so there were no torches or lamps present in the room.
Now the seals were working overtime, as the full potential of Bijuu's killing intent almost overwhelmed and overpowered them.
"I'll find that damned priest, even if I have to turn over every rock, every pile of dirt, bring down every tree..." Kurama was mumbling to himself, his rage spiking every few seconds. "I'll find him even if it's the last thing I do. And when I do, I'LL KILL HIM IN THE MOST PAINFUL WAY IMAGINABLE! HE WILL SUFFER! GHAHAHAHAHA!"
Jiraiya shivered, he really didn't want to get on the Kyuubi's bad side. He had enough life-threatening situations in his life, he didn't need another. Putting those thoughts aside, there was something more he needed his former student to hear.
"Naruto, I have a message from Tsunade and the Daimyo, in case we managed to find you here."
"What could the Hokage want from me? I'm no longer tied to that village, so she can't order me around anymore."
"Don't be like that. Tsunade still cares about you, even if she was unable to stop the banishment order, which she regretted very deeply over the years." Jiraiya sighed deeply. "This is an official order. If we managed to find you, Tsunade wanted me to relay a message from both her and the Daimyo. I'll skip the boring part and get to the point: we want you back."
"Nani?" Naruto asked calmly, but his tone was very cool. "The banishment then got revoked?"
"Not... exactly..." Jiraiya shifted uncomfortably as the blond's blue eyes focused on him with a greater intensity. "Listen Naruto, Tsunade really pulled her authority to let you inside the village, but only to... stand trial for desertion."
"You're...You're not joking, are you?" Naruto asked bewildered at the absurdity of the notion.
"I'd like it to be a joke but there was no choice in the matter. While we managed to clean up both village councils, there were still many powerful people left that didn't like you. They had enough influence in the Daimyo's court to make it an official order. Therefore, if we were to find you here in the West, then our group was supposed to take you into captivity and drag you to the village for the trial and eventual penalty if you were to be sentenced."
"This is ridiculous!" Naruto roared. "They banish me from my home, just because I used 'excessive force' on a guy that wanted to kill me! And now they have the balls to accuse me of desertion? I really don't know if I'm supposed to be pissed, amused, or if I should just ignore it."
"Naruto, this is really serious! The Fire Country and Konoha will go to war soon, and so will the other Elemental Nations and their respective villages! Uchiha Madara, or rather someone who uses that name, is the real leader of the Akatsuki, and he declared war upon all hidden villages just a few weeks ago, for not giving him Kyuubi and Hachibi. There is no way that the current Raikage would sell his own brother, and you were outside of our borders for this long...While the motion is basically a piece of trash, the fact remains that the Akatsuki won't rest until you're in their hands!"
"I'm no longer Kurama's jinchuuriki, if you hadn't noticed it yet, and Kurama won't give up easily. Besides I'm far better protected here, inside the Empire, than I would be in Konoha any day." Naruto suddenly smirked at a very interesting thought. "You know Ero-sennin, I think I'll ponder a little about going back to that village, but not as a prisoner or with the intention of staying. If anything I'll go there to put some of my inner demons to rest and settle some unfinished business, but nothing more. But that is just a thought, I'm not promising you anything at the moment, as it also depends on whether the Emperor will be willing to agree with this voyage."
Jiraiya sighed deeply. This wasn't the response he hoped to get, but it was still more than enough. "Alright Naruto, it's not like I have any choice in the matter. Granted that Kyuubi, or Kurama if you will, is a Prime Minister to the Emperor, then I have every right to assume that you are an important figure here. Would you tell me where you stand in the court?"
"No can do, Ero-sennin, but just to assure you don't do anything stupid here, His Majesty considers me a very close friend. You could say that fighting a war together gave us insight to each other and bonded us in a way that is hardly describable to anyone outside of our small circle." Naruto started to walk out of the room, before he abruptly stopped. "Oh, I almost forgot. You and your team are currently under a three-day house arrest, as punishment for the incident with that dignitary, so don't even think about sneaking out of this chamber. And once this is lifted don't even think about going towards the Sacred Flower Monastery."
"Why not? Some kind of state secret? A sacred place for some western cult?"
"No, it's just that all men are forbidden there. Even the Emperor himself isn't an exception to this law. The Monastery is run by an order of female warriors that pride themselves in their skills, ranging from espionage to seduction, even assassinations," Naruto explained. "They are a valued asset of the Empire, and His Majesty respects their laws and customs. No man is to disturb them or cross the high walls around their temple, and they have the right to deal with anyone who tries it in any manner they see fit." The blond brought his hand up to his chin in a thinking pose. "Now that I think about it, the last time a pervert managed to get around their guards into the bathing area, he was sentenced to serve there for the rest of his life."
"Doesn't sound like such a bad punishment to me," Jiraiya commented with a lecherous grin, to which Naruto only smirked evilly.
"I forgot to mention that the male servants there are all eunuchs." Naruto couldn't help but chuckle as his old mentor suddenly became green in his face, and started clutching his crotch at the thought of being deprived of his jewels. "I'll leave you to your thoughts, and you'd better heed my warning, Ero-sennin." Without glancing back, Naruto left the room and walked quickly towards his own chambers.
He had plans for the evening.
After the audience with the Emperor, the guards escorted the shinobi through the enormous palace. Every so often one of them would veer off from the rest with one of the Konoha ninja and take them to their quarters. Again they were warned against causing unrest while in the Empire. Additionally the captain of the guards made it clear that unless someone ordered differently, the shinobi were to stay inside their rooms for at least three days, as a penalty for disturbing the peace in the city and the battery against the high-ranking diplomat. Also, their chakra was sealed by specially made collars. None of the eastern shinobi were able to identify the materials, but it appeared that the main part was made from a purple metal that seemed to get a little warmer over time, before cooling down again, probably absorbing and exhausting chakra. Such a system would prevent practically anyone from overpowering the collars by bursting chakra violently through them, as well as guarantee that the prisoners cannot focus their inner energy properly, making all their jutsu for the most part useless.
Hinata sighed deeply. She was currently lying on a bed in the room that was assigned to her, thinking deeply about the recent events. Even though the separation from the rest of her team unnerved her a little, she was a little glad to be away from Kiba and his raging hormones. Currently most of her thoughts were running around a certain blond boy that she last saw seven years ago. How she longed to see him again, his cheerful face, mischievous blue eyes, that sun-kissed spiky hair, and the cute whisker-like marks on his cheeks. The young Hyuuga was especially curious about how much he's changed over the years, how tall he was, did he have a lean body build? Or did he become more muscular? The more Hinata's thoughts focused on those questions, the more she felt a heat rising steadily from her otherwise pale cheeks. Another thought she had was whether or not he remembered her. Would he recognize the shy girl she once was, after all these years? Hinata didn't like bragging, but she did feel a small amount of pride at how her body matured through the course of time, even if it did make her more than a little uncomfortable in certain situations. The young woman also wondered if Naruto would find her attractive, if she would be appealing to him. That thought alone was more than enough to make her blush even harder, a Naruto-related habit that she couldn't, and wouldn't, get rid of.
Then came something more depressing; did he hate her along with the villagers who hurt him so much? Would Naruto ever forgive her for not coming clean with her feelings for him until it was too late? Was that one short letter a comfort for him, or just an annoyance?
Her musings were interrupted by a knock on the door. Taking in the fact that she was practically a prisoner, this act of politeness left Hinata a little surprised.
When the door opened, inside stepped a young woman with long chestnut hair, a pretty round face and large green eyes, accented with only a touch of makeup. She wasn't taller than Hinata, and most likely around her age too. The dress she was wearing was humble, only a set of cream colored robes that reached down all the way to her ankles, tied together with a wide white sash, similar to obis Hinata herself used when wearing a formal kimono during celebrations and important events.
"Excuse my intrusion, Hyuuga Hinata-sama." The woman's voice was very pretty, it sounded to the young kunoichi like silver bells, already soothing any tension that could be in the air. "My name is Aiko. I am a servant in this palace and I'm here on behalf of Kurama-sama with a private message for you. Would you like to hear it?"
"From Kurama-sama?" Hinata was completely confused at this point, as she couldn't find a reason for someone as powerful as the Kyuubi getting interested in her, someone whom the young kunoichi found plain and unworthy any attention. "What does he want from me?"
"Kurama-sama wants to express his gratitude towards you, for your words of concern regarding his former vessel, Naruto-sama. He officially invites you for a private audience with His Majesty, which will take place when the sun starts setting. This of course will be accompanied with a meal, as both Kurama-sama and the Emperor felt it's good manners to not starve their guest." Aiko never lost her sincere smile while reciting the message she was supposed to deliver. "Will you accept the invitation, Hinata-sama?"
Hinata felt truly at loss. Both the Prime Minister and the Emperor want to see her over supper and talk to her directly? While the whole notion sounded surreal to the Hyuuga, she also saw an opportunity to convince the Emperor to aid Konoha in its cause, and maybe get more clues about Naruto's whereabouts. Despite her animosity towards majority of population of her home village, along with pure spite for the ruling council, there were still good people living there, and Hinata didn't want them to die in a war that would most likely destroy all the Elemental Nations. Also, she longed to see her crush after all those years, no matter what fears she had about doing so.
"I was under the impression that my whole team and I were under house arrest for the next three days," Hinata said with a slightly confused expression on her face. "Was that order changed?"
"I apologize, Hinata-sama, but I do not know any details about the situation. I was only instructed to give you this invitation. You will have to ask Kurama-sama or His Majesty directly about your team's punishment, should you choose to join them."
'I have to use this opportunity to my advantage. This is my duty to both Hokage-sama and myself,' Hinata thought with determination, while giving Aiko a sincere smile. "I humbly accept the invitation. Though I'm a little underdressed for a meeting with the Emperor, and I could use a bath after these long days on the road."
"Of course! I was also instructed to escort you to the bathing area of the Sacred Flowers Monastery. There you will also be given new clothes, befitting a woman of high stature as yourself. Now if you would please follow me, we can start getting you ready."
The rest of the day passed in one big blur to the young Hyuuga, full of relaxing baths, measurements for new clothes, trying on different sets of robes, being swarmed by seemingly countless regiments of servants fussing over her, before finally setting for a simple light pink dress that reached her ankles, covered with a little darker skirt-like vest, accented with a red sash tied in the middle, and a pair of very comfortable shoes which covered her feet entirely, unlike the sandals used by the shinobi from the east. As accessories, Hinata received a pair of sapphire earrings, and her chakra-restraining collar was swapped for a beautiful necklace with a set of crystals on the whole length of golden chain. Finally, a small touch of make-up was added to accent her already unique beauty, with a few drops of perfume on her long slender neck.
Before Hinata knew it, she was already standing outside of the chamber to the dining room that the Emperor chose for this evening's meal. The kunoichi was trying to calm her nerves, think of the best way to approach the ruler of the whole Sei Empire and get him to look with approval at Konoha's case. Swallowing any remaining fears, Hinata let one of the two guards standing outside open the doors for her.
(watch?v=VU04GjmcjUQ - Once Upon A Time In China Theme Song Slow Version)
The dining room was enormous, with large open windows and a balcony-like view, where one could see the whole capital and what lay beyond it, all of which was now covered in the golden glow of the setting sun. In the middle stood a big round table with tableware prepared for two. Hinata recognized that the dishes were made from very expensive china, and decorated with very beautiful paintings of nature and other shapes. The next thing the young woman noticed was the Emperor himself, sitting on a pillow with an instrument, similar to an eastern koto, before him. He still had his gold helmet on, but the robes he now wore were different than those the Hyuuga saw him in the first time around, as His Imperial Majesty swapped his gold and red clothes for something more easy on the eyes, a sea-green haori over a black kimono and black hakama pants. The haori had a golden bonsai tree sewn on the back, surrounded by silver clouds and creating a majestic image.
The Emperor was still playing as Hinata listened and made her observations. She didn't want to interrupt the performance, both because it would be very rude to do so, and because she felt strangely captivated by the rather simple yet deep melody. Fingers seemed to swim through the strings, extracting sounds that together seemed to tell an entire story. There was sadness, melancholy, but also joy and ideals, the Sun and the Moon, dancing along the Stars on the dark Sky. A dream that a man could chase and honor all people are bound to uphold.
Almost too soon everything went silent as the player ended his performance. Taking notice of his guest, the Emperor stood up and took a long glance at Hinata.
"I must apologize to you, Hyuuga-san, for not greeting you upon your entrance. When I give myself to music, I often forget about the rest of the world. Forgive my rudeness." He bowed to the young maiden, making her all the more uncomfortable.
"No, please, Your Highness, there is nothing to be sorry about. I was actually honored to hear such a beautiful melody. Nothing I've heard before could compare with what You Majesty just performed." Hinata was truthful in her words, as the seemingly simple song reached down to her soul and stirred it in ways the kunoichi had never experienced before.
"You flatter me, Hyuuga-san, but I'm sure there are many more talented musicians out in this world, who dedicate their whole lives to perfect their skills. For me, music is just a simple pastime that puts my mind at ease after a stressful day." He then motioned to the table. "Please let us sit and talk while waiting for the meal."
Accepting the offer, Hinata took a seat opposite from the Emperor. For a few awkward moments she wanted to start a conversation, but the words seemed stuck inside her throat. To make the matters worse, she was absolutely parched. Thankfully, though there was a glass of water beside her platter. Taking a few sips, she began feeling much better. Through this short while, a servant came to the Emperor's side and whispered something into his ear, making the ruler of the West stand up, and Hinata quickly followed suit.
"Again I have to ask your forgiveness, Hyuuga-san. An important matter of state requires my immediate attention, which prevents me from dining together with you at the moment."
"I understand, Your Majesty. Therefore, I will return to my chamber and-"
"Excuse my interruption, but there is no need for that." The Emperor's words, as well as the quite joyous tone of his voice confused the eastern woman a little. "While I am unable to dine with you tonight, there is someone who already requested a meeting with your person at the earliest available opportunity. I have no objection to granting this request now." Right then the doors opened and a new person came in. "I'll leave you two alone now. Goodnight Hyuuga-san."
Hinata bowed as the Emperor left the room. Once he was out, she glanced upon the man that now stood a few feet from her. He was a little taller than her, maybe a couple of inches, had lightly tanned skin and was most definitely her age. The man's clothes consisted of dark brown hakama pants, a blue kimono top, and an orange and black haori draped over his shoulders, with a red swirl-like symbol on the back. His messy blond hair, cobalt-blue eyes, and set of three whisker-like markings on his cheeks were what made Hinata sure of who this man was.
"Hey there, Hinata." His voice was no longer childish, having deepened with age. It was almost enough to make her faint. "Long time no see."
AN: I'm very sorry for the long delay of this story. There is no excuse, but I have an explanation for it. I was having a hard time in getting a correct mood for writing, and that is what made it a very slow, almost a snail-pace process. Not to mention that I was having quite a few ideas for new stories, not Naruto-related, and had to get to them before they became lost to me forever in the depths of my mind. I can just hope you can forgive me.
Anyway, the dress Hinata is wearing, it's practically the same as the one Ren Hakuei wore in the first season on Magi: Labyrinth of Magic (great anime, manga is also very entertaining). I just found it very fitting for her, as it shows both the foreignness of the western style, at the same time giving Hinata some comfort of not being too royal.
Not to confuse anything, Naruto and the Emperor are the same person, he just doesn't want Konoha to know it too early. As for how he was in both roles at the same time... that my dear readers will be revealed in the next chapter.
Stay tuned for this and my next stories!