Kurumu lightly padded across the wooden floor of her room. When her body's condition dramatically weakened after the event she witnessed, she had done a more than adequate job in hiding her condition from her friends. Disappearing a couple of times to recoup hadn't appeared suspicious at all, as everyone had been slinking off to go out and privately train for the coming battle.
As for the succubus' emotional state, her plastered smile had continued to fool the crowd. Outwardly her face was a perfect replica to what it was not too long ago; a perfect replica to the face that was not heart broken.
It was just as easy to conceal her physical condition.
Actually, easy was not the most accurate word. It took immense effort not to let her anguish show on her face and immense willpower to not curl up into a ball and cry when Tsukune would pass by. Her tears were only obscured to the public – she had no qualms about letting the tears out freely when she was alone.
Kurumu's frustration at her pathetic condition slipped through her mask for just a moment; clenched teeth and furrowed eyebrows were displayed for a split second, before she slammed her shields back up into their place.
Mizore was the one most informed about her condition. Out of her group of friends, Kurumu had spent the most time with the snow woman.
Despite the small, petty fights they'd have in public, they were very close. Their mutual love for Tsukune and desire not to lose to Moka had really brought the two enemies – at least they were enemies initially – together.
Under the guise of rivals, they wouldn't have appeared close to bystanders at all. The rest of their friends had an inkling of their friendship, but no one seemed to be fully aware of how close they had become in the past couple months.
With their frequent training together, and despite her best efforts, Mizore would have had to been completely daft to not notice Kurumu's recent decline in performance. That paired with Mizore's uncanny tendency to constantly observe everything that happened rather than partake in activity, Kurumu was sure that the entirety of her situation was obvious to the stealthy snow woman.
She had hoped that her act and increase in training would be enough to deceive the snow girl, but she had no false illusions that she would be able to prevent her peers from finding out. Rather than the question of who will find out, the question was now when they would find out.
On the off chance of her condition reverting and her body becoming healthy again, she would just have to deal with the consequences of her actions with the rest of her friends. With the events that had transpired in the last couple of days, she did hold a glimmer of hope that she would be able to come out of her situation nearly unscathed.
She couldn't deny that her last encounter with Naruto had made each step a little less painful and the smile a little less strained. Her visits with the blond had revealed a new aspect of the power that she wanted to explore, giving her yet another reason to train, rather than the initial effort she put in for Tsukune alone.
Did her newfound motivation distract her from the pain? Regardless of the reasons, her pain subsiding certainly wasn't a negative thing.
Naruto's visits had made her want to fight for herself. In each meeting he had managed to make her discover something new about herself and her own potential. If she could discover her true power and potential, she could protect everyone before her body broke.
That is, of course, if she could even survive long enough to protect anybody. Kurumu didn't have a clue about how long she'd live.
All she knew was that if a succubus was rejected by her Destined One they would eventually die. All symptoms and conditions leading up to that were an enigma to her.
The sheer amount of unknowns about her species as a whole and this particular incident left her a faint glimmer of hope that she'd somehow make it out of this whole mess alive.
Until recently, Kurumu realized that she was rather selfish. She first made contact with Tsukune and Moka simply to establish herself as the most desired girl in the school. Then, after she irritated the sleeping vampire and elicited her wrath, her life changed when the selfless Tsukune stepped in front of her, despite her cruel intentions.
Prior to his warmth, she had never experienced a male genuinely caring for her. Her father's presence was absent from her life, her mother wouldn't give her any information about him, and she never really had friends of her own.
In retrospect, she assumed that she instantaneously clung to Tsukune because he was the first one that had cared. As a result, she immediately craved his attention, dubbing him as her Destined One.
Since then, Tsukune and the rest of his companions had shown her nothing but kindness. No matter what she did, they always forgave her, assuming she had the best intentions. By training herself, not just for her supposed Destined One, but the rest of her friends, she would finally be able to pay them back for their two years of friendship.
Now she was only frustrated that it took Naruto's words to wake her up. Sure she had been training to the best of her abilities, but it never occurred to her that she had more untapped power, power that she could uncover to shield them all.
Despite Yukari's impressions, she wasn't stupid or naïve, well, at least in non-academic areas. After she had overheard Tsukune's confessions, she had resigned herself to her fate; after all, it was her that had, in a sense, chosen him in the first place.
As Kurumu softly exited her room, a thought crossed her mind. What if her meetings with Naruto hadn't been real? What if they were a mere illusion she created to fill the void? She had always been a dreamer, was he just a defense mechanism that her mind created to cope with her body's sudden stress?
Delicately planting the toes on her right foot on the wooden floor, the succubus gracefully halted her feather light steps for a moment. Could it really be?
She had never actually seen him in "reality," it was always in her own world. And with the succubus' power in both illusions and controlling the mind, the idea had to be viable.
There wasn't any concrete evidence to disprove the idea, so she supposed that she had to seriously consider that possibility. Yukari had always thought her to be slightly out of her mind.
She quickly shook her head back and forward, clearing those thoughts from her mind. Fiction or reality, Kurumu knew that she had to train, both for the oncoming battle and for herself. And, she had to admit, for the potential in controlling her mind to see Naruto again.
The succubus ventured out past the designated training areas, aiming to train without being under the eyes of others. She flew about 10 minutes out of the area where Tsukune normally trained so that she'd be out of her friends' sight and began to train.
Kurumu started her normal stretching her routine before pausing and blushing. Where was she supposed to begin? Her initial idea of "discovering her powers" suddenly seemed very vague.
The succubus finished her routine stretching, which was always important, before continuing to her daily, basic work out, falling into a light jog around the area. Even if she was trying to unearth her true power, keeping her body in tip top shape would never hurt.
She thought back. What did she discover the past couple of days? She had been able to pull Naruto in her mental mindscape and converse with him there. She assumed that he was in a state where only she could see and hear him, as each time he left, she had a feeling of waking up.
Only with his prompting and encouragement was she able to send him away the first time. In general, she knew that succubus had control of illusions, as seen in her ability to manipulate the roots of trees, but according to Inner Moka's reactions, even that was supposed to be an ability reserved to the strongest of succubi.
She resolved to later ask her mom and Yukari what powers succubi were discovered to have. Until now, she had never really cared to learn about her race. The only thing she actually knew about her race was their ability to charm men and each succubus' ultimate quest was to enslave as many men as possible to find their destined one.
Thinking upon this now, Kurumu flushed in embarrassment. How did she make the conscious decision to remain so ignorant of her heritage?
Her ignorance wasn't a result of her being ashamed of her race. Sure succubi weren't as powerful as the S – Ranked vampires or werewolves, but they were by no means weak. In fact, she had always been proud of her race, going around proclaiming that she lived on love and would be the one to win Tsukune's heart.
The delicate face flushed red and her rosy lips pursed in slight frustration. In hindsight, that was rather embarrassing.
Recalling how many times she'd blushed since she started to rethink her past actions elicited a frustrated groan. How much time had she wasted? How much of her efforts in winning Tsukune's heart and training with Mizore to overpower Moka useless?
It was amazing how a rejection, albeit an indirect rejection that she really had no business hearing, could shatter the perspectives and ideals she had held since she was born.
Kurumu barked a short, sharp laugh. She realized that her rejection had made her rather cynical; growing up wasn't all that it was cracked up to be.
Her breathing became slightly labored as she finished her fourth circuit around the area. Kurumu noted with a small smile that her physical condition had continued its steady rate of improvement since she started training.
If this had been one month before, she was sure that she'd be complaining for a majority of the laps and completely out of breath by the second lap.
Whilst finishing her last lap, Kurumu tried to devise a training regimen that would allow her to develop the powers that Naruto implied that she had.
How was she supposed to incorporate what she had discovered thus far into something useful? Calling someone else to talk with her in her mindscape wouldn't be useful in battle, as it'd leave her totally exposed and vulnerable.
However, what if she could just summon someone's mind or presence into hers, so that they could converse telepathically? That way, she wouldn't be immobilized, but she could receive someone's advice or communicate with one of her friends whilst they were in battle.
She suppressed the childish urge to pout. Until recently she had been secretly training with Mizore, creating her Black and White Duet combos with her. However, those only utilized the succubus' most basic features: the elongated fingernails and wings. If she was able to strengthen her ability in illusions, and other moves related to the mind, she was sure that those would be the most advantageous to the oncoming fight.
Since her fight with that disgusting slug boy, Nagare Kano, she had unearthed her ability to manipulate illusions.
In her unbridled anger at the repulsive brat who very nearly severed the bonds between her closest friends and her, she had been able to manipulate the roots to constrain him and take him down.
Kurumu recalled her emotions from that time. She had wanted nothing more than to stop the little monster from wrecking any more friendships and forever halt him from his heinous propensity to blackmail girls with his photos.
At the time they lacked physical substance, but they were sufficient in holding the slimy boy back.
Since then, she hadn't often demonstrated the prowess of her illusions.
In one incident, she had temporarily slowed down the fire-using Kuyo with vine illusions, but to her dismay, he easily parried them and she had to be rescued by Gin.
Her experiences with illusions had been rather limited, and they weren't something she frequently practiced.
More frequently, when she practiced, she would mainly focus on her physical abilities, enhancing her reflexes, strength, and speed.
Kurumu had always associated illusions with being a product of high tension in the current situation, and they had always seemed less effective than brute strength.
When she later questioned Inner Moka about succubus' power of illusions, she claimed that strong succubus were able to inflict physical wounds with their powers.
At that moment, early in their friendship, the vampire didn't seem to want to offer up any more information, not that Kurumu would have done much with it at the time.
Remembering how Moka had attributed the utilization of illusions with stronger succubi, she fully came to terms with the fact that she should be focusing on the less-known powers of succubi instead.
After all, if she could produce those illusions in bouts of pure emotion, there shouldn't be a reason that she shouldn't be able to do the same under coherent and collected thoughts.
Kurumu slowed her run down into a walk, allowing her body to cool down. With those thoughts, she began to try and develop a training regime to best harness her powers as a succubus.
Naruto woke up from a peaceful sleep. He stretched his arms out and squirmed in his sleeping bag, letting out a satisfied groan.
Laying down, he stretched out his right hand and held it in front of his face, peering at it with lowered eyebrows.
The blond opened and clenched his right hand a couple of times; it was warm, as if he could still feel Kurumu's shoulder.
"Hmmm…" the blond pondered aloud, "so these clear dreams are real, aren't they? They're just like my encounters with Kurama inside of my own mind."
"But… I don't think that I could initiate contact with Kurumu, since it's not my mind," recalling the numerous people that have been in his mind. "Why can she call me though? She must have a lot of power to be able to do that," he concluded, remembering the Uchihas, the Yamanakas, his parents…
"There's one thing that I don't understand though. Why does she call me? Why not somebody else?"
Was his mind closest to hers in proximity? In likeness? Was it merely a coincidence by location, or was it something more?
Just to make sure his conclusions were correct, he tried reaching out to Kurumu like he did with Kurama – he paused his thoughts for a moment and let out a small laugh. Their names were so similar! Could that be why Kurumu had called him in particular?
"Wait," he grumbled, "That doesn't even make sense… Why would two similar names be able to link minds together?"
The blond, dismayed, let out a groan at his thoughts before shaking his head and trying again.
He relaxed his body and mind like he did when entering sage mode, performing a similar procedure to when he could reach out and feel the mind and chakra of his friends and enemies.
After sensing the basic forest animals around him, another realizations dawned upon him.
Physically, he had no idea where Kurumu was. How could he sense somebody that wasn't there?
Concerning his previous theory of proximity, this seemed to disprove it.
He could only sense the presence of the common forest or river creature.
Naruto tried to recall his more recent training. Seemingly random memories came to mind – thoughts about Frog Kata, connecting with Kurama, gathering natural chakra – but nothing that would be able to connect him with someone who was an incalculable number of kilometers away.
It wasn't just the distance that was the problem, though. Detecting his immediate surroundings was a simple task, as well as sensing the general chakra of those whom he was connected with.
He knew that if he expended enough chakra and concentration, he could easily reach all the way to Konoha and feel the presence of his close friends back at home, but he was well acquainted with their chakra signature.
On this hand, he had only just met Kurumu, and only a couple of times at that. While he did, admittedly, feel a strong connection with the girl, primarily because she seemed to share his loneliness, he hadn't really thought of trying to look at her chakra.
Considering that she wasn't an enemy, at least so far, he hadn't sensed a need to predict the level of threat she bore towards him. In his mind, it was kind of an invasion of privacy. However, she had called out to him, hadn't she?
Maybe if he tried the next time he was called, tried to make sense of her and familiarize himself with her chakra, he could be able to make the connection a two-way thing and physically help her with whatever was troubling with her.
He shook his head of these thoughts, at least for now. There was no use in mulling it over any longer, especially since he couldn't figure out what to do with these bizarre connections.
He didn't initiate any of their conversations, only reached out where a helping hand was needed, and from what he deduced so far, it wasn't a two-way connection. Admittedly, the bond between their minds and the strength of their interactions had increased, exponentially, in fact, with each communication, but the strength wasn't yet enough.
If she ever truly needed his help, rather than summoning him upon chance or mere coincidence, Naruto didn't hold a single doubt that'd she be capable of reaching out and contacting him.
Naruto had to admit, though, that the latest events revolving around Kurumu had been the most interesting thing that had happened to him in a while.
Yes, the rebuilding of Konoha and focus on gathering funds from missions to help rebuild it was of utmost importance, and he was doing his part.
The blond accepted every single mission that Granny Tsunade threw at him, offering zero complaints. Despite the thick skull he often displayed, he had grown up enough to know when his complaints were welcome or not.
The stress that had no doubt accumulated on her shoulders from the recent war and the village's repairs, and he would do whatever he could to alleviate the pain, for both his precious people and precious village.
With only thoughts of helping his people in mind, Naruto hastily packed his tent and the rest of his belongings, sealing his items and removing the unwieldy burden of his gear.
The hyperactive ninja took a few steps forward and looked back at where he had spent the past night, surveying the area to make sure he hadn't forgotten to pack anything.
Gazing at the sway of the blades of grass in the wind, Naruto gave a light salute-like gesture at the area, acknowledging it as the last place he had made contact with the enigma that was the beautiful woman with blue locks.
He lingered for a second longer, sparing a thought towards Kurumu. Naruto knew that his thoughts couldn't reach her, but he really did hope her situation would turn for the better, even if he never received another call from her.
Naruto had done what he could to try and alleviate Kurumu's troubles, and now it was time to help the troubles that hit closer to home.
The blond quickly shifted his weight to his right foot, sharply pivoting and bounding off to his next destination: Konoha.
Naruto had delayed long enough. He had a bet to win.