Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or History's Strongest Disciple Kenichi. If the day ever comes where this occurs, I will set the contract in front of a bonfire and cackle wildly while performing a ritualistic victory dance around it.
…And it will go straight to Youtube.
Chapter 33: Fair Game
The people on the train to Yokohama gave Naruto as wide a berth as they politely could as he gleefully ate from an open container of ramen while standing amongst the crowd. Holding onto a pole for comfortable balance wasn't even a priority compared to enjoying his kickass free meal.
The bumps and turns of the train did absolutely nothing to dissuade him, or upset the broth in his bowl. He seemed to be able to sway with the train to keep from spilling any, his feet planted flat on the ground as he did. After he'd flipped the skirts of every woman within arm's reach of him, Kensei took note of his temporary traveling companion's carefree eating habit, "Well haven't you come a long way?"
"Hm?" Naruto hummed, mouth full of food as he had barely been listening to the Chinese Kenpo master.
"Just a year ago, you were little more than basics and a bag of tricks," Kensei said, not holding back his critique of what he thought, "You knew how to fight, true, but you were so unrefined that sheer unpredictability was what kept you from being blown away whenever you would fight Miu during your little home invasions."
Naruto swallowed his ramen and instinctually defended himself, "I wasn't that bad."
"Snare traps and throwing your voice with cat noises were two of the ways you got the better of her if I recall," Kensei noted, almost getting Naruto to trip over his own feet from just standing around, "When you had used your tricks you ran out of things that would work, so you had to keep digging for more. That showed a measure of ingenuity, but you weren't growing very well in fighting ability."
Naruto squinted his eyes, his mouth twisted in a grumpy expression, "So the tricks didn't count as techniques to you?"
The mustachioed man waved his hand in a 'sort of' kind of manner, "That man Jiraiya, and your relationship with Shigure have polished you. I can honestly say that I see where your talents lie now, whereas before I would have said your potential only went as far as trickery and sleight of hand."
Not that there was anything wrong with that.
Naruto puffed out his chest at the sort of downgrading he was hearing when it came to sleight of hand and trickery. There wasn't any shame to his game as far as he was concerned. There was nothing wrong with good old deception and flat out cheating if you could manage to pull it off in the heat of battle. That was how he came out on top in half of his conflicts for crying out loud.
Fights against skilled opponents hurt! If Naruto had his way, he'd beat them before they'd ever catch hide nor hair of him, before they ever even knew there was a fight going on!
It was the sort of thing that reminded Naruto of the differences between him and most of the people he spent time with. Speaking of which…
"Hey," Naruto eventually asked. Clearly, he was finished eating, because he hadn't initiated a single conversation point since popping the lid that had been covering his takeout bowl, "I've gotta ask, why are you so cool with dragging me into your stuff?"
Shigure did it because Naruto was her student, she believed in him, and she liked having him around, even on her dangerous assignments. Akisame knew enough of Naruto's dad and had respected the man highly enough to think something of Naruto as well, even if they didn't talk much. Sakaki was aware of how ungodly tough Naruto was for his age and level of skill, and though the man would never say it, he actually liked Naruto.
If nothing else, Apachai was caring of kids and outside of sparring with Kenichi where he lost most of his intelligent thought outside of actual fighting knowledge was extremely protective of the younger types. Aside from that, he had been very apologetic for permanently scarring Naruto the first time he'd gone after him, so he hadn't yet. Hayato was never around long enough to get Naruto involved in his troubles, but undoubtedly that day would come soon.
The devil's luck would have it out to see it so.
It didn't take long for Kensei to the young blond's question, "Well, honestly it's because I know you're durable, and out of the three disciples you're kind of expendable."
Kenichi: Trained by all masters and the sole investment of all of their fighting styles.
Miu: Granddaughter of the strongest old man on the face of the planet.
Naruto only grumbled in response. Of course he was. He took solace in the fact that he didn't openly claim any sort of disciplehood to anyone other than Shigure, "…Show you expendable…"
"BUT!" Kensei continued, "The thing is, in this instance, it's about Renka. And having only me around would make her uncomfortable," After all, father or not, he'd been away for years. She'd come all the way to Japan just to find him, and she had a chip on her shoulder because of it. Any meeting between the two would be far from any sort of touching reunion. And Naruto had a fairly good track record of being able to talk to disgruntled people, "From what I understand, she's rather fond of you."
He didn't expect the boy to go to bat for him and reason on his behalf for her forgiveness, but he could influence her mood positively and get things back to an amicable level quicker. Probably by the time they had to leave.
That way he could at least have a heart-to-heart with her without her chomping at the bit to club him over the head and drag him back to China.
Naruto just looked at Kensei, not knowing why he needed to make any sense out of why he was doing this, "Well, she's been looking for you, and I thought eventually you'd actually go to see her. Renka's a good girl, you know?" If not a little intense, but he wasn't the kind of wuss who couldn't handle that from time-to-time, "Plus, if I bring you to her, she might feed me. Not until she's done tearing you a new one, but I just ate, so I could totally wait."
Any additional admiration that Kensei might have been feeling for Naruto strength of character after the beginning of his last statement simply floated away.
"Oh, and if you run away and ditch me in Chinatown, I'ma get'cha back somehow."
"Bah! No respect for your elders."
"Most of my elders aren't really respectable."
(Meanwhile – Ryouzanpaku Dojo)
A bath in the hot spring they had on the dojo property was just what Miu needed after the stress of finding that YOMI had taken up spots at their high school. It was great for relief, and even better since she knew for a fact that Ma Kensei was elsewhere, instead of lurking about waiting to get a peek at her.
It let her rest and get her mind on the current situation that would await them ever morning from then on until resolution. If that didn't end up in some sort of massive blowout, she would have been the most surprised out of the people that would have been involved.
Times like that called for a counting of small blessings. At least that Shou boy wasn't amongst the amassed YOMI disciples. That would have been… worrisome to say the least.
Her friends were strong, but Miu could count on one hand the number of them that could actually stand up to him alone and not be permanently injured or killed. She would still have a minimum of four fingers leftover to count with as well.
'No, there's no need to think about that,' She reasoned to herself, finding it hard to get the callous way he had killed that one nameless ninja girl out of her head. He could do such a thing and then treat it as an afterthought. She could still remember the feeling of his lips pressed to her cheek, and every time she did, it made her recoil in displeasure, 'There are enough troubles without having to think about someone that isn't even here.'
Speaking of which, she had the distinct feeling she was being watched. There was no killing intent, but it was still there.
Having dealt with keeping an eye out for Kensei almost every night since the spring had been dug, she'd learned the feeling of having eyes on her whilst in the water, and while there wasn't the quiet click of a camera to listen out for to know for certain, there were other giveaways.
Such as a complete lack of ability in masking the presence of their power.
"You know, someone else used to sneak around the dojo all the time," Miu muttered to herself before dashing to grab a towel and then right after the intruder within two bounds, "He was better at it when he was thirteen than you are now."
Ignoring rushing into the brush surrounding the hot spring, she quickly found herself face-to-face with a teenage girl. She had blonde hair down to her shoulders, blue eyes, and frilly black and red gothic attire.
The girl let out a sheepish laugh at being found out and pushed herself up from where she'd been crawling on her stomach, "Heh, it looks like Rimi is useless at hiding her ki."
Not… exactly what Miu had been expecting.
"Hm?" Akisame noticed something off about Kenichi's demeanor in the middle of his evening statue sculpting, and it had nothing to do with the day's training. More along the lines of him thinking of something, "You have something on your mind, Kenichi-kun?"
"Well, sensei, I've got a question," Kenichi said after being called out on his inquisitive expression, "The dojo isn't that hard to find," After all, Naruto apparently managed to do it when he was twelve, "So why hasn't Yami ever just gotten together and attacked you all at once?"
The name of their overall finest masters was established as the One Shadow Nine Fists. That meant that there were ten masters at least on the level of those residing at Ryouzanpaku. When he thought about that, Naruto's rampant paranoia over not letting anyone who didn't need to know about his home find out its location became much more understandable.
Come to think of it, these YOMI disciple challenges were coming in one at a time as well. It was clear by now that the number of YOMI's disciples far outnumbered the three (two if you accepted Naruto's technicality of denying disciplehood), so the aesthetics of victory would suggest that throwing numbers at them was best.
And he felt a chill down his spine at that thought.
Perhaps that was the reason why they were all at school now? So that they could see how the constant onslaught of upcoming fights would wear on them and when to go for the kill.
As if he could see the cogs inside of Kenichi's head turning, Akisame decided to elucidate for the benefit of his disciple, "Because of their mindset as martial artists. When it comes to something like declaring the supremacy of Satsujinken over Katsujinken, they would rather defeat us in duels. It's a matter of personal pride."
Apachai summed it up best in a bright tone that belied how creepy it actually was, "Apa! Everybody wants to be the one that kills us."
The one. As in, teaming up to do it and relying on numbers wasn't their way, because accomplishing it in that way wouldn't prove anything. Even if they were working together, if victory were achieved in that manner, it would ring hollow.
"I figured that would have been one thing you understood after all of this time Ken-chan."
Standing in the yard, right outside of the dojo, Asamiya Ryuuto waited, calmly with a hard look in his eyes.
The hair rose on Kenichi's neck and he looked around to find that none of his masters were surprised, "Wait, you knew he was here?" He wanted to ask why they didn't tell him in advance, but decided against it. This was the sort of thing where they'd give him an answer that would take his head out of the game temporarily. In the end, it didn't really matter, "Ryuuto, why are you here?"
Ryuuto pushed his glasses up on his face and walked toward the dojo, "Not to fight. Yet, at least. It doesn't… feel right, to do it here."
Sakaki snorted and gestured to their surroundings, "What's wrong with doing it here, kid? Plenty of wide-open space outside, a working dojo right here if you're more into the whole indoors thing?" He would have been a liar if he said he wasn't somewhat concerned. The boy standing before Kenichi was no joke. So he had to disguise it behind brazen detachment, "Go nuts."
Kenichi looked tentatively ready to go, fists tightened and body already halfway into a stance. It put a smile on Ryuuto's face. As clear as day in his mind, he could remember when they were two kids who didn't even know how to stand for a fight, who bent their wrists when they tried to throw their pitiful excuse for punches.
But those days were long gone. They were both completely different people now, both in body and mind. And it was time to fulfil a promise.
"I'm sure you're aware of your new classmates, so now I'm laying down my official challenge to you. A time and a place," Ryuuto said, walking right up to Kenichi and completely ignoring the masters present, "In seven days, meet me in the old neighborhood where we used to live as kids. I think it's a fitting enough place to settle things, don't you think?"
Kenichi nodded gravely, "You still have my badge?"
"Of course," Ryuuto assured him, pointing to it sitting prominently right on the lapel of his suit, "You still have my emblem?"
He did. In his room. A reminder that an old friend was awaiting a showdown with him.
The two didn't share another word. They didn't need to. On an unspoken agreement, the two shook hands, and that was that. There was enough talking about it and waiting for it. They would fight, for both their own reasons and for what they represented now, on separate sides of a conflict between the light and dark sides of martial arts.
Kenichi could still hardly believe that things could be brought full-circle like that. The boy he originally shared the dream of wanting to be a powerful fighter with as a small child was now standing directly against him.
"Alright then," Ryuuto said, once everything was settled, "I think it's time we leave you to the rest of your evening."
Hold on. We?
"…Wait, you came with someone else?" Kenichi asked, stepping off of the outside deck of the dojo to look around in the night for whoever was supposedly accompanying his to-be opponent. He found no one.
And neither did Ryuuto, "Yes. I told her to wait for me outside the gate while we came to terms with you over this," He did a poor job at hiding that he was actually somewhat troubled by this, "…In hindsight I should have kept her with me."
But their sensei had insisted that he bring her along for experience in the field, which was odd, because he had made it clear that there was no fight meant to transpire tonight.
…Because that was a completely realistic expectation.
(Yokohama – Chinatown)
"Is it just me, or does Renka seem… off?"
"'Off', how exactly?"
She could hear her uncle's disciples Koan and Genson referring to her as they took dishes from the last few customers at the restaurant to the back to be washed.
'Am I really doing the right thing by hanging around here?' She thought to herself, taking a seat at an empty table. It was a slow when it came to business that evening, which wasn't exactly beneficial to her. With no training or customers to attend to, her mind was allowed to wander, and her thoughts turned to her time in Japan.
Yes, she'd been getting better training than ever, working hands-on with her uncle Ma Ryou, who only had a handful of disciples to be responsible for instead of hundreds like there would have been for her mother if she were to head home, but she had come there for a reason.
That reason had not been to work in her uncle's restaurant. Her uncle who she knew was aware of where to find her father, and was not forthcoming with the information.
The chime of the front door opening pulled her from her thoughts, quickly bringing her to her feet and the greeter's podium to welcome visitors. She could save it however, as she knew who it was personally, "Ni hao, Naruto!"
Oh, so gracious were the Gods who presented her with such a distraction to keep deep, meaningful thoughts at bay.
It was great! Things were already off to a better start than any of the last times he'd seen her, or any girl in general. She wasn't irritated about something that he'd more than likely done, and she hadn't chased him for some reason. For once everything was coming up roses, and he didn't know why, but he was entirely willing to roll with it.
"What's up, Renka?" Naruto replied with a wide grin, "I know that my timing probably sucks, and I haven't seen you in a while, but-."
"You're damn right you haven't seen me in a while!" Renka said, grabbing Naruto by his shoulders and shaking him frantically after he'd gotten close enough, "The last time we hung out was on that field trip, and then I don't hear a peep all vacation long!?
Ah, important rule broken. Do not needlessly remind Renka of negative things, especially things that are earnestly your fault, even in passing. She will focus in on them. If she isn't the one to bring them up, simply expunge them from the conversation altogether, otherwise they'll wind up being the point of the conversation anyway.
"-But, I totally brought you something to make up for it!" Naruto said in an effort to run damage control, his voice reverberating from the shaking he was receiving, "For the love of God old man, come in here already!"
"And get worse than what you're getting? No thanks, I think I'll wait until she's done with you first, my boy."
Renka immediately released Naruto, allowing him to dizzily stumble into the greeter's podium, wondering aloud how Siegfried could do all of the damn spinning that he did. Anything she had to say was no longer focused on any of that. Instead, her eyes were firmly locked on the diminutive form of her father standing at the door.
He was just as she remembered him. And even though he stood shorter than her by at least a head, his presence was larger than life. The last time she'd seen him, he'd actually been taller than her. She didn't even notice herself walking over to him until she stood directly in front of him.
"Hug, hug, hug, hug, hug," A recovered Naruto quietly chanted from behind them. Despite what he'd said about finding it funny if Renka laid into Kensei, he was something of a sucker for family moments. Having lacked them in his own life for the last ten years, he was a bit of a softie for the family affairs of others.
Of course, he could never just enjoy a moment, even a moment that wasn't even his. Fate had decreed it as such.
"My eternal rival!"
At the sound of a familiar voice that completely lacked inside volume, Naruto's gut felt as if it had dropped into a bottomless pit. But it was merely his Sakki ability, letting him know that he probably wanted to protect himself post-haste.
Naruto grit his teeth and knuckled down to catch Rock Lee's soft-shoed diving kick in his hands, braced right in the cradle of his sternum. The force of the 'surprise attack' sent him sliding backwards into the middle of the restaurant and away from what could have either been a touching father-daughter reunion, or a hilarious display of karmic backlash on Ma Kensei.
He was not amused.
Snorting like a bull, the blond ninja got up underneath and threw Lee into the air, only for him to land safely on the ornate second-story railing overlooking the Chinese restaurant, "Oho, so you have been improving as well! That is certainly good to know, Naruto-san. I would not want my rival to be slacking off."
It took everything Naruto had not to stomp petulantly like a child. He liked to think he succeeded in addressing the situation like a responsible adult.
"Time and place, Lee! Time and place!"
"What do you mean?"
"We're in a restaurant! A restaurant that you work at!"
Apparently that little nugget of information had slipped the mind of the boy with thick eyebrows, as he suddenly blushed red in mortification and jumped down from his elevated position. Lee bowed in forgiveness as if it were Naruto's place that he had been moments away from tearing up in a one-on-one duel, speaking so fast in apology that Naruto had no idea what he was saying.
It probably didn't help matters that he was saying he was sorry entirely in Chinese.
Seemingly appearing out of thin air, as all wise old men seemed to do, Ma Ryou smacked Lee on the head to get him to stop before returning the offending hand to the inside of his opposite loose sleeve, "It seems that every time you make your way to these parts, you bring trouble along with you," He said to Naruto with a good-natured smile, "Of course, this time I think the trouble is much appreciated."
There. Good deed of the day complete.
And it felt good.
(With Miu – Ryouzanpaku Dojo)
Miu was not used to this.
She was not used to fighting with someone quicker than her.
Naruto was probably faster than her, but that was presumably with his bag off, and he never took it off to let anyone know for certain.
As her fight with this strange girl who referred to herself in the third person had escalated she'd come to some realizations about her. When it came to actual fighting technique, she was adept to a prodigious degree. As in, whatever she had been taught martial arts-wise she had little trouble in picking up to such a degree that she hadn't had to drill techniques much to learn them to an acceptable level.
There were holes in her execution, and her tactics were quite poor, but all of that had more than likely been covered up for against most other enemies for one distinct reason.
The girl was simply too fast.
It needed to be reiterated, that Miu was not used to this.
"You're really good," Miu said, finding it bothersome to keep her towel on and fight at such a full-contact pace. Every couple of exchanges, she had to readjust it for modesty's sake, and currently they were in the middle of a hand-to-hand clash that didn't seem to be ending anytime soon. It would have been hard enough to deal with her without that particular handicap, "But whoever trained you did it in a strange way."
"Don't look down on Kensei-sama's specialization training!" Rimi responded, the speed of her punches never slowing down. It was taking all of Miu's immediate focus just to block them, but her fundamentals were so good, her defense was superb.
No matter how much effort Rimi put behind the speed of her blows, slipping even one past Miu was proving to be more of a challenge than she'd had hitting anyone in recent memory, ever since she'd started as a member of YOMI. Still, she was wearing on Miu and she knew it.
Rimi shot a kick at Miu's head out of the blue, changing the entire complexion of the fight altogether. It was almost too quick for her to avoid. Miu had to guide it past her face with the outside of her forearm, and as she did so she could feel just how much force was behind it, 'What a heavy kick! If I had blocked that instead of parrying it…'
But in doing so, she had been unprepared for Rimi to fully step through with the missed kick and get behind her, 'Rimi knew trusting her instincts with that attack would work out,' Miu's body tensed up automatically to the threat she now knew was behind her, she was fully aware of what was happening, but it was too late for a perfect reaction, at least before Rimi could attack.
At best, Miu would be able to land something of her own when Rimi did, but it wouldn't be nearly as effective as her opponent's attack would more than likely be. For once, she would have to bank on being tougher instead of managing to fully avoid the move. She was woefully out of practice in regards to taking damage.
"Atlantae, what are you doing?"
And just like that, it all came to a stop.
When Miu twisted her body for her desperation kick, Rimi was no longer present as a threat/target.
Instead, she'd abandoned the fight altogether in favor of standing right by Asamiya Ryuuto.
Ryuuto noticed Miu turn on him as quickly as she could perceive what was going on, apparently ready to fight again, "Hello again to you as well, Fuurinji-san," He spared a glance to the girl that he couldn't peel away from his side, "I see you've met one of Kensei-sama's other disciples, Atlantae."
"I thought her name was Rimi," Miu wondered aloud before remembering that basically everyone in YOMI had a codename of some sort and bopping herself on the head, "Oops. Well, nevermind that. What are you even doing here? How did you find this place?"
Ryuuto raised an eyebrow in return, "It's not that hard to do. Did you know that Ryouzanpaku's address is listed in the phonebook?" Miu's posture noticeably slumped. Something about this felt like déjà vu to her, "I came here to challenge Ken-chan. Speaking of whom, he should be here in… now."
Right on cue, Kenichi burst through the brush and slid to a stop when he found himself amongst people again. Ryuuto had quickly excused himself and headed off in that direction, so Kenichi figured it to be prudent to follow, "Miu-san, is everything alri-!" He then promptly found himself devoid of sufficient blood supply above his neck. I.e. a catastrophic nosebleed.
Startled and confused, Miu then realized that she was missing the only piece of cloth preserving her modesty, having allowed her towel to fall in exchange for the last clash with Rimi that never wound up taking place. She was naked, and Ryuuto was still around to see her, "EEK!" Thankfully the overgrowth surrounding the hot spring made for a decent temporary cover.
Ryuuto was used to seeing his share of skin due to Rimi's nigh-shameless nature in her feelings for him, so he was better prepared for what he wound up seeing. Also, in the dark it was very hard for anyone to note how red his face had been upon arrival, "Right. Well, tell Ken-chan that I'm looking forward to testing his strength myself. Atlantae, let's go."
Rimi dutifully followed him, sparing a moment to stick out her tongue at Miu, a promise that things between them were far from finished.
It wasn't exactly the conclusion to the epic throwing down of the gauntlet that Ryuuto always dreamt his challenge to his old friend would be.
(With Naruto – Yokohama – Chinatown)
Koan and Genson were somewhat in awe for a short time at actually seeing the head of the Phoenix Alliance in-person. They had yet to actually see Ma Kensei's character flaws that would bring their lofty viewpoints of the best Chinese martial artist in the world back down to earth, so it was quite the experience for them.
For the sake of the respect that the Chinese Kenpo master commanded from the others practicing his art, Naruto refrained from telling them that he'd had to basically give Ma Kensei an ultimatum and blackmail him into finally showing his face in front of Renka. He knew, and Kensei knew. That was enough for him.
It also made him look all the more magnanimous as the man who reunited a father and a daughter, and anything that made him look better was instantly the preferable choice. The more people who thought he was awesome, the sweeter life really was.
Credit had to go to Kensei as well, as he had followed the unwritten rules of dealing with Renka step-by-step, line-by-line. He had done nothing to remind her of, or bring up the fact that her entire reason for wanting to find him was to take him back to China. It also helped that he had a big, loud, yellow-headed distraction in the form of Naruto to keep her from getting too focused on him, keeping her from actually remembering that very point.
It was the happiest that Naruto remembered seeing Renka in quite some time, and that was the sort of thing that reminded him that sometimes you had to try and do good things for the sake of being good. Being an opportunistic, cheating ninja was all well and good, but there wasn't really anything that felt as good as knowing that you did right by someone.
Being nice felt much better than acting like a horse's ass, even if the latter tended to be fun every so often.
Lee on the other hand was beside himself with something resembling a cross between envy and admiration. Naruto had brought Renka her father. HER FATHER! The entire reason she'd come to Japan to begin with, which coincidentally was also the entire reason Lee had come to Japan to begin with as well.
…How was a guy supposed to compete with that!?
Truly, he was without question Lee's top rival, for all eternity and beyond. If nothing else had proven it beforehand, this did, without a doubt.
Either way, Naruto got himself lost for a short while, feeling like a third wheel in a Phoenix Alliance thing. It wasn't particularly hard to slip away, and he was out of place there. He didn't wander very far, but got himself out of sight.
A handful of hours later, Kensei found Naruto at the harbor, hanging out on a pile of crates behind a club just listening to the music being played inside, miming finger placement on an instrument in the air.
"Naruto, you certainly pick the oddest places to wander off to," Kensei said, taking a seat on a crate higher than the one Naruto had chosen, "What are you doing here?"
"They wouldn't let me in," Naruto answered sheepishly, "I could sneak in, but I'd be too busy looking over my shoulder to do what I actually want in there," Kensei raised an eyebrow questioningly before grinning and giggling, squeezing the air in a perverted manner, "…No. Not that."
Dear lord, he had to account for small miracles in life, in that Ma Kensei and Jiraiya had never made one another's acquaintance, at least for now.
Seemingly deflated by such a pedestrian answer, Kensei calmed it down with the pervert antics, at least as long as there was no reason for them. Apparently Naruto was the sort who needed practical stimuli handy in order to influence him, "So you're waiting out behind a club, staring at the water."
"…I still suck at guitar, and it's been like six months. I need to get better," What he really needed was someone to visually cheat off of, because learning on his own was arduously slow going, "If I learned anything from Ryouzanpaku, fighters are flat broke, and I ain't getting a real job. So rock star for me it is," As if it were a forgone conclusion already.
Kensei looked down at Naruto, "You're the type to learn from doing instead of being told, so you should practice in front of someone playing," He had no doubt the boy would soak it up if he could do that, "I'm certain Akisame would be more than willing to help you with that if you'd ask," Something about that put a sour expression of thought on Naruto's face, "You're not a fan, I take it."
Naruto wanted to explain, but he just wasn't the best with words. There was just something about the whole thing that felt off to him. Hayato had explained the origin behind Ryouzanpaku's relationship with his father, but there was just something he couldn't put his finger on. Something that kept him from fully trusting all of the Ryouzanpaku masters as the good people that he knew they were.
Coincidentally, it turned out that he did trust the members that he knew for a fact hadn't been there when Minato was still alive; Apachai, Sakaki, and of course Shigure. It could have been his imagination, but he felt something in his gut whenever he was around the older ones. They treated him well enough, but too often it seemed like they were looking through him.
That probably sounded incredibly dumb to consider, but he couldn't help what his gut was telling him.
"I don't know," The young missing ninja eventually said, realizing that he'd spent around a full minute thinking since the question had been asked, "I just feel like there's something I'm missing," Something big.
Kensei let a moment of silence reign between them before hopping down off of the crates, "Deep thinking… is not your strong suit. Find your strength and stick to it! That's a secret of the Ma Family!" Naruto's jaw dropped at the blunt dismissal. What was with those masters?
He'd been entirely serious and upfront, actually showing some real vulnerability to one of the masters not named Shigure, and that was what he got for it?
The adults in his life sucked! They were absolutely terrible! There wasn't one true positive role model amongst them! Did being strong make you go insane? Was he going to be like that if or when he got that strong? Or would he be worse? Because he already had his share of problems as it was.
And people wondered why he was so screwed up.
"Come on, my boy!" Kensei called out to him, "It's getting late!"
Muttering to himself, Naruto went after him, fingers dancing irritably as they went back around the building and walked around the line trailing from the door.
It figured that they would be heading back to the restaurant to stay for the night and heading out in the morning. That was fine. Catching a train back first thing in the morning wouldn't make him late for school. Jiraiya would probably tear him a new one later that day for missing training before sunrise, and that wasn't something to look forward to, but while he'd be mad and would probably take it out on Naruto during late night training, the veteran shinobi understood going off and doing one's own thing.
Jiraiya was trying to raise Naruto to be someone capable of fighting off the ninjas Konoha would send, so that living his own life without being shackled by the darkness of their society could be possible. It would have defeated the purpose if he kept him under house arrest the whole time while he was doing it.
As they passed by the line of people waiting to get inside of the club, Kensei took the time to leer at the ladies in the line until the bouncer at the door called out to them, "You're from the Ma Family, aren't you?"
Kensei stopped and slowly turned around, regarding the young man at the door closely. He had known that this club was one of the places that the local Triad ran, but they had been kept calmer as of late because of Ryou's influence and the hired shinobi that had killed many rabble-rousers around one year ago, "Yes? What can I do for you this evening?"
If he was staying moderately respectful, Kensei could at least do the same. The young man looked terrified, but of more than just him. He was just a new recruit they were using just to scan the streets. He'd noted that there had been quite a few of them dispatched to do so that evening while he'd been looking for Naruto.
"Someone inside wishes to speak with you."
"Oh? I didn't know I had any business to attend to in this town," Kensei said before taking a look at the women waiting in line. They were all gorgeous. Nothing less than sevens across the board. And it was clear from the look on his face where his mind sank to, "…But if there's a lady inside wishing to buy a humble martial artist a drink and talk into the night, what kind of man would I be to turn her down?"
"When the hell did he say anything about it being a girl?"
"Hush now Naruto."
The boy would not use base fool logic to step on his fantasies, nor his delusions of grandeur.
"No, it's nothing like that," The young Triad insisted, "Yami."
Kensei's eyes hardened, but he let out a bit of a careless laugh, "Well in that case, it would be rude of me to ignore a request from a contemporary," He said, walking past the line to head through the open door, "Naruto-boy, head back to the restaurant and get some sleep."
Naruto's jaw dropped at being told to go home, "What?" There went that whole 'looking through him' thing he'd been thinking about earlier, "Oi, what? You're just gonna leave me here!"
"You'll be fine!" Kensei called out over the sound of the club's music, "You should be used to it! You got yourself here didn't you?"
"All of my hate!" Naruto shouted back, shaking his fist at him. He knew it was being done on purpose to set him off, but it was just too easy to rise to, "Gah! Friggin' old people!" Naruto finished as he started walking away.
One of the club-kids waiting outside nodded sadly, having overheard Naruto's vague exclamation, "I hear ya. I've been waiting in line for two hours and that old guy just walks into the place? What's up with that?"
Despite teasing Naruto only moments before, after entering the building, Kensei's demeanor changed entirely. Shooing Naruto away, and doing it in a way that pissed him off would occupy his mind and put it on something other than what could have been going on inside.
It was for the best that he didn't wander anywhere near what was more than likely about to happen. No one in the club should have been there as a matter of fact. Standing too close to a master-class conflict wasn't good for your health.
He was led to an upstairs loft overlooking most of the club, and it was there he saw one man waiting for him.
Dark Chinese-style clothing, a long dark braided ponytail, and sunglasses covering eyes with two vertical marks going down them and the rest of his face. He had known this man years ago, and honestly he wasn't that surprised to see him there.
"Ro Jisei," Kensei said cordially, taking a seat across the loft from him once the Triad escorts left the two of them alone. The man didn't seem to be enjoying himself or taking in much of his surroundings at all while he'd been waiting, "Fancy seeing you here of all places. I didn't think this sort of place was up your alley."
Serious, but far from being a man without humor, Ro's lips twitched in amusement, "When I told them who I was, and what I was willing to show them in order to ensure they would work with Yami, they gave me the best of everything they could muster. I told them it wasn't necessary, but they insisted out of gratitude," They seemed eager to assist Yami in whatever it was they wanted out of them, as long as they could be rid of the Ma Family element that kept their activities to a bare and absolute minimum, "It seems your uncle and daughter have left quite the impression on the criminal element of this particular Chinatown."
He personally had no quarrel with any of the Ma Family despite their differences in martial arts philosophy. He had respect for the skill that every one of them seemed to possess, and actually considered Kensei's brother Sougetsu a friend. He knew however, that Kensei also blamed him as the one responsible for setting Sougetsu onto the path of Satsujinken.
"You didn't ask me here to talk about my family."
"Indeed. I was expecting Ryou this evening. I honestly had no idea that you were here. But since you are, it might as well be you."
"'Me' to what?"
"You know the answer to that already."
Kensei let out a chuckle at that, "Yes, I do. So where is your disciple? Are you going to have him watch this battle?" It would make sense, because amongst the YOMI members that Kenichi reported seeing in school, there were none that qualified as Chinese Kenpo disciples.
However Ro shook his head, "Chou isn't far away, but he's not here," Suffice it to say, Enshin Chou was an irritable young man, and being in a noisy place with what he felt to be ignorant, inferior people such as a club to just sit and wait would only serve to aggravate him, "…That boy needs to calm down."
"Disciple troubles?" Kensei asked. Enemy or not, growth of martial arts was a vested interest of his, and he had a soft spot for the development of younger fighters.
"Not troubles, per se. Chou is everything I could ask for in a student," Ro told him, "But his troubles are self-created. I'm afraid that despite my best efforts to cull it, he has an inferiority complex," And no amount of lectures or training, no amount of improvement or victories could get him to let it go, "He's aware that his position as the 'Moon' emblem holder of YOMI is only temporary, as is my position as one of the One Shadow Nine Fists. I'm a placeholder."
A look of shock found its way onto Kensei's face. This hadn't been something that he'd anticipated.
"You're holding a place?" But Ro Jisei was formidable enough to be one of them as it was. Who could he have been holding a place for?
It was no secret. Knowing this wouldn't help Ryouzanpaku in the slightest, and Ro had no vested pride in his position. He was good enough to be considered amongst Yami's top martial artists, even if he wasn't their first choice.
"Yes, for a friend of mine who has been traveling around quite a bit," The blind master explained, "His disciple has been with him and also will take over Chou's as well once the time comes," That didn't sound right. There weren't too many Chinese Kenpo masters more powerful than Ro, "…You shouldn't be thinking about all of this now. I called for a member of the Ma Family for a reason, and you knew what it more than likely would be when you answered it."
That was all Kensei was going to get out of him so casually; enough to pique his interest, but not enough to actually inform him of anything relevant. And now he would have it on his brain heading into combat. Kensei had to admit, it was subtly well played.
Then again, with his lack of sight, Ro always seemed to be talented at picking up on things that most other people tended to overlook.
The band playing down below in the regular section of the club finished their song as applause rang out from the patrons of the establishment.
"Well then Kensei the Slick," Ro said, slowly standing up from his seat, "I believe we've wasted enough time with the formalities."
China's premier martial artist rose as well, "Of course."
The two looked nothing like a pair of men who were prepared to engage in mortal combat. Without the ability to read the building of ki in preparation for battle, no one watching would have been able to know. However, in a matter of seconds, the club would begin to clear in a panic.
It would be for a very good reason. There was a fair chance it wouldn't have been standing for much longer.
(Meanwhile – With Naruto)
Naruto's stomach growled as he took a shortcut through a park in his return to the restaurant. He had never gotten to eat earlier with everything that had happened, but if he was lucky there was a chance he might be able to catch a meal before everything was packed in for the night.
Pulling out his phone, he sent a quick message to Shikamaru and Tenten to make sure they knew he was still alive and safe. Relatively safe of course. None of them would ever be perfectly safe ever again, hence the checking in when they knew they weren't somewhere they were supposed to be.
Once more, Naruto's stomach let out a gurgling rumble that would have been audible to any passers-by, and rather embarrassing to him, "Shut up," He said in a vain attempt to quell whatever hunger pangs he had, "I fed you already… Go Ramen."
The chain had great food, but honestly, Naruto felt like he had to down between three or four large bowls to feel like it had done anything to his appetite. He was not a glutton. It was entirely justifiable what with all of the tiring activity he always found himself involved in.
Coolly, he walked underneath a large ornate garden pagoda, but before emerging from the other side stopped halfway through and went back the way he'd initially gone under it from, instead hopping up on top of it soundlessly.
The reason being, there had been someone standing on top of it, waiting for him to come out on the other side before making their presence known to him. He didn't say a word as he found himself staring at a young man wearing a hooded jacket over his white-colored Chinese clothing.
Naruto hadn't gotten the drop on him, as he hadn't turned around to the opposite side of the pagoda for his 'mysterious appearance' that he had probably been going for, "So you were able to sense the presence of my ki," The boy said in assumption.
"No," Naruto said, pointing in the direction behind his apparent adversary, "I saw your fucking shadow on the ground on the other side! The moon's out! Figure out which way the shadows are falling if you're gonna hide on ledges and stuff."
Far be it from him to lecture anyone on anything, especially an enemy who probably found the idea of hiding yourself disgraceful, but sloppy attempts at stealth were a pet peeve of his. Naruto wasn't a master of the practice or anything, but placement of light and shadows was just basic knowledge.
"Feh, stupid ninja. No one was hiding from you."
"Oh. Well if you're gonna make a surprise entrance or something, do a better job, because that BLEW!"
Naruto backflipped off of the pagoda as his attacker made his move. He landed on a branch of one of the trees lining the path he'd been walking on beforehand. That was a quick move. Had he been slower and less aware, the whip-like motion of his adversary's hand would have had a good chance at splitting his skull.
Safely out of range, Naruto squinted in the moonlight at him, tilting his head as he tried to dredge up where he'd seen this person before, "…Wait. Were you in the theater with all of the YOMI kids and that scary Jiu-Jutsu lady a few months ago?" Seeing as how he hadn't interacted with him at all, Naruto couldn't recall his name. The sneer on his face underneath the hood seemed familiar enough though.
"You're just now remembering?" Chou said with a scoff, "You really are as slow-witted as Suparna says you are."
Of course, he had to bring up one of Naruto's current least favorite people in the world.
"Kanou Shou can swing from my balls," Naruto snapped at the YOMI representative, "Now I remember you. You're the guy with the lame nickname," Chou almost made a move, until he caught sight of a slight gleam of moonlight from something small sticking between Naruto's second and third knuckles.
He quickly thought twice about launching at him for another attack, 'Shuriken,' Chou observed, 'When did he even reach for them?' If he'd have jumped at Naruto, he would have risked getting a face and neck full of razor-sharp metal stars that he would have been entirely unaware of.
Naruto had been goading him in the entire time. He'd been letting that infuriating fool control the ebb and flow of the battle, letting Chou think the entire time that he hadn't been aware that they had already begun.
A grin slowly formed on Naruto that burned Chou up inside, having realized that he had noticed his thinking twice on assaulting him again, at least in that manner. Naruto knew he'd been figured out, but watching it dawn on Chou's face was fun to see while it had lasted.
"High ground sucker," Naruto said, beckoning Chou forward with a hand gesture, "If you want a fight, come get some."
Chou schooled his temper and smirked before launching right at Naruto. Tracking his speed, Naruto took aim and let his shuriken fly, but it failed. He hadn't been able to account for Chou contorting his body in the air with a nasty twist before lashing out with a flat, open-palmed slap.
Throwing his body's momentum forward, Naruto dropped off of the branch before Chou's attack tore it right off of the tree trunk, "Wu Lóng Kòu Qiú (Black Dragon Smash)!"
'I've seen that move before!' Naruto thought to himself. As the two of them touched the ground, Naruto landed in a squatting crouch, hands planted flat on the ground, ready to react to anything from any position, "That's Tanimoto's move. His stance too."
Chou stood with his left arm extended and twisted with his palm facing behind. With his other arm, he kept it bent in front of him, palm flat and facing away from his body. Oh yes, the thing about fighting tons of skilled martial artists from different styles was that it made it easy to remember what certain stances looked like since they could all be so unique.
There was no question about it. That was the posture of Tanimoto Natsu; Hermit. His fighting style at least. He got a great look at it and many of the moves that came with it when he watched Kenichi fight him way back when.
But hearing Naruto bring up the name of the person who would one day come in and take his place only served to anger the 'stand-in' member of YOMI.
"When I kill you, well it's more than any of the rest of those fools have done so far," Even a full-fledged member in Jihan had tried and failed to beat Naruto. If-, no, when, Chou killed Naruto, there would be nothing more they could say about his status in YOMI. He wouldn't be anyone's placeholder, "So come on Uzumaki, let's see what kind of trash you have to be to be seen as a secondary disciple underneath that loser they call the 'strongest'."
Insulting Naruto? That was fine with him. Well, not necessarily fine. He would jaw with you, but he had thick skin. Over the course of his life he'd pretty much been called most of the nasty things out there under the sun, and so was accustomed to a certain degree of disrespect.
Talking down to his friends when they weren't even present was a big no-no though.
"I'm gonna stomp the shit out of you, take your stupid emblem, pawn it off, and then blow all of the money on groceries and fireworks," Naruto declared with a baring of his teeth, "But don't worry. I'll save you a sparkler, so you can write out in the air, 'Uzumaki Naruto beat my ass.'"
His rebuttal was blunt and meant to discriminately antagonize.
The tension between the two began to rise as a fight became increasingly unavoidable. Neither had moved since their previous stalemate, both sizing up the other closely.
Chou's temper settled and the realization settled in that he was about to take part in a key conflict, "My name is Enshin Chou, nickname: Pure Dragon. It's customary to introduce yourself, so let me hear your name from your own mouth."
Chou clearly already knew who he was, but Naruto was willing to humor him, if only for the sake of trying his hand at one of Jiraiya's bombastic introductions, "I'm the man that's gonna be the best shinobi ever, and when you're the best they have a name for you. They don't call you 'Kage', they don't call you 'master'. They call you-!"
Naruto stumbled out of his spirited introduction amid the calling of his name. True, he was about to say it himself, but getting it yelled at him by someone not even in the conversation was a tad startling, "Renka?" He said, standing straight up out of his previous stance as he saw her coming up to him, "How'd you find me?"
"Anyone who knows you can tell your loud voice from anywhere," Renka said seriously. Sometimes when Naruto opened his mouth, it was hard to see that he was a ninja, "We've been looking all over for you," She told him, hands on her hips, "Papa went out to find you an hour ago. Why'd you head off by yourself?"
She seemed truly saddened that he'd wandered off somewhere without even telling anyone or saying anything. Even though she'd had time to reconnect with her father, he was the reason that it had happened in the first place. Kensei had told her that Naruto probably figured he was intruding in some way.
"Um… I felt like a third wheel?" Naruto replied, confirming as much without knowing it. He crossed his arms with a shrug, "I was on the way back."
Chou was beyond even shaking his head at the idiocy. Even if he believed his opponent wasn't dangerous, and it was clear that Naruto did think that he was, turning your back on an enemy was the worst course of action anyone could ever take.
In a heartbeat, he'd moved to Naruto's side, directly behind him, his left foot just shy of touching Naruto's and his body twisted to unleash an elbow strike to a critical area, "Die, moron!"
Instead of the give that he would normally feel after landing a vital blow, he felt the back of his bicep resting on the forearm of someone else, stopping his attack.
"We were having a talk," Renka said, arm straining under the strength that it took stop the Chou's forceful move, "Do you mind!?" She managed to push Chou back and square off with him. Naruto was stunned.
Not because Renka had stopped Chou's attack. No, Naruto knew how scary-talented she was for their age bracket. He was stunned that she'd actually gone out of the way to stop something that had only been meant for him in the first place.
It had been unnecessary due to Naruto's training developing a sixth-sense for danger (Sakkijutsu) under Jiraiya, and the small kunai he'd been secretly palming in one of the hands under his folded arms at the time, but that didn't make the action any less relevant to Naruto. No one had ever actually defended him from an attack before.
Shaking it off took him a quick moment, but by the time he did he realized that he had just gotten his opponent stolen from him.
The girl was territorial. Of this he was already aware, but over what exactly in this particular instance?
"Yokohama's Chinatown is under the protection of the Ma Family, and Naruto is a close friend," Renka said, truly intending to fight against Enshin Chou, "It doesn't matter who you are, or what your problem with him is. As long as he's here, no one from YOMI will harm him."
Naruto knew trying to talk her down wouldn't do any good, after all, her mind was already made up, but this really wasn't her fight.
"Renka, you don't have to do this," Naruto tried to talk her down. Chou wasn't going to, as he seemed interested in beating up on a member of the Ma Family. It was probably better for Naruto's argument that he wasn't, "These YOMI guys want to kill me, and I can stand up for myself."
Expecting a heated reply from the spirited Chinese girl, Naruto was once again left stunned speechless when she instead gifted him with a beautiful smile, "I know you can stand up for yourself, but you shouldn't always have to stand up by yourself."
He had no reply.
"Let this Renka show you," She continued, "The way you fight for others, she'll fight for you, because someone has to."
"The Ma Family just seems to be attracted to losers," Chou pointed out, angling his head toward Naruto, "You defending him, your father training that talentless Shirahama, and your uncle choosing a disciple that was beaten by Shirahama."
Yes, he was extremely sore that someone who had already lost to the 'Strongest Disciple' was set to be the one to take his place. It offended him immensely. Why were people who had been defeated before, being held up in a position above him?
He didn't understand. He didn't want to. He simply wanted to lash out against it.
Alas, if there had been any argument before on who would be taking Chou on, there wasn't any longer. Something in Renka's eyes changed after his last remark, and Naruto wouldn't have stopped her any longer even if he felt he easily could have.
"I'm fighting him, Naruto," The proud girl stated, "By insulting papa's student, and even my no-good uncle's student, he's insulting the quality of our disciples; my family's reputation," Renka said with an iron-sharp tone, "If he wants to cut it down, I'll be the one he has to go through to do it."
"You?" Chou said derisively, "I'm sorry. I'm not living in some alternate reality where I could ever lose to a girl, even if she is the Phoenix Alliance head's oldest child."
The golden-haired ninja could barely comprehend what he'd heard at first. Eventually though, he just jumped up and took a seat on another tree branch, safely out of the way. This was now officially going to be some honor thing.
"I'll make this quick," Chou said in warning, "No mercy from the start."
He'd already had something of a warm-up with the effort he'd exerted trying to get his hands on Naruto. If Renka was coming in cold, he had an automatic advantage until she managed to get hot.
Immediately attacking, Chou missed another Uryuu Banda, but quickly transitioned the spinning palm slam into rising from the ground with lifting double punches. Renka moved out of the way, surprised by the followup, and by the subsequent barrage of punches thrown her way.
Renka deflected the punches, all the while breaking down what she was seeing, 'He's mixing Piguaquan with Bajiquan!'
The rangy, swinging arm motions of the palm attack mixed with the hip rotation guiding the force of the punches that had immediately followed were an overwhelming combination. If she took too many more of those combinations head-on, it wouldn't matter much if she was blocking them or not. They would break her defense.
So this was the might of a YOMI disciple. Seeing it when Naruto fought Jihan was different from experiencing it herself against an entirely different opponent.
"Bājí cān pīguà, shén guǐ dōu hàipà," Renka said to herself, shaking the sting out of her worn out arms, "Pīguà cān bājí, yīngxióng kū mò jí."
"When pigua is added to baji, gods and demons will all be terrified. When baji is added to pigua, heroes will weep knowing they are no match against it."
Chou knew of that particular proverb, and mentally lauded Renka's recognizing that it was quite important to her current situation, even as he attacked her again, "My master gave me the most powerful combination of Chinese Kenpo as a base for my martial arts."
What Renka couldn't dodge, she had to deflect with well-aimed, well-timed punches, "My papa is the master of all Chinese Kenpo, do you think I wouldn't at least know about most of them?" She said before snapping back with a sudden knee and twin uppercut maneuver.
She had been fooled by the deceptive range of his attacks, and thinking he had been closer than he really had been when she'd launched her counter against his attacks, gave him the chance to move to her side. Wrapping one arm around her on her waist, Chou slammed his hip directly into hers, "Zhēn Guǎn Lù (True Controlling Path)!"
Bajiquan focused on hip rotation, thus making what one could perceive as a simple action without much force behind it an absolutely devastating blunt force.
The pseudo-grapple attack knocked Renka off of the path and in between the trees of the park. Chou quickly followed and stood over her, his foot raised to stomp down. Opening her eyes from her wince of pain, Renka saw it coming and rolled out of the way before lashing out with a kick as she got up.
"There's a difference between knowing about all forms of Chinese Kenpo-," Chou said, dodging the kick before pressing his advantage and returning to his assault, "-And being a master of any of them!"
The loft where Kensei and Ro began their fight didn't last very long. Ro truly did have master-class speed and power with the acceleratory movement of his arms. Kensei had to abandon the small crowded area as chairs and chunks of wall and glass that had separated the upper level from the ground floor of the night club.
Objects and dangerous chunks of material went flying as people started scrambling for the exits. Even security didn't bother sticking around to maintain some kind of order.
Kensei landed on a couch flying through the air before kicking off of it, sending it flying to an uninhabited area at the back of the club. Exhibiting extreme body control, he bounced off of several larger mid-air objects in an effort to direct and knock away the more dangerous portions of debris from hitting anyone.
After the last of the people cleared out, Kensei allowed his feet to touch the ground, just as Ro jumped down from the loft as well. Instead of attacking Kensei, he'd allowed the man to finish the process of protecting people on the way out.
"If nothing else," Kensei started to say, holding his hat on top of his head after his quick-footed actions just moments prior, "You have my thanks for holding off on attacking me until the people were clear."
There had been countless openings just over the course of those few seconds, and yet Ro hadn't moved until it had all been over.
Ro nodded, "I can't take any sort of credit for that, because to be honest, I had an ulterior motive."
"And that would be?"
"I have the sound of your movements committed to memory."
The force that came with the motion of Ro's swinging attacks was comparable to a sharp, heavy sword cutting down on a branch, instead of a heavy whip. The relevance of his mastery was the difference between life and death when it came to enduring his attacks.
But with every miss of one swing, Ro never left himself open to a counterattack that was easy to see. Kensei found himself being pushed back until he reached the wall. Darting off of the side of it, he ricocheted himself off of a hanging light fixture and attempted to attack Ro from his blind spot, no pun intended.
Ro twisted at his hip and blocked a punch with his open palm, bracing himself despite the odd positioning by putting one foot forward on the wall he'd backed Kensei against, 'He's so aware of his positioning despite not being able to see,' It really was impressive, despite the fact that he fully knew the depth of Ro's talents.
Pushing off of the wall with his leg, Ro's block became an offensive attack, knocking Kensei's body away across the club. As Kensei righted his body and flipped himself back into a rightful position, he looked down and saw Ro keeping pace with his travel through the air from below.
"I expected nothing less out of Sougetsu's younger brother," Ro pointed out, coming to a stop right where Kensei would land. Extending his body upward on one leg, he braced his right arm underneath the elbow with his left hand and shot it straight up at Kensei as if his entire body were an arrow, "Shēng Qǐ Tiěshā Zhǎng (Rising Iron Palm)!"
Utilizing a rolling motion with his arms, Kensei managed to deflect the powerful attack from ever even touching him. After landing on the ground, he unleashed a flurry of low-aimed punches at Ro's leg joints and groin, but the blind master was able to defend against them with his own circular arm movements aimed down at the floor, keeping any of Kensei's offense from making contact.
Kensei darted to Ro's side only to immediately have to dodge a diagonal hammer punch Ro threw without even turning to meet him, but it was a feint. Kensei leapt back to avoid it, but almost missed the hidden punch that Ro threw across his body, disguised by the wide, rangy motion of the hammer-strike.
Ro's fist shot out of his baggy long sleeve, intent on hitting its mark. The back of Ro's knuckles brushed against the side of Kensei's face as he avoided the murderous blow by a hair. It missed however, and the two engaged a quick high-speed hand fight for positioning and dominance before again stalemating and moving away from one another.
"You were honestly going for the kill there," Kensei noted. If he had tried to block the attack Ro had thrown while he'd been in mid-air or had tried, it would have devastated him. If that punch had landed, he wasn't sure his skull would have been able to stand up to the impact. There was no building process with Ro Jisei. If he could have ended it in his first move, he would have.
The first one to make a mistake would be lost.
He had little patience for anything wasted. Motion, time, talent, potential. No excuses for failure were allowable for him, even his own lack of sight. It was what drove him to the level of the One Shadow Nine Fists even after being blinded in combat, "Holding back at all against any opponent leaves an opening for you to lose," Ro said, "Holding back against you would be the most foolish mistake anyone could ever make."
Completely straightforward and businesslike. He treated martial arts with the level of seriousness that the dangerous techniques and practices that comprised it demanded in his view. To the Satsujinken, martial arts was life or death, to destroy or be destroyed. Jisei Ro reflected that in his overall demeanor; casually consorting with the prospect of death, while treating it with the reverence that it truly deserved.
"I can see why my brother likes you Jisei-don," Kensei said, being completely honest with his enemy, "While his choice to embrace the Fist of Killing broke my heart, I'm at least glad that he has one friend like you."
"Your brother is a hard friend to have," Ro said, with a ghost a humorous smirk on his face, "The favor I've been doing for him is causing me many problems. Holding his position in the One Shadow Nine Fists is forcing my disciple's turmoil to the surface."
It clicked into place almost immediately. Ro was a placeholder, he had already told Kensei as much. And the person he was holding a place for within Yami's ranks of the One Shadow Nine Fists was for Kensei's older brother; Ma Sougetsu. One would have been hard-pressed to find any other Satsujinken master of Chinese Kenpo to replace one such as Ro.
It made so much sense, there was no reason to question it in denial or even ask the rhetorical question of why. Even so, it stunned him all the same.
Whether it was because he heard a change in Kensei's breathing, or felt a shift in the air, Ro felt Kensei's confusion and took that opening to attack.
The first one to make a mistake would be lost.
But that didn't mean a mistake would be the only thing that resulted in victory or defeat, because Jisei Ro didn't make a mistake. Attacking at that very moment wasn't the wrong course of action. It was the right one. No stroke of divine intervention or dumb luck wound up costing him in the end.
It was all simply a matter of who he was fighting.
He was damnably talented. A true master of a caliber to take pride in.
But he was Chinese Kenpo master fighting against THE master of ALL Chinese Kenpo. That wasn't just some nifty nickname. You weren't just given such a title because you were aware of the many forms that Chinese Kenpo had available to it.
Not only had Kensei mastered the countless forms to perfection over the course of his life, he break down what other Chinese Kenpo fighters used perfectly. He was able to find the form that was the direct weakness to whatever their form was. It might take a bit of thinking, but eventually he would analyze your moves and pull up one of the Chinese Kenpo styles he had learned and mastered to destroy it.
In short, he was the worst possible matchup any fighter with any form of Chinese Kenpo could find themselves pitted against.
Crossing his hands and raising his front leg, Kensei took a quick step forward toward Ro, covering an unthinkable distance in a blur with the stride of one step to deliver the punch right down the center of his target's body, "Chowaaaaaa!"
To get past the quick, deadly-powerful, and extremely far-reaching motion of Ro's attack, he had to be fast enough to evade it and instantly lash back out. The quickest way possible to do so was a straight line. When it came to straightforward attacks, Xing Yi Quan was the most famed of the Chinese martial arts, therefore it was just what the doctor ordered.
It didn't hurt that one of his signature attacks happened to be based on the philosophy of that style.
The Tiào-Tiào Chōu Quán (Popping Pump Fist).
Between Kensei's actual strength and the speed with which he'd carried himself forward, the punch by itself would have been enough to stop a bear, but with the ki mixed in behind his fist as it struck home it became an absolute monster of an attack.
The muscles in Ro's body lost every semblance of resistance after being hit right in his core with the power punch. The practitioner of soft styles that Kensei was, there was no violent reaction of Ro flying off of his fist through several walls the way there would have been if someone like Sakaki, Apachai, or Elder Fuurinji had landed such a blow so cleanly.
Instead, Ro leaned over Kensei's outstretched arm's fist and crumpled to the dance hall floor in a heap.
He never lost consciousness, his body simply refused to respond any longer. His entire torso pulsed with pain from front to back, feeling as if he'd been run clean through.
"I see," Ro said, completely aware of everything going on around him. He could still feel every offended nerve in his body screaming in protest of his accepting this battle, but such was the life of a martial artist, "…You really are as powerful as they say. You held back until that last moment."
It was always Kensei's aim in battle to end things before needing to inflict more harm than necessary to earn his victory.
"No offense was meant by my actions Jisei-don," Kensei assured him, "Attacking full-strength, without first knowing how to approach an opponent as skilled as you, I feel that would have been the greater insult."
In defeat, Ro would have expected death to be the cause of his defeat, but he knew that this wouldn't occur at the hands of one of the heroes of Ryouzanpaku; those that embodied the life-preserving qualities of Katsujinken. It simply wasn't their way. All he could expect now was deportation. He had committed no crimes while in Japan, despite his establishing connections with Triad crime elements along high-traffic port cities for Yami's major project.
With nothing to hold against him to lock him up other than his affiliation with Yami, an organization that no government in the world would openly acknowledge the existence of, all they could really do was send him away.
"When I see your brother again," Ro said, "I'll send him your regards."
"Tell him I'll be waiting."
Ro said nothing else, signifying the conversation as over, but it was fine. Kensei had dealt with the situation and said what he needed to. Police would arrive long before Ro would ever recover enough to even attempt to move. The eerie silence of the battle's aftermath was already being disturbed by the faint sound of sirens echoing through the Chinatown streets en route to the devastated club building.
Naruto realized while watching Renka and Chou fight that he would make a horrible instructor of any sort.
He wasn't the kind of person that could easily break down and explain things to others, at least not without much hardship, hair-pulling, and cursing from the end of the listener, but he knew what he was looking at when he watched people fight. He'd seen enough of them, been in enough of them, and had given and received enough ass-kickings to know the moving parts involved in them.
More importantly, that meant he also knew when he was watching a setup in the making.
'He can't see it,' Naruto thought to himself, trying not to get too excited, 'If he could, he'd break off. But he thinks he's winning, so he's keeping up the pressure.'
In essence, Chou was winning. He was battering away at Renka's defenses, and had taken far less damage than she had over the course of the fight.
Chou swung with a horizontal hammer strike and an overhead chop only for Renka to block them both with her left knee and elbow, and her right forearm respectively, balancing on one leg before twisting her body and shooting out a straight side kick with the leg she'd lifted to protect her vitals.
The YOMI member turned his body to avoid the blow and threw his hips into aiming a punch right at the back of her knee. Renka spun her body forward in the direction Chou had been punching, keeping her leg out of harm's way and switching the dominant side of her stance before launching a quick barrage of punches, "Chowa!"
"Another style switch," Chou said, more out of annoyance at having to pick up on such a thing. But he did, and just as quickly as Renka had seemed to turn the tables, he'd set her back on her heels again, "Fold already!" A chop came down as a feint, but as Renka went to block it, he changed it to a violent palm thrust, extending his arm at the last moment and knocking her back.
"Kah!" Renka hit the trunk of a tree backfirst, but held her stance, continuing to fight. Naruto winced at how hard she'd hit, but she kept upright and kept going. If there was one girl Naruto knew for certain would be absolutely fine in this sort of a situation, it was Renka, but still, with every swing of his arms Chou seemed to be pouring it on more and more, looking to put an end to it all.
It was just a matter of time now, but not the way Chou thought it was. Naruto had a bird's eye view, and he could see much better just what was transpiring.
Renka kept using a myriad of techniques, chaining all sorts of Chinese Kenpo disciplines, trying to keep as loose a connection to them as she could; textbook transition moves if they could be called anything. That made it easy for someone adept enough to tell that she was switching between them.
It was easy enough to do for someone who knew what they were looking for to do, but it took enough focus for Chou to have to pay full attention to what she was doing, and not to their surroundings. He wasn't at a level of skill that he could so readily ignore the danger right in front of him to take note of their backdrop.
She was positioning him, and he couldn't see it happening. If he took his attention off of Renka's forceful attacks, of which she was not slacking off on in order to properly move him, he would run the risk of getting decked with one. Renka wasn't giving Chou openings to prolong the fight. He was far too dangerous to risk anything like that. But she wasn't trying to force any either. She was waiting, because one would present itself if things continued the way they were going.
Renka was showing a sort of patience in battle that Naruto had never seen from her in any other venue before.
Enshin Chou sidestepped her, moving the outside of his foot to the outside of hers, standing just behind her, poised to strike. So many vital areas within easy reach, too many to possibly protect all of them, if she could even guard any at all.
"Tiānshàng Réng Lù (Heavenly Remaining Path)!"
He elbowed the trunk of a tree, instead of Renka's liver. The bark shattered and the wood underneath cracked, but he'd barely even felt it over the level of surprise he'd been hit with, 'I didn't even see that damned thing!'
His line of sight had been manipulated, and with his failed last attack he had lost sight of her around the tree. Hastily he tried to pick up her position again by feeling out her ki, but by the time he managed to locate her, he wound up turning right into peril.
With both hands planted on the ground for added push, Renka launched her legs upward and slammed a single sharp kick right underneath his chin with the bottom of her foot. It was an almost impossible position to launch such an attack in-close from.
The kick itself knocked Chou out cold, his eyes rolled into the back of his head. Only the collision of the back of his head off of another tree woke him up long enough for him to be entirely aware of Renka placing one palm over the back of her other hand…
…Right over his chest.
"Give up," She requested, only for a fire to rise in Chou's eyes. There was no chance he would. Those who claimed Satsujinken weren't necessarily afraid of death, and he knew she was Katsujinken and that she wouldn't ever kill him on purpose. She read the tensing of his muscles before he made his move.
He'd made his choice.
"Wòdān (Single Grip)!"
Putting the force of both arms and her entire body behind a single palm thrust, she smashed Chou right against the tree he'd bounced his head off of. There had been little to no open space for him to be forced back through. He was between Renka's might and a hard place, with nowhere to go. Blood welled in his mouth as his ribs cracked and broke. A gentle girl, Renka was not.
With all of the trees around them, Chou would have instinctually thought better than using the techniques of Piguaquan, where the force came from the swinging of his arms. Since he knew Bajiquan, which counted more on his hip strength, he would have focused more on that due to the close quarters. Just so long as she kept giving him a fight, he wouldn't have paid it much mind, if any at all.
And he didn't, until she'd actually started to use their environment.
Renka stood in her stance for over a minute until she was certain that Chou wouldn't get back up. By then, Naruto had jumped down from where he'd been watching and walked over. The two simply looked at each other without saying a word. The silence lasted for all of three seconds.
"…Now that's what I'm talking about! That's how you fight!" Naruto shouted, forcing Renka to blush in embarrassment at his excitement. But he couldn't help it, he loved a good sleight of hand victory. Brute force was all well and good, but there was just something about outfoxing the other guy that resonated so much more with him, "Oh man, if I ever have a girlfriend, I want her to fight just like that. I wouldn't have to worry about her, ever!"
"Y-You shouldn't say things like that!" Renka red-facedly replied, construing his words in a different way. He was basically saying that he wasn't afraid or self-conscious of strong girls, "…Really though?"
"Hell yeah!" He wouldn't have known why she though he wouldn't have meant what he'd said. He would have added more, but an insistent part of his body was sick and tired of being silenced.
Naruto's exuberance gave way to his stomach, interjecting with its own opinion on what was important at the moment; namely food. It certainly took the wind out of his sails when it came to his attempt to be cool and encouraging.
With whatever momentum he'd been building thoroughly killed, Naruto slumped his posture, deciding to try and save some face with a 'graceful' retreat as he began to head off back to the restaurant.
"Naruto?" Renka said, cutting off his tactical withdrawal, "Thank you."
Naruto turned around, his eyes closed in a squint as he looked back at her. If one could say nothing else, his face was extremely expressive, and befuddlement could be read all over it, "…What for?"
For putting up with her more aggressive flaws, looking past them, and readily accepting her as a friend.
For trusting her enough to let her stand with him, and for him, instead of doing the usual thing of trying to keep whatever hardship he had away from someone else.
For believing in her as a martial artist against one of the top disciple representatives that Satsujinken's YOMI had at their disposal instead of insisting on saving her.
For convincing her father to actually come and see her in-person for the first time in years.
"Nevermind. It's nothing," Renka eventually said with a coy smile as she fell into step with him, "Anyway, wasn't that your stomach?"
So apparently, because one wasn't enough, there's a sequel being made to the most important movie of the 2010 decade.
…Of course I'm referring to Sharknado!
Yes, coming soon, Sharknado 2: The Second One! Clever, I know. Those cinematic geniuses. And I also know that the general viewing world is just as excited as I am, but it won't be nearly as hilarious as the first one, because they've probably tried to be in on the joke that the movie is.
…Having written this, I've just thought of something so stupid that I have to use it. Not in this, but in something else. If you read anything else I write and you remember this idiotic rant, you'll know what it is when you see it. And I don't know what this has to do with anything, but whatever it is I feel strongly about it.
Anyway; fighting, and friendship, and some other things to boot! If you read through it I hope you enjoyed.