Leaping from roof top to roof top, the blond casually made his way towards the disturbance and landing with a light thump, his piercing blue eyes surveyed the scene before him.
Two people were facing off in what looked like the mother of all rock-paper-scissors matches. Their hands were held out in front of them, both balled into fists and the ground directly beneath the outstretched limbs were crunched downwards as if something extremely heavy had been dropped there.
Both participants were breathing heavily, sweat running down their faces and various cuts and bruises covering their bodies. They seemed like they were having fun though if the smirks had anything to say about it.
"Let's make this last one epic!"
Shouting at each other, they rocked off again and the man who looked like a store owner pulled out a rock while the civilian flattened his hand out as paper. Hearing the looser gasp, Naruto's eyebrows then rose in surprise as he saw a number of paper thin cuts open up all over his body. None of them were serious but the blood running fresh from the wounds was enough to say they would have really stung. Dropping to one knee and wincing in pain, the defeated man looked to his opponent. "W-Well done. You can take whatever you like now, as per our agreement."
Grinning widely at his win, the customer walked over and held his hand out to the clapping of spectators. "Good game."
Clasping the hand, the shopkeeper was pulled upright and he smiled good-naturedly. "It was fun! Now, let's find you your stuff."
Leading the man into a store that looked like it was selling tools, the crowd that had been watching began to trickle away now that the game had finished. Nodding approvingly to himself, Naruto looked over the street. "So that's how an actual game happens here hey? I want in!"
Standing up, the blond stepped off the roof and dropped several stories straight to the ground. Landing with a graceful thump, he ignored the stares from a few of the locals and stuffed his hands into his pants as he set off.
As he was walking, he noticed that this place had quite the variety of people. Actually, some of them weren't even humans to begin with! There were standard people he could recognise, but then mingling with the crowd quite naturally were a number of hybrids. Men and women all about seemed to have attachments much like Kuro Usagi, but instead of rabbit accessories, they had anything from cat to dog ears, snake to bird tails and all other manner of highly interesting features the blond never expected to see.
This seemed to be the norm however as no one batted an eyelid at their appearance, trade going on as it usually would back home. The actual style of the town was a bit different from home too.
This was a more western style of design with the roofs pitched high with various extensions protruding from them like clock houses and chimneys. Wires and clotheslines were strung between the buildings as laundry attached fluttered in the light breeze. Trees were abundant along both sides of the wide road, the greenery casting luscious shadows everywhere that openly invited anyone who desired to sleep within the curls of their roots. Merry calls and shouts of children filled the air and Naruto found himself surprisingly at peace in the unfamiliar world.
Glancing around as he felt his stomach growl, the blond decided that could be a good place to start. Spotting a quaint café snuggled in-between two taller buildings, the teen strode over to check out the menu. To his disgruntlement there wasn't any ramen, but the sound of honey-chicken wasn't too bad right now. As he was perusing the list of options, a waitress came to his side and leant in slightly.
"Hello sir, how are you today?"
"Yeah, not bad just checking out what you have." Glancing at the girl, Naruto immediately noticed the lack of normal human ears in favour of the floppy beagle-like ears that hung from each side of her head. A stiff tail wagged unconsciously behind her in anticipation and Naruto couldn't help but snicker silently as he noticed her panting a bit after running around.
The rest of her was relatively normal however with the girl donning a frilly skirt and matching top that every other waitress was wearing. Her wide brown eyes stared up at him hopefully and her hand was held above a small notepad eagerly. Deciding to finally breach the topic, Naruto leant back and crossed his arms behind his head. "So… I was wondering actually if I'd be able to participate in a Gift Game for my food. I'm a bit short on coin at the moment."
The second he mentioned Gift Game, an almost dangerous glint flickered across the girl's face before it was reeled in expertly. "But of course! I'll just go and get the manager."
Skipping away, Naruto wondered what he'd gotten himself into as he slouched into a chair. It should be fun in any case. Looking about the actual café to pass the time, his eyebrows scrunched a little as he noticed the distinct lack of customers. There were one or two but they were impeccably dressed and dining on foods that looked quite expensive. They also seemed to be staring over at him and snickering from behind upheld hands.
Meeting their gazes unflinchingly, Naruto stared them all down until they turned away. Grunting satisfactorily, the blond let out a wide yawn and sighed. "Come on, where are you?"
As if on cue, a tall waiter in a suit and tie glided up to him before bowing slightly. He also had doggy ears, these ones more resembling a boxer. Sensing this could be a running theme, Naruto nodded back. "Hey, what's up? You the manager?"
If he took affront at the blonde's abrupt style of speech he didn't show it, instead smiling slightly and exposing elongated canines. "Indeed I am sir. Welcome to our restaurant. I am Orion and it will be my pleasure to help you with your request for a gift game."
Perking up, the teen grinned. "Now we're getting somewhere. I assume your waitress told you the details?"
Nodding, Orion expanded. "Indeed she did. With that in mind, I will explain the rules to you. The game we have is a simple one of cat and mouse, or in this case dog and mouse." He trailed off as he giggled softly to himself about the joke he just cracked.
Blinking a few times, Naruto heard the girl behind him stifling a laugh too. Most of the others in the vicinity were too and the blond sweat-dropped. 'Is everyone really that bad at jokes here or am I just expecting too much?'
Composing himself, the manager wiped away a small tear and continued. "So, all you have to do is catch one of our members. Simple enough?"
As Naruto nodded, Orion smiled. "Very good. Now, this cannot be a game without you betting something so the amount paid for the meal is usually doubled if you cannot win. However, since you have limited finances there will be a slight change. Should you lose, you will be delegated to dishes until the meal's amount is paid off."
It didn't take Naruto long to consider the option. "Yeah, seems fair. So who am I versing?"
Merely stepping back, Orion held his hand out as a very lithe, athletic looking dog-girl stepped forward. She wore the usual maid outfit, but had an additional badge on her chest that had 'Champion' written across it. "It's a pleasure to be running against you today!"
Grinning, Naruto stood up. "Yeah, nice to meet ya too! Ready for this?"
Beginning to stretch, Naruto started pulling his arm across his chest when he noticed Orion holding a hand out. "You seem to be new here, so I would like to offer you the chance to back out. Jelly here is the town's fastest runner twenty years in a row. She hasn't been beaten once in all that time."
Looking at the girl as she smiled sweetly, Naruto shrugged and got on with stretching. "Whatever, just makes things more interesting."
Eyes flashing happily, Orion's grin stretched wide. "So you accept our conditions?"
Nodding again, Naruto dropped to the floor and began stretching his groin. "Yup, let's do this. Make sure you have my meal ready for me when I get back 'cause I'll be starving."
Bowing slightly, Orion conceded his request. "But of course. In that case I can announce the start of the Gift Game!"
A burst of light in front of Naruto's face blinded the ninja for a moment before a soft parchment fluttered into his lap. Looking down, he read over the conditions. "Yeah, seems alright. So, how long have I got?"
Jelly spoke up this time, her gentle voice barely audible. "There is no time limit. People usually tire within the first half hour anyway so it won't go on for too long."
"Eh, alright." Standing, Naruto placed his hands on his hips and rocked around in a circle to warm his pelvis up. "So when's it start?"
"As soon as you desire."
Raising an eyebrow, Naruto walked over to the girl and placed a hand on her shoulder. "Ok, I wanna start now!"
Blinking in confusion, the girl looked at his hand. "But, you have your hand on me?"
Grinning, Naruto nodded. "Sure do. And since the game's started and you can't go anywhere, I've caught you and I win."
Eyes widening, the girl began trying to pull herself from Naruto's relatively light grip but found herself stuck fast. Laughing loudly Naruto looked over at a spluttering Orion and wriggled his eyebrows. "Never said I couldn't grab her before the race started in the contract!"
"B-b-but sir, that's… you can't… how…"
Laughing loudly again, Naruto let the girl go and she dropped to the ground. "Ah calm down. That'd be boring! I'll play fair, so off ya run now."
Letting out a deep breath of relief, the manager tucked away that loophole in his mind for a later date. No one had ever done that before. Patting his forehead down with a handkerchief, Orion forced a smile to his face and nodded. "V-very well. In that case, let the race begin!"
Jumping to her feet, Jelly crouched and in a veritable explosion of dust, shot off down the road. Blinking in surprise, Naruto looked over at Orion. "Damn she's fast!"
Looking far more composed now that the game was back on level ground, the manager nodded confidently. "Indeed she is. She is of the Greyhound persuasion and is abnormally fast even amongst her own kind. I wish you luck in catching her."
Smiling widely, Naruto's eyes flashed. "Awesome, that just makes it even more of a challenge!"
Shaking his hands out, Naruto jumped several times and then cracked his neck. "Uh, sir, you may want to start chasing her if you want to catch her. She's already got a massive lead over you."
Jumping a few more times, Naruto nodded. "Yeah, I know, I just wanted to give her a bit of a head start."
Waving over his shoulder, Naruto then took off in a light jog. "Be back in fifteen minutes!"
It wasn't hard to track the girl since she left a fairly wide path of destruction in her wake. Dust was everywhere and more than one or two innocent bystanders were picking themselves up after being blown off their feet. In fact, the dust was thick enough in the air that visibility was fairly limited, so with a powerful jump the blond propelled himself to a nearby roof.
Shading his eyes against the sun, he saw the dust cloud stretch right around to the other side of the town. It came to a stop near the far wall and Naruto guessed she was wondering where he was. Since that made catching up easier, the teen nodded happily and brought his hands up.
Clasping them together with both index and middle fingers pointing straight up, Naruto drew on the energy within his body and stepped forward as the world around him blurred.
To anyone watching it was like he had suddenly vanished in a swirl of leaves. To Naruto it felt like a really fast jump that covered half the city. In any case, he was now on the roof directly above where Jelly was sitting. Stepping off the roof, he landed heavily behind the girl and stifled an all out laugh as she screamed in panic. "Hello! No need to freak out it's just me!"
Apparently that was plenty reason enough and with a smaller squeal, the girl disappeared into another dust storm. Charging his legs with chakra, Naruto copied the girl and shot off after her at an incredible rate of speed.
Thus began the true game of 'dog and mouse' as Naruto hunted down the poor waitress. She may have known all the alleyways but Naruto was always hot on her heels. Apparently throwing things wasn't out of the question either so in time the blond had to start dodging various items of clothing and furniture being hurled back at him.
Forcing a clone into existence, the blonde's separated as Naruto took to the walls while his clone vanished down an alternate route. As another object was flung at him, this time a chair, Naruto caught the projectile and lobbed it back at Jelly. It bounced off to her left and she let out a shrill cry and banked away just as the teen desired. From there he began guiding her down various roads with carefully placed things he chucked back, all the while leading her to exactly where he wanted.
Finally coming to a wide crossroad, the small girl was blindsided by an orange and yellow ball of energy and sent spinning into an uncontrolled roll. Bouncing along, various male and female grunts sounded out from the duo until they finally slid to a stop up against a building.
The whole world was spinning after the hectic tumble so with a groan, Jelly unhappily waited for the vertigo to ease. Finally subsiding, she gingerly opening one eye and make sense of what was going on. Looking around, she then found a body holding her tight. Looking up into the face, she was astounded to find Naruto grinning at her victoriously. "Got ya."
Trying to jump away, she succeeded in tripping over and landing flat on her face. As she rolled over, a second voice behind her amusedly called out to her. "I thought you'd try run again. I tied you up just in case."
Blinking in confusion, Jelly looked up and saw Naruto of all people walking towards her. "Huh? But you were right there…"
Turning, she then saw Naruto sitting right where she left him. But then he was walking towards her? "How are there two of you? What's going on?"
Hearing a pop, the girl twisted to see the Naruto leaning up against the building explode into a cloud of smoke with a cheery wave. "Only one now. Anyway, don't worry yourself with that. Let's head back, I am STARVING."
Picking up the constricted girl, he dropped her onto his shoulder and began walking. "You'll have to guide me back, it's different walking the streets."
Sighing defeatedly, Jelly nodded. "Very well. Congratulations on capturing me, it is a humbling experience."
Naruto nodded absently as he wandered back the way they came. "Don't let it get to you too much. Just try remember that no matter how long you remain at the top, someone will always come along and best you. So to stop that happening as much you train."
For the rest of the walk they chatted about general things like how this section of Little Garden was different to others and how they each had arrived there. Along the way Naruto passed Asuka and Yo sitting with Jin and some big fellow that resembled a tiger who looked decidedly uncomfortable with being there. From the way he was twitching, Naruto guessed he might have been held there against his will by that thing Asuka tried on him back with Izayoi.
That didn't matter as much as the amusement he got from seeing the shocked and confused stares from all three as he walked past with a grin. The dark look his clone sent him was the topping on the cake as Naruto knew he'd get scrutinised harshly over that one. 'Let's see how long it takes 'em to work out.'
Eventually the pair made it back to the restaurant and Naruto couldn't help but chuckle at the astounded gaze Orion cast upon him as he dropped Jelly at his feet. "Well, here she is, fifteen minutes later."
Absently checking his watch, the manager noted it was more like seventeen or eighteen minutes, but either way the accomplishment was absolutely incredible. "We… well, congratulations on passing the game. I shall have the chefs prepare anything you desire of any amount."
Rubbing his tummy, Naruto smiled extensively. "Now that's what I'm talking about! I'd ask for ramen but you don't have any, so that honey chicken is looking pretty damn good right now."
A small smile pulled at Orion's mouth at the blonde's enthusiasm. "I'm sure we can work out something if ramen is what you really desire."
Eyes widening hopefully, Naruto balled his fists. "Honestly? Seriously-truly?"
Chuckling, the manager nodded. "Of course. This is a special occasion with you being the first person to complete the assigned task. We'll manage."
Fist pumping enthusiastically with both arms, Naruto could barely hold back the tears. "Yes, yes, yes, yes, YES!"
Watching him celebrate from her spot on the floor, Jelly finally decided to speak up about her current problem. "So… can you untie me now?"
"So where exactly is Naruto?"
Leading the small group, Kuro Usagi had returned from the edge of the world with Izayoi in tow. Having met up with Jin, Asuka and Yo, the bunny had discovered the two girls had decided to pick a fight with the most powerful community in the whole area. Granted they were horrified by what the leader of that community had been doing to gain power, what with taking hostages from rivals as blackmail and killing them after, but still to try and take on someone like that was just foolhardy!
What was done was done though and there was no backing out now. So desperately trying to push the wretched game to the far corners of her mind for now, Kuro Usagi decided to take them to visit an old friend of hers. The only problem was the Naruto with them currently was for some reason not the real Naruto. The troublesome blond let them know that the real he was dining at some dog restaurant after beating the manager at a Gift Game.
Kuro Usagi had a fairly solid idea what place that was and thankfully it was on the way. It wasn't too far either so within a few minutes' walk they came upon it and saw a familiar spike of blond hair. Surrounding that head of hair however were stacks upon stacks of empty bowls and one very anxious manager standing by. Not too sure what was going on, the bunny-girl jogged ahead to see what was happening.
As she neared, the manager turned and saw her. Nearly overcome with relief, he seemed to sag a bit in his posture as he held out a welcoming hand. "Oh Kuro Usagi! It is a pleasure you are finally here! Naruto did say he was an acquaintance of yours so I was hoping you'd come to collect him?"
The almost pleading look in his doggy eyes made the girl wonder what was going on until she took a proper look at the last missing child. Her eyes widened substantially as they took in the grotesquely swollen gut of Naruto and the surrounding mess of plates and dishes. He let out a very loud, wet burp before sighing and patting his tummy. The girls behind Kuro Usagi made some disgusted noises and began whispering between themselves while Izayoi hummed in approval. Ignorant of his new company, the blond looked up at the manager and grinned widely at him. "Oh that is bliss. Orion, you guys know good ramen. I'll be coming back for sure!"
The manager let out a little squeak of fear and began spluttering out a response. "W-w-well you see, a-after you ate so much, we… we'll have to wait some t-time for…"
Trailing off, Kuro Usagi took up where he left off and jumped forward. "Naruto! What have you been doing? I've been looking all over for you!"
Burping again, the blond began picking at a tooth with a nail. "Oh, I didn't see you there. My clone should have told you though."
"Uh, it did but still, why didn't you stay with Jin and the others?"
Humming, Naruto closed his eyes and leant back peacefully. "Same reason Izayoi ran off I guess. This was more interesting and I got a free feed out of it. Winning in my books."
Letting out a sigh, the poor girl decided to let it go and just be happy that she found him. Turning back to Orion, she bowed deeply. "Thank you so much for watching over him until I got back. Naruto, will you come with me now please?"
Groaning, the blond opened one eye and stared up at her. "But why? I'm sleepy now and my food coma is well on its way."
Grabbing his jacket, Kuro Usagi dragged him to his feet despite his protest and frowned. "Honestly! Kuro Usagi has something she wishes to show you so the least you can do is come with her when she asks!"
Grumbling for a moment, the teen straightened his jacket and stuffed his hands into his pockets. "Fine." He then noticed Izayoi smirking at him and he raised an eyebrow. "Oh, so you did come back. Didn't jump like I suggested?"
His smirk deepened as he sent his fellow blond a challenging glare. "I found something more fun to do."
Raising his eyebrows, Naruto looked him over in mock interest. "Oh? Like what?"
Chuckling, the teen crossed his arms nonchalantly. "Like beating a Water God at his own Gift Game and getting a fantastic reward." This time Naruto's eyes began to widen in actual surprise as Izayoi continued. "I'm sure it wasn't quite as cool as your little game of tag but hey, each to their own."
Not even replying, Naruto turned and nearly jumped away but to his dismay, a firm grip snagged the hem of his jacket and dragged him back to earth. "No! Follow Kuro Usagi you problem child!"
Whining desperately, the blond twisted in her hold to look up at her. "But I wanna fight a Water God damn it!"
"No!" Hold firm, Kuro Usagi began dragging Naruto along behind her as she started walking. "You are coming with Kuro Usagi and that is final!"
Crossing his arms in a sulk, Naruto ignored the snickers from his fellow teens and looked off to the side. 'Just you wait Izayoi-teme, I'll kick the biggest Water God's ass all over the shop and then we'll see who's laughing.'
Having finally been let to walk on his own, Naruto wandered down the back of the group listening to Asuka question their guide. "So where are we going?"
Looking over her shoulder, the blunette smiled at her charge. "Well, since you have your game tomorrow I was thinking of getting Thousand Eyes to appraise your gifts."
Ears perking, Naruto tilted his head to the side. "You mean that name at the bottom of those Geass Scrolls?"
The girl nodded. "Yes! They are an extremely large trade community that knows pretty well everything there is to know about Little Garden from east to west, north to south, low to high."
Humming to himself, Naruto looked up to the sky as his mind drifted. Thousand Eyes must have had a massive influence in more than just trade to actually sign the scrolls for each Gift Game. It was quite impressive now that he really thought about it. A community that big would have taken a number of incredibly powerful individuals who knows how long to establish.
"Why are there Cherry Blossoms? Is this world in spring? Because it was midsummer in my world."
Having already noted the blossoms, Naruto hadn't taken much notice of it since it was spring in his own world. This was an interesting piece of information though to tuck away so he opened his ears to the others answers as Yo spoke up. "But it was autumn in my home?"
Giggling into her hand, Kuro Usagi enlightened them. "That won't matter since you all come from different times. Not just your seasons will be different either, but also timeline events and cultures."
Snickering, Izayoi glanced back at Naruto and gave his outfit a once over. "So that would explain why this beacon of bad fashion is with us?"
Bristling, Naruto raised an aggressive fist. "Well sorry for expressing my nature! It's not my fault you're that emotionally stifled that you don't know anything outside what your nanny picks for you!"
Ignoring the barbed comments thrown between the two, Kuro Usagi pointed at a small shop not too far ahead. "You can see Thousand Eyes from here! In just a moment you'll be introduced to one of the wisest-"
Being completely cut off by a childish scream, everyone looked over in surprise as a tiny figure dashed from the doors of the shop and sprinted towards them. Laughing gaily, the small girl jumped high into the air. "It's been so long my dear!"
Smashing into the blunette's stomach, both her and the new girl were sent rolling back and into a manmade canal that ran down the middle of the road with a splash. There were some spluttered exclamations from the taller bunny before a body was hurled back towards the remaining group.
Lifting a foot, Izayoi caught the incoming projectile and kicked her straight into the ground. Despite the heavy hit, the girl showed no signs of pain as she glared up at the teen furiously. "What the hell do you think you're doing, kicking a beautiful young girl like myself into the floor the first time you meet her?"
Raising an amused eyebrow, Izayoi studied the female. "Izayoi, at your service Japanese-clad loli. Nice to meet you."
As if that fixed everything, the girl stood up and shook herself off before answering, "Pleased to meet you too. Shiroyasha."
Ignoring Kuro Usagi despondently traipsing back to them, Naruto looked the newly named Shiroyasha over. She was barely pushing three and a half feet in height and had shoulder length hair so white it was almost silver. Her garments were a very formal black kimono with blue hemming around all edges and held together by a pink and red sash tied around her waist. Beneath the knee length kimono were a few layers of white petticoats that helped give the skirt some volume. Below that a pair of white stockings disappeared up into the frills while a pair of buckle up shoes covered her feet. Finishing off her overall appearance were two small, midnight blue horns that poked up through her hair.
Looking them each over, Shiroyasha nodded and turned, tucking her hands into her sleeves as she went. "Nice to meet all of you. I assume Kuro Usagi brought you here for a reason so let's go inside and get comfortable."
Now seated on comfortable cushions, Kuro Usagi's group lounged opposite to Shiroyasha as the small girl settled down. Clearing her throat, the group focused as she began. "To those of you I haven't formally introduced myself to, I am Shiroyasha of Thousand Eyes. Our headquarters are located in the four digit gate number #3345. I've known Kuro Usagi for a while now so I've helped her out here and there. As you can see, I'm quite the laid back, beautiful girl."
Ignoring that last comment, Asuka frowned as she tried to figure something out. "So what is this 'gate' you are talking about?"
The voice of Kuro Usagi piped up and the group turned as she explained. "They are one of the openings that can be found in the walls that divide Little Garden up into layers. The smaller the number, the closer you are to the center. Also, your strength increases the closer you live to the center. For example, our community is located at the very edge, seven digit gate number #2105380."
Eyes then turned to Shiroyasha as she took over. "Anyone who lives in a gate number with four digits or lower, like where I am, is part of the upper levels. I'm actually the one who gave divinity to that serpent you versed, Izayoi."
Unblinking, Naruto couldn't help but try and comprehend the level of power that could be living at the summit. What kind of being would be strong enough to occupy the number #1 gate? Izayoi meanwhile hummed interestedly at Shiroyasha's admission and looked her over. "So you're stronger than that snake?"
Closing her eyes, the small girl nodded. "But of course. I'm the Floor Master on the east side. There are no other four digit or lower communities that even come close to our strength. I'm the strongest host there is."
That instantly pricked the interest of all newcomers present and they each stood up. Izayoi placed his hands on his hips and his gaze glinted challengingly. "That sounds quite fun… the strongest host?"
Asuka crossed her arms beneath her bust and nodded. "Indeed, I would quite like the opportunity to face you."
Yo simply stared at Shiroyasha while Naruto grinned broadly and snatched a fist up before his face. "I'd love to see how strong you are!"
Spluttering in panic, Kuro Usagi leant forward and stared up at them each in turn. "Wh-what are you doing? Do you even know what you are asking for?"
Waving her down, the deceptively weak girl smiled. "Now, now Kuro Usagi, don't worry. I've been lacking playmates."
Chuckling, Izayoi stared into her eyes. "Really now? What a coincidence, I've got the exact same problem! Won't you entertain us, Ms. Strongest-game-host?"
A small smirk pulled at her lips as Shiroyasha reached into one of her sleeves and began digging around. "Very well. Though I'd like to confirm one thing first." Withdrawing a silver card with an intricate drawing on the back, she held it up for everyone to see. "Would you be looking for a challenge? Or a duel?"
Naruto's eyes narrowed slightly as she gave them the second option, a cold wind seeming to kiss their skin as she spoke. There was something else behind her tone, something darker and much, much stronger. The card in her fingers then lit up and the room around them instantly fell away into nothingness. Replacing it was a vast expanse of space, stars twinkling all around them light-years away in the distance as they all floated there. The group let out a collective gasp of amazement as several platforms of coloured light began spinning up towards them. One eventually broke free from the group and shot up under their feet, the light of it growing in intensity until each had to cover their eyes from the glare.
Eventually the blinding light faded and tentatively, each person was able to open their eyes and survey the area. What met them was something they never expected.
They were now standing in an absolutely massive flat plain that looked like it was in the first touches of winter, the entire area rimmed with mountains and hills. Pine trees were spotted here and there, the trees being almost black in the twilight. Right smack dab in the middle of the circular flat was a massive, jagged mountain that stuck thousands of feet into the air, snow capping the very peaks of it. Lying at its base was a beautiful still lake, the midnight black waters reflecting the sky above like the most perfect of mirrors. Above in the darkened sky were lines of light, like never burning out shooting stars. The moon was also there, but it was far closer than what any of them were used to. Grey-turning-black clouds occasionally crossed its light, the shapeless forms casting eerie shadows all over the area as they wandered slowly across the night sky.
Giggling as they all took in the mind-blowing sight with mouths gaping; Shiroyasha held up a pale white fan and covered her face up to her eyes. "Now, there's no need to be afraid. This is simply one of my Game Boards."
Blanching, Naruto looked around in awe as Asuka stuttered out, "A-all of this is just one board?"
Smirking, Shiroyasha inclined her head and answered. "I am Shiroyasha, Demon Lord of the White Night and spirit of the Sun. I am also just one of the many demon lords that inhabit Little Garden."
Yellow eyes flashing, she then pointed her fan at the group confrontingly. "So I ask you! Do you desire a challenge? Or a fair duel?" Her gaze darkened a bit more as she continued. "I will warn you though, if you choose a duel, I will fight with my pride on the line. I will not hold back."
Unconsciously shuffling back, Naruto fixed her with a piercing stare. She was strong. She was insanely strong. Unlike anyone he had met before. To choose a duel was…
"Ha, you got me!" Looking over, Naruto had to bite his tongue when he saw Izayoi of all people with his hands up in the air. "You showed me all of this. I am completely astounded by it all so I'll just sit here quietly and let you test me."
Pondering him calculatingly for a moment, the game host smirked and nodded. "Very well, shall we start this little game then?"
Off to the side, Kuro Usagi let out a small sigh of relief as Shiroyasha turned. "In that case, I'll have you verse one of those beasts."
Hearing a powerful cry far in the distance, Naruto squinted his eyes as he tried to work it out. It looked like a big cat of some form, but it had almost bird claws for front legs and… the head of an eagle?
"A griffin! A real live griffin!"
Yo suddenly strode forward, her eyes shining in shock and awe, apparently not believing her own eyes. Looking over, the silver haired master nodded. "Indeed, he is king of the beasts. The mythical creature that represents the Gift Games."
Holding up that card from before, Shiroyasha looked them all over. "I will test your spirit, wisdom and courage with this griffin."
A burst of light above their heads signified the arrival of a Geass Roll and Izayoi caught it as it floated down. "The victory conditions are for you to ride on its back and travel once around the lake. So who will do it?"
Not asking permission of anyone, Yo stepped forward confidently without a second thought. "I will."
Her stride took her right up to stand before the griffin and staring up into its eyes, the girl took a shaky breath. "H-Hello, I'm Kasukabe Yo. It's a pleasure to meet you."
Blinking as the mighty animal began growling, Naruto watched on in surprise as she actually began talking with it. "But how? Isn't that thing not even meant to be real?"
Leaning in, Kuro Usagi smiled. "It doesn't matter. Here in Little Garden anything is possible. Myths come to life, heroes walk among us as if never falling into folklore and Gifts are granted unconditionally. Do not limit your mind, for if you can think it, it can happen. This is the world of Little Garden."
Izayoi chuckled at her statement, thoroughly impressed while Naruto frowned. If that was the case then it was almost like a butterfly effect. Any one action could potentially create a game changing result further down the track if nurtured correctly. Actually…
Naruto's eyes narrowed marginally and a smirk began to pull at his lips. An idea had just sprung into his mind, one that could have vast implications on his future. If he pulled this off…
"You can eat me."
Coming back as he heard Yo speak, Naruto blinked as he stared at her. "Will that suffice as an adequate measure against your pride?"
"Yo, you can't be serious?"
"N-no! Don't do it!"
"Step back you two!" Shiroyasha's voice snapped harshly at both Kuro Usagi and Asuka as they stepped forward in disbelief of Yo's proposal. Cringing under the powerful rebuke, both girls frowned and looked over to Yo as she smiled at them. "Don't worry, I'll be ok."
Smiling as reassuringly as possible, Yo turned back to the griffin. It apparently accepted her offer as it too turned and from the ground before them, a massive great gate exploded up from the earth. Climbing onto its back, Yo straddled it as best she could without reigns and began stroking its neck.
"So are you ready?" Nodding in reply to Shiroyasha's question, Yo grabbed twin handfuls of feathers.
Smirking, the small girl then raised her fan. "Ready…" Then dropping it, she shouted, "GO!"
Taking off at that exact moment, Naruto and the group were blustered with a powerful wind as the griffin took off, its massive wings thrusting at the air with all its might. Within seconds both it and Yo had disappeared into the distance.
Whistling as the beast began spinning and twisting through the air, Naruto nodded in approval. "Damn she is doing a good job to hold onto that."
Asuka then let out a gasp of horror as the tiny form of Yo finally succumbed to the G-forces and was flung from the back of the animal. The only thing saving her from a thousand foot fall to her death was the iron grip she still held onto the griffin's neck with.
Nodding along with Naruto, Izayoi raised an impressed eyebrow. "Indeed, the forces her body would be subject to right now are far beyond the limits of a normal human. Not to mention the altitude plus wind chill factor would put the temperature below zero. She is doing quite well all things considered."
The flight of the griffin then took the two of them behind the mountain and out of sight for a while. Asuka and Kuro Usagi were both holding their breaths collectively, hands clenched in worry for their friend. Naruto and Izayoi though were standing off to the side calmly, neither really picking at each other for a change. Hearing a faint roar from the beast in the distance, Naruto glanced over at his fellow blond. "Think she'll make it?"
Crossing his arms, Izayoi shrugged. "She might, she might not. It depends on how bad she wants to win."
Humming in agreement, Naruto's eyes turned back to the challenge as the duo reappeared on the other side of the mountain. For some reason the griffin was trying to shake her off far harder than when they initially took off and the aerial acrobatics it was currently performing were simply spectacular. Yo was doing an incredible job of holding on though, her tenacity pushing her past what limits she may have thought she had.
Cries of support from the girls of the group filled the air, desperately shouting as loudly as possible to reach her ears. Zooming in at near the speed of sound, a thunderclap echoed throughout the board as the griffin passed through the starting gates. The wind nearly knocked over everyone as it shot past, the girls grabbing onto one another for support while Naruto fed chakra into the ground and Izayoi just burying a foot into the earth.
"She's nearly unconscious! Someone catch her!"
Pulling his foot from the ground, Izayoi rushed forward, but not with the intent to save Yo. Holding his hands out, he looked up at the falling girl with an interested grin. "Just wait up one second…"
Almost like she heard him, Yo's chest let out a bright light for a moment before she awoke, twisted herself in the air and reached out a foot. To everyone's surprise, she then began jumping across empty space, ripples of vortices shooting out from underfoot as she floated towards them.
Finally landing with a soft thump, everyone ran forward to congratulate her. Naruto was right there in her face in an instant, his grinning features lighting up his eyes as he tried to convey his excitement. "How did you do that? That was actually so awesome! I wish I could run on air! You gotta teach me how!"
Izayoi's laughter from behind them had them turning, his gaze locked on Yo. "I knew it! Your Gift allows you to take the abilities of animals!"
Shaking her head, the quiet girl corrected him. "No, it's proof that we're now friends."
Hearing a grumble form behind her, Yo turned to see the griffin standing over her, an almost respectful glint in its eye. As they grunted away at one another, Kuro Usagi skipped over to a rather impressed Shiroyasha and clapped her hands together. "So, could you appraise them? We're all so interested in what they can do!"
"Eh?" Startled, the Game Host bit her lip uncertainly. "That's not exactly my field of expertise but… yeah, that could work!"
Clapping twice, the abnormally loud echo filled the air as little cards exploded into life over the heads of the teens. As they reached up to grab them, Shiroyasha explained, "This is congratulations for passing the test."
Looking over his own card, Naruto raised an eyebrow. It was a lovely vibrant orange, various lines of white running diagonally across it like an intricate maze. In each corner there was a small glyph, and centered in the middle of the card was an odd form of writing. Despite that though, for some reason he found himself slowly growing to recognise the wording somehow. Frowning, Naruto raised it to his mouth and bit down on it.
"DON'T DO THAT!" Dashing forward, Kuro Usagi smacked him over the head with a large white fan she pulled from somewhere and jumped back. Fuming, she glared at the other three as they puzzled over what it could be too. "That card had the capacity to store your gifts, as well as name them! It's an extremely valuable present and not for eating!"
Shooting Naruto a glare as she emphasized that last line, the blond just chuckled and stuck his tongue out apologetically.
"Heh, mine must be broken then. It says 'Code: Unknown'." Looking over at Izayoi's statement, the lithe teen held it down for a surprised Shiroyasha to see and chuckled as the small Host stared at it in utter confusion. Naruto raised an eyebrow and looked at his own. It didn't have any malfunctions, but…
"Excuse me, should there be this many?" Raising a hand, Naruto waited for Shiroyasha to run over and held it down. "H… how do you have this many? What did you do in your life time?"
Blinking, the blond looked at it again. Now that whatever magic on it had worked its spell, he could read it clearly and it said:
Will of Fire
Constitution of the Gods
Looking back at a puzzled Shiroyasha, Naruto ventured, "So this isn't normal?"
Tapping the side of her head with her fan, she bit her lip. "Not at all. Both you and Izayoi have something strange about your abilities." Looking back up at him, her face smoothed over and she gave him a small smile. "Still, it isn't anything but good news for you. You're a lucky boy. Anyway, let's get off this thing and back to the shop."
Walking away from him, Naruto looked down at the card. A calculating grin suddenly stretched across his face and he tucked it away. What an interesting piece. It would definitely help him with his little plan in the future.
For now though, Naruto looked around him as the game board fell away into nothingness and was replaced by Shiroyasha's room.
A/N – Yeah, it's sticking kinda close to (anime) canon but it'll break away here and there into my own arcs as I please. Hope you liked it and what I have planned!