Another SasuHina story. Not sure how long this will be...

This is set in some sort of medieval timeframe with the inclusion of magic, and was inspired by the multitude of books I've been reading plus cards. Cards are awesome.
Ranking - Ace is the highest, then K-2. There is only one Ace. King and Queen are the same rank, just differentiating gender.
Kougou - empress, Tennou - emperor (according to internet as all the Japanese I know is from anime). Please correct me if I'm wrong.

Note: Aryin is a word I made up.

Looking for a casual beta-reader for this story (and possibly other SasuHina works). Please PM me if you are interested.

Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto, or Neji would for sure still be alive D:

"We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand." - Randy Pausch

She pushed her midnight locks behind her shoulder as her eyes skimmed the delicate black script on the aged parchment that sat on the mahogany desk in front of her. Upon finishing the chapter, she closed the book carefully. It was one of the few copies in the library in the city and she wouldn't be able to afford it should she damage it by accident. She closed her lavender orbs momentarily, letting out a resigned sigh; she would have to venture out of the mage quarters and onto the common streets. Her poor lack of hindsight meant that she had run out of aryin stones to capture magical energy in. Hinata retrieved her coin pouch and fastened it to her belt. She then headed out of her room, closing the door quietly behind her. Other mages were studying and she didn't want to disturb any of them.

She continued down the hall, greeting other mages appropriately, in accordance to their rank. Elegant tapestries of varying colours hung from the marbled walls of the corridors, depicting past rulers and legends in their deeds of triumph. A subtle manipulation, she thought. Of course they never show the other, less-than-noble deeds… I wonder…

"Hinata-san, there you are," a distinct female voice called out to her from behind.

She quickly turned to face an older, blue-haired female. "Konan-sama," she demurred, bowing politely as someone of her rank should. Nobility and lineage did not mean much in the Clover Faction of the mages, ability did.

The elder female nodded in acknowledgement. "Nagato-sama wanted me to give you this." She smiled not unkindly as she held out a scroll of parchment bound with a purple ribbon.

"Ah, thank you," Hinata replied quickly as she took the scroll from the Queen's outstretched hand.

"Best wishes, Seven-san." Her pale orange eyes watched Hinata carefully.

She bowed politely, thanking the older woman once again and headed back to her room to read the missive, hoping it wasn't bad news. Fortunately, it only contained the Ace's opinions on her most recent report on the uses of aryin on extended healing of mild maladies. It did give her a lot to think about as he had some suggestions at what she could attempt next. Imbuing healing energies into aryin was incredibly difficult, and so far there was minimal success, except in improving the mood of patients and minimal numbing of pain. She'd patterned the magical energy in many types of already used magical circles, but the Ace had suggested distorting those to sided shapes, such as octagons or decagons as the ice-blue mineral was an ordered structure… She would try that when she managed to get more aryin. It was fairly difficult to try and re-spell those stones with different magic purpose and she would have to send them in to the erasing sector of the Clovers (since it was a tricky and tedious process). While she waited (the process took a couple of weeks), she would have to use new stones. She set the scroll down next to the book she had read earlier on.

The lavender-eyed mage pondered her superior's suggestion as she exited the old building. It would make sense, and it was something that none of the other mages had attempted as the ones that were also working on aryin and healing magic were using upper level magical incantations.

She walked by some of the street stalls, casually greeting the vendors. Although they had smiles on their faces, it wasn't too hard to see the faint underlying fear in their eyes upon seeing her shimmering periwinkle tunic, and the fear only grew more pronounced upon catching sight of her pale lavender eyes. The Hyuuga were known to be very formidable mages that were also well versed in physical combat, their own unique style. At least every time she headed out to the streets now, the fear in the citizens' eyes was less due to her focus on healing magic (it was difficult to be afraid of a healer, although who was to say she couldn't do battle magic if need be?). Her aptitude, and preference, for healing magic meant that she only ranked a Seven. Her older cousin, who more or less concentrated on the destructive battle magic and was highly proficient in the Hyuuga style of physical combat, was ranked a Ten. Hanabi, her younger sister, was already ranked a Seven due to her talent for battle magic. The fact that her sister was ranked the same as her (and was her junior by 5 years) was a point of embarrassment for her father, thus most of the time she would avoid being in his company for extended periods of time (as much as it saddened her). Majority of the Hyuuga that entered the Clover Faction held positions of Nine and above by the time they were eighteen, a feat she had not accomplished (in which she was a few weeks late anyway).

Clouds were scattered across the blue sky, providing some relief from the heat of the sun at this time of month. She looked up, disappointed to see white rather than the greys that would promise rain. It had been a hot couple of weeks and she was hoping the temperature would fall. She crossed the streets, attempting to remain in the shade provided by the stalls. Some items caught her interest, and she stopped shortly to inspect them, though none of them were actually magical in nature (those items were sold through licensed trading houses). She debated whether or not to purchase a small ivory comb for her sister as Hanabi had lost hers a couple of days ago, then decided she might as well. It was a pretty thing, for 3 coppers.

She took her time walking the cobbled streets since it was a nice break from her attempts with the pale stones. The Aburame trading house was located in the heart of the marketplace. Its white wooden walls and ebony tiled roof stood out amongst the drab browns and greys of the surrounding shops. A large wooden sign with 'Aburame House' in fanciful script and their signature logo of a rare type of beetle was engraved hung from the rafters. Her childhood friend, Shino, was a part of the merchant house. The Aburame's were a family friend of the Hyuuga and they supplied much of the magical items required for spell casting. Hinata entered the well-maintained building, sighing quietly as she did so. It was a lot cooler indoors, and the Aburame family made sure to keep the venue ventilated as appropriate.

The pale-eyed female greeted the stout woman at the front counter before she requested to meet with Aburame Shibi. She smiled amiably upon seeing the dark-haired head of the trader house, bowing politely as protocol dictated. The exchange of pleasantries was brief, and she soon got down to business. "Aburame-sama, I don't suppose you would have a few dozen aryin I could purchase? I have unfortunately run out and cannot continue my work until I get new ones."

He pushed his sunglasses up with his index finger. "I'm afraid not, Hinata-san. Our supplier is running late with the delivery due to the increasing uneasiness of Fire country relations with Rice. Come back in a couple of days and I'll let you know if there are any updates. If there is a shipment by then, I will set the order aside for you."

"That would be most appreciated." She paused a moment, figuring Shibi would have some information on the matter. "What do you know of the rising tension?"

"From what I've heard, tennou-sama's demands are borderline insulting and he and his court do not seem to be willing to negotiate with us. Kougou-sama continues to try and compromise, but that only makes them more aggressive. She has gone through six advisors already in attempts to reach some sort of agreement. In the background, however, she is rallying the army and amassing supplies as well as fortifying the country's defences. The Hearts have increased their training regimen in preparation for a war, and there is talk of sending more companies to the outposts along the border of Fire and Rice as a precautionary measure." He shook his head. "Things don't appear to be improving in the least."

Hinata maintained a neutral mask and nodded. "Thank you for the information. I hadn't realised things were as such."

"It's not a problem. Now, if you excuse me, I have a meeting with the Uchiha house that I need to get to. I will give your regards to my son."

"Thank you very much. Good bye, Aburame-sama." The bluenette exited the building, returning to the hot streets. She was glad that her tunic was made of a light cloth that wasn't too hot in the sun and was instead rather cooling, though she supposed there may have been a few spells woven into the cloth that moderated the temperature around the wearer.

Instead of heading back to the mage quarters, she decided to pay a visit to a couple of her friends at the Hearts faction. Since Shibi had told her that the army was preparing for war, she might as well go see to what extent the Hearts were going to. Then, the least she could do at the moment was to strengthen the energy and healing spells on the aryin that she had given to her friends. The healing spells would only lessen the feeling of pain, unfortunately. She wished she could do more. If there was actually war, the research she had been carrying out for the past couple of years would be useful, if only she could get a breakthrough. The aryin was the only type of stone known that could hold magic energy, and even then the variation between stones was great.

It was an even longer walk to the castle, and only a couple of hours later did she make it to the gates. She walked over to the guard and lifted the sleeve of her tunic to reveal 7 royal purple clubs and a VII marked on the skin of her right shoulder. "Hyuuga Hinata, Clover Seven. I have business with Heart Seven, Inuzuka Kiba-san."

The guard glanced at her shoulder and then summoned a runner to take her to Kiba. The blond runner led her through the pristine halls, going through long corridors. The Hearts faction was huge, taking up a fair few acres of land. It was at least 10 times as big as the mage complex due to the amount of space required for the army to train and house, as well as stable and exercise the horses.

The Hyuuga female was brought to one of the training fields, the runner telling her that squad 7C-2 was undergoing training at present, but would finish in half an hour. She agreed to wait until they were done, and the blond headed off having other work to do.

She sat on one of the benches under a wooden shelter nearby and scanned the crowd for any signs of her friend. Kiba should be amongst the soldiers, somewhere… ah! The distinctive red triangle markings on his face were easy to spot through the greens of the uniforms. He was very good at what he did, and watching him run through the drills brought a small frown to her face. The possible war… her friends… She took a deep breath, pushing those thoughts out of her mind. It would do her no good to think of such things at the moment since nothing was gained in coming up with imaginary scenarios that may or may not come to pass. She would deal with the present, the precautions she could take to hopefully help others. She waved to Kiba when he looked over and received a similar gesture in reply.

She spent the next half hour watching her childhood friend practice, her thoughts running a mile a minute about the various healing magics she could remember and about the possible ways of altering the circles into sided shapes. That would require a lot of work to see if the redone shape could even produce the same result, or even a result at all. Apart from the general shape, some of the markings and other designs inside the original circle may have to be altered as well. She sighed. That would be a lot of work, a lot of it trial and error. Circles always worked in magical spells that were designed for an extended period of time. Other shapes… well their effects varied considerably. While she waited for the aryin to come in, she supposed she could sketch a few designs to try out, and possibly run them by some of her colleagues to see their ideas.

"Hinata-chan!" Kiba called out as he ran over to her when the training session was complete. "It's nice to see you again! What brings you here?" He rested his elbows on the wooden wall in front of her, head in hands as he peered down at her with a grin. The greens flapped in the wind, and the 7 red hearts with a VII stitched in were evident on the front of his uniform on the left breast pocket. "Not that I'm not glad to see you or anything," he added on, hurriedly.

A faint smile of amusement touched her lips briefly while she waved off his last comment. "I understand, Kiba-kun. No, I had some time off and came to visit you guys. That and, well…" She trailed off, raising an eyebrow at him.

"Ah, well, everyone will be glad to see you. I'm on break now so I can bring you to where they are?" He nodded slightly. "We can talk on the way."

She rose from her seat, nodding in acquiescence. It would be best if they could talk to each other with a decreased possibility of anyone overhearing. Kiba would be sure to walk her around the places with less people.

As they made their way around the large facility, she spoke again. "I've heard that the castle is preparing for war and that the Heart faction is expecting that possibility…?" She looked over at him.

The brunette blinked. "Well, yeah… Apparently negotiations aren't going very well, and kougou-sama wants to make sure we're all prepared, just in case. Though…" He frowned. "I'm not gonna lie to you, Hina-chan, but things aren't looking too good. There have been rumours that kougou-sama is considering not only asking the Diamond Faction, but also both the Clover and Spade faction for assistance should things take a turn for the worse." The pair turned the corner and waved to one of the knights that passed by.

She stared at him in surprise, only speaking when there was no-one in the vicinity once more. "But… Kougou-sama isn't… the leader has never… it is unheard of!" She paused, thinking about all the revelations that piece of information brought. None of them were good. "Are things… really that bad?" she whispered, her voice wavering slightly.

The Inuzuka glanced around warily before dropping his voice considerably, moving closer to her. "From what Jiraiya-sama is making us do and from the other rumours flying around here, yeah… Rice has at least three times the population of Fire. Also, some people from the court believe that he is underhanded enough to attack while negotiations continue, which is why we need to post more troops at the outposts along the border. Not only that, but some people say that tennou-sama has some sort of secret weapon in Oto, and possibly some sort of dark magic... We may need all the factions to band together in order to defend our country if things should come to that."

Hinata frowned. There were only about 70 mages in all of Konoha, around 10 of them coming from the Hyuuga family. While battle magic could certainly affect a wide area, there were only so many times such great magic could be cast. The Hearts faction was large, mainly due to the varying positions available, such as cavalry, footmen, archers, and so forth. That, and the fact it was run by the castle meant that many able-bodied people joined as the pay was fairly decent. The Spade and Diamond faction… well, the numbers were unknown as the members were kept a secret, and neither were looked upon favourably amongst the common people. The last time the 4 factions had banded together was when the capital, Konoha, was formed. After that, they had agreed not to interfere with each other and not to work together unless a situation so dire arose that it was necessary to do so.

The pair entered one of the buildings, and all conversation pertaining to the possibilities of war were discontinued. Most of the Hearts watched her warily, nervous that a mage was walking the halls. Hinata forced a pleasant expression. "I just want to see how everyone's been. Also, I'd like to strengthen the spells on all your aryin."

"Alight, I don't think that'll be a problem," Kiba replied easily as he ignored the stares. "Most of them should be in the dining hall since it's around lunch break anyway. Have you eaten, Hina-chan?"

She shook her head. "Not yet. I was planning to do so after I checked up on you guys."

"You could-"

The bluenette held up a hand before he could continue. "You and I both know that would not be a wise idea. It's fine. I had something to eat before venturing out."

He shrugged, knowing better than to argue with a Hyuuga. "If you say so. Guess you're not staying long then…?"

"No, unfortunately. I have a lot of work I need to do. Also… I should increase my visits to the training areas."

Kiba nodded in understanding. "Wish you could hang around for longer. Wish we could go visit you." He frowned at his last comment.

"I wish you could too, but rules are rules."

"Yeah… anyway…" He gestured to the double doors that the two had stopped in front of. "Dining hall's here." Kiba pushed open the door, his stomach grumbling as he did so. He sheepishly laughed. "Good timing, huh?"

Hinata briefly shot him a small smile and turned her gaze to the dining hall. Numerous rectangular tables were lined up with benches on either side, running parallel in order to squish as many Hearts in a table as possible. People were sitting, elbow-to-elbow, nudging each other in the sides as they ate. The whole place was loud, rowdy, and bursting with energy, and she didn't want to enter as it would kill the atmosphere.

It was one of the problems (or perks, as Hanabi would say) of being a Clover member. People tended to stare at you and were exceptionally wary of you if you entered an area that wasn't frequently visited by mages. And sometimes she thought it was even worse, especially since her distinctive eyes only caused the silence to lengthen.

"I'll wait out here? I rather not make everyone awkward… Make sure you grab something to eat too, Kiba-kun."

He nodded. "Will do. Be back in a couple of minutes." The male walked inside quickly.

She sighed, leaning against the wall as she did so. She watched the Hearts walk by her, making it a point to not smile at anyone (her father would admonish her if she did such a thing in public, especially in the presence of another faction). The poorly concealed, wary looks she received in return only made the guilty feeling inside her grow.


She would recognise that voice anywhere. "Naruto-kun," she replied as she turned her attention to the group that had exited the dining hall. "TenTen-chan, Temari-chan, Kankurou-san, Lee-san. It's so good to see you all again." She inclined her head in greeting, letting slip a small smile (Naruto's enthusiasm was infectious).

"Hinata-chan! It's really good to see you! What are you doing here?" Tenten asked with a friendly smile. "Does Neji-kun know you're here?"

"No, it was more of an impromptu visit. I went out earlier to see if I could get any mage supplies and decided to stop by after. I wanted to see how you all were doing, as well as strengthen the spells on your aryin."

Kiba slung an arm over her shoulders while nodding as he finished off the bread roll in his free hand. "Yeah, she can't be here for long. Since the others are busy, we gotta grab theirs too."

"I can grab Shikamaru-kun's," TenTen replied with a wave of her hand.

Naruto grinned. "Chouji's doing drills in the third field. I can go get his."

"And I'll go get my brother's," Kankurou added. "He's probably in the library or something again. I dunno how he can spend so much time in there."

Hinata shot him an amused expression. "He must have much to review and study. I hope it won't be too much of an inconvenience."

"Naw, Gaara could use a short break, that workaholic." Temari shook her head, somewhat exasperated. "He's spending a lot more time in the library 'cause of the current situation and all. I don't think you'll be able to see him today, Hina-chan."

"I understand and it's perfectly alright."

The three then headed off, leaving Hinata with Kiba, Temari, and Lee. She engaged in small talk, acutely aware of the curiosity of other members of the Heart faction. The bluenette kept her voice low. Yes, she and her family were all well. No, she hadn't been able to gain much leeway in terms of healing and aryin. And, of course she'd try and visit more when she wasn't too bogged down by all the work she had to do (while maybe dragging her half-reluctant cousin along). She also promised to give them all advanced notice before she decides to drop by. She was glad when the topic moved away from her and to her friends. It was good to know that all of them were well, and that Shikamaru had recently been promoted to rank 9. She would have to congratulate him when she saw him as it was a rather impressive feat for one so young.

While she was listening, she drew out a roll of parchment and a lead pencil from her tunic. She carefully sketched the circle she used on her friends' aryin stones, adding a couple of lines in order to strengthen the spells.

Upon seeing her three friends return, she placed the parchment on the floor. "Put the stones in the circle."

When all the icy blue minerals were in the circle, she summoned her powers and worked them into the intricate designs of the circles on the paper, conveying that spell into the rocks. As it was a spell that she was proficient in, the whole process simply took a couple of minutes. She let out a sigh and picked up the stones, handing them back to her friends.

"Thanks, Hinata-chan!" Naruto grinned as he pocketed his aryin. "You're always so hard-working! Good luck with everything! I gotta run though; Iruka-san wanted to see me about something. Sorry to cut this short!"

"Oh, it's no problem. Good bye, Naruto-kun, and good luck to you too," she replied with a small smile as she watched him bounce down the hallway. She turned her attention back to the others. "I should probably let you guys go for lunch, ne?"

Lee waved his hands in a negative gesture. "It's completely fine, Hinata-chan!"

Temari shot the exuberant male a look. "Ya know, we only have another twenty minutes before our drills?" She turned to look at the Clover. "Sorry, Hinata-chan, as much as we'd love your company for longer, duty calls."

"It's alright, guys. I should go eat too."

After all the long goodbyes and promises to meet up sometime, Hinata exited the building with mixed feelings. While it was good to know that her friends were doing well, it was disheartening to hear confirmation from Kiba about the Fire-Rice relations. Also, the revelation that all 4 factions may have to band together was… unpleasant. Such a suggestion would meet much criticism and doubt unless the empress herself had a convincing argument paired with evidence of the direness of the situation.

Even if the Oto army was 3 times as big as the Hearts faction, there were many tactics that could be employed, as previous leaders had done. Besides, the reputation of the Hearts faction was renowned. Many countries would think twice about attacking Fire country with such an army, let alone the possibility of having to fight not only the Royal Army, but the other 3 factions as well (whose deeds were also rather well known, and the added 'benefit' of stories growing more and more exaggerated as they were told further and further away from the place of origin should deter a good majority of other nations in engaging in a war with Fire).

It won't come to that, Hinata thought. The other three won't get involved in the political games the countries are playing at.