Wow this is really late. Research is a killer and I am really regretting doing PhD right now, but I can't quit. Hopefully there is only 2 and a half more years to this.
Thank you, Faded Pink, nanitaa, Guest, and rockyourlove for your wonderful reviews! I know it's been over a year since I updated this, so thanks for your patience.
Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto.
As much as she wanted to resume her projects with the aryin, she thought it might be a good idea to scry the cloth. After all, it shouldn't take too long, and it'd be one less thing to distract her in her studies. She held the cloth in her hand and summoned her magic. Her magic focused in her eyes, and veins protruded from the area surrounding her eyes. It was a side-effect of concentrating magic to her eyes. Only Hyuuga eyes, for whatever reason, could withstand the amount of magic channelled to them without causing serious damage, which made their family renowned for scrying, whether for locating an object or looking through time. Even if the Hyuuga were one of the few families that had the ability to look through time, time-scrying was never a precise thing. Very rarely were the mages able to find what they were looking for, instead getting flashes of disconnected images. Not many mages chose to focus on it since those that did usually went mad.
Her magic showed her nothing with a basic scrying spell. She worked her way through a couple higher level spells and still nothing. This didn't surprise her since the cloth was very old and any traces of the original owner would have faded over time. As none of the scriptures in her room included spells relating to scrying old objects, she left her room and headed towards the library.
It took her a good three hours before she managed to find a scroll that contained a relevant spell. Eager to get this over with, she hurried back to her room with the parchment, inclining her head politely to the couple of mages she encountered in the hallway.
When she reached the privacy of her room, she unrolled the scroll and placed it on her desk, reading the description of the spell a couple of times before turning her attention to the circle. She took the piece of cloth and placed it on the floor in front of her. She then took a deep breath before drawing on her magic. Her right index finger glowed, and she began drawing the circle in the air in front of her. Hinata had to glance back at the scroll every so often to make sure she was drawing the lines correctly. She didn't want to invoke the spell with an incorrect circle, not after hearing what had happened to mages who had done so. The results were never pretty. After completing the final line for a triangle, she moved the circle to the floor so that the cloth was in the middle of it and then activated it.
The only thing she managed to see was the silhouette of a man before an unknown circle appeared in front of that shadow and her magic was thrown back, causing her to stumble backwards into her desk. The image faded from her magic-sight. Stunned, she stared down at the strip of cloth on the ground, magic circle gone, and levitated it back into the bag with the aryin around her neck. The levitation spell was one she used often, and so her pendant had the spell engraved into it, which allowed her to activate the spell instantaneously.
The owner of the cloth was a mage, a very talented and very dangerous mage.
And here she'd thought that this was going to be easy.
She was supposed to inform the head of the Uchiha merchant house about the delays. She had already put it off for a week, but the ace had called an emergency meeting, and so all Clovers were present in the main hall. On her left was her younger sister and on her right was her older cousin. Neither of them knew exactly why Nagato had assembled all the mages present in the capital, but all three of them had their suspicions.
The situation with Oto wasn't getting any better.
The ace rose in his seat and all murmuring ceased. Although he spoke softly, his voice carried to all in attendance. "I regret to inform all of you that Oto has declared war on Konoha. This will be the first time since the founding of Konoha that the factions have worked together." He paused for effect. "I'm sure that alone is enough to tell you the gravity of the situation."
"The Hearts have a massive and formidable army. Surely they can take care of the problem themselves?" Matsuri called out, her voice holding a tone of disbelief.
Nagato shook his head. "Apart from their army, which is easily double ours, Oto has mages."
The young brunette stood up in her seat, eyes blazing. "And what do the Diamonds and Spades have to say about this? Surely they're against this as much as we are."
This time it was the Queen that answered. "They like it as much as we do. But if Konoha falls, then our factions are useless."
Quiet murmuring filled the hall and Hinata exchanged looks with her family. Her father's face was grim. Hanabi and Neji weren't too pleased either. While both were classified as 'war mages', neither really wanted to go into battle with a country larger than their own. And even though war mages had guard duty, none of them had ever had to use their powers in a proper fight. More often than not, patrols merely used their magical abilities to detain or injure unarmed and unskilled citizens to keep the peace. Sure they practiced on magical targets, but in terms of actual combat experience, they were sorely lacking.
"Quiet." Although the ace's command was not shouted over the voices of the other mages in discussion, everyone fell silent. "I do not like the Hearts, but I believe this is necessary if we want to continue our work. Unless explicitly stated, your orders come from either Konan or I in regards to the war. You are not obliged to follow any of the other factions' orders even if the person giving the order is ranked higher. Should the other factions disagree, you may direct them to either of us." His eyes swept around the room, making sure to look each Clover in the eye. "Any questions?"
Clover Nine, Kin, raised her hand and spoke when Nagato nodded at her. "Does that mean we're all on call for the war? And is there any way for us to not be involved?"
"You all committed yourselves to bettering the lives of the people of this country when you joined this faction. You are all expected to contribute to this war, in one way or another. If you have any questions about your personal involvement in the war, see me later. For now, we are all on-call. Prepare to receive orders within the next few days. Any other general questions?" When nobody else spoke, he resumed. "For now, that is all."
The mages slowly trickled out of the room, none speaking until they were a fair distance away from the meeting room.
Hanabi slowed to a halt near the spiral staircase. "We'll all be fighting, right?" She turned to face her sister. "Well I guess except for you. You can be our medic! That way, Neji-nii-san and I don't have to worry about anything."
Hinata smiled faintly. It was nice to know that her little sister had such confidence in her abilities. But still, the idea of war terrified her. She was used to the peaceful life that they had been living thus far, and she felt she, at least, was terribly unprepared for the upcoming battles, even if she only had to participate as a healer.
"Ota has some talented mages. It would be wise not to underestimate them, Hanabi-sama," Neji replied dispassionately. "We had better prepare for battle. I wouldn't be surprised if we were dispatched today or tomorrow."
Hanabi sighed. "Then I had better go and tidy up my work area. I was so close to getting the circle for the third turn for the close range lightning spell." She raised her hand. "I'll see you both later."
Hinata watched the younger girl head off before turning to her cousin. "I should also run a few errands before we get called on."
"I hope you don't get called out," Neji murmured to her before heading off to prepare.
She headed back to her room and spent the next hour tidying up her desk. After that was completed, she went down to the healing research area to clean up her section. Unfortunately, it was a shared workspace, so it took longer to neaten and organise all the scrolls and materials. When midday rolled around, she still wasn't done. She decided to take a break, however, since her stomach was protesting.
If she was going to get food, she might as well also visit Ino at The Jinchuuriki. It would also be good to see if her friend had any information regarding the war since they were now officially at war with Rice. She could also drop by Sakura's place and see if the merchant's daughter wanted to join her since she hadn't seen her in a while.
Only after casting the cooling magic did she step outside. The small pale blue circle was one of her favourites, especially during this time of year. It didn't take her long to walk through the streets towards the Haruno House, not that she was in a hurry. She took her time, eavesdropping on the civilians' conversations. So far, nothing of the war had been leaked, at least not that she could tell.
She eventually spotted the classy storefront, cool grey stones and an ebony roof. The one thing she distinctly remembered about the Haruno House was that it was hot inside during summer.
However, before she could enter the building, the front door opened and a pair of surprised emerald eyes met hers.
"Sakura-chan! It's so good to see you."
The beautiful pink-haired woman smiled back at her fondly. "Indeed. It's been a while. I guess you've been busy with the Clovers since tensions are running high between Rice and Fire."
"You too. Dealing with shipments and overseas merchants can't be easy, especially not with all the uncertainty," she replied empathetically.
Sakura waved her hand. "Let's not talk about our depressing work. I was just about to head out to eat. Want to join me?"
She laughed. "I came here with the intention to ask you if you wanted to join me at The Jinchuuriki."
"Well, you know what they say, great minds think alike."
Both of them headed towards the tavern, Hinata also wrapping Sakura in her spell. Her friend was always amazed at the light that came from her fingertips as she drew the small circle in the air. Of course, this method used more power than just activating an already drawn circle, but she was used to casting this spell and it didn't take a lot out of her. Besides, Sakura liked to see it, so it was worth the effort.
"I wish I could do that," Sakura sighed. "It would be so useful during the more extreme weather, not to mention that it's so pretty."
Granted, her magic manifested itself as a sky blue, so she could see the appeal in the colour. Her sister's was an ocean blue, and her cousin's was navy. She wasn't sure why certain people had certain colours, but everyone in her family had a variation of blue. Her father's was a deep, stormy blue.
It didn't take long for the two of them to make their way to the tavern. And, as usual, it was bustling with labourers. Hinata's eyes skimmed the crowd to see if there was an empty place she and Sakura could eat.
"Do you see any?"
Hinata shook her head. "No, but that may be because I can't see over some of these people…"
"I haven't seen you two in ages!"
The two of them turned around to see Ino hurrying over. "Ino-pig! It's good to see you!"
"Likewise, Forehead. Come on." Ino gestured over at the corner. "I can squeeze you two in here."
The two of them took a seat, ordered, and paid. While they waited for their food, they wasted no time catching up.
Predictably, gossip about the Hearts came about as Ino and Sakura had many tales to tell, whether they were from drunks or clients, it seemed they were both worried about the tensions with Rice.
Ino dished out the mutton curry. "Kankuro-san came in here the other day and I managed to get him tipsy." She leaned down to them, her voice lowered. "He mentioned to me that he was assigned to ride out in the next few days to the border of Rice and Fire."
"Do you think they're anticipating attacks already?" Sakura asked in a whisper.
Before Ino could reply, Hinata chimed in. "We're officially at war with Rice. An announcement should be made within the next few days."
Sakura's jaw dropped. "You can't be serious. Rice has three times the population we do, and their army is double ours."
"But we have more mages," Ino retaliated almost immediately.
Hinata shook her head. "We may have two or three times more mages, but there's still only maybe seventy of us. We don't have infinite energy, and most mages don't have any physical combat skills. So if we run out of magic, we're vulnerable. A mage is considered great already if he or she can cast a wide area devastation spell by themselves. It usually takes two or three to cast the spell."
"When you say wide area, how big would that be?" Sakura asked.
"If we're lucky, we could take out a battalion with one of those spells."
"So if all of you were to just do wide area devastation spells, you would only be able to take out twenty, twenty-one battalions?" Ino frowned as she leaned against the table. "That isn't even half their army."
Sakura took a sip of her drink before commenting, "Their army size as we knew it before, you mean. With this declaration of war, no doubt they'll be conscripting their people."
"And they have three times the people we do…" Hinata sighed as she poked at the lamb. "Which is why kougou-sama is recruiting the help of all four factions."
"I don't blame her. This is pretty bad. We'll need all the help we can get," Ino added. She looked over and apologised to her friends. "Sorry guys, duty calls," she said before heading off to another customer.
"Well, the war explains why we have a sudden increase in orders from the palace. I was wondering why The Hearts would need triple of what they normally purchase."
"No doubt they're buying from all available merchant and trading houses. They'll need supplies quickly."
Sakura finished off her food. "So much for not having to worry about a war."
"Did Naruto-kun tell you that?"
"Yeah. Well, I was prepared for the worst, but knowing a war could happen and living through it actually happening are two different things." Concerned, she turned to look at Hinata. "You'll have to fight, won't you?"
She shrugged. "My strength lies in healing, so I probably won't have to fight like the other mages. But if we lose too many…" she trailed off, unwilling to speak those thoughts out loud.
"Let's hope it doesn't get to that. Come on, let's get going."
They passed Ino on the way out, said their goodbyes, and headed back to the Haruno House.
There wasn't a cloud in the sky as they walked along the docks. There wasn't a breeze, so many people were walking in the shadows of the stalls and buildings in order to avoid the stifling heat.
The two of them parted ways and Hinata found herself walking towards the Uchiha House. She did owe the man an update, after all.
She entered the building and spoke to Karin, who told her to wait a moment while she contacted Sasuke. Within minutes, she was directed to his office.
After the initial greetings, she directed the conversation to the matter which she came here for. "Uchiha-sama, I have looked into the matter you presented to me before. Unfortunately, I have only found that the owner of the cloth is a very powerful mage. I have yet to look into it further as The Clovers are preoccupied with other matters, but should I discover any more information, I will inform you as soon as I can."
To her relief, he didn't look angry about the fact that she was taking her time finding out the cloth's identity. "A powerful mage, huh? I'd guess it isn't one you recognise."
She shook her head. "No, the mage that the cloth belonged to was never a part of the current Clovers, as I do not recognise his magic."
"So a male?"
"Yes, I can tell the magic is used by a man. I will send a missive next time, should I need to meet with you."
"That would be preferable." He gazed at her for a moment. "And I would send a message to The Clover headquarters should I need to contact you?"
Nodding her head, she replied, "That would be fine. The junior mages will make sure the message is delivered to me."
"Very well, thank you."
His voice was dismissive, and she merely inclined her head. "I will keep you informed. Thank you for meeting with me on such short notice."
She left the building and walked back to headquarters, a slight frown marring her features. Not only did she have to worry about a war, she also had to worry about the unknown mage Sasuke wanted her to track down and fulfilling her end of their bargain.
Briefly, she wondered if she would be able to accomplish either objective.