The food hasn't gotten better. I don't think it ever will.


Chapter 20: Regionals

The parties of the nobility of Mistral were something to behold. Although Atlas was the wealthiest of the kingdoms, Mistral had a thriving cultural scene, and nothing in the world of Remnant more exemplified the difference in social status between the haves and the have nots. They were usually held on the top floor of one of Mistral's extravagant manors in the upper district, with forbidden delights shut out to all the commoners of the kingdom.

Even with the extravagance, Cinder managed to still be the center of attention in a crowd of noblewomen who had spent a small fortune in order to make themselves pretty after the flow of time had stolen that from them.

Beautiful women were not at all uncommon at Mistrali parties. Half of them were nothing more than prettied up high-class prostitutes, if one of them wasn't born into a noble family. They married into one of the families or otherwise used their looks to gain social ground.

Like anything involved with money and power, Mistral parties were a symbol of the seedy underbelly that existed within a society. Drugs, sex, and discussions of white-collar crime were at the center of many parties, backrooms established to entertain guests with pleasure, excess, and debauchery. Wealthy people and those with status were above the law, after all.

Cinder enjoyed the parties, and not just because she upheld the image of a Mistral socialite. This was the place where she built her reputation. These parties were where the sons of nobility and even the older noblemen themselves were at their weakest, primed for someone to dig a sharp fingernail in their back in the throes of pleasure and manipulate them.

This time around Cinder just sat there, bored. She was not in the mood to enjoy the party. Her well-manicured nails drummed against her wine glass periodically. She was dissatisfied with controlling the Mistral locals, nobility or no. Becoming a huntress was an avenue for power that she could take into her own hands, but that was becoming a disillusionment as well, after seeing Naruto's secret power on display. What had she been doing lately?

A masculine voice broke her out of her thoughts. A dapper young man was standing there beside her, extending his hand to her and trying so hard to remain confident. She crossed one leg over the other, keying in on the small whispered sigh he gave after the view she so graciously allowed him to see.

A coy smirk appeared on her lips as the veneer of confidence shattered; at least she could still enjoy the feeling of controlling men with her body, though maybe that was just relief that she could still find some success after the failure from the other night.

She placed a hand in his daintily, allowing herself to get swept off her feet onto the dance floor as if she were some lamb-like damsel.

Cinder was well-versed in the Mistral etiquette, and right now was a sort of slow waltz. She and the young nobleman took the dance floor, his name escaping her at the moment as it did for a lot of the nobility.

His hand went to her hip and she melted into the rhythm, taking the lead into the slow dance. He couldn't stop looking at her face, transfixed by her features. As she led him into the dance, she allowed him to touch her, and his hands trembled as they ran all over her body, even in this non-intimate dance.

They moved with the other dancing couples, and when they were finished an older man came and squeezed the boy's shoulder, and the dancing of the pair halted. She looked at the other nobleman, and recognized him as the young nobleman's father. He broke with her and sent his father a dirty look, slumped over and thoroughly put out but without a thing he could do.

Cinder grinned on the inside but feigned ignorance and regarded the older nobleman with the same coy, aloof smile that she gave his son. One would think that the older man would be more difficult to manipulate, but it was often the case that they were just as easily malleable as youth, perhaps even more so.

She took the initiative this time, once again reaching out a dainty hand. This nobleman took it in a firmer grip, with much more confidence. Good, it would be sweeter to break it. The music picked up, and they began to move in a more energetic dance. His hand rested on her hip as they undulated to the beat. He didn't even wait for approval like his son had.

He twirled her, and her short hair whipped around as her shoulder faced the nobleman, and she leaned in close after the spin, her body pressing into his and her hair tickling his nostrils. By now, he should've been intoxicated by her scent.

His hand was slowly moving away from her hip in a way he no doubt thought was subtle, but it was resting on her ass soon enough. She pretended not to notice as she flexibly hiked her leg over his shoulder and forced his other hand to catch her. She was flashing him, with the way her dress showed, and he definitely saw.

She had him exactly where she wanted him, completely lust-addled and not thinking clearly. She broke her hold with the older man and began sashaying, bumping her hip against his pelvis as she passed him.

Her head turned to regard him, and she winked at him before gesturing for him to follow.

Manors like these had a multitude of backrooms, guest rooms, and dens for situations like this. The older nobleman passed into the room eagerly, and she shut the door behind him before locking it. She sauntered over to the bed, the nobleman's eyes following her for approval as if she wasn't thirty years his junior.

She opened the drawer on the nightstand, finding the contents to be a few white pills, a syringe, and some powder as well as a few condoms underneath it all. She closed the drawer; there would be no need for any of that.

She began undoing her dress, and made sure the old nobleman lost himself in ecstasy. The rest was a blur as they found themselves on the bed.

Cinder's hair fell around her shoulders as she stared numbly at the top of the ceiling. The nobleman was straddling her, thrusting into her roughly as she panted with every burst. She bit her lip lasciviously as she let out another moan.

They moved in perfect rhythm with one another during the sex, and she allowed him to finish in her. He may have been on Cloud Nine being allowed to have sex with someone like her, but he was not thinking about the aftermath.

She had allowed him a little bit of heaven, only to forever pull that heaven from his grasp from that point on. He was a married man, too. But, what would he be willing to do in order to taste her sweet flesh that he would never again experience?

Give him a taste, enjoy herself, and then have him pine after her for that point on while she forever kept herself out of reach. That was what Cinder did to these people, and they never had any idea until it was too late.

The soiree continued even after their dirty deeds were done. No one seemed to notice or care about what went on in one of the back rooms, and Cinder was able to mingle with the crowd and effectively lose sight of her one-time lover.

"Having fun, are we?" a low, disdainful voice hissed in her ear. She turned around in a flash, not used to being successfully snuck up on. Standing behind her was none other than one of her mother's associates.

"Watts," she growled. The Atlesian scientist wasn't exactly a Mistralian nobleman, but as one of the top scientists in his kingdom he was invited to high social events all over the world. He had connections in places she could only dream of.

"Oh, don't give me that look. It's not worn well by some noblewoman's brat who thinks she's the creme-de-le-creme." he said, staring down his mustache at her.

"What do you want?" she asked curtly. He was one of the few people who could see through the facade she wore, probably because he was just as big a sociopath as she was. Was it any wonder why she didn't like him?

"You seemed crabbier than usual. I saw you seduce that weak-minded older gentleman, but you weren't manipulating everyone around you with the same zest as you would at some of these other parties."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"Megalomania doesn't suit you, my dear, yet here you are with it anyway."

Cinder gave an unamused humming noise.

"Are you finally unsatisfied staying in this kingdom, training as a huntress? You told me about how you wished to become one. You didn't say any reasons but I can read between the lines. Being a benefit to humanity isn't exactly your forte."

"I don't understand why you are so interested. It has nothing to do with you... Now, did you just come here to insult me, or did you actually want something?" Cinder replied.

"Au contraire. My mistress, that is the one that I work for; she has had her eye on you for quite some time. She is looking for someone who wants power, massive power, and someone tenacious enough to do anything to get it. She had a role for all of us, you see. Personally, I believe she wants to pass on a very special gift to the one she seeks, in due time of course."

Cinder looked away.

"Your mistress? I don't have any interest in that, toiling away for an unseen figure. How do I know your mistress is not a lowly mob boss or a mere huntress gone wrong? The kingdoms may be stifling, but compared to them, what else is there?"

"You will come to know in due time. Yet regardless, my mistress is one who can cast off the shackles of the kingdom's laws and rules. You can obtain power and not hide your true self, no longer needing to perform such... degrading acts. Take control of your destiny with one quick act!" Watts tutted, and leveled her with a piercing stare.

"Unless you are satisfied to remain here, working as a huntress for someone else's own ends and sleeping with sleazy old noblemen to get ahead in life."

Cinder and Watts moved onto the dance floor, the former glaring at the latter as she offered her hand.

"I saw real power, but it was one that escaped my grasp. That's why I'm tired of this place," she said as they began to move with the music. Watts wrinkled his mustache curiously and raised an eyebrow at the seemingly unrelated tangent.

"One month from Thursday, be at your family's chateau. Our mistress wishes to extend you an offer. Trust me, you will receive this real power you seek. I don't know what it is you saw, but my mistress is the definition of power."

Cinder looked affronted.

"Why should I trust you?" she asked.

Watts just wrinkled his mustache again.

"You don't; in fact my mistress would be most disappointed if you did. But believe me, I have only extended you the initial offer. My mistress will take it upon herself that you are aware of her presence, and when you are, your entire worldview will be changed."

Cinder appeared at a loss for words. She had no expectations about that, but there was a little nagging voice in the back of her mind that was telling her to accept. Either way, it was written all over her face as Watts could clearly see it.

"Just something to think about. Now, do enjoy the rest of this party, Cinder." Watts said nonchalantly, chuckling to himself lightly before leaving to go grab a drink from the refreshments table.

Naruto watched as the elevator's numbers lit up sequentially as he was brought from the locker room to the arena floor. Even in the elevator, he could hear the sounds of the crowd outside, hundreds of people waiting for children to beat the snot out of each other in a sanctioned match for their entertainment.

Eh, better that than the Chuunin Exams, where one could actually witness someone die in a match. The elevator halted, finishing its job of bringing him from the locker rooms and barracks below to the main stadium on the surface. He was in the fighter's elevator; that would take him straight to the ring itself.

There was a ding as the elevator opened its doors. He had seen the picture of his opponent and a name on the virtual bracket in the locker room, but without any context to the opponent's style that was pretty much useless. The rules had been explained to him during his orientation.

The elevator's door opened slowly with a lurch, depositing him into a low balcony below the seats with a staircase that also reminded him of the arena in Konoha when he was taking the Chuunin Exams.

He made his way down the staircase, and hovering above the playing field of the arena he could see another screen that was displaying the "stats" of him and his opponent.

His opponent was a kid, much like himself and not one of the musclebound adults that made up a portion of the tournament pool. He was making his way in from the other side in a similar setup, and he carried himself like a rookie who had never fought in one of these before. When they got down into the dirt and sand of the arena floor, he could make out features for the first time.

He was a boy around his age dressed in what looked like typical Mistralian garb. His scruffy black hair fell to around his neck, while he wielded a bo staff strapped to his back.

Naruto vs. Bolin Hari. Those were the words displayed on the monitor overhead. There were no officials on the field, but the announcer was taking note of the rules and he could sense armed security remaining just out of sight if things got too ugly. But basically, all he had to do was get that green bar of his opponent's into the red, or alternatively knock him out of the ring.

He obviously had to avoid the same happening to him, but he didn't even have aura.

What was their technology tracking, then? Chakra? Chakra wasn't exactly a measure of a person's life force. In a way, he was more vulnerable to attack than these people of the future. In his contemplation, he had stopped paying attention and hadn't heard the buzzer sound overhead. He sidestepped a strike from Bolin's bo staff on pure instinct, jolting him from his stupor. The cheers from the crowd resounded as the match went underway.

Naruto leapt to put some distance between himself and his opponent while Bolin twirled his staff around showfully. The staff impacted the ground as Bolin swung it forward, creating a small crater in its wake.

Win the fight without using ninjutsu and without letting anyone know he didn't have aura. It was a handicap alright, but maybe it could be fun to win like that? If they knew he didn't have aura, they probably wouldn't let him compete.

He reached into his pouch and tossed three shuriken, to which Bolin dodged to the side. Naruto pivoted his foot; the bo staff struck the ground downward right next to his ankle. Naruto danced with the quick strikes from Bolin for a little while, as it became clear that his opponent was trying to take out his ankles.

Rather than get felled by the bo staff, Naruto tensed the muscles in his legs and locked the weapon in place between them, making it impossible for Bolin to pull it out.

Bolin grunted, a little surprised that Naruto had the leg strength to be able to do such a thing. Naruto jumped very slightly into the air, unlocking Bolin's weapon from between his legs.

He kicked Bolin soundly in the gut, sending him flying back around ten feet. As he long, slipped the toe of his boot underneath the bo staff, lifting it into the air and into Naruto's hands.

He twirled it around in an imitation of Bolin, as the other boy moaned in pain before getting to his feet. Naruto stole a glance at the scoreboard overhead; that last strike had taken off about ten percent of Bolin's aura while his was still perfect.

"Man, you hit hard..." Bolin groaned, before he finally realized he was without his weapon, "What the? Hey!" he cried as he witnessed Naruto fiddling with his weapon.

Naruto rolled his eyes before he tossed it into the air. As it came back down to earth, his leg snapped out and he kicked the very end of the bo staff, sending it hurtling forward in a perfect spiral.

Bolin gasped, completely unprepared for the unorthodox method of fighting and the speed that his own weapon was traveling towards him at. It barreled into his stomach, rotating at a frequency that was enough to chip slowly away at his aura as it propelled him back.

Naruto watched as the green aura fell slowly into the yellow, but he wouldn't even have to make the aura drop any further because Bolin cleared the very edge of the ring and fell roughly into the dirt outside.

The crowd erupted into cheers as Bolin hit the deck, as his name and picture on the screen faded to black, confirming Naruto's victory. The cheers continued to rock the stadium as Naruto felt all eyes on him, from the low-level bleachers up to the noble's suites up about halfway into the stands. It was quick, but it was a dominant, one-sided display and a total victory.

The official came forward and raised Naruto's arm to the sky, in the midst of all the cheers. Naruto gave a bashful laugh at the positive reception as the clapping began to slowly decrease in volume, but regardless, the fight had created a buzz in the atmosphere.

It was just a low-level tournament with very bigwigs, but a few more of those and the chatter would begin.

Dr. Nero Stromboli locked the door behind him, heading into the room that he had been working tirelessly in for the past few months. He placed his regular coat on the rack and grabbed his lab coat, ready for another day of work. The lab was silent, as he had restricted access to it from everyone in the facility, much to their chagrin.

He supposed he should thank the frugality of the Atlesian council; he was the only one here researching this phenomenon without a team of research assistants to help him and therefore determine the secrets of this fossil.

"Looks like another day of just you and me, my friend," he talked to the mummified man as if Bee could hear him.

This was the greatest discovery in the history of archaeology, and the Kingdom of Atlas was never going to know about it. Neither were the other three kingdoms.

He could see it now. Endless arguments and disbelief from the scientific community, violence from certain religious circles and faunus groups. The Atlesian government would likely try and cover it up anyway while trying to find some way to incorporate it into military power. In reality, there was no more work to be done. His most amazing discovery about the fossil had come yesterday and allow him to come to a conclusion.

After numerous tests, Stromboli had come to two surprising conclusions in addition to the fossil's startling age. One, Stromboli discovered that the individual inside the crystal-like structure was alive. The material surrounding him put him in a death-like state but preserved all his essential life functions and halted the aging and decay process to a standstill.

That enough was alone in being the discovery of the century. When he put the crystal behind the x-ray, he made his second discovery about the mysterious ancient.

The first clue should have been the fossil's age, but further inspection revealed he was different than homo sapien, the humans, or even homo animalis, the faunus.

This was a form of ancient man that was a different species entirely. A form of ancient man that predated the earliest form of hominids by eons. And the proof that he was separate from humans or faunus was the odd, second circulatory system that ran concurrently to the fossil's blood vessels.

What it was for, Stromboli didn't know. There was a strange energy being transported through this second circulatory system that he at first thought was aura, but further inspection disproved this theory.

Homo spiramis, that was the scientific name he was giving this new species. Not that he was going to tell those old relics on the council.

One week later, Atlas' third most accomplished scientist was standing in front of the council to give his results.

"So, in conclusion, the artifact we picked up is a fascinating specimen. It appears to be a mummy created down in the mines of Ancient Mantle, some two thousand years ago." Stromboli said to the committee.

Yeah, yeah, I know. Been a real long time. I'm sorry that it's been so long since I updated this.

Fortunately, I'm actually written the first draft of this story up to Chapter 28. Just need to edit and add a little bit of meat onto the fight scenes and some other places and they should be good to go.