A/N: EDIT: As ever, trolls are to be ignored or mocked mercilessly. Personally, I prefer the later. Also, added some more content for everyone at the end.
Ready to laugh?
Lord knows me and my team absolutely cackled while writing this chapter.
I feel the need to state the obvious -very quickly!- that the Cinder you see in "New Gods" is much younger than the one in "Untraveled Road" and drastically different from the one you all love and adore. She's more down on her luck. Hell, she was on the verge of FREEZING TO DEATH before dear ol' Kakashi rescued her. And, well...being raised by someone like Kakashi is bound to leave you with the odd quirk here and there.
Trolls all over the comment section again. Pay the fools no mind. Or better yet, laugh at 'em. Its what I'm doing~!
Once we've updated this and Kiss of Death (SOON~!) we'll finally have completed my update schedule for the month. But the work doesn't end there! The very SECOND we update Kiss of Death, I'm going to turn around, buckle down and write some nice loooong chapters while the rest of the gang gets to polish everything up. If I had it my way the latest chapter of "An Untraveled Road" would be 30k+ words rather than 15k+, but alas, I was vetoed.
Still, that just makes the wait for the next chapter that much sweeter.
As ever, I own no references, themes or memes.
Of course, Little!Summer is precious and must be protected. Hell, ALL children must be protected. Perhaps that's the uncle in me; I've got a load of nephews, after all. I'd die for them in a heartbeat if it meant keeping them safe. One last reminder; this story is told from multiple viewpoints, with multiple scene breaks. I do hope you're prepared, because its a right trip.
Now, then. The stage has been set.
The pieces have been placed.
LET US BEGIN.
"The wrath of a parent is a terrible, terrible thing.
Y'see, ordinary parents are scary enough when you threaten their young. Downright terrifying, really.
This lot? They're not "ordinary" at all. Not by any means. Anyone can see that. Hells, even a blind man could tell!
Call them gods, call them monsters, call them whatever you want. I don't much care, really. Names don't make a lick of difference here.
Let me give you a word of warning, from one professional to another. Do. Not. Touch. Their. Children. You hurt those little ones, and this world will BURN."
Reasons To Fight
Cinder didn't want to die.
She wanted to live; to burn bright.
But instead she found herself fading away.
With each passing moment she felt her life slipping through her little hands. Cold hands. Frozen hands. She couldn't hold onto it. Couldn't hold onto anything. Her teeth chattered as her body refused to obey her, unable or unwilling to rise. So weak. So tired. Her very soul was frozen, ready to shatter at the slightest touch. She knew why. She remembered. The guards had thrown her out in the wastes to die, just as they did with every other street rat they could get their hands on. Mantle was no place for children. Not when you were alone.
They'd beaten her, broken her legs, and left her for the Grimm.
Now something pulled her back.
Someone pulled her from the snow and wrapped her in a cloak, swaddling her in warmth. Someone spoke softly to her, coaxing life back into her body. Someone told her that it was not her time. It wasn't much, but it was enough. For a moment she glimpsed a familiar face with grey hair, one that reminded her of another. Another face. A happier time.
Bleary golden eyes blinked up at him. Squinted. "Father...?"
Then the blackness of sleep claimed her at last.
Kakashi took one look at the gate and scoffed.
A single glance at the city wall told him they wouldn't be enough to keep him out, even on a bad day. A quick hop, skip and a jump would be more than enough. The guards manning it looked poor and untrained, worn down by the weather and Grimm alike, more likely to catch a cold than catch him. He could run right up that pitted metal barrier and be gone before anyone caught so much as a glimpse of his face. He was confident in his speed; certain that he could outrun anyone who gave chase.
But he wasn't alone, and throwing himself headlong into Mantle mean leaving Cinder behind to die in the snow. Unacceptable.
So he plodded toward the gate at what he hoped was a sedate pace, doing his best to look harmless.
The weary shinobi risked a glance at his ward as he did so. She wasn't moving; were it not foe the faint rise and fall of her chest or the thin, reedy pulse beneath his palm, he would've thought her dead. The thought sent a rare spark of anger racing down his spine. Who threw a five-year-old girl into the drifts and left her to die?
Unfortunately for him, the guards -who looked less like sentries and more like thugs now that he'd gotten closer- took one look at him and raised their weapons. The Copycat tilted his head nearly horizontal just to try and make sense of them. What were those? Swords? Rifles? Some hideous combination of the two? So uncivilized. A ninja didn't need weapons. That these two clearly did only hammered home just how far from home he really was. This really wasn't the Elemental Nations.
"Whoa there, friend." the taller of the two called out to him when he drew close. "I don't know who you are, but you need to pay the tax if you want to enter Mantle."
"Aye, the tax." his partner, a squat little pig of a man, piped up soon thereafter. "You'll have to pay to pass."
Kakashi slowed to a halt just within arm's reach as suspicion sprang to life in his mind. Guards shouldn't charge visitors to enter the city they were responsible for guarding. None that he knew, at any rate. This reeked of an extortion racket; worse, they weren't even trying to be subtle about it. Still, he didn't want to resort to violence. Perhaps he could talk his way out of this?
"Gentlemen, surely there's no need to point those...things at me." He said. "I'm unarmed."
"Suppose you're right." the larger one lowered his weapon. "Can't be careful these days. Somebody tried to kidnap the daughter of Nicholas Schnee just last night."
"Tried?" Kakashi noted the past tense and frowned. "You mean they failed?"
The pair shared a sidelong glance and a grin.
"Spectacularly." Once more, it was the taller of the two who spoke. "Old man caught the bastard and cut him down only a few blocks from here. Was a right sight to see, eh, Ross?"
"Well, he's the strongest man in Atlas, 'innit he?" the short one -whom Kakashi supposed to be this Ross fellow- offered a rough chortled. "Not a soul who can hold a candle to him. You should know that by now."
"Nah." the big one disagreed. "I reckon the Grimm Reaper could take him."
"She ain't real, Mercer." his companion scoffed. "Everybody knows she's just a myth."
"She's real, I tell you!" came the sputtering reply. "A friend of mine said he saw her in Vale!"
"Right, you and your friends...
"I have a question." Kakashi held up a hand, forestalling their argument and earning their ire all in the same moment. "I thought you said this was Mantle...?"
"Eh? You been livin' under a rock or something?" Ross squinted at him through the falling snow. "This is Mantle. Atlas is up there." he jabbed a finger to the city in the clouds. "That'll cost you, I'm afraid."
"Aye, stupidity tax on top of the visitor tax." Ross bobbed his head, chins wobbling like a rooster's chin. "Don't want idiots in our fair city."
Kakashi stamped down on his first response when his fingers began to twitch. While inflicting a Thousand Years of Death one any one of these two might prove satisfying, it would earn him their ire and possibly even turn the city against him. He'd not last in the cold, and little Cinder certainly wouldn't. He still wasn't quite sure whether these two were really thugs or just greedy guards who'd bitten off more than they could chew. Both seemed determined to fleece him for every cent he had, yet he didn't have so much as a single coin on his person. The moment they realized that...well. Negotiations would break down.
And when they did, he couldn't be seen to make the first move.
"What you got there?" Ross took notice of Cinder's wrapped from in his arms. "If you're trying to smuggle goods into our fair city, that'll cost you even more...
"I'm not." Kakashi pulled his cloak back before they could try and fleece him. "This girl needs medical attention, immediately."
His tone alone warned them back and had both lurching back. Unfortunately, it didn't leave them any wiser.
"Looks like one of those urchins." Mercer scoffed.
"Well, then you've got to pay the toll for her, too, friend." the shorter one -Ross?- rubbed his palms together. To warm them. Hopefully. "We don't want need anymore street rats in Mantle. Got enough already. Best make it worth our while."
Cinder stirred weakly in his arms, her voice a faint croak. "Not a rat...you...threw me out...
Kakashi turned a withering smile on the two of them. "Well, isn't that enlightening?"
"She lies!" Mercer stepped forward, a burly arm raised. "No good brat!"
The aging shinobi twitched. Time slowed in his mind's eye.
'This mustn't register on an emotional level.' a tiny, rational part of Kakashi's brain protested. 'Calm, down. These two are imbeciles. They aren't worth our time. Just drop the girl and go. You barely know her.'
Subzero temperatures, a dying girl in his arms, and these two wanted coin? No.
Mercer's hand scythed toward Cinder's face. Kakashi tracked it almost lazily. It was worth his time.
A gloved hand locked around the guard's wrist, grinding the bones together painfully before he managed to strike the ailing girl. Sharingan eyes rose, leering balefully into dull frightful brown. Mercer shrank back, startled by the display. For a moment, Kakashi hoped that would be enough. That this single, silent act of intimidation would put him in his place.
It was not to be.
When the man reared back to strike with his free hand, a single twist of said brought him crashing down to his knees, whimpering like a helpless babe. A boot planted itself against his back and Kakashi -still holding Cinder to his chest with one arm- calmly arched his spine, tensed the muscles in his right hand, and...
Mercer's arm dislocated itself with an audible crack. The poor bastard cried out shrilly, clutching at his limp limb. "My arm! What the hell was that for?!"
"For being an ass." Kakashi's heel crashed into his chin and laid him out flat.
"I think that's quite enough, don't you?" his eyes creased in a smile as the fool clutched at his jaw. "You're going to let me through, or I'm going to walk right through you."
"We'll arrest ya for this!"
The shinobi tilted his head. "No. You won't."
He raised his eyes, focused, and let chakra burn through them. The sudden drain in his veins alarmed him. Two active sharingan were far more demanding than one; even with Obito's gift, he felt his faltering reserves flag dangerously before he managed to master himself.
"I don't owe you any money." he waved his free hand before Mercer's face.
"You...!" The thug -no guard, this!- balked, then blinked as the genjutsu took hold. "You...don't owe us any money."
The squat one sputtered. "Mercer, what the hell?! That wasn't the plan, you big bastard!"
Kakashi's hand waved again. "You want to go home and rethink your life."
A slow blink followed. "I...want to go home and rethink my life."
He shuffled off to do just that.
"No good bastard...!
Ross fumbled for a radio on his belt with thick fingers, for all the good it did him. Kakashi rounded on him with a wordless growl and the man's protests died a sputtering death in his throat. A single glance was all it took to ensnare him in turn. That greasy little man broke just as quickly as his companion had.
"Give me all the money you've stolen today." Hatake held out a hand. "You're done fleecing the poor."
The man complied with nary a sound.
"Good boy." Kakashi hummed. "Direct me to the nearest hospital. After that, you can take me to your leader; actually, no." an idea struck even as he said the words. ""Take me to this Nicholas Schnee. I'd like to have a word with this so-called hero of yours."
Ross saluted numbly and marched away.
Kakashi blew out a sigh and followed his temporary thrall.
Surely his adorable students weren't having this much trouble, wherever they were.
"Sooo...miss Sakura? How did you become a goddess? Were you just born that way? Or were you always like this?"
Sakura Haruno had been called many things before; not all of them flattering. But this? This was new.
She wasn't sure whether she liked it or not. Jury was still out on that.
Collapsing into a warm featherbed after another hard day's work, the healer couldn't help but sigh as little Kali Belladona curled into her side. Sakura wrapped an arm around her, pulling the younger girl close. Shooing the orphan away was pointless; she'd knew the Faunus just slip back into bed when she wasn't looking.
"Kali," Ghira groaned and palmed his face as he claimed the cot opposite them, "You can't just go around asking people that.
"Sure I can." her ears twitched again as she glanced back at her longtime friend. "I just did. The goddess doesn't mind if I ask her a few questions, right?"
'The goddess does mind.' Sakura shot a snarky thought at her. 'She minds very much!'
Unfortunately, she couldn't bring herself to say that, and one had but to look at Kali to see why. Guileless golden eyes watched her, dark furry ears twitching atop her head as she sat on her bed. Sakura fought down the urge to stroke them. Such a sweet little girl. She looked so innocent. So good. So pure. Yet this very "innocent" had just finished helping her stitch three wounds, hold a grown man down, and then knocked another out cold when he refused to be treated for a bad gut wound.
For one so small, Kali was stronger than she looked.
Then there was the matter of Ghira. Kali had pressed her friend -Crush? Future husband? Potential spouse, perhaps?- into helping treat the wounded and Sakura remarkably hadn't found any fault in his work. It was cute, watching him fuss over her. Almost like the reverse of her and Sasuke as children...if she had been a bit more reserved with her advances... and not a lunatic...and actually bothered to train...
Regardless of her past, Sakura knew she could have lied to the poor girl, could have offered some false truth, but something in her quailed when faced with such trust. Moreover, she didn't want to deceive Kali. The rest of the island might be to stubborn to see the truth, but maybe, hopefully, this girl would.
"Sorry, sweetie." she unbent enough to pat her ward's head, doing her best to ignore the pleased purr that followed. "I'm not a goddess-
She wasn't prepared for her giggle. "Of course you are, silly!"
"Only a goddess could heal that many people and not be exhausted." Kali reasoned. "Or complain! None else could possibly be that nice."
Ghira's head struck the way. "And there she goes...
But she was exhausted! Sakura wanted to scream the words, but she knew they'd fall on deaf ears here as well, just as they had for some time now. There wasn't a single soul on the island who didn't know her name; by week's end she wouldn't be surprised if word of her works traveled across the mainland.
Not only had she wound up healing just about everyone Mengagerie, but the chieftains of the isle had put her up here in a place of honor and told everyone to seek her for their ills. Even now some swore she was a Faunus. No amount of protest on her part had been able to convince them otherwise much to her chagrin. They argued that her pink hair and startling green eyes were proof enough, if not the mark on her forehead along side her unnatural abilities.
What's that? Able to heal yourself? Clearly a goddess.
Super strength that defies every limit? Definitely a goddess.
Able to cure nearly any wound and remedy disease? Certainly a goddess!
Was there no reasoning with these people?!
"Can I be your apprentice?"
Sakura swung around, eyes widening at the sudden inquiry. "You want to work for me?!"
"Oh, right." Kali knuckled her forehead and stuck out her tongue. "Silly me. Gods don't have apprentices, do the. Can I be your follower, then? Oh, oh!" she exclaimed, clapping her hands. "Or maybe your priestess? Gods need worshipers to exist, don't they?"
Sakura cast a pleading glance to Ghira.
The boy shrugged. "Don't look at me. There's no stopping her when she's like this."
Sakura smashed her head into a pillow with a groan. This wasn't fair. Surely the boys weren't dealing with this kind of bullshit!
Sasuke woke to the sweet sounds of violence.
With a long suffering sigh, the last Uchiha rolled over in his cot and resolved himself to ignore them. If those idiots wanted to thin their numbers while he slept, they were welcome to it. Their fate was none of his concern. Just because he'd taken over didn't mean he had to supervise their every move.
"LET GO OF ME!"
Then he heard little Raven scream.
It was high pitched keening sound, just the sort a child should never make; the sound of a young girl in pain.
Mismatching eyes all but burst open. Strong legs flailed against the blankets, launching them away. Bare feet found the cold dirt floor and it jolted him back to wakefulness as he reached for his sword. Naked steel escaped its sheathe with a silent hiss, mirroring that of its master as he peeled the tent flap back and stalked out into the harsh morning light.
A wise man once said there ain't no rest for the wicked.
Truer words had never been spoken.
There never was.
She'd screwed up.
Raven knew it even before the fist cracked into her jaw. She grit her teeth against it and pushed her Aura to the fore, but even then she was left seeing stars. She tried to get her arms up but her attacker battered them down and kicked her into the dirt, just as he'd done Qrow moments before. When she tried to rise, a booted foot stomped down on her chest to cracking a rib. Raven gasped, and in her moment of weakness dirty fingers wrapped around her throat, squeezing the life from her.
She reared back and kicked him in the groin with all her migh-to no avail.
Qrow couldn't help her, they'd pinned him down too; even now he was fighting for his very life.
"Stupid brat!" her attacker grunted in pain and squeezed harder, holding her down as they throttled the life from her. "Just let us put you out of your misery already!"
It made a twisted sort of sense really. The Bandit King -Father!- was dead. Long live the new king. Now the rest of the tribe wanted to rid themselves of his children; because children might one day grow up into strong warriors. Warriors would plot revenge. Best to kill them when they were weak. When they couldn't fight back.
She did so now, kicking and screaming for all she was worth, praying that someone would hear her. "LET ME GO!"
Not like this. She didn't want to go like this.
A slim blade burst from the back of the man's head and exploded through his mouth in gory red relief, spattering Raven's face with crimson. Shattered teeth rained down on her head as the weapon filled her attacker's maw with folded steel. Wide eyes goggled at the sword in confusion, unable to understand the blood dribbling down his chin, much less his death. The bandit brute didn't even see his killer. Someone tore it free and he pitched forward onto her, dead as a doorknob, crushing her with his weight.
And then she heard him.
"What's the meaning of this?!"
Raven creaked a blood-red eye open, a slow, satisfied smile spreading across her face. She needn't look up to know who had saved her; his voice alone was answer enough. One of her would-be killers whimpered and she heard the distinctive sound of clenched knuckles slamming into someone's face.
Their god was angry. Good. She was angry too!
"I'll tell you!" She pushed the corpse away and scrambled upright to jab a finger at the culprits. "These idiots attacked us! Me and my brother both!"
Sure enough, she found their new king standing not a foot away. If he was at all aware of the bloodstains on his face, he didn't seem to care. There was a dead, almost empty look in his eyes, as though he were looking right through the lot of them, seeing something else in their place.
"Is that so?"
Without warning, those brilliantly bright orbs narrowed, swiveling to where two men held her twin down not a yard away. They quivered under his silent stare and the younger Branwen took the chance to claw his way free while he had a chance. No one dared to impede him; not with their leader glaring bloody red daggers at the lot of them.
"Yeah." he grunted, nursing a black eye. "They tried to kill us. Said you'd like it."
Sure enough, the cretins cowered in the face of Sasuke's fury.
"Explain." the word was the blackest of hisses.
"Tribe ain't no place fro brats now, boss." one of them muttered, averting their gaze. "We was just doin' you a favor. Taking out the trash. That sort of thing. That way you wouldn't have to do it yourself-
Sasuke's blade flashed out again like greased lightning and the speaker simply ceased to be. His corpse crashed down beside the first, split from brains to belly. The Uchiha didn't lower his blade, uncaring of the blood staining its edge. Baleful red eyes swept out over the rest of them, narrow and intent.
"Anyone else want me to do a favor?" he asked, the words dead and cold. "No, really. By all means. Volunteer."
Two men didn't dare speak, but dared to glare to glare at him for his spiteful misdeeds.
The Uchiha exhaled, and their ruined bodies sizzled as they struck the dirt.
Qrow backed away, gagging at the sight. Not Raven. She smiled.
"There will be no...massacres here." their leader all but rasped the words, a haunted look burning in his eyes like ghastly balefire. "None of this. Absolutely not." Raven suspected she knew why. This was personal. They'd reminded him of something he'd rather forget and woken his wrath. "You will not kill women and children! We are not monsters!"
"What are we, then?" a third challenged. "You won't let us raid, you won't let us fight, and now this! What the hell are we supposed to do?!"
Their new leader considered the words and the heavens darkened overhead. A small scowl touched his pale face.
"We will be mercenaries." he declared, lowering his sword at last. "That is my decree."
"You want us to sell ourselves for coin?!" A host of angry murmurs greeted him. "That isn't our way-erk?!"
Raven wasn't at all surprise when Sasuke's blade flicked out anew. Raven shivered, not in fear, but anticipation as a fifth corpse struck the floor, also divested of its head. No one moved. No one dared to breathe. With that last death, any semblance of defiance had all but been bled out of the Tribe. Father had been too cowardly to kill as he had. Father was dead. Their new leader -their new god!- had no such compunctions. Anyone who was fool enough to cross him would perish on the spot.
"Anyone with complaints can take it up with them." he indicated the butchered bandits with his bloody blade before drying it on a bit of cloth and sheathing it. "We will not force ourselves on the weak. You will obey, or you will die.
Raven's heart burned with grim triumph as she watched him walk away.
"He's crazy." Qrow hissed.
"He's perfect." she countered with a whisper.
This. This was the ideal she sought. Strength unchallenged. Power unparalleled. Those who did not obey Sasuke were killed, and in their death, others were brought into line. So what if the new boss wanted to make them mercenaries? It just meant they'd be paid to fight. Win-win situation, right? Ah, but he was getting away.
"Wait!" She trotted after him. "Train me and my brother."
From anyone else, that would've been a very foolish question.
Sasuke certainly thought it was. Still, he slowed his pace just a hair; enough for little Raven to catch up and latch onto his sleeve. He'd just killed five folk in cold blood and this child wanted to learn how to do the same. There was something intrinsically wrong with that. Children shouldn't be obsessed with strength; not like he'd been. He considered batting her away, then thought better of it. He may have fallen far, but he liked to think that he was above hurting a child.
Instead he arched an eyebrow. "And whyever would I want to do that?"
"Because you're a God." Raven answered. "Gods need worshipers, right? We'll follow you if you train us."
There it was again. That bloody blasted misunderstanding. He regretted showing off as much as he had. "I'm no god."
"You can lie to me all you want; don't care about that." she wrinkled her nose at him, yet refused to move. "Just train us."
Raven was small. Scarcely seven years old. Her head barely even come up to his waist. Still, he recognized the fire in her eyes all too well. She wanted power. For herself, and her brother alike. Not for vengeance, not for retribution, not for any of those things. She just didn't want to be weak. And so she stomped her foot and pouted, tried to look strong. Damnit. Sasuke realized he'd already made his decision. He could FEEL Naruto smiling at him and the bastard wasn't even here! Taking in two runts. He'd never hear the end of it.
...we'll start in an hour. Be ready."
Raven nodded and scampered off with her brother.
Sasuke's thoughts were...slightly more morbid, though for a different reason.
There was just no way Naruto was dealing with shit like this. If he was, he'd eat his shoe!
Naruto regarded the Ursa before him with a long-suffering sigh.
"Seriously?" he pushed a hand through his messy hair. "You couldn't just leave us be?"
To its credit, the lumbering monster looked just as angry to see the two of them as they were it. Confusion and fear stayed its paws for the time being, but that didn't make it anything less of a threat, however. Blasted thing had come lumbering out of the trees ahead of them; although he'd sensed its presence and tried to avoid, he hadn't expected the beast to detect him in turn. Much less seek them out.
No, not him. Its eyes traveled past him, sweeping down to Summer's tiny form as she cowered behind his legs.
"Not a chance." Naruto regarded the greater Grimm with a flat look. "Don't even think about it."
The Ursa lunged with a mighty yowl. Summer shrieked in fear.
"Oh, for the love of-!"
Naruto's right arm snapped up, intercepting the massive paw with lazy grace. Surprise flitted across the beast's masked visage, but only for a moment. He didn't give it time for anything else. Blue eyes pulsed gold, and a single punch blasted the beast's head clean off its shoulders, leaving its corpse to crash down behind him. Within moments, said corpse crumbled away into black dust. Quick, clean, and efficient. He was getting better at dispatching the Grimm with every encounter.
"Sorry about that," he turned to face Summer, who had hidden behind him. "Its dead now. Are you alright-
"Daddy, I don't wanna walk anymore. Up~!"
Naruto felt his heart lurch painfully in his chest as little Summer spun around and held her arms out to him with a pleading expression. When faced with such an adorable expression, he couldn't help but hesitate. Not from anger, or any guilt on his part mind you, but genuine confusion. They hadn't been walking all that long, had they? It had only been a few hours since they'd had breakfast and broken camp. He wasn't even winded yet.
Summer clearly was.
"Wait," he croaked, "You want me to carry you?"
"Yes~! Up!" The little girl repeated, raising her hands as she hopped in place.
"Resist, damn you!" Kurama covered his face with a paw and looked away. "She'll ruin our image!"
Wait, they had an image? He wasn't aware of one.
Naruto nearly choked on his spit. Well, that tore it. Critical failure. His brain shut down and hid body stopped working. Someone needed to send an error report. Was this what it felt like to be a parent? No matter what she might have suffered, Summer was still a child. A little girl. She hadn't built up enough muscle to walk long distances yet. A bit of training would fix that, but for now?
Summer's lower lip wavered. Silvery eyes went watery. "You can't...?"
Just like that, Naruto rebooted.
Strong arms scooped the weary girl from her feet and in the blink of an eye. Summer gave a pleased him as her chin settled onto his shoulder. Her arms latched onto his back, and distantly Naruto felt a strange warmth in his chest as the edges of her white cloak tickling his broad back. Huh. It almost felt like pride.
Kurama still sulked. "Soft touch."
"Grouchy old fox." Naruto shot back with a cherry grin.
"Who're you talking to, papa?" Summer leaned over his shoulder.
"Oh, that's just Kurama." The blond patted her head. "You'll meet him someday."
"I think I already did." she said, drawing a blink from him. "I had a weird dream last night about a giant fox."
"You did?" Now it was Naruto's turn to blink. She'd seen Kurama in the seal? He wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not. "Well, that's strange. Still, he's harmless. You'll love him." He felt his smile become just a little twisted when his partner squawked angrily. "Trust me. He might act all high and mighty, but don't let him fool you; he's just a big softy. Just give him a few scratches under the chin and he'll turn in a big 'ol puddle of goo."
"I will not!"
"Really?" Summer whispered. "He won't bite me?"
"Nope. He's a softy."
"'Kay." Summer chirruped happily, bright eyes flashing. "Forward, valiant steed!" A little finger thrust forward. "Adventure awaits!"
"Adventure, is it?" A peal of laughter burst out of him before he could think to hold it back. He didn't mind playing along. So long as it kept her in good spirits. "Whatever you say, your majesty."
Naruto shook his head with a rueful smile and, with his passenger secure, set off into a steady jog deeper into the countryside. Summer was light enough to carry on her own; even with the added weight of their supplies the blond he found he could proceed at a comfortable pace in spite of her weight. Barely even noticed it, really. Wasn't much of a problem, at all...
"Faster~!" Summer giggled and kicked her legs against his sides. "Giddy-up!"
...well, not too much of a problem.
"No can do." Naruto laughed, stealing a glance back at her. "If I run too fast you'll fall off."
She wrinkled her nose at him. "No, I won't! I'm a big girl!"
"Summer, you're not even nine."
"Nuh-uh! I'm eight-and-a-half!" she said with all the surety only a child could possess.
'Whaddya think?' Naruto shot a wary thought at Kurama. 'If I run full out she's gonna fall, no buts about it.'
"Then hold back."
'That...sounds a lot easier than it really is.' And it was, too. Like it or not, Naruto knew he'd long since exceeded the limits of humanity during the war. As had his old team. He couldn't speak for Sasuke or the rest, but he had no way of knowing just how sturdy people were in this world. He'd torn those monsters apart -Summer had called them Grimm- with ease only a few days ago. Even now, he had to willingly check himself just to avoid a full on sprint, lest he dislodge Summer.
He didn't much relish the idea of fighting a person as he was now. He might break something. Someone. Still...
...hold on tight." He blew out a sigh. "And whatever you do, don't let go."
Her head bobbed against his back. "I won't!"
And so, careful not to use any of his partner's power, Naruto took a runner's stance. Summer's arms clamped down on his neck as best she could. A happy giggle floated in his ear. She trusted him wholeheartedly. In her eyes, he could do no wrong. Strange as it might sound, such implicit trust gave him new confidence.
Blue eyes narrowed and all the world became a blur.
Summer squealed in delight when all the world vanished around her. Her arms were an iron band around his throat, not enough to impose on his breathing, but clinging on tight regardless. She proved good as her word, not letting go even when he vaulted a fence, skirted around a fallen log, and flung himself into the treeline. Semantics aside, it felt good to run again. To simply race headlong into the wilds without a care in the world. The wind in his face, Summer's breathless laughter in his ears while he leaped from branch to branch as if he'd been born to them.
Without warning the plains fell away beneath them in mid-leap, replaced by mountainous terrain.
Naruto paid the sudden shift in surroundings little mind and hit the ground running. Mountains meant nothing to him. He raced past them, and when he couldn't go around, he went up. He could feel Summer's grin buried against his shoulder, feel her giggle against the worn fabric of her
Summer's shot was another matter. "Watch out!"
He rounded a bend and nearly ran headlong into a Beowolf.
Sandal-clad feet bit down into the ground as he lengthened his stride. Summer's gasp swelled in his ear, but he didn't stop. He dare not. Grimm were a very real danger to his ward, but from what little he'd seen of them, they were mindless beasts. He wouldn't even need the cloak for this. His bare hands -ha!- were more than enough. Nope. Not even his hands. A vicious spinning kick scythed into the beast's neck with bone-crushing force and sent it shrieking down the mountainside before it even had a chance to howl.
"Ha! Suck it!"
Summer hollered her praise instead, tiny voice echoing off the mighty peaks.
Something echoed back and Naruto raised a hand for silence.
"Wait." he hissed. "I think I just heard something."
They heard the sound of combat up ahead.
Steel striking steel.
There were times when Maria Calavera wondered if she was cursed.
If she didn't know better, she'd swear her Semblance was bad luck. But it wasn't. Maria knew better; knew her soul well and knew that supernatural reflexes -Preflexes!- were the only semblance she'd ever have. And she was happy with that. Because right here? Right now? Her gift was the only thing keeping her alive.
Life and Death whirred madly in her grip as she fought on, muscles aching, eyes watering behind her mask.
"Gods, you're a persistent bitch!" Her opponent snarled. "Just die already!"
And give this assassin the satisfaction of winning? "Never!"
Whirling away, the Grimm Reaper backhanded her would-be killer and nearly lost a hand for it. Again. Her aura crackled angrily as a blade whisked across her ribs, drawing a thin line of blood through the fabric. Offense or defense, it didn't matter. She just couldn't get through.
She was going to die here, and the thought terrified her.
Not only had these idiots ruined her hunt, but as this rate, they were going to claim more than a few stray Grimm as her kills. They were going to kill her. Well, this one was. The rest were dead or unconscious. Strength in numbers was all well and good, but there was something to be said for quality over quantity. She had laid most of them low easily enough; a few sharp strikes to the head broke through their aura to cripple and kill them outright. She'd kicked several to make sure they didn't get up again.
No, it was their leader, the one calling herself Tock, that currently tearing her apart.
She just wouldn't go down, blast her!
Maria took a bruising hit to her thigh, reared back, and cut down at the Faunus girl's head. Her weapon bounced off, barely even staggering her foe.
"Aw, what's the matter? Can't keep up?"
For the last thirty seconds, that cheeky bitch had taken hit after hit, with no concern for her safety. It was maddening! She'd said something about sixty seconds, but Maria wasn't sure she'd last the next five at this rate. No matter how hard she struck, she couldn't power through her Aura, which was tanking hits she had no right to. Was it a Semblance? Had to be. Blasted thing! Break already! Something had to give sooner or later. Her weapon or her aura, she wasn't sure which.
Her weapon went first.
Tock lunged forward. Sharp teeth crunched down then through the conjoined hilt of Life and Death, shattering her guard. Her head cracked down in a headbutt, breaking Maria's mask to send her stumbling away. Her foe didn't break their stride and stepped in, winding up for a mighty blow.
A thin blade flashed out at Maria's wide eyes.
Someone shouted and something shoved Maria, slamming an invisible palm against her back before the blade could connect. It saved her life. Rather than rake across her gaze and blind her forevermore, the assassin's blade ripped a chunk of her ear instead. Maria choked down a scream and tumbled forward, stars singing behind her clenched eyelids. She landed in a quick crouch, straightened, touched a hand to the side of her face, and scowled when it came away bloody.
"You have my attention." she hissed. "I hope its what you wanted."
Tock swore softly. "Oh, bugger me. I'm right boned, aren't I?"
"Not now." a new voice chimed. "That comes later."
Something exploded between Maria and Tock, sending the former skittering back. The former flung up an arm to defend herself against the sudden rush of heat and wind, but she wasn't the target. A furious roar ripped through the air, and she wasn't dissapointed. Tock fell back, crying out as her Aura shattered like brittle glass, bleeding from a deep wound in her shoulder.
"Summer." that strange, unfamiliar voice called into the cloud of dust. "Off my back. Daddy's got work to do."
For the first time since their brawl had begun, Maria saw fear in the eyes of her foe.
"No." the faunus rasped. "Not you...!
"Yes. Me. Funny how that works."
Tumbling to her feet, the Reaper was rewarded with the sight of Tock crashing backwards into the dirt again. She snapped up again and lunged at Maria, only to be met by a rousing roundhouse that sent her sprawling down into the dirt yet again. Someone stalked after the Faunus, blue eyes blazing. Then he paused. Keen azure orbs glanced over his shoulder and met startled Silver Eyes.
"Are you alright?"
"Bwuh?" Maria's brain rebooted, heat rising in her cheeks. "Um...yes? I'm fine. Who are...?"
"Lovely." whiskered cheeks dimpled pleasantly as he patted her shoulders, blue eyes creasing in a sunny smile that contrasted harshly with the bloodstains on his face. "If its my name your after, well, I'm Naruto. Nice ta meetcha. Don't worry. I'll fix up that ear of yours in just a minute. But first." His gaze narrowed at the sight of maimed ear, then swung back to her would-be killer. "Hello, friend."
Maria hadn't known her opponent could make a noise like that. It sounded dangerously like a squeak.
"No, no, no!" Tock whimpered, scrambling backward like a drunken spider. "I lost you! You shouldn't be here! You can't be here!"
"And yet here I stand." Naruto's smile was just the wrong shade of vicious as he stalked toward the assassin. "I believe you and I have unfinished business. Summer says hello."
Maria craned her neck back as Naruto closed on Tock and found the little girl who had dismounted his shoulders only a moment ago. Little more than a child in a white cloak, she glared back at the battle, fists clenched at her sides, lips trembling as she stood her ground. Maria's gaze went higher still, and what she saw there stole her breath away. It was impossible. Absurd. She thought she was the only one. But she wasn't. Not anymore.
Because this little lass had Silver Eyes.
"Oh, gods." the words tumbled from her lips. "Her too?"
In hindsight, Maria wasn't sure what propelled her to act, only that she did. The Grimm Reaper he didn't walk toward Summer Rose. She ran, instinctively placing herself between the girl and any harm that might come to her. She had to be protected at all costs. Baffled silver eyes rose to meet hers and widened, recognizing the familiar shade lurking there. Perhaps she understood. Perhaps she didn't. Regardless, those tense shoulders of her slumped. Just a little. Just enough to be noticed.
"Your eyes." she whispered the words with awe, touching one hand to her face. "They're the same color as mine...
"Yes. Yes, they are." Maria couldn't quite keep the smile from her face. "You're a very special girl."
"An opening!" Tock broke away from Naruto and lunged at them.
Maria tensed, raising her scythes.
"Ah, ah, ah! Your fight's with me!" a fist closed around the back of the assassin's head and yanked her away before she could reach them, sending the faunus spinning to the dirt like a straw doll. Her swords tumbled from her grasp, flying out of reach as she scampered away.
"Damnit!" Tock howled! "Stop mocking me, you stupid bastard! You've ruined everything! This is all your fault! She'll kill me for this!"
"Language." Naruto chastised his victim, raising a clenched fist. "Tock, was it? Might wanna clench your teeth."
Frantic, the crocodile-faunus tried to grab one of her blades. Too little, too late.
Naruto crashed into her like a falling star.
A/N: Well, well, well!
Fight next chapter, and its gonna be a doozy.
You get a kid! YOU get a kid! Everybody gets a kid! Mwahahaha!
The hilarity and chaos have only just begun~!
So...in the Immortal Words of Atlas...
...Review...Would You Kindly!
SPOILER! SPOILER! SPOILER!
PLOT DETAILS AHOY!
YE BE WARNED!
"How did she end up like that...?"
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" Tock wailed, scrambling out of his way. "I didn't have a choice! She'll kill me!"
Maria hesitated. Naruto showed no such mercy and chased her down. A vicious kick caught her chest and sent her crashing into a mountain.
"Come back here, you little brat!"
Little Willow scowled. "You? YOU'RE the one my father hired to protect me?"
"Right, for your training, we'll start with your attitude." Kakashi smiled behind his mask. It was not a pleasant smile. "That's got to go." Beside him, Cinder stomped a foot. He rounded on her instantly. "Don't think I've forgotten you, missy. You'll be doing ten laps with Willow. If you beat her...well, I'll teach you that trick you've been asking about.
"Really?!" Golden eyes widened. "Can I use it on the Schnee?"
Willow squeaked. "On me?!"
Kakashi granted his ward a far more pleasant smile than he had her. "Only if you win."
Cinder grinned and took off at a sprint. Willow balked and raced after her.
Sasuke cast a weather eye over Haven academy; watching intently as its gates opened to admit their headmaster.
A small part of him wondered if they were going to attack. Might be interesting.
After all, he'd parked the entire tribe at their doorstep.
Maria turned incandescent. "EH?!"
Naruto didn't look up from his meal. "Well. Saw that coming...
"I have traveled long to meet you.
Sakura blinked. "Me?"
"You will come with us."
Sakura snarled. "Atlas, was it? Get off my island."
STAY TUNED! R&R! =D