A/N: EDIT: Made a few tweaks, fixed things, and polished stuff up.

Sorry for vanishing...my aunt has passed away.

It happened suddenly, caught me by surprise, and sent me spiraling down into a dark place. Funeral will be in a few weeks, so if I vanish for a few days, that's the reason. In other news, writer's block is the bane of my life and a proper pain in my arse! It took me forever to find the direction I wanted to go, here.

Just wanted to thank everyone for their heartfelt support.

It really means a lot, what with the site notifications going crazy.

So many people are dying these days; there are times when I look to the future and wonder what will become of things, of this site, when I'm gone.

Of course, I try not to dwell on the latter overmuch; I'm still alive and still writing. In an ideal world, I'd like to keep doing so for as long as I can. But old age is catching up to me and these days, the world is filled with so much madness and death. Feels like everyone's lost their minds sometimes. Even before that, so many friends and fellow writers I once knew are gone, now. Will I still be here in twenty years? Ten? Five? Its a chilling thought. But for now, I'm still here, still writing.

So here we go. The fate of this story depends on you, the reader. Your feedback determines the fate of this tale, and many others.

I'm just a humble author trying to make his way in this wild world, one word at a time.

Time and feedback will determine if this remains a story. Simple as that.

In other words...its up to YOU, the reader. Do let me know~!

Delta/Sara is adorable in this chapter. As are others.

SPOILERS FOR SEASON TWO ONCE AGAIN~!

Quote is from AFK Journey. Seemed fitting.

"Appearances are always deceiving.

Take this gemstone, for example. In your eyes, it may seem flawlessly perfect.

But that's merely a refracted illusion. Its core remains a secret,hidden behind countless facets.

The human heart is much the same. You might wonder, among all these faces, which one is the real deal? That's the secret. Beautiful beings invite curious creatures, but going too deep...is dangerous. Just like so many people at a ball, adorned in their glamorous disguises, uttering enchanting lies, you must NEVER tear down the curtain to peek at the secrets within.

Because this curiosity of yours...

...might just cost you everything."

~Val.

Third Deed

The foxes were finally awake.

Naruto knew it long before he opened the door; he could sense their presence, sharp and alert, waiting for them. They must've stirred sometime ago while he and Sera were away on their latest raid. Good on them. Not only did that mean they had a good chance at making a full recovery, but it justified his actions in saving them. Both mother and daughter had potential and he was determined to seem them cultivate it.

And besides...fox-girls were just so darn cute, ya know?

Alas, poor Sara wasn't quite so keen on the uptake. "That was a good hunt~!"

"I know, right? He idly tousled her hair, drawing a pleased purr from her. "Now remember, be nice to our guests. They're still healing."

She whined a little, but didn't question him. "If boss says so...

"Boss does say so." he planted a kiss on her forehead to calm her, stepped forward, and flung the door open.

The first ting he noticed was that Yukime had gained another tail since he'd seen her last; now she had two. Couldn't her kind go up to nine?

"Keep. That. Girl."

Alright, alright...

"Hello, my lord." The pale girl perked up at the sight of him and sat a little straighter upon her bed, but took one look at Sara had her turning up her nose. "I wasn't aware you associated with such a dull creature."

Sara bridled with a growl, hackles already rising. "Rude fox!"

She sneered. "Noisy wolf."

Wolves and foxes didn't get along. Who knew? Well, he did, but he hadn't thought their rivalry would be quite so...spectacular. More fool he! One look was all it took and he knew they'd be rivals for life. Entertaining as it was to watch them bicker, however, he couldn't let them come to blows.

Thankfully, he didn't have to.

"Now, now, girls. A gentle voice interposed itself over the chaos. "There's no need to fight..

Yukime wilted like a frozen flower. "But mother...she's a brute!"

"And you demean yourself by acting in such a manner."

Right, he'd all but forgotten about Yukime's mother. "I didn't get your name, miss...?"

She had a certain refined dignity about her; yet he couldn't help but notice the way she moved; weak though she may be when compared to him, this woman was a warrior. He would not discredit that As he looked on in quiet consternation, she slung one long leg over the bed and bowed -he reluctantly averted his eyes from the bountiful feast before him with a sigh- utterly uncaring for the state of our robe. "You may call me Yoko, good sir. We owe you our lives, but I'm afraid we have nothing to repay you with beyond our utmost loyalty...and our bodies."

Had she winked at him just now?! She'd definitely winked!

'Flattered, but no! Not a chance! Not until I'm older!"

Yukime sputtered. "Mother!"

"Come now, dear daughter. I only spoke in jest...

Ha she? Yukime's tails thrashed furiously behind her in open distress.

"Rude!" Sara repeated, glomping onto his arm, distracting him yet further. "You're mean!"

And just like that, the duo were at one another's throat's yet again. "Well, he saved me first!"

"Second!" his loyal disciple released him to glower at the foxgirl. "Sara doesn't like you, rude fox! Sara will hunt you!"

Sara and Yukime butted heads, sparks sizzling between their narrowed eyes. A wolf and a fox. Instant enemies they were.

The latter's mother tutted softly in the background, three tails swaying lazily. "My, my, such fast friends they are."

Yukime rounded on her, calm demeanor shattering. "Mother, no!

Sara spluttered her agreement. "WE ARE NOT FRIENDS!"

Naruto knew an impending disaster when he saw one.

"Riiiight...I'll just let you two sort this out among yourselves...

Maybe they'd calm down while he was out; and if not, that gave them a chance to vent at the very least.

He he'd venture out and check that other mountain; he'd been meaning to travel toward the Oriana kingdom for awhile now...


(.0.0.0.)


Rose Oriana could barely breathe.

She tried, she really did, but her lungs just wouldn't work properly; her heart hammered in her chest as she hid in this rickety shed, watching her captors creep close. Closer. Closest, now. She could see them through the crack in the door, hear them coming closer, their boots crunching down over fallen leaves. She tried not to move, tried to cry out, but she couldn't help herself. She was but a child after all.

If only she was strong.

If only she knew how to use a sword.

If only she wasn't so wretchedly weak...!

"Now, now, princess, we just want to plaaaay~!"

Stop messing around and grab the damn brat already!

"What's it matter? She'll just be another blood-sack for the cult-

"I AM HERE~!"

With a triumphant shout, a spear of light lanced down from the heavens and skewered him where he stood, drilling him facefirst into the ground with a shower of blood. He didn't even have time to comprehend his death; said spear twisted and his head went flying from his shoulders.

Rose recoiled with a yelp, but it was no use, someone plucked her out of her hidey-hole and swept her into their arms; it was all she could do muffling her gasp behind both hands. "What on earth...!?"

"Huh, so it does work." a glowing young blond boy stood atop the fallen spear, grinning down on from ear to ear. "Its no flying thunder god, but its a start~!

She tried to speak, but her mind had other thoughts. Princess carry! No, focus! What had he said just now? "Flying thunder god...?"

"Well," he set her down and thumbed his chin, "I suppose Hiraishin would be another word for it, but the former just sounds better, ya know? Anyway!" he craned his neck down to regard her captors. "That wouldn't happen to be the Cult of Diablos you were talking about would it?

They clammed up as a grin split his face.

"I thought so~! I've been looking for more information on them, but my bastard brother burned all the notes he had before my little...surprise." Rose wilted a little as those piercing bright eyes flicked back to her. "And you were gonna kidnap an innocent girl, hmm? Which mean I don't need to feel bad about this...

One of them bridled and brandished a machete his way. "Who the hell are you?!"

Rose gulped. He's going to save me?

As a royal of another kingdom herself...she didn't see how he could. He looked weak. Perhaps that was shallow of her, Rose knew, but she truly didn't sense all that much mana from the young boy before her.

"Weeeell," the glowing prince stretched with a languid hum, cracking both knuckles above his had, "None of you are going to survive the next five minutes, so it doesn't matter. Would you mind being my guinea pigs? I need to test out a few jutsu, not to mention THAT spell...

Rose saw it all.

It began when he threw a knife at one them, nicking their arm.

Rose squinted at it. There was a strange symbol etched into the man's arm now, written in black, bloody ink...but to what end?

"Success!" The blond boy brought his hands together in a delighted clap, eyes creasing in a smile. "Thank you so much for your participation. Its so hard to find proper lab rats these days, ya know? I don't wanna use any of this stuff on good people, but we emptied out the dungeons awhile ago, ya know? So thank you, for being so wicked. Now I needn't feel any guilt about this."

A particularly stupid thug dared to speak up. "About whaaaaaargh?!

He immediately paid the price for it.

Painfully.

Nathaniel held out his hand, made a claw with his fingers and twisted. "Y'see everyone has a small amount of mana in some form of their body." his voice rose over the man's pained gurgles. "Not all can use it, but if you know how to manipulate it like this, you can do something amazing things." his victim dropped to their knees, gasping for air, for mercy, but none came." I call this one...Grasp Heart~!"

The thug twitched. Gasped. Choked out their final breaths as they perished, bleeding from every orifice.

"Bastard!"

One of the brutes rushed her savior with a machete, only for him to twist his head aside, let the blade sweep past, parried high and-

CRUNCH.

His sword struck down, and his foe ceased to exist. A simple swing, a gentle caress of steel, and his adversary evaporated. Well, most of him did. The man's startled head landed at Roses's feet, eyes wide, mouth gaping in its final moments of horror. She yelped and kicked it away, causing her would-be captors to shrink back with a cry.

"What's wrong?" Nathaniel waded in amongst them without a care in the world. "Have you said soiled yourselves yet? Said your prayers yet? Given up yet?" when more than a few bridled, he permitted a laugh to leave his lips. "Or does the name Nathaniel Griffey not ring any bells?"

It was that smile that so defined him in her eyes; it never wavered, never once. He was completely in control, the very pillar of dignity. Rose wanted that. No, needed that. She craved it. The complete and utter certainty of strength, that assurance that nothing could harm the one who held such power.

Her would-be kidnappers realized something else then.

"Wait...

"Nathaniel Griffey?!

"Oi, isn't he that prodigy...?"

"The one who beat princess Iris?!"

That bastard who cut a mountain in half...?"

Nathaniel harrumphed at that. "Two mountains, actually!"

Rose almost dared to hope. Almost, but not quite. This was the swordsman she'd heard so much about? The one everyone spoke so loftily of?

"Now, then~!"

Nathaniel moved.

Rose barely saw it; much less comprehended what followed; one moment he was standing beside her and in the next people, were bleeding and dying all over the floor.

"What's wrong?" Nathaniel flicked their blood from his blade. "I though you liked playing games. Isn't that what you thought this was? You chased a poor innocent girl out here to the middle of nowhere, laughing all the while. But you're not laughing now, are you? Ordinarily, I would be a bit quicker about this, but I'm a little angry...

With his back to her, she had a perfect view of his sword as it escaped its sheathe. The blade was...what was that? It was unlike any weapon she'd ever seen. The hilt was a bright, beautiful, baleful blue lined with a golden trim trailing down into flawless silver steel; it almost seemed to ripple and shift in the moonlight as though coated in wind.

"Do you like it?" Nathaniel hummed. "She's a prototype so I don't have a proper name for her just yet. A sword made from mana and chakra, folded dozens of times into steel. This weapon is an extension of my body; you could even call her my answer to missing Kurama. And you?

His gaze fixed on the remaining bandits.

"You're my guinea pigs."

His wrist twisted, flicking his sword up, hefting it with intent.

The smile on his face sent a shiver through her soul.

And then:

"Aha!" a giddy giggle parted his lips. "I just thought of something! Do you know the name of the most famous sword in the world? After all, this is a world of magic and knights so...

His hands tightened around the hilt.

...why don'tcha...

The blade burst into gleaming gold.

...say hello to...

His sword swept down.

...EXCALIBUR!"

There was light.

For a wonderful moment Rose couldn't see anything beyond that light; this pillar of burning, blazing benevolence, a searing radiance seemed to go on and on forever. When it finally faded she saw...nothing. Her pursuers were gone, but so too was a great swathe of the earth. Of those who wished her harm, there was nothing to be seen. Not even their ashes.

What manner of swordsmanship was that? It was just so...lovely...

"Not bad for a prototype." Nathaniel regarded the now-crumbling hilt in his hand. "Seems like it needs some more work...

His gaze slid to hers and Rose froze.

"Its alright,your highness." He took her left hand in his, cupping her palm between both of his own, and his lips tugged down in a frown as he regarded the back of her hand. "You've got a cut there. Lemme fix that...

As she looked on in mute disbelief, her wound closed in no time, leaving nothing behind. There wasn't even a scar. Yet for all that, he didn't let go of her hand.

Heat seared through her face, turning Rose redder than her namesake. How very forward!

And then she finally felt it.

The lie slipped away, the veil fell between them, and she saw the truth. Gold. His mana was gold. And there was so much of it. Yet for all that, it wasn't heavy or oppressive it was...gentle. Like warm summer sunshine, suffusing her every pore. It shone from him a pillar of light piercing the clouds, one only she could see so long as she held his hand. She'd met full-fledged knights who had less mana than this! What was he?! He wasn't some shadowy figure, no he burned too brightly for that. Like a...

Lord of Light.

The words popped into her head unbidden.

She released his hand with a start. "Who are you?"

The boy who called himself "Nathaniel" merely winked once. "I'm on your side. From one would-be hero to another. Have a nice night. Be seeing you~!"

Her eyes wideend and she reached out for him "Wait-

Too late. He vanished before her very eyes.


(.0.0.0.)


"Boss~!"

Sara tackled him the second he made it through the front door; to his credit, he was ready for her. The second he heard her cry he caught her, spun once to bleed off her momentum, and let her clamor all over him. A tiny cut on her cheek caught his notice as she did; it looked recent, so much so that he couldn't help but remark on it.

"Did you have fun with your new friend?

"We fought!" her next words dashed his fears. "I knocked the Noisy Fox out!"

Ohhhh dear. Yukime wasn't going to be happy when she came to. It also served as a useful baseline comparison; despite the power he'd given her, Yukime wasn't yet on the level of Sara. She'd require a fair bit of training before she reached that summit. Heh. Guess that made the wolf-girl top dog among the two...not that he'd ever utter such a ridiculous pun among the

An awful thought occurred to him as he let Sara crawl all over him. "And her mother?"

Sara planted herself on his chest and. "Mama Fox is nice. She gives hugs. I left her alone."

Thank the Sage for small mercies aaaaaaaaaand there Sara went nuzzling at his his neck again.

Naruto endured it with a bemused smile. "You don't have to do this everytime I come back, ya know...

She nipped his neck in response. If he didn't know better, he could've sworn she was trying mark him. Surely it wasn't that, right?

Sara sniffed him, then frowned. "You smell like flowers now! And blood!" Her tail swayed a mile a minute behind her back. "Did you hunt? Are we going hunting again?"

"About that." he didn't miss the way she whined at hm. "I may have had a small...outing while you were arguing with Yukihime...

"You hunted without me?!" the young therianthrope almost sounded affronted. Probably was. "No fair!"

"To be fair, I only killed a few people and it was a very brief hunt-

"Without! Me!" her voice rose in a petulant whine. "Unfair!'

Something in him softened at the sight of her tear eyes. Perhaps he was being a bit unfair after all. He honestly hadn't thought she'd be this upset about it.

"Sorry, sorry," he scratched under her chin until she purred. "Next time I'll bring you along, okay?

Her head rose. "Promise?"

He held up his pinkie finger. "On my honor."

Sara hooked hers around his with a happy chirrup. "So why did Boss go hunting?"

Honesty was the best policy in situations like these; fibbing right now would only upset her. "Well, I ran into a girl and she's got some interesting potential I'd like to cultivate."

Sara tilted her head. "A new friend?"

There was something in her voice just then.

Wait. Was she...jealous? No, that couldn't possibly be it. "Alright, calm down. I hear you. But...

Belatedly he noticed the black cloth wrapped around her forehead; a familiar colored fabric festooned with a nostalgic silver plate. No marking, though. Had she stitched that onto the cloth herself? If so, that was kinda impressive, but the question remained:

...what's with that headband?

"Sara is a Ninja!" she declared happily. "Like boss!"

Naruto's heart thumped oddly in his chest and he staggered into a wall. Emotional damage!

I only mentioned a few things about my past life to her; I didn't think she'd take it and run with it. He snorted, snickered, then smiled. Then again, I guess it wouldn't be so bad to pass on what I've learned...

And really, what was the harm? It wasn't as though he was going to create a team of super elite agents or anything. No, no, no. Heavens forbid...

.

..

...right?

Shaking aside his brief burst of doubt, he regarded his first ally with rueful smile. "Say, Sara...

She tilted her head, ears twitching.

He placed his palm between them, stroking her head ever so gently. "Do you wanna be strong?"

Her eyes sparkled with feral delight. "Strong like Boss?"

Naruto hummed. "Maybe even stronger."

Theriantrhopes were busted, after all.

"Then...yes!

"Are you sure?" He gave her cheek a pinch when she made to agree before he was finished. "It'll be a lot of work ya know."

"Sara doesn't care!" she butted her forehead against his with a pleased giggle. "Sara will do whatever it takes! Sara will win every fight!"

Win against who...? No, it was probably better not to ask. Gods, she was like a puppy. An adorable puppy that could eviscerate her enemies. He couldn't help but smile in her presence.

"Alright." He thrust a finger forward. "Hold still, now."

She sat down on her haunches, obeying his command without fail. The complete and utter trust she had in him was humbling sometimes.

He held out that finger to her headband, superheated it with mana, mingled it with chakra, and began to carve. Slowly but surely he traced the symbol of his village into the metal with painstaking detail. Sara didn't whimper. Not once, it was a testament to his newfound levels of control that he could do this without hurting her.

...done." he pulled back his finger. "Take it off and look at.

"...Sara can keep it?

Yes, of course." he stroked her ears. "Now have a look."

She did just that and frowned at the headband.

No recognition in her eyes. None at all.

Almost made him sad, it did.

"Hmmm?" she squinted at the symbol. "What's this?"

"The emblem of my village." he held it out for her to inspect. "That headband is the only one of its kind in this world. Now it belongs to you. And Sara?

Her tail swayed once. "Yeah, boss?"

He patted her head. Thank you."

Said head tilted. "For what?"

"...Reminding me of something important."

Sara beamed and made happy Sara noises. "Boss~!"

He should've seen what came next; it was obvious, really."

Her head hit his chest even as her arms locked around his back, holding on for dear life.

Muffled though her words were, he heard them plain as day. "If boss is sad, then Sara will give him lots of hugs!"

...thanks." he buried his head in her neck and sighed.

A little piece of his past lived on.

It would be enough for now.

A/N: Aaaand scene.

Would you like a timeskip soon, or should we continue at this pace?

Weeeeeeell~? How was it? Are you not entertained? Should this remain a story? Would you like weekly updates?

Yay or nay! Gotta let me know for the update schedule, ya know. As ever, the Embers Rule Persists; if folks don't like this tale, then... I'll not continue it. I can't bear to write something folks don't like, and working two jobs on a near back-to-back basis leaves my energy at an all time low. So by all means, speak up! Raise your voice! Make yourself heard!

Reviews are the fuel that sustain me and my team in these darkened times.

So in the Immortal Words of Atlas...Review, Would You Kindly?

(PREVIEWS!)

And as ever:

WARNING! WARNING! WARNING!

SPOILERS AWAIT THEE~!

YE BE WARNED~!

(Previews)

"We owe you a debt we cannot possibly repay.


...you're like me, aren't you?"


Years passed...


A sword tickled his throat, drawing a bead of blood. "...is there a reason you're doing this?"

Alexias smiled at him. It was not a nice smile. Yikes, she's pissed.

"Sorry, but I need you to be my boyfriend for a bit."


"You should've just stayed on the floor where I left you...


"BOSS~!"

His right ear twitched. "Waitaminute-

That was his first mistake. She waited for no one.

"Gah, Sara!" he grunted as she landed on his back, all but sitting on his shoulders. "Why are you even here?!"

"Sara was hunting!" her tail wagged, betraying the excitement in her eager voice. "Wanna go hunting with me, boss?"

...what were you hunting?"

"Strong people!"

"Oh, Sara...


"Hello, dear Cultist-San. Would you mind dying for me?"

"Ha?"

He looked up just in time to see a giant golden fox looming over him.

It bit down.

CRUNCH.


'I see, so that's how it is! He's like me! This feeling...for the first time in forever, I can actually...!'

Cid threw his head back and started to laugh.

"I have an adversary! An antagonist!"

EDIT: Hey, you made it!

As ever, the Embers rule remains: If people don't like this story? If they don't enjoy it? Well...I' won't be able to continue it. That's no joke, folks. I'm so busy these days with two jobs; holidays are HERE and basically, I don't have time off. Not anymore.

My free time is limited and as such, I can't afford to focus on something folks don't like. Reviews keep me writing in these times, and keep the daily updates flowing. Silence...silence only hurts. I hate having to beg for feedback, but without it...well, it feels like I'm not making an impact...

Looking forward to chatting with you all when I get back from work~!

Warm regards,

~Nz.

R&R~!