Well, this took a bit, but I have a lot of stuff on my head and the lack of reviews isn't helping to keep me motivated ;P On a plus side, I'm quite happy with how this chapter turned out :) Not gonna write much, coz I can't think of anything, so lets just get to the chapter, shall we?

Chapter #19: Will of Iron

Title Page: the trio is racing: Rokku leads by riding an Ostrich, Shindo is close behind on a zebra, while Enkou is at the far end, trying to make his turtle run faster

Enkou sniffed, making the crimson liquid return to his nose as he sat with his head lowered, ignoring the pain and bruises. He felt his upper lip was cut as he tasted blood, but he would not dare say a thing. Not with his father standing beside him, arms crossed, and visibly angry.

Iruka allowed a single drop of sweat to run down his face as he observed his former student; certainly it was worrying to see him act like he did in these circumstances: "Thank you for coming, Sasuke-kun" the chuunin finally spoke, getting up from behind his desk. "As you can see, this time, the matter is rather... heavy."

"It's just kids' fight" the Sharingan master replied a bit sternly, sending his son a glare. "Boys will be boys, Iruka-san, and while I apologize for the trouble Enkou may have caused, I am not sure why my presence here was required."

"Are you really saying that?" the Academy teacher asked, not bothering to hide his disgust at the statement. "You know very well what this is about, Sasuke" he added, narrowing his eyes. "Enkou was jumped by three others and beaten specifically because he's wearing the name of your clan!"

"Konoha still holds a grudge towards Uchiha" the other man responded simply. "That is nothing new..."

"This is your son we're talking about!" Iruka snapped, interrupting him. "And this will keep on repeating if we do not find a solution! I have several classes to watch over! I cannot devote my entire attention to Enkou and whenever I'm not around, he gets persecuted! How much more does he have to suffer before you decide to take action?"

"And what would you have me do?" Sasuke replied with a twitch; only now did the chuunin realize his calm exterior was nothing more then a facade, one his former student learned to keep at all times. With the way things were, that was a necessity. "Beat those kids up? That would only agitate them further. Speak to their parents? With resentment to my clan most people have, that will accomplish nothing. Staying in the Academy myself? I have other duties that I need to attend, less our family loses any, financial means. The only, real option is for Enkou to stop attending Academy."

At this Iruka hesitated. Throwing the boy a sad glance, he shifted his eyes back to the Sharingan master, carefully choosing his next words: "Well... I know this wouldn't be anyone's first choice, but maybe..."

"Enkou himself stated that he will not forgive me if I do so" Sasuke proclaimed immediately, shocking the teacher even further. Taking a deep breath, the head of the Uchiha went on, his voice mellowed: "I actually considered tutoring him myself the first time he returned home looking like this" he announced, gazing at his son. "However he categorically refused the implication."

The chuunin gave his student a confused glance, unsure how to react. Enkou seemed to sensed the stare, for his rose his head, his resolve unshaken, as he spoke calmly: "I am to prove that Uchiha are still Leaf shinobi... ones to be reckoned with... how will I manage that if I would get preferential treatment, Iruka-sensei?" he asked rhetorically, challenging his teacher. "I can't simply back out coz it's hard; as long as it's for the reason I can accept... I'll gladly take any hardship!"

-flashback end-

Enkou blocked the incoming blade, crudely swinging Kusanagi at it. The metal let out a hollow 'clank' upon contact, but the other sword quickly retreated and lowered, its tip pointed at the leaf-nin's chest. The sudden thrust pushed the weapon forward and while the young Uchiha strafed right to avoid it, the sharp edge of the katana ripped his side, furthering the wound he received few seconds earlier.

Angered, the boy came to a stop and swung horizontally at his opponent, but Futai easily blocked by lifting his sword vertically, stopping the assault. Spinning on his foot, the samurai blasted Kusanagi back and cut low, shallowly marking the middle of Enkou's chest.

His opponent reacted immediately and brought his katana down in the attempt to slice the samurai's head, yet again the attack got blocked by the opposing blade, which then skidded down the sharp edge, releasing sparks, just before it slashed the young Uchiha's right leg, forcing him to wobble just to keep balance.

Thrown off his feet, Enkou left an opening, allowing Futai to swing his sword upwards, this time slicing the leaf-nin's left shoulder. The pain had an instant effect as the gennin hit the water, sinking bellow surface with a loud splash.

A moment later he resurfaced, gasping for air as water ran down his face, also mixing with his wounds, which multiplied the pain. Throwing several curses under his nose, the boy lifted himself up, getting back to standing on the liquid, his grip on Kusanagi a bit shaky.

"Burns, doesn't it?" Futai asked calmly, watching him struggle.

"Shut up!" Enkou snapped, his eye twitching as he tried to fight the pain. "Lucky shot!"

"Five of them, to be exact" the samurai countered simply. "And you're already weakened to the point you're about to drop your blade. One of the primary traits of a swordsman is his ability to withstand pain, not allowing it to affect his movement and technique. This isn't like taijutsu – if you hold your weapon wrong, it'll be much less effective... it can even make the difference between life and death."

"You had more practice then me" the young gennin growled at him, annoyed. "It should be obvious I cannot keep up with you right off the bat."

"Well, that much is true" Futai thought to himself without changing his expression. "He has decent reactions, but his body is still too slow to evade and counter to such speed. But, if we train it to take action automatically, with his blood he could become untouchable" he analyzed, readying himself once more. "Then adjust quickly" he advised, dashing forward.

In a blink of an eye he beat the distance and slashed from Enkou's left, forcing the latter to block with his sword. Another clank echoed through the forest, but the attack was far from over as the samurai flipped his hand and with amazing speed relocated his blade, cutting horizontally from the right, straight at the young Uchiha's head.

Unable to stop the assault, the leaf-nin ducked under, avoiding the blow, yet Futai's arm suddenly froze, allowing him to slice from above, once more going for his opponent's head. With no, other option, Enkou jumped back, making the katana slash at the water.

With another twist, the swordsman lifted his weapon and spun it in his grip, splashing the water that stuck to the metal. Small drops hit the Academy graduate's eyes, blinding him temporary. Subconsciously the young Uchiha attempted to wipe his eyes, yet this gave his adversary enough time to reach him once more. The instant the gennin regained his vision, he saw Futai's arm swinging from above in what was a deadly blow.

Before the hit came though, the samurai's wrist got grabbed, the strength of it powerful enough to release a soft crack from the pressure. Both boys looked to the side, confused, only to see Naruto standing there, displeased beyond measure.

"I fail to see when I gave you permission to kill my student" the jounin said sternly, narrowing his eyes at the young samurai. "Your job was to push him, not make him bleed to death" he added, visibly not amused.

"This is the most efficient way to make progress in a short span of time" Futai replied simply, unshaken. "I apologize if you find it extreme, Naruto-san, but this is also the way Homare-sensei trained me in the art of the sword. Also, from what you told me earlier, I imagine that we won't achieve that... thing you mentioned if I go easy on this one" he finished, glancing back at Enkou.

"Be that as it may, I will not have my student killed for something so trivial" the blond pushed, still holding tight to the boy's wrist. Surprisingly, it was the heir of the Uchiha who spoke next, shocking the Kyuubi vessel: "Naruto-sensei... please, do not interfere..."

The weakness beaming from the gennin's voice was apparent, his words merely whisper in the air. And yet the note of determination was undeniable. The whisker-marked man, however, was not particularly convinced: "Are you sure of this, Enkou?"

"This is supposed to make me stronger, right?" the boy responded, huffing in between words. "Make it possible... for me to... face that... mist-nin... using my sword... Shindo said it... himself that... with that katana's... ability to... deflect our ninjutsu..., we can't really... rely on... chakra-based attacks... if we fight him again..., so me... using Kusanagi... is our best bet. And, besides... I want to do this."

"Pushing yourself too hard..." the jounin began, but was immediately interrupted by the young Uchiha: "Naruto-sensei, considering what you told me during our survival training... I'd imagine you of all people should understand... backing out is not an option!"

The blond hesitated for a moment, cursing himself in his mind as he did so. In some ways he should've seen this coming and prevent it... but then, there's always that other side of the issue: "Dammit, he's even worse then I was back in the day... but that also means there's no point in even trying to stop him" he sighed, letting go of Futai's wrist: "Very well, carry on, but at least try to not go overboard" he asked, going back to his other students.

"I'm surprised" the young samurai admitted once the jounin was out of earshot. "Didn't take you for a person with such conviction" he announced, letting out a small hint of respect in his tone.

"I have a lot to prove" Enkou replied dismissively, readying himself for another clash. "If I wanted it to be easy, I'd have stopped myself long ago" he proclaimed, making Futai smile under his nose. With a nod, the swordsman went into his stance: "Ready?"

The leaf-nin only nodded before the young samurai charged at him once more...

-that evening, nearby cavern-

"Five days, huh?" Kyoushi rather stated then asked, glancing suspiciously at the man named Chuugi. "And how exactly did you obtained that info?" he questioned, knowing that this was purely rhetorical. "But, anyway, this gives us enough time to make all the preparations we need..."

"So you're still going through with this nonsense?" the masked man asked, slightly annoyed with his companion. "They'll know you're coming and those ANBU will eventually realize the trail was meant to lead them astray. You two should use this opportunity to put some distance between yourselves and the pursuit..."

"I am not leaving without Akuratsu" Kyoushi pressed, narrowing his eyes. Seeing his determination, Chuugi merely let out a sigh, glancing over at Kougan: "Then you could, at the very least, leave the boy out of this..."

"No-one's forcing me to do anything, Chuugi-san" the teen assured him calmly, placing the sword on his back. "I am here out of my own, free will. I would imagine you of all people should understand this much. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go make preparations for our assault" and with that he left the cave, allowing the two men to talk in private.

"His blind devotion towards you will get him killed" Chuugi announced, glancing after the boy. "Do you really wish to do more damage over this matter?" he asked much more politely, a note of worry in his voice. "You can still back out of this. Even without those samurai, that Yellow Maelstrom will still be there..."

"Next time I will beat him" Kyoushi assured him without hesitation. "I'll cut down anyone who would dare to stand in my way. I sacrificed too much to let this go. I'll paint this entire country crimson if I have to... in five days I'll kill Nobunaga Homare... I shall kill Konoha's Yellow Maelstrom... and claim Akuratsu as my own... just like it should have been!"

-determinations and reasons bloom... they clash in five days!-

And that's that for now... I know – no Rokku or Shindo. Frankly, I don't think their training would be very interesting and their development over the mission takes place outside it anyway, so I figured I'll just concentrate on Enkou (he is the protagonist after all :D). Do not worry, they're still there and they will have their time before the mission in resolved.

Not much to write here. Thanks for reading and until next time.