Author's Note: Don't own Naruto, but I do own a copy of "Oshi no Ko" Volume 1, after finishing the first episode. Holy... Holy shit. I mean, it is the author of Kaguya-sama so I should have expected it to be great, but I wasn't expecting it to be as engaging as it was. Consider this my endorsement to watch it if you have not seen it yet, but FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS DECENT WATCH IT BLIND!
Author's Note: Putting an author's note up top to just... talk for a moment before I post. Got to get something out of my system real quick.
So, initially, the reason I missed the 2/12 deadline was because the pharmacy I work for had a ton of business we weren't expecting. Which meant OT. Lots and lots of OT. Been working lots of 50 hour work weeks and had very little energy to write for a while. So, the plan was to write at whatever pace I could, and then when I came back, I would be like - "Yo, sorry I'm late, but guess what? Your boy has money now!"
... Well, that was only the initial reason why I got this chapter out so late. The second kicked off early March when my dog, Toby, passed away.
Don't recall if I've ever mentioned him in an author's note before, but Toby was a seventeen year old Yorkie and he was such a little asshole who hated strangers and was extremely picky about his food and wouldn't take his meds unless forced to and always wanted attention every second and would literally pee in the house while making direct eye contact with me whenever he got mad at me for something. ... But this little guy was also the cuddliest thing in the world and always waited by the door for either myself or my wife to get home from work and would crawl in our laps and would sleep with us every night, no exception. "Tobi" may have ended up not being a good boy in the end, but my "Toby" sure as shit was. He was the best boy!
For a while, I was not okay. Just went through days on auto-pilot. And, to a small degree, I still am. I'm definitely doing better now, but I have a huge hole in my heart that is not anywhere near ready to be filled again.
... So, yeah. I just wanted to explain my absence in a little more detail. And I guess also, just to any of you who have pets, to just give them a hug please. Cause they definitely deserve one.
It took Hinata a surprising amount of time for her breathing and heartbeat to return to normal after her dream encounter with Ōtsutsuki Tōneri. Once she got her bearings straight, she immediately asked Naruto to grab Neji. He nodded his head and left to the library quickly. A few minutes later, the two walked back into their room in the inn. With both present, Hinata began slowly retelling about her interaction with the Ōtsutsuki.
"What the hell does this bastard want with you?" Naruto nearly shouted.
"I don't know!" Hinata frowned, shaking her head: "All I know is that his demeanor shifted once I mentioned you, Naruto. He got forceful that 'I' need to meet up with him and just threatening that he would 'give me a reason to come' if I wasn't going to do it willingly."
"Fucking creep." The Uzumaki hissed.
"I did not get a long conversation out of him. The fact that he took his time talking to you does imply whatever he intends to do with us, you're his main priority." Neji noted, biting down on his lip.
Hinata's frown deepened: "I… I didn't initially get a weird vibe from him during our conversation – he seemed pleasant enough, if a little bit fake – but then near the end of our talk, he started to get… 'possessive', I guess is the best way to put it."
"'Possessive'?" Naruto repeated the word with a scoff: "You're not some object a person can own, especially not a bastard like him!"
"I know!" She shook her head, her eyes looking downward: "There was also just… something really invasive… about him entering my dreams like that…"
"I felt the same way. I'm not sure if it's just an after effect of whatever jutsu he is using, or if it's just something about him, but…" Neji sighed, crossing his arms: "On the topic of his abilities; Hinata, he showed you the Tenseigan?"
"… Yes." His cousin nodded her head: "They were completely bloody, so something must have just happened to them, but he does have them. I'm positive."
"Good." Naruto stated, pounding his right fist into the palm of his left hand: "When we find the bastard, we can beat the shit out of him and interrogate him about how he got them."
"Is it wise to seek him out?" Neji asked.
"Well, the guy said where he's going to be." The Uzumaki noted: "I think it'd be best to ambush him there and take him out."
"When we have no knowledge of who he is or what his goal is?" Neji asked, shaking his head: "No, I don't feel comfortable simply meeting with him like that."
"Well, is it really better to just not do anything when he could very easily just come find us later?" Naruto asked, raising an eyebrow: "Cause he knows where we are, and it sounds like he can track you two. Even if you avoid him today, he might try something again later."
"That's-" Neji's eyes widened, his words dying on his lips as a scowl formed on his face: "I didn't consider that. He probably will just try something later."
"That may be so, but I'm not sure it's wise to go after him here." Hinata admitted. "We may know where he's going to be, but I do think this could just be a trap in general. There's got to be some motivation with the location."
"… That's true." Naruto sighed in response: "Well, guess we still got two more days to think about what to do."
"I did ask around; the Sanrō Mountain is less than a day away from here." Neji noted.
"… There's one concern I have." Hinata said, biting her lip: "Ōtsutsuki said that he would 'show me why I need to go see him' tomorrow…" She looked down slightly: "He… If he really wants to meet us on that day, then I think it's safe to say he's not here and won't do anything to us in reality, but I'm worried to fall asleep." She then looked to Neji: "I'd also be worried for you to fall asleep."
"You think he could try something to us in our sleep?" Neji asked.
"Yes." She nodded her head: "He already can visit us in our dreams and waking up affects us badly in real life; who knows what he could do to us in our sleep? I imagine he could maybe just keep us there…"
"… I recall Kankurō-san saying that the Shodai Kazekage had an ability like that. That's certainly a possibility." Neji said, frowning.
"Neji, can you sleep here with us tonight?" Naruto recommended: "I can keep watch on you two. If anything weird looks like it's happening to either of you, I can force you awake before it gets bad."
"But then you'd be staying awake." Hinata said, frowning: "Wouldn't you need sleep?"
"I can just sleep now. It'll be just like taking rotations when out of the villages on a mission." Naruto said with a chuckle: "And I'm definitely not worried about that bastard trying anything in my dreams. After all," Naruto grinned, a malicious glint forming in his eyes, "I got the Kyūbi inside of me, and I bet the fox would not like to see anything poking around inside my head."
"I hope he tries." Kurama nearly growled in his mind: "I would love to tear him apart, limb from limb."
Hinata nodded her head in response to Naruto's suggestion, a smile forming on her lips. She then leaned in, giving him a kiss on the cheek: "Thank you, Naruto."
"Anytime." He smiled back in response.
Neji was quiet for a moment, taking in Naruto's suggestion. Hinata turned her head towards him, waiting for him to respond. A few more seconds passed by before he nodded his head.
"Very well. I'll take you up on that." He said: "Thank you."
"No worries." Naruto grinned in response. He then looked towards his best and then stretched slightly, forcing out a yawn: "Guess I ought to get some shut-eye now then. Wake me up when you all are ready to sleep and switch-" His eyes then widened: "Oh! Let me give you guys these!"
Both Hinata and Neji blinked as Naruto rushed off the bed and towards his travel bag. He reached inside for a moment before he pulled out two seals. He then walked back towards them and handed them to the two Hyūga.
"Apply these to your bodies! Just in case." Naruto replied: "I want them to acclimate to your chakra signatures as much as possible to make it easier."
"What are these?" Neji asked.
"A last resort. Something I hope I don't have to use." Naruto replied
Neji raised an eyebrow, but seeing the expression on Naruto's face caused him to acquiesce. Both he and Hinata accepted the seals from Naruto and placed them on their bodies.
Naruto smiled in response before he walked back towards his bag and proceeded to grab a change of clothes and walk towards the bathroom. A moment passed before he returned and jumped onto the bed and proceeded to fall asleep almost immediately.
Neji blinked in response before turning to Hinata: "That was… fast. He seemed rather awake earlier, too… can he seriously fall asleep at will like that?"
"Sometimes, yes." Hinata giggled in response.
"I see…" Neji mumbled before he shook his head: "Anyway, would you like to discuss some things about the Kūsho Byakugan? I'm still uncertain where to take my theories, but-"
"Forgive me, Neji-nii-san, but could we perhaps talk about something else?" Hinata asked, frowning: "Before Ōtsutsuki interrupted my dream, it was turning into a nightmare where I saw Shimon. It…" She shook her head: "Forgive me, I know that's why we came here. I'm just being sensitive."
"That's nothing to be sorry about." Neji replied, shaking his head: "We'll figure out the truth regardless before we return home. We can take a break from it."
"… Thank you." Hinata's frown morphed to a smile as she brought her hands together.
Instead of obsessing over their studies, for the first since they arrived in Tetsu no Kuni, both Neji and Hinata opted to relax, simply chatting away with another about more mundane matters.
As the day came to an end and, when they switched 'shifts' with Naruto and went to sleep themselves, it was a decision that they did not regret; the mental break would perhaps give them the chance to finally rest for the first time.
The next day came quickly for all the shinobi. At noon, armored samurai arrived at the inn and called for the combatants, Masayuki, and Chiasa. They then proceeded to escort them through the city, heading east.
After a twenty minute walk, the group arrived at a large, twelve-storey building made of iron and steel. The samurai walked towards the building's entrance and opened the door, with the shinobi escort following them inside the building.
The first room inside the building was a large, open room that was completely filled with people standing in line. At the very front of the line were three stands with salesman standing behind each of them, with stacks of tickets on the table.
"Wh-What the…" Naruto mumbled, his eyes widening.
'When he said 'tournament', I assumed there would be an audience. This, however…' Han shook his head, resisting the urge to shiver: 'So many humans all in one place…'
The samurai escort continued to move forward to the side of the line, with the shinobi following behind. As they moved forward, the people in line stared intently at each of them, taking in their appearances. They the began to whisper to one another.
"So that's them, huh? I thought shinobi all wore black."
"They look pretty tough, but I'm sure our samurai can take them down!"
"Hey, that one has swords! Are we going to get to see a shinobi swordsman fight against our samurai?"
Risho grinned in response, his hands instinctively going to his blades.
"You know how most of the samurai that wear the heavy armor all the time take it off and they end up looking hunky and muscular? I bet the guy in the big red armor is real sexy! Hope one of the guys can cut that off and we can see his bod!"
"True! He looks like the kinda guy who could really rail a girl, you know?"
Han's eyes twitched.
"That redhead looks so fucking hot. Think she's single? I heard the shinobi women are crazy in bed."
"The things I'd love to do to her..."
Honoka's eyes also twitched.
"Mommy, what's that headband thing they're all wearing? Can I get one?"
Hinata giggled at that before turned to Naruto: "Well, the people here definitely seem more interested than concerned about us like they did when we got here."
"Mifune was right; perhaps an event like this will do our countries some real good." Naruto noted. His eyes then focused on his wife, a small frown on his face: "Hey, you sure you want to do this? I don't think Mifune would care if you backed out."
"No, I'm fine." She shook her head: "I want to get thoughts of that creep and his threat out of my mind; what better way than with something like this."
"Heh." Naruto smirked in response before nodding his head: "Understood!"
The escort brought them towards a backdoor in the room, which led them an empty, windowless hallway. They continued forward, walking past several doors, until they reached one that had a wooden sign placed on it, reading 'Waiting Room 2'. One of the samurai opened the door and the shinobi, Masayuki, and Chiasa all walked inside.
Compared to the rest of the building so far, the waiting room resembled what they had already seen of Tetsu no Kuni the most; the floor of the room was made of wood and there were swords displayed in cases alongside the wall. The room had two large wooden couches and an equally large kotatsu in the middle. Sitting at the kotatsu was Mifune and another, noticeably younger-looking man with light brown eyes, wearing a black headpiece that completely covered the man's short black hair. He also wore a silver, ornate kimono with the kanji for 'iron' printed on the back and a few diamonds imbedded into the stitching of the kimono.
Both men turned their heads towards the open door. Mifune nodded his head as he slowly pulled himself. The other man, however, had a large grin on his face as he nearly jumped up at the sight of them.
"So these are the shinobi you permitted in! I must say, Mifune-san, it was rude of you to not introduce me to them sooner." He noted as he rushed forward to the shinobi at the front of the pack – Dosu. He held out his right hand: "Matsudaira Sōzōshī. The pleasure is all mine."
Dosu blinked in response as he hesitantly reached out and took the man's hand, expecting a brief, polite handshake.
Instead, the man violently shook hands with the former Oto shinobi, causing his eye to widen.
"Th-Thank you for allowing us into your village, Matsudaira-sama." Dosu said.
He then attempted to break the handshake. In response, the man in front of him seemingly tightened his grip.
"I'm very curious to see how my samurai stack up against all of you!" He stated, his grin widening. "I've been hearing marvelous tales of what you shinobi are capable of my whole life, so I'm sure this will be a real treat that all of us can enjoy! But you would do well not to underestimate the creep of the crop our nation has to offer."
"I'm sure they are aware, Matsudaira-sama." Mifune spoke as he walked forward next to the man. "I'll go ahead and brief them about the specifics. It might do you good to move to your seat and get yourself comfortable."
"True, true. I also have to make sure that my chef is almost finished with my meal." Sōzōshī nodded his head, bringing his hand to his chin in thought: "He better remember to prepare the wagyu medium rare. Any rarer is vile, but if cooked even the slightest bit more will ruin the quality of the meat." His eyes widened as he began to walk out of the room: "Ah! And I'll need to make sure he remembers the fugu! He forgot to prepare my pufferfish last night, and that really…"
His voice began to fade as he left the room, rambling still about his upcoming lunch. The shinobi stared at the man's retreating figure for a moment before turning back to Mifune, all having a concerned look on their faces.
"That man… he's your village's Daimyo?" Han asked.
"Yes." Mifune nodded his head, sighing: "His father was a great man and leader. Sōzōshī, though… he has an aptitude for money, I will admit. That's the most positive thing I can say about him."
'… The Hi no Kuni Daimyo is probably something like him, isn't he?' Naruto wondered, a groan nearly escaping his lips: 'Goddammit…'
"I'm guessing it was his idea to charge admittance and make this like a sports event, yeah?" Kankurō asked.
"It was." Mifune, again, sighed: "However, I will say that he managed to drive up interest in this event despite only knowing about it a day in advance. Word spread to the majority of the people in our Capital." He then chuckled, a small smile developing on his face: "So many have shown up to this event. I am sure that this will go a long way for improving shinobi and samurai relations moving forward."
"That's all we can ask for." Risho stated, bowing his head.
"So, how is this tournament going to end up working?" Honoka asked.
Mifune proceeded to reach inside his kimono and pulled out a small box with a hole on the top.
"I will have you all draw numbers from here, which range from numbers one to eight. The samurai have all also drawn from a box within the same number range. Your opponent will be whichever samurai drew the corresponding number. So whichever shinobi draws the number one will face the samurai who drew number one." The Samurai General explained: "This was designed as such to ensure that, at the very least, we would have the first round be fully Tetsu no Kuni versus the Shinobi Nations."
"So, it would theoretically be possible to have all shinobi advance to the next round?" Kankurō asked.
"Perhaps. But I wouldn't be so overconfident to assume that would happen." Mifune noted, an amused smirk forming on his face: "You will find that my samurai are quite capable and resourceful. It would be in your best interest to not underestimate any of them."
"So, let's get this started, shall we?" Honoka noted as she walked forward towards Mifune.
The elderly man held out the box for her. She reached into the top, her hand grazing over multiple slips of paper before she reached one and pulled it out. The other shinobi followed behind, each coming up one-by-one to grab their own slip of paper. When all eight finished, they each opened their papers and read off the number
"I-I-I'm n-number one?" Chōjūrō blinked as he looked at his paper. 'Oh… Oh dear…'
"I drew number two." Han read-off.
"Three." Risho added.
"Number four for me." Kankurō said as he crumpled up his paper and pocketed it.
"And I'm five." Dosu stated.
"I got six." Hinata said, nodding her head in approval.
"Seven." Honoka stated.
"… Really? I'm eight?" Naruto grumbled as he crossed his arms: "That means I'm last, huh?"
"Thank you. I do believe, from what I recall from the samurai side of things, we have some interesting match-ups to look forward to." Mifune said with a chuckle: "It will take some time for the attendees to get their tickets and find seats. Please, go ahead and do whatever preparations you need to make before the matches will begin. I will have someone come and escort you to the arena once it is time." He then turned to face the Namikazes: "Allow me to escort you all to your seats."
"We thank you." Masayuki said, bowing his head.
"Good luck to all of you." Chiasa said to the shinobi, her eyes focusing on Naruto: "Especially to you, Naruto-kun. Do us proud!"
He grinned in response: "I will!"
With those words, Mifune walked out of the room, with both Chiasa and Masayuki following behind.
"So… this thing's going to have a huge audience, huh?" Risho noted, crossing his arms: 'This isn't even close to what I was expecting when I asked Mifune-sama about all of this.'
"Feels almost reminiscent of the Chūnin Exams final round." Han said.
"Guess it does." Kankurō chuckled as his hand went to his back, reaching for one of the scrolls his puppets were sealed in: "Well, guess this'll make things fun for me! Didn't get to fight in my Chūnin Exams, so this'll give me a taste of what that felt like."
"Didn't you quit your match in the Chūnin Exams?" Naruto asked.
"Didn't you quit because you were prepping for your invasion?" Hinata added, her eyebrow raised.
Kankurō proceeded to hold out his hands in front of his face: "Details, details. The most important thing is I didn't get the chance to do it in the first time."
"Like the Chūnin Exams, huh…" Chōjūrō mumbled before a sigh escaped his lips: "I n-never got th-the chance to fight in them either."
"Really?" Naruto asked, turning to the blue-haired swordsman: "But aren't you a jōnin?"
"Well… y-yes." Chōjūrō nodded his head: "B-But when would I h-have had t-time to take them? W-We were in th-the middle of the Civil War. N-No rebels would have been recognized at th-the exams."
"The majority of Kirigakure rebels received promotion to chūnin or jōnin as thanks for servitude in the fight against Yagura." Honoka noted before she gestured towards herself: "Chōjūrō, Suigetsu, and myself were all promoted to jōnin for help in the invasion and, in Chōjūrō's and Suigetsu's cases, they skipped the chūnin rank."
"You all were given field promotions, hmm?" Dosu asked, crossing exams: "I mean, that makes sense. I can't imagine helping end a war and then having to remain a genin in the aftermath."
"Yeah, that would suuuuuck." Naruto nodded his head in agreement: "I know I'd raise hell if I was a genin and then they refused to promote because of some stupid 'you didn't do the Chūnin Exams' bullshit technicality."
"Well, you all get a chance to enjoy the splendor of fighting in front of a large crowd." Han noted as his eyes focused on Chōjūrō: "The sensation may be a little overwhelming if you've never fought in a crowd before; it may seem daunting, but do your best to ignore any jeers and cheers from the crowd."
"Is it th-that difficult?" Chōjūrō asked, blinking: "I m-mean… I d-don't do the best around lots of p-people, but th-that doesn't really affect me in combat. I… I should be fine!" He took a deep breath-in: "How bad c-could it be?"
"Oh. Th-Th-This bad…" Chōjūrō mumbled.
The first thing the shinobi all processed when they were escorted to the arena was the volume; cheers and shouts echoed through the area as they walked through the doors and entered the room.
The arena was located on a raised platform made of black marble with two raised stairs leading up to it on opposite ends of the battlefield. The surrounding floor was made of fine, golden-painted wood with two sitting areas – one designated for the shinobi and the other designated for the samurai.
Looking upwards, rows-and-rows of bleaches extended upwards with people filling nearly every available seat. The cheers of the crowd seemed to grow louder at the sight of the approaching shinobi.
'This is the first indoor arena I've seen like this.' Dosu noted as he closed his eye and listened, processing all the noises sounding throughout the room. He nodded his head: 'The acoustics in this room are great.'
'I know I saw a lot of people in line, but I still didn't think there'd be this many people! I guess they weren't kidding when they said Tetsu no Kuni's Capital was a lot bigger than Konoha…' Naruto mumbled, his eyes moving from person-to-person.
'Oh… boy…' Chōjūrō's breathing grew harder and harder: 'This-'
A hand went to his shoulder. The blue-haired swordsman's eyes widened as he turned around to see Hinata behind him, a gentle smile on her face.
"I feel you. I used to be as anxious as you all the time." She admitted: "I… I also don't do well with big crowds like this sometimes. But it'll be okay." She tightened her grip on his shoulder slightly: "So don't get distracted or overwhelmed, okay?"
"… Yes ma'am." Chōjūrō bowed his head in response, returning her smile with one of his own: "… Thank you."
The shinobi continued to move forward until they reached their sitting area on the arena floor. On the other side, they could get a good glimpse of the samurai they were to face.
Sitting down on the far end was Sazanami, whose eyes were moving from shinobi-to-shinobi intently, assessing each of them. Next to him was Okisuke, who was meditating. Another samurai – this one still wearing the traditional samurai armor, covering every inch of skin – sat beside him. Menma was next, the young man playing a small tune on his ocarina.
Dosu's eye narrowed on him: 'It's slight, but I can sense it. Chakra is being released from that audio.' His hands tightened: 'It's him, then.'
Menma looked up from his ocarina, taking a second break from his song, and looked at Dosu. Noticing his intense stare, Menma winced and looked downward, bringing his instrument to the side.
Next to Menma was a woman with fair, long-black colored hair worn in a bang with strands that covered the sides of her face, and black eyes. She wore silver armor over a thick, tattered white coat and pants. She had a hay cloak attached to the back of her armor, obfuscating it slightly. Attached to a holster on her back was a large halberd, and she had two sword holsters attached to her hip. She was glaring at the shinobi, her left hand gripping the halberd on her back tightly.
To her left was a young woman with cream-colored skin, brown hair styled in a ponytail, and bright pink eyes. She wore a dark purple robe with white lining on the collar and sleeves, which she wore over a black turtleneck. She had black arm and shin guards on and had her sword attached to a holster on her hip.
The final samurai sitting down was a large, bulky man with ivory-colored skin tone, short black hair styled in a buzz cut, and dark brown eyes. He wore a grey-colored skin-tight shirt with no sleeves and dark brown bulky pants. He also had arm braces and knee braces and had two swords attached to his waist.
"That one woman appears to hate shinobi quite a bit." Han noted, gesturing towards the dark-haired woman with the halberd: "I don't think she's intentionally doing it, but she has quite a bit of killing intent."
"Well, there was bound to at least one of them." Honoka said with a shrug.
"Wait, there are only seven samurai." Hinata spoke-up, a confused look on her face: "I thought Mifune-sama said there would be an even sixteen total."
"Maybe one of them dropped out?" Kankurō shrugged his shoulders.
Before she could respond, a slight static noise rang through the arena. The audience quieted down for a moment as both shinobi and samurai turned alert, facing the battlefield.
"Ladies and gentleman, thank you for all attending." Mifune's voice rang-out throughout the room, as if being projected and amplified: "It is my distinct pleasure to welcome you all to a special occasion: The Samurai-Shinobi Goodwill Tournament! This will hopefully be one of many such events where the greatest warriors – from shinobi nations and our grand samurai nation – come together to face-off in a battle for glory!"
The crowds of civilians in the stands applauded loudly at the general's words.
'One of many?' Risho's eyes briefly widened before a grin developed on his face: 'Maybe if this becomes like an annual thing or something? I'll definitely try and talk to Kurotsuchi about this!'
"Our visitors are shinobi from all five of the Major Shinobi Villages who have come to our great country and city as guests. They have agreed to participate here and show what the elite shinobi are capable of doing. In return, eight representatives of our fine nation will be competing against them." Mifune continued: "Our goal is for both parties, shinobi and samurai alike, to leave this experience with a deeper appreciation for the other." He then chuckled: "If nothing else, I can assure you have some rather exciting matches to bear witness to."
The cheering grew even louder.
"I can't wait to see what those shinobi can do!"
"Go Sazanami-san! Show them what a true samurai can do!"
"Look at Okisuke-san, meditating and getting ready mentally. Show them what a true samurai veteran is capable of doing!"
"Toki-sama, I love you!"
"Shinobi, put up a good fight!"
"Mommy, what does ninjutsu look like?"
The shinobi, and even a few of the samurai, winced at the sheer volume of the spectators. Only two seemed to be completely unphased – Menma and Dosu. The blond musician pulled out his ocarina once more and began to press down on the finger holes on his instrument, as if running through a song. Dosu, meanwhile, simply closed his eyes and took in a deep breath, seemingly ignoring the sound all together.
"As our most honored general, Mifune, has announced; this is truly an absolutely special occasion." The Tetsu no Kuni Daimyo, Sōzōshī, began to speak, his voice seemingly amplified like Mifune's, only with a slight 'ringing' aspect to his words: "A bout between famed shinobi and samurai? Why, I remember exactly how the idea came to us. It was a shared realization between myself and Mifune-san. It was the kind of idea that could have only come from some of the brightest minds of Tetsu no Kuni!"
'Shared realization? Mifune seemed to imply it came from talk with him.' Risho sweat dropped.
Sōzōshī continued to speak, repeating Mifune's earlier speech in a more verbose manner, highlighting his own contributions in an over exaggerated manner. After a few minutes of this speech, he then began to recite the rules of the tournament.
Each match would have three victory conditions: a ring-out, a knock-out, or the surrender of one of the combatants. The first round of eight matches would be competing samurai against shinobi. After the first round, the tournament would continue in sequential order of the matches; the winners of matches one and two would face, the winners of three-and-four would fight, and would continue until the finals match.
The explanation should have only taken a few minutes at most, but Sōzōshī found a way to keep talking, defining common terms such as 'surrender' to the crowd, along with other detailed explanations for how 'excited' he was.
'Oh my god, get on with it…' Naruto groaned.
As if an agreement with the Kurogane, the crowd watching, who had still managed to generate plenty of noise even throughout Mifune's speech, had grown silent.
Finally, after the Tetsu no Kuni Daimyo finished talking, the crowd began to applaud his silence.
"I want to see fights!"
"Let's move on already!"
"Sazanami-san, kick those shinobi's asses!"
'Another good speech, Sōzōshī. Father would be proud.' The Daimyo chuckled to himself, completing misinterpreting the audience's cheers.
"With… those fine words… I believe it is time to begin our tournament of goodwill." Mifune spoke-up, clearing his throat: "Will our match one combatants come forward?"
"I-I-I guess that's me…" Chōjūrō mumbled as he placed his hand on his back, reaching for his sword and pulling it off its holster.
"Good luck!" Naruto and Hinata cheered in near-unison.
"Make a good impression for us shinobi!" Kankurō stated.
"You got this Chōjūrō!" Honoka added, giving her fellow swordsman a thumbs-up.
A small smile developed on the blue-haired swordsman's lips as he bowed his head before walking towards the arena.
The crowd cheered for him as he walked up the stairs until he stood on top of the battlefield. He remained still for a moment, staring at the samurai waiting area, looking to see whoever would stand-up and would be his opponent.
However, no one stood up.
"… Huh?" Chōjūrō blinked in response: "Where…"
"Ah, my most sincere apologies." Mifune spoke-up: "I had forgotten who drew that number for a moment."
Before anyone in the audience could comment, a figure appeared with a flicker onto the arena floor, opposite of Chōjūrō.
"Agk!" The Kiri shinobi yelped, stepping backwards slightly.
Standing directly in front of him – wearing a dark grey suit underneath a black breastplate with green plates covering his arms and legs, with black gloves and a white belt tied around his waist, with a long sword attached to it – was Mifune.
"As it should be, number one was my number as well." The Samurai General noted, a smirk forming on his face as his hands reached for sword: "Well, Chōjūrō-san, I am to be your opponent."
And once more, the audience erupted into another round of excited screaming.
"You really should be taking a break, Neji-san."
The Hyūga, who had been buried in another one of the books on the fifth floor of the Tetsu no Kuni library, looked up to see Yugito standing by the stairs, holding a bag of carrots. She began to chew on one as she walked towards him.
"Quite hypocritical to be telling me that when you also opted to study as opposed to watching that Goodwill Tournament." Neji replied with a slight frown on his face.
"I didn't say not to study today, I said to 'take a break'." Yugito replied. As she arrived at Neji's desk, she held out her bag towards Neji: "Take one."
"… Excuse me?" Neji blinked in response: "Are we even allowed to be eating in here?"
"There's no sign, and we weren't told otherwise. If it's an issue, then the samurai have only themselves to blame." She shrugged her shoulders. Neji's frown deepened slightly, prompting her to roll eyes and extended the bag closer: "It's a damn carrot; you're not going to make a mess, and you look like you're about to pass out. Eat!"
The Hyūga's eyes met the jinchūriki's intense glare for only a moment before he sighed, breaking their staring contest. He wordlessly reached into her bag, taking out a carrot and took a bite.
"Much better." Yugito smirked in response as she took a seat next to him, placing the open bag of carrots down next to his book: "Take another when you finish, alright?"
'This woman is terrifying…' He closed his eyes, focusing on only the carrot he was chewing on, in some vain hope that when he re-opened his eyes, she would not be there.
When he did finish his carrot and re-opened his eyes, Nii Yugito was still next to him, staring expectantly. He sighed as he reached for another.
Her smirk softened into a smile: "You'll feel better after even just five minutes. Staring at pages or your notes isn't going to help you if your mind is weak and your body hungry."
"… Understood." He said, sighing as he chewed on his carrot. "I'm afraid I am getting very obsessive over this. I knew this quest could have been a long shot, but I had assumed if I got even a bit of information on Hyūga Shimon, the mysteries would unravel. However, no such luck as of yet."
"Hmm…" Yugito crossed her arms for a second before she reached for one of Neji's books: "May I?"
The Hyūga nodded his head. Yugito proceeded to begin reading from the pile of books on his desk. Once Neji finished a few more carrots, he went back to reading as well.
Thirty minutes passed as Yugito switched from the books to reading Neji's notes. The Hyūga continued to skim through page-after-page, hoping that this book would have the answers he sought. And time-and-time again, his hopes were smashed as he moved onto the next.
"… What's this bit?" Yugito asked, pointing to a small section of the notes: "About the eye switching with the Uchiha?"
"Oh, I forgot to label that accordingly. That's a theory Hinata posed about how to obtain the Tenseigan." Neji said with a sigh: "I'm not certain I buy it, but the logic is intriguing, as both Uchiha and Hyūga do share a mythical ancestor. I intend on going to the seventh floor a little later to look into it."
"Share a mythical ancestor… I assume you are referring to the Rikudō Sennin?" Yugito mumbled for a second before she brought her hands to her chin: "Have you considered looking into how the Uchiha obtain the Mangekyō Sharingan?"
"That's a dead end." Neji shook his head: "The Uchiha receive theirs through extreme levels of emotional trauma and guilt. Uchiha Sasuke claimed his awoke from watching his brother die in front of him; at least a handful of Hyūga have experienced similar levels of trauma throughout history and their Byakugan never evolved."
The jinchūriki bit her lip, seemingly unsatisfied with his response. She remained quiet for a moment before she spoke-up again.
"Then what if it was the reverse?" She asked.
Neji's eyes narrowed: "I beg your pardon?"
"Maybe the finer details are different, since you Hyūga and the Uchiha have different bloodlines and dōjutsu, but the core mechanic might be similar." She noted: "So, if Uchiha awaken it through trauma, maybe the Hyūga get it through…"
"… Detachment?" Neji's eyes widened as he finished her thought: "Emotional detachment…"
Yugito responded back, but the Hyūga did not process or even listen to her words; his eyes turned back to his notes as he began to scan all of the information he had recorded of Hyūga Shimon's life.
'His mother died tragically in front of him and it scarred him, but afterwards he changed…' Neji realized, his hands tightening into fists: 'He changed once again when he unlocked the Kūsho Byakugan and became malicious and paranoid, but prior to that, he was described as withdrawn. Calm. Friendly, but kept himself at a distance. Isolationist.' A grin formed on his face: 'Detached. It checks out-'
The grin dropped as a thought crossed his minds; he shook his head.
"I doubt that's the case. Detachment lines up with the values of a 'traditional' Hyūga. If that were the case, someone like Hiashi-san would have already evolved his eyes." He said.
"Just going to throw out there that, while I see your point, I highly doubt Hyūga Hiashi is as 'detached' as you think he is. Stoic, he might be, but that's not the same as detached. Especially if he has a lot of internal emotions. And I'd say the same applies to all other 'traditional' Hyūga." Yugito said, sighing: "Just something to consider. I think you're onto something with this."
"… I'll keep that in mind." Neji bowed his head: "Thanks for your insight, Yugito-san."
"Anytime." The jinchūriki grinned at him before she proceeded to get-up and head over to the bookcases to continue her own studies.
'Emotional detachment…' Neji repeated the thought in his head for a moment. '… I wonder…'
Instinctively, he reached into Yugito's carrot bag, taking out another stick before eating it. After he finished chewing on it, he brought his hands together and closed his eyes.
'It can't hurt to meditate on it.' He told himself.
Neji took in a deep breath as he tried to drown out the world around him, focusing just on his own meditation – focusing on detaching himself temporarily from the world.
"MIFUNE-SAMA! CRUSH HIM!"
"HE BROUGHT KUROSAWA! ARE WE GOING TO BE ABLE TO SEE KUROSAWA IN ACTION?"
The crowd's cheering seemed to have no stop, all attention focused exclusively on the Samurai General standing in the battlefield. Even the shinobi waiting to fight were all staring at him intently.
"So, he said there was one samurai that he definitely classified as 'S-Rank'; seems like he was talking about himself." Dosu acknowledged.
"It also explains why he was so pushy and excited for this." Han noted, shaking his head: "He must clearly want a good fight as well"
'Watching the Samurai General fight? This…' Risho's hands gripped tightly on his swords: 'To get a chance to see arguably the best swordsman alive fight… this is incredible.'
Unlike everyone else in the arena, who seemed to have grown more excited and interested in the fight, Chōjūrō was staring at the man in front of him in horror. His breathing grew harder and his grip on the Hiramekarei grew looser.
"Chōjūrō-san, don't be intimidated." Mifune spoke-up, a small frown on his face as he took a step closer, dropping his grip on his sword's sheathe: "Reputation and titles do not matter here; right now, I am simply an elderly swordsman, fighting against one much younger."
"Y-Y-You say th-that… b-but you're the S-Samurai General of T-T-Tetsu no Kuni…" Chōjūrō mumbled, shaking his head: "Y-You're-"
"And you are one of the Kirigakure Seven Swordsmen!" Mifune interrupted, shaking his head: "Beyond that, you are the wielder of Hiramekarei. You wield the very first of the seven swords to be crafted; the personal blade of the Shodai Mizukage, Byakuren. Such an honor would not be bestowed on a swordsman of poor skill."
Chōjūrō's eyes widened in response: "H-Huh?"
"You were chosen to carry that blade, amongst all other swordsmen in your village!" Mifune continued: "Do not embarrass the one who gave you such an honor by some thought of 'titles' or 'skill'; come at me with all your might!"
'Do not embarrass…' The Kiri shinobi's eyes narrowed slightly as an image of Mei crossed his mind: 'He… He's right. Mei could have picked someone else when Mangetsu-sama passed away. She chose me. During a time where it would be a risk to give the Hiramekarei to someone in case if Yagura killed them and claimed the sword again, she gave it to me!'
"I… I will." Chōjūrō nodded his head as he gripped Hiramekarei tightly: "L-Let's do this!"
His sword became coated in blue chakra as the bandages around the blade began to unravel. As the wrappings hit the floor, Chōjūrō split the hilts of the sword in half, causing the chakra to divide and form two, large swords with blue chakra blades that resembled fins.
"Hiramekarei Unleashing: Twin Swords Form!"
"That's what I wanted to see." Mifune grinned at the sight of the shinobi's determination as his hands quickly moved to his blade, unsheathing Kurosawa: "Now, Chōjūrō-san, let's begin!"
Immediately, Mifune's body disappeared in a flicker, appearing right behind Chōjūrō. The Kiri shinobi turned his body and attempted to parry the samurai's strike with one of his own blades, but Mifune's sword seemingly overpowered the twin blade and forced Chōjūrō backwards, knocking him off balance.
"Wh-Whoa!" Naruto's eyes widened: "So fast!"
'Hmm…' Han's eyes narrowed.
Chōjūrō bit his lip as he tried to recover his footing. He then jumped back on instinct as Mifune lunged at him, slicing at the space where he had been. Chōjūrō then brought his swords back together once more.
"Hiramekarei Unleashing: Shield Form!"
The blue chakra from Hiramekarei formed into a large blue shield just as Mifune rushed at the boy once more, slicing with his blade. The sword made contact with the shield, creating a large, visible cut on it, but the shield remained intact. Small chakra fragments from the cut, however, seemed to sprinkle through the air, around Mifune's body.
Chōjūrō then stomped his right foot on the ground: "One Thousand Needles of Death!"
Sharp, blue chakra needles formed from the airborne chakra fragments, which proceeded to close in on him, crashing in the ground and creating a dust storm that scattered throughout the arena.
The Kiri shinobi's eyes narrowed as he looked around for the samurai. A few seconds passed before he turned his head upward, focusing above as he began to channel charka once more into his sword.
"Hiramekarei Unleashing: Hammer Form!"
"Moon Light Sword Style: Heaven Splitter!"
Chōjūrō's sword changed shape, forming into a large blue hammer. He swung the hammer upwards, dissipating the dust around him and, in the process, revealing Mifune, who had been descending directly towards him.
Hiramekarei clashed against Kurosawa. The two swords collided against one another for a few seconds, trying to overpower one another, when Mifune's sword began to glow a bright bluish-white color, resembling moonlight.
'What kind of technique is that-' Chōjūrō's eyes widened as he tightened his grip on Hiramekarei: 'S-Such force-'
In an instant, Mifune's sword sliced through the chakra-hammer, splitting it down the middle and causing the chakra to disperse. The Samurai General continued his descent and, as he reached Chōjūrō's body, reversed his sword so that the hilt was facing the Kirigakure shinobi. He then toppled onto his body, smashing the hilt into Chōjūrō's chest.
The Kiri shinobi's eyes widened as he choked up blood in response: "A-Agh!"
A small smile developed on Mifune's face as he briefly tossed his sword up in the air before catching it again with his other hand. He then placed the blade of Kurosawa against Chōjūrō's neck.
"I assume this is match, yes?" He asked.
"… Yes." Chōjūrō sighed, nodding his head.
"And so match one comes to a close, and our famous Mifune has won!" Sōzōshī's voice echoed throughout: "As to be expected; I remember when my father first introduced me to Mifune when I was-"
Sōzōshī's words got drowned out by the cheers of the crowd watching. He tried to continue whatever story he was going to tell, but the crowd seemingly cheered louder, drowning out his words.
Mifune sheathed Kurosawa while Chōjūrō began to channel chakra through Hiramekarei, creating its base shape. He then began to wrap the bandages around his sword before reattaching it to its holster on his back. The two men faced one another as Mifune held out his hand, a gentle smile on his face.
"Good fight, Chōjūrō-san." He stated.
"Th-Thanks." Chōjūrō replied, shaking his hand, but unable to meet the samurai's eyes: "I-I didn't stand a ch-chance. You really are as f-fast and skilled as th-they say."
"I appreciate the compliment, but don't put yourself down in the process." Mifune shook his head: "Your reflexes are sharp and I can tell your kenjutsu is quite strong. If we were to fight in a few more years, I'm quite certain you would have been the victor."
Chōjūrō's eyes widened: "Y-You think so?"
Mifune nodded his head: "You have potential, Chōjūrō-san. Perhaps someday when I meet you again, you may be wearing the Mizukage's hat."
The blue-haired swordsman's cheeks turned a dark shade of red at the compliment. He proceeded to bow his head: "Th-Th-Thank you so much, Mifune-sama!"
With those words, Mifune and Chōjūrō proceeded to walk down the steps of the arena and returned to their respective seating area. As Chōjūrō walked over, he was greeted by the cheers of his fellow shinobi.
"You did a good job, Chōjūrō-san!" Risho stated, a grin on his face: "You faced off against arguably the greatest Kenjutsu user of our day and you managed to go blow-for-blow for a while!"
"You definitely had the hardest fight here." Dosu nodded his head: "Great job on holding your own."
"Th-Thank you…" Chōjūrō's red blush maintained on his face as he bowed his head and took his seat.
As the group quieted down, Han's eyes turned back towards the samurai. Mifune, who had now joined with his fellow samurai, was currently sitting at the far end of the seats and had closed his eyes to meditate.
'Chōjūrō's fight was indeed impressive to be able to handle his own against you… but that wasn't your 'all', was it?' The jinchūriki noted as he crossed his arms: 'At the very least, he was not moving as fast as he could have. Mifune, how fast are you? How strong are you really?'
"Well, now that the dust has settled, are you all ready for another match?" Sōzōshī's voice rang-out: "Will those who drew the number two prepare for battle?"
"You're up, Han-nii!" Naruto stated, clapping the man on the back and interrupting his thoughts.
"Good luck, Han-san." Hinata said, smiling at him.
Han was quiet for a moment before he chuckled, pulling himself up from his seat.
"I appreciate that. I will do my best." Han said.
The Gobi jinchūriki walked forward, climbing the stairs towards the arena before he came face-to-face with the Tetsu no Kuni samurai who was still dressed in full-body armor.
"Yuge no Han, yes?" The man asked. Han nodded his head. The samurai brought his hand forward, pointing to the jinchūriki: "My name is Yoshiteru, and I am one of the commanding officers of our nation. I've heard plenty of your skills throughout the years, especially during the Third Shinobi World War!"
"Have you?" Han's eyebrow raised slightly.
"Yes. I must say, I'm looking forward to test myself against such a strong shinobi!" Yoshiteru declared as his hand moved downward, reaching for the hilt of his sword: "I trust you will not hold back against me!"
"I will not." Han responded back as he began to take a step back and began to channel chakra into his feet, the armor on his back beginning to release plenty of steam.
"Well everyone, it appears that these two are ready to fight! Then let's get started, let match two begin!" Sōzōshī declared.
Yoshiteru took a step forward, drawing his sword as he prepared to rush Han.
Han, in response, lunged forward at the man, seemingly rocketing through the air.
The samurai did not have time to respond; Han delivered a massive steam-powered kick to his stomach. The kick hit with such strong force that the armor cracked in response. Yoshiteru gasped for air as he was sent flying from the kick, rushing through the air out of the arena until his body crashed into the wall behind the samurai-sitting area. His body then collapsed onto the ground.
Silence filled the stadium for a while, as if the spectators were processing what had just happened. After a few seconds, there were a few scattered claps from the audience. The clapping grew louder-and-louder until another round of applause could be heard.
"HE BEAT YOSHITERU-SAMA IN ONE BLOW!"
"HE'S SO COOL!"
"W-Well, that was certainly something! The winner of the second match is the Iwagakure shinobi, Han." Sōzōshī announced.
Han blinked as he took in the sight and sounds of the crowd cheering for him. His eyes moved from different spectators for a few second before a smile formed on his face as he nodded his head and held his hand upward in a fist pump.
This action caused the cheers to grow louder.
"Hey, I knew Han was an S-Rank shinobi and jinchūriki and all, but I didn't realize the guy was that strong." Honoka noted, her eyes glued to the armored shinobi.
"The Tetsu no Kuni samurai armor is extremely durable, but he not only managed to crack the armor, he knocked that guy backwards as if the weight of the armor meant nothing." Kankurō noted, shaking his head: "God, he must be built different. No wonder Gaara had so much praise to give him."
"WOOO!" Naruto shouted loudly, bringing his hands to his lips: "THAT'S HOW YOU DO IT, HAN-NII!"
"WAY TO GO HAN-SENSEI!" Risho shouted just as loud.
Han chuckled in response at his brother's and student's cheering. He took a few steps forward towards the stairs before he stopped and turned his head backwards, towards the samurai.
Tetsu no Kuni medics were attending to Yoshiteru, who was unconscious. The man's helmet was removed, revealing his snow-white colored skin, blue eyes, and bald head, alongside a jagged-looking scar on his right cheek. The breast plate on his armor was removed and his breathing was noticeable. While Han was no medic himself, the man looked as if he would wake up within the hour.
He then turned his attention towards the samurai combatants.
"Losing in one move to a shinobi… I probably would hang-up my sword if that had happened to me." Sazanami admitted, rubbing his head.
"It's insulting." The black-haired woman stated sharply, her right hand reaching for the halberd on her back: "No proper samurai would go down like that!"
"Don't be harsh on Yoshiteru, Toki-san." Mifune stated sharply, his eyes narrowing on her: "His opponent is regarded as an S-Rank shinobi and jinchūriki. Losing to a man like him is nothing to be ashamed of."
With those words, Mifune then turned his head towards Han, making eye contact with him.
'… Well, it seems I got his attention.' Han noted, chuckling to himself as he turned around and walked back towards his fellow shinobi: 'Perhaps he'll come at me with his full might.'
Hiashi, Jiraiya, and Masakado sat impatiently in a small conference room in the basement of Konoha's Torture and Investigation Department Building. None of the three men spoke to one another, all seemingly staring at the door, waiting.
An hour passed by before the door to the room opened up and Ibiki and Inoichi walked into the room.
"Report." Jiraiya demanded, his eyes narrowing on Ibiki.
The T&I Leader shook his head: "It as the jail warden stated; neither prison staff nor prisoners heard any intruder come in. No one reported hearing Yoshikane struggle as well. Not even the inmate in the cell next to him heard anything."
"I can confirm that." Inoichi added, sighing: "No one he interviewed was hiding anything in their mind. Not a soul knows how this happened."
"If that is to believed, then someone snuck into the village under our noses, entered a prison and got past security without killing anyone or causing a scene, and managed to kill a prisoner without anyone detecting it." Jiraiya repeated the facts before scowling: "This should be impossible!"
"I know for a fact that Hyūga Yoshikane must have screamed." Masakado noted, causing Hiashi to wince: "Clearly whoever attacked him has either an affinity for genjutsu or some amazing stealth with a type of ability to silence those around them."
Ibiki's eyes narrowed on the Uzumaki: "How would you know that he screamed?"
"The seal on his head." Masakado answered: "The enhanced Hyūga Clan seal would not fade away from a person's body when they died. That means that it had to be removed, which I'm would have hurt like a motherfucker. The only he wouldn't have screamed is if his voice box was shattered or something, but that's not consistent with his wounds either, right?"
"This is new to me." Hiashi stated. "The original seal faded when a Hyūga died, indicating that the seal worked and destroyed the Byakugan."
"The additions I had to make to the seal to remove the side-effects of the first one resulted in the seal being a permanent addition to the body that would not fade in death." Masakado said: "So, since his body didn't have the seal on it, that means it was removed."
"… But if what you're saying is true, that means that someone got their hands on the Byakugan." Jiraiya noted, his eyes widening.
Silence filled the room for a moment. The normally stoic Hiashi was biting his lip, a pained expression on his face as he processed the information.
'… I still haven't had time to process that you died, and now I find out that someone might have your Byakugan?' He brought his hands to his face and sighed deeply: 'Father…'
"… Well, if that was the end goal of the assassination, then perhaps we can assume Yakushi Kabuto was the culprit." Ibiki noted, crossing his arms: "It fits his M.O and, despite all the kekkei genkai he has reportedly integrated into his body, he has yet to obtain a single dōjutsu."
"He's a suspect, yes, but I think it must have been someone else." Jiraiya shook his head: "Kabuto's greedy and he a tendency to overplay his hand. Yoshikane is the only victim in this case; I have to assume if Kabuto attacked, he would have tried to get his hands on some other kekkei genkai."
"So we might be dealing with another potential person trying to steal kekkei genkai." Masakado noted: "This is all so fucked up."
"It is, but we're shinobi. Our world is 'fucked up' by design." Ibiki said.
Jiraiya frowned, but did not reply to the man. Instead, he turned his attention towards Hiashi.
"If I recall correctly, your clan had a tradition preserve the eyes of the Main Branch Hyūga that pass away, correct? He asked. Hiashi nodded his head: "I hate to have to ask you of this, but-"
"You wish for me to destroy those Byakugan? Consider it done." Hiashi said: "Our clan upped the security of graves on the Hyūga Clan estate when reports of Kabuto's graverobbing became known, but in the interest of worldwide safety, I will destroy them."
"That's going to be something that will anger your clans' elders, right?" Inoichi asked.
"It will; I will show them my father's body as the proof as to why it must be done, though." The Hyūga Clan stated.
The meeting ended shortly after those words and the five men went their separate ways. As Hiashi walked alongside the way to the Hyūga Clan Compound, his eyes briefly moved upwards to the sky.
It was still mid-day and was moderately cloudy, however, he felt as if he could see the moon's presence in the sky. His eyes briefly narrowed above before he shook his head.
'… This is truly a horrid omen.' He told himself, frowning: 'Hinata… Neji… please, be careful.'
"Well, let's get back on with the show! Will the shinobi and samurai who drew the number 'three' please come forward?" Sōzōshī's voice rang-out.
"That's me." Risho said as he stood up from his seat and stretched his arms.
"Good luck, Risho!" Naruto said, grinning at the Iwa shinobi.
"Follow your sensei's example; end it in one-shot!" Kankurō stated.
"Heh." Han snorted in response before he looked towards Risho, meeting his eyes. He tipped his hat and smiled behind his mask: "Do your best. Show them what a shinobi swordsman is capable of."
Risho saluted in response: "Yessir!"
With those words, Risho ran forward, rushing up the stairs towards the battlefield. As his feet made contact with the arena floor, he came face-to-face with the brown haired woman. Her eyes focused intently on Risho for a moment before she bowed her head.
"I have to admit, I was really wanting to see what you shinobi were like ever since you all stepped foot in the village." She noted.
Risho's eyebrow raised slightly at her voice: "Were you one of the ones that met us when we first came to the village?"
"I was. Name's Takeko!" She stated.
"Kurogane Risho." Risho answered as he reached and unsheathed his swords.
"Kurogane… One of Iwa's famous clans. A 'kenjutsu' oriented clan, right?" Takeko asked. Risho tensed up slightly, but nodded his head. This prompted her to draw her sword: "Well, let's see how I compare against you, Kurogane-san."
Risho's eyes widened as he stared at her sword. It was a four-inch katana with a serrated blade. The blade was colored a deep green that resembled jade. At the hilt of the blade was a similarly jade-colored chain that was attached to her wrist.
"Beautiful…" Risho mumbled.
The woman's eyes widened in response: "I-I beg your pardon?"
"That sword." The Iwa shinobi elaborated, shaking his head: "It looks majestic! I've never seen one like that!"
"Ah." The girl's hands gripped her sword tighter, a slight pinkish tint developing on her face. Nevertheless, a grin formed on her face: "This is one of a kind. It belonged to my master before he retired. He crafted it himself!"
"Ah." Risho nodded his head in understanding: "Well, he's a marvelous blacksmith, at least! Does he take commissions?"
"From a shinobi?" Takeko blinked for a second before she shrugged her shoulders: "He might. If you impress me, maybe I'll introduce-"
"If the combatants are done 'flirting', then let's begin with the third match!"
Immediately, Risho's face paled: 'Flirting?'
Takeko scowled, turning towards the Daimyo's seating area: "If this is what you call 'flirting', no wonder the former Daimyo needed to get you an arranged marriage."
An audible gasp could be heard throughout the arena.
"Well, you heard him. Show me what you got, Kurogane-san!" Takeko stated, her grin returning as she gripped her sword tightly: "Arcane Sword Art: Alpha Strike!"
In an instant, the brown-haired woman vanished in a flicker of green energy. Risho tensed immediately as he began to channel chakra and his body began to get covered in silver armor.
"Iron Style: Armor of Iron-"
Before the chakra could properly solidify around Risho's body, Takeko appeared directly behind and delivered three slices from her sword in a triangular pattern. Instantly, Risho hissed in pain, his armor dispelling and revealing three somewhat superficial cuts on his jacket.
With him staggered slightly, Takeko lunged forward, swinging her blade again at his chest. Risho managed to block barely in time with one of his swords. As soon as her blade made contact, however, she pulled her sword out of the stalemate and swung once more. Again, Risho barely blocked in time with his other blade.
"I'm surprised you broke through my armor so quickly…" He admitted, gritting his teeth.
"One of the required tasks to become a samurai in the first place is to be able to cut through metals." She answered, as she pulled away once more and prepared to strike once more: "It'll do you well to keep that in mind when fighting a true samurai!"
Instead of blocking her attack, Risho opted to jump backwards, barely moving away in time from her strike. Upon making contact with the ground, Risho braced his legs and he held out his swords in front of his body.
"Kurogane Kenjutsu Style: Omega Tempest!"
The Iwa shinobi lunged forward, spinning in a circle while still holding his blades forward. Takeko's eyes widened as she parried the first strike from Risho only to be pushed back by his forward movement and struck again by his next sword swing. And then his next. And his next.
Risho continued to rush forward in a spinning fashion, his blades cutting at Takeko over and over again, who was unable to block every strike. She hissed in pain as she began to bleed before she channeled chakra into her sword.
"Arcane Sword Art: Stride Breaker!"
Her sword blocked one more of Risho's strikes, but upon collision this time, vibrations began to rush from her sword into Risho's swords, and continued to move until they reached his body. The Kurogane's eyes widened as he felt his body come to a halt as he began to shake, unable to move.
Takeko swung once more at him; Risho, this time, was unable to block at all and the impact of the strike sent him soaring backwards, cutting deeply into his chest. He continued to fly through the arena until he nearly hit the edge. His eyes widened as he finally managed to somewhat steady his body and stabbed downward with both swords into the arena itself. This act managed to keep his body from falling off the arena, but the resulting force from the attack and his quick save caused both of his swords blade to break.
"I take it that's game?" Takeko asked, remaining at a distance as she gripped her sword tightly.
"Why would it be?" Risho asked as he rubbed at his forehead, brushing off some sweat.
"I just broke your swords." She replied, her eyebrow raised: "I was under the impression that you Kurogane relied almost entirely on your kenjutsu."
"One cannot ever 'break' a Kurogane shinobi's swords." The Iwa shinobi replied as he dropped his broken swords, causing them to hit the ground with a 'clang'. He then reached into flak jacket's pocket and pulled out an empty sword hilt: "Iron Style: Blade Crafting!"
Risho's chakra rushed through the sword hilts for a moment before creating a three-inch, sharp blade. He swung his sword around for a moment, as if adjusting to his new weapon, before turning back to Takeko, who was now frowning at him.
"I see. So to you Kurogane, no sword is special to you. Why would it be when you can simply create one so easily, or make one sharper so easily?" She noted, shaking her head: "Our ways are entirely different. To us samurai, a sword is everything. One cannot replace a blade so easily. To be able to just create and use new ones like that, as if nothing had happened, is dishonorable."
She was quiet for a moment, as if waiting for him to respond. Risho, instead, simply narrowed his eyes at her, his grip on the new sword tightening.
"Nothing to say?" She asked, her frown morphing into a scowl: "If you have no response, then let this be the end of it! Might as well shatter these new swords of yours as well!"
She crouched down slightly, her sword beginning to glow a green chakra. In response, Risho tossed his sword into the air before making a single hand sign.
"Arcane Sword Art: Alpha Strike!"
"Iron Style: Iron Dragon Bullets!"
Takeko disappeared in another flicker before appearing directly behind Risho, her sword glowing a bright green color. Before she could slice at him again, however, the two broken swords on the ground rose-up into the air and changed shape, forming into two medium-sized dragon heads with a small tail at the end of them. The two dragon heads rushed forward at Takeko, colliding at her stomach before she could finish her strike.
The samurai was knocked back for a moment, her feet getting dangerously close to the edge that Risho had been near. With her still off balance, Risho jumped into the air and caught the sword he had previously tossed. He then gripped it tightly for a few seconds before he extended his hand back.
"Kurogane Kenjutsu Style: Sonic Thrust!"
Risho threw his sword directly at Takeko's chest. The samurai, still off balance from Risho's last attack and unable to move as freely, opted to block the sword instead of trying to dodge.
As she attempted to parry his sword with her own, Risho's blade crashed into hers with enough force that it created a mini explosion, knocking her back further.
This, in turn, caused her to fall off the arena battlefield and hit the ground below with a loud 'thud'.
"Ugghh…" She groaned.
"W-Well, by ring-out, the winner is Kurogane Risho, from Iwagakure!"
"HELL YEAH! GREAT JOB RISHO!" Naruto shouted.
"Y-Y-You did great Kurogane-san!" Chōjūrō exclaimed, louder than he normally speaks.
The audience, in turn, cheered for Risho. The applause was slightly more muted than it had been for Han prior, but the overall approval of the spectators was apparent. Risho's eyes moved from spectator to spectator for a moment as a grin formed on his face.
'I… I did it! I beat one of Tetsu no Kuni's samurai!' He told himself.
"Not bad… if a little embarrassing on my part…"
Risho was pulled from his stupor for a moment as he turned back towards Takeko. The samurai had already recovered from her fall and had jumped back onto the arena and approached Risho, sheathing her sword.
"I wouldn't call that embarrassing at all." He replied, shaking his head: "Your kenjutsu is strong. Really strong. You're definitely faster than me, and I've never seen someone tear down my Armor of Iron without using ninjutsu before!"
"… Thanks." She mumbled, shaking her head: "This was an enlightening experience, getting to fight a shinobi swordsman. It does show I need to train a lot more."
"Oh, that reminds me of one thing." Risho's eyes narrowed slightly as he sheathed his newly formed sword: "I didn't answer back to you during our fight, but I disagree about what you say earlier." He then made a hand sign as the two iron dragon heads, which had still been floating next to them, changed shape into two iron sword hilts. They flew through the air towards him as he caught both: "Every sword I use is special to me. Because thanks to my kekkei genkai, any sword I use is either created by me or modified to me personally with my chakra. They're literally a part of me."
"… I see…" Takeko mumbled in response before shaking her head: "I'm sorry if I offended you. It just shocked me in the moment to see you seemingly throw away your swords like that. I understand now, though." She then looked at him a bit more intently: "In a sense, you are your own sword. That's a rather unique manner of kenjutsu."
"That… I guess that's one way to put it." Risho nodded his head in thought before chuckling: "Regardless, I'd like a chance to fight again. Perhaps without a 'ring-out' win mechanic so we can really see who is stronger. If you would like to fight someday while I'm still here, let me know!"
Takeko nodded her head, a smile developing on her face: "I'll take you up on that!"
With those words, the two swordsmen walked back to their respective seating areas. As Risho walked towards the other shinobi, Han stood up from his seat and walked forward a little bit, holding out his hand towards his former student.
"Fantastic job as always, Risho." He stated.
Risho's grin widened: "Thank you-"
"And now, let's move onto the next match! Will the fighters for match four please make your way to the center stage?"
Risho's eye twitched in response: 'Way to interrupt the mood.'
"Whelp, guess it's my turn." Kankurō noted as he jumped out of his chair: "Time to make it three-in-a-row when it comes to victories!"
"You're a puppeteer, right?" Honoka asked, her eyes narrowed on the Suna shinobi: "You got a way to keep the samurai at a distance, or some way to find close-combat?"
"I've got it all covered." Kankurō replied with a shake of the head: "I've got the exact right arsenal to deal with any samurai who dares to get close to me."
"Good luck then, Kankurō-san." Hinata said, smiling at the man.
The rest of the shinobi gave similar comments to him as he made his way up the stairs. He made his way to the raised battlefield at the same time as his samurai adversary, Sazanami.
"So, you're my opponent." Kankurō noted as his hands went towards his scrolls.
"I am. Name's Sazanami." The man noted: "You're Kankurō, right? Son of the Yondaime Kazekage, brother to the Godaime Kazekage, and the current head of Sunagakure's Puppeteer Brigade?"
"Yes." Kankurō nodded his head, a smirk forming on his lips: "I guess my reputation proceeds me. You samurai really do your research on everyone, huh?"
"Well, yes, but I would have known about you regardless." Sazanami admitted with a shrug as he reached for his pocket and pulled out a recent copy of the Bingo Book: "You have a bounty from Kirigakure on your head for sixty million ryō, dead or alive."
Kankurō's eyes widened in horror. Silence filled the air for a moment.
A minute passed by and no words escaped his mouth
Two minutes passed by and no word escaped his mouth.
Three minutes by – and Sōzōshī for some reason had not called the match to start – and still no words.
After five minutes…
"HEY, HONOKA-SAN AND CHŌJŪRŌ-SAN, WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT ABOUT? WHY THE HELL WOULD KIRI HAVE A BOUNTY ON MY HEAD?"
Kankurō's voice was booming and echoed throughout the arena, even louder than Sōzōshī's and Mifune's voices when they were projecting it. Spectators winced as they covered their ears. Even Dosu and Menma seemed to be bothered by the noise.
"Oh… uh… s-so, about that…" Honoka admitted, rubbing the back of her head sheepishly as she tried to sink back into her seat: "So, your name – as well as your brother's and sister's – were put into the Bingo Book back when Yagura was around. He had plans of trying to conquer all the Elemental Nations when he finished off the rebels… s-so he put your info in the Bingo Books ahead of time, y'know?"
"Okay, makes some sense, but WHY IS MY NAME STILL IN THE BINGO BOOK THEN!?"
"W-W-Well, with rebuilding K-Kiri and all, I d-don't think Mei-sama has gotten around to rescinding th-the bounties yet…" Honoka mumbled before shaking her head: "B-But we can talk to her when we get back to Kiri for you! Sh-She just needs a reminder to look at the names and remove them!"
"Eep!" Chōjūrō, in response to Kankurō's growing volume, fell out of his chair.
"We'll reminder her…" Honoka mumbled, avoiding his glare.
"… Huh. Didn't think I'd be starting something just be mentioning that…" Sazanami mumbled before he pocketed his bingo book: "Look, I'm not going to try and claim the bounty. I just like to keep updated on those things, since I used to be a bounty hunter before becoming a samurai. I'm here to fight you as a samurai." He then grinned as his hand went down to his scabbard as he drew his sword: "I'm here to defeat you as a samurai."
Kankurō was quiet for a moment as he took in a deep breath, trying to calm himself down. After a few more seconds, he nodded his head as he reached for his pocket and pulled out three scrolls. He then unsealed them, revealing his three main puppets – Karasu, Sanshōuo, and Kuroari.
"Bring it!" He shouted.
"Well, let's finally move on; let the fourth match of the Goodwill Tournament begin!"
Sazanami immediately began to charge forward at Kankurō. The Suna shinobi immediately gestured with his fingers, causing Sanshōuo to take formation in front of him, Kuroari directly behind him, and Karasu to fly forward towards the samurai. He then gestured with his index finger, causing Karasu to open its mouth and unleash a barrage of kunai from its mouth.
As the kunai was about to connect with Sazanami's skin, the man vanished in a flicker. Kankurō tensed-up as he began to look around the battlefield for his opponent.
'Not to the left, or right… not behind… He probably wouldn't be underground if he's a samurai…' Kankurō's eyes moved upward: 'So above then-"
"Earth Swordsman Style: Crush!"
Just as the puppeteer looked up, Sazanami was in the air, descending rapidly towards him with his sword – which was glowing a bright yellow color – pointing downward. Kankurō gestured with his left ringer, causing Sanshōuo to move backwards and extend its body upward and open its frills, forming a barrier between the samurai and the puppeteer.
Unphased, Sazanami continued his descent downward. His blade connected with a side-joint on the puppet's frill, causing it to fly off and detaching the shield from it. Kankurō cursed under his breath as he took a step back, narrowly avoiding the sword strike from the samurai.
Upon connecting with the ground, however, Sazanami's sword seemed to glow an even brighter yellow. In an instant, the ground around him rose, forming spikes and pillars that launched forward at all angles.
Kankurō, who had still been close to the man, was smacked in the face and chest by multiple earth pillars and stabbed by earthen spikes in his shoulders. The man choked up blood as he was sent flying backwards from the resulting impact, only coming to a stop when he collided with the wall of the arena before falling to the ground outside of the battlefield.
"And with that, round four is over! The victor is one of Tetsu no Kuni's finest, Sazanami!"
"HE TOOK HIM DOWN IN ONE HIT! JUST LIKE THE ARMORED-SHINOBI!"
"HE'S SO BADASS!"
"SAZANAMI-SAAAAMA CHOKE ME!"
The former bounty hunter blushed profusely at that particular shout, but he quickly smirked as he began to walk back towards the other samurai. He held up his sword in the air, which seemed to earn more cheers from the spectators.
"Well, Han-san did just beat one of their guys in one move." Dosu mumbled: "I… I guess it makes sense for them to do the same."
"Oooph, that's embarrassing." Honoka admitted, shaking her head.
"Yeah, that really sucks." Naruto nodded his head, wincing slightly.
Unlike the Samurai Yoshiteru, who was unconscious after Han's quick victory, Kankurō was still conscious. The puppeteer pulled himself up slightly wincing in pain before and was still for a few moments before he processed what had happened.
'… God… damn…'
He did not bother to look towards the samurai side and tried his hardest to tune out the spectator's cheers as he called back his puppets and resealed them away. He then walked back to the shinobi slowly, a very noticable slouch to his walk.
Neji took in a deep breath as he opened his eyes, ending his meditation. He took a look around the library floor for a moment before he focused on Yugito. The Kumo kunoichi had, in the brief time he was meditating, had apparently finished the entire stack of books she had brought over and was now studying through a new pile.
The Hyūga sweatdropped as he watched her flip through pages at incredible speed.
"You… read quite fast, Yugito-san." He noted.
She chuckled in response: "I just take my missions very seriously."
"… And… you're retaining the information of potential Edo Tensei summons?" He asked.
The jinchūriki snorted as she briefly set the book down and stared into the Hyūga's eyes.
"I'm retaining what I need to. When it comes to these shinobi from the distant past that are probably hard to acquire sufficient remains or DNA, the Akatsuki isn't going to waste their time on the above-average or even the exceptional shinobi of these times. They're going to try and revive the best." She noted before gesturing towards his notes: "Take that Hyūga Shimon guy you and your cousin have been researching. I know you're trying to get information about him for your own research, but I hope you're aware there's a good chance you'll actually have to fight him."
"That…" Neji bit his lip in response before he nodded his head: "That's a strong possibility. Especially since he seems to be capable of extreme long-distance combat. I'm sure we'll definitely have to fight him."
"There's others too. Uchiha Madara, Sarutobi Sasuke, and Uzumaki Ashina, for example." Yugito noted before turning back to her book and flipping: "I try and focus on guys like these rather than the lesser names. So most of what I am doing is just realizing who is worth the time looking into and who's bullshit."
Neji blinked in response: 'But at the pace you're flipping, are you even looking enough to give an assessment of who's worth your time?'
The Hyūga remained still for a moment as he continued to simply watch Yugito 'speed read' through the book in her hands, if you could even consider it that. She quickly put the book down and began to repeat the process with the next book in her hand. Yugito continued to flip page after page rapidly for a few seconds until she was about half way through the book. Her pace then slowed down as her eyes began to focus more.
"Did you find someone?" Neji asked.
She nodded her head, but did not immediately reply. She continued to read for another two minutes before she paused her study and reached for her own notebook.
"Kaguya Sekitsui." Yugito said as she wrote the name in her notes: "Acknowledged as the first person to have learned senjutsu."
"First to learn senjutsu?" Neji blinked in response.
"Sekitsui had a summoning contract with a summoning clan that is extinct nowadays – some type of creature that resembled furry elephants – and he learned how to tap into nature energy through his contract with them. He then merged the Sage Arts with the Shikotsumyaku kekkei genkai. Essentially walked into every battlefield clad in full skeletal armor." The jinchūriki read off the information as she continued to write.
"A summoning clan that is extinct?" He repeated, frowning: "How long ago was this?"
"From before the Warring States Period." She answered. "He… He's one of the first enemy shinobi that the samurai started to record. I don't have a year exactly, but I imagine maybe six or seven hundred years ago?"
"And you think the Akatsuki will be able to revive someone that far back?" Neji asked.
"It's not impossible." Yugito frowned in response, crossing her arms: "I'd also rather have a list of potential threats and have a few that were not summoned versus not having anything recorded on one of these shinobi from the past."
Neji did not immediately reply, which Yugito took as her cue to continue her research once more. The Hyūga continued to stare at her notes before he tightened his hands into fists.
'She's right. And she's also right in general that the caliber of enemies we are going to face is going to be on a whole new level. We… We need to all get as strong as possible.' He told himself as he looked back at his notes: 'All the more reason that Hinata and I need to uncover the truth: of both the Kūsho Byakugan and the Tenseigan!'
With that thought, Neji went right back to his own research.
"K-Kankurō-san…" Hinata mumbled the puppeteer's name as he finally made it back to the shinobi seating area: "Are you-"
"Don't wanna talk about it." He grumbled as he ignored his fellow shinobi and took his seat.
The shinobi all felt a noticeable 'storm cloud' hanging over Kankurō's head. He grabbed the scroll with Sanshōuo and began to immediately tinker with it, repairing the damage Sazanami had done to it. His eyes remained glued to it, not giving any of his fellow shinobi a passing glance.
Naruto shook his head, not enjoying the man's sulking: "… Kankurō, no one is judging-"
"Can't talk. Busy."
"… Alright." Naruto huffed, turning away from him: "Whatever."
"Well, with round four having come to its close rather quickly, let's move onto match five! Can the fifth combatants come to the arena?"
Kankurō's eye briefly twitched at the Daimyo's passing joke, but he quickly recovered and went back to his puppet without a second thought.
"Well, that's me." Dosu noted as he pulled himself up.
"You got this Dosu!" Naruto cheered as he held out his fist to his friend: "Show us what you got!"
"I'll do what I can." Dosu said with a chuckle, returning Naruto's fist bump, before facing the stadium.
As Dosu moved towards the battlefield, he noticed that the crowd around was not cheering as loudly as they had been prior. His eyebrow raised slightly as he wondered about the reason, but he pushed the thought to the side as he came face-to-face with his opponent.
'Of course the audience would not be as invested in a match between two non-samurai.'
Standing directly across from him was Menma.
"K-Konoha shinobi… best of luck." He said, bowing his head respectfully.
"You as well." Dosu bowed his head: 'This is him. The former Oto shinobi…' He cleared his throat for a moment: "May I have your name?"
"Menma." He said: "And yours-"
"Let the fifth match begin!"
Dosu's eye twitched in response: 'The Daimyo let Kankurō have minutes to process his 'bounty', but we aren't allowed to share pleasantries? Really?'
Menma appeared equally miffed at the Daimyo, but he shook his head and got into position to fight, bringing his ocarina to his lips. Dosu immediately crouched downward for a moment before chagrining forward.
Menma blew a single note on his ocarina, attempting to cast a genjutsu onto Dosu. The Konoha shinobi, however, continued to move forward with no effect. Menma's eyes widened for a moment until he jumped to his right, avoiding a punch from the Konoha shinobi.
"How…" He mumbled, not finishing his question.
"You just tried to cast an auditory genjutsu on me. Unfortunately for you, I am able to block out sounds and noises with ease." Dosu said, shaking his head.
"Ah. I see." Menma frowned, his grip on his ocarina tightening: "Well, I guess I'll have to switch up my tactics, then." He tossed his ocarina in the air briefly as he began to make hand signs: "Earth Style: Earth Clone Jutsu!"
The ground next to him rose-up and began to change shape, forming into a perfect replica of Menma. The Earth Clone grabbed onto the ocarina before it connected with the ground while the original Menma began to charge forward at Dosu.
Menma threw a punch at Dosu, but the Konoha shinobi blocked with the edge of his melody gauntlet. He then punched forward at his opponent, but Menma managed to catch his hand with his open left palm, holding him in place slightly.
Dosu smirked in response as he felt his melody gauntlet begin to vibrate. He focused on the sound waves for a moment before he directed them directly towards Menma's ears. His smirk dropped almost instantly, however, as the soundwaves had seemingly no effect on him as the two remained still in their stalemate.
'What? How?' Dosu's eye widened.
"That noise… Ah, so that's why you can control sounds and block out my genjutsu; that's your main fighting style." Menma realized, a small chuckle escaping his lips: "Well then. It seems you and I are an interesting match then, wouldn't you say? I can counter your sound ninjutsu and you can counter my sound genjutsu."
"So it seems." Dosu nodded his head, his smirk returning: "But I suppose it's fitting for us."
"Eh?" Menma tilted his head slightly: "In what way?"
Dosu was unable to finish his sentence as Menma's Earth Clone blew a note on the ocarina. Almost immediately, the original Menma's grip on Dosu's hand seemed to grow stronger.
Menma pulled Dosu towards him for a moment before he turned slightly and proceeded to swing, tossing Dosu towards the edge of the arena. The scarred-shinobi flew through the air at a rapid pace, unable to resist the velocity he was flying at. With a bite of the lip, Dosu ran through a series of hand signs.
"Earth Style: Stalagmite!"
As Dosu neared the edge of the arena, a large stalagmite rose up from the ground, forming a barricade. Dosu's body crashed into the earth, causing him to wince from the pain, but he did not hit his newly-formed stalagmite with the necessary strength to break it. He fell to the ground, breathing heavily for a moment as his eyes narrowed on Menma.
"How…" He nearly hissed his question.
"Let's just say that while you can block my sound that directly impacts you, that does not mean you can block any sound jutsus I'm using with different targets." The blond replied.
'Is he enhancing his own strength with his own music?' Dosu's eye narrowed: 'I've… heard tales of bards being able to do that, but I don't recall seeing an official jutsu like this.'
As if on cue with Dosu's thoughts, the Earth Clone continued to play the same melody on the ocarina. Menma crouched slightly, looking as if he was about to charge forward again.
'His strength increased enough to easily overpower me. It's most likely he's also faster now, as well.' The Konoha shinobi noted: 'I can't let him get near me. What's the most optimal way-'
"That's the bard from the Sanya District, right?"
"He's stronger than I thought! Being able to just toss around that guy like that…"
Dosu's eye briefly glanced over towards the crowd around them, which had started to cheer once more. The crowd had now become seemingly invested enough in the battle that the noise level was returning to its original volume. After a few more seconds of cheering, he began to grin as he began to channel chakra.
'Well, glad to see they're invested again. All this noise….' Dosu ran through a series of hand signs: 'Time to see if this jutsu is ready!'
'What's he planning?' Menma's eyes narrowed on Dosu for a moment: 'I… I think I need to finish this now. Before he finishes whatever he's working on!'
The Earth Clone, still playing the same melody, continued to enhance the blond's physical strength. With a deep breath, Menma charged forward at Dosu, moving much faster than before, as he had predicted.
"Ninja Art: Sonic Boom Impact!"
Dosu slammed his hands together. Immediately, the sound waves from the area around them – mainly, the cheers of the audience around – seemed to amplify before coalescing and rushing forward to the battlefield.
Menma moved fast, but not at the speed of sound; within seconds, the sound waves crashed into the surface of the arena directly on top of Menma.
The blond screamed as the sound waves crashed into his body, causing his whole body to feel a sort of 'crushing' sensation. It was not sound waves he could simply 'block out' like earlier; the arena floor directly underneath him began to crack heavily from the resulting pressure, causing more-and-more stone to get knocked up.
Menma began to grind his teeth as he felt his body sinking further into the ground. Despite the sheer amount of pain, he took in a deep breath.
"Ninja Art: Sound Amplification Jutsu!"
Instantly, the sound waves that were crushing Menma's body changed directions, flying directly towards Dosu in the form of visible, circular, rings of sound. The sound waves connected with Dosu's body, hitting him with enough pressure that the Konoha shinobi was sent flying backwards.
Dosu hissed in pain as he ran through hand signs once more: "Earth Style: Stalagmite!"
Another large stalagmite formed at the edge of the arena, attempting to block Dosu's body from hitting the ground. Unfortunately, he flew backwards with too much force this time, and his body completely shattered the stone structure, causing him to continue flying until his body connected with the outside arena.
"BLERGH!" Dosu coughed up blood in response.
Menma stood still for a moment, breathing heavily as he stared at Dosu's form on the ground. His Earth Clone walked towards him, still maintaining the same melody on his ocarina, until he reached him. He then stopped playing as he handed over the ocarina to the blond, who quickly accepted, grabbing onto it as if it was his lifeline.
"Well, well! What an interesting match! But it appears we have our winner; Menma-"
Before Sōzōshī could finish his call for the match, Menma's body collapsed, falling into unconsciousness. Upon his body hitting the ground, the earth clone crumbled apart.
The audience had now grown silent, all attention focused on the downed combatants. A few more seconds passed by before the audience members all stood up from their seats and began to applaud louder than ever.
"NOW THAT'S A FIGHT!"
"WAY TO GO MENMA-SAN! I'M TIPPING YOU DOUBLE THE NEXT TIME YOU DO A SHOW!"
Amidst all the loud cheering, Sōzōshī's voice could be heard changing the call of the match to a 'draw', but his words were drowned even more as the clapping seemed to increase.
"That's… odd." Honoka admitted, shrugging her shoulders: "They're even louder than they were when Mifune-sama fought or when that Sazanami guy won in one move."
Kankurō snorted: "Do you have to remind me-"
"Yeah…" Naruto mumbled, his eyes on Dosu's still-motionless body. He could see his friend was still breathing and that his eye was twitching. 'Good work there, Dosu.'
"MORE MATCHES LIKE THAT!"
"GREAT FIGHTING SHINOBI!"
"No but for real, why is the audience still cheering?" Risho mumbled, bringing his hands to his ears: "The audience is still screaming about it!"
"Because a draw is seen as even more honorable than a victory."
The shinobi all tensed-up at the voice; appearing directly behind their seating area was Mifune, who was nodding his head in approval as a few attendants came up to the stage and helped carry Menma to an on-sight infirmary.
'So fast. Didn't even sense him coming over…' Han noted, a small smirk forming on his lips underneath his mask.
"Wh-What do you mean by that?" Chōjūrō asked.
"A victory, no matter how grand the fight may be, is something only one person may earn. But a draw is the result of two warriors going all-out and giving it their all. A draw means that both opponents put their everything into the fight and that is to be commended." Mifune explained. "It's a sign of their strength and dedication to force each other to a draw."
"… I'm not sure I follow." Chōjūrō admitted, frowning.
"It's not a sentiment any of you have to share. Just wanted to explain why the audience is cheering so loudly." Mifune admitted with a chuckle before he walked off, returning to join his fellow samurai.
Hinata, who had been quiet during the exchange, focused on Dosu's body. She watched the same attendants who carried Menma off come over to him and lift his body. A smile developed on her face as she watched him slowly stir while the attendants carried him off.
'Hear that cheering, Dosu? Hope you know that the samurai of Tetsu no Kuni respect you as a warrior.' She thought.
"And now, it is time for the sixth match!"
Immediately, Hinata's attention turned back to the battlefield, her eyes narrowing: 'Now… it's my turn to see if I can earn their respect!'
'Ah, so you are participating in a tournament today, Hinata?' A smile graced Tōneri's lips.
The Ōtsutsuki sat down on top of a rock formation on the summit of the Sanrō Mountain. He felt a compulsion to move closer to Tetsu no Kuni's Capital, but he resisted the urge; the jutsu he used to 'see' what was happening required him to be in a position of higher elevation than where he was looking down. In addition, he could not risk meeting Hinata yet – not until Tenseigan eyes had fully healed and acclimated to his body.
A small sharp sensation rushed through his eyes. His right hand went to the bloody bandages over his eyes.
God, he could not wait for the healing process to finally finish, if for no other reason than ending the pain.
Ignore the burning sensation of his Tenseigan, Tōneri turned his attention back towards the Capital City – to his Hinata. A smile formed on his face as he watched Hinata walk up to the arena battlefield alongside one of the samurai – a bulky man named Chiyomatsu. His smile widened into a grin as he watched them get into position to fight.
Today was the day he was planning to give Hinata her 'motivation' to see him in person, but before that, he wanted to get a glimpse of her combat capabilities. It would be good for him to be aware of what she was capable of, at the very least.
'Show me what you're capable of, my Princess-'
"Ah, so this is where you've been, huh?"
Tōneri's concentration returned back to the Sanrō Mountain. His body stiffened as he stood up from his seat and held out his hands just as a figure rose from the ground, resembling some type of plant.
"Who are you?" Tōneri hissed.
"Family." Black Zetsu replied with a smirk as he split his body apart, separating himself from White Zetsu. "I've been looking for you ever since I felt your chakra. You touched down in Konoha recently, did you not?"
"Perhaps. Perhaps not." Tōneri replied with a scowl: "Now don't ignore my question! Who are you and how do you claim to be my 'family'?"
"Zetsu is the name given to us. For the sake of this conversation, you may address me as Ōtsutsuki Zetsu, if you would like." Black Zetsu answered: "Kaguya is my mother."
Tōneri's scowl vanished. His Tenseigan pulsed at the mention of the name; he supposed, if his eyes were working properly at the moment, they would be wide in shock.
He was still for a moment before he shook his head, a frown forming on his face.
"Kaguya only had two children – Hagoromo and Hamura." Tōneri noted: "I have never once heard of you."
"Biologically speaking, Hagoromo and Hamura were the only children Kaguya gave birth to. My origin is a little more… complicated." Black Zetsu answered, crossing his arms: "I am her will made manifest; a being she created on the verge of her sealing."
Tōneri's expression shifted to a neutral one as he brought his hands together. He was still for a moment, processing the creature's words, before deciding to speak.
"The chakra you possess… it does feel different than any normal human I've met." The Ōtsutsuki admitted.
Black Zetsu chuckled in response: "And yours is familiar. More familiar than I've felt in centuries. No Uchiha, Senju, Uzumaki, Kaguya, or Hyūga have such chakra; you are truly an Ōtsutsuki like my mother. Even when I was literally countries away from Konoha, the moment you stepped down there, I sensed it." A smirk formed on its face: "May I have your name?"
"Ōtsutsuki Tōneri." He replied.
"Ōtsutsuki Tōneri… well met. Well met, indeed." Black Zetsu continued to chuckle as it uncrossed its arms and began to wave its left hand in front of its body: "Fate truly has brought us together. I would like to request your assistance."
"With what?" Tōneri asked.
"The revival of mother." It answered, its smirk widening. Tōneri tensed-up in response, which prompted the creature to continue: "Surely you've sensed her in this world, yes?"
The Ōtsutsuki's eyes narrowed: "Are you saying you know how to release her?"
"Naturally. That is the only reason for my existence." Black Zetsu replied: "So, what do you say? With her, we can be family and bring the Ōtsutsuki to glory that this world has never seen! We will never be lonely again!"
Tōneri grew quiet once more. Black Zetsu stared intently at the man, waiting for an answer. Seconds turned to minutes before Tōneri shook his head and held out his right palm towards the creature.
"Leave." Tōneri replied.
Black Zetsu's smirk faded, a scowl quickly replacing it: "You would reject an attempt to help a fellow Ōtsutsuki?"
"I claim ancestry to Hamura, who sealed your 'mother' away. My family line has records of how corrupt Kaguya had become; what makes you think I would willingly assist her in any way?" He stated.
'Kaguya's Will' glared at the man: "You owe your existence to Mother! You will assist-"
Black Zetsu's body immediately sank into the ground, just barely avoiding a small black orb that had rushed forward. The orb, instead, collided with a large rock formation. Upon impact, the rock formation exploded, rubble and dust scattering.
The creature emerged from the ground next to White Zetsu, who was looking at the destroyed rock formation in horror. The two beings merged together into a singular creature. They then gazed upon the Ōtsutsuki.
Tōneri was starting to glow a cyan-colored light around his body. The light appeared to be trying to develop further, into a sort of cloak, but appeared to be in an incomplete state at the moment. He held out his right hand as another black orb began to form in his open palm.
"Consider that a warning shot. I believe my next attack will move much faster." Tōneri said sharply: "I'll say it once more. Leave. Now."
"You will regret this."
With those words, 'Zetsu' submerged into the ground. Tōneri remained on guard for another minute before he began to relax, the chakra cloak fading and the black orb vanishing.
"Ōtsutsuki Kaguya…" Tōneri repeated the name of Black Zetsu's 'mother' for a moment before he shook his head: 'I haven't thought of her in years. But… he is right…'
Hamura's records indicate what happened to Kaguya. Tōneri grew up hearing stories of her. It was something he used to not like thinking about it; as a boy, it had scared him how close she was to him and that, one day, what would happen if she were to be released. Would she destroy the moon and kill all of the Ōtsutsuki in the process? It appears his childhood fear, which his father brushed off as 'a child's overactive imagination' was actually a possibility this whole time.
… Not like it mattered any more, though. Tōneri was all that was left of the Ōtsutsuki Branch Family, after all.
'… I'll concern myself with that later. Perhaps Nagato-dono should be aware of our ancestor. If anything, we'll need to deal with that Zetsu later.' Tōneri sighed as he brought his hands together: 'Now, back to what I was doing. Let's see how Hinata's fight is going-'
Immediately, his expression dropped as his focus turned to the Samurai-Shinobi Goodwill Tournament. Hinata was walking away from the battlefield, a smile on her face while her opponent was kneeling on the ground, his sword scattered to the side.
Hinata had already won her fight.
And he had missed it.
'Zetsu, first you plague with me thoughts of Kaguya and now you rob of my attempt to see Hinata in combat? I will enjoy killing you in our next encounter.' Tōneri grit his teeth.
He supposed he could wait for Hinata's next fight before making his move and delivering his ultimatum to his 'Princess', but he now waited with a scowl etched onto his face.
'Zetsu' reappeared from the ground in the middle of a cave in Tetsu no Kuni, appearing directly in front of Obito. The Uchiha, who had been meditating, took a deep breath as the two Zetsu split apart, separating into the White and Black counterparts. Obito opened one eye, focusing intently on his only allies.
"How did it go?"
"Went to shit, boss." White Zetsu spoke-up, interrupting Black Zetsu with a snicker: "He botched it so bad that we now have another enemy!"
"Absurd!" Black Zetsu growled out, shaking its head as it turned to its counterpart: "You could sense it as well, couldn't you? His loneliness? I thought it was the correct approach to take with him."
"You thought wrong!" White Zetsu continued to chuckle.
All Black Zetsu could do was grind its teeth: 'My read on people is never wrong. I've dealt with Senjus and Uchihas and all flavors of human cur for literal centuries. His loneliness is so apparent in his very existence that it is beyond pathetic. He's even literally stalking some stupid Hyūga child! Why would he refuse?'Its fists tightened at its side: 'Leave it to a damned Ōtsutsuki to be the first being I made a misread on.'
"So, it did not work." Obito closed his eye, a sigh escaping his lips: "And once again, we remain alone with no new allies." He shook his head: "How's Nagato's healing?
"It's going…" White Zetsu admitted with a frown: "He's actually walking again, although very slowly. We still have at least a year or two before he's probably able to fight, though."
"It's still difficult to try and spy too much on them, though, since Nagato and Kabuto have made efforts to try and safeguard themselves from our eyes." Black Zetsu added.
"Regardless of 'difficulties', we need to get information fast." Obito stated: "All our plans are halted until we can get back the Rinnegan. We can't afford to let Nagato's recovery to be completed."
"We're trying!" White Zetsu said with a whine: "But it's like my counterpart said; we really can't do much with how guarded they are-"
"To be honest, I think at this point, it's safest to wait for his recovery." Black Zetsu said with a shrug.
Obito's eyes opened once more, narrowing on the creature: "Nagato at prime physical condition, with access to his Rinnegan? How exactly would that be the safest option? I think even Madara would be cautious in handling that fight!"
"Firstly, you're grossly underestimating Madara. Don't think for a second you know what he was capable of when you only met him for a fleeting moment at the end of his life. That red-head upstart wouldn't stand a ghost of a chance him." Black Zetsu said with a chuckle: "Second, though; Nagato leading his organization to war with the Elemental Nations gives the perfect backdrop to take the Rinnegan back. After all, what better way to kill a man stronger than ourselves than to use pawns to weaken him or kill him themselves?"
"… We'll have to think about this. Carefully." Obito replied: "I'd like to meditate on this more."
"Whatever you say, boss." Black Zetsu chuckled in response.
As Obito closed his eyes once more to consider their options, 'Zetsu' sank into the earth, a smirk forming on its face.
This would not be its first time getting involved in a war as its puppeteer. Obito could think about this all he liked, but in the end, he would end up agreeing with his only ally. Everything would go all according to plan. This debacle with Kabuto and Nagato's recovery was only a slight setback, after all.
It was about time Black Zetsu reentered its most familiar, most cherished role. It was about time for war.
'Just you wait mother. Your time is coming soon, I assure you.'
After Sōzōshī announced her victory, Hinata walked down towards the shinobi, a grin on her face as the crowd continued to cheer for her. As soon as she arrived back, Naruto stood up and rushed over towards her, pulling her into a tight hug before swinging her around, earning a giggle from his wife.
"That was awesome!" Naruto stated with a grin of his own: "You kicked so much ass!"
"Heh, thanks!" Hinata nodded her head as she tightened her arms around his neck: "I do what I can!"
The two remained still for a moment, having almost forgotten the world around them, until Naruto sat Hinata down. Hand-in-hand, they turned back around to their fellow shinobi.
They were met with a bunch of expressionless stares.
"Y'know, sometimes it's cute, but sometimes the 'lovey-dovey'-ness is a bit too much." Honoka noted.
"Get a room." Kankurō huffed as he crossed his arms.
Hinata blushed in response while Naruto simply scowled, shaking his head.
"What's wrong with a hug and some compliments? We didn't even kiss, dammit!"
"It's hard to explain, but it felt off." Risho admitted, rubbing the back of his head: "Yeah, if you all could tone down the PDA, that'd be great."
Hinata's blush deepened: "But we-"
"Fuck off, mate." Naruto rolled his eyes: "You all can-"
"And now let's move on to match number seven! Are the competitors ready?"
"Damn right I am!" Honoka grinned as she stood up from her seat: "And about time too!"
"G-Good luck, Honoka-san." Chōjūrō said, smiling at his fellow swordsman: "D-Do a better job representing us than I did."
"Don't put yourself down like that." She shook her head before she reached for the scroll on her back and unsealed it, revealing the Nuibari. She gripped it tightly in her right hand: "But I'll do what I can!"
"Good luck, Honoka-nee!" Naruto called out.
Honoka nodded her head at her cousin as she raised her left hand and waved at him: "Just watch. I'll show you how strong I've gotten since the Kiri Civil War."
Naruto waved at her as he watched her walk up the stairs to the battlefield. His eyes then moved towards the samurai-side as he noticed the black-haired woman, Toki, walking up to the battlefield.
'So she's her opponent. That means he's my opponent, huh?' Naruto turned his attention towards the Samurai Bench, focusing on Okisuke: 'He's the guy that's always been escorting us. Wonder how strong-'
Naruto's thoughts stopped for a moment and his eyes widened as he continued to focus on Okisuke. The samurai, he could tell, was meditating and had seemingly been doing so since the whole tournament had started. However, now paying attention to the man, he could sense a familiar energy beginning to surround the man's body.
'Kurama, is that what I think it is?' He asked.
"It is." The Kyūbi answered.
'… Heh. Well, damn.' A grin formed on Naruto's face as he went back to a seat and clapped his hands together: 'Guess aside from Mifune himself, I got the best opponent I could have hoped to have.'
With that thought in mind, Naruto took a deep breath as he closed his eyes, beginning to meditate and connect himself with the nature around.
"So, you're one of the Seven Swordsman of Kirigakure?" Toki asked, her eyes narrowing on Honoka: "With a name like that, I had assumed that was a group of only men."
"Nah, the current generation is three women, actually." Honoka replied as she held out Nuibari in front of her body: "Got to say, I'm excited to fight a fellow swordswoman though! I've heard a lot about women samurai and can't wait to see what you're capable of!"
The samurai scoffed: "I wish could say the same, but I could not care less about a kunoichi."
The Uzumaki's eyebrow raised in response, her grin turning to a frown: "Got a problem with kunoichi?"
"My 'problem' is with you deceitful shinobi in general." Toki shook her head as she reached for her halberd and gripped it tightly: "I still don't understand how you all convinced Mifune-sama to allow you in our village, but I'm not going to waste an opportunity to show shinobi like you your place!"
"… Ah, what 'good will'." Honoka rolled her eyes in response before she tightened her grip on Nuibari: "Well, try and 'show me my place' then!"
"Let the Seventh Match-"
Before the Daimyo could finish his declaration, Toki disappeared in a flicker, appearing directly behind Honoka.
Toki lunged her halberd forward. Honoka jumped backwards, narrowly avoiding the pike-head, but as she moved away, a force rushed from the tip of the halberd, crashing into her body like a gust of wind. The Uzumaki was pushed back even further, gasping as the air was knocked out of her.
The samurai closed the distance once more before swinging the halberd. Before its ax-blade could connect with Honoka's body, she tightened her grip on Nuibari, blocking the blade with her longsword.
"Aggressive, are we?" Honoka asked.
Toki grinded her teeth as she applied more pressure with halberd, trying to cut through Nuibari: "I've learned it's necessary to be if you want to get anything done."
"Hmm…" Honoka frowned in response, sensing something deeper in her words, but shook her head. This was not the place for empathetic thoughts!
The Uzumaki began to channel chakra into Nuibari. She then adjusted her grip, holding onto it tightly with her right hand while freeing up her left hand. To the samurai's annoyance, however, this change in grip did not seem to affect the amount of force she was exhibiting: "Well, let's do something about that! Longsword Ninja Art: Blood Sealing!"
A thread broke off Nuibari. This thread immediately rushed into Honoka's left palm, cutting into it. The redhead woman seemed to not react in the slightest to the pain, however, as the thread began to cut into a shape resembling a seal.
Toki's eyes narrowed: 'What game is this-'
Her eyes widened, however, as Honoka immediately dropped her sword to the crowd, the longsword making a 'clanging' noise. Immediately, Toki's body – which had still been applying force to overpower Nuibari – proceeded to move forward on its own accord, seemingly staggered.
"Fūinjutsu: Forced Stop!"
The samurai immediately made to jump away from Honoka as the redhead attempted to grab onto her. Honoka's left hand briefly touched Toki's right hand, but the samurai was able to jump away, breaking the contact quickly.
After creating distance between the two, Toki glared at Honoka, gripping her halberd tightly: "I don't know what you're trying to accomplish-"
Immediately, a strong sense of numbness rushed over Toki's body. She then nearly dropped her halberd, the weight of it feeling almost overpowering to the woman. Her eyes narrowed on the source of her numbness – her right hand.
On her hand, a large 'X' with a red coloration that resembled blood appeared on her right hand. However, that was not the most pressing matter; the more concerning situation was that she could no longer feel her hand at all. For all intents and purposes, it might as well have been amputated.
"Fūinjutsu…" Toki mumbled to herself as she glared at Honoka.
"Yeaaahhh, I'm a bit of unorthodox swordsman." The Uzumaki grinned as she reached down for Nuibari, picking it up: "This is actually the first sword I've ever used, and while I am proud in how I've improved with my general kenjutsu, I learned quickly with Nuibari that I could use its threads and needles to cut into my skin and create blood seals on my body, much faster than I could with ink on paper. Plus, more cost-effective."
"What kind of seal is this?" Toki demanded.
"I mean, I think the 'X' is a dead giveaway. For at least right now, that hand is worthless. I could have actually spread that seal further onto your body if you didn't jump away so fast, but that's neither here nor there." She shrugged her shoulders before gesturing at the halberd that Toki was struggling to hold: "That thing's a two-handed weapon. Guess you're gonna have to retire, huh?"
"… Hmph." The samurai scoffed as she reattached her halberd to the holster on her back before unsheathing the sword on her left hip: "I still have a weapon and a hand to use it. I'm not done here."
"Well, I do respect that drive to continue." Honoka nodded her head, smirking slightly as she gripped onto Nuibari tightly: "And I do have to admit you're strong. I can tell by the amount of force you swung that halberd; nearly knocked me off with one attack."
Toki did not reply, crouching down slightly as if she were to charge. Honoka's smirk faded, replaced again with a frown.
"Do you really hate me that much that you can't at least acknowledge the compliment?" She asked.
"… It's not you specifically." Toki admitted, her eyes dropping low for a moment before narrowing once again on her: "I'm aware it's not proper, but there's nothing you nor anyone can do to change my mind; to me, shinobi are mindless murderers who destroy lives and have killed too many precious people in my life."
"… Well. You're talking to someone who gets that." Honoka replied, her frown deepening: "Truly… I've seen what the worst of the worst shinobi can do."
The samurai's eyes narrowed: "If you 'truly' understand, then why do you wear that forehead protector?"
"Because, despite what some evil shinobi can accomplish, they can also do many good things. I want to be strong and do as much as I can for my home and the people around me." The Uzumaki answered, her eyes narrowing.
Toki was quiet for a moment, seemingly processing her words. Honoka was still, simply staring at her.
After a few seconds, Toki's eyes narrowed back on Honoka as she adjusted her grip on her sword. Despite the 'glare', though, there was a moderate decrease in hostility in her gaze.
"Well. Show me what a 'good' shinobi is capable of, then." She stated as she began to channel chakra into her sword
With that, Honoka's smirk returned to her face: "I'll do what I can!"
Judging her opponent by her stance, Honoka anticipated to rush at her like she had down previously, so she prepared for her to flicker over behind her once again.
Instead, however, Toki's sword proceeded to glow, changing to a yellowish-orange color.
"Flame Swordsman Style: Ignite!"
Instantly, Toki's sword became incased in flames. She swung her blade around for a moment, a few scattered embers scattering around her, before she got back into her crouching position once more.
"You lit your sword on fire…" Honoka mumbled, shaking her head: "Starting to feel a little more 'ninjutsu' then 'kenjutsu'."
"All I'm doing is channeling my natural chakra affinity into my sword. Trust me, this is no 'ninjutsu'." Toki replied: "Anyway, shall we dance? Flame Swordsman Style: First Form: Unknowing Fire!"
Toki launched forward at Honoka, closing the distance between the two within an instant, and swung for her neck. Honoka blocked with Nuibari, preventing the blade from connecting. She then attempted to reach out with her left hand once more, but as her sword made contact with Toki's, embers scattered, raining down from the impact and burning into her skin. She immediately winced, bringing her hand backwards.
The samurai smirked: "That trick isn't going to work again this time!"
Honoka cursed under her breath as she readjusted her grip on Nuibari. She jumped back in time, narrowly avoiding another swing from the fire sword. Upon contact with the air, the fire sword launched a fireball from the blade, flying towards Honoka at tremendous speed. She cursed once more as she quickly swung Nuibari once more, the longsword's thread splitting the fireball apart before quickly getting extinguished.
Before Honoka could do anything, Toki closed the distance between them once more. This time, however, she kneed the Uzumaki in the chest. Honoka choked in response. Toki then slammed the hilt of her blade onto the redhead's head, hitting it with enough force that her whole body crashed into the ground.
Toki proceeded to step onto Honoka's back, causing the Uzumaki to choke again, this time spitting out blood. She then brought her sword close to the woman's neck. The fire sword was not against her skin, saving her from burns, but the blade was close enough that she could feel a strong 'warmth' sensation.
"Surrender." The samurai stated, her eyes briefly moving to Honoka's left hand: "Try that sealing technique once more and I'll simply knock you unconscious."
"… Yeah, I'd rather watch the rest of the matches." Honoka said, sighing: "I forfeit."
In response, Toki swung the blade around for a second before sheathing it, the flames extinguished upon entering the scabbard. She then stepped off Honoka's back, prompting the redhead to start pulling herself up.
"And the seventh match has been called! The winner is the majestic and beautiful Toriōritsu Toki!"
"BEAUTIFUL AND STRONG! SHE'S THE PERFECT WOMAN!"
"SHE IS THE IDEAL SAMURAI!"
"TOKI-SAMA I AM BEGGING YOU, PLEASE CRUSH ME BETWEEN YOUR THIGHS!"
Any joy Toki may have felt about the cheers of the audience went away the moment she heard that comment. She immediately facepalmed with her left hand, a few scattered curses mumbled under her breath.
"Toriōritsu?" Honoka repeated the name: 'Why does that name sound familiar to me?'
"Do you recognize my family name?" Toki's eyes narrowed on the Uzumaki, a frown forming on her face: "It belonged to a family in Tori no Kuni to the south."
"Tori no Kuni… The Land of Birds…" Honoka mumbled to herself.
"… If you're going to waste time trying to recall something, could you at least do it after you unseal my hand?" Toki noted, pointing to her right hand.
"… Ah." A sheepish look developed on Honoka's face as she looked at Toki's right hand.
The Uzumaki looked towards her left hand, making sure the blood seal was still imprinted on it, before she briefly touched hands with the girl.
Immediately, the 'X' on Toki's right hand dissipated. The samurai's first instinct was to clinch her fist. She took in a deep breath, relishing the feeling of her hand once more, before turning away from Honoka and walking back towards the samurai seating area.
"… Well, alright then." Honoka mumbled, shaking her head: "Nice match. You were strong."
Toki did not return any of Honoka's compliments, nor did she turn around to face her. The Uzumaki sighed as she began to walk back towards the shinobi seating area, sealing Nuibari away.
'… I swear I've heard that name. Ugh, when was the last time I heard about anything happening in Tori no Kuni…' Honoka wondered.
'… Yes, it was a good match. You were a rather versatile opponent for someone outmatched in strength, Uzumaki-san.' Toki noted to herself, shaking her head: 'Maybe you would have made an excellent samurai in another life, but in this one…'
In an instant, an image flashed in Toki's mind of a large family estate on fire with corpses scattered everywhere. The image switched to the bodies of Toki's father and brother. The image switched a third time, settling on the image of a shinobi – a fair-skinned man with short black hair and face paint with a rather twisted smile on his face – standing directly in front of a large group of shinobi under him.
Toki's hands tightened into fists as she shook her head, pushing the images out of her mind: 'I don't believe you. No matter what you claim, there's no such thing as a good shinobi.'
"Well. That sucked." Honoka mumbled, rubbing the back of head.
Han shook his head: "I wouldn't say that. You put up a great fight, Honoka-san."
"Y-Yeah." Chōjūrō nodded his head, smiling: "Y-You were amazing!"
"I got my ass-"
"Hey, listen to everyone here." Naruto said sharply, his eyes still closed: "You were pretty badass up there, Honoka-nee!"
The Uzumaki smiled back in response before finally nodding her head: "Alright, alright. I hear you all. Thanks."
"With only one match left of round one, let's end this one with a 'bang'! Will the match eight combatants head on up to the battlefield!"
"Alright!" Naruto jumped out of his seat, ending his meditation as a grin formed on his face as he brought his hands together: "Let's get this started!"
"We've had three shinobi win a match, three samurai win a match, and one tie. If you win this one, then that gives us a shinobi the numbers advantage in the second round." Risho noted.
"'If', he says." The jinchūriki chuckled as he cracked his knuckles: "I'm definitely winning!"
"Good luck Naruto!" Hinata cheered.
Naruto turned towards Hinata and finally opened her eyes. She gasped for a second as her pale, lavender-eyes met his yellow-colored eyes.
"Thanks!" His grin widened at his wife before he turned back and ran towards the battlefield.
Hinata blinked as she watched her husband continue to rush forward. She titled her head for a second as the same thought repeated in her head.
'Why is Naruto using Sage Mode? How serious is he planning on taking this fight?'
Naruto continued to move forward up the stairs to the battlefield until he came face-to-face with his opponent. Okisuke stood directly across from him, his eyes still closed and his hands behind his back.
"So, I get the honor of fighting the grandson of Mifune-sama's close friends. How interesting." The man noted: "I think if I am to get any understanding of why our general is soft with you shinobi, I will find it from you."
"He might be 'soft' with us cause he's not a bad guy, y'know? Maybe the kind of guy who doesn't judge someone just because their culture is different." Naruto replied, his eye twitching slightly.
Okisuke scoffed in response: "Bad blood between samurai and shinobi was not born from 'culture' alone. It was born from different ideals. It was born from centuries of war and bloodshed. I wouldn't try and dismiss any negative sentiments one may possess as something so trivial."
"Yeah, yeah. 'Shinobi bad', am I right?" Naruto sighed.
"Our opponents seem ready! I'm so excited everyone! Let the final match of Round One begin!"
Despite the Daimyo's proclamation, neither Naruto nor Okisuke rushed into making the first move. Okisuke remained completely still, his hands not reaching for his sword. Naruto, meanwhile, did not move into a combat stance either; instead, he pointed at Okisuke.
"Before we get on with this, though, can I ask where exactly you learned how to channel nature energy?" He asked.
For the first time since Naruto had met the aloof samurai attendant, Okisuke began to chuckle as he finally uncrossed his arms:
"I knew your energy felt familiar. So, you are a fellow sage." He noted.
"I am. Taught by the Toads of Mt. Myōboku." Naruto nodded his head. "But that doesn't answer you, though. I thought you samurai wouldn't use ninjutsu, so I know you probably don't have a summoning contract. How do you know sage mode?"
"You don't need a summoning contract to establish a relationship with one of the Great Animal Clans." Okisuke replied, shaking his head: "I met the Crane Summoning Clan one day in my travels around Tetsu no Kuni. The mountain they have residence in is located in our country, and after building rapport for years, I was given the honor to study under them."
"Without a contract?" Naruto's eyebrow raised.
"Not every clan wants to be a summoned weapon, but that does not mean they want to keep their information a secret. Some are more than willing to share information should they find someone of sufficient character." The samurai replied.
"Rather humble, aren't we?" Naruto noted.
Okisuke's light chuckle from earlier turned into a much louder, more natural laugh: "I suppose not."
With that word, Naruto finally brought his hands together, channeling senjutsu chakra. Okisuke proceeded to crouch downward, finally drawing his sword as he began to channel the natural energy around him into his blade. He then finally opened his eyes, revealing gold-colored eyes with blue speckles scattered on the pupil.
"Sage Art: Water Style: Water Bomb Parade!"
"Sage Art: Wind Swordsman Style: Call of the Tempest!"
1: So, different Samurai fighting styles are actually really fun to work with, although in canon, the only real samurai we get to witness is Mifune and some generic mooks. But I did want to clarify something, just in case I didn't do a good enough job describing it. While Samurai do not use ninjutsu and genjutsu, they do still use chakra to augment their own physical capabilities and their kenjutsu, so much so that Mifune was able to cut open the head of Hanzo's salamander summon. This has also been extended further by having samurai like Mifune be shown releasing 'waves of chakra' from their blades for long-range attacks.
My point-being is that the natural extension of this is to try and explore other 'ideas' of what a samurai could do via channeling their chakra. Namely elemental affinity chakra, leading to Sazanami's earth-based kenjutsu and Toki's fire-based kenjutsu. I tend exploring this further in the next couple of chapters, but I just wanted to kinda sorta illustrate that point and just sorta point out that, if I did not do a good enough job, that yes, all of the samurai so far have only been using kenjutsu, no ninjutsu.
2: ... Obviously this will get touched on more in the next chapter specifically, but essentially, the natural progression of wondering about different types of samurai fighting styles would be led to the idea of 'what would a Sage samurai look like'? Enter my interpretation of Okisuke's fighting style (since Kishimoto obviously did nothing with this background character, who I may have to remind some people is not an OC... god Kishimoto, could it have killed you to give them characterization outside of Mifune?). Senjutsu chakra is still, as the name suggests, chakra, so there's nothing about that conflicts with samurai fighting style. And, when doing research on the samurai in general, i actually thought their beliefs on chakra felt in-line with the tenants of the Sage Arts, since they put more emphasis on the "spirituality" of chakra then their shinobi counterparts.
ANYWAY SAGE SAMURAI. I cut the chapter here when I was initially planning on going one more because the chapter did hit 20K words, but I am extremely excited to show off my interpretation of what "Sage Art" kenjutsu looks like. So... prepare for that.
Author's Note: Hey, that's chapter 140!
I... wanted to wait until I had more chapters written, so I can promise my next update date. But I just decided to get this out of here. I think updating will probably get me back in the mood to write more fervently. Get me inspired, y'know?
Chapter 141 is already started, but I do intend on waiting to post until I get the rest of this arc finished. That way I can go back to posting on a schedule. I know that was kinda brief, but I really liked the consistency of it. So yeah, update will come soon, and when it comes, expect consistent updates again with it.
I don't have a ton to say else at the moment. Got work early in the morning, so I'll just cut it out now. I hope you all enjoyed, and I'll see you when I have the rest ready! Until then :)
Love you Toby 3