Snap Back To Reality 57
It almost felt like it was right out of a spy movie. Shikaku sent me a discreet letter run by a Genin Corps boy and it was addressed as an invitation for a formal dinner at one of the more established Akimichi diners used to host dignitaries and such. It was like a no-fighting zone of sorts around the world, and even Shinobi reserved themselves from using underhanded assassination methods there. As such I didn't need to bring weapons, although I didn't change from my suddenly very average Jounin uniform that I'd taken to wearing over my custom kimono since my promotion. I needed to look like I was a cohesive part of this village's team right now and that's what I intended to be.
I entered the rather expensive looking hotel and handed over my scroll to the front desk. The lady didn't give me a suspicious glance. She probably knew exactly who I was, but she did tell me that she had an eye for hidden weapons, and she wouldn't have let me in if I had any on me. Then she turned courteous and showed me to my room. It kind of reminded of karaoke, how each of the rooms were shut off from the others… well karaoke if it was for rich officials.
The door was slid open to our very own private room and I felt more than a little ambivalent at the coming meeting. But I needed to push away my feelings, think about the important things and just accomplish them. Seeing Shikaku there however twisted my heart in a way that made me lose my composure for a second. I went back to my passive self and took a seat opposite him as the lady held out a writing pad ready to take our orders.
Be rational. Don't think too much on what he did. Think instead about the future.
"What are you going to order?" he asked, pushing my forced thoughts back to the present.
I turned to Shikaku and smiled cordially, although a sting of pain did arrive with his presence. Betrayal. I could not have imagined associating that word with Shikaku before. He had always been like a rather cool uncle, but now I knew where his loyalties truly lay, and it was with the village. For now I thought our goals aligned, but never again would I afford him my trust.
Be rational Hina.
"What no, 'hi how are you doing after your near execution Hina-chan'?" I asked, opting to play it cool.
Shikaku had the decency to look guilty. He scuffed up his hair and sighed as he stood up and sat beside me on the futon. Did he wish to talk on equal footing? It was an absurd image regardless. The feared strategic mind and Jounin commander sitting next to an eleven-year (nearly twelve) year old girl like an equal.
"I'll get some Unagi," I said decisively, sending the waitress a polite smile.
"Have you tried that before?" Shikaku asked.
I sent him a 'don't go there' look. He shouldn't treat me as casually as he did before, and even he knew it. I didn't care about whatever guilt he felt, our relationship would never be the same again. I wanted something professional now. Whatever trust we had was lost.
"I'll just have some plain udon," Shikaku said handing the woman our menus.
"Just some water will do."
She bowed before leaving and closing the door. After she left both I and Shikaku lost whatever casualness we had before, and the room became palpably serious. I refused to break the silence however. Thankfully Shikaku was enough of an adult to do the right thing.
"What I did to you was despicable, I admit. But we do despicable things for the people we protect."
I sighed and nodded. "You're right, and I'm sure you know what I've done. You simply don't have any physical evidence of it yet. But I'm willing to put that behind me for more important things."
All those people who begged for their lives, all those people I ignored the screams of and wronged—I had played their lives of for the 'bigger picture'—my family—and that was what Danzo had done, and what Shikaku did too. It was what I was going to continue to do.
"That is what I'm confused about, and it's not an easy thing to admit being me," he chuckled lightly. "Why are you doing this Hina?"
"Doing what?" I asked feigning confusion.
Shikaku looked a little exasperated. "Are we really going to pretend like I don't know what's going on?"
"Ok fine if you wish for me to spell it out—why are you endorsing Uchiha Fugaku? What does Orochimaru want from this?"
I felt a rise of indignation and snorted visibly in disbelief despite wishing I could keep my emotions in check.
"I'll have you know it's an insult that you think I'm Orochimaru's lap-dog. Is it so hard to believe that Uchiha Fugaku has nothing to do with Orochimaru?" I asked.
Shikaku gave me a look and I felt my frustration rise. No wonder he decided to betray me and ordered my death. He didn't see me as the kid he helped raise anymore but instead a loyal follower of someone who he knew would eventually be outed as a Village traitor. Because I was so young in his eyes it was no wonder, he thought I was wrapped around the Sannin's fingers. I felt disgusted by the thought. I was no plaything to bigger men. I was my own individual with my own goals that certainly weren't aligned with Orochimaru's simply because he was stronger.
"This is why you betrayed me isn't it. You ordered Rengoku to kill me because you knew somehow that I would aid Orochimaru in taking down Danzo before the wars end. You thought I was doing it for him?" I asked.
"I knew you would do it for yourself too, and I would not be able to stop you. Now this war is all but lost."
Without my hindsight I would believe this village would lose the war too, but I knew what would happen. In the end it wasn't ROOT that would help end this war. It was Minato perfecting his use of the Hiraishen and killing 1000 shinobi at once that would cease the war. That would certainly make getting Uchiha Fugaku the spot as Hokage harder, but I had a feeling persuasion was still an option.
"You haven't killed me yet though," I noted.
"What's done is done, and it's over now. I never wanted you dead Hina-chan, I simply had to look at the bigger picture for the sake of countless more lives… but I cannot hate you for what you did for your revenge."
"Not even if I gave up my humanity for it?" I asked a little sullenly.
"Not even for that," he said patting my shoulder, and then looking faraway. "I love this Village. I love it because it nurtured the people most precious to me, and there is always a level of selfishness in love. You and I—we are equally as selfish, except you reserve that selfishness for a handful of people while I reserve it for my Village."
I scowled a little. "You sound like Danzo. Don't lie to me Shikaku-san. Tell me, would you roll over and let someone—even this village— kill and leverage the lives of your close friends and family and still look at the big picture?"
He paused at that and then laughed hollowly. "I suppose not. You were put in an impossible position weren't you Hina-chan? Can I ask you something first—do you regret what you've done to all those innocent people?"
It was hard not to grimace at his question. Shikaku knew what I did and knowing that he knew how despicable I was hurt in a way. I couldn't lie to him now even if my throat constricted at the thought of admitting the truth. The fact that he hadn't arrested me here and now spoke to the lengths he would go to make up for what he did.
"For a while I didn't. I let myself believe I didn't care so I could do what I did, that it was simply the way of things, but the hatred I felt—saying that it was the way of things and doing what Danzo did to me to others and still feeling the hate I did for Danzo was hypocritical," I admitted. "It's why even now I cannot be truly mad at you for trying to kill me."
"I'm glad you didn't die," he said softly.
I looked up in shock and then looked away quickly, trying not to feel too much sympathy again. I couldn't let myself get carried away by these emotions, hoping for the same devotion I gave freely to my precious people to be returned to me. I didn't deserve that kind of devotion anyway. I had wholly tainted anything worth anyone's life. All I could do now was atone with mine.
Not a moment later there was a knock on the door and the food arrived. I couldn't bring myself to eat it eagerly like I normally would, instead I sat by and mulled what to say. I needed to convince him what I was doing was worth it.
"Shikaku-san… the reason I'm trying to get Uchiha Fugaku into the Hokage position is because in the short moment I saw him—I saw a man who was loyal to his family first, loyal to the village second, and someone who knew the hard ways of the world third. For too long this Village has been run by idealists, which is dangerous for its people. This world is not ideal—the situations we find ourselves is definitely not ideal as you and I know all too well. I don't want to speak treason to the Jounin commander," I said sardonically, and then continued anyway, "but our Lord-Third has bent over for an old friend amassing power for this vague ideal of friendship. We don't need another idealist; we need someone willing to do what's right."
"You're right, that is treason," Shikaku laughed, but he didn't sound all too chiding. "It's no secret to us Clan Heads that you didn't forgive him for his apology that day."
"And I will never. I still hate Danzo, and I can never forgive Hiruzen for turning a blind eye to my pain—but it is all simply emotions that won't change a thing of our situation. From now on I want to be realistic. I want to permanently fix my issues instead of drowning in my emotions. To do that I need someone, not idealistic, but someone unafraid to dig deep into the issues facing this village to fix them. Someone who's experienced what discrimination and injustice feels like, so they won't perpetuate it."
Shikaku paused for a second and then we fell into a silence while we ate. I enjoyed the quiet that this secluded spot in this restaurant brought us both. It was in these moments of pause that we were allowed to think, and thinking was something the both of us did in spades.
"You're using this to get me on your side, aren't you?" he asked, with a hint of… amazement?
"Yes, I know you'll be in the meeting when the next Hokage will be appointed," I admitted.
"How old are you again?" he asked incredulously.
"Eleven," I smiled.
"Troublesome girl… to think that one day it would be possible to even imagine appointing an Uchiha as Hokage," he snorted in disbelief.
"My rumours have spread?" I asked suddenly interested.
"Of the 'Wicked Eye' Uchiha? Yes, and I'm surprised you got it to stick after the council tried so hard to crush it."
"Those old geezers are worried about the Uchiha Clan gaining too much power, which they should be because their eyes can see through their bullshit," I snorted.
That actually got a chuckle out of Shikaku and I couldn't help but smile too, reminded of our old familiarity with each other. It was soured still, but even a taste of what it had been was sweet. For some reason forgiving him didn't seem so impossible. Kami knows I had a soft spot for Needle, and our inevitable meet-up would end in certain death next time. Murdering me was apparently fine, but I still hated that he put my teammates in trouble.
"How did you know it was me? I'm assuming Tomi-san would have kept it discreet to not trace it back to me."
"I'm the Jounin Commander Hina-chan, not to mention the Head of War Tactics. I need to know what goes on the inside as much as I do the outside. While you've been spreading rumours, you should know your sensei disapproves of them. The Council are thinking of voting Orochimaru in from the looks of things. Of course they wouldn't have Hokage-sama's vote this time. But you need to be careful in how you cover your tracks. I have no idea how he'll react to his own student endorsing another candidate," Shikaku warned.
I nodded my head gravely. I didn't want my endorsement to be public knowledge in the first place. It did occur to me that Orochimaru would not take kindly to me deviating from his plans, but I'd already made up my mind to take my own path regardless of the odds. It didn't mean I shouldn't be careful how I played things and how I let others perceive me though. This was still the Shinobi world, and it had its own set of underhanded rules.
"I'll keep him off your trail for now," Shikaku said, surprising me with his defence.
I wanted to thank him but thanking him felt wrong. I needed more than his help. I needed his support.
"So will you do it? Will you recommend Uchiha Fugaku?"
"Considering the other three options are the Sannin, and possibly Minato, I see no reason to object. For a gaki you're rather good at diplomacy. Do you want a future job in the relations department?"
"Kami no, that would be too troublesome. Once Uchiha-san is appointed I'm steering clear of politics and getting myself a job in R&D."
"You would suit research, but I'll be keeping an eye on you. Nothing illegal anymore," Shikaku warned.
Even if his tone was light, that did stifle my earlier smile. Nothing good came from the reminders of my crimes and my hypocrisy. It was easy to hurt others and hate others for hurting you. It was hard to look inside and see the evil there—but once you did it stuck with you.
"I don't want to do it again," I said softly.
"But you would?"
I nodded. "If I had to, if it kept the people precious to me safe, there is not one thing in this world I wouldn't do. You should know this by now 'oh great tactical mind'."
Shikaku snorted at my attempt to deflect the seriousness of my admission.
"There are rarely any humans who deal entirely in logic Hina-chan. That's something you will learn to understand. Whilst it is a sensible thing to want to be impartial and trust only in facts, you should be wary of those who claim to only deal in facts over their personal agenda. For those people—look underneath the underneath."
"Sound advice," I agreed. "Anymore wisdom to impart?"
"No I'm all out of elderly wisdom now. You used up my quota. But I do have some intel," he said catching my interest.
Shikaku pulled out a thick book from his shirt and handed it to me. I took it and noted it was a Bingo book. There was a folded page corner and so I turned to it and Fugaku Uchiha's face was clearly on it. This was a Bingo book from Iwa. I read his lengthy description, but his moniker caught my eye, and I couldn't help but smile.
"The 'Wicked Eye' Uchiha," I said in glee.
"The name's stuck already past Konoha's walls more easily than it did inside. Everyone else has been able to admit his accomplishments because they cannot afford to overlook his skills in Genjutsu in battle. I'm simply impressed you managed to make it work inside these walls. The Uchiha name has never been popular."
"Never underestimate the power of merchants and civilians. The Shinobi who've worked for Fugaku has always been supportive, but in the end it's the civilian population that needed the push to accept the Uchiha," I said pleased.
Tomi really did do a great job of my ridiculous demands. To think Rui's mother not only spread the word but gathered this much respect for an Uchiha. The Village had been unfairly stippling their reputation for too long now. It was time for the Senju to take a backseat for a bit and let their founding partners take over for a while.
"That's not all. Turn to page 63."
I did so and wasn't surprised to see my terrible photo still there. They had kept the picture of me when I was 6 that looked like I was about to sneeze. Goddammit the cringe was too much. I shook my head and tried to get back on topic and then looked down to see something very surprising.
"An A class threat?" I said in awe.
"Not many Chunin who get that rank," Shikaku said.
Well I was Jounin now, but because that was such a recent event, they probably didn't have the time to update it. It would have been a pity considering my Jounin photo looked a lot less stupid. Ah the joys of getting a new ID.
"Oh look here, it details me having killed Danzo and 350 ROOT agents in one day. Maa, I don't want to feel proud, but I do."
Shikaku didn't look too impressed by that though judging from his irked expression. I didn't regret destroying the Foundation itself, but I had no idea about how to feel about the deaths of the children within ROOT. I had already committed worse crimes. There was very little I could do that would be worse than what I'd already done.
"We have caught the 24 ROOT agents that had been outside of Konoha during the incident. We're holding them for now until we can screen them for their loyalty."
"And their cursed seals?" I asked.
"Have been disarmed by none other than Orochimaru."
"Why are you telling me this?" I asked suspiciously.
"Because there's a potential that those 24 people may seek revenge in the future. It's a warning. I can't give out identities. This is the extent of the information I can give you for today," he said getting up. "But for now, our goals align."
For now, huh? I waved him a goodbye before I turned back to the book and flipped through the pages. I wasn't surprised to see both Anko and Rui now in this. As students of Orochimaru they too were expected to be strong. In hindsight I shouldn't have been sipping a drink because I nearly spat it out at what I saw next.
Do not engage unless in a Strike Team as he is often found alongside his sensei Namikaze Minato. He is known for his prowess in all nature manipulations, Kenjutsu, Ninjutsu, and Taijutsu, and is the youngest known Jounin recorded in Konoha's history. Although it is not confirmed it is rumoured that he now possesses the visual prowess of the Uchiha Doujutsu the Sharingan. Take precaution when confronted.
Kakashi was Jounin already… at eleven? Not to mention the amount of S class missions he'd already been on was insane. I wiped my nose where some of the water I was drinking had spurted out embarrassingly in my shock, and then got back to reading. There was a list of Ninjutsu and other techniques he was seen using. I was just shocked that he'd managed to make Jounin so young, although I really shouldn't be considering how much of a prodigy he was. I probably wouldn't hold a candle to him in the future… no I couldn't think like that. I needed to aim way above Kakashi if I wanted to keep my family safe. If people like Pain existed that could level a whole village, then I needed to be just as, if not stronger.
"You're always one step ahead of me, aren't you," I mumbled looking at the serious expression on his photo, one of a hardened killer.
And to think he was the kid who used to play ninja-tag with me when we were children—if we ever had been children that is. I sighed tiredly. It was hard to remember, but I would remind myself that the future wasn't so shitty. Well things would probably get a little shitty, but it would never be this bad, and if I could help it there wouldn't be another war to speak of. A little bit of peace never killed anyone… although it'd probably make Anko fat with the amount of dango she'd eat lazing around.
I was only allowed a week which was unheard of, but I didn't complain. Taichi looked like he wanted to scream and shout at the Hokage Monument every time we went out together. Tsukiya was pestering him about strength but even that wasn't enough to distract him from the fact that I was leaving him once again.
This would probably be my fate until the war ended or until the Hokage could find a way to keep me away from Orochimaru. There was no rest for the wicked.
But I had one day left to relax and I was happy to do it at home with my team invited and Mebuki coming along with the husband I had heard so much about. It was a good day, full of laughter and food and time to sit and enjoy each other's company. Seeing Rui talk to Haruno Kizashi about his business was refreshing. Anko and Mebuki got along a little too well, and I personally allowed myself to lean back and simply listen in.
"The baby is so close," Mebuki said happily as she held her stomach in content.
Anko was mesmerised by the idea of a baby the entire night. Matsu too, although he tried not to admit it. Watching them fawn over the stomach like it was a miracle wad refreshing in some ways.
"Isn't it amazing?" Anko asked me as she finally decided to take a back-seat from all the chatter and sit with me in my quiet corner.
"It is," I admitted.
"Not in the chatty mood huh. Moping around, are we?" she snickered.
I shook my head. "No I was actually enjoying everything. It's nice to just take it all in once in a while. Plus watching Matsu try not to blush at the mention of birth is comedy gold."
"He is fun to tease. Must run in the family huh, Vege-senpai," she snickered. "Although I think I prefer Tsuki-kun. He's a lot cooler than you."
"Sure, sure you just don't want to admit you love me. Like a typical tsundere," I chuckled.
"Baka!" she shouted in mock hurt as she playfully hit my shoulder.
That actually managed to get a chuckle out of me. She laughed too and I found it looked good on her, like it suited her face for it to be pulled up in a wide grin. On me it was always creepy, but with her it lit up her entire aura.
"What are you staring at? Am I that beautiful?" she asked.
I turned away too quickly feeling more embarrassed by the sudden action than anything. I snorted in irritation and she chuckled at my expense. Her laughter died down too quickly though and when I turned back to her, she looked... sad.
"We're not going to be a team anymore are we. You're Jounin now and we're still under Orochimaru-sensei. I just don't understand why they would change your team around if you already know how to work with us," she groused angrily.
If only she knew what Orochimaru and I had done, maybe then she would understand why this was a light punishment for me compared to what I deserved.
"It doesn't matter what team I'm assigned. You guys will always be my underlings," I chuckled.
"Sure, sure get your wallet ready for the rest of your life then Senpai," she grinned.
I laughed nervously at that, but I felt it too, that loss of my team. It felt wrong to be assigned elsewhere, even if it was back to Gaku. But I understood. We were hard pressed for soldiers. The war was coming to some kind of conclusion and I had fucked it up by taking a chunk out of the forces. It was expected that I'd be thrown right back into the middle as recompense.
"Once this war is over, I'll ask for a transfer back to you guys," I offered.
"No don't, we'll probably only hold you back," Anko said surprising me.
"You wouldn't," I huffed in irritation.
"Sometimes you forget how frustratingly strong you are. For kami's sake you're eleven and you're already Jounin. I'm fourteen and being a Chunin at this age is apparently a really good deal. It's like you forget how insane you are sometimes," she said shaking her head.
"I don't think about my age often," I admitted.
"It's good you at least act it sometimes because when you're at work it's almost like you're just like sensei."
"I'm not," I defended hotly for a second only to receive a confused look.
"Relax vege-chan, that was a compliment," she laughed.
"I know... but I'm not Orochimaru-shishou. I'm my own person."
"Shishou, not sama anymore? Oh... should have realised from the tattoos and the earrings that he took you on as a personal student," she said slowly, hiding an undercurrent of jealousy behind her light tone that couldn't fool me.
One day when she would find out the ugly truth, she would know this wasn't really a good thing. For now though she would probably feel abandoned by the sensei she venerated. I lightly punched her shoulder, breaking her from her thoughts.
"It doesn't matter what he thinks. You're my teammate and you're more important to me. Now why don't we finish of those apple tarts before the boys can beat us to it?"
Anko grinned and nodded and we rushed in for the food.
I was in a standard Konoha Jounin outfit. No kimono, no shorts, no custom outfit except my shoes. I felt incredibly professional and impersonal in the standard gear, but it felt good in its own unique way. I tied up my long hair into a ponytail at the nape of my neck and said my goodbyes.
It was time to go to the warfront again. Not a sabotage mission but the actual warfront. The only time I'd been in it was when I was with Gaku originally. He was a front-line fighter unlike Orochimaru who worked with more complex instructions on how to ruin enemy camps and cause dissent within their civilian population.
"Hey there kiddo," he greeted with a large grin.
Yama bounded into me excitedly and liked my face all over. I laughed before telling him to sit down sternly. He whined but obeyed.
"Good to have you back by my side," Gaku said shaking his head.
"What about Kurenai, Asuma and Guy?" I asked.
"They'll be safer out at the border post. We need as many Jounin as possible in the front lines now. Everyone's getting desperate and it's become an all-out duke fest out there," Gaku sighed.
"You mean everyone's sussed out all the points of conflict and target routes so it's impossible to sneak past enemy borders now without a head-front battle?" I surmised in thought.
Gaku gave me an impressed look. "I don't like your bastard of a Sensei, but he did drill tactics and deduction into your head so I can't complain," he grumbled.
I mirrored his scowl. Well both of us didn't find Orochimaru pleasing in any way shape or form, but we both had to admit, he was scary good at what he did, and I did suck in that knowledge of his as best I could.
"You look good in a flak jacket," a familiar voice caught my attention.
I turned around to see Minato. His cool smile was brilliant. Goddammit he was too pretty to be smiling at me. I shouldn't be swooning before going to war, it was distracting. Pretty boys were dangerous indeed. I noted Kakashi behind him and I smiled.
"Thanks Minato-san. I hope I can aid in this mission," I said, trying to be as diplomatic and unaffected by his looks as possible.
I waved a hello to Kakashi but he didn't reply. He nodded his head and left to stand by our group in silence. I sent Minato a worried look and his smile died.
"He's had a hard time since our team… since Obito and Rin died," Minato admitted as a flash of guilt crossed his face. "I know I shouldn't ask you this in the middle of a mission, but can you be there for him? He respects you."
I nodded quickly, seeing no reason to disagree. "Of course. Kakashi's a valued friend," I said frowning in worry as I turned to him.
I walked over to him and punched his shoulder with a grin. He grumbled as he rubbed the offending spot and turned to me with a glare. I smiled wider.
"Oh look at this, we're going to be partners now," I said, not having to hide my mild excitement at that.
"I'm not so sure you'll enjoy it soon," he said with enough self-hate to drown me as well.
He was still dealing with the grief of losing both his teammates. Most likely he was blaming himself for their deaths, and he was afraid of working together with someone else as well. But I knew he had changed. Kakashi was sad, maybe even depressed, but there was also something dark and dangerous behind his gaze. I didn't like that look.
Maybe the me three years ago would have never touched directly upon the issue at hand, instead avoiding any and all topics that required even a glimpse of opening up, but I knew I had changed. I still guarded my heart zealously, but I was trying not to. Kakashi was not at that stage yet, and while he would have been able to find some camaraderie in Guy, Guy could not truly help him realise the extent he was hurting himself.
I remembered my brother screaming at me and seeing Kakashi I understood why. My hatred, I reflected it inward now and so did he, and that hatred would affect the people we loved. There was no use being ignorant rather than self-aware of my own downfalls, even if my emotions worked against my rationalisation. Now wasn't the time to drown in self-hate. Now was the time to push through and change this world. So I knew why I had begun opening up to the people around me. I couldn't hide behind a venire of indifference anymore. I was hurting. Kakashi was hurting. This war was exacerbating the pain. It was time to do our jobs, and for me—it was time to finally be a friend worthy of the title.
"I know what it feels like too," I spoke finally, despite how hard it was to admit this out loud. "And I might be a hypocrite telling you this when I can't even forgive myself, but I think literally everyone is right when it comes to telling me to stop hating myself—it's time for you to stop as well. Put your trust in me and I will in you. Take our victories as we take our failures."
Kakashi looked wide-eyed at me, expressing more emotion in one eye than he could with his whole face for show. I waited patiently for a response, studying the range of conflicting emotions behind his dark eyes.
"I can't," he hissed.
"If not for you, then for everyone you know," I insisted. "Your pain, we feel it too. It's not on any one of us. Friends should share the burden."
"It is my fault what happened," he insisted, unable to take my hand.
"It's the fault of many things. From this war, to individuals who played their roles, to our own human failings."
"I—give me some time," he relented.
I nodded. I couldn't push him, like I couldn't push myself. It was one thing to know I shouldn't hate myself, it was another to hear that whispering doubt in the peripheral of your mind accusing you of your failure, of your guilt, and of the blood that would never leave your hands. I was coming to realise that this was the nature of decisions. Sometimes there was never a good option, sometimes a failure could be considered a victory. And the same could be said of war.
In the end we took our victories like we did our failures. Just like Gaku-sensei had told me.
Maybe the war wasn't so different.
Finally some goddamn character development. It takes trying to help Kakashi through her same issue for her to stop being so bull-headed about her own problems. You can expect Hina to try and put her actions behind her and work for the future now. Try being the key word here XD The matters of the heart aren't so easily swayed by reason and logic.
Anyway sorry for the late updates recently. Life has been kicking my ass left and right since covid, but 2021 hasn't been any better ToT Also outlining the second book right now, and I don't want to rush the updates until I've written enough. With such a big project like this, there's bound to be plot holes if you do it chapter by chapter instead of going back and changing first drafts so please be patient.
I also nearly finished writing that Snap Back To Reality/Lord of the Rings crossover I'm working on. I'm on the last stretch chapters wise for that. It's about 20ish chapters long. I would like to thank everyone reviewing and beta'ing that. It's set during the middle of the next time-skip I intend to do, so expect me to start putting out these crossover chapters then. Also it's canon so some of the things Hina gets in LotR will end up in the Elemental Nations, although most of it will be keepsakes rather than anything game changing.