Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto
This chapter was edited by PraetorXyn
Chapter 15: Teaching Old Dogs New Tricks
(20.10.36) The Next Day
"That's enough," I told my genin. They were coming along nicely. I shot a glance up to Akiko standing on the wall surrounding the tower to make sure she heard me too. When I noticed her lowering the bow in her hands, I turned my attention back to my other students.
That was when the clones I'd distributed outside in the forest acting as moving targets for her practice dispersed one after the other. The memories I received made it clear that she was getting more accurate by the day. If she could keep this up, she would be good enough to earn another bow on her way up to the top by the time we depart for Uzu.
She was still struggling when it came to predicting the movements of a target, but that was to be expected. Unlike a Sharingan user, she had to rely on her skill and experience for that. Her progress when it came to nature transformation was also nothing to scoff at. Despite only starting today, she managed to get a week's training regimen done, halfway to completing the first exercise.
I still had trouble wrapping my head around the fact that she cleared the tree and water walking exercise in a day. Even for a Hyūga who relied on precise chakra control for their Jūken, this must be unheard of. After all, not everyone could be such a chakra control prodigy like Tsunade and Sakura.
Considering her progress thus far when it came to manipulating and using chakra, it wouldn't surprise me if she could master her element within the next twenty days. She was a natural at that who might have a shot a breaking Sasuke's record time.
It was something that should pleasantly surprise me, but watching Mikoto with her fire-clad weapon precisely imitating the kata a clone of me performed in front of her dissuaded me of that notion. Another testament to how scary a Sharingan could be when used correctly. Instead of wasting time learning the tree and water walking exercises herself, she mostly just observed Akiko doing it with her dōjutsu while adjusting her own chakra flow with the acuity only a visual representation could provide.
It should have taken her a week — the same amount of time Sasuke and I originally took to get it down — but it took her just a fraction longer than Akiko. Even under the assumption that she might have had a slightly better chakra control to start with, it was scary how fast she picked it up.
Nonetheless, this wasn't what impressed me the most about Mikoto — not by a long shot. It was her use of the Sharingan. Instead of blindly copying what she had seen like Kakashi and Sasuke would have done, she paused to think and adapted what she had seen to use for herself. This was necessary when it came to water and tree-walking — the amount of chakra required for Akiko to stick to a tree given her slightly smaller, less-muscled frame wouldn't have been enough for Mikoto to do the same, and she would have been confronted with the same problem when it came to water-walking.
Originally, I had intended to teach her that lesson when I allowed them to use their dōjutsu. Falling from a tree or making a plunge into the water would have driven the point home far stronger than a boring lecture ever could, and make it stick in her memory.
While the Sharingan might allow you to copy a jutsu under certain circumstances, performing the jutsu might not be the best idea even if you meet the requirements. All it would take to make you fail where others succeeded would be a simple thing like a difference in weight. This meant that a difference in skill controlling her chakra or the amount of chakra she possessed — in comparison to the person she attempted to copy a jutsu from — might have been enough to outright kill her.
Kakashi would know — he nearly killed himself when he fought against Zabuza by using the Great Waterfall technique, since he barely had enough chakra to pull it off. If at that point he would have used a little bit more chakra for his Sharingan or for staying on top of the water, it would have been the last thing he would have done.
I stopped myself there — it wouldn't do me any good to reminisce and go down that particular rabbit hole — and returned to evaluating Mikoto's skill-set.
It was to be expected that she had a headstart when it came to elemental manipulation. Just by learning the Great Fireball technique — the requirement to be allowed to wear the Uchiha crest on her clothes — she had already learned the basics in how to mold fire chakra. Since it wasn't the only fire jutsu in her arsenal, that knowledge only deepened. Consequently, when I showed her the exercises to make an element truly her own, she was advanced enough that I could start her on the third one immediately.
On the other hand, this didn't mean that she was ready to manipulate it to such a degree that she was able to run fire chakra alongside the edge of her blade. It was a fairly advanced exercise. Admittedly, while she was on her way, she hadn't mastered it yet — not by a long shot. Her fire was still raging against the confines she tried to press it into, the edge she projected with fire not as thin as it could be. The flicker of a jagged edge just ever so slightly disrupting the chakra flow still was a regular occurrence, and the heat — which was the main objective — left a lot to be desired. The goal was to increase it as much as possible, to eventually get it to a level where the heat projected at the tip of the blade alone was enough to burn its way through everything.
At the moment, her flame was barely hotter than your common candle — a far cry from what it could be.
It's a jutsu that always leaves room for improvement. Like sharpening one's blade, how far you are able to push it is a testament of one's skill. No doubt she would get there — eventually.
After she heard my call to stop, her chakra slowly receded, and the flames on her sword slowly died out. She bowed to my Kage-Bunshin like the good student she was and sheathed her sword.
When Akiko jumped down, I wondered why I hadn't been sought out by someone from her family. Surely at least one of their elders would have taken exception to what I'd taught her by now. After all, it had been a few days since I had taken over this team. A less suspicious person — given the lack of a reaction — might have come to the conclusion that they were okay with my teachings, and might have been tempted to hand the bow over to her in an attempt to raise her spirit to have the goal she was working towards just barely out of reach.
But I wasn't so naive. I suspected two possible scenarios to explain why I hadn't been approached so far. They were hedging their bets — only feigning ignorance since they couldn't be certain that what I tried to achieve with Akiko would fail — while at the same time leaving them with the option to rake me over the coals for going against their traditions. A typical politically motivated move. Or Akiko had somehow managed to keep the bow's existence to herself.
It wasn't so unlikely that I could ignore the possibility. Despite Akiko being the daughter of a Hyūga elder, she wasn't given the attention befitting her station from what I could gather. Unlike Hinata-chan — who in the eyes of her family was defective — there was nothing wrong with Akiko able to explain that behavior towards her. She was an outstanding young shinobi with talent aplenty. She was adept at using her bloodline and Jūken — so she should be lauded if anything.
It was a conundrum until I looked a little closer at things — then the why became sort of obvious. She was the odd girl out, so to say. The Hyūga — with their meticulous planning of who marries who — need exactly two children every generation in every main house family to keep up their numbers, and the main house — given the records of the village — seldom exceeded that number. This was done for several reasons. It would mean more families, which in turn would mean less power for each of them, and a more complicated betrothal procedure — combined with more eligible partners.
Because if just one family out of all of them gave birth to three instead of two children, who was that additional child going to marry?
A branch member? Surely not — it would be a disgrace to the family. But the same — although to a lesser degree — would result if there was no marriage and the child never had children. So those additional children were unwanted until such a time there was a potential match to be had. Having looked it over — that was very unlikely to happen at this point. All the other children were already betrothed, and it was made worse by the fact that since Akiko was born, there was just one additional birth beyond the second child: a boy, ten years her junior — which not only made it unlikely because of the age difference between them (at least if it was this way around with the boy being the younger one) — but that boy on top of that was too closely related to her: a first-degree cousin.
The Hyūga elders would never condone the match — meaning that HyūgaAkiko, due to the circumstances of her birth as things currently stood — would never be allowed to marry and have children of her own.
The interesting part here was that I knew for a fact that from the time I came from, she was the wife of Hyūga Hiashi and gave birth to two daughters. So I looked it up. As it turned out, Akiko's oldest sister — five years older, of the same age as Hiashi — was currently betrothed to him. The marriage was set to take place next spring with the first bloom of flowers.
From gleaning that information, it was pretty apparent what happened. Sometime from now to then, something was going to happen to Akiko's sister that ruled her out as a match. Not to be a cynic, but given our profession — and with the war around the corner — she was probably about to be killed so that Akiko, as the spare, could take her place.
Sighing, I turned to my last student. Seeing her like this — a good hundred of her in close proximity standing under the trees while their foreheads were creased in concentration while she tried her hardest to cut the leaf each of them had in her palm — brought back memories.
It felt like it was yesterday when that was me doing the same under the supervision of Kakashi and Yamato. A fond smile played on my lips, remembering the good old days. It was a moment of carelessness, and my thoughts drifted astray. Seeing the dead bodies of Kakashi and Yamato flash in front of my mind's eye had me take a sharp intake of air as I tried to shake it.
It was a split second of inattentiveness — something I wouldn't have allowed to happen normally. The only reasonable explanation for this was that I had gotten content enjoying the peace and warmth the village offered. As a result, I let my guard down — if only for an instant. A short moment which under the right circumstance could have had dire consequences. I chastised myself for my lack of focus for my past to creep up on and influence my present. I had to be better than this. There couldn't be a repeat of what happened in my time. There just couldn't.
After I violently shook off those thoughts, my senses refocused on my surroundings. The eyes of every Kushina present throughout the inner court were being trained on me. Their half-cut leaves she couldn't break away from before — even after I told her to — were suddenly forgotten and, in some cases, discarded. Immediately worry took control over their actions, and they called out "Naruto-onii-chan," in a slightly mismatched chorus.
Stumbling nearly over themselves, I was surrounded by dozens of identical red-headed girls in mere moments, all trying to express their concern and talking over each other. It was utterly impossible to make out a single word they said.
"Enough!" I shouted. My outburst had the intended effect and taken by surprise they stopped their fretting. "I'm okay Kushina. There is nothing to worry about," I told her. To emphasize my words, I placed my hands on the shoulders of the Kushina in front of me and gave a light squeeze. "Dispel your clones. It's time to go home. Remember, not all at once."
As I watched her clones disappearing in a cloud of smoke one after the other, I had enough time to ponder how she could have noticed my problem, and the more I thought about it, the clearer it became. She must be a sensor, and felt the minute disturbance in my chakra. It was the only possible explanation as to why all of them reacted at the same time, instead of it propagating from one of them who might have noticed my faltering step to the next. Given her Uzumaki heritage, the Mind's Eye of Kagura was the most likely possibility.
It was probably only her abysmal chakra control that stopped her from fully being able to utilize it. Discovering that a student possessed what I considered to be the greatest senor ability in existence would under normal circumstances be a reason to celebrate. Unfortunately, this opened up another unpleasant can of worms. And here I thought talking with her about Mikoto would be hard.
I could only imagine what damage all this would do to her emotionally — especially at a time when she was high-spirited to catch up to the other two with unwavering determination. Going at the pace she set for herself, I would say that she would get ahead of the others around the time we were expected to return from Uzu, barring any exceptional circumstances like a war.
One step at a time, I chastised myself for getting ahead of myself.
"Gather around everyone," I told them. Following my request, they lined up in front of me. All of them were exhausted, sweaty, and had varying degrees of dirt and grime clinging to their clothes — along with the occasional glitter stuck to their hair. "You did good, all of you. We'll continue this tomorrow. Usual time, usual place," my genin chorused together with me.
"You really need to start to change things up, onii-chan," Kushina half-heartedly mocked.
"Perhaps you're right. I'm getting too predictable," I said, caressing my chin.
A statement that made Akiko groan in annoyance. "Really?" she asked Kushina, who only sheepishly laughed, arms crossed behind her head, full well knowing she screwed up.
"Akiko, Mikoto, why don't you go ahead, back to the village with one of my Kage-Bunshin?" I asked, "Kushina and I have to talk about something."
Both spoken to glanced at each other for a moment, and Akiko conceded "Sure, Naruto-sensei," and jumped up into the trees.
"We have to talk, Hime," I said.
"About what?" she wondered with a playful smile and with a more somber tone added, "it's not about my comment, is it?"
"No, what gave you that impression?"
"Oh, good," she said, relieved. Before I could get another word out, she asked, "Is this about Mito-obaa-san?"
"Wait, what?" I responded, completely flat-footed. There was a possibility that she might pick up on the kyūbi inside of me given how close she was to Mito with her advanced age; some of it might have leaked. I even entertained that notion mere moments prior — that eventually, I would have to tell her what happened to Mito, what I did to her — but I didn't expect it to be now.
"It's okay. I forgive you," she told me with a strained smile.
"I dreamt about it."
"Dreamt about," I repeated after her. "No, that's not what I wanted to talk to you about," I said instead as my thought was going on a tangent.
It made sense with her budding sensory power in close proximity despite the barrier she might have picked up enough for her subconscious to put the pieces together.
As much as I would have liked to address this, it was neither the time nor the place. It could wait, contrary to the other issue with how many were already in the know. It was just a matter of time until someone opened their big mouths and Kushina got wind of it, and that just wouldn't do. She had to hear it from me, no one else.
I must have taken more time to think this over than I thought because when my mind returned to the matter at hand, a grinning Kushina said, "You are really bad at this, aren'tcha."
Running my hand through my hair, I scoffed at her, "I guess, I am." Although I shouldn't be; being the bearer of bad news was something I was forced to do on a daily basis — so much so that it sort of became second nature. Then why was this so hard?
Taking another deep breath, I finally got a grip on myself. "I'm not sure how to tell you, so I'm just gonna say it. Before Mito... left us… she drew up a betrothal contract."
I could see Kushina's features immediately sag, and her feelings went haywire from one moment to the next. Her mind was most likely occupied with painting the grimmest picture in how to take those words. It was the only explanation that made sense. If not for the surprise at the sudden change in her feelings, I wouldn't have paused and kept her in suspense. Even though a part of me feared her reaction, it was a cruel thing I involuntarily did to her.
"Betrothing us both to each other," I finally managed to bring those words over my lips. She froze up, trying to comprehend what I just said. Unsure of how she would take it, I added, "Of course, if something will come of this is entirely up to you. Since the contract is between two members of our clan, there won't be any repercussions," I lied. Amongst other things, my position as Uzumaki-clan head was on the line, but Kushina didn't need to know that; the last thing I wanted was for her to feel pressured into accepting "and we can easily dissolve it if you so choose. Whatever..."
I didn't get any further since all throughout my explanation, her lips slowly but surely curved into an increasingly bigger smile that was mirrored by her feelings, the dark clouds of despair vanishing, leaving blinding happiness behind.
Suddenly and without warning, she jumped at me, wrapping her arms wrapped around my midsection as she tackled me to the ground. With her head buried in my chest, she mumbled, "I'm so happy," and I think I might have overheard some cursing along the lines of "take that, you bitch," which must have been my imagination playing tricks on me, right?
"You are crushing me," I managed to somehow press out, as she squeezed me as if she was holding onto me for dear life.
"Oh, sorry, onii-chan," she exclaimed, releasing her grip. She then sat up straddling my waist and awkwardly tried to laugh it off with her arms crossed behind her head. "I was overwhelmed with joy."
"So you don't object to this betrothal," I asked, wanting to make sure that there was no misunderstanding.
"What?" she wondered, baffled, "No, I mean yes..." taking a deep breath as she centered herself, she placed her hands on my chest and met my eyes, and answered, "I don't object to this betrothal." Unable to keep this up, she immediately looked bashful at the ground with a red tinge on her cheeks and whispered, "I want this more than anything."
"You do?" I questioned softly. I knew that she had some budding feelings for me — it was hard not to notice as someone able to feel the emotions of others — but I always assumed the root of her feelings to be the harmless crush of a teenager, nothing to be taken overly seriously. I assumed it would fade given time. I wondered if Mito saw the truth of the matter even back then, and it was what steered her actions.
Slowly overcoming the shock of her words having been overheard with a lowered head, eyes hidden behind her red bangs, she affirmed her earlier statement, "Yes; yes I do."
"I'm glad," I told her. "but there is more. Things you need to know before you decide."
"Yeah, I'd even wager you won't like what I'm about to tell you. Despite that, please hear me out until I've finished," I pleaded with her.
In response, she gave me a reluctant nod.
"Since yesterday, I'm also betrothed to somebody else," her body stiffened, and the nails on her fingers slightly dug into my chest.
"To whom?" she asked.
"Does it matter?"
"It's Tsunade, isn't it." she accused.
"Tsunade," I repeated after her. "What? No, what gave you that idea?" I questioned.
"Oh my god, then it's that bitch Akiko," in her rage, she painfully dug her nails into my flesh. "Tell me, what did she do? How did she get her claws into you?" she demanded to know.
You are the one with her claws into me at the moment, I thought to myself but was smart enough not to voice it. "It's also not Akiko to whom I'm betrothed," I told her instead.
"It isn't?" She mumbled, surprised, loosening her grip on me, her body nearly sagging with relief only to straighten it out again, slightly leaning forward, her hands climbing up to my collar, and demanded, "Who is it then? Tell me!"
"Mikoto," I told her, sighing.
"Mikoto?" she exclaimed, clearly taken aback. "What... I don't... it doesn't make any sense..." she mumbled to herself while biting her thumb.
"You know, if Mito-obaa-san would have found us in this compromising position, she would never let us live it down," I teased her.
Whatever thought she mulled came to an abrupt stop, and she glanced down at me. She blinked once, taking the situation in, then blinked again as her cheeks started to redden, and with the third blink, she scrambled away from her position on top of me straddling my waist with her hands on my shoulders. She was so anxious to get away from me that she tripped over her coat standing up that nearly landed on her rear right next to me.
Taking a few fast-paced steps to get some semblance of the distance between us, she mumbled, "Sorry," carefully avoiding looking at me.
She was so adorable I couldn't stop myself from laughing.
Not a moment later, she turned around, elbows cocked out with her hands pressed against her hips, and barked, "What're you laughing about?"
"You," I pressed out between my laughs, "your reaction was just too funny."
"I'll give you funny," she said flustered, crossing her arms before her chest, "you just wait," and crossed her arms before her chest pouting.
With a smile on my lips, I sat up, "I'm not sure what got you all hot and bothered. After all, it's totally normal between betrothed to get close to each other." I never thought it was possible to get her more flustered, but apparently, it was since her cheeks turned a shade redder and all Kushina got out was some incoherent stammering.
It also was the point I decided I had taken her mind off of things long enough to prevent her from overthinking this all and draw the worst possible conclusions. "You okay? Can we talk without you ripping my head off my shoulders?"
"You did this to..." she started and as realization dawned on her face, affronted she followed it up with, "you suck, onii-chan."
"Better I than you," I shot back with a grin. "if you get my meaning."
With her cheeks flaring up again, she kicked a stone in my direction that harmlessly bounced from my chest.
"Aua," I jokingly screamed out, "mercy! Please have mercy on my humble self."
She angrily huffed, hiding a crease in the corner of her mouth and the amusement she felt at my antics.
"Talk," she demanded.
"About what?" I asked, feigning ignorance.
The stern gaze with the raised eyebrows made it clear that she was done playing games.
Raking my fingers through my hair, I said, "I can't tell you what you want to hear," before she could argue, I raised my hand, indicating that she should let me finish. "It's personal and up to Mikoto if she wants to share any details with you. Suffice it to say she was in a bad spot as the sole heir of the Uchiha-clan, there were certain expectations..."
"She had to satisfy," Kushina finished. "And those put her in a bad spot?"
"Yes," I conceded. "And that you helped her out with that betrothal," she guessed.
"Yeah, pretty much," I shrugged with my shoulders, "there is more to the story, of course."
"Which you are not at liberty to say," she once more drew the conclusions I guided her to. I didn't think it would do her much good if I told her about the reasons why I went along with Kagami's suggestion to marry Mikoto. I doubted such a great opportunity to protect the Sharingan would arise again in the future — especially if Kagami would have considered a refusal an affront. It might have soured the relationship with him and his clan for years to come. No; in retrospect, it was clear I had to accept — there was no way around it.
I nodded at Kushina.
She mulled my words over for a moment, then unceremoniously turned around and ran away. My clone — which I created when her destination became clear — directly behind, escorting her home. That could have gone better.
At least I wouldn't have to sit around for a long, killing time, because Sakumo entered the forest a moment ago. A smile formed on my lips when I realized who he got to tag along with him. It seemed that he took my advice to heart, since I doubted there was anyone better at genjutsu than him in the village at this time.
Instead of waiting by the tower, I decided to receive them at the gate to the tower. It was a given that we would have to relocate for what I had in mind if we didn't want the tower to be collateral damage. In addition, it would also circumvent having to answer uncomfortable questions from my genin of what happened around here.
When I reached the gate, I leaned my back against the frame, arms crossed and eyes trained on the forest, looking out for my guests' arrival, doing what someone without a sensor power was supposed to do while waiting.
I only had to sell the act for a few relatively short minutes until Hatake Sakumo and Uchiha Kagami jumped through the canopy and landed at the edge of the clearing. We greeted each other with a nod as I pushed myself off the wall and walked towards them while they did the same. We came to a stop roughly halfway between the edge of the forest and the outer fortification of the tower, only a few feet separating us.
That was when I noticed the rats hiding a good distance outside of the forest — well outside the range of Akiko's eyes — retreated back to the village. I couldn't say that I would miss them spying on me, but I had to wonder why they were leaving at this exact moment. Given what we were about to discuss — even though it would probably be strictly kept to allusions — would be more than enough to require me to silence them one way or the other. Even the Hokage wouldn't be able to argue against that... learning of an S-rank secret, after all, was an offense punishable by death.
This was also the reason I didn't use ventriloquism to obscure what Kushina and I talked about, fully expecting that I would have to kill them and thus eliminating the knowledge of what they overheard. Of course, I would rather have avoided that. Keeping my sensor ability a secret was one of the greatest advantages I could possibly have. Nevertheless, it was imperative that neither Danzō nor anyone else learned about our knowledge of the attack on Uzu and everything that would follow.
I guess I shouldn't have waited until our talk was concluded to do the deed. Although, it was a reasonable precaution to wait, since there was a chance that Danzō could learn about their deaths; all it would take would be a seal on their bodies which could trigger a response — just another squad of spies would have been an inconvenience, and that would be the most favorable outcome for me, because once I started to kill in order to protect the secret, I had to keep doing it. Otherwise, I would have killed in vain. Chances were it would have been more than one squad that would have been sent to investigate the first squad going dark.
Not only would that allow him to draw conclusions about my abilities — chief among them that I was a sensor — but it would also allow him to gain leverage over me, since I doubted any clan would like it to be told that some of their members were killed by another Konoha shinobi. At the very least, those rats who just fled the scene had a Hyūga in their midst.
I could do without the drama this would entail; I couldn't even be sure that robbing Danzō of such an operation might be worth it. For all I knew, all the Hyūga were working with him and not just the one. The only thing I could say for sure was that the one spying on us didn't have a discrepancy between the chakra of his eyes compared to that of his body, which ruled out an eye implant.
Beyond that, I was pretty much clueless — aside from some well-founded suspicions. I had a hard time believing that the Hyūga clan in its entirety never stumbled upon one of the various crimes Danzō committed.
The reason why they left became clear a moment later. I was about to open my mouth to speak when Sakumo signaled me to stay silent for a moment longer. With a raised eyebrow, I saw Sakumo bite his thumb and go rapidly through a long sequence of hand seals and a considerable expenditure of his chakra until he went to his knees and touched the ground in front of him with the palm of his hand.
In a poof of smoke, more than a dozen wolves of different sizes and differently colored fur appeared around him. Sakumo gave them a nod of his head, and the wolves dispersed and ran away from us in every direction at high speeds.
While we waited for them to gain enough distance to chase away any interloper, we kept quiet. Unpleasant wasn't sufficient to describe the oppressive silence we had to endure. Luckily for us, Sakumo's wolves, with their four legs, were a good deal faster than the average travel speeds of jōnin, so the time was relatively short all things considered.
Nonetheless, it was not an experience I was keen to repeat any time soon if I could help it.
Sakumo began to speak the moment fifteen minutes had passed. "It's safe to talk," he simply stated.
By now, all the wolves he sent out were at least twenty kilometers away, and would have discovered any Hyūga or other person around if they were anything like Kakashi's ninken.
Since the Hyūga clan was the greatest threat of being overheard Konoha had to offer, we were currently as safe as we could be.
Kagami crossed his arms in front of his chest. "In that case, I would appreciate it if somebody would finally tell me what this is about."
"You didn't tell him?" I asked Sakumo.
"It's not as if I kept him in the dark deliberately," he defended. "Given the nature of this secret, I was ordered to take every precaution to not let it fall into the wrong hands, and I was specifically warned that this included every Konoha clan."
"Well, I guess it can't be helped," I agreed, and then looked straight at Kagami. "What I'm about to tell you is considered an S-class secret of the highest order — one so significant that it could mean the end of Konoha if the wrong people learn about it."
A slight narrowing of his eyes was all the reaction I could get out of Kagami with this preamble. "I'll spare you the boring details and limit myself to the cliff notes — if you think you must know more, then take it up with Sakumo-dono or Hokage-sama. Recently, we learned that several other hidden villages banded together in a secret alliance with the sole purpose of eliminating Konoha."
The news was able to elicit a short-lived visible reaction from him as his pupils widened and his mouth opened until he managed to reassert control over his expression.
"Luckily, we managed to get our hands on their invasion plans, and are in the process of preparing our forces to foil them. As you might have already guessed, this is where you both come in. You were tasked with the assassination of B — the future Third Raikage and his son D."
Kagami cast a questioning look towards Sakumo, which even without words conveyed the meaning of "Are you kidding me?" perfectly to him and was answered with a short nod.
"They are priority targets that absolutely have to die. If everything goes according to plan, it will not only ensure that the Kumo forces are cast in disarray with their heads cut off, but it will also leave them with no shinobi in their ranks suitable to take the reigns — a state that we hope will be long lasting with those two dead. Unfortunately, assassinating them won't be easy — and can't be done preemptively — because doing so might risk them changing their plans. This is essentially why it has to be done on a battlefield when they are surrounded by their army."
"Those are not favorable conditions by any means," Kagami concluded. "Making success rather unlikely."
"True — but probably not for the reason you think. When you are facing B, you'll come to realize that an army around him is the very least of your problems. The real problem is the man himself. As I already told Sakumo, B is the Kumo equivalent of Hashirama Senju."
It wasn't hard to notice Kagami narrowing his eyes at that point and a healthy dose of suspicion seeping into the well that made up his feelings. I couldn't really fault him for that. He must be thinking that it must have been my idea to bring him into this. A suicide mission by any metric really, and with the recent betrothal to his daughter, I had a motive to get rid of him.
As much as I wanted for this mission to be a success, I was not fully convinced that it was worth it for the Uchiha-clan head to suspect I tried to have him killed. With a pointed glance towards Sakumo, I expressed my thanks for getting me into this situation by withholding the fact that it was him that dragged Kagami into this.
For a moment, I considered setting the record straight but discarded the thought immediately. He would never believe me, especially not with Sakumo backing my story — admitting to something he previously thought wasn't worth mentioning. It would scream improvised lie — with him deferring to me in this case — chances were it would make things worse.
"But do not fear," I exaggeratedly proclaimed, "Uzumaki-sama is here. With my expert coaching, I'll help you overcome your invincible adversary."
"How is it you are going to do that Uzumaki-san" Kagami wondered, emphasizing the suffix. The good thing: this got him to loosen up some on the suspicion; the not so good thing: it got replaced by irritation. It was no easy thing to believe in the competence of a fool — as Obito from my time would no doubt attest to — since he managed to elevate it into an art form to get his enemies to lower their guards around him, making it so much easier to best them.
Grinning, I answered, "Easy, I'm gonna deconstruct his abilities and disclose every single weakness he has to you, and to top it all off, I'm throwing in countermeasures and a few ways to kill him into the mix."
"That sounds great if you can actually deliver," Sakumo stated.
"Sakumo-dono, are you doubting me?" I jokingly asked, as I dramatically overlapped my hands over my heart, "I'm hurt." In a sense, I was; after all, Konoha's war strategy to a major degree rested on my shoulders, so it was a strange time to have misgivings about my assurances. In case he didn't trust me or thought me prone to exaggerations, the meeting with the Hokage would have been the right time and place to bring them up.
"What I believe Sakumo-san wanted to say was how it is that you possess such sensitive information?" Kagami clarified. He had a point. Most shinobi keep the specifics and vulnerabilities of their jutsu to themselves whenever possible. It was also a blatantly obvious attempt to change the subject, which I had no problem going along with.
"That's classified," I stated, which resulted in raised eyebrows from both of them, which I could empathize with; after all, everything we talked about so far was an S-rank secret, so for me to refuse to answer them citing they aren't cleared to know must be strange. "Suffice it to say that I have intimate knowledge about the fighting capabilities of B and D. You'll come to understand in a moment."
I brought my hands up, crossing the index and middle fingers of both my hands in the trademark Kage-Bunshin seal, and created two clones beside me — appearing to my left and right respectively. I also added a little smoke as I made them. It felt strange resorting to hand-seals to use the jutsu I grew so familiar with that I could make them in my sleep. I considered it a necessary precaution; startling two highly-trained shinobi by having two people appear out of nowhere without warning might not be the best idea.
Given the absent stiffening of their bodies, I could only assume they appreciated this disarming gesture even if they might not consciously have realized that I did it.
My clones didn't waste any time and —also with the use of hand-seals — transformed. The clone to my left took on the appearance of a gruff, tall, dark-skinned man with a well-defined muscular build. The man's face was equally memorable. He had pronounced cheekbones, tear troughs under his eyes, and a crease across his forehead that in time would grow more pronounced with a mole above his right eyebrow. His face was framed by white neatly trimmed sideburns connecting the hair on his head with his beard, which grew beneath the jawline it trailed. I knew he would grow out in the coming years. It would make him look wild with his mane of long hair flowing down his back.
He had the kanji for 'lightning' tattooed on his right shoulder, which stood out since he wore nothing beneath a Kumogakure single-strap flak jacket hanging from his other shoulder. He also wore a black forehead protector as a bandana. A thick rope tied around his waist above his dark blue sweatpants and sash completed his appearance.
With the flat of my hand pointing upwards, I said, "May I present you with B — the most likely candidate to succeed A, the current Raikage, and his second in command." A shinobi I would get to know as A, the Third Raikage, the strongest Raikage in history.
The clone to my right took on the likeness of another prominent Kumogakure figure. Not quite as tall as the one to my left, lacking a few centimeters in height. Despite that, a no less imposing man. Towering a good deal — nearly a head — over myself and Sakumo, and making the even shorter Kagami look like a midget in comparison.
The resemblance between those two was easy to notice, since they shared the same high cheekbones, tear troughs, and creases across their forehead — traits he inherited from his father. They even had the exact same white hair color, but that was where the similarities ended, because his hair was combed back, and he only had a simple goatee. He wore a purple shirt with the sleeves ripped off beneath his single-strap Kumo flak jacket, some purple pants, and sash.
Presenting him like I did his father, I told Sakumo and Kagami, "and this is D, B's son and heir, another possible Raikage candidate."
Inwardly I hoped that I got their appearances right. I met them, of course, but both were decades older at that time than they were at the moment. Unfortunately, the old pictures in bingo books and during my academy days often didn't do a person justice. As a result, I had to rely on some guesswork as to how their younger selves would actually look.
This meant that any discrepancies Sakumo and especially Kagami might notice in their appearance when they eventually ran into them would hopefully be ascribed by them to my poor eye for detail instead of something else.
"Both of them prefer a direct close combat fighting style, overwhelming their opponents with their superior speed and strength — which to a great degree stems from their mastery of a jutsu called Raiton no Yoroi (Lightning Armor). The jutsu, as the name implies, clads the user in a strong lightning current that works like armor, which is not only able to block and deflect most attacks, but also greatly reduces the user's reaction time, increases speed and strength to such a degree that it is hard to follow their movements even for someone possessing a Sharingan." I let that sink in before I continued.
"I think it's rather obvious why that makes them dangerous. Both are abilities that are hard to overcome — even when they occur separately — but when combined, they become a different beast altogether — speed capable of reacting and evading near any attack while at the same time being able to shrug off most attacks in case they get hit."
"How resilient are we talking about?" Kagami asked.
"It takes a focused A-rank lightning-based piercing technique in order to locally cancel the armor out in order to make contact with the user's skin," I disclosed. At this point, Sakumo couldn't hide a grimace. Well, if he thought that was bad, I wondered how he would react to what else there was to know about them.
"This is the core ability they share with each other, but the way they use it differs quite a lot. Let's start with dissecting B further. He is, without a doubt, the overall stronger of the two, and the danger he poses simply can't be overstated. Given what I told you so far, you might think all it takes to kill them would be hitting them a focused A rank wind jutsu to effectively kill them and that the greatest problem would be to somehow deliver that attack, right?"
A slight, hardly noticeable nod of Sakumo's head confirmed my suspicion.
"What if I told you that in the case of B, it wouldn't come even close to piercing his skin, and that even without the Raiton no Yoroi he's nearly invincible, and that his extremely durable body happens to be impervious to damage, earning it the nickname the strongest shield (saikyō no tate)? This, in turn, means that every attack hoping to inflict any damage not only must be capable of piercing his lightning armor, but also needs to retain enough power after left to overcome his body's natural resilience."
"What is it you are trying to say? That we need S or SS-rank wind jutsu at our disposal to be successful?" Sakumo asked.
I shrugged, "it would be one way to succeed. Having said this, I guess neither one of you has access to such a jutsu." The incredulous look I received from Sakumo told me all I needed to know. Despite that, he saw the need to put it into words.
"Listen, I don't know what distorted ideas you have of our capabilities — or those of shinobi in general — that you would ask such a question, so let me set the record straight. Neither of us can use an S-rank jutsu — least of all wind-natured, since we both have different affinities." I took his reprimand in stride, unable to discount his point; fighting in the Fourth Shinobi World War against all those legends actually might have skewed my expectations, somewhat.
"No matter," I reassured, "I came prepared. Nevertheless, before we can come to that, there is another thing you need to know. I think it goes without saying that both of them — solely by virtue of the lightning armor and the speed and strength they gain from it — makes them both formidable foes, which in the case of D is pretty much all you'll have to contend with. I'm honestly unaware if D is satisfied with just this much, hasn't had a need to develop anything beyond that so far, or is simply unable to, since keeping up an S-ranked jutsu is no easy task in and of itself. B, on the contrary, didn't rest on the laurels the lightning armor provided, and went one step further to develop a jutsu called Jigokuzuki (Hell Stab) that makes use of the Raiton no Yoroi, while at the same time not interfering with the jutsu's integrity. Just as the name implies, it's a stabbing technique. In its base form, it entails focusing lightning chakra onto the outstretched fingers of his hand to form a spear with incredible piercing power. In addition, by reducing the number of outstretched fingers on his hand, the penetrating power and length of the spear extending along the remaining fingers increases even further. It's said that the spear formed by using just one finger can overcome any shield, which is why the jutsu is called the saikyō no hoko (strongest spear)."
"So instead of pummeling us to death like his son, he would skewer us; those are some nice prospects that are in store for us," Sakumo remarked. His resorting to sarcasm was understandable, given the situation.
"I guess it's preferable; at least that way identifying your corpse doesn't require your dental records," I responded with a good dose of gallow humor, "or you could just kill them before they get a chance to do so. Kidding aside, I'm here to make sure that doesn't happen."
"Which one is stronger, the spear or the shield?" Kagami wondered.
"A very insightful question," that got me to grin "the spear. One way to kill them is using their own weapons against them, but as you can no doubt guess, that is harder to do than one might think. Nevertheless, it's a good start to realize that they're not in fact invincible. It just takes a bit of thinking to notice, analyze and exploit their weak spots."
I reached under my coat for a scroll on my back and rolled it out on the ground. "A common mistake that even experienced shinobi are prone to make is that they focus on the wrong thing. So far, we've focused on the strengths of them both and the Raiton no Yoroi in particular, but what about its weaknesses; what else is there? What have we overlooked?" Both of them just stared, contemplating my words. "Or let's formulate it this way: from what aren't they protected even while using the jutsu?"
"They are alive," Kagami noted, "they need to breathe, and in case you told us everything relevant about their capabilities, their sense of sight might be a viable way to attack them." Leave it to the Uchiha to figure out what they need to see.
"I can reassure you that neither of them is a sensor, and you are right. They need their eyes — which at the very least gives us ways to momentarily incapacitate them, and effective ways to hide from them." Bending my knee, I released the first two seals on my scroll "Flash tags and gas grenades to break line of sight and blind them. At the speeds they are moving, they are bound to overshoot, and if you are very lucky, it might just be enough to paralyze them for a moment to create an opportunity you could use to go on the offensive — it probably won't work to the same degree on B as it might on D given the difference in experience they have. — but it's a chance."
"This is all well and good; even so, we need ways to hamper their movement and inflict some lasting damage on them. Otherwise, the best we can do is run away from them and hope they don't catch up to us."
"I was coming to that," I chastised and released the next seal. A handful of cylindrical rods appeared in a cloud of smoke. I reached for four of them and threw them into the ground a few meters next to us, forming the corners of a square. An instant later, a barrier sprung into existence with the square as a base for a cube encasing the space three meters above it. "I call it the rat-trap. The barrier is based upon the four violet flames formation; the only difference is that it doesn't require four shinobi to erect and keep it up. The work is shouldered solely by these special rods."
In order to emphasize my point, I lifted one from the pile lying in front of me up. "Fully charged, they can keep up a barrier of that size" I pointed at the one next to us enclosing roughly twenty-seven cubic meters "for about half an hour. The run time is dependant on the surface space of the barrier. In order to erect it, the rods have to be placed roughly in a square. The barrier, once fully erected, stays in place until the charge runs out, so be careful where you place it and what it ends up surrounding, because getting out isn't easy; with the rods becoming a part of the walls, disrupting it is no longer an option. As you can see, the barrier is made up of purple flames incinerating everything that comes in contact with it. It won't be enough to burn through their lightning armor, but at the same time, the armor won't get them out. The hell stab will, though, if aimed at the rods. One uncertainty being would B figure it out and how long would he take to do so once captured."
I could see it in their eyes. Both of them were already going through scenarios in their heads, coming up with ways to best utilize the barrier in a fight.
Releasing another seal, I added, "of course, capture isn't the goal, which is why I brought this." I picked up one of the palm-sized metal spheres that appeared in front of me. With a squeeze, I activated it and casually threw it behind me. A hissing sound and a wave of hot air washed over me a moment later, telling me without having to turn my head that the device successfully unleashed a firestorm at my back. The light emitted was bright enough that Sakumo lifted a hand to protect his eyes while Kagami resorted to squinting his eyes, watching as parts of the forest burned to ash.
"You might know that fire is able to deplete a static charge; while heat is not quite as effective on a running current, it does undeniably interfere with it. Possibly able to weaken or disrupt the lightning armor depending on the mastery of the user. Used within the confines of the barrier the heat is unable to escape, and since the barrier is fire-natured it doesn't interfere with it. As a result, even if the lightning armor can't be brought down, they'll either be cooked alive or simply suffocate when the air runs out, feeding the flames. I'm convinced that this might even work on B."
Glancing at them, there was a hint of appreciation as they realized that the impossible mission they were tasked with might not be as hopeless as they originally thought.
"Nevertheless, we all know that a plan usually doesn't survive contact with the enemy, which is why I think it won't be enough to rely on this method alone. In particular, since it would have to work twice in succession against an opponent who most likely would have seen it used once by that time. So I came up with some alternatives," I released two more seals, and two stacks of paper seals were released from its confines.
"On the left, you have what I call Wind cannon — a seal that generates a strong air draft, enough to suspend someone in mid-air and keep them there for some time, alternatively it can be used to bolster Katon jutsu. Lightning Cutter is the name of the seals on the right."
"Lightning cutter," Sakumo repeated, "what a strange name."
I just shrugged, "I've never been the best when it came to naming things. As far as I'm concerned the name is fitting. Since each one of them is able to create six crescent-shaped wind blades a meter in length, with an effective range of ten meters. Beyond that, the blades start losing cohesion which results in a drop in power and sharpness. They should have no problem getting through the Lightning Armor."
"To cut lightning," Sakumo murmured.
Grinning, I said, "I knew you would get it." a bit more somber, I added, "I can only guess if they are good enough to get through the flesh and bones of B. Should it come down to this, I suggest taking no chances and use those seals in conjunction with a Katon jutsu to increase their power."
"I don't like it. What are we supposed to do if that proves insufficient?" Sakumo asked, "There are still too many uncertainties. For one, all of those tools — while definitely useful — are giving us more options. None of it is guaranteed to work on B. It comes down to maybe and might be. You haven't presented us with a single tool or strategy that you can assure us will work one hundred percent."
"It's not like I can't provide you with those means. It's just that you should refrain from using it if you can and that in case you cannot, that you keep your distance," with those words, I showed them what I had prepared in the last seal. I picked up one of the incense sticks lying next to some pills up and held it up to allow them both to inspect it "burning this incense disperses a poisonous, odorless, and tasteless gas. The peculiarity of this concoction is that it attacks the lungs — the alveoli to be precise — destroying them. It will not only prevent breathing, but will also dissolve your lungs like an acid. Within moments, this will result in severe hemorrhaging, and the victim will suffocate in their own blood, flooding their lungs. I can guarantee you should all else fail, this will get the job done."
"Why didn't you lead with that?" Sakumo asked.
"Because it works, and that's the problem; the stuff is just too potent. The poison is extremely fast-acting — it has to be to make it a viable option during combat — but this, unfortunately, also means — given the attack vector are the lungs — it's extremely hard to protect against. The usual immunity or resistance gained via exposure is simply not possible. So the best I could come up with are those pills. They contain another gas that bonds with the poison, turning it inert. So by biting down on them, they release their contents and in theory when it gets inhaled coats your lungs and hopefully when exhaled reacts with the poison even outside your body, turning it innocuous before it can do any harm."
"That doesn't seem so bad," Sakumo mused.
"Oh, believe me, it is," I corrected him, "you'd be relying on gas in your lungs and that you exhaled to combat another gas mid-combat. It is hard to make that work in laboratory conditions; mid-fight with labored uncontrolled breathing with wind and explosion able to disperse and redirect the gas makes using those pills nothing but a gamble. A gamble with your lives at stake. If the coating on your lungs isn't perfect and the poison reaches your alveoli, you die. If you stay too long in the poison and it manages to overwhelm your protection, you die. If you take the pill a moment too late, you die. And even if you do everything perfectly, there is still a chance that something gets through ..."
"And we die," Sakumo said, "I think we got it."
"Good," I said, standing up, "now to be successful against those two," I pointed at B and D with the index of left and right hand respectively, "you need to have impeccable teamwork on top of being experts in utilizing those tools while pressured. So how about some sparring?"
"I don't see the point," Sakumo said, "if you can't replicate their fighting style, it'd be a waste of our time."
My response consisted of a big grin as the Kage-Bunshin still transformed into B and D lit up, and lightning surged out of them, blowing up dust until it settled around their bodies, cladding them both in blue lightning.
Sakumo and Kagami's eyes widened comically in response, a reaction that was not brought about by the blown-up dust.
"How?" Kagami wondered with a slightly trembling voice.
"Well, the short version, I've got a knack for recreating jutsu. You could say it's my specialty." Given time or a mind-boggling amount of Kage-Bunshin and unwavering determination, every jutsu can be reverse-engineered. S-rank jutsu... just take a little bit longer... but they were totally worth it.
"I see," Kagami swallowed.
"Now, what do you say? Care for a few rounds? I mean, my team leaves the village on the ninth. So if you want some experience in fighting those two, you'd better make every second count."
Authors Note: First of all, I have to apologize to those I told that the chapter would be published at the latest last Sunday. But some problems crept up that needed fixing ... I hope you can forgive me.
Second of all, Chapter 16, as I mentioned to a few of you, gives me trouble. This means I'll probably switch to another story in the meantime ... hoping that by the time I return to Tesseract I've found a way to resolve it. Unfortunately, this means I can't say when that will be the case. But short of dying, I'll eventually return to this story.
I mentioned it in an earlier chapter - but in this story, it is assumed that tree and water walking is a chakra control exercise that is to be learned as a genin in your first team. Because short of that there is no reasonable explanation why clan kids (with living parents) shouldn't know about them.
I'll also publish the first chapter of a Dragon Ball Z fic (I wrote a few months ago and finally found the time to edit it)- for those of you who like that setting you might give it a try. A word of warning though I'm not sure if that fic has a future.