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A cool, windless evening had fallen over the Land of Earth. The city in which he resided in had been good for him, more or less. Whatever semblances of unwarranted hatred he had been expected proved miniscule and negligible, and some bonds had been born in the desolate wasteland of a country. But this wasn't his home, and these were certainly not his people. His were a proud people, born with the will of fire in their hearts and moulded by the hardships of their ancestry. Those he saw around him now weren't that. To him, the vast majority seemed soulless, driven only by their own selfish desires and urges. In those he saw around him, he believed the only pride they carried was in striking down their fellow man in a desperate clambering to the top. Whether he was right in his assessment or if he was incorrect was inconsequential to his opinion. It had been formed, and unfortunately, his stubbornness made changing those opinions a difficult task.

His time in the Earth Country had come to an end. The village that had once boasted a way to fix him, a way to put him back on his feet in both the figurative and literal sense, had not come through for him. But he had an alternative. It had been there from the start, yet he'd been too blind to see it... until now. His leg was still wounded, microscopic fractures weakened the bone and prevented him from extended usage, as well as near constant flashes of pain. It was an unpleasant state to be in, but he wouldn't be in it for long.

"Did he really think I'd be stupid enough to let him break my leg to fix it again?" Takao mused, words exhaled amidst a plume of white smoke. It was an entertaining and simultaneously unnerving thought, ultimately a bad decision through and through. He wouldn't put himself at the mercy of somebody he couldn't trust. In his current state, he found himself limited, yet still more than able to fight and defend himself.

"So.” He muttered aloud, obsidian eyes setting upon the thick binder filled to the limit with papers. “I wonder what he did to these..." He mused aloud, flipping and turning the files in brief examination. Files and records on the shinobi of Konohagakure, and in the hands of Iwagakure.

"Tracker... Wire... Hmh. Maybe he even did somethin' with chakra. That seems likely, even if he does like his technology a bit too much... Well, either way." Takao inhaled a slow breath, drawing in the sweet, noxious smoke of his cigarette. He raised the folder and exhaled a plume of fire and smoke, the flames catching the paper and eating away at the fuel in his hands.

"...'spose it doesn't really matter." Dull eyes watched the papers burn in his hand. He didn't flinch as they slowly turned to ash and ember, falling like grains of sand through the spaces in his fingers. In minutes, the files were erased in their entirety, yet the information they imparted had been tediously and meticulously copied and stored away by Takao beforehand. The files that Akira had returned to him as they were had blown away with the wind. If nothing else, he was a paranoid one.

His glove-clad hand rose and slid the cigarette between his index and middle finger, pulling it from his mouth to flick away the burnt tobacco ash whilst he exhaled another cloud of noxious tobacco smoke.

With his metaphorical bags packed and a few goodbyes said, Takao passed through the gates of Iwagakure with purpose in his step. He needed to get home as quickly as possible, to his real home. Somebody was expecting him in a timely fashion, and he knew all too well how much she hated waiting.

“Alright then. I'm comin' home, m-” His audible musings were interrupted by a loud crack of thunder, and what he could have sworn was a voice amidst the bellowing sky. His obsidian gaze was drawn to a nearby mountain, and narrows at the sight of a column of fire rising from the peak. But it wasn't just any fire that he saw.

This flames were golden.

It was him.

“...After almost two years, this is where I find you?” Takao said in monotone. Dull grey eyes set upon the silhouette of a figure standing beneath a large rocky outcropping. The evening had turned to night by the time he scaled the mountain and reached its summit, with dark clouds rolling closer in the distance.

“My boy,” The voice spoke. It was a strange tone, metallic and reverberating as if he were speaking through a long pipe. “You saw my call.”

"Don't even start with that, you shithead. You kill the shinobi under my command," Takao barked, words leaking from his tongue like venom off fangs. "You run away like a scared dog with his tail between his legs," He continued, each word prefaced by a single, shaking step forward.

"You shatter my leg, put me out of commission for over a year and force me to resign from my responsibilities as Hokage," The ire he felt built with each consonant and vowel that left his mouth, and it was abundantly apparent in his tone.

"And to top it all off, the next time I see you is on top of some fucking mountain like we're in some shitty movie, and you're acting like this is." His forward momentum stopped, and obsidian orbs rested upon the distant figure of his father. Dark clouds had rolled in overhead, the dim moonlight bleeding through the fluffy masses. Lightning struck behind the clouds, illuminating the dark night in increments.

This is it, Takao thought to himself. The end of this chapter--... this story. No matter what happens... I can finally close this book from hell. The only thing standing in my way is...

"...You really haven't figured it out, have you?..." The distorted chuckle of his father's voice bellowed loudly over the thunder. Each rumble of the silhouette's chest mocked him, making his muscles shake with anger. He was not to be mocked. They were equals now-- Perhaps Takao had even become his superior in some sense. His eyes narrowed. What hadn't he figured out? What was there to figure out? The truth was obvious, he has seen it with his own eyes.

“What's there to figure out? Your actions forced me to abandon my people, and some died. I know everything I need to know.” Takao asked, his blood beginning to boil and his voice translating that fact perfectly.

"...Oh, my boy. I'd thought you were smarter than this..." The shadowy voice spoke again. Takao's jaw clenched as his teeth pressed firmly against one another, lips parted in a visible scowl.

“Even now you sit there and mock me!” Takao responded, shouting his words over the thunder that roared in the distance. “You think I can't fight?! You think that because you caught me off guard once that I can't kill you now?!” His yelling continued, obsidian eyes set on the figure obscured by the shadows of the night. Takao inhaled a deliberately slow breath, forcing his heart rate to slow and his body to calm itself. He wouldn't be riled up, he wouldn't be reckless. He would be efficient, and he would be strong.

“...You're wrong, my boy. This has nothing to do with your abilities; those I am well acquainted with. This is about you not seeing what's right in front of yo-...”

“Shut up!” Takao yelled out, interrupting the silhouette's calm tone with his own loud. “I can perfectly see what's right in front of me. I can see a coward.” Takao set about walking in rotation with the silhouette, who seemed perpetually obscured by darkness. “I see a coward too afraid to show his face. A coward whose only purpose in life is the pursuit of power.”

“You had everything. You had a wife that loved you and mothered children for you. You had a daughter that trusted you. You had a son who respected you, looked up to you...” His dull eyes faltered and lowered to the ground. “...Used to. Now you're nothing. To them, to me, to everybody else. To the world. You lost it all--everything. ”

Takao tensed his right arm and pulled it back, then jerked it forward. The blade hidden within his sleeve slid free, prompting him to grasp the handle of the edged tonfa. “I'm going to kill you here, and I'm going to feel nothing.”

“...You already have...” The voice said, its invisible gaze centered on him. It was in that moment that Takao made his move. No more talking, no more yelling. No more cryptic responses or vague answers. They would speak with the shrill songs of steel, and he would write the story of his victory in blood. The raven-haired teen swung wide, his blade whistling as it sliced through the air. His speed was remarkable, but he missed. Obsidian eyes, his own, blinked with confusion. Before he could pull his arm back and recover, a powerful blow connected with the side of his head. He was knocked aside and slid across the coarse earthen soil, pained whines hissed through clenched teeth.

Red, green, and blue-- each hue bled together as if some force had come along and plucked the world of every little outline and border. A dull ache throbbed behind his eyes with each dart and roll, a guttural groan leaving his chest as he hefted himself back up to his feet. He'd been hit, that much had been certain, but by what? He felt warm moisture collecting on his forehead. Blood perhaps. Maybe sweat, or maybe it had started to rain. As the fluid dripped from his face and over his right eye, he stared forward at the shadow. It didn't laugh, nor did it speak. He couldn't see its eyes but he knew it was staring at him, just as he was at it.

“Lucky shot,” He said, spitting off to the side and wiping his face. Thunder bellowed in the distance and crackling lightning illuminated their bout in brief segments. The figure didn't move as Takao approach it again and swung. His bladed tonfa swiped through the shadow like it were water, and his eyes grew wide. In an instant, the shadow whipped around and sent a powerful kick for Takao's leg. With reaction speed like lightning, Takao released the tension in his leg and dropped down to his knee. The kick connected with his side and was promptly grappled, yet his hands simply fell through the darkness as if were truly a manifestation of the absence of light itself.

The figure pulled its leg back and aimed another kick, this time for his face. Takao tensed up his right leg and pushed himself onto his back, evading the kick whilst also rolling his body into a hand spring. His arms were used to vault him to a safe distance, and to soften his landing.

“What... What is this? How're you doing that?” Panic was clear in his voice. He hated being caught off guard, and more than that, he hated the feeling of vulnerability that came with it. Caught off guard meant he was unprepared for what had happened. The shadow didn't respond. It only stared.

“Answer me!” Takao growled out, words escaping betwixt a guttural snarl. Still, nothing. Just a cold, invisible gaze fixated on him; a piercing glare amidst darkness incarnate. He yelled out in frustration and tensed his legs, forcing body to another stand as he began his second assault. Blade arm was swung and the steel cut through the shadows, only to have them reform around his strike. His right leg was used as a pivot and his body spun counter clockwise, left leg extended for a leg sweep. The shadow began retreating through simple steps backward, even as Takao's leg slid harmlessly through its own.

The frustration on his face was growing with each failed strike. Following through with the momentum of his leg sweep, Takao returned to his feet and send a simple, quick jab with his left. The speed of his strikes were impressive and the strength behind them perhaps even more so; he knew how to throw a punch. Even so, it didn't appear to be doing him much good. His fist sailed through the shadows that lacked any form of solidity, earning a sharp exhale of breath through clenched teeth.

“You're that afraid of me then, huh?” Takao said, an uneasy smile growing on his face. “You're so afraid I'll beat you to within an inch of your life that you pull this incorporeal bullshit?” His breaths escaped as exhausted heaves as he straightened his posture. “I wondered what you were up to all this time. Looks like this is it.”

Still, no response. It was frustrating and infuriating for the man who once pushed Takao to his limits and beyond, who tortured and inspired such fear in his youth which had such detrimental effects on him, to just remain silent now. After a year apart, after their last meeting had resulted in severe bodily damage to Takao. After everything they'd been through. Just... silence.

It was absolutely unacceptable.

“But you're not the only one with new tricks.” Takao inhaled. Oxygen flooded his lungs and expanded the fleshy organs, his body mixing the life-giving air with chakra. Within his lungs, the air turned to flames. They built and build, expanding his chest in the mere second it took him to inhale and promptly exhale.

A low, guttural growl escaped as he bellowed out a plume of fire. The column soared across the short distance in an instant, engulfing the silhouette's figure in its entirety. Darkness was chased away by the magnificent light of the roaring flames; the column behind where the figure had been standing was thoroughly scorched and partially melted from the sheer heat.

His nose scrunched as he forced the last remnants of oxygen-rich flames from his lungs and pulled himself back up to posture. Despite the impressive heat of the fire, without sufficient fuel they began to die down. He glanced up from the residual fire and his breathing hitched, obsidian eyes widened, and dark eyebrows furrowed. There, standing in the middle of where his flames had incinerated the earth, was the figure. The corners of his mouth lifted upward in a scowl and he repeated the action. Another massive column of flame shot from his lungs, but the shadow persisted.

So he spewed another.

And another.

And another.

His body was gasping for air as the umpteenth jet of flames left his lungs. No matter how much fire he spat onto it, the shadow stayed there, as if light itself refused to consume that particular body-shaped silhouette.

In an instant, the shadow moved. It was upon him before his body could even think to move, and its right leg snapped at him like a whip. Crippling pain pounded in his leg as the hit connected. He could feel the subtle cracks in the bone split and fracture, tearing away at the toned muscle in his calf. A loud cry of pain left his lungs as he dropped down to his knee, teeth gritting and grinding against one another. All it took was that single hit to drill it into his head that he had lost. Whatever battle he was fighting was over, the sheer amount of pain radiating from the hit had forced him to secede.

“...My boy. You've come far from when you were a child, scared of your own shadow...” The voice finally spoke again, yet the questions he had asked went unanswered. “...I've had faith in you all this time, but you are still blinded. It is here...” The voice said, its shadowy appendage coming to rest on Takao's head. The teen flinched slightly, but he didn't shift from his kneeling position. He just kept his head down. “...Here, that has prevented you from seeing. From moving forward. Your leg is a corporeal wound, and it will heal over time... but your wound is not what hinders you. It is here that you are the most obstructed...”

Takao's gaze at the ground was unwavering. He simply stared, jaw tightly clenched shut and teeth threatening to grit against one another as he listened. The words his father continued to speak slowly faded into obscurity. His ears heard them, yet his mind ignored them. Slowly, he slipped away, deep into thought...

Explosions rocked the cave around him in rapid succession, one after another. The tags had detonated in a disgustingly well-timed sequence, each discharge weakening the roof of the cave enough for massive chunks of dirt and stone to begin falling. His hitched breath finally escaped through clenched teeth and he glanced across the dimly lit cavern to his father.

What should he say? ...What was there to say? His intentions were clear, he didn't want either of them leaving the cave. The exit lay behind his father, the wall of flesh and fire preventing him from escape. Massive stones fell to either side of him, spurring his movement in an instant. He closed the gap between him and his father and dropped the support of his left leg, sliding in with his right.

His father leapt and spun, extending his own right leg and using the momentum of his mid-air pirouette to sweep across Takao's face. In quick reaction, Takao allowed his own momentum to continue carrying him as he twisted his torso, moving to his stomach and sliding beneath the kick. His slide came to a stop and his father landed, their positions in regards to the exit having swapped. Takao hurried back up to his feet, only to find his father upon him once more, continuing the advance of his attack.

A right jab, which Takao narrowly evaded to the left. A left cross, which Takao simply backed away from. His footwork kept up with his body, allowing him to continue progressing backward toward the exit whilst also evading the incoming attacks. Takao knew that turning his back now would undoubtedly mean defeat, so he could only defend himself and carefully wait for an opening.

But Takao knew who he was fighting. An opening wouldn't come easily, nor would it come unwarranted. He would have to make such a thing for himself.

His father's advance continued. A flurry of punches kept Takao on the defensive, opting to evade them or deflect them rather than counter. The sequence of explosions had finally subsided, yet the cave continued to crumble around them. Thankfully it had started at the back of the cave and had filled up that portion before moving closer to the exit, yet so little time remained before his chances of escape would be nonexistent.

A distraction was what he needed, and he knew just how to go about it.

Just as his father threw a punch, Takao exhaled a large breath. Through his lungs, a fireball was produced, momentarily obscuring himself from his father's vision, who simply stood in the path of the fireball.

“Do you really think your fire will do anything? We're Nii'gata, fire doesn't hurt u-ugh!” His boasting was momentarily interrupted by Takao, who had kicked straight through the fire, knowing fully well neither of them could be damaged by the flames. His father, caught off guard, was kicked square in the chest and stumbled back. Takao leapt through the fire and continued his advance, waiting for his father to throw a punch.

As expected, he did. Takao reacted quickly, shifting his footwork to move him to the left of the incoming punch whilst also pushing it to the right. Takao placed his left hand on his father's shoulder and hoisted himself up, fanning his left leg over his head whilst his right quickly clamped down and his torso rotated. With his father's head between his legs(lol), Takao twisted his body and threw his father to the ground while simultaneously launching into a tuck and roll. The success had given him just enough time to escape from the cave, which he attempted to do by running toward the exit.

“T-...Takao, wait!” His father's voice called out, and Takao's head turned. The light of the exit washed over him, blinding his eyes which had become adjusted to the darkness in some capacity. Obsidian eyes narrowed and words caught in his throat, but he didn't respond. He only waited, as he'd been told.

“You're not really going to just... to just leave your father to die, are you? Could you really be that heartless... That unforgiving?” His words rung in Takao's ears, inspiring some thoughts. Would he leave his father to his death, a death he had both planned and caused on his own accord? If the man had his way, they would both be laying on the ground there, preparing to die by being crushed. His father's words brought forth a moment of pensive thought... Oh, wait.

No they didn't, and yes. Yes he could.

“Yeah, I can. frick you.” Takao responded in monotone. Heartless was not a word he would use to describe himself normally, yet it was certainly coming to mind now. He turned, ready to leave the man to his death.

“Stupid boy!” His father yelled out, a blood curdling scream resonating within his lungs as a large portion of the ceiling crushed his legs. “If I'm to die in this cave, then so...” With the last of his strength, the man weakly brought his hands together. Two seals that Takao hadn't noticed at the entrance of the cave were lit aflame, and his onyx eyes grew wide. “...are you!”

Gritting his teeth, Takao ran for the exit. The tags exploded around him, yet he leapt through the fire and explosions, landing in the soft grass on the other side. A loud hiss of pain left his clenched teeth as he glanced down. The explosions had burnt and singed his flesh, while the rocks had crushed the bone. The feeling in his leg quickly died out, and instead of the sensation of mobility, all he felt was crippling pain.

He threw his head back into the grass and shouted expletives into the wind, trying to appease the gut wrenching pain coursing through his body.

The clouds crumbled and light bled through the cracks. At some point, the rain had subsided and a crisp morning had fallen over the Earth Country. Had he fallen asleep at some point, or had he been awake all this time? The dull ache in his head and neck and the dryness in his throat suggested the former, yet with how often sleep alluded him, he couldn't bring himself to believe it.

Takao slowly reached into his pocket whilst his gaze remained on the colourful morning sky. He grasped the thin, rectangular device and pulled it from the fabric. After pressing a button on the top, he watched as the screen illuminated itself. Sliding the lock open with his thumb, Takao slowly navigated through the buttons until his gaze came to rest on a name. Mom.

He pressed the name and watched the mobile dial the number, then placed the device to his right ear. The slight motion made him wince with pain, but he endured. After a few impossibly long minutes of ringing, the device clicked, and he heard the voice of his mother, saying his name. He thanked the higher powers that, by some miracle, he managed to have service atop the mountain.

“...Hey, Mom.” He said in a low tone, unsure of what exactly he was doing.

“Yeah, yeah, I'm alri...” Takao paused for a minute and exhaled a dry chuckle. “...Or uh... Well, I guess I'm... really... not that alright. I'm gonna be a bit late, 'cause I uh... I ran into Dad.” As the words left his mouth, he could feel the silence overtake the other side of the conversation.

“Listen, Mom. I get it now. Like... Everything that happened, back then I mean. I remember it all, but uh... It kinda took a... little bit of a toll on me... more so my leg, I guess.” The silence that his mother held was broken immediately at the notion that he might have been hurt, and she immediately began to berate him. A thin, weak smile grew as she listened to her chastise him as though he were a child. He always had somebody to keep him humbled.

Takao grunted as he forced himself to an upright position, the weight of his upper body supported with his off hand’s elbow. “--Aaaanyway, not to interrupt your totally justified parenting or anythin', but I just wanted to call 'n let you know that I just took a little detour, that's all. I'm on my way home now, I'll be there by this evenin'. ...Yes... Yeah. Uh-huh. By dinner, sure.” A long sigh resonated in the receiver and he closed his eyes. “Yeah. Love you too. I'll see you soon.” He answered, then ended the call.

“...Alright then. This is gonna hurt.” Takao groaned as he lifted himself up to his feet. He could feel the weakness in his leg, ready to give away at the slightest wrong motion. Small fragments of bone ground against one another, prodding sensitive and worn muscle. It was a harrowing, disturbing, and positively cringe worthy sensation that had him grinding his teeth almost constantly.

He had promised to be home by dinner, and it was a long walk back to Konohagakure.

Total Word Count

D to B-1 (3980 total)
356 Leftover

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