The Hanabira training facility was new, clean, and littered with Jounin.
Three, to be exact. Two were still standing.
“You know, you can surrender if you want. Won't bruise so badly.”
Akio Tamana brushed back a lock of black hair.
“You're not going to beat me. The others are sloppy, barely saw any action in the war. Not me. Front lines.”
“Then should we up the ante a bit? I feel like the old bet is a little weak.”
“I agree. Money can be earned again. Dignity, however...”
“Name your price.”
“If I win, you come over to my house and be my maid when I next have a few Senators over for dinner. Complete with uniform. Yours?”
“You have to call me senpai.”
Both combatants touched their foreheads, making sure the adhesive on the chakra tags was still set. If either cheated and drew on extra chakra, it would dissolve into ash, forfeiting the match.
Akio Tamana was something of a legend, enough so that even Moxie knew his name. He was quick, fast, and deadly efficient.
So far Moxie hadn't seen any of that Akio. Just the lumbering, easily flustered one.
He attacked first, leaning forward into a run, gaining speed and positioning, hoping to burst up from below and drive the entire momentum of his body into Moxie's.
She stepped back, as he anticipated. He used his attack to jump high into the air, twisting his momentum into his leg, gyrating it in a sweeping roundhouse kick toward her head. She ducked under that one, letting him drop to the ground, where his legs sprung like steam-pistons, shifting weight and driving the other leg out in a direct kick aimed at her torso.
Slipping to the slide, just enough to avoid the kick. Now inside Akio's guard, Moxie hammered her fist at his collarbone.
He blocked, as she had assumed, but she released her fist when he did, touching his forearm with her palm.
Moxie spun away from him, breaking up the skirmish and forcing both competitors to re-engage. Akio's long limbs served his fighting style well, long whipping motions that generated wide circles. He stepped into range, circling one of his fists around, aiming it so that any raised block wouldn't prevent the fist from connecting with Moxie's skull. She spread herself low, fanning out her arms above her head, just grazing the bottom of his arm.
The first strike carried a lot of momentum, and Akio used it to spin around, wheeling the other fist in downward arc, aimed for the back of Moxie's head. She continued to drop down, this time sliding all the way to her side, weight resting on her hip. She used her hands to shove herself closer to Akio, parting her legs as she did, and scissored them together hard on his forward knee.
His stance buckling, Akio decided to let his weight tumble forward, hands leading the fall to grab or punch at Moxie, using gravity and his own weight to power the blows. Moxie turned, letting out a cry to power her turn, the muscles in her legs and abdominals torquing energy through his leg and into his hip, turning his momentum to the side. He fell on his side instead of forward, his limbs slapping across the ground to dissipate the force. Moxie rose to her feet, slapping him twice on the legs during her retreat.
Three and four.
With those four, that brought her palm-strike count up to twenty-one. More than enough practice, and more than enough proof that her idea would work.
Akio was back on his feet now, rushing again. He was quick and strong, and she could see how this tactic would be effective in combat, alongside his ninjutsu techniques.
Moxie bent low and leapt, only a six strides away from Akio. She spun around once, and aimed herself carefully, landing hard on Akio's shoulders, her legs tightening around his neck. He stumbled from the impact, but kept his balance long enough for Moxie to swing her arms and torso forward.
They both flipped forward from the strength of Moxie's swing. Akio's back was the first point of impact with the ground.
The room was dead silent. Moxie rolled to her feet. The other three Jounin stared, wide-eyed but too battered to get up and do something.
A knot twisted in her stomach. Too far? Had she seriously injured him.
Akio barked a chuckle.
Moxie inclined her head and folded her arms.
She smiled, tossed a hand through her hair, and walked out of the arena.
The locker room was empty, save for her small pile of clothes. She peeled off the sparring clothes, watching sweat spray from every flap of her shirt. She crumpled the chakra detection paper and ran her fingers through her hair.
She caught a glance of herself in the mirror, and found herself turning to examine it, clad only in her pants and black sports bra.
Damn she was strong. Her body had changed a lot since the end of the war, every inch of her gaining a fine layer of muscular definition. In the past, this might have worried her, the slow drain of her femininity. But Toya seemed to appreciate it.
Even like it, she thought.
The training had worked wonders, though. She hadn't realized just how grueling the “light” Nanaya training was until they had returned from the beach – when Toya had decided to do “real” training and it was painfully impossible. Moxie had always thought of herself as in good combat condition...
Apparently not enough for a Nanaya.
She finished admiring herself, stripped down and blasted herself with too-hot water in the shower, toweling off as quickly as she could. She jammed all the sparring clothes into a bag and set to work dressing herself.
In a rare display of Saihoushi-ness, she had designed the outfit.
Well, designed would be inaccurate. More like...built.
It was based off of the Sublime Swordstress. She couldn't help it, it was too cool and she was pretty sure the combat effectiveness of it would hold up.
First she put on a black, sleeveless garment that zipped up the front, all the way to a high collar. The new Hitsuji protective material, made thinner and more effective, especially for someone who could control nunojutsu. It only came in black, which was not ideal for the fashion side, but she couldn't argue against the armor of it.
Next came a sleeveless jacket, belted in the center with brass and leather, the rest of it a subtle peach color with a faint print of curling flames, just a slight texture that was only truly visible in the light, or if you stared closely at it. It held pockets, snapped closed, able to contain whatever equipment she needed. Then a utility belt above a pair of brown shorts, and knee-high leather boots. She then slipped on two brown, fingerless gloves with fuuinjutsu stitched along the insides.
Her new secret weapon.
A purple, slim cape completed the ensemble, drapping off the shining pauldron on her right shoulder.
So her upper legs and arms were exposed, so what. Couldn't walk around in a giant pile of armor all of the time...
Tying her hair into a ponytail and making final adjustments to her clothes, she set to striding for the House of the Lotus.
Military Headquarters were set in their own building, just off site of the parliament. It was a graceful but simple white building, with imposing pillars, each with a symbol of the four factions that made up the military. She bowed slightly to the hourglass, unable to tear her allegiance from something that had defined her life for so long.
She was ushered quickly through the hallways, along the polished marble floors and up to a room on the top floor. Several administrators worked quickly in desks parked beside two heavy double doors. Moxie didn't knock, just pushed through.
The windows looked across at the House of the Lotus. Shining, bright, and glorious. Dakara Gou, head of Military Affairs, the 8th Kazekage, stood staring out at it with his hands clasped behind his back.
“Ah, Moxie.” He turned and smiled, then gestured to a round table at the side of the room, beside the rows of bookshelves. A long flat wooden case was laid atop it.
“What is it?”
“Your birthday present. It's uh, a bit late, I know, but we were busy with this pesky Republic nonsense...besides, it took a while to get here from Kasai.”
He only smiled and gestured for it again. Moxie tried to walk calmly, tried to vent all the eagerness out of her, and flipped up the latches for the case.
It was wide-bladed and curved, four feet long from hilt to tip, the back end curling like fire. It was completely black; the same heat-conductive metal that Kagu Tsuchi Kugi had. She hefted it in her hands; it was a spin-cleaver, meant for spinning, heavy strikes that built on each other.
“Thought the Sublime Swordstress ought to add to her collection. Besides, we never replaced the other one.”
Moxie set the blade back in the case, wishing she could give it a few whirls but knowing that it might end up with her cleaving his desk in half. She shut the case and darted around his desk, hurling her arms around his neck.
He smelled good. Like sand. He always smelled like sand.
“Thanks daddy. It's great.”
Dakara laughed, returning the hug. “What's with the sudden affection? And 'daddy'?”
“I...well...” Moxie cleared her throat and slipped back away from him. “Guess I've just done a lot of thinking lately. And...well, I know mom's death had to be hard for you too. I shouldn't have blamed you for how you reacted to it. I was just angry, and hurt, and confused, and you were an easy target. You're my last parent, and I don't want to keep squandering our relationship over a few petty things...so I'm sorry. And I love you.”
Dakara smiled and scruffed her head.
“It's okay Moxie. It was hard for all of us. I'm glad we can start working on this relationship again. Have a seat, we have some work to do.”
She nodded and obeyed, sitting on the other side of the desk. Dad hefted a thick file and dropped it on the desk between them.
“Tasuh uv Talaed”
Moxie blinked. “What?”
“Tasuh uv Talaed. Does that mean anything to you?”
“No. Should it?”
“Mm. I don't know yet. That's the inscription I found.”
A slow smile crept across his face and his fingers steepled.
“What do you mean, under?”
“There's some ruins beneath the city. Been there a while. Recently, some of the Gou found something new. Something intact.”
He spread open the file, shuffling paper after paper, a sea of words that Moxie wasn't sure how to make sense of.
“It was a hobby of mine back in retirement. I wondered where we came from. Where did this civilization rise from? Before the era of clans, there isn't much recorded history. But there are a few sites no one can explain. Tombs, statues, monuments with a few scattered insriptions in a dead language.
There was something here before us. But there's no picture of what it looked like. What happened to that civilization, how did it form what we became? So many mysteries locked away in these ruins. All scholars have been able to do is crudely translate some of the text, and understand that they were a vast, powerful empire that stretched across all of the Five Nations.”
Dad pointed at a paper with the same mysterious words written on it.
“Tasuh uv Talaed. 'Demon of Deceit.' It's a temple, buried beneath Hanabira. A temple to a lost god.”
Moxie had to force herself to close her mouth.
“Impressive dad...but what makes it so important?”
“No one has ever found anything so large before. It's massive, Mox, and it's mostly intact. There could be writings in there, inscriptions, other archaelogical clues. This might be the first real look into our origins.”
They met eyes, father and daughter. Gold on brown. She searched them, wondering if she could somehow decipher his thoughts, but he still felt as mysterious as ever.
“Where do I fit in?”
“I don't know what we'll find down there. There could be dangerous secrets. Jutsu, weapons, diseases...it could be anything. I can't send someone to investigate that I don't trust, and I don't have the time or the...invisbility, needed to go down myself. I trust you, and your team. If anyone can be entrusted to find lost knowledge and make sure it isn't used against the Republic, it's the four Heroes.”
Moxie nodded slowly, still rolling around the situation in her mind.
“But I don't know anything about the language, the history...how will I be of any use?”
“Because one of the few scholars who studies this subject lives and works in Yuki. And was Ryou's private tutor. I've been in contact with him over the last few weeks, and he says that Ryou has a working knowledge of what he knows. It'll be enough for you to read and get a sense of the purpose of the temple. After that, I can go down myself when I have time. For now, we have to make sure it's safe.”
Something twinged at Moxie. Not her Kyoumougan, not some warning of the future...something off. Hidden. Her underdeveloped hunter sense, perhaps?
“Then why send me and Toya and Kyuuen?”
Dakara smiled. “Good, still sharp as ever. The team of Gou I sent down there to investigate didn't come back alive.”
“Right. Now it's coming together.”
“You don't have to do this mission if you don't want. Perhaps the past isn't what we should be focusing on, perhaps it's our future that's more important.”
Moxie shook her head. “No, we'll go. At least, I will. I can't speak for the others.”
“You could speak for Toya...”
Moxie felt herself blush. “Dad...”
“It's pretty obvious he loves you, Moxie. He'll go with you. The others will too. You're like mom in that way. You inspire people. Besides, this mission is interesting. It's why you want to go, isn't it? Tired of the training, the patrols, the studying.”
“A little adventure and discovery never hurt anyone. I get that from you.”
Dakara leaned back in his chair, folding his arms.
“That you do.”
- - -
“Ow, damnit! Hot, hot, hooooot!”
Her finger dove into her mouth.
Stupid hot plate thing.
Okay, so maybe a piece of equipment designed to heat up medical experiments wasn't exactly fit for cooking. But it should work better! It's a complicated piece of machinery while a stove is just a big, gushy flame that does whatever it wants.
Removing the finger from her mouth, Kyuuen sighed down at her bubbling noodles, waiting hungrily for them to finish.
Taishou was wrestling with a pair of her socks.
“Aww, Tai-tai! Stop it! I need those, they don't have holes in them and-...well, now they have holes in them. Fine, go ahead, keep terrorizing it.”
Taishou did the dog equivalent of a grin and continued to shake the sock like it were a stubborn squirrel refusing to die. Kyuuen sighed with a smile and dropped herself into her office chair.
“At least one of us is having fun...I hope you don't grow too fast, you know, this little office isn't enough for the two of us.”
Taishou dropped the sock and looked up at her curiously.
“Hey, I explained this to you before. I only had money to either rent a lab and buy equipment or buy new furniture and get a place and well...you can't do medicine in an apartment, okay? Not even a Hanabira one. This is just temporary, until I get this license sorted.”
Taishou tipped his head.
“What, I sleep fine on the couch! And you sleep fine too, so long as you're...yeah, why do you have to use my bras anyway, it's ridiculous, you goofy dog. And besides! I have no commute to work! I've gotten a lot of studying done like this, you can't argue with that.”
Kyuuen spun the chair and flipped a book closed, shoving it with the others on the table.
“It's not my fault they won't count my medic's license as a doctor's one anymore. Geez, it's stupid, the horrible wounds I've treated on the battlefield would make any of those jerks puke until they were dehydrated, but noooooo, 'you're too young Kyuuuen,' 'you need a license Kyuuen', 'medicine's more than just healing blown up limbs Kyuuen.”
She grunted and picked up her chopsticks, removing the noodles from the specimen heater and flipping the switch off. Taishou shuffled over and sat politely beside her, staring up with starry eyes at her noodles. Kyuuen started stirring.
“Look, once I past that test it's easy living! More than enough money for a little apartment. I'll get one near the park so we can go playing all the time, and you'll have steak every Friday night, I promise! Just endure a little longer.”
“Yes, I know...I know Ryou offered for us to live with him.”
“I know, I know, own floor, seperate study, a private chef to make anything we wanted...plus cuddling and kisses anytime I wanted...but that's not how it works! I have to earn this on my own, with my own blood sweat and tears and- damniiiit!”
In all her waving around, Kyuuen knocked her noodles over. They slopped onto the floor, the broth soaking into the carpet. Taishou the traitor dove onto the noodles and started slurping them up immediately.
Her palm found it's usual place on her forehead and she sighed.
Don't eat now, have enough food for the other meals, or eat now and skip a meal later.
She hadn't had to make a decision like this in a long time. Not since before the war. Even on the road, even in the midst of battle, there was always enough food. Now...now...
Back to square one.
Tears were dripping out of her eyes.
“I'm not crying! I can handle this, it's not too hard! It's way easier than before...I think...no it's not, who am I kidding, they're paying me less than before! Heartless politicians, I'm the goddamned Bubble Fairy! Yes I know I spent the reward money on the lab!”
Taishou was just eating, not really listening.
“I just...can't I catch a break around here. Really.”
She sniffed and wiped her eyes.
“Maybe I should just go back to Ryou and beg. I'm sure if I'm cute enough he'll let me stay there. And you too, don't worry....maybe have to get a pushup bra for that one though.”
A knock on the door made Kyuuen jump to her feet. She swallowed and regained her composure, taking several deep breaths before opening it. A courier dropped a scroll in her hand and rushed off before she could even say “thank you.”
She unrolled it.
Misson. Moxie. Now.
A glimmering grin formed on her.
“All right! This is more like it. Finish up your lunch Tai-tai, we're going on a mission!”
She rushed to get her new mission clothes.