Bierce, Ambrose, The Devil's Dictionary
. (The snarkiest book I've read in ages.)
It's snowing outside again. ;_; I'm on summer vacation, and yet it looks more like February outside. At least it's sort of melting... kind of, not really. ;_; When will I be able to bike once more...?
Yes, I've finally finished writing the next chapter of Rise of the Jinchuuriki! ... and it's like 6,000 words long. D: My time participating in National Novel Writing Month was not wasted. I wrote most of it in the last week. Speed writing for the win! :D( Yay, ninja kindergarten! )
Chapter Six: Game Start
It was rainy all day. It was the kind of light rainfall that wouldn’t be bad in short bursts, but instead lasted for incredibly long amounts of time, pervading everything with a persistent and unpleasantly cold dampness. Konoha was a beautiful village in the sunlight, but in the gloom and mist of the rain, the place took on the appearance of a washed-out old photograph.
The weather made things more than five feet away difficult to discern from the greyness of the background. This could make anybody feel depressed. It had the added effect of making the ninja inhabitants of the village feel paranoid.
Naruto, for one, was jealous of Gaara. The bastard was probably sunning himself in the wonderful desert weather. The blond grumbled curses a six-year-old shouldn’t know under his breath to himself as he jogged back towards his apartment under an old umbrella with two tines bent out of shape. At least the thing didn’t have any holes, which was more than he could say about the roof of his apartment...
Naruto wished he could use some chakra to blur to get to his apartment faster, but he knew that Gaara would never let him live it down if he was revealed to be from the future because he didn’t want to get wet. Well, perhaps that was being unfair. Gaara wasn’t the kind of person to gloat. Stare in hidden amusement? Yes. Chuckle in the depths of his mind, where only the Shukaku could hear him? Perhaps. But he would never gloat out loud. It was almost worse, that way: knowing that Gaara may be laughing at you (or not) but being unable to point and go “hey, that was mean!” He couldn’t exactly ask his friend and peer to stop doing nothing.
Finally arriving in his apartment, Naruto shook some persistent raindrops from his pathetic-looking umbrella before placing it in a chipped flower vase that he used as an improvised umbrella stand.
“All right, ramen!” He crowed to himself as he crossed the room to his kitchen corner (one room apartments were useful in that respect, at least: everything was conveniently all together).
With a flourish, Naruto removed one of two dozen cups of instant ramen from his shopping bag and placed it almost reverently on the counter. His haul had been a challenge to acquire, as usual. His success this time had been in part due to three cans of paint, a length of rope, a towering but fragile display of canned nuts, a bunshin to distract the store manager, and a strategic henge. Even so, he had nearly been found out at the end. He would have to be careful not to go to that store again very soon. Luckily, he had managed to purchase a decent amount of ramen – food of gods and future Hokage. Not only was it cheap and delicious, it also kept very well. A long shelf life was very useful, especially when he didn’t know when he would next have a successful shopping trip, which were always few and far between.
As he prepared his supper, he noticed several muted chakra signatures alight on the roof. ANBU, most likely: several of them, trying to mask their chakra. They were probably there to watch him. He continued nonchalantly making his supper, giving no indication that he knew that they were there. He wouldn’t be expected to know. He knew that they were probably there under the orders of the Hokage.
When he had come into office, he had sorted through some of the old paperwork and old files that they had on himself, just to see what the Sandaime and the Godaime had been up to. That had been how he had discovered that he had actually had a rotating guard of ANBU watching over him since he had been very young, even past the point that he had become a genin. Naruto had gathered that they were a compromise, of sorts, between the Hokage and the council of Konoha. The Kyuubi brat wasn’t to be trusted, and so was watched as an enemy would be. It made him sad in a hollow sort of way, the feeling of not being trusted. He had felt it less as he had grown to become a trusted village leader. Now he had to get used to it again.
But back to the issue at hand: what to do about the watching ANBU. Well, Naruto thought, logically, pouring his boiling water over his cup ramen, What would Gaara do in this situation? Besides kill them? Or smother and subdue them with sand? Or go up onto the roof, acting for all the world like he went up there all the time, and stare at them, blankly, like they were crazy, until they went away?
In the end, Naruto decided on just the opposite of such things. Sure, Gaara was his friend, but the guy wasn’t exactly known for his mastery of social niceties.
“So… how come you aren’t in the academy?” Temari asked, apparently uneasy with nothing but the sandwiches, the table and the serious silence between them.
Gaara chewed on his mouthful of sandwich quietly for a moment, swallowed, and replied in his usual monotone, “I’m too young.”
“But you’re six, aren’t you? There are some six-year-olds in the youngest class. Some five-year-olds too.”
Gaara shrugged. He was a demon brat who could already take down any shinobi assassins that they could throw at him. They weren’t about to teach a failed weapon with clearly ambivalent loyalties to Suna how to be more deadly. The first time around, he had learned by instinct, watching others, and later, from a petrified Baki, his jounin “sensei” and handler.
“That’s just silly. You should ask fa- um, somebody to get you in.” She paused, awkwardly, and then added: “It’s really fun! My teacher says that maybe Kankuro and me can graduate soon.” Gaara knew that she had been about to tell him to ask their father, but had then realized that wait, their father didn’t seem to like any of them, and so wouldn’t be doing them any favours anytime soon.
So Gaara shrugged once again.
Temari turned her attention back to her sandwich, and Gaara frowned, internally. Talking to this Temari was more difficult than he would have thought it would have been. What did children talk about, amongst themselves, with no adults present? He couldn’t remember. Maybe he had never known in the first place.
He continued to eat his sandwich in the uneasy silence. Temari avoided his gaze, staring down at her crumb-spotted plate. There was an innocuous smear of peanut butter on her chin. Gaara couldn’t remember ever seeing his sister look so young before. She practically radiated naïveté. It was almost unnerving, to know that this little girl would grow to become one of the strongest and most deadly kunoichi that the Sand had ever known.
But then again, he supposed that he, the demon of Suna, looked just as “cute” at the moment, although he probably looked less naïve, even now. He was certain that the “look” didn’t suit him.
Temari, having finished staring at her empty plate, stood up from the table and took her dishes to the sink.
Gaara could think of nothing to say, so he decided upon a strategic retreat.
His chair scraped against the sandy floor as he stood up (sand pervaded everything in the desert, be it buildings, clothing, or even food). Gaara walked towards the door, and his sand followed. Temari didn’t watch her little brother go.
He paused in the doorway. “Temari.”
His sister looked up all of a sudden, nearly dropping the plate into the sink. “Um, yes?” Wariness was a good thing to cultivate in young ninja. Gaara approved. Cautious shinobi invariably lived longer than bull-headed ones… with the possible exception of a certain blond future Hokage that he knew (but then again, the ability to heal fatal wounds with demonic chakra was always a useful trick.)
Gaara met her eyes. “Thank you for the sandwich.” And then he was gone.
Naruto had peripherally monitored the few movements of his ANBU watchers all throughout his dinner. He didn’t envy them, sitting out there in the cold and the wet, while he ate his hot and awesomely delicious cup ramen.
Naruto had once heard of a custom from a place so far away the country could have just been made up. People believed in little gods or fairies or demons or something, and they would put offerings in little dishes to leave out at night to ask for their protection, or maybe just so they would pass their houses by.
After a moment’s thought that night, Naruto put some of his still warm ramen (leftover from his eleventh bowl) in a sealable container, and put it out on the windowsill. He was careful to lock the window afterwards, even though it would be useless against any ANBU that decided to come looking for more food. Naruto seriously doubted whether any of them would even touch it – they were probably too paranoid and afraid of poisons – but it made him feel better that the ANBU who were forced to watch him had the option of something warm to eat.
Besides, it might be his Kakashi-sensei out there.
He wasn’t surprised when he got up the next morning, though, to find that there was an untouched bowl of cold ramen sitting outside his windowsill, dripping with rainwater.
It was probably for the best. He would have actually been worried if the ANBU watching him had been green enough to accept food from the subject that they were supposed to be monitoring. Still, Naruto supposed if the ANBU grated on his nerves too much, he could always just be really, really irritating, which would make his watchers less likely to pay close attention to him… although, if they were good ANBU, they likely wouldn’t fall for such a simple trick.
The house was quiet. Temari had gone to bed hours ago, and it was still just a little bit too early even for ninja-in-training and their chuunin caretaker to be up. Gaara was always up, though. After Temari had gone back to sleep, Gaara had crept into the kitchen once more and had washed the dishes, just as he had promised himself earlier. This task proved difficult when he realised that, humiliatingly enough, he was actually too short to reach the sink. He had to drag a chair to the counter to get at the water tap.
Washing the dishes took all of ten minutes, which then left him wondering what to do. He normally didn’t have to worry about finding things to occupy himself; there was usually an endless array of things requiring the Kazekage’s attention. It was bizarre to find himself with nothing pressing to attend to.
In the end, Gaara decided to go outside and walk the streets, and watch as his village woke up.
The sun had only barely risen, so it was still chilly. The desert wouldn’t take on its characteristic heat until the sun had been up for a few hours. Already, despite the cold, there were a few people awake. There were ninja on guard duty were just returning from their night shifts, their replacements already up and about. The bakers had already been up for hours, and were only just now taking their wares out of the oven. Gaara passed by one of these bakeries just as an assistant – a middle-aged civilian woman with strong-looking arms – was putting a tray of breakfast muffins in the window. She looked startled to see so young a child out alone, so early in the morning, but she didn’t seem to recognize him. Gaara gave her a short nod, one that would hopefully be interpreted as friendly, and continued on, away from the delicious smell of freshly-baked pastries. He didn’t remember that specific bakery from his time, but then again, civilian businesses came and went often. Some people were more suited to life in a shinobi village than others, after all.
As he wandered the sandy streets, as silent as any slow-moving sand dune, Gaara became aware of the raucous sound of children’s laughter. Then, as he drew closer, he could hear the sound of something hitting pavement, and then, running feet. The former Kazekage slowly rounded the corner of the building closest to the sound of the voices. There, lay a courtyard where four children were playing ball. A lonely swing set was set up to one side. It was to this structure that Gaara made his way. He sat down on the swing, still unnoticed, and observed as the children played their game. After a few minutes of watching the children’s interactions in silence, he was beginning to divine the rules of the game that they were playing. There were no teams; all four seemed to be playing for themselves. The goal of the game didn’t seem to be to simply catch the ball, but to avoid having one of the other three get it. However, it seemed that one wasn’t allowed to hold the ball for longer than three footsteps. Kicking the ball out of reach of the others seemed to be the preferred method of handling. Occasionally, one would be declared “out”, usually after missing a catch, causing the ball to go out of bounds. Being “out” seemed to entail sitting on the side of the playing field for a minute, and being unable to handle the ball. Gaara didn’t know if this was supposed to be a well-known game, or simply one whose rules were made up as these four children played it.
Suddenly, a stray kick caused the ball to go wide. It bounced off of a pillar at an odd angle, and finally came to rest on a ledge a story or so up one of the buildings that composed the square.
“Aww, man!” one of the kids exclaimed in disgust.
“What should we do?” one of the others asked.
Gaara felt strange. There was something… oddly familiar about this situation. He supposed it was just because it was a typical childhood scene, one that he had only ever seen from afar. Just days before he had gone back in time, in fact, he had watched a similar group of kids play a different game of ball, watching from the Kazekage’s tower. That must be it.
Gaara glanced at the children, who were scuffling their feet and each demanding of the others to do something about getting the ball back.
Gaara probably could have just climbed up there, clinging to the wall with chakra. A kid with good chakra control was much less threatening than the Demon of Suna. But Gaara had gotten into the habit of using his sand to handle things out of reach over the years, whether they be dropped objects, a scroll he needed from across the room, or even light taps to get the attention of people. He hardly even thought about it anymore. His sand just moved. Such was the case now. A wisp of sand detached itself from the piles that lay in ever-present drifts in the Hidden Village of Sand, and threaded itself through the air to deftly knock the ball off of the ledge. It fell in a slow arc directly into Gaara’s outstretched hands.‑
The eyes of the children followed the ball’s progress. Gaara stepped forward and gravely deposited the ball into the slack hands of the closest child. This seemed to snap the kid out of his trance.
“It’s Gaara!” That child screamed, dropping the ball and immediately beginning to run away. This, of course, set the rest of them off, and they all scattered away from the demon-child in their midst.
“Wait!” Gaara called out impulsively, and his sand shot out to stop them instinctively. With a sudden jolt of déjà vu, the former Kazekage realized just exactly where this was going: children screaming in pain, a defiant Yashamaru trying to calm he, the out of control demon, down, and the injured children rejecting the demon’s help. With a violent hand gesture, he reigned his sand in before it could do more than graze the ankle of the boy with the funny-looking, spiked black hair. The kid only screamed more loudly as he fled.
Moments later, the courtyard was empty of all but Gaara and his sand. The desert wind whistled, blowing a small plume of sand along the ground in front of the redhead’s feet. He made no noise; he was certain that if he listened hard enough, he would still be able to hear the sounds of screaming and the pounding of running feet as the children fled. He was a kage-level ninja (mentally, anyway), and he probably could have chased them down and forced them to listen – or play – with him, but Gaara doubted that such actions would endear him to them overmuch.
This was definitely going to be harder than anticipated.
…He had never liked children much, anyway.
Gaara let a small sigh escape from his emotionless façade, and turned to walk back to his apartment. He retraced his steps, the early-morning sun shining directly into his eyes, making him next to blind. He passed by the bakery he had seen earlier; the window display was already half-empty of muffins. He walked on.
As his apartment came into view, Gaara came to a sudden realization: he was feeling sorry for himself! This thought was so potent that it stopped him in his tracks for a brief moment. He couldn't walk down the path of self-pity. That would get him nowhere. He remembered distinctly that whenever insults had gotten too vicious, and the assassination attempts had gotten too frequent, Naruto had one thing to say to him: “Feeling sorry for yourself will get you nowhere. Stop it.” And then Naruto would slap him upside the head, and Gaara would let him.
Gaara looked up at his family’s apartment, gaze hardening. He couldn’t let a few screaming children and a murderous uncle get in the way of him achieving his goal. He would just have to try harder, and that was that.
Naruto had rediscovered the fun in being a child. Well, sort of: it was more a case of “discovering” in the first place than “rediscovering”. He was no longer tentative: he refused to back down and go away to play elsewhere under the demanding glares of parents. He used sheer charm to convince children that he was a fun kid to play with. And it worked… and he found that he was enjoying himself. They didn’t seem to care that he didn’t know the rules of their games very well, and were all too happy to teach him. He was also still enjoying the novelty of being young again.
Of course, he had the added challenge of subterfuge, but that just made his “game” all the more engaging. Trying to get around ANBU members was a very nice training exercise, made all the more useful because he couldn’t properly train around them. (His mind was limited by his body. He was still only capable of what a child was capable of, despite his memories of the contrary.) They had probably been informed about his bunshin-making abilities, but Naruto faked being unskilled with them. Oftentimes, if he needed to go places and didn’t want the ANBU to follow (places like, say, forbidden sections of the Hokage’s library, or maybe just to the washroom without having the niggling feeling that someone was watching his every move), he would make a few sloppy bunshins and send those off as decoys for the ANBU, all the while making other bunshins on the sly to run off in secret to the training fields. The ANBU weren’t aware, of course, of his sheer stamina when it came to bunshins. They seemed to think that four or five was his limit (this would already be spectacular for a jounin-level ninja, let alone one with hardly any ninja training), and Naruto was happy to keep it that way. He often sent them off on childish pranks – which were all the more easy to do because of the extra pairs of hands he could create – which again blurred his purpose to his watchers. Naruto wanted them to dismiss him as a child… for now, anyway.
Still, the ANBU weren’t trained to be sloppy, and Naruto had to be careful… which was again a part of the fun. There was something about fooling the elite members of one’s village time and time again that made one feel… proud. In a sinister, giggling madly to oneself kind of way.
It was during the first week of the second month after he had returned to the past when Naruto received his first letter from Gaara, carried by a disgruntled and tired but normal-looking Suna messenger hawk. The boy fed it some leftover bacon and sent it on its way with his thanks. It wouldn’t do to be impolite to their means of communication. He then turned his attention to the missive that Gaara had sent him.
It was a simple message: “Got free sugared bun and a smile from the new baker on Central Street.” Naruto grinned.
The game was on.
The “kyuubi-brat-watch” shift started to become more interesting for the ANBU after that.
If nothing else, the ANBU were kept on their toes – was the demon luring the children of the village to their deaths? Or was he just lulling them into a false sense of security through overly enthusiastic companionship?
Kakashi narrowed his mismatched eyes from behind his masks, watching from a hidden location in the canopy of a tree across the courtyard in which the Kyuubi brat was “playing”. The ANBU agent with the crow mask on the branch beside him flicked his hands to sign out a message to him: ‘What is the beast doing?’ Kakashi conceded the point. What was the kid doing? Especially with all of those children in a circle? And why were they singing gibberish. What was this “stella ella ola?” Was this some sort of demonic trick?
The gray-haired ANBU vowed to watch the brat more closely from now on.
(Sometimes, training children to be killing machines has a downside – without a childhood, how can they discern hidden threats from children’s games? Paranoia must have healthy limits.)
“You seem happier, lately.” The Hokage noted in one of the boy’s regimented visits to his office.
“Yes, well, I figured that there’s really no point in moping and being sad, right? It’s not going to get me anywhere. So I may as well do things to make me happy. Does that make sense?”
The Hokage smiled around his pipe. “It does indeed, Naruto.”
The eighty-seven-year-old boy smiled back.
The boy deliberately shied away from people that he remembered even decades later as being particularly abusive towards him. Naruto made the movements even more obvious when he sensed the muted chakra signatures of his ANBU guards following closely behind him.
He did his best to look like the downtrodden orphan – who still had hope – as he could. He wasn’t above using the “cuteness” of his younger body to good use. He was well aware of how differently people reacted when confronted with such things as women and children in distress. There had been a non-perverted reason for inventing the Sexy no Jutsu, after all. What could be more disarming than a hysterical naked woman? That technique had been incredibly well-known and had been growing in popularity even half a century after its inception. For several decades, it was even taught among ANBU ‑
initiates as a new forbidden technique, to use in battle when all else failed and the operative needed the element of surprise. And the Sexy no Jutsu was incredibly surprising. It had been designed to be so.
Unfortunately, he probably couldn’t reveal his famed (and infamous) technique just yet. It would still be considered much too advanced to have been invented by someone his age. He’d likely have to wait a few more years yet, mores the pity.
He had other things to focus on, at any rate, like his classes. Naruto didn’t realize that he was already enrolled in the academy until an ANBU had dragged him to class after his second day of skipping. He’d thought he was too young to be in class, but then again, he was still kind of unsure of the exact date. Naruto made a mental note to himself to pick up a newspaper. He couldn’t exactly turn to one of his classmates (none of whom he really recognized) and ask them for the day, month and year. He thought it strange that he actually couldn’t name anybody in his class, and he only remembered halfway through his first day back that he had failed the genin exam three times the first time around. This was probably his original “graduating” class.
After two weeks, he was proven wrong when he was transferred into Iruka-sensei’s class.
Naruto was, for lack of a better word, nervous. Currently, he was sitting in the back of the classroom, head on his arms, which were folded and resting on top of his desk. He was waiting for Iruka-sensei to show up. Naruto had arrived early, for once; he didn’t want to make a worse impression than he already had. He was sitting in the back, strategically, so that he could observe his classmates but avoid their attention.
He vaguely remembered his new classmates’ faces… They certainly looked different without wrinkles—or puberty. Sakura’s hair was distinctive enough, and Kiba’s Inuzuka clan face markings weren’t entirely subtle either. It was strange to think of these children as his friends and companions. Well, technically, they weren’t yet. He was going to have to work on that.
Just then, the door to the classroom burst open and in walked Iruka-sensei. Naruto looked up, hoping that this meeting would be different, and it would be the same old Iruka who bought him ramen and listened as he bitched about Kakashi-sensei and Sasuke-teme and gave him advice on how to talk to Sakura and understood when he said that he was going to become Hokage and you better believe it… and his heart plummeted when he saw the stormy expression on the man’s face. He should have known not to be optimistic in this case. Naruto watched as Iruka glanced around the classroom, before the man’s gaze settled on him, in the last row in the back.
Iruka’s eyes narrowed. Naruto gave a small smile. Iruka’s eyes narrowed further. Naruto sank down in his seat, wanting to hide, but knowing that he couldn’t. He had to face this. That didn’t stop him from almost sighing in relief when Iruka turned his attention to the blackboard and began writing down the day’s lesson-plan.
Naruto could see that Iruka’s knuckles were white around his grip on the chalk. His teacher snapped the piece of chalk twice as he wrote.
“Henge!” Iruka barked, turning to face the class and resolutely avoiding looking up into the final row, where a certain demon-child was sitting. “An illusion in which shinobi can take on the appearance of something that they are not.” Naruto caught the emphasis. “As academy students, you will learn the basics of this technique, enough to be able to take on the appearance of one of your classmates, or even me. Some of you will never learn more than this.” Iruka was outright glaring at Naruto, now. Yes, that was most definitely his ‘super-scary angry face’. “To graduate from the academy, you must be able to hold the henge for at least five minutes. More experienced ninja can hold it for days. Some can even make themselves invisible, to an extent.” Naruto wished that he could become invisible. “Any questions?” Iruka-sensei asked.
Everyone in the classroom was silent. No one dared to ask a question and perhaps have Iruka’s wrath transferred to them.‑
“Recognizing when someone else is using a henge is also an invaluable technique.” Iruka-sensei’s eyes flashed. “Uzumaki.”
Naruto sat up straight as many of the students eyes fell upon the stranger in their midst for the first time. “Yes… sir?” It was best to be polite.
Iruka’s eyes narrowed further. “How would you determine if someone is using a henge?” Naruto knew that academy student weren’t expected to know this. He knew that for sure, because he had overhauled the academy curriculum himself to include it. He knew the signs, of course – little idiosyncrasies, like shadows where there should be light, a slightly different shade of haircolour on a close friend – that helped to determine if something was an illusion – but he couldn’t exactly say so.
He wasn’t supposed to know. He was dead-last Naruto, after all. “I don’t know, sir.”
Iruka made a dismissive noise, as if to say ‘of course the demon wouldn’t want to reveal its secrets.’
“Well, then: what is the exact difference between a henge and lower forms of genjutsu?” Naruto had only learned that distinction after two years in the field as a jounin. It honestly didn’t matter overmuch, as both were dispelled in the same manner. “I don’t know, sir.” Iruka made another dismissive noise.
Naruto could tell by some of the students’ murmurings that his definitely wasn’t normal behaviour from their sensei. Somehow, this didn’t make him feel all that better about his situation. Naruto understood what Iruka was doing; he was trying to demoralize him, make him slip up, or perhaps just get upset enough to leave the academy.
Maybe it was a fluke, last time, that Iruka-sensei liked me… Naruto thought, despondently, slouching further down behind his desk. He could tell that this was only going to be the start of things.
The final school bell at the end of the day had never been a more welcome sound.
Naruto was very sad to have lost his senior discount in many stores. However, he found that a young and cute body was almost as good. If he slapped some mud onto his cheeks and hair, people were hard-pressed to identify him as the demon child, and if he put on the right pathetically hungry face, the kind of face that screamed “I am an orphan! Feed me! Give me a hug!”, sometimes people actually did, if they didn’t realize who he was.
It was nice to feel a little bit loved, or at least not unwanted, for once. Naruto was resolutely avoiding thinking about the academy and its related… tensions.
Today was a beautiful day for a walk. There were many citizens of Konoha who apparently had the same thought as he, as the streets were lively with the bustle of people. Naruto stopped to admire some pastries in the window of a shop, trying to figure out if the shopkeeper liked him enough yet to give him one for free... or at least not sell him one at an extortionary price. In the reflection of the glass, Naruto spotted a pair of dark-haired brothers, the elder carrying the younger. How sweet.
He focussed more of his attention on the pair when he spotted the Uchiha clan symbol emblazoned on the back of the kid’s shirt. With a blink, he realized that it was Sasuke. He almost hadn’t recognized him, as he was both young and happy. He supposed, then, that the one carrying him had to be… Itachi.
The older Uchiha was speaking to the younger with a small smile: a rarity among that family of angst-buckets. In response, the little Sasuke actually laughed. It was… bizarre. Almost surreal.
Sasuke was… actually happy.
Naruto turned to walk on with a smile. It truly was a wonderful day.
Suddenly, a thought struck Naruto, stopping him in his tracks with its intensity.
Oh, shit. What was he going to do about Itachi?
Author’s Note: Yes, what is Naruto going to be doing about Itachi? Find out next time…! :D
“There are some six-year-olds in the youngest class. Some five-year-olds too.” Was I the only one that thought “yay, ninja kindergarten!” at this line? Probably. D: I am such a dork.‑
Oh, and did anybody catch the Harry Potter reference(s)? There was also a “Howl’s Moving Castle” reference, but I myself didn’t realize until my sister pointed it out. Cookies to those who can correctly identify them!
Next Chapter: Changing Tactics