This is part 3 of an ongoing story series. You can read the first part here.

Moto threw his fist forward, crying out in frustration. Sweat poured down his back and brow, his chest heaved, and his limbs felt like lead. He aimed straight towards Iruka’s smirking face.

She was going to do something. He knew it. She always did. Moto pushed aside the dread and focused. Would it be a rock from behind? Perhaps a pull on his feet to throw off his balance?

Iruka raised a hand above her head and Moto felt a tug against his chest, pulling him off balance. At the same time, Iruka dropped down, dodging under his fist while she continued to pull him forward with her outstretched hand. Moto pulled against the ground desperately, trying to stay close.

Iruka’s front foot slid behind him as she crouched. Moto made his feet as heavy as he could, but there was a sharp tug on his ankles and his legs shot out behind him. Iruka kept pulling him forward with her hand. Moto had a strange sense of vertigo from the bursts of gravity pulling in different directions.

At least he was right about her pulling on his feet.

Moto flipped through the air. He reached down towards Iruka and pulled in a last ditch effort. If he could just graze her with a finger.

There was a painful thud against his stomach as a rock collided with Moto in the air. Iruka must have been pulling it behind him the whole time he approached, waiting for a good moment to slam it home. It was too bad the test wasn’t guessing how Iruka would beat him.

The rock’s momentum pushed Moto up and away, sending him crashing to the ground a few feet from Iruka. She smiled down at him as he lay on his back. Again.

“You’re too focused. All you do is try to hit me.”

Moto threw his arms towards the sky. “You keep saying that like it makes any kind of sense. Of course all I do is try to hit you. That’s what you told me to do.”

Iruka shook her head, walking away from Moto and getting into position for another round. She turned to face him again, arms clasped behind her back. “I told you to hit me. That doesn’t mean you have to try to hit me.”

“Oh yeah, great. Now it all makes sense to me.” Moto pushed himself to his feet, smacking the dirt from his legs. “At least you follow your own advice, though.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I ask you to explain something and you don’t even try to explain it.”

Iruka snorted and slapped her leg. “That was a good one, kid.” She turned her nose up, looking serious. “What, you don’t appreciate learning from a wise, enigmatic sensei?” Moto rolled his eyes.

It had been three straight weeks of grueling weekend training. And even though he was tired from normal lessons with the other recruits, Iruka was relentless. But despite the strain, Moto was surprised how much he enjoyed Iruka’s company. Especially with Keta gone on his first contract, he found himself looking forward to the banter during lessons.

Moto chided himself. What was he doing? He wasn’t here to make friends. He settled into a crouch, frowning as he prepared for another attack.

“Your focus makes you predictable. You never stray from your goal and you always take the route that’s most likely to lead to success.

“Imagine how much easier it would be to hit me if I always responded by jumping away from you and maintaining the greatest distance possible. Eventually you’d find a way to exploit it.”

Moto stood straight again, still frowning. “But always jumping away isn’t the most likely strategy for success. I agree you shouldn’t do the same thing all the time. Using a mixed strategy is better. But you’re still just trying to maximize the chances of achieving your goal.”

Iruka shook her head. “You’re putting an unreasonable amount of faith into your own powers of randomization. You think you’re pursuing a mixed strategy, but you’re a lot more repetitive than you realize.”

It was hard to argue given how little success he’d had over the last three weeks. But Moto gave it a shot, digging in his heels. “You’re just more experienced than I am. Everything I do looks repetitive because I don’t have as many options at my disposal. But that just means I need to learn more.”

“Even if you practiced an infinite number of tactics, you wouldn’t actually be able to choose between them all rationally. Even masters develop patterns. And if I know those patterns, I win.”

“Well what should I do then?”

“If you mix your goals, your tactics will naturally vary.” Iruka held out both of her hands. Moto jumped in surprise as a rock went zipping over his shoulder towards Iruka. A few other stones arced towards her as well. She spread her arms wide so the stones missed her body.

But instead of shooting off into the distance, the trajectory of the rocks bent sharply as they passed behind her. Iruka was now surrounded by four fist-sized stones whirring about in different orbits. They outlined a sphere around her.

“Do you know why you have so much trouble hitting me? Besides the fact that you’re slow, predictable, and weak, that is.” She smiled at him.

Moto watched the stones flying through the air. He couldn’t imagine the amount of focus such a move would require. He inched a foot forwards. There’s no way she could fend off an attack while maintaining that. The move had to be for offense, not defense. “Why…?” Just keep her talking.

“It’s because sometimes I’m legitimately not trying to avoid you. I’m just showing off. Or I go for something that provides a general advantage, even if I don’t know how it would help in that specific instance.”

Moto moved in a slow arc around Iruka, acting as though he was admiring the complexity of the stone sphere. He let the arc take him closer. “You just act randomly?”

Iruka shrugged. “Sort of. Sometimes I tell myself I’m not going to move my left foot. It messes with you. Why am I moving that way? Do I have a plan? You hesitate.”

Moto was standing at the edge of Iruka’s vision, just a few strides away. He dashed forward.

Iruka smiled as one of the orbiting stones shot around her shoulders and launched towards him. Moto sidestepped, avoiding the blow and moving closer. Right into the path of a second stone.


Moto cursed. He threw his hand to the side and pulled on the rock, altering it’s trajectory enough to graze past his shoulder. He continued forward, lashing out toward Iruka. She pulled against a stone as it arced behind her, just barely moving out of his reach. Her reactions were slower. Moto pressed his advantage.

“What if you tried to steal one of my stones? That would have stopped this at least.”

Moto felt a pull against his right side, but it was too light to have any effect on him. Unless…

Moto dipped his shoulder as the stone he dodged earlier came flying past. He glanced backward, looking for the second stone. Maybe he could–.

Moto grunted as Iruka planted both boots against his chest and drop-kicked him away. He staggered backwards, off balance. Right as the second stone crashed into his feet. He went sprawling face first into the dirt.

After a moment, Moto raised himself into a sitting position, spitting mud. His ankles throbbed.

Iruka sat cross-legged in the grass a few feet away. “Your instincts are good, kid. Maintaining the stone cloud was a liability. If I was looking for the optimal strategy, I probably wouldn’t have done it. But I wanted to give myself options and put you on unfamiliar ground. I knew I could take advantage of the opportunities that would arise on a dynamic battlefield.”

Again, Moto found it hard to argue with her point. His body was thoroughly seasoned by dirt and grass after so many failed attempts. But he still felt like she was conflating her superior skill with his own weakness. “What you’re saying just sounds reckless to me. Treating the battlefield like a game, taking dubious risks, and pursuing random goals hoping that opportunities will arise. A more focused opponent could take advantage of all the inefficiency.”

Iruka spun several small stones around her hand idly as she spoke. “I get the feeling. But you’re not weighting things properly. You’re just too inexperienced.”

Moto felt his face flush with anger. “Everyone seems so certain about how young and inexperienced I am. You have no idea what I went through to make it this far.”

Iruka shot the stones towards Moto’s face. He cried out in surprise, shielding his face from the tiny barrage. “Oh yeah, you’re the only kid at an academy for spies and assassins who’s had some hardship in their life.” She rolled her eyes. “Nobody gets you.”

Her face softened a bit. “Look, I’m not trying to insult you. Well, OK. Maybe I’m trying to insult you a little bit for fun. But besides that. You’re a smart kid with a lot of potential. But you’re new to this world. It’s only natural that there’s things you don’t understand yet.

“Our abilities dramatically improve our destructive capabilities. But they don’t really improve our mental capacity for using those abilities. Being a little inefficient isn’t that big of a risk because your opponent will be pretty average at exploiting it. But if you’re predictable and they get an easy hit on you, it comes in like a boulder rolling down a mountain.

“On top of that, this world is nothing like the bar fights you’re used to.” Iruka held up a hand, preempting Moto’s indignant reply. “I’m not saying you haven’t been through a lot. But your enemies now are highly trained and they’re trying to mislead you. They will spend their free time concocting schemes to use you and exploit your weaknesses. You have to distrust everything at least a little bit, even things you think are your own ideas.

“Certainty and predictability are the two most deadly flaws a Dagger can have. And as a stone resonant, you’re especially weak to both. You need to be more proactive about avoiding them.”

Moto blinked. “What do you mean? Why would a stone resonant be weaker?”

“All the personalities of stone - relentless, persistent, careful, unyielding - they all have a tendency to get you stuck in ruts. And the more you use your power, the more strongly those mindsets will manifest within you. I’ve seen the way you walk around outside Terran house. You’re always pulling. That’s good.

“But I’ve also watched your fighting style change over the last few months. At Selection Day you were nimble. You tried things. You took risks. At the entrance exam you were only a bit more singleminded. But during the obstacle course, you were so myopic it nearly killed you. All you were thinking about was preserving the run you’d been practicing.”

Moto thought back to the moments Iruka referenced. He didn’t feel like his mindset had changed much since then. But would he have noticed?

“I considered other alternatives during the race. But my original route was still the best strategy.”

“Let’s imagine it was. You still nearly killed yourself just to win a practice event. Why would you take such a huge risk for something so small?”

Moto didn’t have a response. When he looked back on it, he couldn’t quite explain why he’d taken the practice so seriously. Why did he risk dying? He didn’t care about impressing these people.

Iruka shook her head. “Iga wants to make you the perfect weapon. That goes beyond combat training. The competitions, the prestige, the rankings. It’s all designed to increase their control over you, to keep you feeling special so you’ll risk your life for the mission.

“I used to be like you, ready to throw away anything to achieve my dreams. I’ve seen enough people die pointless deaths now to understand who’s really benefitting from your boundless ambition.”

For the last couple weeks, Moto had shared most of his meals with Seiko, the glimmer who worked in the Gearhouse. She no longer manned the railway carts in the evenings, but every worker had keys to operate the transportation system. Well, all of the workers except for Seiko at this particular moment.

Moto stepped out of the railcar and tucked the ring of keys into the sash around his waist, arranging them carefully so they wouldn’t jingle before he stepped into the nighttime shadows. He’d have the keys back to Seiko before she noticed a thing. She was so absorbed in her work when he left, there was a good chance she didn’t even realize he was gone.

The moon was high and bright, forcing Moto to dart from rock to rock to stay hidden. Thankfully, it was late enough that anyone following the rules was already asleep. He only had to slip past a couple guards and he’d have the Contract House to himself.

The terrain on this spire was rocky and desolate. The wind groaned as it blew through narrow pathways carved between jagged upthrusts of stone. The master training grounds loomed overhead, a narrow, near-vertical peak that cast a shadow over everything below.

Looking up at the stone monolith, Moto felt a looming dread. The lifeless silver light of the moon heightened the effect. This was where Soundstealer spent his days. This was the level he needed to reach. It felt so far away.

Moto returned his gaze to the ground before him. He took a deep breath and continued forward. Stay focused.

The thought made Moto hesitate, as it had ever since his conversation with Iruka. His focus had kept him alive the last three years. It helped him shoulder the pain that would have buried him otherwise. But was it turning against him?

Moto struck a fist against the stone, his jaw clenched. No. He wouldn’t question his resolve. He couldn’t.

Moto shook his head and pulled himself up a stone ledge. On the other side was the Contract House. It was a large building. Three stories tall with a steep shingled roof that flared ornately at the bottom. The crests of the four houses were emblazoned along the front wall, lit from below by small bonfires. A well-kept stone pathway stretched from the front entrance.

Compared to the austerity of the rest of the spire, the Contract House gave an air of regal superiority. This was where outsiders came to give the Daggers contracts. It was a display of power as much as it was a functional bureaucratic building.

Moto slinked around to the side of the building, giving a wide birth to the warm pools of lantern light bobbing around the grounds at regular intervals. It wasn’t hard to avoid the guards when you could climb sheer walls and swing from one place to the next without touching the ground. But then again, the guards were placed to stop foreign spies, not members of the village.

Still, Moto was pleased to finally feel like his new powers were granting him an advantage.

A narrow, shingled ledge wrapped around the top of the first and second floors, delineating them from the outside. Moto pulled himself onto the lower of the two ledges and found a window hidden in shadow.

He dropped into the hallway quietly, shutting the window behind him. The building was dark.

Moto hadn’t been able to learn much about the Contract House’s layout beforehand. But he knew the building served several functions. It was the entrance to the jonin training grounds. Contracts were negotiated here. Payments were delivered and collected. Daggers looked through new missions. And there was an archive kept of all previous contracts. That was his goal.

The jonin entrance, new contracts, and payment areas were probably on the first floor for ease of access. That seemed obvious enough. After some thought, Moto decided that the third floor was probably for contract negotiation. Not every client who came to Iga would be obsessed with secrecy. Not inside Iga itself at least, where the only prying eyes were the people being hired. But some of the more careful clients would want to avoid unnecessary exposure. That meant the contract negotiations would be as far away from normal operations as possible. Probably with a secret back entrance for particularly paranoid clients.

So Moto moved through the halls of the second floor.

He placed his feet carefully, knowing that the hallway was probably filled with nightingales - floorboards built intentionally to chirp loudly underfoot. He froze whenever the warm glow of a patrol lantern passed by the window. Moto may have been new to obstacle courses and gravity training exercises, but he was not new to burglary.

The first room Moto tried was a supply storage. It was filled with boxes of blank paper, ink bottles, and some sort of clear liquid that he thought might be used to preserve the contracts. Such a large store of materials was probably worth a good deal of gold. Useless.

The next room was filled with weapons. There were wooden fixtures holding staves and short katana. One wall was taken up completely by daggers, throwing knives, and shuriken. There was a large table filled with short, multi-bladed weapons connected at the handles by chains. Everything had metal inlays. Many weapons were affixed with small gems as well. Jonin weapons, infused with power by the glimmer weapon smiths.

Moto closed this door more reluctantly.

The next door opened onto a large, echoing room. Row upon row of wooden shelves, filled with boxes carefully labelled. The archives.

Moto couldn’t read the labels on the boxes in the dark, so he slid the door shut behind him and struck a match. He cupped his hands around the flame to keep the light from shining too visibly and slid the spent matches into his belt alongside the keys.

It took a while, but eventually Moto figured out the organization scheme of the records. They were arranged by the house of whichever Dagger led the mission. Four major sections stretched towards the back of the room, the records getting older as they went. The contracts were further grouped by their leader, meaning they weren’t completely chronological. Moto moved back and forth down the Zephys archives looking for Soundstealer.

When Moto started running low on matches he took the lantern off the wall and lit it. It had been 30 minutes and no one had walked by. Moto figured he could risk the light, but he kept its flame low, just in case.

He found what he was looking for roughly 15 years back in the archives. Moto lifted the box from the shelf, wiping away a thick layer of dust. He pulled out a stack of contracts and thumbed through them.

The pages had indeed been coated in clear resin to keep them from decaying. On each, beneath the list of terms and description of payment, was a long slash of red. Usually, the blood came from the target of an assassination, or a guard felled during an infiltration. Sometimes, it was smeared with the blood of a member from the squad. But every Dagger contract was signed with blood. It felt a bit melodramatic to Moto.

He rifled through the stacks quickly, checking the dates before pulling out another set of papers. About halfway through, a name caught his eye. One of the Daggers who completed the mission. Iruka Stonesong. Her name appeared more and more frequently, until she seemed to be a regular member of Soundstealer’s squad.

Moto’s mind reeled for a moment as the last few months slid into a new context. Was Iruka still one of Soundstealer’s allies? Would she know his strengths and weaknesses? Could Moto get her to tell him?

He’d spent a fair amount of time with Iruka over the last several months and gotten no sense of a connection to Soundstealer. Moto figured that meant they weren’t close anymore. But still, he filed the information away for later use.

Moto reached back into the box for the next bundle of papers and his hand hit the bottom. There were only a couple pages left. Strange. The contracts in his hands were still six years old.

He pulled the pages out and flipped to the end, where he found a note that wasn’t marked with blood. It was untreated, badly weathered, and seemed to have been thrown in carelessly. The letters were written in the distracted hand of some administrative clerk.

Further records held in private by request of Soundstealer. Approved by Hisoka.

A stamp marked the bottom of the page.

Moto stared with growing frustration. He resisted the urge to ball the paper up and throw it across the room. Six years of missing records. Why? Why did Soundstealer start holding his own contracts?

His thoughts were interrupted by a sharp chirp coming from the hallway outside the archive. The nightingales.

Moto cursed under his breath and began stuffing the contracts back into the box, doing his best to return them in the original order. He extinguished his lantern and crept to the door. He could hear voices coming from further down the hallway.

“Sorry dad, I just stepped on a singer.”

The reply came from further away. Moto couldn’t make out the words, but the voice sounded male.

“I am hurrying! I thought I saw some light coming from the archives but I must have been wrong.” Moto recognized the voice. Fumi.

Did she say dad? Moto swallowed hard. Soundstealer was here.

“I need to pick up some weapons. You go ahead and I’ll meet you at the top.” Moto nearly sighed out loud with relief.

The footsteps hesitated down the hallway, then kept getting closer. Moto scrambled back from the doorway, retreating down one of the archive’s long aisles and hiding himself in the shadows. His heart throbbing in his ears.

The door slid open and moonlight pooled in the entrance. Fumi poked her head in, lit from behind. “Hello?” She reached for the lantern that hung by the doorway and found it missing. She tensed and moved into the room.

Moto looked down at the traitorous lantern in his hands. Could he leave it on the ground and sneak around Fumi? Maybe she would think some clerk had forgotten to put it back when they finished. But the lantern was still warm. Even if he did escape, Fumi would know someone had been in the room recently.

If Fumi thought an outsider had infiltrated Iga, she would tell the masters. It was a far more serious transgression to create an unnecessary security lockdown than it was to sneak into the Contract House after hours. But only if they found out he was responsible for it. Was it worth the risk?

Moto set the lantern down as Fumi ducked into one of the rows.

He waited until she rounded the corner, then turned to slip away. There was a loud clank as his foot caught the lantern on the ground.

Moto was knocked prone as Fumi shot a blast of wind down the hallway. He groaned as Fumi came racing forward, drawing a dagger from her belt.

Moto held his hands up. “Wait, wait! It’s me.”

Fumi hesitated. “Moto?”

He pulled himself into a sitting position. “Yeah.”

There was a faint clink of metal as Fumi grabbed the lantern and lit it. Her face appeared in the darkness, lit from below as she stared at him warily. “What are you doing here?”

Moto hesitated for a moment before replying. “I… uh… it’s complicated.”

“Try explaining.” Fumi frowned as she loomed over Moto.

Moto let out a long sigh, sounding reluctant. “I was looking at old contracts.”

“Obviously. Why?”

“I’m worried about Keta.”

The best way to lie was to let them think they’d already caught you. With Moto sprawled across the floor, looking like a fool as he tried to escape, Fumi thought she had already won. She had no reason to think he kicked the lantern on purpose.

“What are you talking about?”

“It’s hard to explain…” Fumi stared on silently. “Keta wants to help people. But Daggers don’t always do good things. I don’t want to see Keta become a bad person.” All true enough. “I was looking through the old contracts to see if there were any clients who only used Daggers to help people.”

Fumi looked at him skeptically. “You expect me to believe that you’re in here because you’re worried about your boyfriend? You threw me off a cliff after I saved you. Just so you could get what you want. You’re selfish. Everyone knows that. So why would you be in here for someone else?”

Moto hadn’t realized the other kids thought that way. It was true. He just didn’t think he’d been so obvious.

“Look, I know I’m not a great person. I don’t care about most people, but I do care about Keta. He’s the first person I’ve cared about since–” Moto caught himself. “In a long time. I want to protect him. Keep him from becoming more like me.”

There had been enough true emotion in Moto’s voice to make Fumi pause. She sighed. “I hate this. I want to believe you, Moto. Everyone thinks that Daggers need to be ruthless and logical. But all the distrust makes my family miserable. I wanted to do things differently. I wanted to trust the people around me. But since you arrived, all you do is use people.”

Iruka was right. Moto had been so focused on achieving his goal. He thought he knew exactly how to get what he wanted and that certainty had burned a lot of bridges. Bridges he hadn’t known he needed until now.

At least he had realized early. He would get in trouble for sneaking into the archives, but not so much trouble that they would kick him out. He could recover, working harder to build up the connections and resources he originally ignored.

He might as well start on that now.

“Fumi, I’m sorry.” He looked to the ground. “You’re right. I just– I’ve been on my own for the last three years and I’m not used to being in a place where everyone isn’t trying to kill me and take my money. It might take a while for me to change, but I don’t want to be like this. I want to be like you and Keta.”

Fumi let out another sigh, shaking her head. “This is stupid and I’m sure I’m going to regret this.” Moto blinked in surprise as she offered her hand. He stared at it blankly. “Well? Hurry up. If I take much longer my dad will realize I’m not following him up the mountain. If he finds you, you’re going to get in trouble.”

Moto grabbed Fumi’s wrist skeptically. “You’re not going to turn me in?”

“We can keep sniping and cutting each other down at every opportunity. But that only leads in one direction.” She pulled him to his feet and caught his eyes. “I meant what I said. I’m not going to be like other Daggers. I want to change the way Daggers think so we can all be happy. And if I can change you, the rest will be a breeze.” Fumi broke into a smile and poked his chest. “Besides, if Keta can stand spending so much time with you, there must be something worthwhile buried in there.”

Moto turned his head to the side, uncertain what to think. “Thank you.”

Fumi began pushing him towards the door. “ Oh, and about Keta. I’ve got a proposition I think you’re going to like. But let’s talk about it when you’re not breaking and entering.”

Iruka stood amidst a cloud of swirling stones, smirking as usual. Moto watched her casual mastery, wondering why he had been so surprised to learn that Iruka partnered with Soundstealer. It seemed obvious now. Were they still friends?

Moto shook his head. He needed to stop focusing on Soundstealer. He was too far away to worry about. Right now his job was to make friends. And he did enjoy spending time with Iruka. Moto let himself accept that as he returned to the task at hand.

He wanted to charge forward, but that was obvious. Don’t try to hit her. What then?

Iruka was obnoxiously proud of her stone cloud. Moto hadn’t seen any other stone-bringer using the technique. It was quite possible she had invented the trick. Moto thought of the look on her face if he could use her own move against her and smiled.

He reached a hand out towards a lose stone and pulled it towards him. He moved his hand to the side, throwing the stone into orbit.

The rock made a sharp turn in the air and went shooting out of control. Moto yelped as he barely avoided the projectile. Just orbiting one stone was beyond him.

Iruka chuckled, catching his stone and pulling it into her cloud. “Not as easy as it looks, huh?”

Moto revised his plan. Maybe he would just try to take one of Iruka’s stones.

He rushed forwards, charging like he usually did. Iruka pretended to yawn. “Not this again.” A stone came arcing over her shoulder and shot towards him.

But this time he jumped back, pulling against the stone to take it out of orbit. Iruka reacted instinctively, pulling the missile back into her cloud. She looked over her glasses. “Interesting…” She shot a second stone at him.

Moto turned, dodging the rock. He latched on with his gravity and gave an extra tug as it sailed by, trying to send the rock flying away. His shoulder lurched and he swung back around as he met the iron wall of Iruka’s power.

Moto gasped. A stone-bringer’s gravity was dramatically weaker at larger distances. Moto was standing right next to the stone while Iruka was a good 15 feet away. And yet Iruka had tossed his effort aside like it was nothing. He couldn’t possibly overcome such a large differential in power.

He paused. What if he didn’t have to?

Moto sprang forward again. This time, Iruka threw stones more carefully, ready to pull them back if he tried something funny. Moto smiled. She couldn’t figure out what he was doing. He jumped left, then right, dodging the slower stones easily. He rolled under another stone, springing up inside the cloud itself.

Iruka jumped backwards, expecting him to lash out. But instead he reached behind and pulled on a stone. Iruka’s eyes widened in realization. If he was between her and the cloud, she couldn’t oppose his pulls.

Moto flung a stone into the distance, but Iruka managed to catch it were her gravity before it got out of range. The stone’s orbit shot out of the cloud sharply. Moto reached for another stone, throwing it to the other side. Iruka caught that too.

At the same time, a stone arced around her hip, angling towards him. Moto flipped backwards, pulling on the ground behind him to help with the maneuver. As the stone sailed overhead, he focused gravity into his foot and caught the stone along his sole, trying to kick it into the distance.

Moto began to sweat. The spherical stone cloud was now a chaotic, spiky mess. But no matter how hard he tried, Iruka caught every stone before Moto could throw it out of orbit. He watched her in amazement. Her control was legendary.

At least his throws were having some effect, though. Iruka’s face was set in concentration. Even for her, it was difficult. She paid him little attention as she tracked the stones flying past. He was close enough to see the sweat flicking off her spiky black hair.

Wait. She paid him little–

Moto reached forward and placed his open palm against Iruka’s stomach. “Got you.”

The stone cloud went flying in random directions. Iruka looked down at Moto’s arm in shock. He looked at his hand, dumbfounded as well.

They both started laughing.

It started as a chuckle, but Iruka quickly lost control. She fell to her butt, eyes scrunched closed, snorting. That sent Moto off as well. After four weeks, the elation of finally succeeding made him lightheaded. He fell backwards, giggling. “Got you!”

After a moment, Iruka’s laughter calmed and she wiped tears from her eyes. “That was good, kid.”

Moto still laid on his back, smiling as he stared at the sky. “I couldn’t manage to get a single stone away from you, though.”

“You’ll get there. You just need more training.”

Both of them were still out of breath from the battle moments before. Moto still couldn’t believe Iruka’s skill. He understood how she had become a member of Soundstealer’s squad. And he knew why no one else fought like she did. They couldn’t.

“Can you teach me how to make the stone cloud?”

“Yeah.” She paused. “I think I probably could. You’ll have to learn on the go, though.”


“Well, I’ve decided you’re ready for your first mission.”

You can read the next story in this series here.