9 Curse of Ice (Part 6)

As Hayase and Obito exit the class after successfully avoiding any trouble that day, Rin and Kurenai are still clearly upset with Obito. Sighing, Hayase thinks, 'This dumbass just needs to make a sincere attempt to apologize and this would probably be over. Kami...'

Whispering to Obito next to him in the hall, Hayase said, "Oi Obito, you should at least try apologizing before they leave, ya know?"

Just as Obito begins to react, Hayase interjects, "Don't crinkle your nose at me! It's good advice! If you skimmed the books that I suggested, you'd know that I was right."

In response, Obito tilted his head back in a big sigh, "Ugh fine. You're probably right... It was a good prank though."

"Whatever, just don't say that to them though..." said Hayase as he pinched the bridge of his nose.

From there, Hayase watched Obito sprint ahead to two girls for what seemed like a relatively positive conversation. 'No slapping or crying, that's good. Obito is still in one piece. Awkward smiles at the end?' Hayase mentally narrated as he tried to evaluate the interaction.

By the Hayase had caught up, Rin and Kurenai had already left Obito standing at the academy gate, standing pensively. "Well, how'd it go?" asked Hayase, "Manage to patch things up?"

"Hah, Kurenai is still pretty mad... but if I know the Rin, she'll probably talk her down soon. Rin seemed happy that I apologized at least!" replied Obito clearly experiencing mixed feelings.

"Hey, it takes time... the earlier you try to apologize the better though, trust me," commented Hayase sagely.

Seeing Hayase's serious attitude, Obito chuckled, "What are you trying to be some kind of relationship guru? You've never even held hands with a girl! Haha!"

Grumbling, Hayase said, "Whatever... I don't know why I even try to help. Let's just go."

As Obito and Hayase made their way to the stream, Hayase thought about what little he knew of Obito: his desire to be Hokage, his crush on Rin, his potential future, and his orphan status. For a character so often compared to a young Naruto in the series, so many unknowns surrounded Obito despite the parallels. Was his fall to the dark side really so surprising?

"Hey Obito, I heard you say that your dream is to become Hokage..." started Hayase, and he could see Obito already starting to tense up at where the question might go, "Do you mind telling me why that's your dream? It's a bit of a walk to the stream so I just thought I'd ask."

Seeing that Hayase didn't mock his dream, Obito visibly relaxed and replied, his eyes sparking, "The Hokage is the best shinobi in the village! His strength is acknowledged by everyone... Everyone looks up to them."

Turning to literally look up at the Hokage rock, Hayase replied, "Hmm... I can understand that I guess."

Following Hayase's eyes, Obito asked, "Well, what about you? What's your dream?"

"Hah... It's not much of a dream. I just want to survive this war... and live long enough to become a strong shinobi by mastering my water bending," replied Hayase with a sad smile.

"No, that's a good dream!" declared Obito in response before joking, "Besides, we can't all be Hokage. You'd lose out to me anyway so it's better that you have a simpler dream!"

"Thanks, ya bastard! Maybe I should change my dream just to spite you.." replied Hayase as he lightly punched Obito's arm.

"I'd like to see you try!"

"Well this will be our first chance to compare who's stronger!" commented Hayase, seeing that they had arrived at the stream. It was odd being there when he knew Kanae wouldn't be meeting him there, but he quickly put that in the back of his mind.

Cracking his knuckles, Obito said, "Alright, you want to see who's stronger? Should we make this a full spar then?"

"Yeah, that works for me! A full spar with jutsu." answered Hayase as he got into a comfortable stance near the stream.

"Alright! Let's do this Hayase! Don't underestimate a future Hokage of the leaf!" Obito said as he adjusted his signature goggles.

Standing about 10 feet apart the two boys stood in opposed positions. Hayase with his back to the stream and Obito with the Village at his back. An unspoken agreement seemed to overtake them as they each stilled as if waiting for the other's movement to signal that the spar had begun.

With a change of the wind, Obito shot forward aggressively! Adopting a more defensive stance, Hayase used his water bending to send a column of water to intercept Obito's charge.

Forced to roll out of the way, Obito lost the forward momentum that he built up earlier. Taking advantage of this momentary slowdown from his hours of practice with Guy, Hayase followed up with a flurry of water orbs from the stream. The first caught Obito in the shoulder, the second in the leg, but the sly Uchiha caught on and avoided the rest before they could land, unfortunately.

"Hah! You won't get me that easily!" shouted Obito as he threw a shuriken to disrupt another follow-up attack from Hayase before charging in again. Having closed the distance, Obito immediately throws a wild punch into Hayase's guard, and another one and another one.

The unrelenting Uchiha clearly had enough of being a punching bag for Hayase's water bending and wanted to turn the tables. Unfortunately, as swift as the punches were, they weren't as fast or as hard as Guy's hits. 'In fact,' thought Hayase, 'Our speed and strength might actually be on similar levels... I don't know if that's a compliment to me or an insult to him though.'

Maintaining a tight guard, Hayase began ducking and weaving through Obito's attacks. Interestingly, Obito did seem to react fairly fast to Hayase's dodging despite lacking the sharingan, but he wasn't an Uchiha for nothing.

When the punches slowed for a second, Hayase struck! Knocking Obito's latest punch sideways, Hayase hit him with a body blow that disrupted Obito's whole rhythm of attack.

Then, while Obito was still recovering, Hayase launched a roundhouse kick which Obito managed to guard against just in time. However, the kick still sent Obito tumbling back several feet as he tried to cushion the blow.

Suddenly, as Obito got back to his feet, he inhaled deeply and began weaving hand signs. 'Shit! He's not wasting any time at all!' thought Hayase as jumped back into the stream where he called up as much water as he could into the air around him.

By the time Obito completed the hand sign sequence [AN: Snake → Ram → Monkey → Boar → Horse → Tiger], Hayase had already summoned up a torrent of water around him and had it rotating around him.

Despite the stream providing him with water, Hayase was still shocked by the sudden burst of heat that he felt when the Fire style: Great Fireball jutsu finally left Obito's lip and rocketed towards him in its fiery glory. Around 6 feet in diameter, the ball of fire threatened to burn Hayase to a crisp if he remained inactive.

Luckily, he was prepared. Almost immediately after the jutsu was launched, Hayase countered with his own burst of water from the stream in an effort to weaken the fireball. With a powerful stream of water colliding with the center of the fireball, the fireball jutsu was partially extinguished and a burst of stream fizzled into the sky. However, the power of fire was too much for the meager amount of water so many of the flames continued moving even if it was no longer as fireball shaped as they might have been previously.

Knowing that such a possibility was likely, Hayase had used his water bending to form a wall of water between himself and the fire. This was his last line of defense. By concentrating all of the remaining water that he could muster from the stream in front of him, he placed all of his hopes on this barrier and water's advantage over the fire.

'These are the types of moments that I train for!' he thought as the flames smashed into the wall of water. With the outer layer evaporating almost instantly, the humidity hung tight to his skin and the bright light of the flames illuminated his face through the water. For a second, it felt like the wall was holding, but then the heat began to build and build! He had to do something to keep it from all turning to steam and boiling him!

'Ice! I've got to cool the water down,' thought Hayase desperately. Grasping at his connection with the near-boiling water, Hayase willed it to cool down as fast as possible, freeze even, whatever it takes! Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, this haphazard attempt at freezing boiling water resulted in an explosion of pressure from heat trapped in the ice! And that very explosion knocked Hayase across the stream and away from the remaining flames.

"Oi Hayase! Are you alright?" cried a distraught Obito.

With his head still ringing, Hayase replied, "I'm fine... that fire jutsu of yours really is no joke."

Awkwardly scratching his head, Obito replied, "Yeah, I mean... I've never seen it cause an explosion like that though..."

"Heh, that was my fault actually... don't worry about it," commented Hayase as he lay on the ground recovering.

Recovering slowly, Hayase thought to himself, 'I really underestimated the strength of C-rank jutsu. I guess my water bending attacks are only comparable to D-rank jutsu right now... I've been too cocky.'

As Hayase pulled himself up to his feet, he saw Obito staring at him uneasily. "Don't worry. I'm fine... Honestly." said Hayase trying to comfort the fire breather, "I just might have to wait until I get a little stronger before I try this again if that's alright."

"That's fine with me! I'd rather not accidentally burn you to a crisp!" replied Obito, a bit too seriously to be a joke.

"Yeah... when they say the Hokage is supposed to spread the will of fire, I don't think that means they're looking for people who actually set people on fire," joked Hayase in an attempt to lighten the mood.

"Whatever, if you're in the mood to make bad jokes, then you're obviously feeling fine," remarked Obito although he still seemed a little skeptical.

"Yep, fit as a fiddle... except for the ringing in my ears," said Hayase as he picked at the imaginary wax in his ears.

"Hah... that's good. I better get home to dinner," answered Obito although Hayase suspected that he was worried for his health still. As Obito was leaving though, he called out, "By the way, that water jutsu of yours may be really annoying, but I'll be ready for it next time!"

"Don't worry! I'll have some more tricks ready too!" shouted Hayase in reply all while thinking, 'From the way that he's talking, you'd think he'd lost or something... I guess he didn't expect to actually need to use the Great Fireball Jutsu to win against me.'

As Hayase reflected on the elemental exchange, he realized how naive he had been. His advantage with water bending is its flexibility and low chakra usage. In a direct confrontation of power with a C-rank jutsu, he is easily lost out right now. He needed to change that!

'Both the water bullet jutsu and ice bending are my tickets to success!' he thought hopefully, 'I, at least, need some powerful option for these situations... I've been so constrained in the amount of water that I could use that I haven't really trained in using large amounts of water. To fight against more powerful jutsu, I'll need even more water... The water bullet jutsu will really help...'

However, Hayase also found himself recalling Abe-sensei's guidance to increase his lethality. Having wide-scale attacks wouldn't necessarily solve that problem. If anything, today showed that it was more about survivability than lethality.

Conflicted, Hayase thought to himself, 'Most of the time, smaller-scale attacks work just fine. Some of the most iconic jutsu like the Chidori and Rasengan are basically just one-on-one combat jutsu unless you dump a ton of chakra into them [AN:*cough* Naruto *cough*]. High-speed water or ice could easily be lethal too even in small amounts...'

Despite his recklessness, Hayase felt some happiness at his ice bending coming through for him when he needed it... With all of his struggles with the element, seeing that he could use it even if poorly at a critical moment was a load off of his mind. Thinking back to his agreements with Kanae, Hayase knew that his next few weeks would be busy between practicing with ice bending and preparing to attempt the water bullet jutsu. It felt like change was just around the corner...

When he next sparred with Obito, Hayase knew that both of them would be better prepared for each other's tricks.

Tired from a long day, Hayase debated skipping his workout Guy... but, he knew that he would never hear the end of it if he did. "Ugh! They like to climb the Hokage rock on Fridays, don't they?" muttered Hayase as he made his way toward Konoha's resident training maniacs.

***Notes from the next Five days***

Reflections on Conditioning:

- With the added difficulty of the ankle weights, I fell behind Caito and Kojima in the running drills and obstacle course this week. My legs are definitely sorer, but nothing unmanageable.

Class: History

- Massive Battles: Unlike the Warring States Period, the First Great Shinobi War concentrated shinobi on each side in levels never before seen on the battlefield. As a result, villages ended up developing tactics and battle plans for coordinating jutsu between hundreds of shinobi to take advantage of this new mass warfare.

- Hit-and-run tactics: The more classic of the shinobi war tactics, guerrilla warfare, was the staple of smaller combat engagements. Targeting weak points in the enemy lines (such as supply lines) and then retreating before they can counter-attack is tried and true method of war.

- Espionage: We learned about the establishment of the Anbu and their role in infiltration and assassination during the war. Created by Tobirama before the war began, the Anbu took a vastly expanded role during the war. Instead, primarily serving as the Hokage's loyal guard and domestic covert force, they began also operating behind enemy lines with absolute secrecy and lethal discretion.

Class: Chakra Theory and Ninja Basics

- Konoha's Kekkei Genkai: Byakugan, Sharingan, Wood release, Kurama clan's genjutsu.

- Konaha's Clans: Senju, Uchiha, Sarutobi, Shimura, Hyuga, Nara, Yamanaka, Akimichi, Aburame, and Inuzuka

Reflections on Practical Sessions

- Taijutsu Spars: With the added ankle weights, I'm not able to move as agilely as I normally like to... took a few big hits from both Caito and Kojima this week. I'm adjusting though. The training with Abe-sensei might be paying off because it feels like I've been reacting faster lately.

- Shuriken and Kunai Throwings: Since I've been working on using weapons with my water bending, I've gotten somewhat better at target practice, but I've mostly focused on senbon so it's not a major improvement yet.

Private Sessions with Abe Sensei

- Dodging and Hand Sign Practice: Still pretty brutal, but I'm not leaving in as much pain as the first day so I must be doing something better. I've gotten better about watching anticipating when Abe-sensei will try to exploit my blind spot though. That by itself has helped a lot... Weaving the hand signs now has basically become second nature. I've probably done it hundreds of times by now in all sorts of precarious situations thanks to Abe-sensei's interference.

- Water Nature Transformation: I showed my progress to Abe-sense and he seemed satisfied enough to agree with Kanae's assessment that I could try the water bullet jutsu soon.

- Combining Senbon and Water Bending: After thoroughly exhausting me with the dodging practice, Abe-sensei had me practice using a water whip with senbon inside of it... It was much more difficult than I expected. Trying to keep the senbon facing the right direction as the whip extends is one of the most frustrating water bending feats that I've attempted yet. Half of the needles end up smashing sideways into the target uselessly. Right now, it is more like a buckshot than the precision attack that he was hoping to create.

Class: Medical-Nin Elective

- Obito and the girls were getting along again. He promised not to pull any similar pranks on them in the future.

- The class is focusing more on specific medical treatments now. Different medical jutsu and non-jutsu ways of helping patients recover. Apparently, there are actually many types of medical jutsu other than just the mystic palm and chakra scalpal, but those are the most all-purpose ones that master medical-nin can use to solve just about any problem. More mediocre medical-nin learn specific modifications of the mystic palm jutsu to ease the burden of healing simple injuries like cuts.

- Note to self: Tagi-sensei announced that some students will get an opportunity to volunteer over their winter break at the hospital if their grades are good enough (can't have bad students endangering patients). I'm not planning on doing much besides training so maybe I should consider the opportunity. It would be good to see Michiaki-san again.

Reflections on Therapy Assignments:

- Ice Bending: I recorded my efforts with the training method that Kanae proposed. Sometimes, it feels more like a chakra control exercise than anything else. No issues with my chakra network luckily. The emotional strain from ice bending seems to be lightening a bit, but maybe that's just my wishful thinking.

- Water Bullet Jutsu: Still a few more days until I will be trying out the jutsu... Abe-sensei says that I'm ready, but I've started to have nightmares about trying it and all that comes out of my mouth is blood... endless blood. I hope they're right about me being ready.

- Social Life: When I was training with Guy, I heard him mention going to Ichiraku Ramen with Duy-san! I thought it existed now, but I hadn't seen it. Now that I know Guy has been there though, I think that is the next place that I'll everyone to come eat with me. How could I pass up on the so-called 'food of gods'?

Reflections on Evening training with Guy:

- Duy-san left on another long mission so it's just Guy and me again.

- After sparring with Obito, I've realized that I've become too stationary when I fight so I've been working on staying mobile when sparring with Guy.

*** Exit Notes ***

A clear blue sky filled to the brim with clouds captured Hayase's gaze as he waited for Kanae to arrive by the stream. The last few days had blown by in a whirlwind. A few late assignments were beginning to pile up as he put them off in favor of practicing his more practical skills. There was only so much time in the day and he not only had he begin creating ice regularly, but he also was needing practice his water chakra nature change regularly as well.

By that time, he was finished with his 'essential' work. Hayase's eyes would immediately glaze over if he even tried to write about the first shinobi war or summarize the important features of Konoha's clans. Even knowing the answers, he can barely summon the mental strength to scrap together dinner after quite literally battling his inner demons.

It was only in peaceful moments like this where the shinobi world and its war and death seemed distant that he could relax and truly recover the mental resources that he expended throughout the week.

***Kanae Yamanaka***

'I hope the kid is ready... permission to use Forty-Fourth Training Ground is hard to come by. Normally, the Jonin instructors have it booked up in an effort to give their genin some experience with the 'Forest of Death' before tossing them into the war.' thought Kanae as she ruminated on her plan for the day.

Until Hayase faced death with his ice bending, the old Yamanaka knew that he would always have doubts about his mental fortitude and about whether the cold was really a threat or not. With Hayase's fear of death pushing him to become stronger, Kanae knew that it was only a matter of time before he pushed himself too far too fast and she'd rather that he did it under her supervision and protection.

'Sometimes, coming close to death is the only way to truly overcome your fear of it...' Kanae thought under a cheerless visage.

As she approached the stream, the old Yamanaka quickly noticed some scorch marks along the stream indicating that some sort of fire had occurred. The burn pattern was inconsistent with a campfire so she instantly ruled that out which really only left a fire jutsu since it wasn't a season when fireworks were being sold. However, it burns seemed at least a few days old.

'Hmm... odd. I've rarely seen anyone use this area, especially shinobi,' she thought to herself as she eyed Hayase suspiciously.

"Hayase-kun... you're a bit early today," commented Kanae in her usual stern aged voice.

"Yeah... Abe-sense let me out a little early today for some reason. He said you had something special planned... What's going on?" replied Hayase, still unmoved from his cloud-watching posture.

"Don't worry little cloud-watcher, we're just going over to training ground forty-four. Get up already, or are you going to make this old lady drag you across the village?" Kanae said accusatorily.

***Hayase POV ***

'Training ground forty-four... why does that sound familiar?' Hayase found himself thinking, but he just couldn't place it before finally groaning, "Alright... Alright... Couldn't I have just met you there?"

"I wouldn't want you getting lost... Besides, we're going to a specific part of the training ground."

Demonstrating just how fast an old kunoichi shuffle, Hayase found himself staring at Kanae's legs in confusion. 'How the hell is she keeping up with me?' thought Hayase, ' she takes such tiny steps, but whenever I look away she suddenly bursts ahead. Is she using the body flicker to screw with me?'

Barely paying attention to their changing surroundings as he tried to catch Kanae in the act of body flickering, Hayase suddenly realized where they were! 'Training ground forty-four... The forest of death, she can't be serious. This is used for the chunin exams!' Hayase exclaimed internally.

"Kanae-san! We're not really going in there, are we?" asked Hayase nervously.

"What? Do you think I dragged myself all the way out here for some sightseeing?" Kanae replied back jokingly.

Still not seeing the point of charging into somewhere with 'death' literally in its name, Hayase asked, "What's the point of this? How is supposed to be therapeutic?"

Walking towards the nearby entrance, Kanae replied without looking back, "Therapy isn't all roses and talking your feelings, kid. Sometimes the best therapy is confronting your problems head-on, especially, for a stubborn brat like yourself."

"Tch! Wait up Kanae-san!" shouted Hayase as he ran after her, 'If this crazy Yamanaka gets me killed, I'm coming for her in my next life...'

Inside the forest, the atmosphere seemed to change instantly. The sky could no longer be seen through the thick branches of the monstrous trees. Echoes of squawking birds bounced throughout the trees, and it was unknown to Hayase if the sounds were their dying breaths or their mating calls.

The air simply felt heavy as the pressure of the situation weighed on Hayase although Kanae seemed as relaxed as she would on an evening stroll. Fearing what he might awaken, Hayase whispered, "How are you so relaxed? Aren't there supposed to be giant predators in here?"

Replying softly, she said, "This area is the territory of a massive centipede. A nocturnal predator. It normally waits until the day cools down before it starts prowling."

Somewhat more at ease with that information, Hayase let out an exhale that he didn't realize that he had been holding in and asked another question, "Where are we headed though?"

"There's a river about a kilometer ahead of us. That's where we're headed. It's the nesting grounds of the centipede,' She replied nonchalantly.

Eyes wide, Hayase muttered, "The nesting ground? I thought we didn't need to worry about the centipede."

"We don't need to worry about the centipede now... but once we arrive that's a different story. You need to prepare yourself," instructed Kanae.

"Wait!" shouted Hayase, no longer able to keep his volume to a safe level, "I refuse to follow you any farther without an explanation! You said that I need to confront my problem head-on early... what's this centipede have to do with my problem? I'm not scared of bugs!"

Stopping in place, Kanae scanned their surrounding in case Hayase's shout woke up any threats. Seeing none, she turned to face her young patient and said in a hushed voice, "You've been pushing yourself to overcome your trauma very fast, Hayase... Too fast even. Each of the assignments that I've given has been to slowly expose yourself to your triggers and desensitize yourself to them. The next steps: using ice bending normally and the water bullet jutsu are bigger leaps from what you've been doing so far..."

Sighing, Kanae shook her head and continued, "In your journal, you described pushing past the memories and emotions that come up from ice bending... Ignoring those emotions, it's unhealthy. The root of your problem lies in your fear that the ice... the cold... you view it as somehow a threat to you. Only by coming to view the ice as your ally in battle will you make any progress."

Uncertainty overwhelmed Hayase as he listened to Kanae's words. It was hard for him to dismiss her guidance, but she was also missing part of the puzzle because she didn't know about his memories. Despite that uncertainty, he also felt that there was a kernel of truth to her words. He wouldn't magically wake up one day with trauma gone, but maybe he could change how he looked at his ice bending.

"And this centipede, it will make me see my ice as an ally?" asked Hayase, slowly piecing together what resolve he could.

"This centipede has been in the forest for years... It's fought off many predators, but it's nearing the end of its life. The stream near its nest will be an ideal location for you to fight and its weakness to cold ought to give you plenty of incentive to give your ice bending a shot," Kanae answered, feeling glad that Hayase seemed to be taking to the exercise as she hoped.

Unbeknownst to Hayase, Kanae found himself thinking of her nephew, Henshin, as she watched Hayase resolve himself to fight. Henshin, despite his reputation for bravery, had been a cowardly child. She never knew how he grew up to be so courageous, but she suspected that he was built slowly in moments like these.

"Alright... but don't expect me to protect you while I fight granny! I've got to worry about myself!" declared Hayase with confidence.

Chuckling, Kanae replied with a sinister grin, "Don't worry, Hayase-kun... I'm still pretty handy with senbon after all of these years and let's just say I've got enough poison on me to incapacitate all of the beasts in this forest many times over. A few of them might even remember me... haha"

Ignoring the chuckle that slowly turned into an evil cackle, Hayase simply shook his head and tried to think of a battle plan against the centipede. As they walked, Hayase asked, "Is there anything else that I should know about the centipede?"

"Hmm... Well as I mentioned it is normally nocturnal so it actually hunts based on scent and doesn't even have eyes. More importantly, though, I'd watch out for its bite that venom of its has a kick." warned Kanae as they weaved their way through the dark maze of trees.

"Venom... shit," muttered Hayase, "I guess you don't get to the top of the food chain without some tricks at least."

All of sudden, Kanae's walk slowed and she began to crouch. In a soft whisper, she said, "See that small opening along the rocks there by the river. That's where the centipede rests during the day."

With his heart pounding as he looked around at the clearing, Hayase saw could see a small clumping of rocks no more than 20 feet from the river. If Kanae hadn't pointed out the rocks, he never would have imagined a dangerous creature living there. It didn't scream 'Danger!' in the same way that cave might.

Taking in the rest of his battlefield-to-be, Hayase guess that this likely used to be an area where animals used to gather to drink from the river before the centipede set up its nest here: a wide natural clearing in an otherwise dense forest bordering a river. Compared to the stream where he normally met with Kanae, the rapidly moving water of the river's depths felt far more foreboding.

However, as sweat dripped down his palms, Hayase also knew that the river was his ultimate advantage in this fight. Being able to fight without fear of running out of water was a godsend in the forest of death.

"-Er... Wait! How do I wake it up?" He asked after realizing the dilemma of hunting a nocturnal predator.

Jumping up into the trees, Kanae answered as her voice faded into the distance, "I'm sure you'll figure something out... Good luck Hayase-kun! I'll be watching!"

"Kanae-san!" whispered Hayase to no avail at her disappearing figure, 'Damn it!'

Looking back at the nest, Hayase got a simple idea... one that he hoped would work: flooding the nest! Slinking his way closer to the river, Hayase did his best to avoid stepping on any branches. Finally, close enough to the river, Hayase could now see the size of the entrance to the nest. It couldn't have been more than 3ft wide. 'That doesn't seem so bad... maybe it isn't very big,' he hoped.

Taking the deepest breath that he could manage, Hayase tried to calm his nerves. 'Kanae-san is around... If things go sideways, I'm sure she could save me,' Hayase tried to convince himself internally.

'Fuck... is this really worth it?' Hayase asked himself as he began resonating his chakra with the water. However, after asking that question, he realized that the simple answer was that he wouldn't know if he didn't try. For all he knows, he could be thrown into the war in a few months.

'If Kanae thinks that this battle could help me, then I need to try... even if this sounds fucking crazy,' thought Hayase, 'I just hope she's right... I really need her to be.'

With his resolve as strong as he could muster, Hayase diverted the path of the river near him to flow towards the rock nest. As the water slowly began making its way across the ground nearing the nest, Hayase began listening and waiting for any signs of life. 10 seconds pass... more and more water has flooded the nest, 20 seconds pass... suddenly ground begins to rumble!

Stopping the water, Hayase retreats further from the nest and assumes his stance by the river. The rumbling continues for a few seconds... Hayase can feel his heart pounding, but then it stops and there is only silence. Moments pass... but then it burst out of the rocks.

Its onyx carapace glistens from the water. The centipede's many legs were seemingly obsidian daggers attached to its almost 20-foot-long body. Once out in the open, the centipede's head was raised up and moved throughout the air likely trying to determine the source of the watery disturbance to its slumber.

Not knowing whether the creature was using smell or noise to survey its surrounding, Hayase held still as a statue as he tried to plan his next action. Unfortunately, through its sensory antenna, it soon located Hayase and shot forward toward him!

Unable to formulate a more complex plan, Hayase used his water bending to send a surge of water out from the river colliding with the centipede. Washed back a few feet, the creature barely hesitated before using its many legs to rocket forward again.

Bending what water he could, Hayase circled around the centipede's charge while punching out orbs of water as he went. Sadly, the water seemed to splash harmlessly off the creature's shell with no effect. 'Dammit, my normal water bending attacking really aren't doing anything against this centipede!' Hayase thought in frustration.

Futile splash after futile splash only signaled the closing in of the monstrous insect on its prey. Even mixing in senbon appeared to have no effect! Then, it reached him! The centipede's pincer-like jaws snapped closed inches from his head as he rolled away from the creature's attack.

Hayase's running and dodging quickly proved to not be enough. The centipede's next attack came even closer! This time dodging was only enough to save him from its jaws, but one of its many legs slashed across Hayase's left arm as he tried to get away.

Blood dripping down his arm and two close calls with venomous bites left Hayase with no hesitation left in his body. Gritting his teeth, Hayase declared, "Alright you fucking insect! Let's see how you like an early winter!"

Going back to basics, Hayase used his bending to create as big of a wave as he could and sent it flowing out of the river! When the centipede charged toward him again, Hayase froze the wet grass under its body causing it to momentarily freeze in place. Importantly, though, Hayase used Kanae's method of cutting off the resonance to achieve this result. Therefore, when the creature shook its body free of the ice moments later, Hayase was still recovering from the aftereffects!

Angered by the cold, the centipede slapped Hayase into the river with the tail end of its body, cutting him with its rough edges as it did. Sent flying through the air, the unconscious Hayase had the wind get knocked out of him as he crashed into the river...

Disoriented by the sudden impact, Hayase regained consciousness beneath the surface of the river. With his body weak from exertion and bleeding, the caress of the water felt like a perfect place for a nap... a long nap...

'So here I am again... it seems like I'm destined for rivers to be my tombs,' he thought as his memories of crashing in the icy river began to overlap with his experience now. He could feel that death was near. It would be so easy to just give up. Being a shinobi is a difficult unforgiving life, why not just take the easier way? Maybe the next life would be easier... Or maybe he'd just end up back in a river...

*Ba bump* *Ba bump* *Ba bump* *Ba bump*

With each beat slowing, he could feel himself going colder just like in his memories. Only... now it felt like a choice. A choice to be afraid of dying painfully and instead choose certain death!

'No! I'll be damned if I let myself die here like this!' mentally screamed Hayase as he was stirred awake by his own slowing heartbeat.

Rocketing out of the river under the power of his water bending, Hayase landed on the shore. Coughing out some water, he gained his bearings and realized that he wasn't far from the nest! With the energy that he had left, Hayase began an adrenaline-fueled sprint upriver toward the nest.

Seeing the centipede was still out of the nest, Hayase called out the biggest water wave that he could manage from the river and immediately froze the wave when it made contact with the creature. Never stopping his resonance with the water, Hayase ignored the faint cold feeling permeating his body. It couldn't compare to the true cold of death!

Partially encased in the wave, the centipede began to thrash about to free itself. However, Hayase could see that its body had noticeably slowed in the cold already! Its movements were stiffer as frost clung to the joints of its black shell.

Just as the creature began to have some success in breaking free, Hayase's aggressive new approach led him to wrap a large water whip around its head. Then, just like when he used the water to pull Guy off balance in spars, Hayase used the whip to pull the centipede's head down smashing it into the ground!

With the creature stunned, Hayase reinforced the ice with wave after wave, slowly layering on more and more ice until the centipede could barely be seen through the ice.

Huffing from the exertion, Hayase dropped to his knees. With his heart pounding, he knelt before what looked like a small glacier! "I did it! I really did it!" he whispered to himself before collapsing.

***Kanae POV***

As she carried the injured student to safety, Kanae felt her age beginning to catch up with her. Thinking back to his battle against the centipede, she had almost called it off several times...

Hayase's battle may have been a shocking reversal, but Kanae had already begun searching the river for Hayase when he suddenly burst onto the shore and re-ignited the fight. At that point, she was just hoping that this hair-brained scheme hadn't ended the young shinobi's career. As she waded through the river, she remembered thinking to herself, 'Kami kid, you better be okay! Dammit, I didn't even consider that you might end up in the river!'

However, despite being in no state to continue, Hayase emerged from the river changed. 'He showed more power there at the end than I've seen from him before,' thought a bewildered Kanae, 'That combination of ice bending and water bending was marvelous...'

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