Hinata's Sacred Bow

As they traversed the forest, Tamamizu took the scenic route to show off a few of its more notable features and introduce Hinata to some of the more interesting residents. She saw a grove of massive trees she swore must reach the clouds. She met an old fox who showed her the ancient treasures he’d stolen from the world in his youth. She picked the seeds from a strange, tall plant and savored their surprisingly sweet taste. She played a strange game of lies with the younger foxes and lost soundly. She rode a turtle across a rough river.

Hinata thought she could very easily spend all her days here and still never see the entirety of the forest’s secrets.

After a time, they came upon a young man with snow white hair at work in a forge above ground. He had a cross peen hammer in one hand while the other held a pair of tongs grasping a small but very hot piece of metal. The loud clang of each strike had long since scared off the local wildlife, leaving the forest otherwise silent and empty around them for the first time since they’d set out earlier in the…

It only occurred to Hinata now to wonder how long she’d been here. It felt at once like it’d been both days and mere moments. She hadn’t slept yet, though, so it couldn’t have been that long.


Regardless, Tamamizu hailed the blacksmith once they were within shouting distance. He didn’t stop working, but he did glance up to see who’d come calling.

“Tamamizu,” the smith said in acknowledgment once they’d drawn close. “And I see you brought the new summoner everyone is talking about.” He brought his hammer down upon his metal. “How have you found the forest, Hinata?”

It didn’t take long for Hinata to settle on, “It’s beautiful.”

“Indeed.” The pounding of the hammer almost hurt to hear this close. “I’m glad to hear that.” Once more, the smith brought metal down upon metal. “Now how can I be of service to you?”

Tamamizu, to Hinata’s surprise, didn’t say that they were just passing through. Instead, she asked, “I don’t suppose you’d be willing to put down the hammer and pick up an ax? The little summoner is in need of a bow.”

Said hammer fell with a muted thump. The smith turned his attention from his work fully onto Tamamizu and arched an eyebrow.

“Well, who else am I going to ask?” Tamamizu said, her tone somewhat abashed. Her ears drooped, and her tail swished the way Kurama’s sometimes did when he felt unsure of something. “I’d have to leave the forest to find a bowyer. I know you at least whittle from time to time.”

Hinata wanted to say she didn’t want to be a bother, that she could do without a bow. But before she could work up the nerve to speak up, the smith heaved a long sigh. He said, “I presume the priestess needs an asymmetrical cherry birch bow?”

Hopeful, Tamamizu asked, “You’ll do it?”

“No. We will do it.” The smith then turned his gaze onto Hinata. “I’ll teach you how to make your own bows if you’d like.”

That sounded fun! Hinata made a few tiny, eager nods. “If it’s not too much trouble,” she added.

The smith smiled in return. “It would be my pleasure.” To Tamamizu, he then ordered, “Go fetch the wood for us. And be sure to return with a wide selection.”

Despite her sigh, Tamamizu lowered herself to the ground to let Hinata hop off and then excused herself to go hunting for a species of tree Hinata had yet to see in the forest. If anyone would know where to find cherry birch, though, it would be her.

“Now then,” the smith began, “while she’s away, we have work to do. Luckily for you, I was making arrowheads before you arrived. I’ll show you how to make the shafts. Together, I think we can fill a quiver before she gets back.”

And so the smith produced a leaf from the sleeve of his kimono. He told her to look for a tree nearby with the same leaves and come back with some fresh wood from it, enough for sixty shafts and some scrap for practice. Meanwhile, he would leave and return soon with the feathers they’d need for the fletching.

Hinata, as it turned out, barely needed to leave the forge. She found the tree she needed almost right away, certainly within shouting range of where she’d started. Once she had, it became a mere matter of snapping off some of the smaller branches near the top of the relatively small tree and gathering them into one pile, and that was no obstacle. Kurama had once offhandedly mentioned how to use chakra to cling to surfaces. She could do this. The Hyūga clan drilled peerless chakra control into its members practically from birth. Worse come to worst, she could use her Byakugan to see what she was doing right and wrong.

Gathering some chakra into her hand, Hinata experimentally placed it flush against the tree. It held fast against the bark, precisely as intended. She beamed. This would work perfectly. She repeated the process with her other hand and her knees and managed to lift herself fully off the ground. So satisfied that she wouldn’t fall, she slowly crawled up the trunk. She released and moved one limb at a time at first until she grew comfortable enough to move normally, if vertically.

On the way up, Hinata snared her clothing a few times on bits of bark, twigs, and even particularly unruly branches. The clothing Arachne had made for her, however, neither teared nor frayed under the abuse as her old clothes would have. She’d have to thank Arachne again for the gift when they next met.

The tree’s crown had a dense enough population of branches for Hinata to find a few strong ones to hold her weight. She made herself comfortable and set to work. Purposefully snapping the wood, however, proved more difficult than expected. She needed to use more chakra to summon the strength necessary. Without Kurama around to supply her with his endless chakra, she doled it out more carefully than she usually would, using no more than was absolutely necessary.

The trip back down passed far more easily. She simply walked along a branch to the edge of the tree. It bent under her weight but didn’t break before she got near enough to jump unobstructed to the ground below. She braced her legs with some chakra, and that was that.

When Hinata arrived back at the forge, a sizeable pile of branches in her arms, she found the smith already returned and waiting for her. He gave the wood a brief inspection and then patted her head for a job well done.

“Now then,” the smith began, handing Hinata a small hammer, “the first step is to remove the bark. It’s a lot easier to do this while the wood is fresh. Take your hammer and…” He pointedly took in her small stature. “Well, you can swing as hard as you want. If you hit the bark enough times, it’ll peel right off.”

Hinata, somewhat skeptical, performed as instructed. It just looked like she was pounding dents into the bark, but she kept at it. When she went to try peeling it away, however, it came right off. It worked! She stared in some surprise for a few moments before returning to her task with a newfound energy.

Together, the two of them accumulated a pile of bare wood. The smith took an ax to each piece, chopping them into smaller chunks a little longer than Hinata’s arm with about as much girth as her thumb. Then once they’d finished with that, he grabbed one of the sticks, a knife, sat on the floor, and then finally had her come closer to observe.

“Now, ideally, at this point we would use a lathe to cut the wood into shafts. As I don’t have one, we’ll take a different route. The first step is to carve these pieces of wood into square prisms. Like a long box.

“Bear in mind that I’m far from an expert with wood, but the trick with carving is to cut with the grain–” The smith demonstrated, peeling away a long sliver of wood. “–or across the grain.” This time he cut straight down. “Also, I know ninja tend to be, shall we say, reckless with their durability, but do remember to cut away from you. The last thing you want is to lose your grip and stab yourself.”

Hinata blanched, imagining doing just that. After nodding her understanding, the smith handed the wood and knife over and told her to try. He had to correct her grip multiple times even before her first attempt. This was nothing like handling kunai. Eventually, though, she managed to make cuts to his satisfaction and even reached a decent pace.

The smith nodded in approval. “Excellent. I need to put together a few things we’ll need later before I join you, but I shouldn’t be long. If you need help, just ask.”

It wasn’t long before Hinata’s attention strayed from her work. It was tedious, boring, dull, and a dozen other words she didn’t know yet. While she did her best to focus, she found herself more often than not spying on the smith’s work. He made a large post first and cut several notches into its side and a large one on top. Then he took a block of wood and cut a groove down the center of one face from one end but stopping short of its opposite. For some reason, he made a second copy of that strange device but not the post.

Then the smith, who’d probably known she’d been watching all along, held up his last creation. “This is a shooting board. It’s a very simple jig to hold the shafts you’re carving in place while we cut them. We’ll use it to turn squares into circles.”

Hinata didn’t quite get it yet, but she was sure she would when the time came. She pointed toward the post and asked, “And that?”

“A tillery. We’ll use it to shape your bow.”

If that was so, Hinata didn’t see it. She tried imagining how a big stick would help but came up short.

The smith took notice of Hinata’s interest in her frown and scrunched up brow. He only smiled mysteriously, however, and said, “All in good time. Let’s return to our carving and hope Tamamizu returns sooner rather than later. To pass the time, I’ll tell you the tale of the Kogitsune-maru.”

She didn’t. The pair finished carving the prepared wood into crude shafts together with neither hide nor hair of Tamamizu making an appearance. To Hinata’s chagrin, the smith did the vast majority of the work for her. Her hands stopped moving when she’d gotten lost in the story of the legendary sword’s creation. The smith told her of how Inari had disguised himself as an ordinary, if gifted, human and joined together with the greatest swordsmith of the age to create the Kogitsune-maru, a legendary blade said to grant its wielder the power to truly change forms as the foxes did. It was only too bad that the sword was lost to time; Kurama would have loved to have it.

When the tale ended and Hinata realized she’d done nothing since it’d started, she apologized for her behavior. The smith, fortunately, didn’t seem to mind, and he worked faster than her and would have done most of the carving regardless, but it was still rude of her. As such, she resolved to work harder now that they were to move on to ‘turning squares into circles’.

The smith placed one of the crude shafts into the little groove of one of the shooting boards he’d made. He pushed it flush against the end that stopped short of the edge and then placed the jig atop a workbench. Hinata first tried climbing the clutter and shelving around it to enable her to see what he was doing, but he opted to hoist her atop the surface instead.

From there, Hinata watched the smith take a strange, flat cutting tool to the wood. He removed one corner lengthwise, turning the square into a very lopsided pentagon. A quick rotation gave him a new corner to work with and added a sixth side. Two more repetitions turned it into an octagonal prism, and he repeated the whole process until all eight sides looked the same.

“See how the cross section looks more circular now?” the smith asked.

Hinata, of course, did. She understood now. “You’re going to do that again to make…” She carefully counted two eights and came up with, “–sixteen sides?”

“Mhm. Practically speaking, that would be more than good enough for use in the field. We, pressed for neither time nor resources, shall not settle. We should be able to smooth it into a circle from there using a coarse material.”

With the process explained, Hinata settled in atop the table and worked alongside the smith using the second set of tools he’d made for her. This time, she kept herself focused on the task at hand. It certainly helped that it went by much faster than the initial carving had.

To complete this phase of their work, they then ground the wood away until the shafts were properly circular. Then they cut a nock into one end, carved a bit away at the other end to accommodate an arrowhead later, and finally finished the arrow with a shellac coating. The smith used some sort of ninjutsu to speed up the drying process and, upon inquiry, created a scroll for Hinata to study later. She tucked that away in the satchel Arachne had given her for safekeeping.

“You look tired,” the smith commented.

Did she? She supposed she did feel a little fatigued, but Hinata shook her head. She could keep going. It was too soon to stop now when they were only halfway done.

The smith had other ideas. He insisted that they take a break and, after a quick run to his kitchen, gave Hinata a bowl of sweet fruits to fill her with new energy. It wasn’t proper manners to eat atop a table, but she supposed it would do. In contrast, he shifted into the form of a white fox large enough to meet her at eye level despite sitting upon the ground and gnawed at a proportionally sized piece of unidentified jerky.

“Would you mind if I asked you a few questions?” the smith asked.

Hinata shook her head. It would be the least she could do in return for all the work he’d put in for her.

“Why did you contract with us?”

That was a hard question to answer with something more meaningful than that her parents told her to do it. “Um…” Hinata fidgeted with a blueberry caught between her fingers as she tried her best to recall the explanation they’d given her and the more detailed one Kurama had guessed at. “My parents said it would help Kurama. The village doesn’t like him. Some of them said he can’t live with us, so we have to be sneaky.”

The smith grinned and interjected, “Like a fox.”

Considering some of the stories she’d heard while here, Hinata felt no qualms about nodding in agreement. “I’m supposed to say Kurama is a fox.”

“Which he is,” the smith said, “although not one of us.”

“Yeah, but that’s secret.” Except it wasn’t, was it? “Or…” How had Kurama put it so long ago? “Um, it’s…a secret that the not secret secret is true.” Did she get that right?

The smith barked with laughter. “Ah,” he said between lingering snickers, “I understand. The nine-tailed fox hides undisguised in plain sight, protected by the sheer audacity of the act. Very amusing. What is life like for you in Konoha?”

To such a broad, open-ended question, Hinata kept her answer to the very general nature of things at home. Slowly, however, the smith coaxed details of her personal life out of her beyond mere lessons and traditions. She soon spoke animatedly of her love of flowers, what trouble she and Kurama got into together, the few acquaintances her own age she had outside of her clan, how little she saw of her cousin, Neji, outside of practice spars ever since his father died, and so much more.

“Do you intend to become a ninja?”

Hinata nodded. She was the Hyūga heiress. She had no choice. Even at her age, she understood that.

The smith must have seen something in Hinata’s face or heard something in her voice, for he said, “Let me rephrase. Do you want to become a ninja?”

“I…don’t like hurting people.” Whenever she had to fight Neji, Hinata could never bring herself to land a true strike with her clan’s gentle fist. No, she always pulled her punches. But she took the blows he showed no hesitation in delivering and tried to absorb the chakra he sent into her tenketsu. Someday she would master that technique.

Yet at the same time, Hinata loved all the little perks that came from pursuing the profession. She liked being able to climb trees and jump out of them. She liked being able to sprint faster than a horse could gallop. She liked being able to lift things little girls had no business budging. More than anything, she didn’t think she could live without her Byakugan once she’d gotten her first taste of it.

The smith eyed Hinata with an unreadable expression. “A noble sentiment. It might be your death someday.”

Hinata shook her head. She didn’t want to think about such things.

“Or someone else’s,” the smith added, and that was so much worse. “Just food for thought. Tell me about your family.”

Happy to move on, Hinata did so enthusiastically. She wandered her way from her kind, gentle mother to her father who was, in all honesty, a little scary at times. She shied away from what happened to her Uncle Hizashi but shared what she remembered of Neji before he grew cold and angry. She wasn’t sure what Kurama was to her. She was his priestess, she supposed, but he also claimed to be her very distant uncle. At the same time, he taught and tutored her yet also acted as her friend and studied some things alongside her. Confused, somewhat frustrated, and knowing she’d done it to herself, she asked the smith if he knew the right word for their relationship.

The smith hummed in thought. “Sometimes it’s best not to put a label on such things. He’s Kurama. You’re Hinata. Need it be more complicated than that?”

That deserved no better response than the pout Hinata gave it.

Despite this, the smith merely grinned and moved on. “Well, I feel that’s enough soul searching for the day. Shall we return to our work now?”

Hinata eyed the cherries left at the bottom of her bowl. She hated those tasteless things. It’d be good manners to eat them…

A hand dipped into Hinata’s bowl and plucked the fruit from it. Looking up, she caught the smith, human once more, flicking them one by one into his mouth and couldn’t help but grin. It was a neat trick on its own, and it neatly solved her problem as well.

With that settled, the smith showed Hinata how to attach feathers to the arrows for fletching and the appropriate way to cut them. It truly required little effort, especially in comparison to how much work they’d put into the shafts. There were multiple ways to go about it, he explained, but he showed her the easiest method to apply in the field and used a bit of thread to bind the feathers in place.

“Lastly, we come to the arrowheads. If you don’t have metal available, hard stone or bone will work as a reasonable substitute. In a rush, you could just sharpen the wood and rely on your chakra for piercing power. Anyway, the ones I made are fairly straightforward. Just put them onto the arrow and hammer the pin in to hold them in place. If they don’t fit, whittle the wood down until they do.”

And just like that, they were done. The task went a bit more slowly than adding the fletching had, but Hinata appreciated that it didn’t require any fancy knots. She’d had some trouble with those.

Hinata, unable to resist, picked up the completed bundle of arrows and hugged them to her chest. Sure, she’d had a lot of help, but she’d made them herself. The warm feeling of accomplishment bubbled up within her chest. If only she had someone to show her work off to.

“Here.” The smith offered up a long, ornate tube open on one end with a large cap held in his other hand. A Y-shaped strap connected to either end. “I know you’re a bit overloaded already between the satchel and the summoning scroll, but you could do with a good quiver to hold your arrows. I think you’ll like this one even if it’s not in the traditional style.”

This was really too much, but the smith insisted. Hinata placed the arrows inside it, noting that they only just poked out of the top, and then tried it on. It took some doing to adjust the straps properly to fit on her without seeming comically oversized, but she managed a semblance of dignity in the end.

Hinata looked up at the smith who was clearly trying to hold back his laughter. She, in response, held herself a little higher and softly declared, “I’ll grow into it.”

“Of that, I have no doubt, dear priestess. It once belonged to an Ōtsutsuki woman who lived on your world. I can only assume she was an ancestor of yours, if perhaps not in a direct line.”

Eyes wide, Hinata’s hands flew up to the straps across her chest. She pressed her thumbs into the material, marveling at the history in her possession. This was the sort of thing that would become a clan treasure she’d probably never be allowed to touch again if she ever told anyone about it. “I’ll take good care of it,” she promised.

Before the smith could respond, a woman carrying a massive pile of long logs in her arms stumbled into the forge. She dropped her load onto the floor and collapsed face first. As she fell, though, she shifted into the familiar form of Tamamizu.

Concerned surged through Hinata, and she rushed to check on her friend. She asked what was wrong, what happened, and what she could do to help.

Tamamizu, in turn, glared up at the smith. Panting with heavy breath, she said, “Do you know how far the closest cherry birch grove is from here?”

“Not far enough,” the smith replied smoothly. “I’d hoped to give Hinata a chance to rest, but I suppose now we should simply finish outfitting her and then send her home before Enma has a conniption.”

Home. Now that the smith had brought up actually going home, it hit Hinata how much she wanted to see her parents and Kurama again. She didn’t really want to spend the night here. It was nice and all, and she was sure she’d enjoy it, but she did want to go home to her own bed and family. As this seemed to be the plan now regardless, she opted to remain silent.

“Tamamizu, start peeling the bark off the wood. After you’re done, you can cut them to size.”

Despite her grown, Tamamizu sluggishly moved to comply. Her paws shifted to more closely resemble the type Kurama favored to give her the dexterity required to wield a hammer, and she got to work.

When Hinata moved to help, the smith held her back. “Not yet, Hinata. First, you know how to mold chakra and push it into others, correct?”

As that was the operating principle of the gentle fist, Hinata nodded.

“Good. There are several reasons why cherry birch in particular is used for sacred bows, but the most important for you is how readily it responds to chakra. Yours, especially. I want you to push your chakra into the wood Tamamizu brought back and find the one that best responds to you.”

While simple in principle, Hinata asked, “How will I know?”

“You have eyes, don’t you?”

Hinata’s mouth widened into a small, “Oh.” In hindsight, that was somewhat obvious.

In the background as Hinata moved to her task, Tamamizu said, “Oh, I don’t have to strip all of this, then.”

The smith, however, replied, “Waste not, want not,” drawing a groan from the poor vixen.

Meanwhile, Hinata sized up the wood before her. She’d have to move quickly if she didn’t want to collapse from chakra exhaustion before she finished. The Byakugan was draining even at so close a range.

A slow, deep breath brought a sense of calm with it. Hinata’s hands slowly moved through the seals to activate her Byakugan, the flow of her chakra shifting to her eyes, and thus she was ready.

The world around Hinata erupted into sight, but her focus narrowed onto the pile of wood before her. She could see the rings of growth inside the logs. She could see their knots. She could see where they’d taken damage. Most interestingly, she could see the remnants of what looked almost like a chakra pathway spreading throughout each log. They were bereft of energy, but perhaps she could change that.

Hinata reached out with a hand, bringing her finger to rest on one of the pseudo tenketsu. Then she pushed. Her chakra flowed into the wood like molasses, but it did spread through the empty circuits. She watched it for a time in fascination. Usually, the opposing pressure from someone else’s chakra would prevent hers from doing more than clogging the tenketsu.

The smith cleared his throat. “You may wish not to dawdle, Hinata.”

“Ah! Um… Yes. Sorry.” That had been careless of her.

Snapped out of her trance, Hinata returned to work. She pushed chakra into each wood in the same way. Some responded far worse while others let her energy flow like water. She wondered why that was but didn’t have the time to ask – not now, at least.

Then she found the one. When Hinata’s chakra entered, it spread throughout its container in a blink. The wood almost sang under her attention, and when she retreated, her power lingered long after.

A chuckle once more broke Hinata from her fascination. “I think we’ve found the one,” the smith said. He pulled the wood in question from the pile of already debarked and cut logs. “Come. The process is much the same as before. We only need a bigger knife.”

Hinata followed along behind the smith. He picked up an ax and asked, “Are there any knots anywhere we should avoid?”

After a quick look with her Byakugan, Hinata shook her head.

“Good. The trick here is to cut so that the back of the bow is aligned along one growth ring. You also want it to be of one continuous fiber. If that’s not the case, it might break even with your chakra running through it. Otherwise, this first step is no different from before. All that remains to determine now is who will do the chopping.”

“Um, if you don’t mind,” Hinata began, “I would like to.” This was to be her bow, and she remembered how it felt to make the arrows herself. She wanted it to be special.

With a nod, the smith instructed her to remove her quiver. While she did, he first cut one side of the wood into a roughly flat surface. He then used a precise fire ninjutsu to sear the bow pattern she needed to match onto the side. The handle was immediately identifiable, and the upper limb was much longer than the lower one. It didn’t look like any bow she’d ever seen, but then she hadn’t seen many bows.

“You don’t need to get a perfect match. We’ll be trimming it further after we put the ax down. Just get it close and remember to cut with the grain.”

Hinata nodded. It was just like making a really big arrow shaft only with the smith holding the wood in place for her. She could do it. She brought the ax up, teetered on her feet, and toppled over backwards.

“You may wish to use a bit of chakra,” the smith said patiently while Tamamizu snickered in the background.

Flushed, Hinata said nothing and prepared herself for her second attempt. This time, with a little chakra strengthening her, she brought the ax down onto the wood. The blow sheered away a good chunk, bringing it ever so slightly closer to its final form. That wasn’t so hard. It would take more swings than she had chakra for, but she’d recover enough over the time it took to finish. Probably. Not that she would let something like that stop her anyway.

It was a long time later when the smith called for Hinata to stop. Grateful, she let the ax fall from her hands and wiped the sweat from her brow. Her breaths came more ragged than she would like, but she hadn’t fainted from either physical or chakra exhaustion. That was something.

And just look at what she’d accomplished! The bow stave, from its humble beginnings as a log, now resembled what it was actually supposed to be. She’d gotten lost in the rhythm of the work, choosing to indulge in daydreams of finally pulling the string of her bow back and firing. It was only now that she realized how far she’d gotten. She was almost there!

“Take a break,” the smith instructed. “We’re close enough to the final shape. I’ll smooth the wood out for you, and then we can add the finishing touches.”

Hinata thanked the smith for the kindness and found a nice spot to collapse and watch him work. Tamamizu brought Hinata some water and a few nuts and berries growing nearby to snack on before generously offering her services as a soft backrest. Needless to say, Hinata accepted.

The smith did as promised. He first added notches at either end of the bow stave for the string, and then he began the long, tedious task of smoothing the entire surface as they had with the arrow shafts. Once Hinata felt a little less winded, she used the opportunity to sneak out and gather a bunch of flowers. She had an idea to thank the smith for teaching her all that he had. Tamamizu agreed to cover for her while she was gone.

Soon enough, Hinata was back at work. It was time now for her to understand the purpose of the mysterious tillery. The smith attached a loose string to her bow and then placed its handle in the notch at the top of the post. He pulled down on the string, causing the limbs to bend, and let it get caught in one of the notches along the tillery’s side.

“See this arc?” The smith gestured to part of the lower limb. “This is how it’s supposed to look. Above and below, it’s straighter. And the upper limb is kind of a mess right now. Our goal is to trim it down so that it arcs properly. It’s not terribly difficult, just a matter of trial and error. Are you up for it?”

Naturally, Hinata nodded and leapt to the task. It was, as the smith had said, not difficult at all. All she had to do was grind the wood down a bit on the inside of the bow stave wherever it didn’t bend properly. Then they’d put it back up on the tillery, observe the changes, and then take it off to repeat the entire process over and over until no further adjustments were needed.

It took longer than Hinata had expected, but at long last, the bow was finished! She just needed to string it, and then she could go practice!

“We have one last thing to do,” the smith said.

Or not.

“This part isn’t strictly necessary, but it will make your bow vastly more durable. I’m going to add a bamboo backing to it to prevent it from splintering.”

Reluctantly, Hinata handed over the bow stave. She’d been so excited.

Fortunately, it didn’t take long for the smith to add this one final touch. He used the same ninjutsu as he had on the shellac before to speed up the process and soon returned Hinata’s bow to her. It looked a little less beautiful now that it wasn’t one single piece of wood, but she supposed functionality trumped aesthetics in this case.

“You’ll have to decorate it on your own time, I’m afraid,” the smith said, apparently reading Hinata’s mind. “For now, why don’t you string it and go take a few practice shots.”

Hinata gladly did just that. Once she’d gotten outside, however, she ran back in. She’d almost forgotten the gift she’d made for the smith. Tamamizu, who hadn’t, returned it to her from wherever the vixen had hidden it, and she, in turn, offered it to the smith.

“A flower wreath?” His questioning look soon turned to a smile. He took the gift and placed it atop his head. “Thank you, Hinata. I’ll treasure it. Now be off with you. You have a bow to break in.”

And would she gladly! Hinata rushed off back outside, returning once again to grab the quiver she’d left behind with a blush, and found a nice tree she could aim at. The handle fit neatly in her hand, but the bow itself felt a little unwieldy. It was taller than she was and required chakra to draw to give her the strength she didn’t naturally possess.

Even so, when Hinata nocked an arrow, she felt a sense of anticipation well up within her. She’d made this bow. She’d made this arrow. This was the fruit of her labor! She drew the arrow back, aimed, and released.

The arrow cut through the air with a shrill whistle. It sped toward the tree she’d targeted. Hinata’s glee boiled over as she watched on.

And then the arrow flew right past the tree and disappeared into the forest.

From behind as Hinata gaped in disbelief, Tamamizu said, “Perhaps a little instruction first wouldn’t be amiss?”

Red-faced and chagrined, Hinata replied, “Yes, please.”

At long last, Hinata had returned to Inari’s home. On her back rested the foxes’ summoning scroll with her quiver secured just above it. At her side hung Arachne’s satchel. In both hands she carried her sacred bow by its handle. She never wanted to put that down, not after all the effort she’d put into making it.

Kurama took one look at Hinata. A rumbling breath passed his pursed lips that sounded something like a growl crossed with a grumble.

“Do – do you not like it?” Hinata almost feared the answer.

Despite his initial reception, however, Kurama said, “No, you look very nice.”

Hinata, feeling suddenly somewhat shy, looked down at her hands fidgeting with her bow as she thanked Kurama for the compliment. “I made the bow myself and some of the arrows,” she added. “Um… It still needs decorating.” Maybe she should have done that first before showing it to him. “But it really works!”

“At least you learned something from this,” Kurama grumbled.

Tamamizu, awaiting Inari’s arrival to send their guests off, added, “She also made several friends along the way.” Something more clearly went unsaid between the two by the looks they exchanged. To Hinata, she bowed in the strange way foxes performed the act and said, “Feel free to call upon me whenever you need, little summoner.”

Hinata returned the bow. “Thank you, Tamamizu, for the instruction and for your service.” She thought she got that right, but she’d not yet mastered some such formalities.

A paw reached out and ran itself along Hinata’s hakama. Kurama, apparently not satisfied by his initial inspection, drew closer and sniffed it. “This is jorōgumo silk?”

“Arachne made it for me.”

By the blank look Kurama returned to Hinata and the swish of his tail, she knew he’d never met Arachne. To correct that, she launched into the story of how she’d gotten her new clothes.

“Interesting…” Kurama glanced at Tamamizu, who merely smiled silently. “A priestess garbed in demonic silk. Amusing. And fitting, considering it’s me.” He poked, prodded, stretched, and tried scratching the material in further inspection. “Well, if this Arachne truly meant her promise, we’ll have to bring you back to her once you’ve grown. Jorōgumo silk is as light as cotton and as strong as armor. A very great gift fitting for my high priestess.” He shot a smirk at Tamamizu this time, and Hinata just knew some silent message passed between them again.

Before Hinata could carry on with her story and mention her even more priceless quiver, a pure white fox walked into the room. Tamamizu and Kurama immediately identified it as Inari, offering a smile and a scowl in greeting respectively. Hinata, however, found her eyes fixed on the wreath of flowers resting between Inari’s ears. At first, she didn’t understand why the smith had given it away, but then her mouth widened into a silent, “Oh,” of understanding.

Inari winked at Hinata.

“Are you finally letting us leave?” Kurama asked impatiently.

“Yes, yes,” Inari replied. It swished its tail in Kurama’s face. “Don’t tie your tail in knots and be patient.”

Kurama was not amused but kept his protests to himself.

With that apparently settled, Inari turned to the foxes’ other guest. “It’s been a pleasure having you here, Hinata. You may call upon any of us anytime you need our aid. I hope your stay has allowed you to learn enough about us to know how we can help you.”

While Inari didn’t bow, Hinata hadn’t expected him to. He was a king in all but name in his own home. She did, however, and said, “Thank you for inviting me. I learned so much, but there’s so much more. If you permit it, I would like to visit again sometime.”

“Of course,” Inari replied with a slight nod, “but never forget where your home lies.”

Hinata wouldn’t. As much as she’d enjoyed her time here, she was eager to go home and return to her parents.

Once they’d made their final goodbyes, Inari sent Hinata and Kurama back to their own world.

Hitomi gasped when a cloud of smoke appeared in her daughter’s room without any apparent cause and activated her Byakugan immediately after. Within the smoke, she saw her two missing children. Naruto looked as he ever did when in human form, but Hinata, she had changed. She carried a scroll and quiver upon her back. She had a new bag with the clothes she’d left in stored inside. Strangest of all, she wore the traditional garb of a priestess and held what was clearly meant to be a sacred bow in hand.

A deep fear struck inside Hitomi. How long had her children been gone? It’d been a week here. Had it been even longer for them? Shorter? Did they even know?

Quicker than a flash, Hitomi scooped up her daughter in one arm and only missed Naruto due to him shifting back into fox form just as she reached for him. That, however, was an oversight quickly corrected. “Oh, you’re safe!” she cried as she struggled not to hug them to death. “The hokage said you were, but I was so worried. Are you okay? Did the foxes treat you well? How long were you there? Hinata, what happened to you?”

“Um… I… Um…”

Seeing her daughter’s distress, Hitomi forced herself to slow down. It wouldn’t do anyone any good to overwhelm the children – all three of them. She took a deep, calming breath and then tried again. “Are you both okay?” That was the most important question.

Hinata nodded, and Naruto said, “Yeah. The foxes were nice to Hinata.”

It was so easy to read between the lines of that. At a guess, Hitomi assumed that the foxes had noticed the kyūbi sealed within Naruto and took offense for one reason or another. He seemed well enough, but she’d have to have a private conversation with him once her heart caught up with her head. For now, she was content to merely hold them both in her arms. She should really have someone bring Hiashi here, but a few more moments couldn’t hurt.