It had been a long two months.
Sakura had made camp in an empty field away from Ponyville, taking regular trips into town to resupply. The field itself was perfect for her training. Every morning she would power up her Earth Spear technique and start a workout routine that Lee and Gai would proudly endorse. It served a dual purpose, both toning her muscles like weight training, and helping her build up her regular speed while under the added mass. Every week she'd add on more push-ups, sit-ups, and laps around the clearing.
In the afternoon she would use an earth technique Kakashi taught her to raise rocks from the ground as targets, and then demolish them all. An average ninja could punch with a speed of about 13 meters per second. With the average arm having a weight of 4.5kg a ninja could hit with a momentum of 58.5kg m/s. She had done the math while sitting in that clearing with Chouji.
With her technique she could enhance the weight of each strike before impact, bumping that 4.5kg to around 227kg, around half a ton. This made her punches hit with the momentum of 2951kg m/s, all with the hardness of diamond. Tsunade would be green with envy when her training trip was finished. All that remained, in her mind, was improving her control over the technique. She needed to be able to activate the technique at a thought, both for offense and defense.
Calming down from her work out for the evening, she pushed her chakra into the ground. The technique was one Kakashi had left her with before she began her trip. The 'Underground Projection Fish' technique was famous in Konoha for being as annoying as it was poorly named. She gave a grin as her practice with the technique paid off, and the ground opened up around her and she dropped into the dirt.
To her surprise she didn't go far before falling out into open air. Sometime in the previous day someone had dug out a tunnel beneath her campsite. She quickly righted herself, landing in a roughly carved mine, lit by the occasional lantern.
"Huh? Who's there?" Came a gravelly voice, as a humanoid figure lumbered into the light. "You there, pink skin? What are you? Why are you in our cave?"
It was a diamond dog, she recognized it from her time in Las Pegasus. "I fell in here by accident, I was just leaving." She said, remembering the thrashing the last one she saw gave her teammates.
"Nuh uh, you are trespassing, you are in trouble!" He shouted, simple language aside the sight of him looming forward was still intimidating.
"Trespassing? I was here first! I've been here two months and your cave wasn't here yesterday!" Sakura protested.
"Guards! Guards!" The dog yelled, rushing forward to grab Sakura with clumsy movements.
Sakura cried out in frustration and belted the diamond dog down the corridor with a single fifty pound punch. Shocked at her success she was caught off guard as several dogs swarmed in from all direction, many wearing armor and toting lances. With a surge of confidence she charged them back, and began knocking them around the room with ease, pulling her punches so that she would bruise but leave no permanent damage.
When at last the scuffle ended she noticed a few growling beast-men rising to their feet. "Sit!" She yelled, and to her surprise each one shot up into a sitting position and whimpered softly.
"Will someone explain what's going on? Why did you attack me?" She demanded, as the roughed up crowd panted away.
"We were hunting gems. We send them to the Undermine. You were trespassing." One of the nearby dogs said, his speech was rough, and his voice gravelly, but it was simple enough to understand.
"I told you, I was here long before you. Camping up there!" She pointed to the roof.
"All underground is diamond dog territory." Growled one of the dogs, before whimpering under a glare.
Sakura sighed, it'd figure she'd stumble upon something like this. "Which way to the surface then?"
"We'll dig you a tunnel right away boss!" Yelled several of the dogs.
"Wait, boss?" She asked, seeing nods from the assembled dogs.
"The pink dog is the strongest, so the pink dog is the boss. This mining group is yours now." One of the nearby dogs said, his short spiked tail thumping the ground happily.
"Alright then..." Sakura pondered, this could help her training tremendously, so long as this 'Undermine' didn't catch on. "One of you explain how this operation is running, the rest of you, back to work." She ordered, and to her surprise the assembled dogs leapt to attention and scattered.
Another four months had passed, and Sakura was enjoying her new, rather cushy, lifestyle. 'Her' mine was in tip top shape, they exceeded their quota with every shipment and her dogs worked hard with her working along-side them. Rather than punching rocks all day, she helped with mining, working alongside the diamond dogs, punching out tunnels in the stone while hunting for rocks.
The work was backbreaking, and she loved every minute of it, pushing the dogs to follow along in her example. Eventually, though, like all good things, her time in the 'Ponyville mine' came to an end.
"Boss!" She looked up from the rough granite she was working her way through. Dense stuff, full of thick quartz crystals from cooling slowly. 'Scraps', the smallest dog of the mine was running towards her franticly. "Boss, Boss! The mine inspectors are here!"
"Inspectors! There wasn't a scheduled inspection!" She demanded, the dogs around her whimpering.
"It's a surprise inspection!" Scraps whined, getting a small pat on the head from Sakura.
"Well, best face the music." She muttered, heading out to where the tunnels connected to the main corridor to the Undermine.
When she arrived she noticed her dogs sitting obediently before several very regal looking diamond dogs, in gilded armor. At the head of the formation was a very well groomed beast of a dog, a doberman, that stood twice the size of any other dog present. "I am inspector Rex. Who are you? What are you?" he growled lowly as Sakura approached.
"I am Sakura Haruno, Boss of this mine." Sakura answered confidently, adjusting the gloves she still wore out of habit. Her technique made their protective qualities needless.
"You are no diamond dog pink skin. How can you be the boss?" Rex growled, the other dogs present looking between themselves and shrugging.
"I'm the strongest one here, I'm the boss!" Sakura replied, moving forward to stare down the intimidating inspector. To her surprise the inspector burst into a rough laugh, the dogs around him following suit.
"Strongest in a back of weaklings. Ponyville is for weak dogs. Weak arms. Weak legs. Weak minds." He grumbled, poking Sakura in the chest with each statement.
Sakura, having spent months alongside the Ponyville mining pack, was understandably quite pissed. Growling herself she shoved Rex back. "My pack is not weak! We've made every shipment, even sending more than required."
"You want to fight? Guards, take the pink dog down!" Rex barked, and the armored dogs leapt forward. To the pinkette's surprise, true to their word, the guards were several orders of magnitude stronger than the ones in the Ponyville mine. They fought with a noticeable style, and were at about a rank below the prizefighter in Las Pegasus.
Still, turning on her Earth Spear immediately, she managed to counter the first three attacks and send the dogs into a heap against the cave wall. The other nine would not be so easily caught off guard. The fourth dog to come at her was shocked when, pumping chakra into the technique, Sakura caught his right hook with her face. Unflinching she pulsed the technique and drove the dog skyward with an uppercut.
From there it broke down into a scrap heap as the dogs piled into the rumble, one after another. Each one sent flying moments later until only Sakura remained, dusting off her hands. The dogs of Ponyville mine howled with her victory against those dogs that called them weak.
"Enough. You are strong, but you are no diamond dog. You have been trespassing, and you will face punishment." He growled, as his guards picked themselves up. He flexed his muscles and crouched low, preparing to spring.
Sakura tensed, pushing her technique up to diamond levels of hardness, and bracing for the impact. In this state she was totally immobile, weighing over a ton, and braced for any level of impact.
Any impact, that was, but the one that hit her. If the guards were a tier below the dog 'lightweight champion of Las Pegasus', Rex was a tier above. With her weighing what she did, there was no motion from her, no flying backwards, no slamming into a cave wall or carving a trench through the floor. Even her feet remained in their exact position as the meaty fist of the diamond dog slammed into her. Every dog in the room looked on in anticipation as for a second Sakura stood, weathering the strike, until the technique faded, and Sakura slumped to the floor defeated.
"Fool. They don't call us diamond dogs for nothing. The earth is our home, we can punch through anything." Rex growled, before turning to bark to his guards. "Take her to the Undermine, the rest of you, back to work!"
Sakura faded in and out of consciousness throughout the trip, as the guards pulled her along in a mine cart. After hours of travel, taking them deeper and deeper into the depths of Equestria, they arrived in a massive cavern. It was as wide across as Konoha, and taller than the Hokage to the top of the cave. Around the edges were paths that lead off into caves, where the dogs lived, she supposed. In the very center was an arena, where they seemed to be heading.
Eventually they arrived at the edge of a large coliseum, which she estimated to be about the size of the one used for the Chuunin exams. Before them stood several large podiums, where three massive diamond dogs sat, glaring down at the approaching dogs coldly. "Speak!" Commanded the one in the middle, a Mastiff by the looks of it. Sakura had to stifle a giggle at the irony, despite the situation.
"This... Pink thing had taken control of the Ponyville mine. She's been trespassing." Rex said, tossing Sakura forward to her knees. The assembled dogs growled to each other, trespassing was one of the most serious crimes among their kind.
"Still...." the dog on the right, a wolfhound, said. "Ponyville mine has really stepped up their efforts lately. This one may have been a blessing for us."
"Send her to the pits then." The remaining dog suggested, he was a large Rottweiler, and spoke with a very deep booming voice. "If she wants to act like a diamond dog, she can fight out her sentence like one."
There were howls of agreement as once again Sakura was hoisted to her feet. She was dragged off to what was, surprisingly, a well-furnished room where a hot meal waited for her. "Rest now. Tonight you fight." Grunted the guard who had brought her there.
"What's going on? Why do I have to fight?" She asked. The dog growled lowly before turning to face her again.
"They treat you like a diamond dog. You fight until you lose. How strong you are determines your sentence." The dog grunted, and walked away.
Seeing no way out of the situation, Sakura tucked into the meal, and rested up. It would likely be a long night.
Living underground for six months had long since removed her from her dependence on a day/night schedule, so it was with some surprise that the guard arrived and informed her it was now 'night time'.
The arena was lit up with torches, and hundreds of diamond dogs filled the stands, howling and jeering down at the sole human. Sakura stood her ground as the three dogs from before, the leaders she presumed, took their place in very regal looking seats. "Tonight's entertainment!" Yelled the Mastiff, earning silence from the gathered dogs. "This... Pink skinned creature, wishes to be treated as a diamond dog!" Howls of laughter filled the air. "She will run the 50 dog gauntlet!"
The laughter died down, and a smaller dog, a terrier by the looks of it, stepped forward to explain. "You will fight 50 dogs of increasing strength, one after another until you lose. How many you defeat determines your strength, and your strength determines your punishment. Each dog on the list has defeated at least all the dogs before him."
"And if I beat them all?" Sakura asked.
"You won't." Growled Rex with finality. "I am ranked 5th strongest. The three council dogs are 4th, 3rd, and 2nd."
Sakura grimaced, fighting any of them would be difficult, fighting them all after beating 45 others would be impossible. Still, she nodded in agreement and the first dog was brought out. The heckling stopped when her opponent dropped with a single strike.
Thirty dogs in and the pattern continued, she had not yet even begun to push the limits of her recent training. From the frowns on the council's faces, they were not expecting this kind of showing.
Past the 30 dog mark they began to get stronger than the guards she had faced earlier. By dog 40 they could easily contend with the fighter that Lee only beat while drunk. Then they began pulling out gimmicks. One dog would tunnel around at rapid paces, springing out to throw rocks at her like a game of whack-a-mole. Others brought weapons like bow-staffs or tonfa. It was after dog 44, who fought quite well with two mining picks, had fallen unconscious, that Sakura knew she had reached her limit.
Rex leapt into the ring, to the silence of every dog watching. Sakura was exhausted, there was no way she could even bring her Earth Spear technique to full power, even knowing it wouldn't help in this fight. Instead she directed her remaining chakra downwards, and slipped into the earth.
Rex stood still, not moving a single muscle in his body as Sakura circled the dog from safety. Emerging from what appeared to be the dog's blind spot, she leapt forward, arm cocked back to end the fight in a single blow.
And was promptly backhanded across the arena.
"Foolish pink thing." Muttered a small, ancient looking dog wearing ceremonial robes, as he walked past. A Chihuahua, Sakura noted, trying to clear her head. "You see with your eyes. In the tunnels that is a crippling weakness." He spoke with clarity she hadn't heard in months.
"The criminal has lost, after forty four victories." Called the Mastiff from his stand. Rex returned to his position with his guard dogs. "I recommend four years as a prisoner, taking place forty four in our gauntlet."
"Three years, she has shown exceptional skills for a non-diamond dog." The Wolfhound grumbled.
"She is not a diamond dog, we should not hold her. Two years in the gauntlet." The Rottweiler growled.
"She pretends to be one of us, she should live out that lifestyle in the gauntlet. Three years." The Mastiff argued.
"Two years, in my service." Called the little dog from the ring.
"Master Patch!" the Mastiff yelped in surprise. "You have returned!"
"I have. I heard of an interesting creature that holds potential. I came to see her fight. I believe I still have a vote, if my place as number one still holds. I'll be happy to run the gauntlet once more if it is required." The little dog said casually, causing every dog in the arena to cower visibly.
"That won't be necessary. You wish for her to become your apprentice? Surely there are better suited dogs." The Wolfhound grumbled.
"I see potential in her. Two years and I'll have her strong enough to defeat Rex and 'punch the gate'. If I can, then she goes free." The minute dog said. "We shall see if Old Dogs can teach new tricks."
The council dogs agreed, and the audience dispersed. "Come now pup. We have much to do."
A day later found Sakura within a pitch black cave, miles away for the Undermine. "Um... Patch?" Sakura called into the darkness, wincing as her voice echoed in the looming darkness.
"Master Patch, or Master will do." Came the reply, also echoing beyond recognition.
"I can't see." Sakura complained.
"As I told you. Seeing with your eyes is a limitation you must overcome." The dog said. "Sit!"
Sakura did as ordered, and sat down cross legged on the cold cave floor.
"Now. Catch the stick." He called, confusing Sakura until a wooden cane was rapped rather harshly on her head.
"Ow! I told you, I can't see you, how am I supposed to catch it?" Sakura grumbled, as the dog let out a bark of laughter and swatter her again.
"It will be a long and painful two years if you can't figure that out." The dog taunted.
A week passed, and the 'training' continued. Within the first day she had honed her reflexes enough to grab the stick after it struck her. The dog merely laughed and told her such a talent was absolutely useless. Still, with time to think that evening, she pondered the old dog's words regarding her failed attack on Rex. Somehow the dog had seen her attack coming, and not with his eyes.
"Master Patch, you mean for me to see through the ground?" She asked.
"Correct. You must extend your very essence into the rock around you. Become the earth, and let the earth be an extension of you." He said, and Sakura smiled at the revelation, before being swatted once again on the head with the cane.
The week had granted results. She could now flow chakra into the ground and use it to detect where someone or something was standing. Still that gave her only the general idea of where the attack was coming from, and her grabs at the cane still relied mainly on luck. She got the impression the old dog had much better 'vision' than her, and was merely moving the cane around her grasping hand.
Still that seemed enough to move on to other annoying tasks. She was forced to stand on one side of the cave, dodging hard rubber balls thrown by Master Patch. In complete darkness the task seemed impossible, and she questioned exactly how she was to accomplish it. "Am I supposed to do the same thing I did with the ground, with the air?"
"Don't be silly girl, such a thing would exhaust you in seconds. The feet girl, 'look' for the feet. The base of every structure is on the ground. And all fighting styles have structure." He lectured, before the barrage of rubber balls continued.
From there she began picking up vibrations from each of the dog's steps, keeping track of his footwork and following his movements. The balls still hit, most of the time, but she was beginning to have a good idea of when they were coming.
It took two months of work before she had honed the sense to where she could pick up changes in pressure through her opponent's feet. It was in those minute details that she began to 'see' changes in stance as he threw the balls. The first time she leaned back and felt the gentle breeze of a ball passing before her face gave her a thrill beyond anything she'd ever known. The old dog kept her at it for another month afterwards, attacking her at random moments throughout the day, until she subconsciously kept the sense active at all times. Her radius wasn't large, merely fifteen feet, but it was a zone where she was confident nothing could surprise her in.
The next seemingly impossible task was for Patch to ask her to 'fetch'. Namely, go and bring him a Ruby. Infuriatingly enough the old dog refused to let her leave the darkened cave. Instead she began punching the walls, throwing chunks of stone at the dog's feet, asking if each one was a ruby. She could hear the dog's grin when he scolded her.
"The earth is an unyielding thing. Often times it is easier, when faced with something so stubborn, to work around it. Feel where the earth is softer, dig your tunnels there." He suggested, and Sakura did just that. Months passed, and after punching out a mile long network of tunnels she was growing frustrated.
"How am I supposed to know if I found a ruby?" She groaned.
"Sense it. Just as you found softer rock, search for the minerals that form a crystal." He suggested.
Extending her chakra farther into the rock she could see small clusters that lit up like stars. Working away at the walls of her cave she eventually uncovered several, and handed them to the dog.
"This." He said, holding out a gem for her to feel. "Is an emerald."
"This." he repeated, holding out another. "Is a topaz. Feel how they are different?"
He continued on, quizzing her by having her pick out gems from a pile. Then sending her to fetch specific gems from the cave. At long last after bringing him the hundredth gem he simply pat her on the head and gave a softly murmured "Good girl."
A year had passed into her training with Master Patch. She was now halfway through her allotted time for her training trip. What she had learned from the diamond dog was interesting, but not the useful skills she had hoped to work on. Still, when his obnoxious tasks allowed it, she worked on her Earth Spear skill, pushing it to new levels of hardness, and raising the weight she could throw around at full speed. With some effort she predicted being able to throw a one-ton punch by the end of his 'training'.
At the one year mark Master Patch woke Sakura up early, at least it felt that way to the exhausted girl, and brought her into a wide room. "Today we begin your hardest task. You will fight me." He said simply, and with that and a single sweeping gesture, a wall of earth rose up before him, and crashed towards Sakura like a wave.
Thus began several months of painful lessons, as Sakura learned that more than Rex's punches could hurt her through the Earth Spear technique. Not to say it wasn't useful, often times she would punch through the rocks hurled by the old dog, in an attempt to get close to him. For such an ancient looking diamond dog, he certainly was light on his feet.
At some point during their prolonged battle, which raged on between meals and bedtime for months on end, Sakura began instinctively dodging the projectiles made of denser rocks, and striking weak points where she could 'see' them. The battle that before was one sided, slowly tilted in favor of the student as her defensive abilities grew, and the strength of her attacks flourished.
One and a quarter years into her training with the master diamond dog, Sakura did something extraordinary. The cave, as usual, was flooded with her chakra as she dodged wave after wave of rocks intent on squishing her to paste. Her senses flooded her with information that her mind had long since adapted to translating.
Step, step, dodge, punch, duck, step, dodge. She looked past the stones in front of her and watched as the pressure on the old dog's feet changed once more. An arm sweep down meant rocks from the ceiling, which she rolled forward to avoid. A grasping left hand up meant a spike of earth coming from her right, a quick jump to her left put her out of reach. Both hands moved inwards to his side, taking a stance similar to one she'd seen Hinata use in the chuunin exams, before using her Gentle Step. Sure enough both arms on the old dog shot forward, and a wave of loose earth rose up towards her.
Fed up with being knocked down, and left with no way to dodge, Sakura instinctively reached out to her chakra, already infusing the wave of dirt, and pushed down. With that single gesture she felt a clash of wills for control over the technique. It was like fighting against the earth itself, but with some extra chakra thrown in and a surge of determination she succeeded in forcing the wave back into the ground.
"Good Girl." Master Patch praised. "Now comes the fun part."
The attacks resumed at even higher intensity, and Sakura bit back a groan.
Two years to the day, Sakura was left standing in the middle of a crowded coliseum. The crowed looked on in excitement as the 'pink skinned thing' faced down Rex once more. Sakura drew a deep breath and pulled her Konoha headband down over her eyes. She would learn to use her new senses in combination with her sight given time, but for now it was one or the other.
The crowd held their breaths as the fight began, neither opponent making the first move. With a blur of speed Rex shot towards her, feet making heavy falls against the ground. With a small gesture and raw chakra control the ground shot from beneath his next step, sending him off balance and causing his attack to miss. Sakura let fly with a very satisfying 350kg kick, smirking as she could feel the diamond dog bounce along the dirt.
The crowd roared as Rex hefted up a rock twice his size and sent it soaring through the air at the Chuunin. Following the changes in weight distribution allowed her to predict the stone's flight path. Having chakra already filling the stone gave her crystal clear vision of it. Flattening her hand into a knife's edge, and hardening it, she swing downwards at a weak spot, cleaving the stone in two and allowing it to fall harmlessly to either side of her.
Rex was growing angry. 'Seeing' through the ground was a common miner's trick. Few had developed it to the point where they could use it in combat like he could, and only one dog had ever honed it to the depths the girl was displaying.
The battle continued, but Sakura continued displaying her calm confidence, and easily dodged, blocked, or outright ignored any attempts made by Rex to harm her. Eventually, left in an exhausted state, he yielded, having failed to even move the girl from her starting position.
The crowd went wild, and Master Patch stepped down into the arena to face the council alongside his latest student. "Well?" He asked, "Not bad for a blind old dog, huh?"
"She has truly grown strong. All that remains is for her to 'punch the gate', and her sentence is done." The Mastiff called, to cheers from the audience.
"Punch the gate?" Sakura asked her teacher.
"You have to be kidding me." Sakura said.
They stood at an old tunnel that connected to a wide, heavily guarded catacomb. Towards the surface patrols of armored and very serious looking ponies patrolled rigorously. Deeper into the depths she could see the tell-tale orange glow of fire.
"You want me to break into Tartarus?" She asked skeptically. The council members and Patch all nodded excitedly, huddled in the hidden passageway like a couple of children playing a prank.
"It's tradition, a show of courage and strength." The Mastiff, named Cringle, said.
"You aren't breaking in, just punching the gate." The Wolfhound, named Laddie added.
"It's the strongest thing ever made, trust me you won't even dent it, just go hit it as hard as you can." The Rottweiler, named Trundle said, pushing her towards the back of the cave. She nodded and all five of them took off running.
She came to a stop when the massive doors were in view, along with a three headed dog the size of a house. "You didn't tell me about this!" Sakura hissed, looking back at where her companions were now hiding behind another rock.
"It's another part of the test, you have to get past Tiny!" Master Patch whispered back.
"Tiny?" Sakura asked skeptically as the Cerberus turned towards her, hearing its name.
"It's just a puppy." Cringle shrugged.
Taking a deep breath, Sakura strode forward, and stared the middle head of the dog right in the eyes. "SIT!" She ordered.
And to the surprise of everyone present, the Cerberus did just that. "Down!" Sakura called, and the dog lay down, resting his heads on his paws and whining piteously.
Sakura stepped forward, and patted each head gently. "Stay." She commanded, and walked past.
Approaching the gate she noticed a series of marks in the lower corner. Upon closer inspection she realized they were dents, with names signed below in permanent marker. Sure enough "Patch", "Cringle", "Laddie", "Trundle", and "Rex" were all present, with Rex's being the most shallow. Sakura cringed at the thought of being hit by any of the other dogs, if one of Rex's punches could hurt her so bad, and dent this gate so little.
Taking a deep breath she let chakra out into the gate, unsurprised when she felt no flaws or irregularities she could exploit. The gate seemed deceptively thin. Aiming for a spot a foot away from Rex's she took a step back and a deep breath.
Her skin took on a brown pigmentation as the Earth Spear activated to its lowest level. Giving her chakra a few test pulses she lined up her strike and threw her fastest haymaker, throwing in as much earth chakra as she could at the very last second.
"One Ton Strike!" She yelled, and with a resounding clang her fist punched through the gate. She fell back, dazed, as the other dogs ran forward to investigate.
"I just broke the gate..." Sakura said numbly, staring right through the hole. The other dogs nodded.
"That gate holds all that is evil at bay... and I just punched through it." She continued.
"You'll probably get in trouble." Trundle said, getting slapped upside the head by Patch.
"Don't worry, there are two backup gates behind this. Still... we shouldn't just leave this..." The old dog said.
Later that day, a pair of guards stumbled upon an interesting sight. "Looks like those diamond dogs were at it again." a pegasus grumbled, approaching the gate. Both he and his partner stopped dead when they noticed a fist sized hole with a name printed underneath. A piece of paper was stuck to the door with tape.
To whom it may concern,
Sorry about your door.
Complete with a poorly draw pink stick figure giving a peace sign.
As the year of training drew to a close Sakura was the first to return to Ponyville, confident in her newfound strength and skill, and clutching a summoning scroll for the race that had gladly accepted her as one of their own.