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Somber Tones in the Land of mist

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on Mon Mar 13, 2017 7:06 pm
I wondered what Kadoria would be like if he wasn't a senju, I envisioned him getting Chomei at some point in time, as he is my favorite bijuu, but it was never in the cards for me. When Ever announced the Adventure system, Kuro and I brainstormed talked about doing something like this. Kuro of course no matter what universe is always the Mizukage... fucking bastard. Kadoria was never a senju, never the kage, he went rogue much younger, traveled the world. Any-who, I'm sure someone will call me out about this. First one or whatever.

Spoiler:

Kusa no Kuni. Hi no Kuni. Mizu no Kuni. Kaminari no Kuni. Yu no Kuni.

These were the places that Kadoria had visited recently. These were the places where he had traveled to, whether unintentionally or with a purpose. He had gone to Hi no Kuni from Kusa to learn more about his father. A new acquaintance was made, a new ability was unlocked, knowledge was obtained, and some unforgettable missions were undertaken: these and a few others were the highlights of his stay at Hi no Kuni. From there, he had moved on to Mizu no Kuni, at the request of the aforementioned acquaintance, to complete a mission assigned by the latter. His stay in Mizu no Kuni had not been long, for political unrest had induced the Nukenin to relocate from the island nation. Haste had been a necessity, lest he be trapped on an island that was either forbidding travel to and from it, or heavily monitoring transport. In any case, the shinobi had inadvertently ended up in Kaminari no Kuni. “Inadvertently”, because Kadoria had stowed away on a ship without any idea where it was going. He had ended up hanging on the ceiling of the ship’s cellar for hours to avoid being detected by the guards below. The fun.

One arduous and unenjoyable trip later, he had arrived at Kaminari no Kuni. There, he had met the son of a wealthy man with criminal influences, who had coerced the Nukenin into acting as his bodyguard for the day. This nation was also where Kadoria would acquire his first Summon, an animal more despicable than the devil. And of course, this was also the nation where Kadoria was sent on a mission to that Town - the Town of The Dead. Following that mission, the Jinchuuriki had made his way directly to Yu no Kuni for a prescribed rest period. There, he had met another Nukenin, one who sought a pleasant conversation rather than a physical and/or verbal fight; a nice change of pace. Yu no Kuni had also been the location of Kadoria’s latest mission – his latest failed mission, to be more specific. And let’s not forget that highly memorable event, where Kadoria met a face from the past: a face that proceeded to give the Nukenin the most severe beating of his life.

In short, each country had left the Nukenin with some kind of notable memory; each country had given him something different to experience. From missions, to social interactions, to physical and mental pain - there had been quite a lot. That was, after all, what life was about: experiences. From the moment one was born, to the day they died, he or she was exposed to so many new and different experiences. Varying, contrasting, surprising. Life was all about experiencing new things. Time and location did not matter. Even a person’s standing in life was not a factor to be considered. Rich or poor, everyone experienced something new each day. People simply did not realize what the differences in each of their days was until much later; sometimes, they may never see the difference at all. But there was always a variation. Every day was different from the last, in some way. One could go back to the same place they had been the previous day, and they would experience something different than before. They could repeat the same actions they did on the previous day, and there would be a small enough variation in the whole procedure to make it distinguishable from the last day’s.

But what was the point in musing about all this? Nothing. Kadoria simply needed something to occupy his mind as he sat waiting on a wooden bench. A gentle breeze was blowing from behind him, ruffling his clothes, its destination being the sea just a few meters in front of the Nukenin; an offshore breeze. Human presence was at a low at the harbor on the east coast of Yu no Kuni, primarily because of the time of the day. The dark sky and the luminous crescent moon hung above the Nukenin’s head, the air silent save for the sound of the waves crashing into the supports of the pier. The sound was almost tranquil, soothing even.

Kadoria was waiting for his boat. His planned destination was Mizu no Kuni, and he was waiting on the ship he had hired to be prepped for departure. The Nukenin had already been to Mizu no Kuni, as mentioned earlier. Back then, it had been to complete a mission. Now, a mission was the same reasoning for why he was headed to the water-locked country again. More specifically, he was heading there in search of a job. Mizu no Kuni had always been infamous for housing some of the vilest of individuals on the planet. If ever a rogue shinobi was going to find a job, it would be in Mizu no Kuni.

A voice called out to him, and the shinobi looked up from his seat at the aged yet burly man waving towards him from a small boat. The man may have been old, but he was more robust than most people his age or younger. Furthermore, he fit the stereotypical image of a seaman so accurately that Kadoria wondered if it was intentional. The sailor’s name was Nanase Ida, and he had agreed to take Kadoria over to the Mizu no Kuni. Rising to his feet, folding his arms behind his back to clasp one hand around the other wrist, the Nukenin wordlessly walked over to the lowered plank and stepped onto the ship. He gave a nod to the captain of the ship, an action that was returned in kind. The plank was lifted, the anchor was raised, and the ship set off towards Mizu no Kuni.

And undoubtedly, towards a new experience of some kind.

Carefully. One had to tread carefully here, for there were many obstructions that sought to impede progress. Tall, crumbling, dilapidated obstructions. These were ruins; remnants of a people and a culture long passed. As the stories went, a great civilization once lived within these wrecked walls. Despite its age, the architecture of the ruins implied at the success that the people had had. But now, there was nothing but failing. Failing walls, failing supports, failing existence. The people that had lived here were gone, effectively forgotten; and soon enough, the remnants of their existence would be lost as well. These walls, which were a part of their legacy, would soon be lost from this world, just like the ones who had constructed them. This was the work of time. Time, which continued on endlessly and constantly, yet was a marker for when other things came to an end. Time did not stop, because if it did, then nothing else would.

The hour was late, and the scene was quiet. This was a dead city, and rarely did anything with a heartbeat make its way here. Save for the few who chose this site for training purposes or the solitude it offered. There was an air of tranquility to be found here, after all. Kind of like the tranquility one found in a graveyard. Or in an onsen, to use a less grave example (pun intended). The point was, the area was quiet and devoid of human presence, save for the lone figure making his way gingerly through the ruins. His pace was slow and deliberate because of the poor visibility that the darkness provided, and the complicated maze that the debris had turned into. The smooth, white mask under the hood turned slowly from side to side, the green eyeholes seeming to glow faintly in the dimmed environment. The figure walked steadily and carefully, constantly examining the area, appearing to be searching for something. He was making his way through the ruins not with practiced, confident strides, but as if he was thinking over each step and turn. Pondering. Recalling.

Go straight.

Then left.

Then right.

His stride came to a halt before an ancient stone wall, rising up from the earth at an angle. The wall had once been part of a two-story structure; perhaps taller, given how the top of the wall had deteriorated already. Foreign markings of a forgotten language stretched across the rough, mossy surface. Its titled position implied that a great force had disrupted its balance. The Nukenin, however, paid no attention to these features, instead kneeling down before the wall and pulling out a kunai. Weapon held backhanded, he began to wordlessly jab the item into the dirt, directly at the base of the decimated wall. For the next few minutes, the sound of the knife being wedged in and out of the earth rhythmically was all to be heard from the shinobi’s vicinity. Soon enough, he had set the soil-stained weapon aside and pushed his hand into the small hole he had created in the earth. The dig had revealed a small hole in the wall’s foundation, previously covered under the dirt. It was into this gap between the ground and the wall that the hooded figure inserted his gloved hand. After a few seconds of presumably groping his hand around in the darkness, the hand was pulled out. Right away, both hands were placed onto the ground, fingers digging into the soil to begin removing more of the earthen material from around the hole.

In a matter of seconds, depression had deepened and more of the gap was exposed. With a quick dusting of his hands, the Nukenin once again reached into the gap, and pulled something out from inside. Rising to his feet, Kadoria plopped the small, leather pouch into his left hand, while the other hand undid the zipper keeping the container closed. The top of the pouch fell open to expose a small collection of metal coins. Lifting the pouch higher, the masked one began sliding the coins aside, mentally summing their amount.

While he was not the wealthiest of people, Kadoria had regardless amassed a sizable amount of money in his career so far. Not so much that he could live a life free of financial worries, but enough that he was not always scrounging for scraps or spare change. He had enough to satisfy the necessities of his life, and still be able to save what remained for later use. It helped that Kadoria was by nature parsimonious with his money, for the reason that he did not know of anything else to spend his cash on, other than food, clothes, and ninja gear. In any case, Kadoria had managed to save up some of his earnings for dire situations. Of course, carrying around cash was a bad idea for Nukenin, or any criminal, so the shinobi had done the obvious and stored his money. Not in a bank, because he did not think it wise for a rogue shinobi to pile his unlawful earnings into a “legal” institute. So, he’d gone with the more clandestine approach, and simply hidden small collections of money in various countries he’d visited. The idea had been that, if he was ever in that country again and was short on money, he would have something to fall back on. Plus, he would not be pooling all his wealth into one area for someone to steal. That was the idea. A risky idea, obviously. The Nukenin would have no knowledge of whether his little treasures were even safe; he would have to go on the faith that it would be safe, and that he could get to it when he needed. Sort of like in a bank?

Shaky though idea may have been in its surety, it had proven to be useful at this moment. The pouch of coins that Kadoria had just dug out was one of the “deposits” he’d made. This one had been placed during his previous trip to Mizu no Kuni, as a safeguard. Now, Kadoria was not only checking to make sure the money was still here, but also because he was in need of some. His reason for traveling to Mizu no Kuni had been to find a job, but things had not been going well so far. He had not found any jobs that he were of his liking or within his capabilities. Business was slow in the criminal world, it seemed. Odd, given how he had expected to find more jobs than he could hope to complete in a country that was claimed to be as dangerous as Mizu no Kuni. It was said amongst the people of the other Shinobi Nations, and perhaps the entire world, that this island country was the foulest place on the planet. It was here that the most vile, brutal, and violent of people were expected to live. Mizu no Kuni, and by extension Kirigakure no Sato, were regarded as the land where the demons of Mankind lived. This was where “The Bloody Mist” could be found, after all.

How wrong public opinion could be.

The people here were no different in their treatment of others than anywhere else Kadoria had been. There had been civility and pleasantness in the streets that Kadoria had been walking through for the last three days. This nation’s citizens were no less humane than any other country’s natives. The people here were humans, not demons or monsters. A criminal was no better off here than he was in any other Shinobi Nation. They might have once been, but such was no longer the case. And based on what Kadoria had heard so far from the natives, it was clear how and why such a country, which had acquired a feared reputation for its past actions, was now a more civilized land.

The Nukenin halted his counting for a moment, raising his head and looking around himself slowly. His mind reached towards the surroundings, searching the area for any chakra signatures. Both the visual and the mental scan yielded no alarming results, so he returned to his counting. However, the Nukenin still felt like he was missing something. He had that unshakable feeling that he was being watched, or being followed by someone. It did not help that, close to an hour ago, he had thought that he had sensed someone’s chakra near him. He had passed it off as part of his imagination, for a more thorough scan had not revealed anything of significance. Regardless, the Nukenin was alert for any disturbance, though his attention may have been focused on the money bag in his hand.

“You’re on edge. What would you expect, hiding your money in such a desolate place? This is the perfect setting for an ambush. Or a murder.”

Which is precisely why it is a fitting place to hide something. This environment is one that most people would avoid for the sake of safety. No one would bother coming so far into these ruins just to pass the time.

As he mentally spoke those words, the Nukenin was unaware that, just beyond his chakra detection range, another cloaked figure was watching him from behind a collapsed archway. A mask as white as Kadoria’s could be seen under the gray hood, a mask that would be immediately recognized as belonging to the Oinin Butai. This particular Oinin was observing Kadoria, having been following the rogue since he had entered the destroyed city. It was not odd for the Oinin to see visitors during his patrol of this area, but the oddity had been Kadoria’s general appearance, as well as his chakra. Just like the rogue, the Oinin was a Sensor Ninja, and he had gotten a good enough feel of Kadoria’s chakra to know that something was different about the Nukenin; he had a very good inkling as to what he was. Which was why the Hunter Ninja had stayed out of sight and detection range of the purple-clad male whilst tailing him, with the intention of learning the Nukenin’s reasons for being here.

But he had done that only after sending word back to his village. His superiors would want to know about a suspicious figure wandering the lands close to the village; one that had a chakra reserve so exceptionally large as to mean only one thing. His message should have long since arrived at HQ. How his superiors decided to act based on the information they received, the Oinin did not know or care. All he needed to do was perform his duty, and await orders while he observed the unidentified shinobi. The unsuspecting, unaware shinobi.

No doubt, Kadoria was in for a surprise of some kind.

He called. And it had answered. At first, he didn't know what it would be, but he had faith that he would know when it came. A crimson smile lit the face of the blonde haired man as the Onin Butai sensory unit officer began to turn his masked face away from Hiroku, bending it toward the ground and activating the single handed signs for shunshin. In an instant, Hiroku was alone. The silence seemed to hit him in a progressive belch, screaming and screeching into his ears without noise. The last light of the day began to filter in through the massive window which stood as a wall behind Hiroku, overlooking the steep cliff-fall-off which hung over an angered ocean. In the distance, lights began to sparkle on, representing Kirigakure's night life, something veiled by the vapors which hung around the mysterious and hidden village. It was a clean room, neat, orderly, and aesthetic. Large, and circular, it was bordered by a series of fountains which dumped water into embroidered slots, like a maze, along the floor. The design of narrow streams wove behind his desk, connecting the fountains on each side. It was entirely possible to step through the water, walking upon the ground which was sectioned off into clean angles like stepping stones, some larger than others. He stood behind his long, rectangular desk, his back to the translucent wall.

He remained in the heart of his nation, no longer tied to Kirigakure as a Mizukage. Instead, he had ascended to Emperor, ruling over the entire Water Country equally. A political figure with the combined power of the Daimyo and Mizukage, eclipsing most other parties. He no longer had to bow under another's orders, nor tip toe around certain restrictions. He was free to conduct business without being pressed under the restrictive choke hold of a higher government. He was no longer merely an asset to some higher power.

One step came before another, his right palm leaning forward onto the desk while the left slid a small slot open at the top left corner. Behind the small, wooden slot were a series of small, mostly circular seals inscribed like fuuinjutsu. Sliding his pointer and middle finger down onto one of the seals, it began to glow with a light blue. "This is Hiroku Yamanaka. All offensive units stand down, I will handle this myself. I want a sensory net cast over the area. You are not to interfere unless otherwise deemed necessary." He did not wait for a response, retracting his fingers from the small seal and swinging around the corner of his desk. He had places to be.

And yet, it had been more effective than he had originally thought. The call he had sent. A beckoning out to similar energies. Not a single month prior, he had traveled to the ancient island of ruins. The build up of a civilization with historical origins unknown to most outside of the Kirigakure. The nation was Kirigakure's home land, the village it had once been, and the representation of the village's growth. He had gone in search of an ancient artifact belonging to the Yamanaka Clan's past. A detailed account of mythology, including the falling of a dark god into the human realm, followed by the creation of all things demonic and dark; this included the tailed beasts, which had, over time, adapted into the sentient creatures they were now. It was there that he had unlocked, tamed, and absorbed the dark chakra which had began to connect him with the tailed beasts in a way he was just now starting to understand. And now, once again, he had linked himself to one of the Jinchuuriki. This time one with a massive wealth of chakra, casting a shadow on the figures they had seen before.

***

His eyes looked up, scanning the side of a large, broken column which had once supported a now collapsed building. Hiroku could recognize the architecture, seeing as a similar, albeit slightly more evolved form of architecture was still being used in Kirigakure to this day. His movements were near silent, and the only foot steps in the area were those of his own; he was alone. Stepping over the crumbled stairs of a once large building, he made his way deeper into the interior of the ruined village. His eyes flared momentarily in excitement as he inhaled the scent of an archaic chakra. Something older than any one human, and most civilizations entirely.



The man's body was covered in a black cloak, under which he wore a dark purple, silken robe, draping over his body elegantly. Oceanic blue eyes stung all which they looked upon with an icy touch. Golden hair, and slightly darker, expressive eyes brows which neatly lowered themselves as he took each step further into the interior. Full lips were held in monotone, not committed to any particular facial expression. Defined cheekbones ran parallel with the edge of his jawline. Tan skin, which looked as though mixed with gold flecks, covered his body, untouched by blemishes, or aging. The sensory unit had confirmed that the "target" was still in its location among the ruins, apparently unafraid of whatever fate may come his way.

Everything was coming together. The chakra began to press against Hiroku, more powerful than any he had yet encountered in terms of mere size. He could feel it mingling with that of his own, distorted and powerful chakra. His smile began to return as he rounded a corner, right hand pressed against what was left of a stone wall, peering around its corner. There, standing solitarily, was but one figure. His dressing was odd, and uncommon. Narrowing his eyes, Hiroku allowed his chakra to flow forth naturally. Instantly, a pressure and weight befell the surrounding ruins. The weight of a powerful and chaotic, yet not innately evil chakra, which clung to each inch of the stone filled setting with a seductive pull and hum. His own energy did not pale in comparison to that of the other male, actually similar in strength, merely holding differing scents. Like a potent pheromone, Hiroku's chakra was thick and rich with a rebellious feeling. An aroma which intoxicated the masses, and threw them into a drunken stumble of allurement to the godly man. It was a temptation which did not differentiate among genders, or preference.

The man opposite him hid most of his body, making it harder for Hiroku to gain much visual data from his outer appearance. In a glance, subtracting the additional height offered by the black boots he wore, Hiroku could tell that the Jinchuuriki was about five feet, eleven inches. His eyes shone through the mask with a vivid, glowing green. A thin smile was carved onto the front of the mask, otherwise devoid of expression entirely. Hiroku raised his head to speak to the other man, no doubt having sensed the brilliant display of chakra by now, a force which was indeed greater than that of other tailed beasts, concentrated within the body of one individual just as it was with a Jinchuuriki, only slightly different. Far more natural.

"Welcome to Mizu no Kuni, traveler."

It did not take long to count the money. Less than five minutes, actually. There was no a lot of it, after all. What did lengthen the amount of time Kadoria spent standing beside that wall was the fact that he allowed himself the luxury of double-checking his work. There was nothing wrong in making sure that his first calculations had been correct, was there? Better he learn that he had added incorrectly now than later. Not that Kadoria was bad at doing basic addition in his head; he was simply the kind of person who preferred to make sure he had eliminated any errors on his part. That way, if (or when) something went wrong, he would not have any reason to blame himself. Or at least, that was what other people would assume to be the reason for the Nukenin’s precaution. In all honesty, even if it was not Kadoria’s fault for a failure, one could certainly count on him to come up with some reason for how he was to blame for the mistake. Old habits die hard, and this was a habit that the male had possessed for a long time. Even his deceased mentor and trainer, Sakamoto, had tried to lecture the habit out of him; needless to say, he had not succeeded. There were many things that Kadoria had managed to learn from Sakamoto; how to be a little more acknowledging of his capabilities was not one of those things.

One lesson the Nukenin had learned was to always be mindful of his surroundings. Being the cautious, and at times paranoid, rogue shinobi that he was, Kadoria was well-practiced in keeping an eye on his surroundings. Of course, he would always need more practice, as was evidenced on this very night, at this exact moment, when a familiar sensation shattered his focus.

The Nukenin’s fingers ceased their fractional motion of sliding the coins, and his insect eyes swiveled in their sockets to glance in the direction of his peripherals. No other change in the figure’s stance could be seen. Opaque lenses on his mask made the redirection of his gaze from the money bag to his latest target an undetectable feat; his head remained bowed slightly, the hood casting a darker shadow over the top of his mask. For all intents and purposes, the Nukenin still seemed appeared to be immersed in counting the contents of the pouch. However, had anyone been able to see his eyes, it would be clear that he was no longer focused on the bag, but something in the distance. Whatever had garnered his attention was obscured from sight by the ruins around the shinobi, but walls did not hinder the power of Kadoria’s senses. He could feel it coming nearer, feel it approaching him. A massive, powerful accumulation of chakra.

A moment later, he could see it: a distant figure was calmly strolling over to him from the darkness, clad in a dark cloak. Kadoria’s posture did not alter, but that did not mean he was unperturbed. This latest development did not bode well with his paranoia. His body tensed unseen under his concealing clothing, but he made no move just yet.

“Don’t run, Kai. I don’t think this person means you any harm. If they did, then they would have stayed hidden and attacked you from the darkness. Someone with this much power would not have any trouble keeping themselves hidden from you; the fact that this person is openly walking towards you means that they want you to notice them. That’s rather curious, wouldn’t you say? Let’s wait and see what they want, shall we?”

In his mind’s eye, Kadoria looked over his shoulder at the Bijuu suspended behind him, trapped in her multiplicity of chains. A sly chuckle sounded from behind the smiling mask. My, my. I’ve never heard you be so forceful in your opinion, Shichibi. Nonetheless, your reasoning is… logical. Let us see what this person wants, then.

Yes, it made sense what the Bijuu had said. The Nukenin had had been having similar thoughts, and had come to the same conclusions as his beast; which was why he had not simply run off the moment he had seen the stranger appear. There was also the fact that Kadoria could tell that a person of this caliber could not be escaped from without a confrontation of some kind. The chakra he had sensed… It was larger than any he had sensed thus far. This was no ordinary shinobi approaching the Nukenin. It was not a Genin, a Chuunin, or even a mighty Jounin. No, this individual had a larger – heavier – chakra housed within their body than any of the aforementioned. It was undoubtedly the chakra of a human, but it was not like any regular human’s or shinobi’s. This was the power of someone much, much more formidable. Running away was not the most feasible option at this point. Such was the Nukenin’s reasons for holding his ground as the figure neared him, his stance unchanged still.

This was his reason, and he assumed that it was also the reason why the Shichibi had dissuaded him from fleeing. Little did the Jinchuuriki know that the Bijuu had her different motives for wanting to meet this new arriver. The Jinchuuriki had felt the newcomer’s chakra; the Bijuu had felt something more. She had felt a link between her own chakra, and that of the stranger. She had could sense the other’s chakra reaching out for her’s, feeling it out, basking in it. She had unexpectedly and randomly began feeling this a while ago; sometime after her host had entered this ruined city. Now, she knew what the cause was. It was this individual who was making her feel like someone was calling out to her, trying to establish some form of connection with her. And like all puzzling occurrences, this had intrigued the curious Bijuu. She was interested by this human, and attentively watched him as she approached her host.

Her host, too, was examining the stranger diligently. As the newcomer came closer, the masked shinobi was able to acquire information on his guest’s appearance. It was a man, clad in a black cloak that left little of his physique or body structure to be identified. He was tall, taller than Kadoria, though the poor lighting and concealing nature of the cloak made it difficult to say exactly how much. The man’s head was uncovered, allowing Kadoria a clear view of the man’s long, luscious golden hair; hair that was almost the same shade as Kadoria’s own hair - if he still had any of it to compare. Beneath the messy locks of gold, the Nukenin could just make out two animated blue eyes watching him attentively. The eyes were embedded in a face that seemed devoid of any imperfections. The unmarred visage was adorned with a pleased smile – pleasure derived not from a good heart, but the one sported by an inquisitive individual when he or she found something that piqued their interest. It was a look Kadoria had seen a number of times before; on his own face specifically.

But that was beside the point: it was not only the man’s physical features that the Nukenin had observed. It felt like the man’s chakra was – for lack of a better word – oozing out from his body towards Kadoria, engulfing him and saturating his senses. If Kadoria was to describe the chakra in a single word, he would call “sensual”. The man had an air of seduction towards him - of allurement. He was the kind of person who would no doubt attract the gaze of all those he passed, irrespective of gender or mentality. And many of those gazes would surely be of attraction. Not just the man’s chakra and demeanor, but his physical appearance had an alluring quality to it. This was a man who could sway emotions and hearts with just his presence. He was attractive and appealing. He was divine.

Disgusting, Kadoria grumbled in his mind, trying to shake off the repulsed shiver that had run up his spine as he felt the man’s chakra. The man’s allure might have worked on other people, but for someone like Kadoria, who had never been sexually attracted to anything in his life, the result was a wave of literal, physically revulsion. This man’s chakra made the Nukenin’s stomach turn; if he did not have any self-control, he would vomited the moment he felt the unique quality of the chakra. Other people might consider this man beautiful, but to Kadoria, everything from his intoxicating chakra to his unblemished face was repulsive.

But who exactly was this man? That was a question that the hooded shinobi would normally have been asking himself at this point. But there was no need to ponder over it. Kadoria knew who this man was. He did not even have to take a moment to think it over. He had deduced this man’s identity the moment he had seen his face, and felt the quality of his chakra.

The Mizukage.

He’d heard about this man. A lot. The people in this country refused to shut up about him. Kadoria had heard a great many things about the Mizukage during his few days here, and he still had no idea what was true and what was not. The Sandaime Mizukage was a legend amongst his people, with so many rumors and tales surrounding him that Kadoria had to wonder just how many of his subjects had actually seen or met him before. There was nothing but praise to be heard about the man who had supposedly taken a nation of barbarians and transformed it into a prosperous land of economic and military stability. “Yamanaka Hiroku” was a man revered for his accomplishments and capabilities, said to rival those of any Mizukage since. A divine being in both mind, power, and body; that was the image that the citizens of Mizu no Kuni had painted to Kadoria of their Mizukage. The person who was revered for making Mizu no Kuni the successful land that it was today, and who effectively ran the entire nation as both its Mizukage and its Daimyo. He was treated by his subjects as someone who was more than human. He was regarded as “perfection itself”.

That was to be seen.

The Mizukage had spoken out, welcoming Kadoria to his country. His words were carried by a deep, sensual voice, one laden with the confidence and self-assurance that came from someone with great power and authority. One could say his voice, too, was just as “perfect” as he supposedly was. Wonderful.

The entire time, Kadoria had not moved a visible inch, secretly scrutinizing his host from behind his mask. Now, as the man welcomed the Nukenin, the latter at last made a move. Slowly, with his head still bowed and not looking at the Mizukage, Kadoria closed the pouch in his hands and slipped it into one of his ninja pouches. The white mask then rose up, and slowly turned with its body to face the Kage. Arms folded behind his back, one hand clasping the wrist of the other; his head was tilted forward at a slight angle, the overhanging hood blocking the moonlight from above from reaching his mask. Though the blank, green lenses of the eyes were pointed at the ground between the two men, there was no doubt that the Nukenin’s gaze was fixed solely on the Mizukage alone.

In contrast to the Mizukage’s loud, masculine voice, the Nukenin’s words came out in a soft, whispery drawl. It was hollow, guttural, and noticeably higher in pitch than the other man’s: the result of having one’s vocal chords severely damaged by heat, and remaining unused for almost an entire year.

“Thank you for the gracious welcome. I have to say, it’s an honor to meet someone of such a prestigious rank, Mizukage. Or, do you prefer Emperor?”

There was no insolence, contempt, or fear to be heard. His tone was polite, but the sly undertone was as blatant as the smile on his mask.

“And how may I help someone who has come all the way out here, at this hour, to greet a traveler?”

With ease, Hiroku continued forward, feet stepping over small, broken bits of rock that lay in waste before him. He made almost no noise as he moved, as if made lighter by some effect. It was an aerie contrast to the weight which hung about in the air before him, carried by the passionate chakra seeping from him. His face seemed to glow with a light coming from sources unknown. The male opposite him was certainly a product of unnatural energies. It appeared as if the will of his own secrets had bored themselves into his physicality, bending him into this seemingly demented state. Multidimensional eyes, like those of a felines, slid in analyzation of the other shinobi. As if haunted by a pigment without explanation, the azure nature of Hiroku's eyes shone through the night, as if reflecting the fading light of moon's glow. With the swiftness of a ranger, Hiroku made his way forward, his gliding gate unhindered by the numerous trip holes surrounding him like traps.

He could feel a powerful chakra, laden with curiosity and something amused. A feeling rose out from within his innards, like butterflies, but much less intrusive. An energetic enthusiasm, more like. But it was unlike anything he had ever felt before. Something altogether inhuman, and without many points of relation. Alien almost entirely. The chakra of the seven tailed bijuu, a beast known only through legend and tales of extremity. And it was here, along with the host who controlled it currently. Though this encounter was different. In the past, the chakras had mixed with ease; the combined chakras of Hiroku, the Jinchuuriki, and the Bijuu alike. This time, however, something remained in separation, like oil thrown in water. It didn't mix at all. The Yamanka's eyes narrowed slightly as he felt the distant sparks of malfunction, examining the origin of the problem at hand, only to find that his influence had no place here. At least, not in its current form. His chakra pulsed with a persuasion that simply did not exist within the young man at all. A thick steam of arousal which fell upon the boy in reverse.

At first, the change was nigh impossible, as it was the natural mix of things. Though, as he drew closer to the Shichibi's host, he was able to adapt to the new levels of energetic wave motion between the two individuals. An adjustment that would set the Jinchuuriki at ease, releasing the feelings of strong repulsion by removing the sexual stimulation, and replacing it entirely with a feeling of stern power. A respectful, feared power among his own people, and the reason for legend within the walls of Kirigakure no Sato. The very same power that the Bijuu within Kadoria had been called and lured with.

"Thank you for the gracious welcome. I have to say, it’s an honor to meet someone of such a prestigious rank, Mizukage. Or, do you prefer Emperor?"

"I'll leave that choice to you." Hiroku's look was almost smug, cocking his head to the right slightly.

"And how may I help someone who has come all the way out here, at this hour, to greet a traveler?"

"Ah," he as if casually adjusting.

"And then we both know that you're no ordinary traveler..."

Without speaking, the next words came not from Hiroku's own mouth. Instead, they echoed through the chambers of Kadoria's mind, bouncing off of the walls therein, and filling its space. The minds of these Jinchuuriki were all very different, and yet the same in their difference. Each was driven by two, separate power sources, and each had its own space. Something completely apart from the other. And then there was the grey area, splotchy places that did not mix entirely. Proof of the flawed nature of Jinchuuriki, as a concept. Or at least proof that more could be done. Proof that Hiroku had long since been looking for. It was this broken nature which allowed Hiroku to infiltrate the space of not only the human's mind, but the beast's within, laying forth language that only the insect-like-demon would be able to hear.


... Welcome to Mizu no Kuni, Shichibi...

Ephemeral.

No, wait. That wasn’t the word. Ethereal. That was what he meant. Ethereal.

Anyway.

There was something about this man that came across as ethereal. Unearthly. Some trait of his, some aspect of his deportment, gave off an impression of being much more. More intelligent. More sagacious. More than just “a mere human”. It was not the way in which a shinobi differed from “an ordinary civilian”, or how a Jounin compared with a Genin, or even how a Kage outshone all of the aforementioned. Perhaps it was how he carried himself. Perhaps it was how he looked physically. Perhaps it was a jutsu of some kind. Or perhaps Kadoria was looking into things too deeply - too exaggeratingly. Be that as it may, as the Mizukage assuredly stepped closer to Kadoria, he did so with a grace that was almost otherworldly; his person appeared untouched by environmental stimuli. Footsteps so soft as to seemingly not touch the ground at all brought the blonde man several paces closer to the other. The picture-perfect face became more detailed to observe as he neared, allowing Kadoria to note the way the blue orbs were probing him in study. Scanning him.

My, don’t I feel violated, he thought dryly.

The Yamanaka’s keen gaze was not the primary focus of Kadoria’s thoughts, however. It might have been because he had gotten used to the sensation, but the Nukenin was no longer feeling as nauseated by the Mizukage’s presence as he had been just moments prior. The wave of revulsion had lessened significantly - not vanished, but alleviated to such a level as to be unnoticeable. Now, he was able to properly “bask in the magnificence that was a Kage’s chakra”, as Kadoria would put it. Despite possessing a relatively higher reserve of chakra than the man before him, Kadoria knew that the energy he felt was a grand one on its own. One could say that the Jinchuuriki’s chakra was a borrowed one, while the other shinobi’s was a natural product of his body and experience. At the very least, that was how Kadoria interpreted it, being the self-deprecator that he was. Those who held power that they had obtained through their own efforts, he was inclined to sincerely respect. It did not matter what kind of person it was, or what his or her motives may be: great power necessitated respect. Not devout worship, but akin to the respect an employee showed to his or her superior. A demonstration of civility.

It was this way of thinking that made the Mizukage’s attempt to induce a sense of admiration with his chakra in the Nukenin an unhindered success. Kadoria was not about to bow down and pledge his mind and body to the Kage, but he was also unlikely to treat the leader insolently or brashly. Randomly attacking the man for no reason was as unlikely. A characteristic trait of his. As it turned out, this all meant that Kadoria was oblivious to the fact that the Kage’s chakra had been and was influencing him. The previous disgust he had felt when the chakra had been alluring would be blamed on something disagreeable that he could have possibly eaten. He would not signal out the Mizukage’s chakra as the cause of said discomfort. Time would tell whether this ignorance would become something that could be exploited by the Yamanaka.

Following Kadoria’s rather sarcastic response to his greeting, the Mizukage had answered back in an equally calm and unaggressive manner. The atmosphere appeared casual, despite the conflicting nature of the two shinobi’s lifestyles. The Yamanaka had insouciantly told the Nukenin to refer to him however he saw fit, albeit with a smug face and sideways tilt of his head; quirks that were often noticeable in Kadoria’s behavior as well. When the blonde’s turn to speak next came, his words poked at the amused exterior of the Nukenin, momentarily allowing a manifestation of displeasure to seep through as an obscured frown. The man’s words had trailed off without elaborating further on his thought, but the underlying meaning was clear: the Kage knew full well who, and perhaps what, Kadoria was.

Splendid.

“Well,” Kadoria began, after the briefest of pauses. He raised a hand to his side, palm facing up and spidery fingers curling inwards slightly. “Normally, I’d pretend you were referring to the fact that I was a Nukenin, but… clearly, that’s not what you were alluding to. I suppose I should not be surprised that someone with your influence has come by this information.”

Rather than display any signs of panic at the discovery that the Mizukage knew he was a Jinchuuriki, Kadoria maintained his ground and composure. As the Shichibi had said earlier, if this man had meant him any sort of actual harm, than this conversation would not be taking place. A Kage would certainly face minimal effort in disposing of a Teinei such as he - and he would surely be able to do without Kadoria’s knowing. Then again, this might all be part of an elaborate ruse of some sort, wherein the Kage might be attempting to deceive the Nukenin into dropping his guard. After which, he would take advantage of the Jinchuuriki’s lapse in vigilance to take him out. It was the more complicated and excessive way of going about capturing or killing someone. But what did Kadoria know? He may as well assume that the man before was prone to employing such unnecessarily intricate plans. On the other hand, Kadoria might be the one who was being unnecessary: unnecessarily imaginative. Regardless, even if the Nukenin was simply over-thinking things as usual, the fact remained that his senses would remain steadfastly on alert for any signs of possible danger. After all, he was in the company of one of the most powerful shinobi in this country - reportedly.

He lowered his hand, returning it to its folded position behind his back. The masked face was aimed steadily at the impeccable one some feet away. “Not to sound impudent, but I shall reiterate: how may I help you, Mizukage? I don’t believe you’ve come here with any hostile intentions. A desire to chat with the common folk?”

He couldn’t stop himself from making that snide remark at the end.

Little did the Nukenin know that the Mizukage was not here to see him; or at least, not just him. The voiceless words that spawned from the Yamanaka’s mind and percolated into the Jinchuuriki’s subconscious were not directed to him. They were addressed to someone else. Someone far more powerful, both in mind and body.

----------------------------------------

Like a cockroach, the Mizukage’s greeting squeezed through the crevices of the Nukenin’s mind to gain entry. It navigated through the depths of his subconscious, skirting around and avoiding the areas of light that symbolized Kadoria’s awareness. Soon, the roach’s journey through the shadows would bring it to its objective. The elegant voice, uttering those words that carried no sound or physical existence, caused something to stir at the heart of the darkness. A voice then reverberated through the gloom in reply to the human’s salutation.

“I appreciate the courteous greeting… human.”

A massive collection of energy flooded out from the depths into which the Mizukage’s mind had ventured. Like a myriad of metaphysical arms, the energy reached forward eagerly, latching onto the Kage’s subconscious and ensnaring it in a resilient hold; it was not chakra, but a manifestation of indomitable will. Whether the human wished to accede to the force or not, he would find his mind being drawn deeper into the Jinchuuriki’s subconscious. Closer and closer, until the suffocating blackness would begin to fade away to reveal the cavernous chamber. A vast space of rough stone, with the walls so distance that they were hidden by the background gloom. A faint, rhythmic thumping saturated the otherwise silent air, its source undeterminable and its cycle unending. However, the pounding was temporarily drowned out by a much louder and more dominant sound.

“Now, let me extend the same greeting to you: welcome to my host’s mind, Mizukage.”

A resonant voice, feminine in quality, but far more imposing than any sound that a human could vocalize. It held a playful and curious tone, the kind one used when speaking to a child, and beneath which lay a hint of innate pride and arrogance. The dominating energy released its hold on the Yamanaka, and then began to accumulate in the center of the cavern to amalgamate into the giant insect’s form. A being older than the legends that spoke of it. The Shichibi was locked in its cage, yet its presence was no less domineering. Her armored face was as undiscernible of emotion as her host’s masked face, and the eight luminous, compound eyes did not seem to move at all in their sockets. The gargantuan bug was wrapped in what could be referred to as a metal cocoon, one that was suspended several feet above the cavern floor. Shackles and braces degradingly kept her affixed to the multitude of chains stretching out around her into the darkness of the vast room. Her six beautiful wings were locked in a shackle each; a larger brace under her belly held her proportionately smaller legs together with her reptilian tail; another metal casing on her thorax kept her gaze fixed straight ahead by immobilizing her upper body; and a final restraint was clamped over her forked horn for no determinable reason. However, instead of conveying a sense of weakness, the bindings only added to the daunting nature of the beast: restraints so secure implied at the devastating nature of the captive.

With the same smugness as before, the Shichibi spoke out once more in her confident speech, the uttered words echoing throughout the area. “Interesting… Very interesting. I don’t know if you can hear my host babbling out there, but he seems to be under the impression that you have some business with him. But he’s wrong, isn’t he? You obviously came here to meet someone else, didn’t you? Heheh... I’m flattered, you know. Really, I am.” If she had a mouth with which to smile, the Shichibi surely would have been wearing a smug smirk right now. “So tell me, Mizukage. Why have you sought an audience with me?”

Curiosity. The curiosity in those words was as obvious as the size difference between the Bijuu and the man. The Shichibi was certain that this human would be smart enough to deduce that she had intentionally pulled him into this realm to allow him to speak with her, regardless of whether he had wanted it or not. The incisive Bijuu knew that this “Mizukage” wanted to meet her, and she was curious as to what would manner of ambition had driven the man to contact her. Such was why she had so dragged him in here with such obvious vigor. That, and it served the additional purpose of enforcing to the man the basic and obvious truth: even if the Shichibi was caged so humiliatingly, she was no less fearsome of an entity. If this human was as sensible as she presumed him to be, then he would retain this fact in his memory for the rest of the conversation.

Like her host, she did not sense any enmity in the man’s actions. It did not seem like he was trying to capture her or her host. To the Shichibi, the man was not an enemy, but he was not a friend either. Oh no. He was a source of entertainment. A specimen to observe. The Shichibi had studied several humans during her even greater years of existence, and she had an inkling that there was something particularly intriguing about this little blonde youngling. He had piqued her interest, and if there was one thing she was guilty of it, it was pursuing that which interested her. Now all she had to hope for was that the human would not end up doing something which would require her to obliterate his very being from the Earth. That would be a shame.

Silent. Unmoving. Unresponsive. The man with picturesque features offered no further contribution to the conversation; he merely stood there, as still and quiet as a statue, with that unfaltering expression of hauteur and cunning. Cocking his head a millimeter to the side, Kadoria wondered briefly if he was perhaps deaf. Had he not heard him? The Mizukage had reacted to the Nukenin’s greeting from earlier. Did this man have some sort of unique, selective form of deafness? Or perhaps he was being silent on purpose, just to annoy Kadoria? Odd, but not implausible. In any case, be it cheekiness, deafness, or some other form of impediment that made continued conversation difficult, Kadoria was not particularly sure how to approach the matter. Both men had done nothing but watch each other during the few minutes that had passed since Kadoria had repeated his rephrased inquiry. Frankly, the Jinchuuriki was in no mood to waste his time standing in this hushed atmosphere, when he could be doing far more productive things with his time. Like searching for a more practical means of obtaining funds than the method he had resorted to right now. So, there was really only one thing left to do at this point.

“Well, this has been fun. Truly engaging. Spectacularly memorable.” Thin, lanky arms were spread apart as the masked speaker lifted his shoulders somewhat, and cocked his head to the side fractionally. “Indeed, I have to say that it has been a privilege to speak with someone of such magnificence, Mizukage. It almost pains me to have to cut our meeting so short, but such unfortunate decisions must be made.” Returning his arms to a folded position behind his back, the masked shinobi smiled unseeingly behind his face accessory. His hooded head bobbed up and down minimally in a slight nod. “If you wish to speak with me further - well then, you found me once. You can surely do so again.”

“What are you doing, Kai? I thought we agreed we would hear him out.”

I recall our doing so; yes. But, seeing as there is nothing for us to hear, an abrupt exit is now called for. That is my decision.

He could almost envision the Shichibi doing an imaginary roll of her eight, compound eyes. “Hmph. Very well. If that’s what you’ve chosen to do, then I won’t try to change your mind. As you keep blabbering constantly, you’re free to do as you please.”

A smug, mental grin preceded his remark. Your compliance is greatly appreciated, Shichibi.

Returning to the physical world and the enigmatic blonde before him, Kadoria gave what was nothing less than a dramatic flourish of his hand. “Farewell, Mizukage.” With that goodbye delivered, the Nukenin stepped forward lightly, calmly and with no hesitation. The hem of his coat ruffled behind him as he unhurriedly walked closer to the blonde Kage. If the man wanted to stop Kadoria, he had every opportunity to. As the paranoid Nukenin had considered plenty of times already, someone of a Kage’s caliber should have more than sufficient power to detain a person of Kadoria’s capabilities. If Yamanaka Hiroku wanted to stop him, then he could. If he wanted to. Five steps, and Kadoria was level with the stationary Kage. Another step, and he was beyond him. Kadoria kept going, gentle footfall after gentle footfall, and the uncommunicative Mizukage did not make any attempt to stop him - verbal or physical. It seemed that the Kage was certainly going to allow the Teinei to walk away. How gracious of him.

Secretly, the paranoid shinobi was feeling slightly relieved. Not only did he not have to fight his way out of a confrontation with a Kage, but he did not have to remain in the presence of such a worrying adversary for any longer. Even if Hiroku’s reasons for being here had not been hostile, Kadoria would not have eased up. In the presence of any shinobi, he was alert and cautious; the degree of vigilance varied, increasing as one rose up the hierarchy of the Hidden Villages’ shinobi system. Thankfully and surprisingly, this encounter had not gone downhill like his pessimistic side predicted.

The Nukenin did not turn around to check whether the man had even moved to keep the departing Jinchuuriki in sight. Instead, Kadoria maintained his course, not slowing or stopping. Soon, he was out of sight behind the enclosing ruins. Not long after that, he would exit the entirety of the ancient, fallen city. While he walked, his senses detected no other living presence following him, be it the Mizukage’s or another. Mystifying though it was, the Mizukage had approached him with obvious intentions to converse, but had allowed Kadoria to depart without struggle. Perhaps whatever he had wanted to discuss had been deemed unimportant at the last minute. Or, perhaps the Mizukage had decided that something about Kadoria was below his expectations, thus making the Nukenin unworthy of whatever the Kage had been planning.

Or maybe Kadoria was just that unsociable a person.
9,500 Words

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on Tue Mar 14, 2017 6:16 pm
Part Two, A challenger approaches

Spoiler:
“I still fail to see why you did not simply kill her on the spot.”

“What can I say? Maybe she was too much for our men to handle.”

“A novice shinobi - who conspicuously strolls up to one of your strongholds and literally announces her presence - was “too much to handle” for the scores of armed, seasoned, formidable warriors that were guarding the place?”

“Well, when you put it like that, I guess it is a wonder why we let her live.”

Kadoria sighed inaudibly, leaning back in his seat and crossing his arms over his chest. His irked expression was hidden by the misleading mask, but his body language made his annoyance apparent. Across from him, the older brown-haired man was casually slurping his ramen, seemingly less perturbed than the Nukenin. Kadoria and Fugaku were seated in a private booth in a corner of a restaurant, detached from the hustle and bustle of the other customers by wooden partitions; thus, they were given a semblance to privacy. Privacy that was much needed, for the topic of the two men’s discussion was a rather sensitive one. Kadoria had been instructed to meet up with Fugaku in this eatery, and despite the apparently eased manner in which the older man devoured his bowl of food, this was still a serious meeting. One that had been called to discuss recent developments, of which Kadoria was heavily involved.

The previous day, a certain kunoichi had approached one of the bases of the Yoshino Hibiki’s business. How exactly the shinobi had managed to locate and single out a place that was supposedly well-secluded was anyone’s guess, but that was not the main issue here. The problem was that this kunoichi had walked straight up to the gates of the establishment, and had declared authoritatively that she would reveal sensitive information about Hibiki’s clandestine dealings if her demands were not met. Rather than shoot an arrow through her skull, the commanding officer of the base had allowed her to continue speaking. The kunoichi’s demands had been simple: she wanted the Nukenin that Yoshino had hired for a mission three days ago to face her in battle at a certain time and place. If he did not show up, then she would go to her boss and reveal that Hibiki had been spying on her. The shinobi’s boss being Hibiki’s business rival, this would have been a highly undesirable outcome. So, when Yoshino had heard word of this, what had he done? Instead of burying the kunoichi under a sea of arrows, he had agreed to her demands.

Such was how Kadoria had been contacted by Fugaku a few hours later to meet up in the restaurant, where the whole situation was explained to him. And such was how Kadoria was told that he had to go and confront this kunoichi, and fight her like she had stated. After hearing the entire story, the Nukenin was understandably perplexed as to why Hibiki had not done the sensible thing and killed the kunoichi when he had the chance.

“And here I had formed the impression that Yoshino Hibiki was a sensible man. This event you have just narrated seems to suggest otherwise, though.”

“Who knows? Maybe he took a liking to the girl.” Fugaku smirked, swallowing a heavy mouthful of soggy noodles. “Or maybe… He wanted to give you the chance to correct your mistake, seeing as you let that girl live after she found out you where tailing her group on that island. I mean, really, what the hell were you thinking when you did that?”

Kadoria grimaced, turning his head away slightly to avoid looking at the incredulous look Fugaku was giving him. In hindsight, leaving her alive may not have been the best idea, after all. “I presumed she would keep her mouth shut.”

Dark eyes rolled beneath thick eyebrows as Fugaku heard these words. He pointed his chopsticks at Kadoria, now displaying signs of irritation, too. “Well, you presumed wrong. She’s not going to keep her mouth shut. Not unless you go and face her. What’s her problem, anyway? What did you do her, huh?”

Again, direct eye contact was blatantly avoided. “I may have been instrumental in the death of her partner… who was the one to discover that I was spying on them…”

The statement was made evasively, as if admitting this was something that shamed the Nukenin; or perhaps, would only provoke Fugaku into a more angered state. However, the balding brunette did not flip out in rage, instead scratching his cheek in thought. “Oh, so it’s a grudge match. Simple vengeance. That makes much more sense. I thought it might have been something serious.” Fugaku did not elaborate on what exactly he considered to be “serious” in comparison to a desire for vengeance. Instead, he nodded to himself, suddenly clapping his hands at Kadoria. “Okay then: hop to it! Go kick her ass! Not that I condone violence against women or anything, but you know: orders are orders!” He chuckled softly, picking up his bowl and chugging the liquid remains down in one go. Once he was done, he replaced the bowl on the table and wiped his grinning mouth clean with a napkin. As the white cloth was removed from his mouth, a grim look had adorned his wrinkled features. He looked steadily at Kadoria, his voice no longer laidback or cheery, but completely opposite in quality. “But seriously. This is no joke. If that girl squeals to her boss, then we’re looking at the worst-case scenario here. Should Shinji Uteki find out that Yoshino-dono sent you to spy on her operation, then all Hell’s gonna break loose; and the ensuing mess won’t be something that can be cleaned up. I don’t care what you do: go meet up with this “Yamanaka Hiroku”, and make sure she keeps her mouth shut. Take care of it.”

Kadoria tapped his fingers thoughtfully against his arms, which were still crossed over his chest. “Hmm, yeeesss... It would be rather problematic if that kunoichi was to disclose any sensitive information. I suppose we should consider it fortunate that she has displayed the idiocy of not sharing her knowledge with Shinji Uteki, prior to demanding a match with me,” he drawled, no doubt deep in contemplation. A sigh sounded from behind the white mask as it was raised to look at the man across the table. “Very well. Rest assured, I shall handle this mess I’ve created.”

The other man nodded, rising to his feet and slipping on his overcoat. “A word of warning: if Shinji Uteki does learn about what happened on Tomoe Shima, then you can bet she’ll be coming after you as well. And when that happens, Yoshino-dono’s not going to be on your side either. If it comes down to it, you’ll have to deal with both Yoshino-dono and Shinji Uteki’s fury. So trust me when I say this: you do not want to screw this up.”

With those ominous words, the liaison departed. Kadoria remained in his seat for a few seconds in silence. As if I needed further incentive, he thought to himself, getting up and heading out of the restaurant, too. The rush in the eatery made his exit reassuringly discreet; he did not even have to worry about any of the staff drawing attention to him by bidding him farewell or offering their thanks. Stepping out into the sunlight, he thrust his hands into his trouser pockets and marched down the busy street, disappearing into the throng of people walking through the town. Once he had used the crowd to find himself a secluded location behind a menagerie, he reached into his pocket and unfolded a sheet of paper that Fugaku had given him at the start of their meeting. On it were scrawled a few words, the handwriting neat and blatantly feminine, with emphasized curls and everything. The gist of the text was a detailing of a place for Kadoria to head to, and the time by which he should arrive. He was to come alone. The message was simple and straightforward. Returning the paper to its folded state, he pocketed it and set off from his hiding spot.

Yamanaka Hiroku… It seemed he had some unfinished business to attend to with her.

Joyous, he thought unenthusiastically. He always thought people who obsessed over revenge were a pain.

Truthfully, he knew he was the one at fault here. Neither Hibiki nor his men had screwed up as much as Kadoria had. For starters, he had been explicitly told not to be detected while he was following Uteki’s shipment of drugs; for most of the mission, it had been going rather well. He’d managed to stay out of sight, and it had seemed that he would complete his task without any complications. That changed when he was signaled out by that Nukenin, Uzumaki Tohmome. Thankfully, Tohmome had kept the discovery to himself, justifying his secrecy with the reasoning that alerting the drug traders at that very moment would cause a panic, and ultimately ruin the day’s business. Tohmome had ended up taking the knowledge of Kadoria’s presence to his grave, but he had not been the only one to learn of the latter’s involvement. No. The Inuzuka had had a partner, the rogue kunoichi named Yamanaka Hiroku. The Seinen had seen Kadoria as well, and knew that he had been spying on Uteki’s workers. And she had seen the mutilated mess that was Tohmome’s corpse. Whether or not she knew that Kadoria had not been the one to maim her partner’s dead body like that was beyond the masked Nukenin’s knowledge; regardless, Kadoria was certain that the reason the kunoichi had called him out for a match was to avenge her fallen comrade. He should not have been surprised that it had come to this. The despair and horror with which Hiroku had looked at Tohmome’s corpse… No wonder she wanted retribution. And she had decided to seek it upon Kadoria. How bothersome.

Kadoria was not one to enjoy fighting. In fact, it was the part of being a shinobi that he disliked the most. Face-to-face, straightforward spars were not his preference. He preferred to attack from the shadows, using stealth and trickery; like a shinobi was supposed. The simple reason for this was that it was easier to ensure one’s survival when one fought with deception in hand, rather than out in the open, where one was in plain view of the enemy. Such was why he had initially been loath to the idea of confronting Yamanaka Hiroku, even if she was of a lower rank than he. Inferior, superior, or equal, it did not matter. Kadoria was averse to fighting in general, irrespective of the rank of his opponent. He was not a pacifist. He was just someone who prioritized self-protection.

In this case, however, he was willing to make an exception. He would fight this revenge-driven girl on her terms, primarily because he had to ensure her continued silence anyway. As Fugaku had put it, if Hiroku informed her employer, Uteki, about Kadoria's involvement in Hibiki’s plan, then the Nukenin would have to deal with the power and influence of one of Mizu no Kuni’s most fearsome drug lords. That was not the most logical way to ensure his survival. Accepting Hiroku’s challenge was tantamount to guaranteeing that he did not provoke any life-threatening furies.

The roar of the wind and the crashing of waves filled Kadoria’s covered ears as he slowly and unhurriedly walked up the slight incline towards the edge of the cliffs. His arms were folded behind his back, the wrist of one hand gripping that of the other. A cool, oncoming breeze attacked his clothes, causing the loose ends to submit to their force. Bright, unhindered rays from the Sun fell upon his head, the baggy hood throwing a theatrical shadow upon the white mask underneath, and preventing the natural light from reaching the upper half of the face wear. The bottom of his coat billowed behind him as he reached the top of the incline, and came to a stop just a few paces away from the figure standing by the cliff’s edge. The magenta-haired girl turned around from the view of the sea ahead and towards Kadoria. The sea breeze blowing from the sea beyond was causing her vibrantly colored locks to whip around as she turned in Kadoria’s direction. She was dressed in the same apparel as on Tomoe Shima - save for the addition of the scratched Konoha forehead protector on her right arm, just below her own Takigakure one. Her face was grim, her fists clenched in resolution, and her demeanor solemn. In contrast, the male’s casual stance and smiling mask made him seem far more placid than her.

There was no one else on the cliffs but the two of them. Well, that was not, strictly speaking, completely true. In a sense, there was someone else in the vicinity aside from Kadoria and Hiroku. With his mind, the male Nukenin swept the area in search of the chakra signature he knew was hiding nearby. A short distance away in a patch of trees, a Kage Bunshin of Kadoria lay in secluded wait; a precautionary measure employed by the Teinei. The Kage Bunshin was there to keep an eye on the real Kadoria’s surroundings, to ensure that no surprises sprang up on him. Despite how much his past actions might imply, Kadoria was not a fool. He knew that there was quite a plausible chance that Hiroku might have set up a trap or two in the area prior to his arrival. It was what he would have done. Besides, the cognizant Bunshin could also serve as a little surprise of his own, should this encounter take a turn for the worse. There was no such thing as being too careful.

The cliffs they stood upon had little to no cover, with the only vegetation being several yards behind Kadoria, where the aforesaid Bunshin was concealed. Really, if Kadoria had wanted to take his opponent out with a stealth attack, it would have been rather tricky with the lack of cover; this was probably why she had chosen this as the venue for the match. Disregarding the obvious perils that came from fighting on a cliff, it was a laudable bit of foresight. But back to the setting description. The combatants’ footing was of stone, and set at a slight angle, though not enough to be that much of a hindrance. Given their location, there was obviously a sudden drop in the ground as the cliff ended, and said drop was but a few feet from where Hiroku currently stood. How easily this would end if he was to simply push her off the cliff… Or if she just jumped off herself…

“Yamanaka Hiroku,” Kadoria greeted, though he did not bow or alter his stance one bit in conjunction with the salutation. Likewise, Hiroku did not move either, or even say anything in reply. It seemed she was not in a talkative mood, focused solely on her objective. Wonderful. Smirking invisibly, the masked individual slowly and obviously shifted his head from side to side, emphasizing the fact that he was taking in the scenery. His gravelly, wheezy voice held an entertained quality while he gestured to the empty setting. “I must admit, this is quite the suitable site for a fight. The area is open and isolated, and there is little chance for collateral damage - inanimate or human. Though, I do question the prudence in fighting so close to a perilous drop…” His speech faded as he directed his attention to the sheer drop behind Hiroku. Really, if he had the right jutsu, he could have easily pushed her off the edge at this very moment.

Once again, Hiroku remained silent. If looks could kill, then… well, everyone knew how the saying went. Kadoria pursed his lips thoughtfully behind the cover of his mask. Indeed, the kunoichi was supremely focused on the task at hand. She did not appear to have any interest in, or time for, anything other than forthcoming combat. Payback had seized control of her entirely, and had fixated her mind on nothing else. It was quite similar to the one-track mind Kadoria adopted during his missions: completion was the priority. Unsurprisingly, this “eyes on the prize” mindset resulted in inconveniences to many around him; and his latest mission had been no exception. The angered teenage girl standing before him was living proof of that (the other proof was dead).

Kadoria bowed his head forward slightly, diverting his green eyes from Hiroku’s piercing grays. “I realize this might not be the best moment to say this, but… Is this really necessary? This match?” Despite the smile on his mask, the quality of his voice was not one of humor or amusement, but strangely solemn; glum, even. The hooded head was lifted up. “I know you blame me for Uzumaki Tohmome’s death. I know that you are driven by a desire for retribution. However, do you truly believe that this will give you the solace you need? Is the risk really worth the effort?”

It would be hard for an outsider, or anyone who was not Kadoria, to know whether he was speaking sincerely, or if this was just some elaborate ruse to get Hiroku to cancel the fight. Certainly, the fact that his actual expression could not be seen might lead one to be suspicious of deception. That was the entire point in wearing a mask, after all: to hide what was actually there. So, it was really no surprise when Hiroku did not seem convinced by Kadoria’s supposed show of commiseration. The kunoichi's first reaction was to raise her hand and coolly show him the finger. Her next return was to scowl at Kadoria in disgust, as if he was a vermin. The look alone conveyed her view of the male Nukenin.

“Chickening out, huh? I figured you were a coward, but not to this extent. Aren’t you supposed to be ranked higher than me? Or did you just get where you are now through pure luck?” She aimed a finger at Kadoria’s face with the same ferocity one used when hammering in a peg. “This fight isn’t going to be cancelled, shitface. We’re doing this - for Tohmome-kun’s sake, and because I’ll tell Uteki about Hibiki’s plan if we don’t. And you won’t like my boss when she’s pissed.”

Another bird was directed at Kadoria. He did not say anything.

Amazing. Simply amazing. What person said those kinds of things prior to the start of a battle? Who would be stupid enough to provoke a potential enemy like this? By declaring what would happen to Kadoria should he refuse to fight, Hiroku was more or less giving him a justification for killing her. In fact, she had pretty much sealed her fate the moment she had tried to blackmail Hibiki. Whether it was the drug lord or the shinobi who performed the execution, the fact of the matter was that Hiroku had forfeited her life when she had proven herself to be such a liability. Did she have any notion of the consequences of her actions? The male did not know. The girl had been acting perplexingly enough to make her a troublesome person to read. Yes, she had called this fight in order to avenge her fallen comrade; but as she had implied, Kadoria was more experienced as a shinobi than she was. Of course, the self-deprecating Kadoria would never openly admit that he was in a league above Hiroku’s (he might be more inclined to say that they could be on equal footing at best), but even he was surprised that she was trying to exact her plan for revenge so quickly. The last person who had sworn a vendetta against the Nukenin had taken at least five years to see it through. Kumoi Juudai… That Sunagakure shinobi had had spent his days training and honing his skills to reach a level that was humiliatingly superior to Kadoria’s.

The point was: this Suna shinobi, who had also held a grudge against Kadoria, had patiently waited until he was more than strong enough to beat the Nukenin before challenging him. Yet, this kunoichi here had only waited three days. Remarkable. Kadoria had to stop himself from clapping sardonically. Either she had the unanticipated skill to back such boldness, or she had a death wish. In either case, Kadoria had no choice but to indulge Hiroku in her wishes; even if his moralistic side was trying to dissuade him from harming a female. Kadoria sighed audibly, his shoulders slumping slightly as he bowed his head in apparent disappointment. Conflict was inevitable, it seemed. What a shame. Collectedly, he raised his head and spread his arms apart slowly, voicing his thoughts in a monotonous drawl.

“Very well, then. Let’s get this over with.”

Although his words implied that he was prepared to commence the fight, Kadoria did not actually proceed with a first move. He stood his ground, arms spread apart, as if he was making himself an easier target for the opposing shinobi. Hiroku did not reject his courteous act, flinging forth a pair of kunai at the male. The explosive tags tied to the ends of the knives were obvious to the eye, and Kadoria’s eyes certainly widened at the sight of them. Through his mind flashed the memory and phantom pain of having his body viciously ripped apart by the force of several explosive tags, giving him more than enough motivation to avoid the attack. His body had already moved instinctively upon seeing the approaching danger, however, so the traumatic memory served no purpose other than to be a nuisance. Kadoria cartwheeled out of the way of the thrown kunai, succeeding in getting well out of the blast radius of the tags when they reached his former location. The explosion was briefly glanced towards by the Nukenin before he switched his attention to the area over his shoulder. Two Hirokus were rushing at him, unarmed but with poses set for attack. Barely any trouble arose in discerning which one was the true Hiroku, and which was a Bunshin. Therefore, Kadoria did not even flinch as the first Hiroku phased right through him. For the second Hiroku, he sidestepped the spin-then-punch she threw at his sternum, this being the highest she could reach while keeping her punch horizontal.

As Kadoria nimbly stepped out of the way of Hiroku’s right-handed blow, he simultaneously drew out a kunai of his own with his left hand. The metal tip of the weapon was thrust at the girl’s vulnerable face, arching down from an upwards angle. Rather than contacting with soft flesh, however, the kunai was met with the armored pieces on Hiroku’s left arm. The kunoichi had been quick enough to block the attack with her free arm. Admirable. A shrill clang had pierced the air as the metal items clashed together, grinding against each other for a moment. With a resolute fire in her eyes, Hiroku pushed the kunai off her arm and seemed to unbalance the other shinobi long enough to launch a sweeping, high kick towards his face. This move failed to hit its mark, too: the masked Nukenin’s right hand had thrust sideways across his chest, the spidery hand spreading its bony fingers to firmly grasp the girl’s toned shin. The overall result was that Kadoria stopped the trajectory of Hiroku’s leg as it came within half a foot of his face. The kunoichi grimaced angrily; the masked shinobi looked to be all smiles.

“Fuck you.”

“Flattering.”

A twist of his wrist, and the leg was driven away from his face. The unbalanced girl stumbled backwards as she tried to keep her footing. Kadoria had taken a step back as he had destabilized his opponent’s stance, his left arm swinging upwards in synchrony to toss the kunai it still held at its target. Since the female was too close to the male to dodge, the weapon embedded itself into her right shoulder, producing a gasp of pain from the girl. When Hiroku regained her balance, her face was suddenly met with a gloved hand: Kadoria had shot forward once his weapon had hit its mark, his left hand extending forward to clasp the girl’s pretty face in a vice-like grip. The follow-up was to use his momentum to push the kunoichi off her feet and slam her down onto the stone ground. The five-legged insect that was his hand swiftly moved down to curl its legs around Hiroku’s neck. While tightening his grip and keeping the gagging girl pinned down, his right hand pulled out yet another kunai. This one was brought down once again towards his victim’s face - and once again, it was met with metal as opposed to flesh. In a show of quick wit, Hiroku had yanked the kunai in her right shoulder out with that side’s hand, prior to bringing it round to counter Kadoria’s strike.

“Get - OFF ME!” The shrill cry was punctuated with a fierce kick to Kadoria’s shin, resulting in a hiss of pain sounding from the Nukenin. He instinctively let go off Hiroku, kicking off from the ground and backing away from her. Granting himself about twenty-some feet of breathing room, he looked away from the coughing Hiroku pushing herself to her feet, and down at his throbbing leg. The damage appeared to be minor; nothing that would impede his ability to fight or move. Regardless, that kick had hurt. Though, Hiroku would probably say the same about the manner in which Kadoria had smashed her head into the ground, or his sequential attempt to choke her. Indeed, his hand had left a visible, red imprint on her neck. He was sure his own leg would be bruised by this time tomorrow. Whining aside, the brawl had come to a brief pause. Both participants looked at each other. They weren’t tired, but they were definitely irked. The match had only just begun, and neither shinobi was ready to yield to the other. Hiroku, in particular, looked commendably determined as she adopted a battle-ready stance, completely ignoring the blood dripping out of the wound on her shoulder. She had made no effort to bind the injury; the tear was not deep enough to be lethal, or shallow enough to be a flesh wound. Any pain she might have been experiencing, whether from the kunai wound or the failed strangling, was lost in the ferocity of her resolution. Evidently, defeating Kadoria was the sole thought in the girl’s mind. Great.

“You’re Taijutsu skills are quite impressive, Yamanaka Hiroku,” Kadoria complimented. “There is room for improvement, yes - but you have some talent nonetheless.”

Hiroku was not flattered by the praise. “Go to hell.”

Charming.

Truly, his opponent cared for nothing other than to inflict harm on Kadoria; she was not even going to make idle conversation. The male smirked behind his mask. If that was the case, he supposed he may as well have her work hard towards that end. Without prior warning, the kunai departed from his right hand as he flung it casually at Hiroku; the younger ninja barely had to move an inch to dodge it. But the succeeding move was what mattered, not the measly kunai toss. A quick set of handseals, and he lazily announced the words to the air: “Raiton • Raidama.” A foot-wide orb of electricity materialized level with his chest, and shot forward instantly at the alert kunoichi. With a duck and roll, Hiroku moved out of the sphere’s path, a result that Kadoria had been anticipating. While the crackling sphere continued its path ignored, Hiroku had bolted towards Kadoria at the conclusion of her roll. A pair of shuriken were visibly clutched in her hand as she charged at the taller man; they were hurled towards the male Nukenin a moment later. Kadoria titled his head forward slightly, surely smirking behind the smiling mask. He cool-headedly took a step to the side to ensure the star-shaped projectiles missed, all while keeping his vigilant gaze on Hiroku.

As it turned out, he should have been paying closer attention to the shuriken: a smoke pellet was lodged in the hollow center of each spinning projectile, and the gas within was released as the shuriken sailed passed Kadoria. The resultant cloud of smoke enveloped the Nukenin and obscured his vision. Kadoria blinked in surprise, mentally scorning himself for the show of stupidity. Before he could backpedal out of the cloud, a foot cut through the smoke from below to collide squarely with his chest. The kick displaced him vertically and sent him flying out of the cloud. Sailing through the air, his teeth gritted to signify the increasing frustration he felt at himself. This was just inexcusably stupid of him. Luckily, he was not beating himself up so badly that he did not notice how Hiroku suddenly appeared underneath him, also hovering in the air and following his flight - as if she was his shadow. Anyone who was familiar with Taijutsu would recognize that the kunoichi was using the Konoha Kage Buyo technique. Kadoria did not know what it was called, or even that it existed. All he knew was that it was rather marvelous how this maneuver allowed a shinobi to break the laws of physics. Truly spectacular.

However, his awe would have to be set aside for another time - like when he wasn’t floating precariously in the air with his opponent directly underneath. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw said opponent bring her leg swinging round to smash into his upper arm. There was surely a sense of déjà vu as Kadoria blocked the attack by grabbing Hiroku’s leg with the hand of the very arm she was trying to hit. No sooner had he blocked the kick, when he caught sight of a punch coming at him from the same side. The simplest course of action was for Kadoria to counter this as well, which he did: his free arm bent awkwardly (and rather grossly) over his head to connect his splayed palm with the fist. He was getting sick of this very quickly. And then the next punch came his way, and he opted to try something other than blocking. Hiroku was defying gravity, and so could he.

Hiroku was surely astounded when the purple wings shimmered into existence from his shoulder blades. Using the stability provided by his wings and the support from holding onto his attacker, Kadoria pushed himself away from Hiroku and out of the way of the punch. While he calmly righted himself and floated effortlessly in midair, Hiroku finally succumbed to the normally-unrelenting force of gravity. The added force that Kadoria had exerted on her when he had propelled himself away only added to the speed with which she fell. A rather loud impact concluded the fall, and the kunoichi lay on the stone for a few seconds afterwards. Her wincing confirmed that she was still alive, but the pain was clearly strong enough to break through her wall of determination. Then again, the weakness was only temporary, for the young ninja was soon back on her feet, battle-worn but otherwise unaffected by the failed attack. Several meters above and well out of Hiroku’s reach, Kadoria hovered wordlessly, waiting for his opponent to finish “walking it off”. By the looks of it, someone had trained themselves to withstand a sufficient amount of punishment. If he was going to take her down, he was probably going to have to be a little more… vicious.

“Raiton • Mori no Ikazuchi.”

The casually-stated words heralded the sequence of Kadoria slamming his hands together, and instantly pulling them apart to generate a five-foot-long spear of electricity; which he promptly hurled straight at the stationary Hiroku. The lance cut through the air at a startling speed, eating the gap between its thrower and its target. Noticing this, Hiroku cursed loudly and broke out into a sprint. Good fortune was on her side, since she proved to be quick enough to avoid the spear despite her injuries. However, by focusing on the lance’s approach, she had not seen the two senbon that were flying towards her from above. The needles would have been invisible if the Sun’s rays were not reflecting of them; regardless, the senbon zipped by the girl’s ear in a clear miss, but that was the intended effect. The needles were not the main issue here - it was what was tied to each senbon that presented the true danger. Hiroku’s eyes would expand in dread while Kadoria’s unseen smirk would widen in triumph; he formed a single handseal, and the explosive tags detonated at point-blank range.

“Katsu.”

Fire engulfed Hiroku as the booming sound reached Kadoria. While he could not see the girl because of the flames obscuring her, he could sense her chakra still. Descending to a lower height but still remaining airborne, Kadoria titled his head to the side and crossed his arms as he waited for Hiroku to surface. Though he did not notice them specifically, a flurry of pink flower petals came floating up from the fireball at the same time that Hiroku’s chakra signature flickered away from the depths of the flames. Kadoria kept his gaze fixed on the dying blaze, though his senses had already alerted him to the true danger. Hiroku had appeared behind him; still on the ground, but behind him nonetheless. Though the flying Nukenin would label the move as a Kawarami, it had actually been a successful execution of a Genjutsu.

No doubt, Hiroku had been hoping to use her disguised escape to sneak up on her opponent. Obviously, that was not going to work. The vindictive kunoichi appeared to not have realized yet that her opponent could sense her presence in some way or the other. Clearly, she was not that informed of the diverse traits that a shinobi could possess, and she must not have researched her opponent as thoroughly as she ought to have.

Her inexperience meant that she was caught off-guard when the barrage of shuriken she threw up at Kadoria missed widely; the airborne Nukenin had spun around to dive right down at her at the exact moment she released the projectiles. Like the flying insect he so eerily resembled, Kadoria swooped down towards the girl and snatched her up into the air, using his momentum to lift her from the ground. The thrown kunoichi arched through the air before colliding with the ground, and kept rolling thanks to inertia. She came to a stop dangerously close to the cliff’s edge. Hiroku cursed and leaped to her feet, during which Kadoria “loop-the-looped” to return back to the earth. His “smile” accurately conveyed the amusement he felt in regards to the loathing glare that Hiroku was throwing him. It was no doubt becoming apparent to the girl that the male was not actually fighting seriously, but was toying with her instead. In fact, the very fact that Kadoria had not killed or incapacitated Hiroku before the fight had actually begun was proof that he had not come here with the intent to treat this as a serious fight. Definitely not as seriously as Hiroku was treating it. Suffice it to say, this realization was angering the kunoichi even further, which was a source of more amusement for Kadoria.

“What the hell are you doing, Kai? I thought you didn’t waste time doing illogical things? Toying around with her isn’t exactly the smartest thing to do right now.”

Fear not, Shichibi. This is all part of the plan.

“Plan? What plan? What kind of a plan could possibly require you to frustrate your opponent like this? Even I’m getting annoyed just watching you play around.”

Kadoria smirked at the remark, but said nothing verbally or mentally. Mostly because Hiroku was making another move: she was forming a series of handseals, which induced the other Nukenin to bring his guard up. Playing around though he may be, that was still no excuse for underestimating his opponent. Whatever jutsu she was about to use, he would be prepared to react accordingly.

Taijutsu and Genjutsu: these were the forms of combat that Hiroku specialized in. Prior to departing for his match, Kadoria had used the few hours he had beforehand to study up on his opponent. He was aided in this by Fugaku’s foresight: when the man had met with the shinobi, he had handed him another sheet of paper along with the one that detailed the time and place of the declared challenge. On the second sheet was a brief overview of Yamanaka Hiroku, the information primarily constituting the data in her Bingo Book profile. In summation, the profile had stated that Hiroku fought using Taijutsu and Genjutsu, and that she relied on the single element of Katon. A little background information had also been included, essentially stating how the kunoichi had fled from her village not long after becoming a Genin (less than a year, in fact) with the assistance of Uzumaki Tohmome. That, in a way, explained their partnership, and why the teenage kunoichi was so adamant in avenging her comrade: she had been working with Tohmome for close to four years, it seemed. But, the only bit of information that had actually been of importance to Kadoria was the girl’s combat specs. Genjutsu and Taijutsu...

Even with this knowledge at hand, there was not much Kadoria could do with it. Taijutsu was a popular art chosen by shinobi, and thus one he had encountered more times than he could remember. Genjutsu, on the other hand, was a skill that Kadoria had little experience in dealing with. Sure, he knew of someone who was a proficient Genjutsu user, that person being his “partner-in-crime” Yuuji Subaru. However, the man rarely, if ever, showcased his adeptness with Genjutsu against Kadoria. As much as he disliked to admit it, Kadoria was not well-practiced in countering an opponent that employed illusionary attacks in combat. He knew of the existence of a couple of basic techniques, but his knowledge was otherwise measly. For sure, he had no idea that Hiroku had used a Genjutsu earlier to hide her escape from the explosion, even if he knew she could use such jutsu.

“Magen • Jigoku Gouka no Jutsu!” Hiroku shouted as she finished the handseal sequence. A shadow fell upon the area, growing larger by the second. Kadoria eyes flitted downwards to the expanding shadow. It was as if something was falling from the sky… He snapped his gaze skywards, and saw a massive fireball descending from the heavens towards him and Hiroku. A twinge of panic passed through him at the gargantuan size of the fireball; the Nukenin took a step backwards, and went so far as to spin round on his heels to break out into an escaping run. The sole thought in his mind was to not get burned by another inferno.

Wait. Logic had him pause in mid-step the next moment as he realized the folly of his actions. This was not Ninjutsu. For one thing, the fireball was much too large for someone of Hiroku’s capabilities to be conjure. Secondly, the kunoichi could not use Ninjutsu, a fact that Kadoria’s apprehension towards burning had made him temporarily forget. Thus, the enlightened Nukenin turned back and held his ground firmly as the fireball smashed down on top of him. He clenched his teeth and ignored the voice in his mind that was yelling at him to escape the fire. Instead, he sluggishly brought his hands together, and formed the single handseal for dispelling Genjutsu.

“Kai!” he hissed through a barrier of enamel. No sooner had the words exited his mouth, when the flickering orange-and-yellow tongues around him dissolved abruptly from sight. At the same time, his vision showed him a new danger. Instinct took over to have Kadoria swerve out of the way of the ninjato being thrust at his face. As Kadoria maneuvered around Hiroku so that he was behind her, his hands were forming a sequence of handseals simultaneously. When Hiroku spun round to charge at him with the ninjato once more, his hands were coated in a layer of chakra. Ducking under Hiroku’s horizontal swipe, his hand shot forward to pat the side of Hiroku’s waist before he ran under her arm and beyond. Kadoria came to a stop several feet away from his opponent and looked over his shoulder at her. The female Seinen was bent over slightly, one hand on the spot Kadoria had contacted, and the other hand clasped over her mouth. Blood could be seen dribbling out from in between the fingers covering her mouth. The masked Nukenin had sliced into Hiroku’s kidney as he had made physical contact, thus causing the expulsion of blood from her mouth. Tough though she may be, the pain was certainly getting to the kunoichi now. If it was any consolation for her, the initial jab she’d made at Kadoria with her ninjato had managed to leave an artistic scratch on mask, just beneath one of the oval-shaped eye lenses.

Hands still coated in scalpels of chakra, Kadoria turned and took a step forward, which signaled to his opponent an intent to attack. Hiroku glanced over at Kadoria, before leaping to her feet and breaking into a full-sprint - away from the man. Kadoria froze his stride, staring at the girl sprinting away from him as if she was frightened or something. He stood his ground for a moment, actually pondering the situation. Was she running away? Or did she want him to chase after him? If the latter, then did she really think he would be stupid enough to follow her into a potential trap?

Because I’m about to prove her right.

An abrupt transition from stationary to mobile, and Kadoria had bolted after the kunoichi. The girl had a small lead on him thanks to the male’s contemplation, but that was of little concern. He did not have to pursue the girl for long across the stone landscape, for as he had suspected, Hiroku was leading him into a trap. And he unknowingly stepped right into the middle of it. Some distance from their starting point, Hiroku came to an unexpected halt, and when she turned around to look back at Kadoria, her free hand was shaping into the seal for detonation. Kadoria’s eyes would flicker down to the ground when the stone beneath him vanished, replaced by a small bed of explosive tags; if he added them up, he would have counted at least fifteen. A worrying quantity. The tags glowed, and Kadoria cursed mentally, his hands flying through a series of handseals. The ensuing explosion covered quite a wide radius, certainly too wide for the Teinei to clear in such a short amount of time. The shockwave of the blast actually pushed Hiroku back several paces, but she did not lose her balance. Magenta hair blowing wildly from the force of the explosion, her hardened expression watched the scene expectantly with narrowed eyes.

When the fireball dissipated, in Kadoria’s place stood a singed, earthen pyramid. The stone construct collapsed to reveal an apparently unharmed Kadoria, save for the slight singes on his apparel. Hiroku looked livid while Kadoria examined his burnt clothes and the blackened, smoking circle he stood in the center of. “That was… pretty good, actually,” he applauded, sounding genuinely impressed. For the girl to have this kind of trap prepared beforehand, and even going so far as to conceal it with a Genjutsu, was quite a remarkable bit of planning on her part. That, or Kadoria was just plain idiotic for having walked into it. Probably a bit of both, he noted, content with the respective allocation of praise and deprecation. He doubted whether he would have had the foresight or resources to prepare a trap like this. Still, as impressed as he was by Hiroku’s ingenuity, the fact was that Kadoria had proved quick enough to protect himself from the attack. Though, honestly, he had not been sure whether he would pull off the jutsu in time. Had his shield been a nanosecond slower in coming up… Well, one perilous experience with explosive tags was enough for him.

If anything, this move of Hiroku’s had proven, more than any other so far, just how resolute she was in harming Kadoria. The lethality of this trap would have surely left Kadoria in the worst state of his life, assuming he was not killed by the fatal explosion. Even right now, despite having blocked the explosion, Kadoria’s ears were still ringing from the force of the blast; being in a confined space when the tags had gone off had made the concussive force seem greater. He supposed he should be fortunate he hadn’t damaged anything in his ear, regardless of how likely it had seemed to him at the time. His head was pounding slightly in rhythm with his eardrums, and the fact that he had almost been forced to experience another destructive explosion had shaken him up some. Not a lot, but enough to acidify his mood. This battle had certainly gone on long enough, and the longer it dragged on, the more dangerous it seemed to become.

“If you’re that sick of fighting, why not just end it already? She’s bound to be almost out of chakra, while you’ve got more than enough. Stop wasting time and get this over with, Kai.”

Such impatience, Shichibi. Why so? I already told you: this all part of the plan. Before I can finish her, I must break her resolve completely. She must be stripped off her will to fight - whether it is by draining her physically, or mentally.

The irritated Bijuu huffed angrily. “Why bother going through all that trouble, if you’re just going to kill her in the end? Where’s the “logic” in breaking her will before killing her?”

The Jinchuuriki smirked in his mind, and not exactly in a pleasant manner. And when did I say I was going to kill her right away?

“What?”

Kadoria did not elaborate, ignoring the Shichibi’s confused query. The Bijuu snapped at him to answer her, but he calmly pushed the nagging voice to the back of his mind. Even if his conversations with the Shichibi did not occur in “real time”, it felt odd to have a deep discussion with her in the middle of a battle. Particularly one like this. Despite not being someone who derived enjoyment from battle, Kadoria had to admit that this one had been rather entertaining. He supposed it was because of his opponent. Perhaps he ought to indulge himself in activities such as these more often? That would be seen later on. For now, he had to focus on this scuffle - though, the conclusion was near. Amongst other factors, the difference in chakra made the outcome of the fight all too apparent. At the rate things were going, Hiroku would be out of chakra long before Kadoria would. Indeed, the kunoichi was already breathing raggedly, looking close to exhaustion. The chakra Kadoria was sensing was close to falling dangerously low. The inevitable would soon be upon her.

Hiroku’s hands flew together to execute another jutsu, but she was interrupted by Kadoria rushing forth quickly. The male veered around the girl and wrapped his arms around her head in a firm headlock. One arm tightened around her neck, constricting it, while the other, perpendicular limb had its hand grasping her forehead to push her head back slightly. The downward tilt of Kadoria’s mask accentuated the curvature of his smile as he held the girl; the difference in height and apparent strength made it harder for Hiroku to break free of Kadoria’s hold. An increased difficulty in breathing due to asphyxiation made it harder still for Hiroku to escape the lock. Her gasping did not faze the much taller male or persuade him to loosen his grip. In fact, he spoke in an unfittingly calm and casual manner to his strangulation victim; and the topic itself was seemingly random and unexpected.

“You know, there’s something I’ve been wondering about,” he remarked musingly over Hiroku’s grunting and struggling. “Why didn’t Uzumaki Tohmome have a familiar? I was under the impression that all Inuzuka had a Ninken or two… Why the show of individuality?”

Total Word Count: 8116

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Forest Demon


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Senju
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443
Endurance:
138
Chakra:
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Life Force:
150
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Senju
Senju
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on Thu Mar 16, 2017 3:16 am
~Part Three~

Spoiler:

It was a valid question, just inappropriate for the chosen time and place. Hiroku agreed with this, for her choice of reply was to intensify her struggling. Which meant that she did whatever she could think of to break free. She tried to stomp on Kadoria’s feet, but he calmly moved his foot out of the way at the perfect moment. She then tried to jab her elbow into his stomach, but he appeared to be expecting that too, and bent his torso aside nimbly. Even the classic move of smashing her head against his failed; just like with the other cases, Kadoria jerked the targeted spot out of the way so easily as to be anticipating the attack. Indeed, that was exactly the case here: the masked Nukenin had fought sordidly enough to know what to expect from his captive. Of course, he could not predict everything, which was why he had no counter for when Hiroku decided to bite down on the arm throttling her.

The girl’s teeth dug into Kadoria’s burnt skin, and with a growl of pain, he let go off his victim and leaped back from her, clutching the bitten arm. The white mask was shifted to the wheezing Hiroku, who was bent over and clutching her throat. A derisive snort sounded from the male. “Well, I guess that answers my question. Why would Uzumaki Tohmome need a canine, when he’s in the company of an animal like you?”

The taunting Nukenin straightened his posture, smirking behind his smiling mask. Hiroku’s face whipped around to glare at Kadoria, her eyes watering from the ordeal of near-suffocation, and sheer fury. The unfaltering smile on the masked face only fueled her agitation, and justifiable so. There was often nothing more annoying than someone displaying smug calmness, and Kadoria was practically oozing it. Was it no surprise then that Hiroku gave an animalistic howl of rage and lunged at Kadoria? It was nothing more than a simple grab, so the Teinei did not have to try especially hard to sidestep the frustrated girl. While Hiroku stumbled clumsily passed him to the ground, Kadoria wordlessly folded his arms behind his back and watched her push herself up onto one knee.

“Tsk! Stop pissing us all off and end it already!”

Again, he blatantly disregarded the words of the aggravated voice. The Teinei’s sights remained fixed on the panting Seinen in silence. Heavy, irregular breathing came from her kneeling form, probably calming her down slightly. It was a few seconds before Hiroku locked her fiery eyes on Kadoria again. The kunoichi rose to her feet to openly go through more handseals, without establishing any form of defense first. She just stood there, completely open to attack. Kadoria did not move or speak, however, and made no attempts to stop her. If she was going to expend more energy, then he would not stop her. Whatever she was going to throw at him, he was prepared to take it. Hiroku was no doubt also expecting him to counter her move without issue. Despite this, she was probably going through with her plan simply because she refused to “go down without a fight”. Admirable.

“Magen • Narakumi no Jutsu.”

With a deadpan tone, Hiroku announced the name of the Genjutsu. A flurry of leaves swirled around Kadoria at the conclusion of Hiroku’s handseals, an incident that was unheeded by the male for its apparent paltriness. What did catch his attention was when a hand unexpectedly clamped onto his shoulder. Jerking in surprise, Kadoria turned his head in the direction of the newcomer, startled by the fact that he had not sensed anyone approaching. The sole reason for why the person behind him had not been detected was because they were not real, and merely an illusion. This also explained why Hiroku had vanished from sight, and why the Nukenin actually seemed to have lost all interest in the kunoichi. Even if the Genjutsu had not forced him to divert his attention away from his opponent, he would have been preoccupied anyway. Why? Because this newcomer’s appearance was one that would capture anyone’s gaze.

It was a human - a grown man. A grotesque, decaying wretch of a man. Barely any skin covered the person’s body, his clothes a ragged, torn mess as they hung haphazardly from his body. The man’s right arm hung limply from his side, nothing but a stump from the elbow down; what remained was a mix of bone and fleshy remnants. The left arm, which was clamped over Kadoria’s arm in a fierce grip, was completely devoid of skin. Muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones were as distinctly visible as the Sun in the sky. The same manner of maiming was featured all over the person’s body: his chest was ripped open to expose the ribcage and organs underneath, and several innards were hanging out of the foot-wide gash across his belly. One half of the man’s head was nothing but bone, the off-white, fractured skull stained with dried blood. The left side was a combination of skin and exposed muscle, though the rips in the flesh here were as abundant as on the rest of his body. The flesh half still sported some of the man’s spiky, light-brown hair, soaked in dark red, flaky blood. The black eyes were lifelessly watching Kadoria, the one surrounded by bone rolling loosely in its socket, while the other was focused solely on the Nukenin.

For a moment, Kadoria was too stunned to move. The grotesque figure opened his mouth and, despite the gaping hole in his throat, spoke in a familiarly deep, gruff voice.

“It’s your fault…”

Kadoria jerked his shoulder free from the thing’s clutches, backing away immediately. From behind his mask, he was staring at the man in utter confusion. He recognized who this was. Not just because of the voice. Not just from the color of his hair, or his eyes, or the clothes he wore, or even the fang-shaped tattoo on his left cheek. The disfigurement was enough for identification. This was the state that the body of Uzumaki Tohmome had been left in at the conclusion of Kadoria’s last mission. This was what that pack of wolves had done to him. The mutilated corpse of a man who had been horrifically tortured to death by the enraged canines. It was a sickening sight to behold, made worse by the memories it brought back.

“It’s your fault… It’s your fault… It’s your fault…”

This was not the first time Kadoria had seen a corpse so viciously maimed, and surely would not be the last. He was not as disconcerted by Tohmome's injuries, but more so by his presence here. Tohmome took a step towards Kadoria, and the other automatically took one back, as if in fear or revulsion. But, he should not be afraid of Tohmome. Logical reasoning was telling him that it was completely impossible for Tohmome’s corpse to be here, walking as if it was alive - even if he had seen plenty of dead bodies walking before (a story for another time). No. This was an illusion: a Genjutsu cast by Hiroku. It had to be. Why? Because of the simple fact that Hiroku did not possess the skill to do something as astounding as reanimating a dead body. Even Kadoria could not, and a base-ranked shinobi with no talent in, or association with, the medical arts would be less likely to. Unarguably, this was an illusion. His next course of action clearly defined, Kadoria raised his hands up to form the seal to dispel Genjutsu; but as he did so, he noticed something puzzling. His hands did not conjoin to form the handseal, instead pausing voluntarily in their path. He was shaking. Trembling. Why? Was this Genjutsu stimulating fear within him? Discomforting him? Was he agitated just from seeing Tohmome’s corpse lumbering towards him, monotonously repeating “it’s all your fault”? Kadoria looked down at his unsteady hands, facing difficulty in comprehending the sight. Surely, this was not what it seemed? It could not mean what he thought it did…

A presence behind him… Kadoria whipped his gaze around to face the newcomer, someone who’s chakra he had not sensed nearing either; undoubtedly, a part of this Genjutsu, too. He blinked confusedly upon recognizing the figure: it was a shorter woman with pale pink hair reaching to her waist, and wearing a long, white dress of an elaborate make. Her large, green eyes were looking dispassionately at the Nukenin, who narrowed his own. Heiwajima… Mikuru? he noted in further confusion. It was one thing to expect his opponent to manifest Tohmome through the Genjutsu, but this woman? This was a clan heiress that Kadoria had been hired to protect at one point, and whose love life he could be accused of having ruined single-handedly. How on Earth would Hiroku be able to include her in this illusion? How did she even know of the Nukenin’s interaction with the pink-haired woman? Something was wrong here; something was wrong with the Genjutsu. His bewilderment was intensifying by the second, and it seemed that his trembling was, too. Kadoria gritted his teeth, trying to calm himself. The uneasiness was increasing, giving rise to a faint sense of panic. He knew the obvious and simplest solution was to cancel the Genjutsu, but he could not. For some reason, his body simply refused to follow through with that basic step; in fact, he could not seem to move from his spot at all. It was like he was paralyzed.

“It’s your fault…”

Those same words again. And they had been uttered in synchrony with the mutilated man still hobbling closer to Kadoria. But, it was not just these two voices that had spoken out at this point. Several other voices had fallen upon Kadoria’s ears at the same time the man and woman’s had, and they had said the exact same statement. Stupefied, Kadoria looked away from Heiwajima Mikuru and around himself. Just a second ago, it had only been himself, Tohmome, and Mikuru occupying the cliff; now, there were more people. A lot more. As in, so many that they had encircled the Nukenin and closed him off in a tight circle. They had just materialized into existence, as if by magic. One second, they weren’t there, and the next second, they were. And they all had the same demeanor as Tohmome and Mikuru. Everywhere Kadoria looked, he saw nothing but impassive, stern faces. And he recognized all of them. Each of them. Vaguely, but accurately nonetheless. These were the people from his hometown, who had all been massacred by raiding bandits. And they, like Mikuru and Tohmome, all trudged closer to him, simultaneously repeating the same sentence over and over again in flat, emotionless voices.

It’s your fault.

Kadoria clapped a hand over one side of his masked face, gripping it firmly as his body shook violently. Beneath the face accessory, his eyes were bulging outwards and his teeth were clenched in distress. The unending chorus of voices rang through his head, echoing as if his mind was an empty cavern. The sound kept getting louder and louder, higher and higher. Shrill. Grating. Screeching. Painful.

“Argh!” He clamped both hands over his ears, trying to block out the agonizing noise, but it was futile. He could still hear it as clearly as if the collective voices were shouting into his ears. In fact, that was exactly what it felt like. As if the people surrounding him were bellowing into his ears in unison, with voices that resembled an orchestra of chainsaws. It was awful. His legs shuddered and sent him down onto his knees. He bent forwards lightly, fingers digging deeply enough into his scalp to almost draw blood. Every articulated syllable felt like a knife cutting into his flesh, like an illusionary hook latching onto his skin and ripping it apart. His expression contorted in pain, a serpentine hiss issuing from his mouth in harmony with the chanting. They wouldn’t stop. The voices kept ringing in his mind, unrelenting, untiring: your fault… your fault… your fault… your fault… your fault…

“Shut up... Shut up...,” he snarled furiously, yearning to tear his skull open, to let the voices out and end the excruciating song. It was anyone’s guess if he even remembered that he was in a Genjutsu, or that the people crowding around him, now looming over him with dark expressions, were not real. The pain was too real - too strong - for him to even try to think rationally. All he could focus on was that incessant, torturous screeching in his head.

YOUR FAULT YOUR FAULT YOUR FAULT YOUR FAULT YOUR FAULT
YOUR FAULT YOUR FAULT YOUR FAULT YOUR FAULT YOUR FAULT
YOUR FAULT YOUR FAULT YOUR FAULT YOUR FAULT YOUR FAULT
YOUR FAULT YOUR FAULT YOUR FAULT YOUR FAULT YOUR FAULT
YOUR FAULT YOUR FAULT YOUR FAULT YOUR FAULT YOUR FAULT
YOUR FAULT YOUR FAULT YOUR FAULT YOUR FAULT YOUR FAULT
YOUR FAULT YOUR FAULT YOUR FAULT YOUR FAULT YOUR FAULT

“Arrrrrgggggghhhh!”

Then, a new pain. A different kind of pain. Not mental, but physical. Less severe, but a bit more… real. The muttering mass vanished from sight, taking with them their unremitting chant. Like the end of a migraine, the echo of their chanting did not immediately vanish, lingering in the depths of the Nukenin’s mind like a feeling of nausea. However, his undivided attention was no longer on the state of his mind, but the cause of the new sense of pain. His lowered gaze had caught sight of a ninjato protruding out of his abdomen, the foot long blade embedded all the way into his flesh. The weapon had suddenly popped into view, sticking out of his kidney. He abruptly became aware of the warmth of the blood trickling out from his mouth and from the wound in his abdomen. Still clutching his head, the dazed Nukenin stared stupidly at the weapon, apparently incapable of comprehending what he was seeing. His brain felt sluggish, his thoughts slowed, his senses numbed.

“What… the…”

“Hyah!”

All of a sudden, a knee smashed into Kadoria's bowed face. His head snapped up into the air from the strike’s force, and met with the fist that came flying down to slam into his upturned visage. The male grunted as he smashed face-first into the ground. His still-pounding head was further exacerbated, causing his vision to swim while specks of white popped up before his eyes. The ninjato dug deeper into his body as its handle was pushed upon by the ground, deepening the wound further. He did not have the chance to wince or display any similar signs of pain, owning to the foot that was mercilessly thrust into his side. The kick was strong enough to roll him roughly over the stone floor, aggravating the pain that was coursing through his body even more. The still-dazed Nukenin came to a stop on his back; the next moment, a heavy weight came to rest on his chest, and through hazy vision, he vaguely discerned Hiroku as she sat down on his chest.

The kunoichi pulled her fist back, eyes alight with a vicious fire, and planted her fist into Kadoria’s masked face. Even through the thickness of the face accessory, Kadoria could still feel the strength behind the punch. Without a word, Hiroku lifted her fist from Kadoria’s face, and then immediately brought the other one down in its place. And then the other. Left. Right. Left. Right. Remorselessly, viciously, the kunoichi threw punch after punch at Kadoria’s face, showing no restraint or mercy as she did so. Each strike was a direct hit, and a forceful one, to add. Her victim did not fight back or make any attempt to dodge the punches, not even making a sound as he was pummeled harshly. Whether he was too physically or mentally exhausted to move, or could not feel the pain, or did not have the will to fight any more, it did not matter. The fact that the opponent was not defending himself did not seem to affect the ferocity with which Hiroku pounded her fists into his masked face. The ruthless strikes soon began to chip at the surface of the smooth, white mask with their intensity.

“Enough!”

The sudden cry halted Hiroku’s fist an inch from its target. Dark gray eyes narrowed at the tone the Nukenin had used. There was no anger or authority in his voice. There was just fear.

Kadoria held his arms up over his face, his whole body shaking visibly as he croaked to his attacker, “I surrender! Please… No more… I surrender…”

“I give up! You win! Please! Show mercy…”

“You… What?”

It sounded pitiful. He sounded pitiful. The whimpering, the trembling, the way he had crossed his arms protectively over his face: it all amounted to a pathetic spectacle. The sight made the disbelieving look in Hiroku’s eyes was relatable. Kadoria’s voice was laden with legitimate fear; he genuinely seemed terrified at this moment, like an infant separated from its parent during an outing. It was this show of terror that induced the confused kunoichi to slowly pull her fist away from the male’s shielded face, and just as slowly lift herself off his chest. Confusion dominating her adolescent features, Hiroku took a few guarded steps back from the victim of her beating. Soon after the female’s weight was removed from his knees, the Teinei tentatively picked himself up from the ground and into a kneeling position on his knees. He did not speak or attack, merely kneeling there on the ground. He did not even try to pull the ninjato still rooted deeply in his waist. Hiroku continued to stare incomprehensively at the other Nukenin. Compared to the majority of the fight, his behavior now was so contrasting… and odd.

Kadoria was still shaking violently, as if a chilled breeze was repeatedly blowing over him, and his crossed arms kept his face hidden and (probably from his point of view) safe from Hiroku’s fists of fury. Even from her angle, the kunoichi would be able to see the damage she had dealt to Kadoria’s face wear: a large crack ran diagonally across the front of the mask, originating from the top and passing over the cracked lens of the right eyehole, to terminate at the top of the smile etched onto the white surface. The bottom-left side of the mask had broken off, exposing the lower left half of Kadoria’s face. Black-brown skin, heavily scarred and rough like a reptile’s, was visible through the shield of arms; thanks to the break in the mask, half of the Nukenin’s actual mouth was now exposed. The fear that he was exhibiting was signified by the downward curve of his mouth and the trembling of his teeth - a sharp contrast to the smile marked right beside it on the masked half.

“I’m - I’m sorry…,” the Jinchuuriki mumbled shakily, still not looking at the austere female. The words that came from behind the mock shield were frightened, holding a timid quality. “I didn’t mean to harm anyone. That wasn’t my intention. I was only supposed to gather information; that was it. I wasn’t planning on fighting anyone.” Slowly, the cowering Kadoria lowered his arms and looked up at Hiroku. Even if the majority of his face was hidden, the imploring demeanor was as blatant as the crack on his face wear. “Your partner… Uzumaki Tohmome… I - I didn’t mean for that to happen to him! I wasn’t the one who did that to him! It was the wolves! You saw them, didn’t you? Those wolves were responsible for his death! They did those things to him! They killed him! They mutilated his corpse!”

Hiroku’s expression hardened, her clenched fists shaking almost as much as Kadoria. The latter lowered his head dejectedly, his voice dropping to an almost inaudible whisper.

“Please… I’m sorry… I didn’t mean to cause you so much pain… Have mercy… please…”

Anger flashed within the girl’s gray eyes, and she promptly planted another violent punch into Kadoria’s face. The man grunted pathetically, collapsing backwards onto the ground. His hands frantically flew up to protect his face from any succeeding strikes. None came, however. Kadoria hesitatingly lowered his hands to find that Hiroku was standing her ground, her entire body shaking with the obvious attempt to the control her wrath. The murderous look on her face slowly relaxed into a more controlled one, though the fury was prevalent. As a seemingly petrified Kadoria watched, the younger girl took a deep breath and straightened up from her battle stance. She threw a disgusted look at the shinobi lying on the ground, like the kind one would give to a pile of manure.

“You’re pathetic,” Hiroku snapped contemptuously. “I know you weren’t the one to directly take Tohmome-kun’s life, but you sure as hell played a part in his death. I got to him while he was still alive… He told me how those wolves attacked him, and you refused to help him. You left him to die horribly. That’s worse than actually killing him.” She turned her head away from the masked shinobi, as if simply looking at him was becoming harder for her by the second. A sorrowful shadow had befallen her face, no doubt from having to recall the tragic scene she was narrating. Without looking towards Kadoria, Hiroku monotonously muttered to him: “We’re done - this match is over. You were right: it’s not worth the effort beating a spineless coward like you. Go back to whatever hole in the ground you crawled out of. You worthless insect.”

With those condescending words, she turned on her heels and marched off. Or rather, she tried to. The kunoichi had barely taken a step forward when a pair of gloved hands erupted from the stone below her; these hands clasped onto her shins, the aura of chakra incasing them noticeable at first glance. Hiroku cried out in surprise and collapsed forwards to the ground simultaneously. Her legs were unresponsive: the nerves connecting them to her spinal cord had been severed. As the girl would realize this, a pair of shadows would fall upon her. She looked up, and saw the two Kadorias standing over her, heads titled down to peer at her. One of the Kadorias was in prime physical appearance, completely free from any wearing of battle: the Kage Bunshin. The other, obviously, was the original Kadoria. No longer was he trembling; instead, he stood as confidently as the Bunshin beside him, with no signs of fear or anxiety in his demeanor. Hiroku blinked stupidly at the sight, and the visible portion of the real Kadoria’s mouth broke into a smug, derisive smirk. He spoke to the immobilized girl, and his voice was just as derisive and superior as his expression.

“I can’t believe you actually fell for that...,” he remarked with amusement, while enunciating and lengthening every syllable in a thoughtful drawl. Both Kadorias snorted contemptuously in unison, momentarily casting an entertained glance at each other. As one might expect, Hiroku’s face lit up in fury, and a deluge of curses streamed out of her mouth. However, she was brusquely interrupted when the Kage Bunshin stomped a foot down onto her hand, trapping the extremity while he reached forward with one of his chakra-coated hands to grip the girl’s shoulder. The gentle touch tore the ligaments in Hiroku’s shoulder and dislocated it. The result was a floppiness in the kunoichi’s arm, and a shout of discomfort. Having rendered his opponent incapable of movement and unable to counterattack, the Bunshin wordlessly removed the pressure from Hiroku’s hand and took a step back to stand beside his original self. Said original’s smirk widened as his adversary’s vehement gaze locked with his.

“You gutless coward! Damning you to the deepest depths of Hell would be too nice a fate for you!” Unsurprisingly, she was pissed. And who could blame her? Not only had Kadoria just tried to trick her with an act of helplessness, but she had fallen for it completely - “hook, line, and sinker”, as the saying went. Kadoria did not know if he was that good an actor, or if this girl was just that gullible. It would be a tough question for him to answer. In fact, he considered voicing the query to the girl, if only to see her rage intensify. Indeed, Hiroku looked ready to start thrashing violently in spite of her crippling injuries. That is, until the blazing fire in the gray eyes died down significantly. At the same time, her tensed muscles loosened, though not in relaxation, but in obvious submission. She glared down at the ground, and her proceeding words came out in an irritable and conceding manner. “Just hurry up and get this over with.”

The battle-worn Kadoria titled his head to the side in thought for a moment, before squatting down in front of the incapacitated female. The silence with which he watched her for a few seconds caused Hiroku to meet his gaze, albeit with the same disdain as always. “You demanded this battle in the hopes that you would either avenge your deceased comrade, or you would be reunited with him in death. Am I wrong?” Of course he was right. Anyone with a gorilla’s IQ would have inferred as much by now. He did not need the silence to confirm his statement; it had been a rhetorical remark. There was no other explanation for why this kind of match would have been set up. The whole point was to seek some form of solace, and those driven by hate saw either vengeance or death as the only means of attaining this peace. This girl had challenged someone who, by all accounts, was stronger than her. The only reason she had managed to last so long against Kadoria was because he had chosen to let her live. Yet, she had gone through with this venture of suicide, all for the sake of her dead partner. It seemed that she had cared for him a great deal. Blatantly so, in fact. There was nothing wrong with such compassion or camaraderie, even to a lone rogue like Kadoria.

“He must have been a very important person to you, for you to go to such lengths to honor his death,” Kadoria muttered pensively as he stood up to his full height, sounding a little sympathetic now. Hiroku’s expression did not soften, and for good reason. An unpleasant grin suddenly stretched across Kadoria’s exposed mouth. “Touching.”

His boot collided with Hiroku’s face and had it impact with the ground forcibly. Lights went out right away, and she lay prone on the ground. The grin on Kadoria’s face remained intact for a couple of seconds, before faltering and shifting into a grimace of pain. He looked down at his abdomen, from where the short handle of the ninjato was still protruding out. He’d ignored the pain to keep up appearances, but it was becoming a nuisance now. Besides, removing the item would increase blood loss considerably, unless he proceeded to apply immediate medical attention; which was what he was going to do now. Gripping the weapon firmly in one hand, he yanked it out of his lower torso, gasping as a new wave of pain overwhelmed his senses. Chucking the bloodied weapon aside, a panting Kadoria formed the handseals for his healing jutsu, and then pressed the hand with the coating of green chakra over the wound.

In between wincing from the pain that came from having an open wound and from closing the wound, he muttered to his Kage Bunshin to tie up Hiroku, so as to avoid any further trouble from her. The Bunshin obliged, fishing through the kunoichi’s arsenal until he found enough rope and wire. While the original repaired the damage inflicted upon him by his opponent, the clone efficiently restrained said opponent’s limbs. Though, the constraints were probably not necessary. A dislocated shoulder and severed nerves in her legs? Hiroku would not be causing any problems until she had received proper medical attention, and Kadoria was not going to offer any at the moment.

Its task finished, the Bunshin stood up and looked over at the original Kadoria. “What the hell happened to you? That Genjutsu… What did she make you see?”

The original looked up from his treatment and around at the doppelganger. If his face had not been hidden behind the mask, the bewildered look would have been easily seen. “Did I really just ask myself that question?” the original inquired of the clone, drawing attention to the ridiculousness of a Bunshin questioning the actions of its real counterpart. The Kage Bunshin did seem to realize the folly, and shook his head before dispersing with a generation of smoke.

The foremost of the burly men pushed the lacquered door open. He then stood back to allow the pair of men behind him to enter. The shortest of the three entered first, followed by the partner of the man holding the door open. Once all three had passed through the doorway, the entrance was blocked off once again. Inside, the familiar face of Fugaku was raised from the pile of papers weighing down the desk in front of him. With the impatient air of one who has been interrupted while performing an important task, he looked over at the masked man (whose face wear had been replaced with an undamaged one) standing between the two larger, more robust men. Impatience was immediately replaced by confusion as Kadoria took a step forward, and curtly dropped the person he had slumped over his shoulder onto the carpeted floor. The older man jumped to his feet, stepping out from behind his table in apparent anger as he peered down at magenta-haired woman, who was promptly lifted up by the collar by the male Nukenin and deposited in a sitting position on the ground.

“What the hell is this?! Why is she here?! Why is she still alive?!”

A beefy finger was pointed furiously at the bound Hiroku, while an austere glare was directed to Kadoria. The girl’s hair of brilliant magenta fell over her bowed face, the bangs just managing to obscure the glazed, unfocused look in her dark gray eyes. Her posture was noticeably slumped, and she gave no sign of knowing, or caring for, where she was or whose presence she was in. Beside her, the standing Teinei casually gestured to her, addressing the irate man across from him. “She is worth more alive. Yamanaka Hiroku was on that island; she has been working closely with Shinji Uteki’s men; and she knows the detailed mechanisms of their business. Therefore, she is a valuable source of information for anyone who may wish to… sabotage Shinji Uteki’s operation.” Kadoria placed a hand over his chest in a humbled manner while continuing. “Consider this my gift to your employer… and a form of apology for my earlier lapse of logicality.”

And that was it: that was the reason why Kadoria had not immediately killed Hiroku at the start of their battle, or before it. To take Hiroku’s life had never been his intention: he had planned to bring her to Fugaku alive the moment he had agreed to take on the challenge. As he said, there was more to be gained in keeping Hiroku alive than there was in finishing her off. This whole incident had started because of Yoshino Hibiki’s desire to learn more about his drug trade rival. Thus, it was only fitting that it end with Hibiki obtaining a means for acquiring more information. Indeed, if Kadoria had been in Hibiki’s place, he would definitely prefer a source for further information. And Hiroku would certainly be able to provide some valuable information - probably more than Kadoria had managed to during his reconnaissance mission from earlier. All that was required was to break the girl first - a goal that Kadoria felt he had already initiated the beginning stages of. The limp, dazed state that Hiroku was presently in implied at a weakened mind. Ultimately, the Teinei’s callous attempts to shatter her resolve and will had been a success. There was no fight left in Hiroku. She would be at the complete mercy of Yoshino Hibiki and his men.

Kadoria’s elucidation managed to do just that: elucidate the matter. Luckily, Fugaku appeared to find the reasoning valid. His vexation was substituted with equanimity, which was evident as the wrinkles on his forehead alleviated. He moved closer to the silent Hiroku and bent down, looking her steadily in the face with contemplation. A beefy, calloused hand wrapped around her jaw and lifted her head up, showing to the man the clouded, unfocused expression dominating her pretty features. Just as before, Hiroku did not react to Fugaku’s presence, not even directing her gray eyes to him. Seemingly satisfied by whatever he had been inspecting (he had probably been gauging how hard it would be to crack her, or else thinking something lewd), Fugaku nodded up to the two sentries hovering over Kadoria’s shoulders. The men were prompt in their response: they moved around the Teinei and lifted the bound Seinen off the floor. Despite her much lighter weight, each burly male placed a hand under her arm and picked her up from the floor, pulling her onto her feet. Since the poor girl did not stand on her own feet (probably because she was too out of it, and because the severed nerves in her ankles made the task harder), the guards essentially dragged her unceremoniously out of the room. Fugaku brought his attention to Kadoria from the display of impoliteness. “Alright. We’re done here, I guess. I’ll explain to Yoshino-dono why she’s still breathing.”

A fractional lowering of Kadoria’s hood head followed this statement, interpreted as a nod of acceptance. After a brief pause, the Nukenin stated in a soft, detached voice, “Be gentle with her. As you probably noticed, she may be a little… mentally unsound.” The request sounded emphatic, but the deadpan in which it had been delivered carried no such compassion with it. It was unclear whether Kadoria had made the recommendation with any concern for Hiroku’s wellbeing. The unreadable mask and the lack of body language made it harder to determine for sure. His tone, however, might imply a lack of care.

Regardless of Kadoria’s actual intent, Fugaku did not contend the Nukenin’s remark, only concurring with a silent nod. He then made to return to his seat and his paperwork, interjecting with a gesture to Kadoria for him to leave. “You can go now. And let’s try not to find an excuse to meet up again, okay? Ten times in less than a week… Might as well start having lunch together.” His mumbling had barely reached its conclusion before Kadoria had departed, exiting while the speaker’s back was turned.

A few minutes later, one would find the shinobi passing through a pair of doors and climbing up a flight of stairs to a deserted alley. Habitually looking around to make sure no one was around, the Teinei folded his arms behind his back and headed down the alley to the connecting street at the end. Hunger pangs suddenly plagued his stomach, thus giving him a destination to reach. While his feet obeyed his hunger to automatically take him to a nearby eatery, his thoughts were elsewhere. As always, he was contemplating over recent events, and this entire adventure had left him with plenty to ponder on. Primarily, his ruminations were fixated on the two Nukenin he had encountered during this whole ordeal. Uzumaki Tohmome Yamanaka Hiroku. Each had left different impressions on the pensive Nukenin. He was irked by both for having caused him so much trouble, but at the same time, he respected them for having put him through such adversity. And of course, there was pity. Pity for the unfortunate fates that had befallen each. And the guilt that came from knowing that he had been instrumental in instigating both results. He had played a contributing part in Tohmome’s gruesome death; and he was the reason why Hiroku had not joined Tohmome in the death she wanted, but would instead be forced to undergo whatever torturous interrogation Hibiki had in store for her. Hardened though his heart may be, even Kadoria had to admit there was a bit of tragedy to be found in the whole matter.

But more than the two Nukenin’s fates, what was engrossing his attention so much was what he had experienced during his encounter with Tohmome and Hiroku. By that, he was referring specifically to the Genjutsu that Hiroku had cast on him. That Genjutsu, where he had been made to see a vision of Tohmome’s corpse… and all those other people. The Teinei raised a hand to his temple, still experiencing a faint throbbing in that area. He felt like the smallest of stimuli could set off the wave of nausea threatening to wash over him. The after-effects of the illusion, no doubt. Kadoria frowned intensely, upper lip pursed in thought. He recalled the moment when his Kage Bunshin had dispersed earlier. As the cognizant clone had vanished, its memories had merged with those of Kadoria’s, and he had been able to see from the clone’s perspective when he, the real Kadoria, had been caught in the Genjutsu. More specifically, he had been able to see his behavior while the Genjutsu was in effect. It was a befuddling reveal: while the illusion had seemed to last for over a minute to the real Kadoria, to all those observing from outside, it had only been a second before the Nukenin had dropped to his knees and began roaring in pain. Barely any time had gone by before Hiroku had seized her chance to impale her enemy. For some reason, a Genjutsu as basic as that had had such a powerful effect on Kadoria. He could not understand why. There was no logical explanation that he could come up with at this time. It was mystifying. Mind-boggling.

What the hell happened, indeed…, he remarked reflectively in his mind, repeating the words of his Kage Bunshin.

Word Count: 6402


_________________

Forest Demon


Clan
Senju
Strength:
75
Speed:
443
Endurance:
138
Chakra:
569
Life Force:
150
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Senju
Senju
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Join date : 2016-02-11

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