Beta'd by Alice (AirisJ).

Chapter 43 - Deluge

Amegakure was a peculiar city, let's just leave it at that.

A village surrounded by the rocky and muddy wasteland. Humid, sticky, and heavy, that was what the air around Amegakure felt like, even if the rain that had been pouring down just five minutes ago had ceased to fall at this moment. In the outskirt area, there was more water than soil in the composition of the ground. This field was a perfect battleground for water release users, which meant, it was a terrible place for my fire jutsu.

When we were still some distance from the village border, we lost the Root agents. They took a turn into a field of rocks - not towards the village border but away from it - then they disappeared and never made the approach towards the village again.

So right now, I was staring at the vast landscape of grey and wondering where the hell did those smugglers disappear to.

"There are only two entrances to Amegakure and the whole village was surrounded by the muddy wasteland …" I muttered to myself as I tried to rehash all the details Konoha had managed to get from Amegakure, which wasn't all that much. "They had to find a way to cross the wasteland from there, so why are they running away?"

"After the Second Shinobi War, Hanzō started to rebuild the war-torn village." After a moment of silence, Bear spoke up. At first, I wasn't sure where he was going with this but I knew that there must be a reason he was bringing up the history lesson.

"He built infrastructures inside the village, among which there is a huge water reservoir where the village collects the excess rainwater." Like his personality, his voice was calm, as if he was just reciting a passage from the guidebook. "I think, if my sense of direction is correct, the water reservoir is just on the side of the village where the agents disappeared."

"The rainwater drainage pipe." Finally, I breathed out the answer. For a village like Amegakure that had a large amount of precipitation, the rainwater gathered in a flatland village must be transported outside to prevent damage to the buildings.

Amegakure was not going to dump the water near their village border; that just defeated the purpose of building a drainage pipe. Instead, it would be somewhere with some distance from the village, preferably in the lowland area and near a river if possible.

"So, if we can find a secret entrance set up by … Can you get us through?" I asked my companion as we trotted through the mud.

"It has been ten years since I … Had last seen of Elder Shimura. It is very likely that Elder Shimura has updated his diplomatic system of approach." After the long trip, I'd say we were quite good with euphemism.

The giant circular entrance overshadowed us. It was awfully conspicuous for something Root would use but then again, I couldn't find any Amegakure patrols near this area, as if they had simply forgotten that this pipe led to one of the most important infrastructures in the village.

Most of the time, the drainage pipe was locked and I didn't mean this imposing metal cover in front of me. On the side where the drainage pipe was connected to the water reserve, there would no doubt be an impenetrable barrier preventing the water from leaking.

Of course, the impenetrable barrier would inevitably be opened when the rainwater needed to be let out and that was the most obvious and most dangerous entry to the village. Very few people could stop the incoming flood with that high of a velocity and keep themselves from being knocked unconscious by the force and ended up drowning in the river. Moreover, nothing was more noticeable than a huge reservoir being drained, especially if that reservoir carried such a vital function.

Entry by the drainage pipe was neither discrete nor safe. The Ame-nin didn't need to patrol this area constantly; the water did it for them and all they had to do was to monitor the water level.

It was simply not practical and yet, Bear led me here despite all that impracticality. We all knew how Root liked to turn the impossible into the possible. They were quite admirable in that way, bringing me surprises every day.

The drainage pipe cover was supposed to be locked, even if it was more like a decoration. After examining for any traps latched onto the cover, I reached for the metal lock hesitantly. On the first pull, it snapped off with a crisp click - the sign that the lock was recently opened. Just like that, the metal cover swung open sluggishly.

Needing no more invitation, I slipped past the iron bars welded on the pipe and stepped into the tunnel. I waited for a while as Bear squeezed himself in through the spacing as well and with much caution, we ventured deeper along the cement walls.

The light splashing sound below our feet strung together a disjointed melody as we moved forward in the darkness. The melody echoed in the hollow pipe like an ominous drum beat that seemed to signal the arrival of something.

Just as I had expected, when we arrived at the end of the pipe, we found a large metal wall that sealed any paths forward. I touched the surface lightly and let the icy coldness of the metal run through my fingers. Judging by the temperature, behind this surface was the water reservoir.

This meant Danzō must have another entrance very close by, probably on the tunnel wall somewhere … When I turned around, ready to start the search, I found my partner already on the task with a flashlight in hand.

A minute later, Bear's attention zoomed in on a particular spot on the metal surface. There was a small, square-shaped space that was in a lighter hue than the rest of the wall, barely indistinguishable if one were to just scan the surface at large.

Unconsciously, I felt my muscle tensed up in reaction to something. Only a second later, my brain caught up. It was the smell of blood; a faint but distinct scent that lingered in the air.

"Um, could you look away for a moment? I don't really know the exact limit of the cursed seal but I think the next part is definitely overreaching it." Bear asked as he waved his hand frantically at the spot and with an understanding look, I turned around.

"I hope this is older than ten years." I heard Bear muttered to himself as soon as my back was turned. Then, a surge of metallic stench greeted my olfactory system and I had to resist the temptation to look back and see what the hell was going on.

As time passed by, the scent of blood faded, until it was just a lingering whiff like before. After that, I could hear the rustling sound of his hands and fingers, suggesting that he was probably making a series of hand seals.

"I'm done." Not a moment after the rustling sound had stopped, Bear signalled me and I turned around eagerly.

He wasn't really trying hard to hide his left palm which had a cut across it. In fact, a single red droplet was still trying to leak out at the bottom, making it look like someone had drawn a line there with scarlet red ink.

However, other than that, I still didn't see any sign of blood. Instead, on the previously empty wall, there was a cursed seal, finished with black, bold, and powerful strokes. This time, I could truly see the difference between this cursed seal - the same one on Bear's tongue, I presumed - and the one placed on Ryuu.

After seeing the scene in front of me coupled with all the details I had sensed before, I could put together the vague theory on what had happened. All the blood that Bear had let out didn't simply disappear; the seal drank it all, not wasting a single smudge. What kind of menacing hunger did it have, not being satisfied even after it had devoured every single drop it had been offered?

There was a moment of awkwardness as Bear stared at the seal, clearly expecting something to happen. He had this look on his face that said "I can explain everything weird that I have just done", except that he couldn't, as commanded by the cursed seal on his tongue.

However, something did happen. Like a piece of brick, the metal panel along with the concrete slab behind it seemed to be pushed in by some invisible force, shedding dust and making the stagnant water vibrate. In front of my eyes, a space on the wall opened up and revealed a smaller and less refined tunnel.

"I have to say, I'm impressed," I commented, half in awe, half in disbelief. This was some next-level sealing shit that I could only see in the Hokage Tower. For Danzō and his Root faction to be able to install this, they would have to do it while the drainage system was still under construction and right under the gaze of Amegakure's infamous leader - that deserved some recognition.

"Is that supposed to be a good thing?" Bear asked with just a hint of a joke.

"No, definitely not." Taking in a final scenery of the branched tunnel, we stepped in.

The next time we saw a sliver of daylight, we popped up in an alley of poverty. Grey and black walls were stained with rust; the road was uneven and unkempt. The tall buildings cramped on either side of the alley were casting deep shadows onto the entire road. Above our heads, there were some wet clothes and bedsheets hanging on strings of wire that zig-zagged across the buildings, washed so many times that I couldn't quite tell their original colours.

As Shun used to say, "Whenever you are lost for what to do, go to the Intelligence Division, there is always information for everybody," provided you could get in, that is.

This village is suffocating, I thought as we hid in the shadows, only an alley away from what I thought was their Intelligence Division. Except here, they called it 'Information Department', as written on a plaque above the front door.

A block behind us, the civilians went on with their daily lives and the shinobi patrolled the village mechanically. Even though the village was still functioning like nothing had happened, the tension was so thick that it seemed to liquify right in front of my eyes. The abundance of anxiety seemed to originate from the main keep - the tallest metal skyscraper that kind of looked like a post-apocalyptic alien grave - if those concentrated patches of chakra said anything.

Without warning, my eyes flashed. The Sharingan disappeared as quickly as it had appeared, just for a split second as I double checked my surroundings.

"What's wrong?" Bear asked about my startled behaviour and I just shook my head.

"Nothing. I thought there was something watching us but I didn't see anything wrong." Maybe it was the tension and paranoia; maybe it wasn't. Either way, that feeling of unease had disappeared without a trace and there was nothing I could do until it showed itself again.

We turned our attention back to the Information Department. As expected, the three guards were surrounded by an unsettling aura, revealing the hidden nervousness and panic under the calm and peaceful appearance.

"Any secret passage that you can maybe vaguely hint at me?" I asked with a hint of hope. Unfortunately for this time, Bear shook his head apologetically.

"No worries, we'll just do it the old-fashioned way," I said with a light tone of voice. The Information Department might seem understaffed given Konoha's standards but that still didn't mean we could just walk in through the front door seeing that it was facing a rather large street with many civilians. Even if we were to put the guards under a genjutsu, the location was still too exposed and any movements or changes to the tableau at the entrance would surely draw attention.

Suddenly, my attention was fixated on a figure that just popped into my vision. The man - a shinobi - had just turned the corner and arrived at the street where the front gate of the Information Department laid. He had a folder in his hand - 'Border Patrol' it wrote, with today's date on it along with a time frame 'morning' - and a moment later, he opened it as he continued to walk. His eyes were glued to the page, brows scrunched in concentration. One of his hands clutched onto the folder, making small folds on the paper. As he flipped the pages, his fingers glossed over the paper and stopped momentarily at the upper right corner of each page - it was the time stamp, an increase of fifteen minutes per page, from 0600 to 1000. When he passed the front gate, he exchanged a silent nod with the guards before flipping to the front of the folder again and repeated his earlier motions.

My observation ended when he continued on his way in the direction of the main tower. When I turned to my teammate, he was looking at me, already knowing what I wanted to do next. Silently, we slipped away from the front gate and headed for the alley where that shinobi had appeared from.

Generally speaking, a building as large as this one would have more than one entrance. Back in Konoha, there was a small entrance tucked away in the forest that Shun often used if he just wanted to get to the Psychotherapy Division without passing through the rest of the building. Of course, the guards only let in the trusted few that had reasons to use the entrance frequently. At this moment I didn't know whether I should feel flattered or offended when the guards let me in to visit Shun after my psychotherapy had long ended.

Now in Amegakure, said 'secret' entrance was right in front of us, guarded by two shinobi, tucked away in the small alley, and shadowed by the jagged metal buildings next door. After the quick assessment of the surroundings, I didn't waste any time before walking straight towards the door. By the time one of the guards looked my way, the Sharingan had already bled through and filled the irides whole. The confidence in my steps didn't waver when faced with this new-found attention and neither did my genjutsu.

"Why are you back, Gensuke?" One of the shinobi called me like an old friend. His eyes flickered to my mid-torso - the position where the folder was when the earlier shinobi was examining the contents - and asked again, "Is there something wrong with the files?"

A genjutsu was about my contribution as much as it was about the target's own memory and imagination. I provided cues - the frantic flipping of pages and nervous rubbing of fingers against the timestamp - and pulled on the memories of my target to help them imagine the rest. Although, the underlying rule went that the situation I wanted to create must fit seamlessly into what they expected to see in reality.

"Yeah, somehow, the last two reports - the 0945 and 1000 ones - are not in the folder. I might have dropped them in the storage, or perhaps they were filed wrong. No matter what happened, I need to get them to Leader-sama soon, without any missing pages," I said to them, remembering the stressed behaviour I saw on the shinobi named Gensuke.

"Yeah, man, of course. It must not be easy, being in such close vicinity with our leader at this time," the other shinobi said in an understanding tone as he opened the door with his chakra. Based on what I had observed with Amegakure shinobi, they all exhibited neurotic behaviour from working under stress. A dictator society always functioned on two things; absolute loyalty and fear. Just because all the Ame-nins were loyal to Hanzō to death didn't actually mean that they weren't afraid. They tread on careful territories and avoid troubles. Where there was fear, there was also sympathy for each other. In this situation, the trust they had built with each other in their own ranks was very easy to exploit.

"Thanks, you saved my life, really." I returned the words through the genjutsu, all the while ushering Bear to get in.

"Don't mention it. None of us wants trouble for anyone." The first shinobi waved at me and he even kindly closed the door behind us. I had the time to cast another cloaking genjutsu on us before the door was shut and therefore severed our access to the daylight.

Bear had no problem letting me lead because he knew that the Sharingan provided a night-vision that his eyes could never adjust to. Most of the time, rather than the connotative word that was often associated with fear and blindness, for me, the darkness seemed like a neutral descriptor - something that I just registered as an environmental factor which I should consider.

The benefit was clear, both physically and mentally. I noticed things faster than my teammates - for example, the silhouette of a human leaning against the wall, by a metal door that blocked further entry down a corridor. I received more details and analysed them with a much clearer head without the feeling of mystery caused by the blindness - say, the fact that his chest was rising and falling, slowly, rhythmically, mechanically.

I stopped in my tracks, causing my teammate to stop behind me as well. Still, I locked my eyes on the human figure, watching the clockwork movement of the chest.

But It wasn't a normal clock, no, it was broken. Because the clockwork seemed to lag, every tick was getting slower, until the clock stopped moving and the figure's chest remained still.

"He died …" I whispered with uncertainty.

"A dead guard?" Bear asked lightly.

"No, he wasn't dead before - I saw chest movement - but his heart stopped beating just now," I explained, still sounding confused. Carefully, I checked the surroundings. There was no one else in the area, just one recently dead person and the two of us.

Lightly, I stepped out of the corner and then ventured towards the dead figure. I placed my fingers on his neck and pressed down. Nothing, there was no pulse. There was no blood or any visible external injury on the front side, so I snaked my hand around his neck to examine the back.

His skin was still warm to the touch, yet, the most unsettling thing was his eyes. It was wide open with fear permeating every inch of his eyes. Instead of shock, there was also a sense of desperation, making my confusion even greater. It wasn't until my finger glossed over something icy at the back of his neck that I managed to recall the recent memory and pieced everything together.

"You're right, he's long dead," I finally concluded.

"But you just said …" Before he could finish his sentence, I pulled out five senbon from the back of his head, effectively stopping him in his tracks.

"Kirigakure's Silent Killing Technique, since it can make a living person appear dead, then there's no reason why it can't make a dying person appear alive, although, not quite literally." I held up the senbon in front of Bear and continued to explain, "These were stuck to particular spots on the back of his neck at the same time. Without medical assistance, just three would be enough to paralyse a person, render him unable to speak, and eventually lead to death." The basic set of three senbon usually caused death within a painfully long wait time of forty-five minutes but adding more would speed up the process. He was still alive but in a place like this, one might as well consider him dead.

He couldn't move, couldn't speak, but he could still think if the desperation and fear in his eyes were any hints. Like a doll, he was placed here as if nothing had happened, as if he was simply taking a nap on the job, yet, no one could ever imagine the hysteria under the skin. Quietly, I reached up and wiped down on his face, sealing the eyelids shut to cover up the unsettling eyes.

"A Silent Killer. That would explain his diminished presence." I agreed with Bear. That man must be trained as a Silent Killer for a long time for him to be so naturally attuned to invisibility. As for how Root managed to set up the teaching curriculum, that was a question for another time.

With a sigh, I returned the senbon to where they were, placing the thin needles back into the exact holes without thinking twice before moving on with examining the body.

"This spot was used to stimulate a tenketsu in order to release chakra. They must have used him to open the doors to the storage rooms." Quickly, I showed Bear the dead guy's arm, allowing him to see the tiny red dot under the sleeve.

Indeed, there was a chakra seal on the metal door beside the dead shinobi. When Bear reached out and opened the door, it fell back without trouble, revealing the rest of the corridor that was filled with rooms on either side of the walls. Some of the rooms had doors that were slightly ajar, leaving a slit between the door and the frame.

More importantly, my breath stopped when I saw the faint glow leaking out of the farthest slit on the left. This was the only corridor they had searched and by the looks of it, they had already gone through the area and were more than likely had already found what they were looking for. If we wanted to make a move, it was now or never. Carefully, I closed the door.

"Okay, we are going to get the info from Root first and send them on their way back to Konoha," I explained to my teammate as we both backed a few metres away from the door and the body. If I were Danzō, I would probably issue my agents the order of retrieval first instead of destruction. I, he, no, we were both paranoid, we wanted to make sure that the right file was brought back and just having the agents check them wouldn't be trustworthy. However, I would also issue the order of destruction as well, if the option of retrieval was denied. Better let it get destroyed than fall into the enemy's hand.

"We are going to make them think that the file and the person who tried to take the file were reduced to ashes, and hopefully, that will keep Danzō's suspicion at bay for a little longer than if we just killed them all here and now." As I explained it, my teammate nodded in understanding. Based on our stalking activity for the past two and a half days, we figure out that they were relaying the message back every few hours and they were using a special jutsu-bird thing that I had no idea what it was made of, let alone replicating it to send false messages.

I signalled the body by the door and said, "He's got a similar build as you, maybe slightly bigger, so he's going to help us." It would be a shame not to utilise the nice resource that Root had left us. No blood, no blunt force trauma, just a few hardly noticeable dots at the back of the neck. A perfect body to pass as the victim of any trauma.

Immediately, Bear started to perform a transformation jutsu. In mere seconds, his clothes looked just like the dead Ame-nin with their navy jacket and grey cargo pants. His face looked very generic, and overall, a very good disguise. After that, he used a wood release to make another human doll that looked just like the dead body, so similar that I had trouble telling them apart at first sight. Carefully, I picked up the dead body and swung it over my shoulder, letting Bear moved the wooden doll to the empty spot.

"I will make up a very good cover story for you when they try to incinerate you. I know it's not in your nature but please try to act like a hot-headed jerk, it might make them want to burn you more." I patted on his back with a smile, and he just looked very unimpressed with my joke.

"Okay, jokes aside, be careful. Do whatever you can to keep their movement in sight. Beware of all of their body parts - not just where they hold the weapon - and beware of yours. They have a thousand ways to get to you, and it only takes one senbon." Bear listened attentively as I whispered the words to him. It wasn't very good advice, seeing that it was easier said than done. Nevertheless, he nodded and marched down the corridor.

The glow in the storage room disappeared as soon as Bear stopped caring about the sound of his footsteps. Still, that didn't stop Bear from kicking open the door with a flashlight in one hand and a kunai in the other, courtesy of our dead shinobi.

"Hey, what the hell are you doing?" 'Hey'? Who says 'Hey' in this situation? I thought as I set the body down by the door. While Bear took a few more steps and garnered all the attention, I leaned in for a quick peek. In the corner of my eyes, I saw the two familiar figures coming running out of the shelves - one of them had a scroll clutched in his hand, while his other hand was still resting on the open pack on his waist. For a moment, the room was awfully still, as if no one knew what was happening and they had to process the shock before moving.

"Who are you and what did you steal." Bear's monotonous words broke the tableau. The pair of masked individuals spared one look at one another before they charged in for the attack. Choosing to trust that Bear could last a while, I stepped back and closed my eyes.

The mist leaked out of the room, sending a cool shiver down my skin. Then, the familiar scent of burning flames invaded my senses and quickly, the mist thinned down.

I thought back on the four months I've spent in Kirigakure where every target assignment was understated trouble for a team still trying to adjust to each other. But we got better at it. I remembered the same cooling touch of the mist that permeated my body at every moment and surprisingly, I felt calmer - a tranquillity that I didn't even realise I had lost in Konoha. I didn't even fully realise how angry I was. I thought I had gotten hold of it, controlled it so well that it wouldn't affect my ability to make logical decisions. But that anger had replaced every fibre of my body until my actions were filled with traces of it.

How could I match a Silent Killer in the art of stealth if I couldn't even be calm myself? That was the first lesson I learned in Kirigakure. I could hide my chakra, make my movements silent, but it would still leave traces unless my action was colourless and emotionless. My target was never the scroll that was the manifestation of my desire. It was always the two enemies locked in a battle against my teammate, a dime in a dozen that I had encountered many times before.

When I opened my eyes again, the mist was more or less kept at bay by Bear's fire release so that I could still make out the flickering silhouettes that tirelessly battled each other. It wasn't the Silent Killer's fault, really. Even though Bear could only use one rudimentary fire jutsu, the storage rooms seemed to be the only places in Amegakure that were dry and utterly unsuitable for water releases.

One of them appeared behind Bear and swung a precise strike aimed at his neck - the kind that only required one shot to kill, except that it didn't because he was fast enough to dodge it. The Root agent landed on the ground, light as a feather, and he wasted no time in kicking his leg up towards Bear's chest, the tip of the senbon barely sticking out of his shoe. The commotion there invited the attention of the other Root member - someone of a smaller stature with pale skin and thin arms; someone who still looked no older than my brother.

That Root agent quickly spread out the large scroll that was carried by his hip and drew something on it with his free hand, instantly making a shape that I couldn't quite make out under the opaque mist. That moment of suspense only lasted for a moment before a large black and white beast sprung from the paper and came to life, and it was running right for Bear.

The Mist was returning because Bear was too busy keeping himself alive against the Silent Killer to keep up with the fire releases. Yet, I still made no attempt at joining the battle I was watching coldly.

Bear was strong, he would be fine. My teammate's calm and collected demeanour as he blocked the senbon from the first Root member further reassured me to stay put. The ink beast jumped at my teammate and bashed him against the shelf and the Silent Killer disappeared as the mist thickened again.

Without any hesitation, Bear blew out a stream of fire to dispel the beast as well as the nearby mist, sacrificing a large claw mark on his arm in the process. Although, what happened next proved it to be the right decision

The reappearance was swift, silent, and deadly if not for the sudden fire release. The fire created just enough visibility through the mist for Bear to realise the unremarkable senbon aiming for the back of his neck.

I didn't know why I could watch it with such calm eyes when Bear barely escaped death that would have punctured his brainstem if he was even a centimetre late. It was even more frightening when the first thought that popped up in my head was "My teammate was too good at fighting".

He had to be good to survive the attacks from two trained agents who rivalled Anbu. But sooner or later, the Root agents would realise that he was too good for an Amegakure intel patrol. We had to end this quickly. It was time to move.

As the Root agent drew up another two lions, Bear performed the seals for a water release in a blur. Just as the ink creatures cornered him from two sides, dozens of water bullets whizzed through the air at a frightening speed, some of them hit the lions and broke them into droplets of ink and the others hit the shelves. Nevertheless, it efficiently kept the two Root members - including the Silent Killer - away from him as they were forced to dodge the transparent bullets.

The ink user - who also happened to have the stolen scroll - was standing beside the shelf I was hiding behind. All of a sudden, catching the exact moment when one of the water bullets hit the base of the shelve and exploded, I pushed the shelf down towards him, faking the cause to be Bear's jutsu. As I blurred away to hide behind another shelf, the iron racks fell onto the young agent, hitting him in the back.

It was a bold move, making such a commotion. But that didn't matter anymore, because the boy's waist pack opened as he crashed onto the ground. For a few seconds, no one breathed as we all watched the simple scroll rolling on the floor for what seemed like an eternity before it finally stopped at a spot between all three of them.

Bear and the older Root agent stared at each other for a fraction of a second, before both of them flickered. The Root agent to the scroll, and Bear to the Root agent. In the end, they met a few metres away from the motionless scroll. They tried to hit each other, block each other and stab each other. Metal clashed against metal, making muffled clanking sounds accompanied by occasional grunts from the loser. This time, Bear seemed determined to keep the Silent Killer near him and it was terrifying, watching him narrowly dance around every deadly strike that seemed to come out of nowhere.

As the two men fought in the middle, the younger boy pulled himself from under the shelf and started to make his way towards the scroll. Bear's eyes momentarily flickered to the boy and he was going to curse himself later because the Silent Killer caught the opening and jabbed the senbon forward. Hastily, Bear moved his arms to guard his chest and neck but the needle wasn't aimed for such predictable spots.

The silvery senbon sailed under his arm and punctured the side of his torso. The internal waves of emotions were sealed before it could surface as I watched the senbon dig into his body, through the ribs, and towards the heart.

However, to my surprise - probably the Root agent's surprise as well - Bear managed to grab the Root agent, despite suddenly having a look of absolute pain on his face. As if it were the last burst of power before death, I saw him aiming a powerful kick to the agent while sucking a painful breath in, sending the man flying backwards, right in my direction. Then, with a hand still clutching on to his injury, he threw a handful of kunai out in various directions, temporarily stopping the boy's attempt to reach for the scroll and forced him to block the attacks.

The moment I saw the Silent Killer crash against the shelf in front of me, I knew: we needed a desperate situation to end the battle and this was it.

As the older Root agent quickly regained his balance and was ready to rush in the battle again, I reached across the shelf, softly, quietly. There was none of that 'humming' feeling people make when the chakra was utilised for a jutsu. Not even the Sharingan was activated, I didn't want to risk anything to break the absolute silence. Still, I knew exactly where to aim.

Just as my finger was about to touch his skin, he jolted in realisation. But it didn't matter anymore as a senbon of lightning burst out from my finger, drilling into the flesh. When my finger left the skin, my chakra was silent again.

His head banged against the shelf as he fell backwards onto the shelf. Before he was fully dead, it was just his luck that a kunai crashed right through his neck, burying that little dot of burned skin in blood.

He hit his head on the shelf, he lost his balance, and then the kunai hit him in the neck. That was all there was to his story.

Dissolving my thoughts of the Silent Killer, I moved to another shelf and looked up at the lightbulb that Bear had turned on when he had entered, Sharingan fully activated, glowing redder every second.

In the end, it was my teammate who grabbed the scroll from the ground, gasping breathlessly as if every moment was full of pain. He glanced at the boy and quickly disregarded him before casually tucking the scroll into his jacket and walking towards the emergency alarm button located on the inner wall.

I could tell that the boy wasn't as experienced as the other dead Root agent because he looked over to his teammate's direction, perhaps, asking for an order. Unfortunately, he only found a bloody body. Before his eyes would even widen in surprise, the dim light flickered, making the room seemed all the more delirious. Somewhere behind the shelf, the set of tomoe in my eyes continued to spin. Swiftly, my genjutsu reached out, painting a story that would explain the death of an Amegakure shinobi and the destruction of the scroll.

The boy urgently returned his gaze towards the injured Ame-nin who was walking towards the alarm. He didn't have the time to mourn for his teammate because he had a mission to finish. Immediately, he lashed out a shuriken tied with ninja wire and threw it low above the ground. The shuriken made a circle around the arrogant and careless shinobi and latched onto his feet, making him fall down on his face as he gasped in surprise.

Still keeping my eyes on the boy, I grabbed a scroll from a nearby shelf that looked about the same from the target and threw it to my own teammate who had suddenly stopped gasping like a dying person.

Bear caught the replacement scroll in one hand as his other arm turned into a wood release and retrieved the body I hid behind the door. He placed the scroll in the dead Ame-nin's jacket and held him up until the wire wrapped around the corpse's leg, then he dropped the body onto the ground and retreated to my hiding place.

The young Root agent quickly spread out his canvas and drew a dozen snakes and let the ink creatures crawl out like a waterfall. The snakes covered the Ame-nin in no time and restrained him as he kicked and attempted to stop the suffocation. As a last attempt, the shinobi managed to force his fingers into hand seals. It was going to be a fire jutsu, the boy recognised. His ink didn't like fire, so he controlled the snakes to stop the man from completing the seals. Too late, or maybe not. When the snake managed to restrain his fingers, the jutsu was already activated, perhaps just not how the shinobi had hoped. The fire exploded in his own face, so forceful that the boy didn't even get to hear the man's dying scream before fire engulfed his upper body.

I flicked a fireball onto the motionless body wrapped in black snakes, before wiping away the sweat dripping down my face. It had been a while since I had to work this hard on a genjutsu but I needed this one to be a perfection.

Ah, that should be fine as well. If we couldn't retrieve it, we should make sure it was destroyed, the boy thought back to his orders as he watched the fire writhed around his body, licking his flesh. He could smell it, the smell of flesh burning as everything was reduced to ashes. When the fire was quenched and his own ink creature was dried up, the Ame-nin was no more than a blackened corpse and all his belongings, including the scroll, was gone in a pile of ashes, He had done it. His mission, he had completed it. Even though there were casualties, all he needed to do was to report to his superior. That was all he needed to do.

The genjutsu ended as the boy sealed up his teammate's corpse and left the room. After a moment of silence, I closed my eyes and scrunched up my nose in an attempt to block out the smell of murder. At least I had something to concentrate on before with the genjutsu, but now, all the sensory signals I had missed just came crashing into my brain in one blow.

"Let me see your wound." Even though it was a request, my hands moved to examine the senbon mark before Bear could give me an answer. Perhaps the reason why he was still standing was that it didn't go in far enough to hit the heart. Still, a punctured lung was no laughing matter.

"Can you feel how far it went in? Shortness of breath, dizziness … wait, it hit the rib?" When I pressed down on the area around the wound, I realised that based on the trajectory I saw, the senbon would have hit the ribcage. Would the Root agent really make such a rookie mistake? I looked up to my teammate in confusion.

"My transformation jutsu is wood-natured. It made me bigger to match the dead body and my disguise is harder to recognise in physical combat than a normal jutsu. Yes, it would have gone straight for the heart if I actually had the physique of our demised shinobi, but I got lucky, I suppose," he explained with a weak smile. "Besides, the layer of wood helped weaken some of the senbon's force, so it didn't drill through the ribcage."

Ah, thank god. I let out a breath of relief and asked, "Were you just acting earlier to sound like a person with the lung bashed in?" He nodded, looking kind of embarrassed.

"Damn, that was good, I almost bought it if you didn't just kick him away like a rubber ball." That wasn't completely true. My heart never really relaxed until I had examined the senbon mark myself. He probably knew it as well, seeing my earlier reaction. But I was glad he didn't point it out unlike some of my other teammates.

"Oh, here's what we came for." He threw me the scroll we recovered from the Root agents earlier and I latched onto it immediately. The scratchy fabric pricked my skin but it just made me clutch onto it tighter. The manifestation of my desire. I could feel my own heart beating faster at the prospect of a chance. Not a guarantee, just a chance.

Against my drumming heartbeat, I opened the scroll, careful not to get any blood on it.

"Now I know why he wants it back at all cost," I whispered with a small grin as I showed Bear the scroll. It was a contract made between two parties - Hanzō of Amegakure and Danzō of Konoha. It stated that Danzō would provide military aid to Hanzō to calm the Akatsuki rebellion in exchange for Hanzō's help in claiming the Hokage title.

Most importantly, the contract was signed by both parties' thumbprint - the kind with the chakra infused in the bloody print. Hanzō must have been really sceptical about Danzō's motive and ability to deliver to force him to sign this. After all, the chakra-related contracts in this world had consequences if one party failed to uphold the agreement; it was like a cursed seal on one's chakra.

'Help in claiming the Hokage title' sounded awfully vague. Sure, the Akatsuki rebellion was squashed but Danzō still wasn't the Hokage yet. I assumed that Hanzō only had to do a few things Danzō had specified rather than actually handing him the Hokage title. After all, Hanzō didn't get to decide who became the Hokage, nor would he be dumb enough to make an oath on something he couldn't control.

Made me wonder what made Hanzō reach out to Danzō all of a sudden. Unfortunately, it seemed like Danzō didn't consider them best pals anymore. The sad truth of a friendship that rested on an expired blood contract.

However, before I could look further for the finer prints, Bear reminded me, "We should probably leave now. We are staying awfully long to search for two missing reports." Seeing his reasoning, I nodded and packed the scroll inside my inner jacket, so careful as if I were hiding away my own beating heart.

Not even a minute out of Amegakure's Info Department, a shrieking alarm sounded in the distance.

"I should have guessed that Danzō would destroy all of Root's traces in this village." I cursed in frustration when I realised that the alarm was because of a muffled explosion inside the village grounds. It seemed like the remaining Root agent buried the tunnel using explosives when he left the village, triggering the alarm in the process, causing Amegakure to be in lockdown with a whole lot of shinobi crowded around the tunnel entrance.

Yes, I knew it was the logical thing to do. Explosives were the most efficient way to collapse a tunnel. It was easily detonated and the user didn't even have to be in the close vicinity like they would for an earth release. Maybe it would leave some noise but who cared? Nothing tied the infiltration to Root. When Danzō decided to cut all ties with Amegakure, he really meant it. Yet, I couldn't shake the paranoia that perhaps Bear and I had been found out and this was the boy's parting gift for us.

"Should have killed him when I had the chance." I pushed the words out with a bitter tone.

"You made the right decision." Bear shook his head, clearly disagreeing with my sentiment. "Collapsing the tunnel is just standard protocol. There may be a fifty percent chance that Elder Shimura would see through the plot even with the genjutsu. But if we killed all of them, it's a hundred percent."

Still, we needed another way out of the village. The annoyance died down quickly as I remembered that the Root tunnel was just a bonus and our original entry/exit plan had used the traditional infiltration methods. With that in mind, I opened my Sharingan wide and scanned the village one last time, committing all the details, all the chakra layouts to memory.

We ended up in the junkyard. I figured it fit in quite nicely with the post-apocalypse theme the city planner was going for.

Demolished materials and construction plates filled the area. Where there were fallen piles of metal scraps, metal outcrops protruded in muddy, unkempt fields. My breaths were shallow as I hid behind a construction beam, body flattened against the ground as mud soaked through my clothes, dying it an ugly grey-ish brown that fit the Amegakure wasteland quite nicely.

It started raining at some point and the chill of the droplets seeped into my blood and bones. Nevertheless, the noise of the raindrops was much appreciated.

Carefully, I slithered to the right until there was a stack of metallic plates in front of me. Light as a feather, I pulled myself up against the cover and peeked past the sliver of space between the plates.

Nearsightedness sucks, I thought as I squinted my eyes to catch the team of two guarding this area of the wall. No more Sharingan for this part, seeing that we couldn't afford to be on any sensor's radar at this critical point. With their grid-like sentry arrangement, our existence would have stuck out like a flag.

The distance between each team of guards was approximately thirty metres – too close to sneak in between but the tight blockade formation meant that they were not moving excessively but sticking to their own areas instead.

On my left, my partner hid in the shadow formed by two stacks of rusted metal. His figure stayed still against the surface as if he were about to melt into it the next second. In a moment, a silent glance was exchanged between the two of us.

Withdrawing my attention, I shifted my fingers lightly to make sure that the senbon were comfortably gripped in my hand. Patience, it was not the time yet. Amegakure had been in a lockdown for twenty minutes and we had been sneaking around for twenty minutes. A few more minutes wouldn't kill me.

The concept of time seemed lost to me as I eased my way closer to the two guards, little by little, inch by inch, sliding my way around the jagged landscape.

The two guards retreated back under the cover of the wall. I feel you, the rain is hideous. It was the moment I was waiting for because for this particular team, catching that bit of shade meant being hidden from the view of the other teams, courtesy of the coincidentally placed demolished scraps. Maybe the material dumpers were going for an avant-garde look, maybe they were just lazy, I wouldn't know, but bless them.

The female guard fumbled in her pocket and pulled out a cigarette of all things. She was careful, though, keeping her right hand on her katana always. When the kunoichi breathed out a puff of smoke, the shinobi next to her shook his head and didn't object. However, when the smoke reached the male guard, he scrunched his face and turned away.

Uncaringly, the kunoichi laughed, letting out another breath of smoke. When the smoke faded, I was already behind her. Same thing, no chakra, no noise. Just silence.

I reached out my hands as if drawing the oblivious woman into an embrace from behind. One of my hands cupped her neck, pressing tight to keep her head immobile. But even before that, I pierced the two senbon between my fingers forward with a deadly speed.

Lightly, I wiped her eyes closed and gave the slumping body a push, knowing that Bear was already in position before moving on to her partner.

There was a moment of stillness as I grabbed onto the shinobi's waist to keep his body frozen. Behind me, Bear had already positioned the kunoichi's body by a stack of construction material and curled her hand onto the katana hilt. As a last touch, he placed the piece of cigarette he had caught back in her mouth. A stream of smoke puffed out weakly - couldn't help it, she was still breathing and emitting a chakra signature.

Following Bear's example, I pushed the shinobi's hand - half clutching onto the signal flare - back into his pocket, so softly as if I were merely placating his discomfort. Bear rested his ear against the metal-coated wall and I took a peek at the nearby teams to make sure they were not looking at this section of the wall.

When I turned around, Bear gave me the 'go' signal and handed me a roll of wire. With a slight nod, I stepped onto his cupped hands and flipped myself onto the wall.

This part had to be fast, I reminded myself as I grabbed the rim of the wall, lightly, but with a steady grip. In one swift motion, I lowered myself from the wall, dropped down onto the ground like a lithe cat, stepped firmly onto the wire and pulled it taut.

There was a hard pull from the other side before Bear flipped through as well. We had to go through another layer of sentry outside of the wall. Still teams of two, but they were far more widespread because there was very little cover on the wasteland. We had to bury ourselves beneath the muddy water while waiting for a chance to ambush. Not the best experience but considering where we were trained … Fire Country forest had bugs - lots and lots of bugs.

Bear tightened his hand around the shinobi's mouth and whacked his neck with a force that made me grimace. I felt the unnerving pulse as a nearby sensor extended his search but, in the end, he could only count two familiar signals while his sense retreated. One by my feet, and one in Bear's hand. Without a word, my partner handed the guy to me and I push the senbon in. Control was good, we wanted him to sleep by the wall for as long as possible until the last inevitable moment.

With mud caked on my mask, the humidity was making it hard to breathe, and my knees were soaked in chilling water, yet, I couldn't care less. There was a sense of calming familiarity with the whole 'run, hide, crawl' routine. Back in Konoha, we embraced the dirt and crawled like an earthworm; here, we waded through the mud and the water steadily and patiently. Dignity had nothing on us.

I couldn't remember how much time had passed - long enough for the rain to stop - when we moved past quite a few patches of rock outcrops and moved on to the area near the river.

"You said that technique needed three senbon but you only used two," Bear inquired with a hint of confusion as he spared a glance at Amegakure that grew farther and farther behind our backs.

"It'll make them last longer if I don't push in the last piece. I wasn't sure we could get out of the vicinity within forty-five minutes." I answered without looking back. The lesson was from a personally observed experience. More than one hour had already passed, Amegakure had likely realised the abnormality. But even now, these four Ame-nin could still survive, if they had a medic-nin who was careful with their hands.

"So, the Silent Killing Techniques. I didn't even realise you were inside the room until that Root agent had miraculously died. It seemed like those missions you took in Kirigakure weren't all that horrible." Suddenly, Bear spoke up, prompting me to turn and face him. He looked ridiculous, I looked ridiculous as well. However, none of us bothered to clean ourselves in the river seeing that it would still come in handy in the marshland ahead.

"How did you learn about my supposedly secret Anbu missions?" I asked but before he could answer, I remembered with a sigh. "Let me guess, it was Falcon, wasn't it?"

"... Let's just say that we still talk, sometimes." That's a yes, I take it.

"Seriously, he will complain to anything that has an ear," I said while shaking my head. "But yeah, when you're in an area where eight out of ten people know silent killing to some degree, you're bound to pick up something."

After Terumī Mei made her intent of reformation clear, more and more radical Kiri-nin turned to missing-nin every day. Konoha, as always, was very concerned with their whereabouts seeing that we were the island's most immediate landmass. Therefore, although nobody had said it explicitly, the 'Konoha - Kiri Friendship Program' continued. Mei didn't have a problem turning a blind eye on us while playing the sympathising leader who advocated unity as a means of protection as long as we kept to the outskirts and left the bodies behind.

"You make it sound as if anyone can," Bear remarked as we ran. Upon hearing that, I just shook my head again.

"These Silent Killers from Kiri, they are truly extraordinary people. I might be a fast learner because of a certain advantage but for me, the Silent Killing techniques are means to an end. I wanted to learn them because they work wonders when you're trying to infiltrate a camp and assassinate a big target quietly," I explained, remembering the horror, or later on, a morbid sense of wonder when we followed the path of a newly declared missing-nin through a villa, where fifteen percent of the guards - sensors and normal shinobi alike - were paralysed and close to dying and the rest had found nothing wrong until the Water Country Official they had been ordered to protect had died in a much faster way. Those guards had died anyway, being discovered too late without adequate healing.

"It takes a certain mindset, I supposed. For a Silent Killer, their techniques are their life, embedded into every aspect until they reached the state of being able to do it without even consciously trying. I might have copied the surface - and only a small portion of it - but the complete package could never be copied without years of immersing oneself in that kind of environment." There was something special about the land of Kirigakure to be able to raise these extraordinary people who aimed to reach the pinnacle of stealth taijutsu. I didn't know how Danzō had trained his own brand of Silent Killers but it was clear that the mindset didn't completely transfer, no matter how technically perfect they had become.

For one, he had lost an ounce of patience when the scroll had been knocked onto the ground and that was the difference between a Silent Killer from Kirigakure and the ones trained by Root.

"I'm surprised she hasn't tried to kill you yet," Bear exclaimed, half joking, half serious.

"Yeah, she probably would if she had known about it, no matter how much she likes having me around." I was pretty sure Terumī Mei didn't like having me around but she seemed … Curious during the few times I had to meet her on the Hokage's behalf. "I'm not stupid enough to use my imperfect techniques in front of her, or in the whole Water Country, for that matter."

Oops, we might have just blamed this infiltration on Kiri missing-nin. But hey, Mei had a lot on her hands and even she couldn't keep track of all those who had defected.

The working relationship between Kiri and Konoha had finally resembled something stable with a healthy mix of benefits and threats. I'd really hate to be the reason why this beautiful relationship bit the dust.

"It seems like you're doing well, after leading a team yourself." I smiled at Bear's kind words, yet there was a pang of guilt rising in my chest. After I had left Kakashi's team, I never really had much chance to spend time with my former teammates who had helped me so much during my darkest times. There always seemed to be a million things on my plate. It was surprising that I would get the chance to do so here, in the unfamiliar land of Amegakure.

"I'm glad to hear that. We are all very glad to know that." Bear's emphasis on 'we' really wasn't that subtle, seeing that he had followed up with a jittery glance and it squashed my newfound guilt immediately.

"It's been two days, why are you still hung up on the slip-up?" And we had such a good ambience going on here, why, Bear, just why?

"I'm sorry, but I shouldn't have told you that一" I gave him a glare and he instantly changed the sentence midway, "一What I meant to say was, it wasn't my secret to tell."

I supposed that I couldn't blame him for bringing it up. After all, I had shut down the topic last time with a less than amicable tone. However, the journey to Amegakure provided plenty of time for me to think about quite of bit of things, including this one.

"I'm not blaming you, or Kakashi. None of you did anything wrong and I don't need you to tell me that he has my best interests in mind. But you can't stop me from feeling angry and betrayed for that instant." I finally replied, this time, in a softer tone than before. I paused for a moment, before continuing to finish my sentences."

"I think, I really needed a trip away from the village. I was so focused on moving forward and achieving something that I haven't taken a step back and looked at what I have done so far." 'Prioritising', as I had stupidly called it. What was I prioritising? And were those really the only priorities while all those other things I had to push down were not?

I pressed my lips together for a second, mentally giving myself that one last push I needed to confirm a decision that I had been wavering over for too long. "I'm going to tell my brother the truth, preferably sooner rather than later. Everything that I've learned, I'm going to tell him without leaving out anything."

If finding out that Kakashi had kept the speculation of the Uchiha Rebellion from me had already left me that dejected, I couldn't imagine how much damage it would do to Sasuke if I had kept the truth of the Uchiha Massacre from him.

Correction - I could imagine. I had the same experience merely days ago. Yet, I decided not to think about or even revisit that feeling because it hurt. Instead, I tried to find a fix because I had this illusion that this could make the hurt go away and no one - not Sasuke, and especially not me - would ever need to feel it again.

"I don't have a perfect solution and I never will, because this whole thing is as ugly and traumatising as it gets. Whatever reactions he will have, whatever feelings he will feel, we will just have to deal with it together." Perhaps having two minds to share the burden would help us think twice before making horrible decisions, who knows. Now that I had said it, I felt like my mind was in an equilibrium between a newfound relief and an anxiety that burned even brighter than before.

Giving Amegakure one last round of checking, I flashed the Sharingan with the bare minimum of chakra and looked back. So far, no search parties in our direction yet.

"Enough about my problems," I said as I blinked the redness away.

"Why don't you tell me about how you guys are doing while we are travelling back? It might be the last chance to catch up before Danzō sends out a horde to crash the party." I genuinely wanted to know how they were doing. The periodic greetings in the Anbu Headquarter and occasional updates from Kakashi rarely contained anything.

Bear nodded with a smile, but he never really got the chance to start on that topic.

We spun around with our weapons in hand but the man by the river bank just smiled.

"Where are you going? The fun has just begun and you are leaving?" The lazy voice that rang in the air made my blood run colder than the ice. Anyone who tried to greet people with such psychotic choice of words couldn't be good news.

With that unnatural pale blue skin and the slash across his Kirigakure hitai-ate, it was like witnessing a book page come to life.

Hoshigaki Kisame, S-rank missing-nin from Kirigakure no Sato, the Monster of the Hidden Mist.

Ah, damn it. We were so close to getting out of the flooded wasteland as well.

"I wasn't aware that you were working for Amegakure, so are you?" I managed to stay calm and return his 'greeting'. Where did he ... The river. He was hiding in the river, I realised when I saw the water dripping down his sleeves.

"Oh, no, who the hell works for these minor villages, unless they are paying big prices, which isn't the case with Amegakure. I'm just a passerby looking for some fun and people to kill." Definitely psychotic. I thought to myself as the shark-like man took another step closer, sending all of my muscles and nerves into a hyper-alert state.

"Why don't you just ignore us? We have no quarrel with you at the moment, and you don't want to get caught up with us either." As much as I would love to say that hunting down missing-nin was my duty or something, it really wasn't the premise of this mission.

Compared to everything that had happened on our mission in Amegakure, he was the real unpredictable factor that could destroy everything.

Even if we could win the battle, it would definitely take time and make a flashy scene. And in ten minutes, we would probably be surrounded by half a village of Amegakure shinobi. Better yet, if Bear and I had to use any of our identifiable jutsu which would certainly be the case if we wanted to survive against him, we might as well just give away our position to the runaway Root. That would just defeat all purpose of my genjutsu and extinguish any chance of fooling Danzō about our actions.

"That's unfortunate because you have something I want to see." He was definitely the 'fight first, talk later' kind of missing-nin because before he even finished his sentence, he had already started to make hand seals for Water Release: Exploding Water Shock Waves and he had a river behind him.

Immediately, we spun into motion, running through our own sets of hand seals. Within a moment's notice, the missing-nin's wave rose from the river and crashed down like a mini tsunami. Mine arrived a moment later with water pulled from the muddy field.

Two sets of waves, one slightly smaller than the other, slammed against each other. The smaller wave lost after a struggle but it still negated the bigger wave's hunger enough for the spherical wooden wall in front of us to absorb the impact. Sadly, the battlefield was flooded with more water than before.

When the wave descended because of the loss of energy, I only got a moment of peace before a figure emerged from the waterfall. I bent back at the last moment to avoid a punch to my face but the giant sleeve still slid right over me and knocked my mask off. Quickly, I regained my balance and did a spinning kick, pushing him away from me just for a second so that I could flicker away.

The moment that I landed a few metres away, he had already caught up to me. The missing-nin dipped his hand in the water and summoned up a water prison easily. I had just enough time to flicker away once more before the chakra-draining prism could trap me, never planning to rest my steps for even a moment,

The next minute was filled with tag. Every time I flickered away, he would always catch up and make a water prison like some hunter obsessed with trapping his prey. I know it was kind of my job to piss off criminals but what did I ever do to you?

It was very clear from the beginning that he was faster than me in the water. The water was aiding his speed, while I had to constantly spend a lot of chakra just to keep afloat. Thankfully, after the first 'catch me if you can', Bear reacted quickly and started to make wooden columns to block Hoshigaki and that helped to relieve my pressure immensely.

After a body flicker, I landed on one of the wooden columns that stretched horizontally above the ocean. A torrent of marble-like water bullets followed me quickly. Before they could hit me, I hooked the wooden column and jumped down as the bullets whooshed past me. As I dangled on the wooden bridge, I blew out a few successive Great Fireballs before swinging myself back onto the wooden platform again.

As the fireballs crashed towards Hoshigaki, waves of water rose up from his feet and doused the flames. While the water sizzled, Bear caught this rare moment of stillness and raised up a wooden dome that quickly engulfed the missing-nin.

The moment of tranquillity fleeted faster than a shooting star. I didn't even finish inhaling a breath before the man broke out the wooden prison and reduced the columns into splinters with just one wide swing of his sword.

"So it is the Uchiha's Sharingan. Damn, I thought they don't make them anymore." He exclaimed as he rested the giant sword over his shoulder. "This should be really fun, now I really need to keep you here before all the parties can arrive."

If that didn't tell me about leaving as quickly as possible, I didn't know what did. That meant, no more running from confrontations.

However, before I could actually initiate any attack, he disappeared into the mini ocean and popped out in front of me with his huge bandaged sword swinging right at my neck. The clash left my swords vibrating as I struggled to hold on to the hilts despite the shock. When the second strike came, I blocked with my ninjatō again, only to change the trajectory at the last moment and let his giant sword slip past my body. I pressed down on my right foot firmly and pivoted, slashing the tantō at his sword-holding wrist. The tip of the blade scraped past his skin, cutting the sleeve open. Fluidly, my ninjatō arrived at his abdomen, threatening to pierce his kidney. Clank! The giant sword was suddenly switched to his left hand as he took a step back, just in time for him to slam the sword in front of his body and block my attack.

Immediately, he flicked his sword up, the end of the blade splashing out a wave of water that obscured my vision. I flickered backwards and his blade followed in an attempt to slap me aside. With a side flip, I jumped up in the air just as the sword sailed under me. I landed on the tip of his thick blade, already in motion for the next move as soon as my toes found the slightest force to act on. The yin-chakra enhancement on my tantō was activated without a question. Using his giant sword as a temporary platform, I leapt towards him and slashed at his neck.

I was so close to taking his neck off, yet he dodged at the last moment. The coat of yin-chakra only managed to nick his skin, drawing a thin red line against the greyish-blue skin.

At once, I rearranged my position in the air and landed behind him. However, as soon as my feet touched the water, the liquid seemed to have a mind of its own as it tried to claw onto my feet and drag them down. In that split second, he turned around and brought his sword down on me. Without any hesitation, I form the hand seals and activated a wind release with the tasselled strap of the tantō hooked around my finger. The gust of wind slammed into the water, breaking the swirling restraints. The stream of air had just enough force to propel me backwards and help me escape the worst of the blunt attack.

Still, his giant sword of death made contact when I was almost out of range. I had enough time to properly raise my swords and blocked the attack mid-air to the best of my effort. Yet, the power imbued behind that swing was enough to smack my swords back into my own body. The metal made an ugly sound to protest the blunt power it was forced to endure and my ribs made an unhealthy sound just a moment later.

"You have an abundance of yin-chakra, yet you chose to use it for physical combat instead of genjutsu, what a weird kid." I heard him muttering something as he wiped the thin mark on his neck without a shred of concern. Did he just call me weird? From a guy with grey skin?

To be honest, I was kind of expecting his blood to be blue.

He was ready to charge again, eyes locked on me without any intention to hide the bloodlust. However, before he could make a move, Bear appeared behind him and aimed a strike right towards his back. Without a doubt, Hoshigaki reacted quickly and blocked the attack with his arm before swinging his sword in one fluid motion to counter it.

While Bear locked himself in a battle against the missing-nin, I didn't join in immediately. Instead, I sucked in a cold breath, against the stinging pain on my chest. His appearance came as such a shock and I needed to re-evaluate my options.

Seeing the defence he got, I needed something that could pierce through a thick wall. Being a former swordsman of Kirigakure, engaging in a kenjutsu battle with him would definitely be time-consuming and my chances would be average at best, even with Bear at my side.

On the other hand, this nightmarish battlefield was the bane of my ninjutsu. Water, earth and wind releases weren't my strong suit in terms of attacking power and asking me to attack him with fire releases were like asking me to blow a fireball in the middle of an ocean - it was called fighting against the force of nature. Lightning releases seemed to be my best bet to deal high damage, or they could potentially electrocute all of us if not used properly, especially with how skilled our enemy was with manipulating the water.

In front of me, the Kiri missing-nin crashed a giant column of water into my teammate. The impact pushed him backwards, only for him to crack into wooden pieces - a wooden clone. Hoshigaki's eyes widened with surprise at the chunks of wood as a figure rose from the ground behind him without missing a beat.

Bear stabbed his ninjatō towards the heart but it was blocked by the hilt of the missing-nin's sword. For someone carrying that giant monstrosity of what he called a sword, he sure moved quick. Following that momentum, our enemy swiped his sword through the water and brought up a wave. The seemingly fluid water cut open Bear's wooden barrier like butter but it still gave him enough time to counteract the attack with his own water release, disrupting the blade-like edge formed by the water and stopping it in its track.

Before the former Kiri-nin could follow up with another attack, I jumped into the fray. This knee-deep sea might be my worst battlefield, but it sure wasn't Bear's. Spikes made of water shot up from the ground and aimed to impale me. Quickly, I flickered to avoid them as they followed each of my steps, shooting up water violently. Just as my feet touched the water after jumping out of the way of a water spike, I felt the slight swirl of water beneath me.

That spot turned to a whirlpool rapidly and a broken piece of the wooden column was dragged down without any resistance. I appeared at the man's right back corner, switching the swords in an instant so that the tantō rested in my right hand and the longer blade in my left. The giant sword - Samehada, I remembered what it was called – made a backhand strike and sailed in an arc. I ducked my head to avoid the sword before raising my left hand and pushed Samehada – not to hold it back but to move it forward. The force in that small 'clink' exploded the moment my ninjatō touched the other sword, forcing his sword arm wide open. Lightly but firmly, I took a step forward until I was within an arm's length with my enemy.

I slashed the short blade upward as if I were aiming to slice his neck open, the blade already glowing silver, just like before. Already anticipated this coming, my enemy moved his upper body backwards to escape the trajectory of the blade while also thrusting his free hand towards my neck. One jab and I had no doubt my neck would break right there.

Still, I didn't retract my sword and go on the defence. Instead, just as the swing of my sword seemed to lose its steam, I flicked the tantō with my wrist so the tip of the blade sailed over his face, casting a shade of silver. His hand slowed for a moment before reaching the skin on my neck and this time, I wasted no time in getting out of his vicinity.

Catching the rare moment when the genjutsu was taking its effect, my teammate immediately activated his wood release. The first column bashed into the missing-nin's wrist and another wrapped around Samehada and forcibly wrenched it out of his hand while the rest grew vigorously to restrain our enemy.

The genjutsu was long dead, not that I was expecting it to last long. That moment was all I needed to make the hand seals for Fire Release: Fire Dragon Flame Bullets. Long streams of fire that resemble Chinese dragons crashed into the layers of wood that just kept on sprouting from the ground to wrap the missing-nin and his weapon alike into a cocoon. The fire dragons lit up the wooden columns and raged even stronger as it used up the wood as the combustion fuel. In less than a second, it engulfed the missing-nin whole.

Without any excess exchange, Bear and I ran. We both had the feeling that the fire wouldn't keep the S-rank missing-nin restrained for long, and before that happened, we would need to get as far away from him as possible.

We didn't run very far, much to my dismay. When we were barely out of the knee-deep pool, my fire got doused in a whoosh before I saw a freaking water dragon - with a size that was all my fire dragons combined - charging into us from behind.

Before I could do something, my partner had already started to make his own hand seals. Besides being a one-of-a-kind wood release user, Bear was also a kickass water and earth release master. As for Water Release: Water Dragon Bullet, it was the signature of all water release masters.

The same water dragon arose from where Bear was standing with the same impressive size as the enemy's. The two dragons clashed violently, sending shockwaves through the air and the water. Nevertheless, Bear's water dragon successfully held off the attempt made by our enemy to flood us. The trouble was far from over because there were sharks charging at us and Hoshigaki Kisame was on top of one of them.

The scene of sharks riding the waves would have been majestic, if not for the smug man standing on the back of a shark with an oversized bat.

Still, even before the water dragons broke apart, I had already unsheathed both of my swords and started to send impulses of lightning chakra down the blades.

The chirping electricity gathered at the blades and I did not hesitate to put in everything I could by compressing the chakra further and further. As soon as the sharks were revealed behind the veil of waterfall created by the earlier clashes, I struck the two swords together and the small 'clink' was soon overwhelmed by the crackling noise as six lightning dragons shot out of the blades and went straight for the field full of sharks.

There was no time for warnings before the dragons blasted the sharks into pieces as it coursed through the water, frying everything in its path.

We stood on the outcrops of the rocky field and observed warily as the water slammed into the stones and splashed everywhere, causing bursts of electricity to jump up now and then.

When the flash finally died down, I couldn't find any signs of a body, alive or charred. Instantly, my body tensed in preparation for a surprise attack, until I realised that there was something missing in the water that used to be everything.

He was gone, along with all of his chakra infused in the water.

"Shit, that was only a clone," I cursed with a mixed feeling in my chest. On the one hand, I felt frustrated that a clone had forced me to waste so much chakra; on the other hand, I couldn't help but feel lucky that it was just the clone, despite the fact that this highly functional clone had just destroyed any chance that we had for returning to Konoha unnoticed.

"We need to go, they'll be onto us soon." I nodded immediately at Bear's words. Bear did not specify who he had referred to as 'they' - The Amegakure shinobi, the Root agent, or both. But either way, I wanted to get the hell out of here before the real missing-nin appeared.

Quietly, we slipped away without ever looking back, running fervently to put as much distance between us and Amegakure as possible.

"It's a two-day journey back to Konoha but since we're not taking the most predictable path, it will take two and a half days," I said, pointing at the drawing on the sand that was made of lines only we could make out. After three hours of running, we were ready to discuss the inevitable journey back to Konoha.

"The message takes one day, maybe? If he is using the same ink bird as before, that is. Let's say Root travels at the same speed as us, that means the next day is relatively safe to recover the chakra but we would probably be stepping into Root's scouting range around the middle of our second day." I muttered quietly under my breath, trying to figure out a plausible timeline.

"The last day's journey will be in the Fire Country's forest. The vegetation is thick, it wouldn't be the worst place to play hide and seek with Root," Bear said and I agreed silently. Anything was better than the open fields of water at this point. "Anyway, I think we should notify Hokage-sama."

I looked up and paused for a moment before nodding slowly. "You're right. Danzō's going to need a lot of Root agents to catch us. If we're going to get fucked up, Kakashi better takes advantage of this and find that damn base if he hasn't done so already."

"That's not quite I was hoping for but I guess that makes sense too." Bear looked like he was holding in an exasperated sigh. "Perhaps our allies in Konoha could provide more direct help than that."

You mean praying that Hokage-sama actually did some work while we are away and finally figured out that mysterious identification seal I have heard so much about? I didn't think Bear deserved that much sarcasm packed in one sentence, so all I did was nod at his words.

"You think we can get a hawk from one of the border stations?" I asked. We didn't bring any means of communication with us, seeing that the cover story was that we never left, not that it worked in fooling anyone.

"We might want to avoid identifying ourselves to Konoha border stations and patrols. There's always the possibility of a spy and the last thing we need is exposing our exact point of entry." He brought up a good point.

"Then I guess we will have to steal, I mean, borrow one from them without asking," I said with nonchalance. It would be fine. People borrowed resources all the time in times of need.

"Meanwhile, just try to keep the chakra recovering at a constant rate." Casually, I wiped the ground with my feet and erased any traces of our abstract map. I looked past the long stretch of marshland ahead of us and caught the dot-sized trees that seemed to emerge past the horizon. "We've got a long journey ahead of us."

(づ。◕‿‿◕。)づ fuwa~fuwa~desu~~~

"Damn it, Itachi! If only you had been faster, we could have gotten here before the Ame-nins." Itachi listened to his partner's complaints and he had no intention of reacting in any way, shape or form. By the looks of things, a quick skirmish happened here that resulted in Kisame's clone - a water clone mixed with shadow clone properties - dissipating.

When they had arrived after much nagging from Kisame's part, the Ame-nins had already started to examine the scene. Since Konan was with them, she had absolutely forbidden them from marching up to the field and demanding a clearance. So, they had to wait until the Ame-nins left before they could step up and examine the scene, much to Kisame's anger.

"We could just go kill everyone and blame it on the two Konoha shinobi I had fought with earlier if the stern lady wasn't here to stop us." Kisame turned his face to Konan, giving her an expression that said nothing but murder. To her credit, all Konan did was stare back dispassionately.

"Or you could have just killed the Konoha-nin while you still had the chance." Needless to say, Konan couldn't care less about Kisame's murderous intents. One of her paper origami flew towards the scene and as soon as it had touched the water, it was engulfed by a current of electricity.

On the other side of the field, the Ame-nin only stayed at the site for a few minutes and after some of them got electrocuted when they stepped in the water (which made Kisame laughed sadistically), they left with sour faces.

"I didn't expect that girl to have the guts to electrocute me while standing in the middle of a pond. She would have been sucked dry if it was the real Samehada. You can't trust anything with those 30% fakes," Kisame complained as he swung his giant sword into the water. Immediately, Samehada broke free of its constraints and flexed its teeth to devour the lightning chakra left in the water.

"Then why do you keep sending it to do your job?" Konan commented. Itachi wasn't sure if her ability to send Kisame into raging fits with every word was intentional or just instinctual. Either way, he approved.

Itachi stared at the flooded field. No matter how much of a glutton Samehada was, it couldn't erase the gut-wrenching feeling brought by this familiar chakra signal that screamed for his attention. Why was she here, now of all times? If she had come even an hour later ... If he could, he was sure that he would be drenched in cold sweat by now.

"You are not going to believe this, but I saw the Sharingan, so either that Uchiha came from Konoha, or another one of your kins has gone off the rocker." His partner directed the conversation back to him, having temporarily forgotten about slaying Konan in order to pursue his curiosity. Still, even with all the eyes on him, he just stayed like a stone statue and let out an ambiguous 'Hn' as an answer.

"I thought you killed your whole family?" So why is there still one of your species running around? Itachi mentally sighed at his partner's unvoiced question. Technically, he never said he had killed his whole family, Kisame just assumed without checking the reliability of that important information. However, with the cold hard glare from Konan behind him, Itachi knew that he needed to say something that only a psychopath would say.

"Sharingan are hard to harvest and the Mangekyou even more so. I left my sister alive because I still need her eyes. Her eyes were so pathetically weak when I massacred the rest of them, there was no point in taking her eyes until they are developed," Itachi said with a chilling calmness, spitting out the speech he had rehearsed so many times in his head until he had almost believed it himself. Almost, but never had.

"Well, that's why I told you to go faster, you punk. You would have had her eyes if we were five minutes earlier. Hell, I would have even let you have the pleasure of gouging her eyes out yourself and that's a huge honour coming from me," Kisame rambled in his usual sense of bloodlust. His partner never cared for his comments and threats, and if Itachi wanted to stay under his cover, he shouldn't either.

"We are not supposed to start a fight before this. There is no point anyway, it's only a matter of time before I acquire her eyes." Itachi said in a voice that was stripped of all emotional colour, despite knowing that he had said more than he would ever say on any normal day.

Still, just for the sake of it, Itachi gave Konan a bland look that silently asked, "Can I go after them?"

"Itachi is right. Pein's order was to stay around the village, not stir up any trouble that can warn other hidden villages of the true change that's about to come. We have caused enough trouble here, Pein will not be pleased," the woman said almost in a rhythmic voice with a rare intonation in her voice.

"Then what the hell do you need us for? He can slaughter the entire Amegakure all by himself if he wants - don't tell me he doesn't think so. You told us to get rid of anyone running away from the village because you wanted to 'make sure' and now you're unhappy? Our time could have been spent elsewhere instead of coming here and playing guards." Kisame growled and despite their differences in fundamental motivations, Itachi was inclined to agree. If he hadn't needed to come here, he wouldn't have had to be questioned about his sister, his family, and everything.

"I said after it starts," Konan emphasised, not at all fazed by the menacing sword pointed at her. She paused for a moment, her brows tightened slightly as if she were trying to debate something.

"Leave them be, they are not here for Hanzō." Finally, she stated. As for how she got that information, Itachi had an idea with how the paper cranes fluttered around her before returning to her body. As for why she decided not to pursue them, that was left to the imagination.

Suddenly, a paper crane flew to her, fluttering its wings like crazy. Konan narrowed her eyes at the metallic village against the sunset backdrop.

"Bored? There's a bounty mission in Kusagakure that hasn't been completed yet. It's yours, but not now. It's going to start soon." Without any further ado, she turned around and walked away without sparing the flooded field or Kisame another glance.

Of course, Kisame cursed and protested relentlessly. No S-rank missing-nin liked to be ordered around but Akatsuki gave them enough freedom that most of them knew that the long-term benefits outweighed the temporary displeasure. So quickly, he followed Konan with a murderous face as Itachi trailed behind without any sense of urgency.

After all, it was such a rare moment of peace where he wasn't explicitly ordered to hunt down his sister.

Before he left, he saw the protruding porcelain mask that was half buried in the mud - a Konoha issued Anbu mask. The cat ears and the whisker paints stuck out from the mud like a sore thumb. The mask laid in such a weird angle, making it look like someone behind the mask was buried there.

Without any warning, the space was distorted and a man faded into existence. He picked up the mask and wiped the mud off of the surface, revealing the beautiful white colour underneath.

Itachi swore that the man waved at him with the mask before he was once again sucked in by the distorted space.

So, this arc will reach its end soon, probably in three or so chapters after this, so don't expect a smooth ride XD.