Author's Note:I am SOOOOO sorry about the incredibly long wait, but I have been very busy, and, as soon as all that business ended, I got sick, so I couldn't write. I got a bit disinterested, but I remembered that I swore to finish this…someday, so I managed to type up this chapter. It's pretty short, but that's because I took a big part of this chapter out and made it into another chapter, primarily because I couldn't finish that part and wanted to put this chapter up. I'll try to get the next one done as soon as possible, really. Adun and Ponytailed Slacker: I wouldn't let Talim…well, you know. Maxi ain't that kind of pirate…Plus, this fic is PG-13, and Talim's fifteen (pedophilia galore in the R-Rated version, though…just joking). Jade: Thanks for the concrit as usual. Obviously, I lied about what I said in my 'review,' but I'll pay up in time. Now, you're all probably tired of these wretched A/N's, so her comes the chapter. Warning: Taki, Yunsung, and Geki abuse (guess who Geki is right now, before reading the chapter, correctly, and you'll get something special). This chapter might seem a bit rushed…because it is. Forgive my ineptitude, I beseech you. Tell me if my Japanese is rusty, too.

Disclaimer: You know the drill.

Chapter XVI – Disillusioned

"She saved you!"

Hwang Sung Kyung's voice carried amazingly well through the quiet, surprisingly brisk air of northern Pusan. It was darker now, now that night had fallen and a more comfortable cloak of darkness had covered fiery day and its own shroud. Fires were framed neatly but menacingly in the distance, where the garrison of the Koreans had been, but that fortress was now controlled by the invaders, the Japanese army and navy. They had taken over swiftly, rooting out all remaining soldiers. Though the both wished to fight the assailants of their homeland, wounds, confusion, and the jolting shock of Admiral Lee Sun Shin's sudden death at the hands of a mercenary had crushed their momentary spiritual surge. Instead, despite desire to stay, the two fled into the coming morn, just as blood-red, the pallid crimson of their comrade's life fluid stained the borders of the horizon. Now, they crouched in the mud and soot, tempered with debris borne by dainty streams of rainwater from the newly arrived storm, in a dank alley away from the commotion of the Japanese looters beginning to assault the town in earnest.

It had taken the hapless boy, Hong Yunsung, nearly ten minutes to muster the courage and strength of heart to outpour his story to Hwang as the knelt and panted, saddened and befuddled in the checkered shade of the gingko trees and vine-like branches that hung over the rooftops of each house they were between. He had managed, at last, to tell his companion the truth about what had happened to him and the now-forsaken ninja. Before, he had fabricated a story for the sake of his ego, but the veil of misery and strange, unaccustomed pain that had washed over him made his stomach lurch when thinking of his outright lie. Now, though, he feared he'd made a dire mistake. As soon as he'd concluded his tale, Hwang, who'd been brooding wide-eyed, had turned bright red, veritable steam pouring from his furiously quivering ears, and charged, bearing down on the boy.

"I was trying to tell you, I swear!" Yunsung said meekly, cringing and backing up against the wall of the house. Usually, he would've exploded right back and stared down his elder egotistically, but his severe arrogance was diminished now that he'd seen, and wrought, so much death. He felt emptier than ever he was before, more a shell then he'd been, and soulless in a way he hoped and prayed he'd never feel again. The blood on his hands, now dry crusts of material peeling away from his sweaty flesh, felt fresh and wet as when first it had been spilled. This disgusted Yunsung to no end, nauseated him, and soured his taste for egotism or pride. He tried in vain to calm Hwang, but the Korean seemed insatiable.

"That information could've been crucial!"

"How, Hwang, how?" Yunsung cried, honestly asking. He could not see what use telling Hwang the truth could've been at the time. The true story and the fabricated one were actually quite similar, another reason why the reason for Hwang's rage eluded him. Of course, his question was answered, very loudly, for him a moment later as Hwang grabbed his shoulder with a firm, closing fist. "Suicidal ninjas attacking and some crazy kunoichi fighting them is not an every day occurrence, kid, not by a long shot! There's something more, and you didn't tell me or Admiral Lee! You LIED to us, Yun!"

Yun cowered even more, trying to pull his shoulder, which was still throbbing painfully from an earlier injury. "I'm…I'm sorry." He croaked lightly, but the very sound of Hwang's breath hammering down on him made it impossible to hear his apology. "You think I don't know that?" The other man roared back, wrapping the cold digits of his other hand around Yun's other shoulder and pushing him against the wall with incredible force. Yun's mild injury suddenly blossomed open were it collided with the rough-hewn wall and beads of blood formed on his side, but Hwang ignored them, throwing Yun onto the ground and into the dirt with a murderous look in his fiery, incensed eyes.

"It wasn't my fault she saved me!" He said again, his groping fingers latching onto the jutting crags of rock on the malformed wall and hauling him steadily to his feet as he nearly slipped back down again into a waiting puddle congregated below him. Suddenly, Hwang's hands shot forward again, clasping his arms, and yanked him wholly to his feet, the man's face now an inch from him and hot breath flooding from it. "It WAS your fault that you lied to us!" He cried, causing Yun to shudder uncomfortably, he tried to reply commandingly, but all that came out was a defeated yelp barely escaping his ragged, gasping throat. "That wouldn't have made a difference."

"You had to be arrogant, didn't you?!" Hwang roared again, hurling him down with a painful thump.

"What are you talking about?" Yun shot back incredulous, knowing full well what he meant.

"You said you were talking to her. You didn't ask her anything. You just accepted that you were being attacked by ninjas?"

At this, Yun shot to his feet, uncoiling his legs nimbly from beneath and, with a delicate splash of mucky puddle water, landed on his own two feet before Hwang, brandishing an upturned finger and fist in his face angrily. He did not entirely know what had triggered this passionate insanity in his fotmer friend and tranquil comrade but, regardless of what he didn't know, he did know that he had to make Hwang understand his position. "She was holding a knife to my throat!" He bellowed, but Hwang's open palm sent him back down, crumbling into the mud ignobly as Hwang, seething and fuming, stood over him with one hand inching uncontrollably towards the gleaming blade at his side. "But you had to be arrogant. You just had to be conceited."

"I was NOT conceited, Hwang!"

"You were always arrogant, always!"

Involuntarily, Yun's hand dove towards the blood-stained blade dangling at his hip. He yanked it from his scabbard and, not thinking, slashed forward. Hwang's gleaming weapon was out before Yun's and parried it duly, knocking it aside with flawless ease. Yun, realizing too late what he was doing, weakened his grip, his heart pounding in his ears. Hwang, though, ignored his sudden halt, and his blade crashed down on Yunsung's, knocking it from his feeble grasp and into the mud. It lay there, spattered with murky brown and dark red, awaiting Yun's hand. Suddenly, Hwang's sword dipped down, slid beneath Yun's weapon, and threw it up swiftly. Bewildered, Yun caught it in midair. He then looked at his once-rival, whose eyes were filled with a fire that Hong Yunsung had never seen their before. "You want to fight me, hmm?" he growled, "You wanted to before, right? Well, FIGHT!"

"Hwang, please, I don't want to." Yun pleaded pathetically, unsure of what to do. "Not now…please."

"Your always running your damn mouth about how you'll beat me. Gonna beat me now, Yun?"

"Please…Hwang…I'm not going to fight…"


Hwang, his eyes and face alight with a dark, searing fire, lunged forward, crashing into Yunsung at full-speed. Yun managed to pull up his blade, bewildered, and parried Hwang's tearing slash, but the Korean's fist caught him squarely in the jaw. His legs wobbling uncontrollably, he slid across the muddy alleyway, his free hand scratching at the stone wall in an attempt to find something to hold onto. He could find nothing, and slid in turn down the length of the wall, feeling murky mud-water seep through his clothes as he splashed down into a waiting puddle. As he tried in vain to get up, he felt a searing bolt of fiery pain lance through him, coursing up and down his arm. His blade fell from his hand again as he instinctively grabbed at the spot that now accosted him with so much discomfort. To his horror and surprise, he felt warm blood in his palm. His shoulder blossomed red, like a bright flower, and Yun staggered. His eyes, which had been forcefully sealed, opened suddenly, just in time to see Hwang, panting heavily, bury a tightly clenched fist in the mortar beside him. Coughing up blood which fell from his lips and mingled with the brown water beneath, Yun fell to his knees. His drooping head managed to rise just a little, his blurred vision focusing on Hwang.

He was just in time to see his rival's fist shooting towards his skull…

And then, all he saw was darkness…

The first sensation that Taki felt when she awoke was not what someone else would've felt, like pain, or annoyance. Her very first thought, before her eyes had even opened, was that of restrained anger, though she could barely remember why she was angry. After barely a second, the whole memory of her imprisonment by the Koreans, her encounter with Oda Nobunaga, and her fight with Mitsurugi flooded back uncomfortably. She let slip an involuntary wince as her honed senses ran over every thing she'd felt, including the reptilian hand of Oda on her cheek, and Mitsurugi's groping fingers curled around her throat and squeezing. Thankfully, the moment of remembrance passed quickly, and she turned to the analysis of her environment.

She shot up, which, in retrospect, may not have been the best idea, since she had no means to prevent herself from falling down again, which happened promptly. Groaning in annoyance, she realized that her hands where bound, in a particularly painful way, behind her. Lying down on a cold floor, she managed to push herself up into a sitting position and, feeling behind her with numb fingers, found the wall, which she leaned on, trying to find a comfortable position to sit in. She looked around, trying to take everything in. It was too dark for her to see well, but, as a ninja, she could rely on her abilities to work out where she was. She was, as best as she could tell, in a small, cramped cell, whose walls seemed to be made of sturdy wood inlaid with some powerful metal. Some gentle but disquieting light could be seen through a two-barred grate in a door at the far end of the room. Otherwise, it was all blatantly obvious. She was imprisoned in a holding cell of the garrison. Taki entertained the possibility that she'd been transported to an invader ship while she was unconscious, but the floor felt solid and unmoving beneath her, so she ruled that out.

At the moment she didn't feel inclined to attempt escape. She was hungry, thirsty, tired, and a number of other things. Her throat still hurt from being grabbed constantly, and her wrists were in pain because of the tight, course bonds restraining them. She had a pounding headache, and could've continued mentally complaining if she felt it necessary, but didn't. Instead, Taki let herself slide back down the wall of the cell again and contemplated her position. She was going to be a prize, first for Oda, but then for the Fu-Ma, her ninja clan. They would pay the most and do whatever was needed to get her back. Oda Nobunaga's little auction was useless, a pointless endeavor, since the Fu-Ma would certainly outbid, outfight, and outdo all other competitors. Toki needed Taki, and her sacred, powerful weapons. If anyone removed her from this prison, it would be him and his clan.

Some days, Taki couldn't even remember why she was hunted by the Fu-Ma. She seldom wished her life were different, but if anything in her existence could be altered, it would be her allegiance and betrayal of those ninjas. They hunted her daily, without tiring or ceasing, and someday, maybe someday soon, they would catch up with her. The seeds of dissent had been planted in her early, but Taki had never expected to actually flee from the Fu-Ma, become a fugitive. She still held vivid memories of the times when she first questioned her faith. The memories were emblazoned into her mind, irremovable and biting, their caustic effect lingering in her…

"Again! Stop watching his eyes, start watching his hands; that is where the danger is!"

A young Taki, barely sixteen summers old, nodded obediently, but kept her eyes focused on those of her opponent. The deep orbs, focused and precise, looked across the thin mat on the floor to her foe, her small fingers curling around her blades, a pair of delicate but broad kunai. The kunai, sitting in her gentle and tranquil grip, were originally tools for digging in provincial farmlands, but they were ideal for the training on ninjas. They resembled ninjatou, but could be easily dulled or sharpened, and they weighed more, which made them devices for developing the skills of balance in ninja trainees. Taki had had these kunai for years now, and had never used another weapon save a duo of jittes, wooden blades, as a child. She'd begun intense, relentless training and practicing with real, lethal weaponry at age eight, and continued to do so rigorously. Today was no different, except that she had a score to settle.

Taki had never liked Geki, this she knew, and she didn't like him anymore now. He had never been a person she could stand, and she disliked even spending time in the same room with him. Of course, that was almost definitely why Master Toki had chosen him to be her opponent in this exercise, a sparring session where Taki was supposed to learn how to physically immobilize an opponent without causing bodily harm to him or her. Toki no doubt knew that Geki's dank, scathing attitude would provoke her, especially in her current state of mind. She was on edge, senses both sharpened and dulled at once by a flood of emotions. Her contemporaries and fellow students had tried to blame her violent mood swings on the simple advancement of age, but anyone with half a mind knew that ninja discipline didn't let such things happen for trivial reasons. She had, or at least thought she had, a very good reason for her attitude.

In a ninja dojo, it was very hard to relate to anyone, as most were trained to show as little emotion as possible when conversing or discoursing with fellow students. In a dojo, friends were a rare commodity, one which some valued and others despised. Taki was one of those who only valued it subtly, but gossip traveled surprisingly fast in a place were secrets were ruthlessly hoarded like gold. Taki had only one true friend in Fu-Ma No Sato, and that was a girl some months older than herself, a more disciplined individual by the name of Nariko. Nariko had helped Taki when she required focus and sought it and she befriended her in a way no other bothered to. But, she was yet untamed by Fu-Ma ideals, and had openly opposed the sensei of the dojo, Toki, on too many occasions. As she grew in age and wisdom, she became more aggressive against old Toki's teachings, and listened less and less. Though Taki implored her not to, she continued to do so.

At last, two weeks prior, Nariko had stolen from Fu-Ma No Sato by night, leaving a dojo which new what would become of her. As all students who fled were, she was labeled a nuke-nin, a renegade, an outcast, and was wanted by the Fu-Ma. Geki was one of the ninjas, along with his shady cronies, Gaki and Doki, who went off to seek Nariko and bring her home. Of course, she was not supposed to be returned alive, and sure enough wasn't. Three days after his departure, Geki and his motley crew had returned with very valid 'proof' that Nariko had been slain by his hand. Taki, who been concerned after Nariko's flight, was nearly devastated by her exile and sudden death, but did not show it. It was as much a crime to pity a nuke-nin as it was to be one, so she pulled all her petty sorrows into herself and walled them away from the outside world, but became removed from dojo society, and all new why.

"What's the matter, little Taki?" Geki, his sugary tenor lancing out at her from across the room, "Afraid I'll do some permanent damage this time? Just be glad that hair grows back, but limbs don't." Taki knew he was referring to their last sparring session, which had occurred when Taki was younger still. It had concluded with Taki losing some hair from her head to an idle swing from what she'd though was a blunt ninjatou. Geki had been reprimanded more than a little firmly for such a brash action, but had come away laughing idiotically, while Taki came away from the fight with renewed hatred for Geki. Now, with similar, but passionate hatred for the man, she snapped back at him darkly. "Shut up, Geki!"

"Heh, I thought you'd grown, Taki, but you still sound like a child."

"Master Toki!" Taki protested, her eyes turning to the wizened, friendly face that sat, looking nonchalantly at her. Her master, and the master of the Fu-Ma, Master Toki, sat cross-legged on a small, elaborate tatami mat on one side of the room with several other occupied mats around him. Toki, his deep eyes, great wells of memory and experience, peered with gentle sincerity but residual sternness at Taki. "He may say what he pleases, Taki-kun." said Toki quietly to his young pupil and foster daughter, "If his words deter your abilities, it is your fault."


"Yudan taiteki, Taki-kun, remember." said Toki with a commanding air, his voice gentle and melodious as if speaking in singsong. He was merely quoting an old saying, one of the sections of generic ninja creeds and regulations. It was a sort of commandment or proverb, though most of the younger ninjas referred to these irritating non sequiturs that their master would spout at seemingly random intervals as 'fortune cookies.' Toki was a wise man, not yet old, but not young any longer. At a very young age, Taki had been technically adopted by him, or at least taken in. All his students looked to him as a sage-like father figure, so Taki never suffered from the illusion that Toki was her parent. Still, though, she did have a special love for him, like that of a daughter to a father. They had spent much time together, learning. The old man had helped young Taki thrive and she inwardly thanked him for it, though she had never shown her gratitude.

"Yes, sensei," she said, begrudgingly, "I know."

"Yeah, Taki," snarled Geki, chuckling ominously, " don't let emotion 'cloud your judgment,' eh? You can do better."

His constant chiding was grating on Taki's last nerve. "Onore," she spat, "I'll make you eat your words yet!"

"Taki-kun!" said Toki loudly, alerted by Taki's cursing at her fellow student, "Focus!" Obviously the man knew of Taki's problem and dislike of Geki, but he would not let the exercise get out of hand, or follow the wrong course, because of it. He was wise in the feelings of his pupils, his students, his children, and, like a shepherd to his flock, he did not let those of his herd go astray, never…unless there was nothing he could do to prevent such undesirable actions. Only three people had ever abandoned the Fu-Ma, which was few compared to many ninja clans, but every loss was a dire one. One student had recently fled the dojo in Fu-Ma No Sato, much to Toki's chagrin, and he'd been forced to issue a warrant for her death, as much as he didn't want to. He did not talk of such things, but, much to his annoyance, Geki did, and picked a very bad time to bring up the incident in conversation.

"Right, little kunoichi, focus!" retorted Geki, "Or do you wanna be kicked out and end up a nuke-nin like Nariko?"

Toki nearly shot up from his mat, along with some other esteemed members of the exercise's audience. Even though Geki was technically allowed to say anything to Taki as a distraction, this had touched on an untouchable subject. Slain nuke-nin were not to be spoken of by name, ever. It was wrong even to discuss them not by name, but to mention them was blasphemous to the clan. A dead nuke-nin was a dead nuke-nin, no more, no less. But, this was not the only reason Toki jumped. He knew that the subject was dear to Taki, and conjuring it in such a derogatory fashion was not advisable. "Geki!" he cried, protesting.

But it was too late.

Taki dove headfirst across the room, both kunai spinning in her hands, rotating wildly. The glint of the two blunted tools seemed radiant and grim, as if it were being sharpened by Taki's anger. Eyes blazing with fierce flame, Taki plowed into Geki, both her weapons slashing at him frantically, she cut a number of minor gashes into the length of each of his arms, and all of them exuded little spurts of red at the same instant. Geki fell, his blades clattering onto the cushioned floor and the red pouring from his wounds spilling with them. He yelped feverishly, beads of sweat erupting from his forehead. The farm tools were not supposed to hit his unprotected arms, or do any damage whatsoever. The wounds he received would easily become infected considering the quality of the weapon used. He looked up through tearing eyes to see Taki over him, nearly straddling him, with one kunai at his throat.

"NEVER speak that name again, baka, or I'll slit your throat were you stand!" she growled murderously.

"Get over it, Taki." Panted Geki, still managing to smile evilly despite the pain, " You know she's not coming back…At least not now, anyway."

"I said shut up about her!"

Suddenly, ignoring the daggers that were stabbing at him inside and out, Geki kicked up, surprising Taki. The young ninja nearly flipped backward as Geki shot to his feet. Before Taki could react, Geki dashed forward and, grabbing her wrists firmly, drove her back past the assembled congregation and into the nearest wall. A second later, Taki found her weapons gone, her arms pinned above her, and Geki's face an inch from hers, which was twice as disgusting as being in the same room as him. "She was a dirty traitor and you know it!" he whispered, his breath repulsing her.

Taki searched for a quick and easy way to cause incredible pain to her opponent. She found one. After less than a second of thinking, Taki's foot went up, finding Geki's most vulnerable and protected part, right between his legs. Gasping in pain, Geki staggered, dragging Taki with him onto the ground. He was still holding onto her wrists in a weak attempt to immobilize his rival, an attempt which was, at present, failing miserably. She kicked him again, harder, and he released her, but not before driving his clenched, white-knuckled fist into her chest. Before either knew what was happening, the two ninja students were punching, clawing, and doing anything to each other that might cause pain. They rolled around for about ten seconds before strong hands, prying like crowbars, managed to separate the two of them, who madly struggled to get back into the fight.

Taki looked up, her gaze swimming. Taking sharp, deep breaths, she stopped struggling and relaxed. She was being held back unnecessarily by Gaki and Doki, the two 'colleagues' of Geki's. Geki, on the other hand, had a pair of anonymous students who'd come simply to watch. Taki thought it ironic that Geki's cronies had chosen to haul her off of their leader to prevent his injury by a young girl rather than try to nobly prevent their companion from harming a weak and defenseless youth. But, now was not the time to consider irony, obviously, considering the dark look Master Toki had on his face.

"Geki! Taki!"

"It was his damned fault," Taki spat, angered again, "if he hadn't brought up-"

"Quiet! Taki-kun," Toki said, in the fashion a teacher should, " the objective of the training exercise was to stun your opponent, not attempt to kill him." He made a little waving gesture with his wrinkled hand and the two students let Geki fall to the floor. He looked unscathed, despite the cuts on his arms and the fact that his hand couldn't stop flitting to his most injured section, to Taki's sadistic pleasure. She on the other hand, had a black eye and was bleeding at the mouth. Gaki and Doki intentionally waited an extra few seconds before letting Taki go, and when they did, they threw her onto the floor forcefully. This elicited a disapproving glance from Toki, but he disregarded them. Slowly, he knelt before Taki as she wiped the blood from her lips. "You acted rashly and stupidly," he said, cold eyes narrowed and glaring with the precision of knives, "and you'll try again tomorrow, and you'll follow the parameters of the exercise. Is that clear?"

"Yes, sensei. Forgive me." said Taki, bowing her head apologetically.

"Geki, Gaki, Doki, leave us." Toki commanded. They all obeyed, though Geki kept shooting dark glances at Taki over his shoulder, to which she did not respond. Geki, his cronies, and the two students exited silently and Toki, with a fatherly look crossing his face, turned back to his foster daughter.

"Taki, I know you still feel self-conscious about Nariko."

"No, sensei, I was simply in a bad mood." Taki knew what was coming next and she truly didn't want to hear it today. She, like the other Fu-Ma students and ninjas were used to Toki's zealous but tedious tirades. Today, whoever, Taki would much rather be fighting Geki still than be lectured by her master. She waited quietly, steadying herself, for the tempered reprimand to begin, which it soon did. She felt pain in her, physical and mental; pain from Geki blows and from his unspoken words. Of all Fu-Ma ninjas, she hated him most. Each day she hated him more, and each day her love of the Fu-Ma died a little bit more.

"Don't lie to me, Taki-kun," Toki said, almost scolding (a strange sight to see in a ninja master), "I can see right through your false statements. Everyone in the Fu-Ma dojo knows that you and Nariko were close, and I know further that her unfortunate loss affected you. It was her choice to abandon Fu-Ma No Sato, not yours, her mistake." He stopped, hesitating, and sighed, shaking his head sadly for an instant before continuing. "It was only bad luck that you had to see her returned to us, certainly. I would not have wished such a fate upon her, but discipline must be exercised. That is most important to the Fu-Ma. Discipline. You can remember Nariko in what way you wish to, but she is gone, she is nothing. You, Taki, you are something…do not ruin your chances of becoming great. You have been given strength and power, do not squander those qualities. Remember where your loyalties lie…"

And her reverie ended on that note. Loyalties, or at least hers, never lay still. Taki's loyalties had long since strayed from the Fu-Ma, and her master. She was hunted by them, hated by them, and they sought her day by day. If all went ill for her, she would be auctioned back to them, and she knew what would become of her then. She would pay for her disloyalty. Taki, as a ninja of the Fu-Ma, knew how harsh they were with traitors. But, she was a special case. Toki didn't want her dead; he wanted her alive, an unprecedented incident in Fu-Ma history. Geki was now one-armed, thanks to Taki's explosive evil blade, MekkiMaru, currently confiscated by that Korean boy. He probably hated her just as much as she hated him. Her thoughts were promptly interrupted by a blaring blast of light that beamed radiantly through the cell door, which had just swung limply open. In the illuminated threshold of the door an all-too-familiar figure stood.

"Doing well?" Heishiro Mitsurugi said, some wry sarcasm sitting in his voice.

"Go away." Taki snapped back, pushing herself up and trying to look less helpless than she was. Mitsurugi chuckled under his breath, moving with very little caution into the room. She looked up at him darkly, but turned away a moment later. "You really don't have any authority to tell me that." He remarked, a sardonic chill very evident in his gruffer, but still lighter voice. Crossing his arms nonchalantly, he began to pace towards her, ambling across the room before he actually neared her. Taki looked up defiantly, but remained turned away, managing to inch backward into one of the room's dull corners, where even less light reach from the door's grate and the outside.

"You're right, General, I don't."

"I'm not a General." He replied briskly, "Nobunaga's given me command of the Urakami troops, no more."

He was moving closer, but not in a menacing way. Perhaps the ronin actually thought Taki to be helpless. The ninja had to admit that her bonds would not be easily broken, but she was still dangerous. She didn't understand why Mitsurugi was taking so few precautions, but disregarded the fact as good luck on her part and snapped back, continuing the poetic stream of insults. "Do I look like I care?" Mitsurugi smiled grimly in response, pacing aimlessly around the room as if he were musing about something. "No, not a bit," he said coldly, "but I didn't ask if you did."

"Good, don't."

Suddenly, he stopped pacing and looked down in a condescending fashion at the ninja. Slowly, wary and cautious, he bent down, squatting on the floor. He produced a small flask from the innards of his uniform. "Taki, I do have a reason for being here." Taki's eyes had the precision of daggers when she glared back up at him. Most men might've flinched, expecting imminent pain, but Mitsurugi didn't. In fact, the ronin looked bored. Trying to incite some reaction, Taki spoke under her breath, but loud enough so that Mitsurugi would hear. "And I thought you'd just come to check up on me out of the goodness of your heart." Mitsurugi's gaze sharpened, but he didn't look incensed…yet.

"You can save the sarcasm, ninja. I brought water."

"Isn't Oda starving me or something?"

"Yes, but he doesn't want you dead." Mitsurugi said, his expression dull.

"I've been here a few hours at most. Does he think I'm already starving?"

"No. I brought the water." Mitsurugi seemed as if he did not want to admit the fact. Taki could understand why, and even sympathize, though she didn't show it. She would never give the ronin any satisfaction, none, for as long as she lived. She'd be willing to do almost anything if it made him angry, uncomfortable, or in any manner of bad mood. She looked away from him, feigning disdain. "Good for you. I don't want it." Mitsurugi glared at her, but did not retract the hand with the flask in it. He did wonder for a second if she would've preferred cold sake, but realized he didn't give a damn about what she preferred. He knelt down lower, settling onto the hard, cold ground, and offered the drink again.

"I'm giving it to you know because he won't let me in here again for another week and a half. If you don't drink up…"

"I can survive on my own, Heishiro." She responded quietly. Mitsurugi winced at the use of the name.

"Don't call me that. You should be thanking me."

Taki looked incredulous. "For pity?" she said, "I don't need that from somebody who needs it more."

"You want what I have to give or not?"

"Not a bit. I recommend you leave, unless you want a broken rib or two."

Taki's threat was lost on Mitsurugi as his brow furrowed. "Ingrate." He spat, getting to his feet and sliding the flask easily into his outfit, "You just can't take help, can you?" Taki looked up at him, meeting his gaze with her own for the first time. She looked defiant, but that defiance was just masked enough to look like Taki had no reason to be defiant and that she was just being that way for the hell of it, or to annoy Heishiro Mitsurugi. Scowling and shaking his head, Mitsurugi turned around, lifting a leg to walk out, but Taki's next interjection stopped him in his tracks. "If you think I need help from you," she growled under her breath, "then you're the one who needs it. Go back to your master."

Mitsurugi spun, bearing down on the ninja. "He's not my master," he snapped icily, "he's my commander."

"You've been bowing at his feet since first word of the invasion, haven't you?"

"He came to me." Mitsurugi snarled like a predator ready to pounce.

"Because he wanted someone to lick his boots. I thought you had some honor in you."

Mitsurugi exploded, shooting forward. His fist clenched around Taki's throat, for the second time in as many hours.



"You'll be begging for water in a week."

"You'll be begging for doctors in about five seconds."

Just as she'd done with Geki, and Oda Nobunaga, Taki yanked up her leg just as Mitsurugi loomed over her. She found her mark and sent Heishiro Mitsurugi stumbling foolishly backwards. He sunk to his knees, a single river of blood welling up in his mouth's left corner, and tried to regain his lost pride…and lost portions of his much-valued manhood. Stammering with uncontrolled rage, he managed to get to his feet, breathing hard, and looked at Taki with a face as filled with fire as the very pits of hell. He continued looking grimly at her, quivering with fury. "I should've killed you when I had the chance, and I should kill you now, but you'd be better off dying of thirst."

Finally having regained some of his composure, he turned, leaning against the cell wall for support. He started to head out again, mumbling incoherently, but Taki halted him again. "What's the matter, ronin? I thought you could take a blow." This was too much for the mercenary, who spun on his heels, ignoring the mild flame that had sprung up in his injured section, whipped his small tanto from its lacquered scabbard, nestled into the sheath of his katana, and hurled it through the air. It whistled over the silent room, spinning nimbly, and thudded into the wall just beside Taki's head. She shot an austere glance at the small, knife-like blade, but ignored it, remaining silent again. Slowly and warily, Mitsurugi walked over to the wall, taking notice of the unsettling silence that had descended over the room, and ripped out the sleek, polished tanto, prying a few wood and stone splinters with it.

Strangely, when he looked to Taki, he saw an expression on her face to which he was unaccustomed. "If you have any honor left," she said quietly to him, nodding towards the tanto in his hand, "leave it." Mitsurugi eyes her, wondering if this were some trick. She was obviously trying to impress upon him that she'd rather die than be held as a prisoner. He knew that it probably was a trick, but he was sorely tempted to leave it anyway. He pondered the blade; thinking of what a rivalry such as this might constitute him to sacrifice, but decided quickly against allowing his imprisoned opponent an escape route. "So you'll cut you bonds and find some ingenious way to escape?" he said at last, "Not on your life."

"Would it matter? This place has an army around it."

"You refused my offer, and you'll pay for your arrogance."

"You're the only arrogant one in this room."

Mitsurugi ignored her last comment and sheathed his tanto in the katana scabbard, walking towards the cell door. "Goodbye, Taki." He murmured wistfully, "Maybe your attitude will be domesticated after a week without food or drink." And he disappeared through the opened door, which slammed closed with a metallic clang a moment later, extinguishing the vague light that had illuminated the room. Taki looked after him, considering, but only for a moment. The three dim beams of cold, sickly light that shone in from outside through the barred door grate were somewhat soothing, and allowed her to concentrate. The ninja, as she continually reminded herself, had escaped from worse situations than this…