This story is dedicated to Lordfolken because he is a wonderful guy, and… heck, I really owe him because of that gorgeous Ryu picture he drew for me! Just for little ol' me… I feel so special… that said… of course it has a healthy dash of Ryu, I mean, it is me writing it, but heck, (again! So soon!) I hope you enjoy it, Zbee! Love ya!

- Em


She was always running.

Running from assassins, running from her past, running from her mistakes. But this time, she wasn't running because of anything in particular. Her life would remain intact, her conscious clear. Or as clear as it could get, with all the blood she had shed staining her petite hands.

No, she wasn't running for anything. She was running to get to something.

Her feet pounded against the damp ground. It had been so long since she had a home. A nice, warm bed to sleep in. The comforting feeling of food in her stomach, instead of anything she could scavenge on the spot. Someone who loved her.

Even though she had always been the 'favourite', according to her half-sister, she had never managed to experience love. Ayane had. She envied her that.

Can a runaway kunoichi really be loved? After the crime they have committed against their clans, will they ever know the feeling that everybody calls love?

She made a face. Emotion made people weaker, every ninja and kunoichi knew that. But she had tried so hard to be strong already. Even under the guise of a runaway, she was still only a young woman. Barely that. She slowed, clutching a dirty, damp blanket around her shoulders. It was the only comfort she had. Sad, that.

Leaning against a tree let her get her breath back. The running itself hadn't sapped her energy, just the thoughts that she had been having had been enough to make her tire. There was no point feeling sorry for herself, but then again, life being a bit easier for her would never go amiss… no. Pity was for the weak.

Am I begrudged a bit of weakness once in a while? Just once?

She was so sick of running. So sick of killing. So sick of not being wanted. Being wanted dead by her brother and half-sister didn't count. So sick of not being able to enjoy life while she still lived it. Judging by the extent to which she had been hunted down until recently, it wouldn't have been much longer. But the stream of assassins had ceased. And she still didn't know why, but she wasn't planning on complaining.

Home. I want to go home…

For some reason, the words of her former guardian came into her head, echoing menacingly in her skull. Remember, the way of the shinobi is a harsh one. Harsh was right. It had been harsh of him to knock her out unconscious, ruining the one chance she would have had to see her brother once more, before he began hunting her down. They hadn't spoken more then a few words to each other since.

Even now, I don't understand why he did it. We've known each other since we were children, yet he is still a mystery to me. Nobody understands the super ninja's motives except for the super ninja himself, I suppose.

Her ears suddenly caught the faintest sound of crunching leaves. Somebody was here.

Somebody that wasn't supposed to be.

She pushed the dirty blanket to the ground, more dust and mildew soiling it. With a quick flick, she pulled out her small blade from where it was holstered behind her, brandishing it with deadly grace and silent skill.

Simultaneously, a ninja dropped from a tree branch above her as another leapt out of the bushes. Stepping back to avoid the first had her nearly walk into the second's blade.

So much for the assassins ceasing.

She leapt around before the second ninja could stab her with his sword, and flipped deftly over the ninja's head, before unleashing a solid kick, connecting forcefully with the first ninja's face. He dropped instantly, his sword falling into the dirt. Quick as a flash, she picked it up and parried the blow from the remaining ninja, the two swords clanging together as metal hit metal.

"You were supposed to die, runaway," the ninja hissed.

She pushed the sword with all her might. The ninja lost his grip, relinquishing his advantage. She had gained the upper edge. "It is not my destiny to die so soon. Certainly not to you. Please, leave me be and I will not have to hurt you,"

Before she had the opportunity to try and dissuade her attacker, a sword blade imbedded itself cleanly in the ninja's skull. The ninja had no time to scream. He dropped to the ground, instantly dead. She felt a pang of guilt in her chest. Another life lost.

She glanced up into the eyes of this new intruder. He, assuming that it was a he, was clothed in traditional ninja garb as black as midnight. However, it was the cool green eyes that alerted her, and instantly made her wary.

"Hayabusa," she greeted coolly. "How nice of you to… drop in,"