Yae was on her back; her left hand flat against the blade of her katana. Baki was leaning over her, trying to impale her with the point of his sword. The kunoichi had placed her own weapon underneath his hilt and was struggling to push him back. However Baki's greater strength, and his advantageous position, meant that the sword tip was edging closer to Yae's heart.
Just as it looked like it was over, Yae slackened her grip, pressed her foot into Baki's stomach and sent him flying over her head. She came up with her katana held in front of her like a dagger.
Baki landed with a roll and charged her with a two-handed slash. Cleanly deflecting the blow, Yae spun around and delivered a kick to his back. The swordsman stumbled but recovered quickly. He tried to attack again, but Yae leapt back out of his range.
What followed was a series of strikes and dodges. Baki swung and thrust at Yae, but the ninja skillfully parried and avoided his attacks. With a frustrated yell, Baki actually leapt into the air and came down on Yae with a cleaving strike.
Straightening himself, Baki saw two halves of a tree lying on the ground, but no ninja.
"Looking for me?"
He looked up to see Yae in another tree; her left hand gripping a branch above her, her right still holding her sword and her feet resting against the trunk. Her confident smile irked Baki. Letting a small growl escape between his teeth, he called up to her,
"Why don't you stop jumping around and fight me like a man?"
"Do I actually have to tell you what was wrong with that sentence?" Yae answered back. "Besides, you said you wanted to see some ninjutsu. Jumping around just happens to be a big part of it."
Baki glared up at her, but then a smile worked its' way onto his face.
"Alright then." He said. "Then I'll just show you a big part of kenjutsu."
He held his sword in both hands; the blade pointed upright. A white glow appeared spiraling around his wrists. It worked its' way up the hilt of his sword and made the blade shine like a beam of light.
Taking a step back, Baki swung his sword and a bright arc of energy flew from the blade. It sliced through the trunk of the tree, causing it to topple. Yae leapt clear and landed on her feet, back on the ground. She had to quickly jump out of the way as another beam flew at her. She hit the ground running as Baki swung his sword with great speed, sending the deadly projectiles flying through the air. Trees fell like ninepins as their trunks were cleaved in two.
Yae managed to duck another attack. Then, before Baki could swing his sword again, she lunged forward with a slash of her own. Baki was forced to block her strike with his own blade.
They stood with their weapons locked against each other. Yae glanced up at her opponent and offered another grin.
"Impressive power." She said. "But you need to work on your aim. Every one of your strikes missed."
To her surprise, Baki grinned back.
He gave a mighty heave and sent Yae stumbling back. She quickly righted herself and made ready for his follow-up attack, but none came. Instead, Baki held his sword loosely in one hand and gestured around them with the other.
"Take a look around."
Turning her head from side to side, Yae realised that the trees had fallen around the two fighters to form a makeshift ring. They had very thick trunks; so much so that she wouldn't be able to jump over them.
She turned her attention back to Baki. The swordsman stood with his weapon at the ready.
"Now you'll have to try fighting my way."
Yae held her sword in both hands. The joking was over. It was time to get serious.
"Before we begin, answer me one thing." Said Baki. "What's a ninja doing with a samurai weapon like the katana?"
Yae shifted her weight as Baki began to circle her.
"If you must know; I chose it because it's not a typical ninja weapon. To be a ninja is to always have surprise on your side."
She sprung at Baki.
"I'll show you what I mean!"
The SSIN training instructor, and the the jōnin, were seated behind a long desk in a large dojo. Two students bowed and left; having just finished their match. The men exchanged opinions on what they had just seen and wrote down their decision. The jōnin then nodded to a uniformed ninja stood by the doors. She slid them open and allowed the next two students in.
One was a boy with shoulder-length brown hair, who jingled as he walked. He was decked out with almost every kind of ninja weapon imaginable. A pair of zatoichi swords were strapped across his back, shurikens were hooked onto his sleeves and pant legs, spiked bands adorned his knuckles, a small grapple and rope hung from his belt and two small scythes were tucked into it.
The second was a girl with long green hair. The only weapon she was carrying was a katana. The long sword stuck out behind her from where it was slung through her belt. She was holding onto the hilt firmly with her left hand, to keep the heavy weapon steady.
The jōnin and instructor exchanged looks. The katana was a somewhat advanced weapon for students at this level of skill. But then, they did say that the students could use any weapon or tool they wished.
The jōnin raised an arm, indicating that the two kids get ready. The boy and girl bowed to each other and got into fighting stances. The boy whipped out his scythes and held them up, prepared to start slashing. The girl simply lowered her weight, bending her knees slightly, and kept her grip on the hilt of her sword.
The jōnin let his arm drop.
The boy immediately let fly with four shurikens. His opponent stood her ground and let them come. At the last moment, she whipped out her weapon, there were several 'cling's and she resheathed it just as quickly. The shurikens fell harmlessly to the floor.
Seeing his attack was ineffective, the boy whipped out his scythes and charged at her. She ducked and weaved as he swung and slashed wildly with his blades. Once again, her hand stayed on her sword hilt. Suddenly her back hit the wall of the dojo. He'd forced her into a corner.
The brown-haired youth took a step back and then swung, with both of his scythes, from the right. The green-haired student pushed herself off from the wall and drew her sword. She wound up behind the boy with her weapon already sheathed again. He turned and raised his scythes to attack; only to have the blades drop off like leaves.
The girl, whose face had remained impassive up to now, allowed herself a small grin at the look of anger that had come over her opponent. He wasn't distracted for long though, as he threw the useless handles aside and quickly moved in for close combat. He began throwing punches with his spiked knuckle dusters.
Not able to use her katana at close distance, the girl had to now fight bare-handed. She managed to block and parry several strikes, until her opponent got one past her defense. She moved her head to the side just in time to avoid a direct hit, but the spike left a scratch on her cheek which started to bleed.
Quickly realising that the boy was the more skilled hand-to-hand fighter, the girl had only one choice. It was time for her secret weapon.
She began to speedily back up. The boy followed, thinking he could corner her again and finish her off. Just before her back hit the wall, the girl performed a backward flip, landing with her feet pressed against the vertical surface. Pushing off, she rose higher into the air. She drew her katana and pointed it downward towards her opponent. He in turn whipped out his zatoichis and held them crossed above his head.
The girl dropped like a stone. The tip of her katana hit the crossed blades below it and -
Yae fell back, landing rather unceremoniously on her rear. Now that she had nowhere to run, she was forced to fight Baki on his level; and his greater strength was making itself apparent.
The swordsman swung his weapon down upon Yae, but the swift kunoichi dodged the strike with a back roll. Springing back to her feet, she looked around for something to help her regain the upper hand in the fight. All she could see were the makeshift walls of their fighting area; made up of the felled trees. Suddenly an idea came into her head. She gripped the sheath of her katana in preparation.
'It's been a while since I used this technique.' She thought to herself. 'I hope I can still do it right.'
Baki began to advance on Yae; his sword held at the ready.
"You ninjas certainly are tricky." He said. "But you don't have power to back it up."
Yae replied with a grin and tapped the side of her head.
"Who needs it, when you've got brains."
She leapt clear of his sword sweep with a backward flip, planting her feet on the tree pile behind her. Thrusting herself upwards, she unsheathed her katana and pointed it down towards Baki. As she dropped, he raised his own sword and held it above his head to block.
The tip of the ninja's katana hit her enemy's blade and -
The zatoichis shattered underneath the katana's blow. The male student lost his balance and fell onto his back. He started to rise again, but the girl was standing over him with her sword tip at his throat.
The jōnin held his arm up again, indicating that the match was over. The girl resheathed her weapon and stood back. The boy got, rather shakily, to his feet and the two of them bowed to each other. As they turned to leave, the jōnin spoke up,
His attention was focused on the girl.
"What's your name?" He asked her.
The girl's eyes widened slightly at being spoken to directly by the SSIN jōnin, but she replied promptly.
The jōnin checked her uniform. She wasn't wearing a family crest. He straightened up and motioned towards the door.
"Thank you. You may go."
As the two students left, the jōnin cupped his chin in his hand. Usually, the SSIN took in orphans to serve as simple foot soldiers or messengers. The more challenging duties were entrusted to members of the families that made up the organisation. But this girl seemed to have potential.
He made a mental note to keep an eye on her in the future.
Baki lay on the ground; the shards of his broken sword scattered around him. He let out a small laugh and turned his head to face Yae.
"Clever. You used that jumping around, that you ninjas are so good at, to get high enough so that gravity would lend power to your strike. And by attacking with only the tip of your weapon, you focused all that power into one spot." He let his head fall back down to the ground. "Your clan teach you that technique?"
Yae swept her hair back over her shoulder, her katana tucked safely into her belt.
"Made it up myself." She answered. "And I'm not from a clan. That's why I had to invent an effective technique; to earn my place."
Baki let out a long breath.
"You ninjas really are something else. What about your friends? Do they fight like you?"
Yae had to stop herself from laughing at the thought.
"My friends... they each have their own unique style." She gave a small shrug. "That's actually what makes us a good team."
She crossed her arms and turned to face Baki.
"So, are you going back to your master Gunsho?"
The swordsman shook his head.
"Wouldn't do me any good. Gunsho's not the forgiving type. Besides, when a swordsman fails his master, he has no choice but to leave in dishonor. Is there a ninja rule like that?"
Yae thought for a moment, and then replied,
"No. We have more of a 'If at first you don't succeed...' philosophy."
"I guess that's why you guys are so formidable. You never give up."
Yae smiled at the comment. She gave a small bow to her defeated opponent and turned her attention to the trees blocking her way. Reaching over her shoulder, she brought forth her bazooka. Aiming it at the trees, she pulled the trigger. The resulting blast decimated the makeshift wall, leaving a smoking woodchip pile in its' place.
Noticing the look of surprise on Baki's face, Yae just gave him a grin and a shrug before disappearing into the surrounding foliage.
Baki watched the spot where she had disappeared, and then turned his eyes skyward muttering to himself,
Akasu paced back and forth, his fists clenched tightly at his sides. The rest of the group were sitting by Lake Yasha, talking amongst themselves.
"It's getting late." Said Akasu. "It's not a good idea for us to stay in one place for too long."
"Relax, Mr. Sunshine." Said Goemon, who was lying on his back and looking up at the sky. "We'll leave just as soon as Yae gets back."
"And what if she doesn't come back?" Akasu whirled to face the blue-haired ninja.
"She will." Goemon replied as if it was a sure thing.
Akasu practically screamed through clenched teeth.
"Again, you underestimate our adversaries! I'm sure your friend is very skilled, but alone against Gunsho's forces; there is always the chance that she is lost to us."
"Who's lost to us?"
Akasu turned around to see Yae standing right behind him.
"Yae!" Omitsu, Ebisu and Sasuke ran to welcome back their friend. Wiseman and Jicho watched with smiles on their faces. Goemon just stayed where he was, with his hands behind his head. He shot Akasu a quick 'Told you so' look before speaking.
"What took you so long, Yae?"
The kunoichi answered with a knowing smile.
"Me and one of the bad guys got to talking. You know how I am, once I get started."
Akasu cleared his throat.
"Can we please get goingnow?"
Everyone got to their feet and the party began to move again. Yae saw Goemon pulling faces behind Akasu's back, and had to hold in a chuckle. She also saw Ebisu talking amiably to Wiseman and Jicho. Omitsu was chatting with Sasuke, who was carrying her bag for her.
Yae was happy to just walk in silence, listening to her friends around her. What she'd said to Baki had been true. She was part of a good team. And what was best, was that she hadn't had to earn it.