"Special agent Ron Stoppable, on the job." A young, blonde hair freckled boy declared proudly as he moved to climb up the modestly sturdy branches of the 'tower' in front of him.

"You're supposed to be a knight in shinning armor, rescuing the princess from the dragon." Remind young Kimmie Possible as she shouted down from her 'dungeon top tower', balancing perfectly atop some loosely nailed in wooden boards over the tree branches.

"But I want to be a spy." Ronnie Stoppable whined in protest.

"Spies can't rescue princesses!" Kimmie argued.

"Yes they can! My spy can." Ronnie insisted.

"How are you going to get past the dragon?" Kimmie asked, her hands moving to her hips in frustration.

"Dragon! I didn't agree to that! My spy doesn't do dragons. Union rules." Ronnie stated matter-of-factly, having absolutely no idea what a union was, but quite certain that mention of one would protect him from having to do any work.

"Spies don't have unions!" Kimmie shouted.

"Yes, they do." Ronnie retorted.

"Besides, you have to slay the dragon in order to save the princess, 'cause the dragon's the one that kidnapped me." Kimmie stated frustrated.

"Why do dragons have to kidnap princesses? Can't they kidnap tax collectors? Nobody likes them anyway." Ronnie mused in his revelation.

"Because tax collectors are ugly. Princesses are always really pretty." Kimmie stated simply, in no small way hinting as to her reasoning behind the selection of her role in this game.

"So why did the dragon kidnap you?"

At this, Kimmie Possible grabbed a small sickle little branch and threw it down as special agent Ronnie Stoppable, causing him to squeak in brief panic as he dodged the projectile from the hostile princess.

"Now hurry up and save me! I've got to go home for dinner soon." Kimmie stated, before quickly recomposing herself, calling out in feign distress. "Help, help. Where oh where is my handsome, strong knight…"

"I told you, I'm a spy!"

"…. where is my handsome, strong spy to save me from the dragon." Kimmie amended.

"And I don't do dragons!" Ronnie reminded.

"Will you just save me already?" Kimmie shouted angrily.

"Fine, fine." Ronnie grumbled, resuming his climb up the tree, mumbling to himself on the way up. "Stupid princesses, stupid dragons, stupid no-spy-unions."

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August weather and teenage appetites once again brought Kim Possible to her favorite fast food chain in the world. Before her stood one of the first Super Taco Splits ever made by Bueno Nacho. Ron had finished the recipe over the summer, and mailed her the complete instructions with a request that she forward it to Bueno Nacho headquarters.

Both Kim and her friend Monique eyed the original Mexican entrée with hesitation. An enormous hard taco shell with three different soft shells rolled up in a bowl like manner, each one of which containing a mix of different ingredients and sides that Kim and Monique hadn't had time to fully identify.

"So, after you?" Kim offered uneasily.

"No, no, I insist. You first." Monique replied with equal uncertainty.

In the end, it was a carnivorous naked mole rat that took the plunge, mouth first, into the mouth watering treat before him, his landing marked by a splash of nacho cheese into the air, disappearing beneath the surface, only to be heard from through the occasional munches and slurps coming from within the dish.

"You know, if we had a camera, we could have just sold Bueno Nacho their commercial for this thing." Monique mused.

Kim smiled idly, merely mumbling something that sounded like agreement, her eyes staring off in the direction of the grueling carnage before her.

"No word from lover boy, huh." Monique frowned. It didn't take a world class detective to figure out what was troubling Kim; same thing that had eaten away at her all summer.

"No. Still no news when he's coming home." Kim sighed, musing how much she would have loved to have been here with him when Bueno Nacho finally unveiled his masterpiece. Instead, she was here with Monique while he was on the other side of the world, at some secret ninja school in Japan for going on three and a half months now. School started next week, and the idea of facing her senior year without him was just unbearable. Worse, for all she knew, he wouldn't be home for another year, if then. It was a sacrifice she had been willing to make for his own good, but making it and living with it were two very different things.

Monique steadied herself as she began to speak. "Kim, I know you're going to flip over this, but have you thought about dating again?"

"What?" Kim's face jumped in shock.

"Huh?" Rufus popped out from within the Taco Split.

"You heard me. I'm talking about you going on an actual date with a guy for a change. Not that I mind taking you clubbing with me or anything. I mean, happy to do a service for a friend and let you have some of the leftovers" Monique added in with no small amount of modesty "but you really need to get out there again."

"Monique, I have a boyfriend!" Kim reminded her, slowly, clearly, in case it might have escaped her memory.

"Yeah!" Rufus added proudly, before spitting a raspberry at Monique for the very idea.

"Now hold on, you know I think the world of Ron, and no one was happier than me when you two finally admitted it to yourselves, but you can't just put your life on hold, hoping that he finally comes back home someday soon."

"My life is not on 'hold', Mon. And I don't have to start dating again even if that were the case." Kim replied matter-of-factly, crossing her arms as if that were all that there was to the matter.

"Kim, do you remember the last time we went to a club together." Monique asked, her gaze closing in on Kim.

"Sure, it was last Saturday night." Kim answered without thinking.

"And how many guys came up and asked you to dance?"

"Uhmm, I don't know. Maybe four or five." Kim answered hesitantly.

"I counted seven. And how many of them did you turn down?" Monique raised her eyebrow at the upcoming response.

"All of them." Kim answered uncomfortably in a half whisper.

"Kim, I don't care how smoking you are, that's just not right. You see my point?"

"Well I'm sorry if I don't feel like running around behind Ron's back and betraying his trust." Kim answered defensively.

Monique threw up her hands in mock surrender. She had been expecting this kind of response from the beginning. "Hang on now. No one's saying you gotta get married to any guy or anything. But I mean, dinner and a movie with another guy would not kill you or Ron. School starts in less than a week, Kim. Don't let your entire summer get spent feeling sorry for yourself."

Kim paused at the idea. She hated it, she really did. The only thing she hated more was the fact that it appealed to her, however so slightly.

"Mon, I don't know. Just because Ron isn't around doesn't mean I want to go running off with random guys from clubs."

"Well, who says it has to be someone you don't know? You could go out with Josh." Monique offered.

That was out of the question. "Monique, he has a crush on me." Kim nearly answered through gritted teeth.

"Well, that probably means he'll be cool with it." She answered with a smile.

"Monique!"

"Ok, ok. Well, what about Felix, huh? He's a friend, so you don't have to go with a stranger, and you can at least have a good time and it won't be cheating on Ron because it isn't."

Kim shook her head almost in fatigue before her head rose up again with renewed surprise.

"Quick, what time is it?" Kim asked with urgency.

"Huh?" Monique was caught off guard by the sudden change in topic. "Uhh, quarter after three. Why?"

"It's here. I gotta run Monique; I'll talk to you later." Kim scooped up Rufus from within the middle of an empty Naco bowl, placing him in her pocket before sprinting out of the booth, out of the restaurant and down the street.

"What's here?" Monique asked rhetorically.

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

Kim rushed home, her front door bursting open to announce, in no uncertain terms that she was home. She didn't bother to establish whether or not anyone else was present within the house, though as it turned, they weren't, she simply ran straight up to her room.

Her mind was ablaze with the excitement usually seen in small children on Christmas morning as she entered her room, looking down on her bed.

Sure enough, a small, lone postcard lay waiting for her, just the same as all the others had.

The front of the card bore the picture of an ancient Japanese monastery that Kim did not specifically recognize. However, as Kim turned the card over, she most certainly recognized the handwriting.

Kim let out a slight yelp as she leapt onto her bed with joy. Even as she bounced on impact with the cushions, Rufus scurried out of her pocket to her shoulder.

This was how it had been the entire summer. Every day at precisely three o'clock, a postcard would appear. It never arrived by regular mail, and in fact, Kim never even saw the messenger. It came without regular postage or even a return address, but it always bore the same handwriting.

"Ninja mail service." Kim mused. Her hands trembled as she held the card, her eyes carefully scanning the card, taking in every word, her mind imagining Ron narrating the contents of the card in an almost hypnotic tone.

"Oh my god." Kim let out a gasp as she read the letter.

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Sound mind. Sound body. Sound spirit. Three elements crucial to the unimpeded success of a ninja. Without all three in perfect balance, defeat was an eventuality for any warrior, regardless of their skill or the respective skill of their opponent.

The figure knew this better than most. He had come to live by it. Meditation came naturally to him. His mind and spirit honed through training unlike any experienced anywhere else in the world.

The body was the easiest. It could be molded through regular exercise, forced beyond its limits through sheer will. Muscle tore and healed naturally, and bone could be reset.

The spirit was the hardest to master. The conflict of one's soul was a long and challenging road that could be traveled only alone. The greatest challenge of the spirit was honesty. Looking within oneself, and accepting the truths of one's nature, but also understanding that these aspects were not set in stone. For better or ill, they could be changed, so long as one made a continuous effort.

The mind was only slightly less tricky. The true challenge of the mind was serenity. The mind could often be lost in its own conflicts, its numerous voices of doubt, fear, uncertainty and so on. The trick was to quiet these voices, to set them aside and allow the mind a chance to actually think, to focus.

All three were ready. The figure rose, completely covered in black garments that covered his form fully. Reaching out with a steady hand, the figure drew his sword, holding it in perfect balance.

It was not a sword. It was merely an extension of himself. They were a single entity, bonded together, each incomplete without the other. The figure focused on the sword's power… his power. Without him, the sword was mere metal. Idle, useless.

The figure swept the sword through the air with flawless form, flexing it around himself in an elaborate display before bringing the sword down, the tip of the blade no more than a hair's width from the floor.

Moving slowly, the figure dragged the sword across the floor, keeping the tip and the floor in perfect parallel position with one another, never once flinching in the slightest, before bringing it up right in perfect form before himself.

"Begin."

The master's instruction signaled the test. At once, two human sized wooden outlines rose up via a set of springs to the figure's left.

The figure responded instantly. The sword shot out in a precise swipe, cutting with flawless precision through the wooden cutouts, slicing them cleanly, leaving their upper halves to fall harmlessly to the ground.

Three more rose to the figure's right.

This time, he struck with his body. Leaping up with a flying roundhouse that took two heads off. The third wooden outline remained, only to have the right fist of the figure burst right through with terrifying power.

Four more, this time on the opposite side of the room.

Conditioned and experienced hands let fly with a series of shuriken, four of them in one motion, each one hitting their marks dead on, a centimeter above the heart.

Two more, one on opposite sides of the figure.

Instantly, the figure leapt up into the air, kicking out with both legs in perfect form, taking their fragile heads off cleanly.

Four more, one in each corner of the room.

The figure leapt straight across the room in a single fluid motion, landing in front of one and slicing it in half. Two more shuriken flew across the room, dispatching two more outlines, leaving the last. The figure charged it.

Two more burst up to block him.

The figure leapt straight over them, landing behind them and roundhouse kicking their upper torsos straight off. As he did, he came around and let fly with his own sword, hurtling through the air towards the final outline in the corner.

No more arose.

"Well done. You're training here is complete."

The figure looked around, taking in the sight of his own accomplishments.

"Boo-yah!" He exclaimed with pride.