Hotarubi had left Yashamaru hiding in the bushes and gone to find a nearby village where she would be able to get some clothing for her lover. After walking for about an hour, she happened upon a small inn, and slipped inside unoticed. Creeping silently upstairs to the rooms, she had easily broken in to one of them and found a pair of brown hakama and a tan haori. She knew that Yashamaru would hate the colours, but beggars-or rather, burglars-could not be choosey. Now, the butterfly ninja was rushing back to Yashamaru's side as quickly as she could, regretting every second she had been gone.

Out of breath and suddenly exhausted, Hotarubi arrived back at the clearing she had left Yashamaru hiding in, and called out his name as she fell to the ground, tears streaming down her face for no apparent reason. The young Iga ninja came rushing out, kneeling down at his lover's side, holding her tightly in his arms. "Hotarubi, koi, what is it, what's wrong?" he whispered, stroking her beautiful black hair gently while trying to calm her down.

"Yashmaru...I...I just...I lost you for so long, and now that I have you back, I never want to be away from you again. I am just so relieved to be back your side, I'm sorry. I should not be acting like this." Hotarubi, stood up slowly, Yashamaru holding her steady as he rose with her, and wiped her tears away gently. "Here are the clothes I found for you. I know they're not exactly your style, but they'll have to do for now."

Yashamaru took the clothing, trying very hard not to make a face. He would have to find himself his more comfortable, black clothing again when they returned to Tsubakagure. Giving the buttefly a quick kiss on the lips, he got dressed, and picked her up and positioned her on his back. "You traveled a long way today already, koi. I know that this goes against everything you believe in, but please, allow me to carry you for a little while. We still have some daylight, and I would like to begin the journey back home as quickly as possible. I want to truly start a life with you."

Hotarubi opened her mouth to protest, but then realized how much she liked the feeling of her body up against his. She wrapped her arms tightly around his neck, and whispered in his ear, "I will let you carry me, for a little while, Yashamaru, but only because I am exhausted." Then she rested her head on his shoulder and closed her eyes, listening to the sound of his breath in her ear.

Yashamaru smiled, and gently kissed his butterfly ninja's cheek as it rested in the crook of his neck. He could only imagine the suffering she had endured while he had been dead, and wanted nothing more that to protect her and let her live a peaceful life. He carried her carefully back to their home, with dreams of a better life for the both of them filling his heart.

Tenzen sat up slowly as the noonday sun woke him, hot on his face. He cracked his neck, and then slowly flexed every muscle in his body, making sure he had full control. As every reflex responded to his every demand, the Iga sensei smiled a vile, disgusting smile. He was back; he had returned from death once again.

The immortal ninja rose slowly, and surveyed his surroundings. As he noticed the inn in front of him, he immediately remembered the events which had taken place before that filthy traitor Oboro had killed him with her treacherous eyes. The need for revenge against her, if she still lived, flowed hot in his veins. He would torture her; he would make her pay. But first, he needed to make a plan.

He walked up towards the shrine, searching for the body of another woman. The Kouga ninja, Kagerou. He had been torturing her with his poison needles, but had not actually seen her die. His thirst for blood compelled him to find her, and make sure that she no longer breathed. As he made his way up the hill, he spotted a body lying on the path. It was a woman, and she wasn't moving. Tenzen began to laugh, as he approached Kagerou's lifeless body.

Suddenly, however, Kagerou's eyes flew open, and she moaned weakly. Tenzen was sure he was seeing things, and so he knelt down next to her body, placing his hand on her forehead. She moved her head slightly, disgusted by the feeling of his skin against her's; this man who had raped her, and tortured her to within inches of her life. It was her hatred for him that had kept her alive these past few days, against all odds. With every ounce of strength she had, she pulled the dagger she carried inside her kimono out, and swung at his neck wildly, missing completely. Tenzen laughed, and climbed on top of her.

"You are much stronger than I originally took you for, Kouga whore. But perhaps I can use that strength to my advantage. I will keep you alive, and tend to your wounds. I shall torture you beyound your wildest dreams, but I will not let you die. I will make you hate me with every fibre of your being; I can see in your eyes even now that your hatred is sustaining you. I shall use that to my own gain. You will be my slave." Tenzen laughed leaning down and slowly and deliberately removing every needle he had shot into her chest and stomach so many days before.

Kagerou cried out in pain as each needle was removed from her body, and shook with frustration. "What...exactly...do you offer me...in return?" she asked him in between gasps of agony.

Tenzen removed the last needle from her gorgeous, naked body, and ran his tongue along her skin to lick up the blood from her freshly reopened wounds. Then, his lips covered in her life's essense, he kissed her deeply, almost passionately, but roughly, and whispered in her ear, "I will give you what I know you desire. I will give you the life of Kouga Gennosuke."

Kagerou's lips curled into a vengeful grin. She wanted nothing more than to die with Gennosuke, if she could not live with him. "I will do whatever you ask of me, Tenzen. Just leave Gennosuke to me."

Tenzen nodded, untying his sash from around his waist and wrapping it around his mouth and nose several times. He had already learned this woman's ninja skill, and wasn't about to let her kill him that easily again. Once his mask was in place, he removed his pants and began to grind against her. Kagerou tried to struggle, to push him off of her, but she was too weak and in too much pain. She cried out as he entered her, roughly, pumping in and out and tearing her apart with every thrust. She screamed in both agony and disgust, but soon her screams turned to maniacal laughter, as she knew that all she had to do was endure this until she could take her revenge. Giving in to her fate, Kagerou laid very still, letting the evil and manipulative man have his way with her. She cried out in pain with every thrust, and soon her poisonous breath filled the air. Much to her surprise, it only served to weaken Tenzen, but he pulled out of her roughly and yanked her to her feet by her hair.

"Come, whore, we shall take shelter for the night. You are now my wife, and will do as I please. In return, as I promised, I will let you live." He dragged her down the hill and into the now abandonned in, pulling her up the stairs and throwing her onto a futon roughly. He then laid down next to her, and simply held her. Out of exhaustion, Kagerou didn't try to fight the sleep which was overcoming her. She felt strangely safe in the arms of her former enemy, and satisfied that her desire for revenge would soon be fulfilled.

Tenzen laughed. With this woman under his control, he could do anything. With a gruesome smile curling his lips, the Iga sensei drifted off into a state of semi-consciousness, planning his next move.

The celebration at Sunpu castle was well underway, and seemed as if it would last for at least another week. That gave Ofuku plenty of time to plan her attack on the Iga and Kouga Valleys. As she attended banquets and dances in Takechiyo's honor, the old nanny was plotting and planning how she would make the people of that weak, cowardly Oboro pay. She would level the hime's village, and cause the deceased Iga ninja's soul to never be able to find peace.

Akeginu was growing nervous as Oboro tossed and turned in her lap, sweat pooling all over her body. Very gently, she lifted her friend's head out of her lap, and went down to the stream to get some cool water. Tearing open Oboro's kimono carelessly, she poured the water directly over the hime's swollen wound, causing Oboro's eyes to open wide as she screamed out in agony.

"G..Genno...suke...sama..." she whispered, moaning and grabbing for Akeginu.

Akeginu took Oboro's hand and held it to her chest. "He'll be back soon, Oboro-sama. Please hold on. I promise you he will be back soon." She then reached into the bag Hyouma had left her, and pulled out another one of the herbal pods. As she squeezed it's contents onto Oboro's wound, the hime hissed in pain. Then she packed the leaves around it tightly, tying the cool cloth around her friend's body. As soon as the bandage was knotted in place, Oboro's eyes closed once again, and Akeginu began to cry, cradling the Iga hime's head in her arms. She was barely breathing.

"Akeginu!" came Gennosuke's voice, rushing towards them. "Akeginu, where is Oboro-sama?" He ran up next to Akeginu, to find his hime lying listlessly in the other woman's lap, and seeing tears flowing down Akeginu's face. "No..." he whispered, kneeling down next to the pair and gathering Oboro into his arms. "She can't be...she's not..."

"Gennosuke-sama...k..koi...is that..you?" came Oboro's voice softly. Akeginu stood up and saw Hyouma approaching them, and ran to him, wanting to leave Oboro and Gennosuke alone, and needing his comfort.

His dark eyes locked with her bright, violet orbs, and he stroked her ebony locks comfortingly. "I'm here, Oboro-dono. I am here, and everything is going to be alright." He noticed that Akeginu had gone off to be with Hyouma, and then gently picked Oboro up. He called out to Hyouma, "I'm taking her back to the cave. You two take some time for yourselves; I want to be alone with her."

"As you wish, Gennosuke-sama," said Hyouma, nodding his head and watching his former pupil carry his love back in the direction of their temporary shelter. Then he turned his attention back to Akeginu, who was still crying, her face buried in his haori. "Akeginu-sama, do not cry. Everything is going to be alright. Gennosuke-sama will not let anything happen to her, he understands what he has to do now." He took her face in his hands and kissed her on the lips. "I promise you, Oboro-sama will be alright."

Akeginu wrapped her arms around Hyouma, and returned his kiss. "I hope you are right, Hyouma-dono. If she does not survive, you and I will once again be the only ones left." She looked into her lover's sightless eyes, letting him 'see' into her soul. "As much as I love you, I don't want to lose Oboro-sama, or Gennosuke-sama. We are all like family now, and we must carry on our Iga and Kouga heritage."

Hyouma nodded, holding her close to him. "Everything will be alright, Akeginu-sama. We will all get through this, and the Kouga and the Iga will become one. Even if we are the only ones left; you, Gennosuke-sama, Oboro-sama and I. We will not let our proud legacies be forgotten." Very gently, he lifted her off of her feet and laid her down on the ground, positioning himself next to her. He kept his arms wrapped around her, pulling his Iga ninja up onto his chest. He kissed her gently, and whispered in her ear, "I love you, Akeginu. I will never let anything happen to you."

Akeginu rested her head against his chest for a moment, waiting until her tears stopped. Then she sat up slowly, and pulled him up to sit next to her. "Hyouma, I cannot sit still any longer. I am far too restless to sit idly and just wait for something to happen. Do you think...perhaps you and I should go on ahead and find some place for all of us to stay? We can not just leave Oboro-sama in that cave, not in the condition she is in..."

Hyouma was silent, at first, carefully considering Akeginu's proposal. The blind ninja knew that she had a point; Oboro needed medicines and care that they could not provide for her in the crude surroundings they found themselves in now; but the Iga hime was weak, and Gennosuke was going mad with grief; what would happen to them if he and Akeginu left? Hyouma was not at all convinced that the young Kouga leader would be able to keep himself composed enough to keep Oboro alive without someone else here to guide him, but he also knew that Gennosuke would have to learn to control his emotions sometime. Gambling with the Iga hime's life in such a way was risky, but perhaps it would be the push that his former pupil needed. Very slowly, Hyouma got to his feet and extended his hand to Akeginu.

"We will leave, for tonight, and see if we can find someplace more suitable for Oboro's recovery. As long as we return tomorrow with good news, I believe everything will work out alright."

Akeginu reached out and took his hand in hers, allowing him to pull her to her feet. She leaned forward and wrapped her arms tightly around his waist, kissing his cheek gently. "I am sure it will be alright. Gennosuke can take care of her, I know he can," she whispered.

Hyouma reached up and brushed her long, raven locks out of her face. "Let us hope so, Akeginu. Kami, let us hope so." He held her close to his body for a moment and then took her hand into his, leading her off past the cave and into the woods, silently praying that nothing would happen to Oboro and Gennosuke while they were gone.