Hello everyone. Mexicano27 here again. If you checked out this story at any point in the past year, you'd know that for quite a while now I've been busy editing many of the chapters of this story in an effort to bring it up to a standard of quality that I'd be happy with. Unfortunately, the longer I worked at this, the clearer it became that it was an impossible task. I simply screwed things up too badly.

In my mind, the only solution is to scrap all the chapters and start over from the beginning. For this reason, I've decided that I'm going to delete every single chapter except for the very first one, then start the story over in what will hopefully be a much improved version.

I'd delete the entire story, but I did have to consider the fact that it has just over 600 subscribers. Unless they had also subscribed to my author profile, this story would simply disappear from their list and they'd have no idea what happened; they'd likely assume that it was abandoned, when that's not the case.

For old readers who have been following this story (and still remember after all this time what happened in it), I'd like for you to know that, for better or worse, the plot will remain virtually exactly the same as its current version. Was there a scene or plot point about this story that you really liked? It'll almost certainly appear in the rewrite. Was there a scene or plot point that you really hated? Again, it'll almost certainly still be in the story. Five years ago when I wrote this, I rushed to crap out chapter after chapter as quickly as I could manage, and as a result I skipped, ignored, or forgot things that deserved much better focus than they received. In the rewrite, some chapters will be shorter, some story arcs will be longer, and hopefully the story won't be the enormous steaming pile of shit it is right now.

This note is going to be posted at the beginning of both the first and last chapters of the story, and I'll leave it up for approximately a month, so that old and new readers alike will know what's going on. Once a month has passed, I'll be deleting every single chapter except for the first, and I'll begin posting the rewrite.





Ignis Bellator

By Mexicano27

Chapter 29: Casus Belli

Yugao was convinced that it would have been easier to arrange an appointment with the Lord of the Land of Fire than the Hokage. With the village preparing to receive dozens of foreigners in anticipation of the final rounds, it was easy to understand why he was such a busy man. However, that didn't make the wait any less frustrating. As an ANBU, she had the privilege to walk in and see him virtually any time she wished under normal circumstances. However, these were far from normal circumstances, and the Chunin who handled the Hokage's appointments had warned her that the wait might well last about a month before a slot opened up. Fortunately, she had only needed to wait two days before she received a call informing her that Sarutobi would have time to see her in his office in the morning.

As hers was the first appointment, she had no need to lounge around in the waiting room and was able to simply stride into his office as she was accustomed to. Walking past Anko, instead of receiving a suggestive smirk and wink as usual, the woman gave her a somber nod. Was she feeling sorry for her, or was something else subduing her temperament? Giving the Hokage's aide an emotionless glance, she did not return the wordless greeting and walked into Sarutobi's office without acknowledging her. Anko may not have been responsible for any of Yugao's troubles, but she was in no mood for polite niceties.

"Good morning, Yugao," Sarutobi greeted her as soon as she stepped inside.

"Good morning, Lord Hokage," she returned, quietly closing the door behind her. Whether she was in the mood or not, there were certain people who ought to be treated with politeness regardless.

"Please, take a seat," he said, gesturing towards the chair in front of his desk, giving her a smile as she did so.

"I really want to thank you for seeing me today, especially on such short notice," she said. "I know that you must be unimaginably busy."

"It's no trouble at all," he replied. "I…believe I know why you requested this meeting. I couldn't put it off in good conscience."

"Lord Hokage, I'd never ask that you prioritize my own affairs above those that affect the entire village," said Yugao, realizing that he must have put off a more pressing matter just so she could see him.

"I know you wouldn't. But while Hayate's death deeply affects you, it's also something that affects the rest of the village. Meeting you today isn't necessarily prioritizing the village as a whole below you."

"Still, you must know that I came to…request something." For some reason, she found herself unwilling to say "ask a favor," feeling as if it would have been a poor choice of words, despite the fact that that's exactly what she was here to do.

"Yes, I am perfectly aware," he replied, nodding his head. "While Biko did not personally inform me of the visit you paid him, word did reach me of what had been discussed between the two of you." She was about to say something, but stopped herself, seeing the look he gave her. It wasn't an angry one, or a stern one. It was more weary than anything else. "Yugao, you do realize that the Military Police report to me?" he asked her. "That if there were a conspiracy to make sure Hayate's killer was never discovered, it would be because I commanded as such?"

Her eyes widened at this revelation. "Lord Hokage, I was not aware… I would never accuse you of… I never knew…"

"I didn't believe that you would," he said mildly, interrupting her incoherent attempt at an apology. "I know that the idea of Hayate's murder getting covered up is something that has caused you great distress. I was hoping to put those fears at ease."

"Knowing this now…does help quite a bit," she answered. While the new knowledge ought to have dispelled her worries completely, she had believed so strongly in a conspiracy that it was impossible to simply sweep it all away at once. I've just become a nervous wreck, she thought. I let it all get me paranoid. If the Hokage oversees the investigation, then I know he'd never do something like that…

"I'm glad," he said. "I hope that you do realize that Biko and the others truly have been doing their very best to find out who killed Hayate."

"Yes, of course. I'd…been out of line."

"You lost a loved one, and you felt that others weren't doing their very best to make sure the man responsible was caught," he said understandingly. "You want to see justice served. Knowing that, your anger is understandable. I just want to assure you that justice will be carried out, and that you have no reason to worry."

"Thank you, Lord Hokage," she replied graciously. "Your words do much to calm my nerves."

"I'm only too glad to be of help," he said. Averting his eyes, he sighed. "With that said, I have to inform you that I don't believe I can accommodate your request."

"Lord Hokage, I have not even made my request yet," she said.

"No, you haven't, but it's quite clear that you hoped to get something from me other than reassurance," he responded. "Naturally, you wish to take part in the investigation, and obviously, Biko refused."

"…Yes, that's true," Yugao answered reluctantly. She had been hoping to tactfully bring up the subject of what exactly she wanted herself. "I had been hoping you could overrule him."

"That is within my power to do," he replied. "Unfortunately, I'm going to have to side with Biko on this."

"Lord Hokage, why?" Yugao burst out. "I…I…I'd be an asset to…" Stammering, she attempted to come up with some reason for him to allow her to join the investigation. She hadn't been expecting him to see her only to reject her proposal.

Sarutobi shook his head. "Yugao, believe me when I say that I mean no offense by this," he said. "But you don't know the first thing about conducting a criminal investigation, murder or otherwise. You are an ANBU Black Ops, an assassin."

"I have been trained in tracking," she insisted. "I can find this man, and arrest him myself, if I were on the case."

"Yes, Yugao, you've received instruction in tracking down people on the run," he conceded. "But do you really believe that your abilities in that area would outstrip those of the Military Police? Practically their entire job revolves around that. Could you defeat Biko in a sparring match? Most likely. But can you track down a criminal faster than he can? I highly doubt that."

She didn't reply, knowing full well the extent of the Inuzuka clan's tracking abilities. The Hokage had done a good job of proving the only skill she'd have been able to contribute was subpar to those already working on it. "I can still be of use," she insisted, refusing to give up. This meeting wasn't turning out the way it was supposed to at all. "Besides, having an extra person to lend a hand couldn't possibly hurt."

"Yugao, if I allowed for you to take part, you would only get in the way and hinder their efforts. You have no experience in this sort of thing, and they'd have to hold your hand the entire time, figuratively speaking. You have to understand, if I allowed you to do this, it would get in the way of achieving what you want most of all." As she stared at him silently, he let out another sigh. "I believe some time off would be beneficial for you. I realize that you aren't scheduled to leave on any missions and aren't likely to in the near future, but all the same I'll remove you from the list of active duty personnel."

Not only had she failed to get in on the investigation, now she was going to be told to just sit at home? "Lord Hokage, that is hardly necessary," she replied. "If a mission comes up, I'd only be too eager to carry it out." If he's not going to put me on the investigation, then at least a mission would have been able to help me keep my mind off things.

He shook his head. "You'll need some time to yourself to recover from all the emotional trauma you've suffered," he explained. "After all, your performance may suffer if your mind is elsewhere."

"My mind would never be on anything other than the mission. I know better than that."

"Still, I know that you won't be yourself until Hayate's killer is caught. And as I just explained why you can't be on the case, that leaves me with little choice other than to give you some vacation time. Find something to do that comforts you. Train, go travel, just indulge yourself with sweets, anything. You can feel free to simply leave the village if you wish, as I will make certain that your name not be called up for an emergency mission."

Yugao sat silently for a minute. She wished that she had never even requested a meeting in the first place. "Lord Hokage, I really must insist that you not pull me from the list of available shinobi," she said. "While I disagree with your decision to keep me off the investigation, I can understand your reasoning behind it. However, I promise that my performance wouldn't suffer if I were to be sent on a mission. I can be relied upon to do anything asked of me."

"In that case, Yugao, I ask that you take a break," Sarutobi replied. "As a personal favor to me, I ask that you relax, take some time to fully recollect yourself, and trust that Biko will have the killer apprehended."

"I…I will, Lord Hokage," she finally answered. "I know that I can trust you to make sure justice is carried out. I'll…find something to occupy my time with. I'm sure that as soon as the murderer is arrested and punished, I'll quickly go back to being my old self."

"Thank you, Yugao," he said in a reassuring tone. "I promise that we'll have him behind bars in no time."

"Thank you, Lord Hokage," she said. "And thank you again for seeing me. I really shouldn't occupy anymore of your time." Bowing her head respectfully, she numbly got up from her seat and headed for the door.

"Yugao," Sarutobi suddenly said, and she paused. "Just remember that I'll be here if you need me."

"Thank you, Lord Hokage," she repeated. Bowing again, she exited his office, gently closing the door. Forcing her face to remain utterly emotionless, she began to head for the building's exit, never sparing the unusually quiet Anko a glance, and unaware of the gaze that followed her until she was out of sight.


Sakura wondered who the sentries posted outside of the Nara research lab were. Not their names, exactly. She was more curious about what sort of people would be assigned to such a mundane task. It was no doubt a necessary duty; as Sakura had learned after her last visit, the lab provided the hospital with much of its medicines, and they needed to make sure that no one could simply barge in and steal whatever they wanted. But as far as she knew, no one had ever attempted this, and with nothing to do except stare at the still forest with blank expressions, it seemed like the task would be maddeningly boring. She guessed that the guards would be Nara clan members, assigned to this duty when they had no other missions to go on, and if no Naras were available, then the clan hired a Genin team to do it as a D rank mission.

Judging by the attire of the guards outside the gate this afternoon, different men than had been posted there the day before, they were Chunin (she refused to believe that a Jonin would ever be appointed to something like this), and therefore most likely Nara clan shinobi. However much they were paid to do their job, it wasn't enough, allowing her to pass without showing any interest in the note she held up. If they had bothered to inspect it, they would have seen that it was signed and dated yesterday.

Putting the wrinkled paper back in her pocket, she wondered how many times she'd be able to reuse it whenever she had the desire to pay a visit after she was done working at the hospital. Approaching the front door and knocking, she was unsurprised when Shikamaru was once again the person to answer. She'd expected that he'd be spending as much time up here as he could.

"Oh, you again," he said, his voice bored. "What does the hospital want today?"

"Nothing," Sakura answered. "I'm here because I wanted to talk to you."

He stared at her. "Oh. Well, in that case, it was nice talking to you. Goodbye." He moved to shut the door in her face, but she placed her hand on it, preventing him from budging it. He sighed. "Are you determined to ruin my vacation?"


"I'm not being given any missions since I'm supposed to be in the final rounds. No one comes up here to bother me because they think I must be busy. What's that if not a vacation?"

Sakura shook her head in exasperation. She knew better by now than to try and scold this attitude. "If I'm bothering you just by coming up here, then yes, I am determined to ruin your vacation. I wanted to talk to you, and I was hoping you could give me something. Can I come in?"

Shrugging, he stepped away from the door. "Not as if I can keep you out," he muttered. "Do me a favor though, and don't yell this time. If you're going to come in, the least you can do is keep from giving me a headache."

Walking inside, she noticed that he didn't move to close the door, perhaps hoping that she'd be leaving in a hurry. As he looked at her with disinterest, Sakura nevertheless felt that she owed him an explanation for why she had returned. "I was thinking about what you said," she told him. "And so I started planning. I used everything I knew about Dosu, I analyzed everything I could, and I finally came up with a way to defend myself from his attacks."

"Congratulations," Shikamaru replied, still uninterested.

"And despite the fact that you were extremely rude, sexist, and insulting, I realized that your advice was useful," she went on. "I get the feeling that you're a lot smarter than anyone gives you credit for."

"Just tell me what you want," he replied. "Flattery doesn't get you anywhere with me."

"First of all, I was being serious. And if you're in a hurry to get me out of here, then what I came for is some seasickness medicine. Do you guys have any of that around here?"

His brow arched. "You're at the hospital all day. They ought to be loaded with something as simple as that."

"Shikamaru, they have someone watching over all of this stuff," she explained. "They keep all the medication in one room. All organized, obviously, but there's morphine and other stuff in there that they need to make sure no one can just slip in and steal. There're detailed records of what's being added and what's being taken out. There's no way I'd be able to get away with any."

"Did you ever once consider asking permission to have some, instead of just focusing on the fact that it'd be impossible to steal?"

"Of course I tried that. They didn't let me have any, it was against the rules. I didn't bother mentioning it was for the final rounds, they'd probably say it was cheating or something."

Shikamaru rolled his eyes. "No one could accuse you of cheating. There's no such thing as cheating in the final rounds. Everything's allowed."

Sakura paused, suddenly recalling Kiba's pellets and feeling very foolish. If they allowed something like that, then they probably would allow just about anything. Would the hospital have relented if she had gone ahead and told them she needed the medicine to beat Dosu? Maybe, maybe not. But it might have saved her a trip here. Still, there was no reason to let Shikamaru's opinion of her fall even lower. "I knew that," she lied. "But I wasn't sure they did, and I didn't want them to figure I was a cheater."

"Then you should have shown them a rule book."

"I could have, but it would have taken a while to find someone who had one. It was a lot less effort to just come here instead. You of all people would know about that."

"Fair enough," he answered. Finally closing the door, he began walking in the direction of the store room again. Sakura followed him, despite the fact that he probably could have just grabbed it for her alone.

"Is the lab always this empty?" she asked, noticing that once again the two of them were the only ones inside.

"Not always," he replied. "There's normally some medic-nin working here, turning all the ingredients we've gathered into usable medicine. Lately it's been nice and quiet, though."

"I guess there really isn't any reason for this place to be busy," she commented. "The hospital doesn't have any shortage of supplies, and by the looks of that store room neither does the lab. Everyone gets to take a break."

"Yup," he agreed. Reaching the store room, he seemed to know exactly where the medicine she needed was located, never hesitating or glancing around the room. Pulling a small glass jar full of pills off a shelf, he handed it to her.

"Thanks," she said, putting it in the weapons pouch she kept at her hip. "Are you sure no one will notice this is missing?"

"No one would notice, and no one would care if they did," he said. "It's seasickness medicine, not something really held to be especially valuable."

"That's true," she said. Giving him a nod, she turned to walk out of the room, having acquired all she needed and ready to leave.

"You know, that's pretty clever," he suddenly said.

"Hmm?" she asked, turning to look at him.

"Seasickness medicine," he said. There was a look in his eyes she had never seen before. She wouldn't quite call it admiration; more like respectful. "Dosu's attacks are awfully fancy, sound waves and everything," he went on. "It'd take a long boring lecture from some scientist for anyone to really understand exactly how they work. Knowing that much would be enough to make someone think that it's some sort of super jutsu. But in the end, all they do is screw up your senses and make you nauseous. You can defend yourself from it with cheap, over-the-counter medicine. Pretty ironic, when you think about it."

"I suppose it is," she replied, affording a small grin. She remained silent for a second, a thoughtful look on her face. "You're not going to be doing anything tomorrow, are you?"

"No," he answered slowly. "Why?"

"No reason," she answered, her grin growing wider. He narrowed his eyes slightly, growing suspicious. Turning to leave once again, she waved goodbye and left the room, leaving him to worry about what the look on her face could have meant.


Tayuya looked down at her attire with distaste. Instead of her preferred clothes, which were both comfortable and singled her out as one of the Otokage's elite Sound Five, she wore the uniform of a Fang Army soldier. A sheathed sword hung from her hip, and a shield bearing the image of a large fang lay at her side within arm's reach—equipment that was purely for show, which she barely had any training in how to use properly. Her real weapon, her trusty flute, was tucked snugly under the leather belt at her waist. A steel helmet lay next to her shield; she found the headgear to be too uncomfortable and bothersome to wear, and she only planned on putting it on as soon as they arrived at their destination.

Jirobo sat next to her, dressed and equipped identically, a perpetual frown on his face as usual. The large stagecoach they were riding in would occasionally bounce uncomfortably, giving Tayuya cause to curse angrily, which led to Jirobo scolding her as he always did whenever she made no attempt to control her language. The shackled prisoners riding with them would jolt uncomfortably along with her every time the coach ran into a bump or pit, but they knew better than to voice their discomfort; she had screamed at them to stay quiet from the beginning of the journey, and would make a point to brutally beat anyone who made so much as a peep.

Flaring her nostrils in an annoyed exhale, she crossed her arms and glowered at the pathetic collection of fear-stricken men before her. With the coach's exit across from her, the second horse-drawn coach of their convoy was visible to her and Jirobo, though becoming increasingly difficult to see in the dusk's growing darkness. That one would be packed with prisoners as well, though the other two in tow were filled with Elite Guards, dressed up and equipped as Fang Army troops like the two Sound Five agents leading them. Tayuya wondered idly how Sound had acquired so many Fang Army outfits; she supposed it wouldn't have been very hard to produce such a small amount in secret, or simply send a few shinobi to sneak across the border and slaughter some soldiers in order to collect their uniforms and equipment.

Leaning back, she made an attempt to calm down and relax, but the coach's tendency to bounce and jolt every few minutes, along with the incessant noise of the trotting horses, made it impossible to find comfort. First there had been the train ride that had lasted for several hours—an uncomfortable train ride, since they had been forced to use a modified one to carry the prisoners rather than a typical commercial model. Upon arriving at the right station, they had to keep a tight watch on their captives as they were led to several waiting stagecoaches and chained up. Now, almost two hours later, they still hadn't arrived at their destination.

Muttering to herself, she ran her fingers through her dark pink hair and shot her prisoners another fearsome glare. This was not a mission that should have had to happen. If only the idiots at the border had possessed a bit of sense, or a single ounce of initiative to take care of the problem themselves, she would be back in Imperial City right now, enjoying a hot bath.

To make matters worse, Kimimaro was too busy to join them on their mission, and Sakon and Kidomaru were not permitted to take part due to their very distinctive appearances. All of the shinobi taking part in this operation had to be completely impossible to identify as agents of the Otokage, and no amount of disguising would conceal an extra head or an extra pair of arms. The skills of the other three members of the Sound Five would have made this mission much easier to carry out; without them, Tayuya would be forced to do more herself, a prospect she was not happy about.

As the ride drew on and sleep continued to prove impossible, Tayuya began trying to come up with ways to occupy her time. After she finished thoroughly inspecting each fingernail on both hands, checking every inch of her uniform for dirt to clean off, and spitting and rubbing on every stain on her helmet and shield until both were sparkling clean, she attempted small talk with Jirobo, who proved too laconic and dull to carry a conversation. Sighing, she pulled the sword she'd been given out of its sheath and began looking at it with disinterest. Both the blade and handle were worn, making it clear that this was a used weapon and not one recently crafted. There was nothing extraordinary about it, and there was no indication that its previous owner had valued it very highly or made any attempt to keep it in pristine condition.

Being a katana model, it could have been forged anywhere in the region. While countries farther west, like the Land of Earth, were heavily influenced by Far Western weapons and generally preferred designs with a cruciform hilt, katanas were very common and easy to obtain there as well. So, it was a sword that was likely crafted out of cheap metal, had never had any semblance of proper care, possessed no evidence that anyone had ever even believed it to have sentimental value, and may well have been carried by some worthless peasant. Tayuya had half a mind to just throw it out of the coach on basic principle.

Resisting the urge, she twirled the blade in her hand and replaced it in its sheath. She could just discard it as soon as the mission was completed. Having run out of things to occupy her time with, she folded her arms across her chest once more and tried for one final time to shut her eyes and sleep for the rest of the journey.

"Do you think we're almost there?" Jirobo suddenly asked. He truly had the worst timing.

"How should I know, you fat prick?" she replied hotly.

"I didn't ask you if you knew," he replied, unperturbed by her vehement response. "I asked what you thought. And don't talk that way, it's unbecoming of a lady."

"You and everyone else keep saying that," she hissed. "Do I look like a lady to you?"

He blinked. "Yes."

Clamping her hands over her face in exasperation, she gave a frustrated sigh. "Forget it," she spat. "Use your mouth for eating, not talking to me. I know you must've brought plenty of snacks. Leave me the hell alone, I'm trying to catch some shut eye."

"With the way this ride has been so bumpy, falling asleep would be difficult."

"Yeah, no shit."

"Tayuya, I asked you to stop that."

"And I asked you to stop talking. If I'm going to be a fine and proper lady, I'll need my beauty sleep. So shut it." Closing her eyes, she turned to look away from Jirobo and pretended to fall asleep. He sighed, but did as she said and stopped talking. Her latest attempt at a nap met with the same failure as all her previous tries, but she screwed her eyes shut and kept up the façade of rest.

She remained that way for as long as she could; as her neck grew sore and she could no longer resist the urge to squirm and shift her position, she opened her eyes and saw that night had finally descended. Through the opening she could see that the stage driver guiding the coach behind them had lit a lantern to illuminate the path ahead; no doubt her own coach and all of the others had done the same thing.

Placing her palm on her chin, Tayuya tilted her head sideways until her neck gave a satisfying crack, then placed both hands on her seat and thrust her abdomen forward until her back made an identical noise, dissipating the stiffness that had taken over most of her body.

"Finally awake?" asked Jirobo.

"No, I'm still asleep," she snapped.

"Oh," he said. "Sorry I disturbed you." He turned back to look at the coach behind them. "I think we're almost there."

She snorted. "And when was the last time you've ever been right about any—" Their coach's stage driver suddenly shouted a command to his horses, and they slowed to a halt. Seeing the leader of the procession stop, the coach in tow did the same, causing a chain reaction that brought the entire convoy to a halt.

"I think we're there," Jirobo said, his tone devoid of any trace of irony.

"Yeah, I think so too, you worthless lummox," she returned, earning a disapproving stare from her comrade. Getting up from her seat, she donned her helmet and grabbed her shield, strapping it to her forearm as she headed for the exit at the other end, Jirobo quickly doing the same. The pair of them had been given joint command of the operation, as had been decided by Kimimaro—apart from the Kaguya himself, who was in charge of the team, there was no other form of a chain of command within the Sound Five, with the other four kept completely equal. Giving either Tayuya or Jirobo leadership of this mission would have ruined that, and so they had to command it together. If I'm able to accomplish anything with this idiot tagging along, it'll be a miracle, she thought angrily.

Hopping out of the stagecoach, she made her way down the convoy as their small force of Elite Guards swarmed out, quickly preparing themselves for the next phase of the mission. The entire Sound Five had been shown the details of this emergency operation a few months before, apparently before anyone had foreseen that not every member would have been able to go. Then, just before departing Imperial City, Kimimaro had given the two of them an updated briefing, which was mostly just a repetition of what they had heard before but helped refresh her memory.

"Get the prisoners ready!" she screamed at the disguised Guards. "Come on, we don't have all night, move it!" As she commanded, the shackled prisoners were forced out of their coaches; under Tayuya's direction and the careful watch of the Guards, they were all led to a small clearing a short distance ahead. There, the prisoners were shoved towards the center, with Guards forming a ring around the huddled mass. A few of the soldiers had brought lanterns with them, keeping everything visible in the darkness of the night.

"All right, get the chains off, hurry up!" Tayuya shouted, and three men with keys quickly moved to obey, approaching the terrified captives and releasing them from the chains that kept them all bound together. Within five minutes the task was completed, and the three Guards returned to join their comrades in a ring as the confused prisoners continued to cower in fear, unwilling to try and stray from the huddle they had formed even though they were now free to move about.

Jirobo grabbed several large, shapeless sacks, bulging from being packed as tightly as possible. Approaching the captives, he tossed the sacks towards them, causing more than a few to cry out in alarm. The fact that absolutely nothing happened didn't stop the fear from spreading throughout the group and turning into a near mania, with the men clawing at each other and stumbling to get away.

Fear spreads as if it were a virus for weak-minded filth like this, Tayuya thought with disgust. The Elite Guards tensed themselves, preparing for the event of an attempted escape. That was something that would make the mission insufferably complicated; she quickly intervened before the situation got out of hand.

"Shut up!" she roared at the captives, pushing her way through the ring of soldiers and striding towards the panicked men. Her command had no visible effect. A man was crawling desperately in her direction, looking as if he were about to make some suicidal attempt at escape; she smashed her foot into his face and repeated her order. "I said shut up!"

The men did not heed her command, and she realized that she couldn't beat down every last one of them. Furiously pulling out her flute, she played a single note, one which affected everyone in the immediate vicinity; the Guards lowered their weapons slightly, growing lax despite themselves, and the prisoners stopped clawing at each other, slowly calming down. Tayuya grunted. "Now that's better," she said, tucking her flute back away.

"In those sacks you will find clothes," Jirobo addressed the captives, keeping things moving. "Put them on."

Timidly approaching the sacks he had thrown at them, they slowly began doing as he said and pulled out the clothes. To their surprise, all of the sacks were stuffed with yet more Fang Army uniforms—however, they contained no shields, helmets, or weapons.

"What's this for?" one of the prisoners shouted as he held one of the uniforms in his hands, eyeing the Fang outfits worn by his overseers. "Are you…conscripting us or something?" Everything he had experienced so far had no doubt confused him out of his mind; taken from his home by soldiers, thrown into a prison camp, then a few days later forced into a train by a bunch of men wearing the uniforms of a foreign army, and finally brought here and commanded to don an identical outfit. If Tayuya hadn't regarded him and all the rest of them with such contempt, she might have felt a touch of sympathy.

In a flash, she stood before him, and delivered a brutal backhanded slap to his face. Grabbing him by his hair, she picked him up off the ground and pulled out her sword, holding it to his throat and ignoring his pathetic whimpers. "You do what we say, when we say it," she growled. "It's not your business to give a shit why we tell you to do something." She felt an overwhelming desire to just kill this man and use him as an example for the others, but it would likely only terrify the rest of the cowards into a panic. That, and the realization that she'd have to clean up afterwards, convinced her to release him and sheath her weapon. She turned to look at the rest of the group. "Hurry up you worthless shits!" she screamed at them. "Unless you want your guts all over the ground, you'll do as we say and put on the uniforms!"

The prisoners scrambled to obey, grabbing whatever outfits they could and putting them on. The entire group was clothed within a few minutes; luckily, they had brought enough uniforms, something Tayuya had worried someone might have overlooked. While they had been busy getting dressed, Jirobo had brought forth several crates filled with pairs of boots, setting them down in front of the captives and commanding them to put them on.

At last, the prisoners looked exactly like a platoon of Fang Army troops, missing only their helmets and equipment. Several Elite Guards were holding crates filled with all of that, to be distributed among the captives soon. Tayuya once again issued orders to commence the next stage of the operation.

"All right, form ranks!" she commanded the prisoners. Confused by this new mandate, they hesitated, and stood unmoving. At their lack of a response, she exploded. "Move it you cocksuckers! Ranks! All of you form ranks now! Come on you worthless sacks of shit!"

The men quickly and clumsily began doing as she said, knowing she was moments away from resorting to violence to get her way. Their attempt to form neat ranks was laughable, but it would do. Tayuya turned to Jirobo. "If we're in the right place, the village ought to be about a kilometer in that direction," she said, pointing north. "Clear a path through these woods, we don't want all the trees obscuring our vision and letting these men escape."

Jirobo nodded. "Right." Moving to the edge of the clearing in the direction Tayuya had indicated, he roared and slammed his hands to the ground. The earth quaked, causing prisoners and Guards alike to lose their balance and stumble; the ground in front of Jirobo cracked and split, bringing trees crashing down for some distance.

"All right Jirobo, keep the way ahead clear for us!" she shouted, and he nodded. He began picking up the fallen trees, tossing them out of the way as if they were made of papier-mâché and keeping the path to the village clear of obstruction.

"Come on, let's move!" Tayuya instructed the Elite Guards. Breaking their circle, they formed ranks of their own; five columns both ahead and behind the prisoners, and two to march on either side, keeping the captives completely enclosed by armed shinobi. Another shouted order, and the men all began following in Jirobo's wake as he continued clearing the way ahead. He would periodically slam his hands down in a destructive attack to level the woods, then go back to throwing the trees out of the way. No doubt the inhabitants of the nearby village could feel the earth trembling beneath them the closer the group came.

There were two things that had been required when selecting the location for this: that the town be very close to the border, and that a radio station was located nearby. This village fulfilled both requirements. As a bonus, it was relatively secluded and had a very small population, making this mission all the easier to accomplish.

Not moving much quicker than a walking pace, the soldiers and their captives advanced through the woods slowly. Time was not really of the essence, at least not yet, and so Tayuya had no reason to yell at everyone to hurry up. Finally, reaching the end of the woods, the village at last became visible through the thick brush. Jirobo stopped tearing the trees down as Tayuya ordered the group to stop. As the men had remained in absolute silence the entire time, she did not have to wait before issuing her next order. "All right, this is it!" she shouted at the Guards. "You all know what we're here for and you all know how we're going to do it, so there's no use hanging around. Stingray Team, stay with Jirobo. Eel Team, you're with me. Let's move!"

Motioning with her hand, she began walking towards the town, her assigned team swiftly following her lead. The majority of the Elite Guards had been placed in Eel; Stingray was just big enough to keep an eye on the captives and make sure they didn't try anything. Tayuya and her men did not dart with the speed of shinobi, nor did they soar through the air as they were fully capable of doing. They were under the strictest of orders for how to conduct this mission; they had to come across as ordinary soldiers, not ninjas.

Quietly emerging from the thick cover of the woods, the village came into clear view. Several lanterns and torches had been lit, and a number of people had ventured out of their homes, no doubt woken by Jirobo's earthquakes. A radio tower was faintly visible in the distance under the moonlight. "Archers!" she hissed. "Get in position!"

Several of the Guards in her team, equipped with bows and quivers of arrows, quickly moved to form a perfect row in front of the rest of the group. One by one, they grabbed an arrow and lit it aflame, and prepared to fire.

"Take aim…" Tayuya commanded, and waited a moment for the men to choose their targets. "And…fire."

A shower of flaming arrows descended on the town. Many had been aimed at the homes and buildings, lighting up the dry wood, flames quickly spreading; in no time at all, each building would be completely engulfed. However, the Guards had not been above choosing a human target. Several of the inhabitants that had been standing outside in puzzlement suddenly went down, screaming in pain as a flaming arrow bit deeply into their flesh.

"Second barrage!" she commanded. "Hurry up!"

The Guards each pulled out another arrow, this time not bothering to light them. Without waiting for her signal, they fired into the village for a second time. For a moment there was silence, save for the screams of panic and agony from the few villagers who were already awake. All at once, the village was torn apart by a series of deafening explosions, each one powerful enough to destroy a concrete building; with flimsy structures like these, the destruction would be catastrophic. Whoever had been asleep—and was still alive—would now certainly be awake.

Tayuya unsheathed her sword and raised it in the air. "For Fang Country!" she yelled fiercely, and charged in the direction of the devastated village. The Guards with her wasted no time in following her lead, pulling out their weapons and letting out fearsome war cries. Despite having no experience with using a sword and shield, she had no choice other than to just carry out her mission with them, as using genjutsu would have identified her as a shinobi.

The villagers were now swarming out of their homes in a confused panic, which quickly turned into a terrified hysteria at the sight of Fang Army troops descending on them in a murderous rage. With a snarl, Tayuya charged straight into the mob of civilians; unarmed and defenseless, they attempted to scramble away, to no avail.

"Garbage!" she shrieked, hacking and slashing with a mindless ferocity. To her surprise, she found that she quite liked the feel of using a sword in combat. There was something so innately satisfying about it, something she couldn't put her finger on. While outwitting your opponents from afar and tormenting them with illusions had its own rewards, there was something to be said about facing someone up close and personal and cutting them down.

The screams of pain and the sight of blood spilling across the ground only served to exhilarate her even further, heightening her senses and awakening a monstrous bloodlust. "Trash! Scum! Filthy peasants!"

The Elite Guards accompanying her rapidly moved to joined in on her slaughter. In a blind panic, the villagers ran in the opposite direction, desperately trying to flee from their attackers. Determined to not allow her prey to escape, Tayuya gave chase, cutting down each civilian she caught up to. Some of the men with her did the same; others stormed into houses to drag out those who had attempted to hide and avoid the bloodbath taking place outside.

"For Fang Country!" Tayuya repeated. "Show these bastards what we're made of and teach them a lesson they'll never forget! Never allow them to believe they can stand up to the might of the Land of Fang!" The men raised their weapons in the air, howling another war cry, loud enough to rise above the screams of terror.

Having studied a map of the town before the mission, she recognized various structures and icons (despite the fact that most had sustained heavy damage), and was able to navigate through relatively easily. As most of Team Eel had by now fanned out, covering all the houses and buildings as quickly as they could, Tayuya now only had a handful of her men at her back as she advanced. Leaving a trail of blood, they made it past the town square and the marketplace. By now, some of the villagers were beginning to recover from the shock of coming under such a sudden and brutal attack. Rather than behaving like so much sheep, running in blind terror from the soldiers, a few were beginning to run for the nearest path leading out of the village, and a few were making an attempt at resistance.

A glass bottle struck Tayuya in the helmet, shattering into countless shards. Gnashing her teeth in rage, she tried to spot where it had come from, when a book suddenly hurled through the air and hit her in the shoulder. "Where—"

"Up there!" one of the men with her shouted, pointing up at a nearby window. A man had begun throwing his possessions at the attackers, apparently using whatever he could get his hands on. Before she could give a command, one of the men in her group drew his bow, quickly stringing an arrow and firing it at the civilian. It struck the man in the chest; his eyes widened, and he dropped the lamp he'd been about to throw. Clutching his chest, he slumped to the floor, falling out of sight. Tayuya nodded in approval, turning away from the window. Before she could take another step, a fiery explosion suddenly ripped the building apart, sending debris in every direction and nearly knocking her off her feet.

"Oops," murmured the archer. "Wrong arrow."

"Stop being so careless," she snapped at the man, more annoyed by the fact that she had nearly been thrown to the ground in front of her men than by the overkill. Impatient, she didn't wait for the archer to reply and began running in the direction of the northernmost sector of the town, motioning for her men to keep up. The government buildings were located there, along with the village's force of police. If it were possible for the fleeing citizens to rally and a determined defense to be thrown up, it would happen there. Now that the operation had begun, time was precious, and allowing the village to attempt a resistance could possibly slow things down enough to be a problem.

"I hope you have some more of those explosive arrows," she asked as she ran, not turning around.

"I've got a few," came the response.

"Good. Get ready to use them."

Reaching the government sector, there were a number of armed policemen running about confusedly amongst the mob, attempting to find out what had caused such hysteria and futilely trying to restore order. In this part of the city were some of the only structures built out of anything other than wood. Both the police barracks and the large office of the man who had been appointed to run things here were made of stone, and it seemed that the citizens were attempting to seek refuge inside of them. It didn't seem that it would be possible for them to organize any form of defense against the onslaught, but it was better to be safe than sorry. That, and the administrative buildings had been marked as targets to be destroyed anyway.

"How about you bring those buildings down?" she asked, gesturing to the house and barracks. Nodding, the archer quickly fired two explosive arrows each at the structures she had deemed fit for demolishment. Erupting in violent explosions, rubble was thrown all over the place as the buildings collapsed, crushing anyone who had been unfortunate enough to run inside. The horrified screams sharply grew in intensity, and at the sight of Tayuya and her men, they swiftly began fleeing into the woods. Witnessing the destruction for themselves, most of the policemen had the sense to drop their swords and run right along with everyone else. Others, for reasons Tayuya couldn't quite fathom—perhaps a sense of duty, or perhaps inspired to action at the sight of their homes being destroyed and friends being murdered at the hands of despised Fang Country soldiers—threw themselves at the kunoichi and her comrades.

Unlike her, these men had been drilled in the proper use of swords, and to her surprise, she suddenly found herself being driven backwards by the furious assault of a charging policeman. Her attempts at swinging at him were repeatedly parried and she was forced to defend herself with her shield as she continued yielding ground. Trash, she thought angrily. To her humiliation, she saw that the men at her side were making quick work of the rest of the police. Enhancing her strength with chakra, she suddenly leaped into her opponent, slamming her shield into his chest and driving him backward. If he didn't immediately realize that she must be a shinobi to suddenly lash out with such a powerful blow, then it wouldn't take much longer until he did. However, it wouldn't make any difference if he was dead.

Continuing to use chakra, she went back to swinging, quickly gaining the upper hand despite the sloppiness of her attacks. If her opponent had been some sort of sword fighting master, her strength would have made no difference; he would have pinpointed the weak points in her careless defense and struck her down. Fortunately, he was just a policeman, whose training most likely comprised of attacking a dummy and occasionally dueling with friends. Angrily slashing at him with strength he could not defend against, she succeeded in knocking his sword from his grasp, and cut him down a moment later. With the attacking policemen finally down, Tayuya and the rest of the men went back to their previous task of dealing with any remaining civilians, eventually returning back to the town square when the government sector no longer held any survivors.

She was not sure how long the assault lasted; as soon as she had charged into the mob, she had lost all sense of time. Knowing the efficiency of the Elite Guards, however, it couldn't have lasted very long. Her uniform soaked in blood and her blade leaving a dripping trail wherever she went, she took a look around the small village, her teeth bared as she scanned for any signs of movement, hoping for the satisfaction of one more kill.

To her dismay, there was nothing but a veritable sea of dead; unmoving, bloody corpses strewn everywhere, without even the sound of someone in pain. It seemed that the soldiers in Eel Team had made sure to afford an extra stab wound for whoever hadn't finished dying. She had a vague sense of shame about reveling in the slaughter of her own countrymen, but she pushed that thought out of her mind without inspecting it very thoroughly. Her actions were never something she felt she had to morally justify to herself or anyone else, but if she had to, then these people were just a sacrifice for the greater good of the Empire. You couldn't make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.

"Sir!" called out an Elite Guard approaching her and the men with her, and she swiftly turned to look at him. Even if she had preferred to be referred to as "ma'am"—she really didn't—she wouldn't have been in the state to complain about such a triviality at the moment. "We've completed searching every building and taking care of everyone we found. However, a number of villagers escaped into the woods, in areas where Stingray wouldn't be able to intercept them," he reported. "Should we pursue them?"

"No," Tayuya said, shaking her said. "No, that's perfect. Allow them to reach the closest town and raise the alarm. They have to report what they saw here."

"Yes, sir. Of course."

Eel Team was now beginning to slowly gather and regroup at the town square. Nodding at the Guard, she reached for the small radio at her hip. "Jirobo," she said. "We're ready. Have your team bring the prisoners into the village."

"Yes, Tayuya," his reply squawked from the radio. Several minutes later, the large group of terrified prisoners was led into the village by their Guard escorts; they gawked at the carnage with stunned disbelief and, in a few cases, nausea.

"Gentlemen," she called out to her team, a radiant smile on her face as she gestured at the approaching captives. "I give you…tonight's entertainment." Her announcement earned a chorus of laughter from the Guards.

"Distribute the rest of the necessary equipment to the men now," she could hear Jirobo command his team. Quickly and efficiently, Stingray Team began handing out helmets, shields, and swords to the captives. Despite their initial reluctance to accept them and tendency to cower when confronted with the sight of one of their overseers holding a weapon, the Guards proved very persuasive, and soon enough every last one of the prisoners stood armed and ready for battle.

"Okay you sons of bitches," Tayuya shouted, approaching the group of unwilling soldiers, who gaped at her. Previously, she had been capable of intimidating them with her furious threats and brutal beatings; now that she was covered from head to toe with blood, her appearance alone was enough to inspire a feeling of dread amongst them.

"I'm going to let you in on a little secret," she went on. "Almost all of you are about to die." At this a cry of hysteria rose from the group; Jirobo slammed a single palm to the ground as a warning, causing the earth to tremble and quieting them down. She continued. "But I'm going to make you a very generous offer. All of you fight to the death, right now. Last man standing walks away a free man." None of the men drew their weapons or moved, and only continued to look at her, as if she had been speaking in a foreign language. "Come on, we haven't got all night," she snapped. "The sooner we get this out of the way, the better."

The group simply stood there, staring at her with a mixture of terror and doubt in their eyes. The last few times this had happened, she had exploded into a rage; this time she merely shrugged. "All right, have it your way," she said simply. Approaching one of the captives nearest to her, she grabbed him by the collar of his uniform and thrust her sword into his abdomen. The man shrieked in agony and dropped his sword to the ground; his legs frantically dug into the ground in a futile struggle to back away from her, and his hands instinctively grabbed for the weapon in an attempt to wrench it out of him. The blade bit deeply into his palms, adding to the blood pooling on the ground at their feet. Tayuya turned the blade, earning another shriek of intense agony, then pushed on the hilt until it struck him in the chest. Eyes rolling up in the back of his head, he made a choking noise as blood bubbled out of his mouth; he shivered, letting out one final agonized moan, and crumpled.

The nearby prisoners backed away in panic at the sight, with a few of them raising their swords and shields in anticipation of a fight. Stepping over the body at her feet, she sheathed her sword and clasped her hands behind her back, giving the men a sweet grin. "You can die like men, sword in hand and fighting to the last breath, or you can die like worthless animals. Your choice."

"Well…well, how about we fight you?" one of the captives shouted, brandishing his sword and glaring at her. Tayuya laughed.

"Try it, you piece of shit, and see how that turns out."

Her words didn't do much in the way of cowing the man; with a yell, the faux soldier charged at her, raising his sword with the intention of impaling her with it. He was alone—the others just looked on in horror. If only a few others had had the courage to charge with him…well, the outcome wouldn't have been much different. Tayuya would have been forced to jump out of the way, and the attackers would have simply been slaughtered by the Guard overseers. As it was, she remained with her hands behind her back, a smirk on her face as the prisoner moved to kill her.

The man snarled and thrust his blade towards her; even with her own inexperience when it came to using swords, it was clear that he had no idea what he was doing. Waiting until the last second, she sidestepped his attack, and swung her fist in an uppercut that caught him in the chin. He let out an argh, his head snapping upwards; however, his grip on the blade did not falter, and it remained firmly grasped in his hand. Quickly following through, Tayuya grabbed him by the arm, pulling it so that it extended straight out, palm up. Taking care to avoid getting in the way of his blade, she wrapped her arm around his so that his elbow was tightly pressed against her side, then used her free hand to grip his wrist and forcefully pushed down. With a loud series of cracks and pops, his elbow bent in entirely the wrong direction, and he screamed, finally releasing his weapon.

Seizing him by his uniform, she hurled him in the direction of the waiting Elite Guards and he landed at their feet. Clutching his arm as he howled in pain and unable to get up, he was powerless to defend himself as the men began to mercilessly beat him. Each of their blows were cold and calculated—they didn't intend to inflict pain, they intended to stomp the very life out of him. They accomplished this in no time at all, leaving him an unrecognizable and bloody mess.

Tayuya turned to look at the remaining prisoners. "Anyone else want to get cute?" she asked them. Still reeling from what they had just witnessed, they stood perfectly still, remaining deathly silent. "Okay then, it looks like we can finally get started," she continued. "For anyone who doesn't want to participate, simply raise your hand, and you'll be escorted out of the match by one of my men here. For all the rest, prepare yourselves." As she turned to walk towards Jirobo, it sounded like one of the captives broke out in sobs, but none of them volunteered to leave the battle.

"This all seems very unnecessary," he said disapprovingly as soon as she stood next to him. "Kimimaro never told us we had to do something like this, all we have to do is kill them and leave their bodies here. We ought to just kill them ourselves, not force them to take part in some battle."

"What difference does it matter?" she asked. "Just relax and enjoy the show."

"All of them are inheritors of a bloodline limit," he reminded her. "I think that's reason enough to just kill them and get it over with, we shouldn't give them some sort of chance to pull something sneaky."

"That doesn't make them ninjas," she said, rolling her eyes at his needless concern. "I doubt any of them have ever received a proper lesson in chakra manipulation, let alone been taught how to perform a single jutsu. Whatever their kekkei genkais are, they won't know how to use them. The doctors at the camp check for this sort of shit, you know."

"Stop that. And still, you never know, the doctors might not be right every time. They have to check out so many prisoners, a strong one's bound to slip through."

"Then I guess that strong one's going to be the winner. Who's your money on?"

"You can never tell who the strongest is on looks alone."

"That's what makes it fun to guess," she countered. "Now who do you pick?"

He narrowed his eyes as he looked at the collection of armed captives. "If I guess right, you owe me lunch."

"Fair enough. If I win, you go one day without telling me to behave."

Jirobo grunted. "I pick the guy towards the left. Red hair, carrying a longsword."

"Guy towards the center. The one with the big dent in his helmet." The two looked at each other and nodded; Tayuya left his side to return to the prisoners who were once again encircled by a ring of ready Guards.

"I hope you're all ready!" she shouted. "Because the battle starts right now! Fight!"

There was a moment of hesitation at the sudden command. Then, with a cry, one of the prisoners turned to the man next to him and thrust his sword into his chest. The group of prisoners immediately devolved into a crowd of desperate fighters, slashing, hacking, and stabbing each other in a panicked frenzy. If a man's sword were knocked out of his hand, he continued his struggle, bashing with his shield and tearing at his opponents with his teeth and nails. Tayuya's eyes glinted and a smile formed on her face at the sight of such a grand spectacle.

To her dismay, the man she'd chosen went down after a sword was thrust into his back, though she was able to breathe a sigh of relief when Jirobo's pick had his throat slashed. The audience of jeering Guards appeared to have made bets of their own, with some of them reacting with cheers and applause while others shouted angrily whenever a prisoner was killed. Finally, after almost ten minutes, the number of fighters had been whittled down to two.

One man, who'd lost both his helmet and shield in the scrap, now held onto his sword tightly with both hands; his opponent had lost neither, still possessing all the parts of the original outfit given to him. The two of them eyed each other suspiciously, slowly walking in a circle around the corpses of their fellow prisoners, never tearing their eyes off each other. The audience, thrilled at the prospect of watching the best fighters of the bunch finally clash, began to excitedly yell praise to whoever they favored.

The prisoner who had only his sword suddenly charged, moving with speed far above what a normal person could achieve. Apparently Jirobo had been right—this one knew how to use chakra, regardless of how sloppy and inefficient. The attacker's opponent raised his shield, preparing himself to defend against the incoming assault. At the last second, the charging fighter jumped and spun in the air, bringing his blade to come slashing down on his enemy's neck at an angle the man couldn't hope to avoid or defend against. It looked like the superior fighter out of the pack had been revealed.

The blade slammed into the defender's neck—and made a noise as if it had struck solid rock before bouncing off. Tayuya blinked in surprise, then grinned at this turn of events; the spectators erupted into a frenzy at this, with most of them yelling furiously. It seemed that most of them had decided to root for the man with no defenses.

Moving to seize the initiative, the helmeted prisoner swung his sword, slashing his opponent's leg before he could land. The first prisoner let out a grunt of pain, but landed on his feet and leaped away from his enemy's reach. Staring at his enemy, he was clearly attempting to figure out how he'd be able to kill an opponent with impenetrable skin. Looking down at his feet, he picked up a discarded sword, so that he was now carrying one in each hand. Attempting to take a step forward, he suddenly grimaced and stumbled, almost being forced to kneel before he steadied himself.

Picking up on the man's weakness, the second prisoner raised his sword and charged. The first prisoner attempted to take a step backward but couldn't manage it; he was stuck. Rearing his blade above his head, the second prisoner closed in and prepared to bring it slamming down on his enemy. Laughing in triumph, the first man leaped up in attack, spinning in midair and slashing at the helmeted captive's face with both blades, likely in an attempt to strike him in the eyes. Unfortunately for him, his blows never made contact with anything but thin air.

The second prisoner had been performing a fake out; maybe he hadn't been fooled by the façade of weakness, or he had done it as a precaution, or perhaps he just had a fondness for misleading attacks. Whatever the case, he had spun on his feet and lowered his blade at the exact instant his opponent sprang into action, too early to have been a response; he had clearly been planning to do it from the moment he'd charged. As the first prisoner's attack missed completely, the second's shield swung outward and bashed him in the side, knocking him out of the air and sending him crashing to the ground.

Before the dual wielding man could recover, his assailant was on him. Flipping his weapon, he altered his grip of the sword's handle so that the blade pointed downward, then quickly fell to one knee and thrust it into his enemy's chest. The first man let out a shriek as the blade pierced his flesh, then lay still. With the grand battle finally concluded, the Guards exploded into wild cheers. The helmeted prisoner remained there for a moment, taking several deep breaths. Letting go of his sword, he left it embedded in his opponent's chest and stood up, wiping his brow with his sleeve.

Without uttering a word, he unstrapped his shield from his forearm and cast it to the ground, then began walking away towards the ring of soldiers surrounding him; their celebrations having subsided, they quieted down and stared at him. His face emotionless, he attempted to force his way through, but the Guards grabbed him by the shoulders and shoved him back to the ground. He glared up at them. "I won," he said angrily, getting back onto his feet. "I'm free. I'm leaving."

"Woah, hang on a minute," Tayuya intervened, curiosity getting the best of her. She made her way through the ring and approached the man with a grin on her face. "I believe congratulations are in order. Those were some impressive moves." The captive glared at her but said nothing, and she moved to pinch his neck. He fiercely knocked her hand away, but not before she felt how soft and ordinary his skin felt. "What was up with that shit where the other guy's sword hit your neck but didn't do anything?"

"It's my bloodline limit," he answered angrily. "We use chakra to harden any area of our skin we want to at will. Not even solid steel comes close to matching our defense."

"I see," she said, nodding her head. It seemed the camp had been sloppy in choosing which captives would be used for this operation. Unsheathing her sword, she extended her arm and tapped the end of the blade against the man's cheek. It clinked as if she were tapping it against solid stone. "No wonder you made it all the way to the end. Awfully hard to kill a man whose skin turns steel." Looking him over, her eyes narrowed slightly and her head tilted.

"Yes," he spat, brushing her sword away. "Now, as you said, I'm free, so if you'll excuse me…" He moved towards the ring of Guards once again, but Tayuya grabbed him by the shoulder, forcing him to spin and face her. "Don't touch me!" he said angrily, moving to knock her hand away again.

Before he could react, she suddenly thrust the length of her blade through his parted lips, impaling the roof of his mouth; the weapon met with no resistance until it pierced through his skull and came into contact with his scalp. A moment later, and that too gave way. The man convulsed violently for a second, then collapsed at her feet. "Hard man to kill, you worthless shit, but not hard enough." Turning away from the slain prisoner with a sneer, she stabbed her sword into the soft ground, then removed her helmet and laid it to rest on the weapon's hilt. With this finally done, there was now only one remaining stage of the operation to complete.

Contemplating silently, she made some quick calculations in her head. If the escaped villagers had moved extraordinarily fast, then the alert may have been raised and the nearest base of militia could be scrambling by now. There was no time to lose.

"Come on," she addressed the Guards, raising her voice. "We're almost done. Last stop is the radio tower. Hustle!" She began walking towards the structure in the distance, Jirobo and the rest of the men quickly moving to follow.


Quote of the Day:

"I think when Bill Clinton was governor and not paying proper taxes, he was trying to find sources of income to please Hillary. He seeks money for the woman's pleasure, to buy her gifts. Women push men to crime."

- Russian politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky