So, it's been said that in the manga, Pein's six forms have been named, all cleverly given names relating to Buddhism. The first Pein we ever saw is now called "Deva Pein," and should we get to know any of the other five more, let it be known that the Pein seen in The Greatest Gladiator is the "Deva Pein" that we all first laid eyes on, same time as we did Konan, back in chapter… three hundred somethin'.

And Happy Very Belated New Year to you guys. Since Christmastime of 2008, I have doubled the chapters to Airborne, and by next Christmas I may just be finished with that story, but I'm less sure of this one.

In The Memories of Folk Long Gone

Once upon a time, in this dream of mine,

I saw a wild realm of silver-blue fairies

Drinking fine wine, on a king's supper did they dine,

Laughing and singing with voices of silver bells

Surrounded by rum-red sugar apples and glittering dragons,

Liberated from cells swinging in the flaming depths of all seven hells

Mushrooms flavored of mint and grass smelling of love,

Molested their senses and hearts and reminded them of safety

And they laughed in the presence of the godly dove.

Then did they so merrily dance, then did they so boisterously cheer,

For in the world of dragons and fairies and red-rum sugar apples

There is no such word as the human word fear

And even there, were there children, you see

Like ferrets, like mice, bouncing and romping up trees and down holes

Giggling and flustering in their bountiful glee!

Among all this, stood I, just I,

Dark and unseen amongst the green trees and glowing life

And I know that when my eyes burst with blackness and cold, no, I did not die.

In my dear father's bed my sagging old body again lay.

And then I, I, the seer of fairies and dragons and laughing children and rum-red sugar apples, then did I,


November 1st, 6:00 PM

'What an arrogant son of a WHORE.' Sakura thought.

She stared up at him, looking so much taller than he was because she was so fortunately laying in bed. If he wished to rip her virginity from between her legs this very moment, she—while not being powerless—would be at a great disadvantage to stop him. Sakura's doe-like eyes stared up at the lord with confused awe, and her mind whirled with hate.

'No lord is god.' she seethed within her mind. 'There are many gods. If he had any speck of intelligence in him, he would tell me that he is a god, one of several gods, but to say that he is the only god in existence is beyond anything I've ever seen! I've seen humbler rapists than you, Lord of Rain! I'll be laughing when I cut your throat! I'll kick your severed head around like a child's ball! Ayame and I will kick it all around the village of Xian, Lord of Rain!'

Something had to be said. What would she do, Sakura wondered now, should she pretend to be a woman skilled in sensuality, or a polite and fierce young girl, as she truly was? Did it matter? Would he see through her if she chose to fake a personality? She would have to take a chance. If he slapped her across the face for her insolence, it would neither be a new feeling nor unexpected to Sakura.

"What makes you think that?"

Like some think a god would do, the Lord of Rain laughed with his eyes and not his mouth.

"Look at me and see."

"I am looking at you," Sakura replied with just a touch of wryness.

"My eyes, child. Look at my eyes." Both politely and obediently, Sakura looked.

At first she saw silver circles within silver circles, a design that would have been eye-catching and confusing when used in art. But with human eyes they were undoubtedly demonic, more so than the metal he stuck through his face. Each one seemed to be a portal into another dimension, a portal within a portal, a dimension within a dimension, an eye inside an eye inside an eye. They stared down into her own innocent eyes like they were indeed made of silver metal: unmoving and definite and perhaps harder than the emerald her eyes and her will were made of. Perhaps the silver was stronger than the emerald in more ways than those. Perhaps the silver eyes—eyes that were the color of dais and thrones and crowns of rulers and of gods—were—were—

It didn't occur to Sakura that her pulse had begun picking up and the air was finding difficulty in moving to her throat. The Lord of Rain blinked, and with as much dignity as she could muster the girl took in a slow and sure breath that didn't at all suggest she'd just been overwhelmed by a pair of eyes.

She had to say something, do something, to distract him. If she had to look a fool, she would look a fool in front of people like Iruka. Not a lord. So she genuinely asked, concerning the state of his strange eyes, "Were your parents…cursed?" In response, the lord sat down on the edge of the bed, letting one long leg hand off. Sakura made room for him, as the bed was ridiculously large and she had been laying nearly on the edge. When he grasped her leg to keep her from moving, she stared him almost accusingly in the eye, and though she did so successfully, her stomach turned as she did it.

"They may have been. I have only one memory of them: I recall loving my mother more than my father…particularly when she was breading a fish for supper…and took the knife and ran outside. I loved her very much then."

Pein's hands held Sakura's head between them and Sakura immediately stiffened, recognizing her own position as one of a captured creature about to be devoured. She instinctively put one of her hands on his wrist to pull it away, to pull away the memories of demons in the Undergrounds rings doing the exact same thing to her. She stopped, realizing two things: firstly, her hand was so much smaller than his that it was worth stopping to look at, and secondly and more importantly: she had touched the lord. And she was still alive.

"Enough of them," the Lord of Rain said, as though trying to distract her from her own awed thoughts. But he must not have been trying to distract her, because he pulled her head a few inches—and a few inches only—closer to his. "I want to know of you."

"You already know everything of me, from what Ayame told me."

His hands tightened on her head and Sakura fought the need to shiver. "Ayame?" he said with the calm growl of hidden anger. "Who is Ayame?"

Naturally, Sakura was rather surprised. "A-Ayame—the servant girl who was with me today."

"Mm." And the hands were loose again, but undeniably…not moving. "Did she tell you of what was done to you not long ago?" Sakura's brows furrowed, not understanding. "Not so, it seems. You were unconscious when Konan preserved you." Pein would never know this was untrue; Sakura had indeed been awake when Konan had poked and prodded her with a warm stone.

"Your age was sealed, goddess." One hand roved slowly through her cherry hair. "You will be of eighteen years forever, and have this same beauty the day you die." For now, this had little to no effect on Sakura, for while her life-lasting youth was being proclaimed and while her previously always-guessed-upon age was declared for certain by science, Pein was gazing straight into her eyes.

The dimensional, silver eyes were boring into her as a drill bored into a mountain. Once she was able to avert her eyes, but saw the stupidity and rudeness of the gesture, so brought them back to look at him, and afterward could not look away, no matter how desperately she tried. She saw the metal piercings, the hair the color of amber stone in the sun, entire body carved of masculinity and perfection that shouldn't have been allowed on the earth…eyes of a demon.

The girl spoke with anger and confusion lacing her tone, and let such emotions into her words without a thought. "What do you want from me? I know you know everything I've done. I'm no good at any activities a courtesan would do with you."

This time, Pein smiled with both mouth and eyes. "We shall see."

Sakura gleefully allowed the scorn to seep into her tone now. She narrowed her eyes and tightened her grip on his wrist. "And will that be all, Your Majesty?"

He chuckled. "You wish, don't you?" Sakura hoped this was a joke. "No. I want you to stay in this palace as long as possible before I must share you. I want to see what tactics you used in your years in the Undergrounds. And presently—" This time several inches were covered as Pein pulled Sakura's pink head closer. "—I want to kiss you until you forget how to breathe."

Sakura covered her mouth with the back of her hand.

Pein chuckled again. "As I thought." He released his hands with unnecessary care, making sure to comb his fingers through her hair as he stood up and made for the door. "Come, goddess. Please show me exactly how you defeat a demon. And have no worry, if you appear to be in danger, I will intervene and behead the creature myself."

Seeing as there was nothing to do but gain the lord's trust—best as she could now that she'd already been rude to him twice—Sakura got out of bed, neatened it as best she could in the five seconds it took Pein to reach the door and turn around and look impatiently at her, and walked towards him, speeding up only slightly to make up for her lost seconds. When she reached him the first thing she did, almost unwillingly, was look the cloaked man in the eyes, and as she did this, Pein reached over and ran his fingers down the length of her arm.

He had just opened the large door of his chamber when Sakura suddenly queried, "Why do you call me goddess?" The lord halted in the doorway and turned back to look at her. His silver demon-eyes were full of admiration, and tinged only slightly with lust.

"In the world I'm from, there is no one who will spare more than the most meager scrap for their neighbor. There is no one who will give honesty and effort and love to anyone but their own kin. No one but you, Sakura." His finger touched the bottom of her chin and tilted it slightly upwards. Sakura was forced to look at the Lord of Rain, and the Lord of Rain only.

"That is what many would call a goddess."

November 1st, 6:09 PM

The walk from the lord's personal chamber to the unknown place where Sakura's strength would be tested was not a silent one. Sakura was determined to keep conversation going, for the sake of gathering information and also for the sake of distraction. He would be less likely to slam her into a wall if she could keep him talking about his favorite and least favorite shinobi…she hoped.

The conversation was going something like, "Just because she was given the power to morph herself into paper does not mean you can take part of her and write all over it," when Sakura stopped walking at a window carved into the stone wall. She knew just how damned stupid it was, halting out of nowhere when the lord of the land expected her to keep up, and then expecting him to stop to suit her own purpose, but then again, she had come to stop all such opinions from existing, so did so anyway. There was bloody knife sitting on the sill, after all, which would not have been so surprising if the blood hadn't been spread in a pattern, almost a word, obviously constructed by someone's bloodstained finger.

It was not a word, she decided a moment later. "Do any of your shinobi…enjoy…painting birds of blood on their weapons?" she asked awkwardly. She wanted to pick it up and give the opposite side of the object a look over, but to do so would not only be rude but simply odd. One did not study bloody objects as they did compasses or watches.

"Hidan, perhaps. His attention span is laughably short. I would not put it past him to scribble on his own weapons." He spoke as though he were not in fact standing behind her, as though he could not see the knife sitting directly below her head.

"It may not be a bird, actually," Sakura muttered, narrowing her eyes in confusion. "This person is very sloppy. It's not a bird at all. I think it's meant to be some kind of cat, sitting down—Where did I get the idea of a bird?—I hope the artist was in a hurry. He needs more practice at—"

Sakura stopped speaking then, for it appeared that there was a finger trying to probe its way into her mouth, and a hand grasping her arm and holding it to the sill.

Stunned and thoroughly dumbstruck, she kept her mouth in the pose it had stopped in: while pronouncing the word "at." Unfortunately, this left a gap between her lips. Two or three more fingers edged closer to this gap and the first made its bold way through. She did not dare name the feeling that entered her with the digit.

She turned her head, and was amazed to find no resistance, striking, yelling or glaring of any sort. But this may have been because she was not facing the lord and could not see his expression.

"There are plenty of other people who would like to bite your fingers," Sakura stated calmly.

"I congratulate you."

"I…haven't done anything."

"You tensed and moved away. You are unsure. This has never happened to you before."

Hadn't she told him that outright? On the other hand, it would only make sense that he was suspicious and did not believe every bit of information she gave him. And on that same note…how much of what he had told her was false?

"Did you put this here?"

"Of course. But it doesn't matter now. We're but one hallway away from learning your true strength and chakra capacity." Sakura's eyes grew wider and her breath slowed. "Rinnegan has shown it to me. It burns in you like a shinobi's."

"Is…is Rinnegan—"

"My eyes. They are the Rinnegan." And his fingers sought out her mouth again, found it closed, and caressed the lips his fingers were swiftly beginning to crave. "Rinnegan does what it pleases, but I control when they shall do it. And it allowed me a glimpse of your chakra before Konan sealed you. I found it almost laughable: that was your chakra before the ritual." A particularly flexible finger reached up for her cheek. "It's not as though that's what I needed to see. I felt it first-hand several months ago. I was very rudely punched in the collarbone." There was no pause for Sakura to recollect. It was not needed. "Come. We're nearly there." He removed himself from her and again made his way down the hall.

To counterbalance against swiftly-growing horror, Sakura thought again and again of Iruka and the friends and family of his that all lived literally under one roof, the same people who could be dead this very moment in part because of her.

Remembering her short yet heartwarming time with Iruka's tribe—and despite thoughts of "treason" and "guillotines" and "revenge" moving around in her head—worked very well.

Pein opened the two iron doors at the end of the hall by pulling on the steel rings that were in place of doorknobs. The doors were heavy enough to be soundproof, it seemed, for the moment they budged, a high-pitched and terrified screaming pounded against Sakura's eardrums and set all her senses on high and fierce alert. She ducked under Pein's arm, still moving the doors, and entered the stone chamber.

The room beyond the iron doors was not nearly as large as the indoor stadium where she fought for her life daily against demons, but it held a similar air: a literal air, one tainted by a demon's sweat and the instinct of fear they naturally brought on humans. It was a plain rock dome, with nothing inside it but a floor, smooth walls, torch lamps and two living occupants: one demon and one human woman, the former undoubtedly feeling pleasure, and the latter undoubtedly feeling pain. The mentioned woman was clad in an average rag that most folk round the world would consider a decent women's garment, torn now beyond even the standards of today's people. The demon ripping the stringed ribbons of it away was vaguely worm-shaped, covered in greenish, oozing skin and bearing several protruding appendages resembling arms. Several of these appendages were at work on the woman's body. They scored red lines in her skin, jabbed themselves between her legs, probed at the hot, bare chest it had town away clothes to reach.

The dripping and crying woman was Ayame, and Sakura rushed to her so speedily that she kicked up dust on her way, dust which settled upon the lord's previously stainless cloak.

Like an old friend returned from a journey, the old stirrings of tactic, survival and bloodshed rose in Sakura. She was reminded of her old days as a demon fighter on the short trip from the doorway to the invader of Ayame's virtue. She suddenly remembered that her left punch was stronger than her right, and raised that fist. Without looking down, she kept her foot in mid-air a moment longer, so as not to step on Ayame, she instead set it down a foot or so beyond, on the worm demon's stomach, where it punched through and her toes mashed through organs. The creature's cries of pleasure warped to pain in a single and satisfyingly short second. Not a moment later, Sakura's other foot set down on the stone floor and with it came the left fist. The demon's bulging head turned just in time for its face to be struck by a small, bare hand.

Spinning thrice in the air, the worm demon slapped down on the ground. While it made a struggle to rise again, Sakura whipped around and dropped to the ground on her knees. Her exquisite, shoulder-strap dress was stained with dirt and grit. She studied the whiteness staining Ayame's thighs and knew there was nothing she could give for comfort but words.

"You'll have its offspring in less than a month." Sakura attempted to say this gently. Ayame, not bothering to cover her nearly-bare body, stared at the younger woman crouching by her. The sympathy in her eyes was plain, but also was the dark helplessness. "It'll be better," Sakura added, sounding slightly more awkward, "if your life ends now. If you live through the delivery, I might not be around to kill them for you." Ayame's face contorted.

"My…my father…"

"Decide now, hurry." Sakura said, softly clenching the woman's hand. "It's better if you don't think about it!"

"It ate him already!"

It struck Sakura in the back.

It was nothing but a headbutt, so it seemed, one that shoved her over Ayame and sent her rolling head over heels over dirty dress back in Pein's direction. She paid him no attention now. All her mind was focused on the oncoming demon with a mouth dripping white liquid. It was giving out its ugly and nonsensical bellow, and every inch of it promised danger to her mind and body. The sudden conversion from Sakura's polite persona to that of her neck-snapping one was refreshing as a glass of old wine. It was a very sour glass of wine, for the worm beast had snapped its body like a whip straight over to Sakura's face, and before she knew it she was holding a jaw in each hand, only just keeping the demon from taking a bite out of her head.

She struggled there for several minutes. The creature was too furious at its meal being interrupted to wrap its tentacles around the girl's body; Sakura kept track of each appendage every second. When at last the beast had collected itself enough to realize that its appendages would be useful here, a slimy member began sneaking towards her stomach. Sakura saw the danger immediately and grunted with extra effort. She pulled harder and harder at the two jaws and cried out triumphantly as she tossed the whole creature behind herself. It skidded on the stone floor thrice and then hit the wall with a juicy smack.

It was lively again in moments, and loud. Screeching and showing each of its dull, pink teeth, the worm thrust itself forward. Sakura positioned one foot backward and set her hands ready at her sides, but the worm hit the floor several feet in front of her. The force propelled it up into the air. The warrior gasped in surprise; as the worm fell she steadied herself again.

It hit with three tentacles and Sakura blocked them all with one open hand. It struck with five more and she took a step back and struck the ugly members with her other hand. The process repeated three times and three times again. Never did the worm reach the ground and never did Sakura move her eyes from the opponent.

At last all of the heavy, thick tentacles made a grab, and Sakura let loose the movement she'd been saving: she struck the beast's already wounded stomach and felt her hands punch through the hide. Unsavory insides began dribbling down her wrists, but before they could even get near her new dress the beast hit the ground.

Quickly and smoothly finished, Sakura dashed again towards the trembling Ayame.

"You have to make a decision now," she gave her command from several minutes ago again. "Please, the longer you take, the worse it will be."

"Kill me!" the girl wept. She covered a bleeding eye with one hand and stuck one between her dripping legs. "If my father's gone, then, then I can't—please!" She fell on Sakura's chest, still sobbing and staining the precious gown with commoner tears. Sakura was used to such behavior and patted the elder girl's back with practiced and genuine sympathy.

"You just breathe slowly," she murmured softly. "It won't hurt. You'll see your father in a moment."

Ayame was in too deep grief to give any thanks, and continued weeping while Sakura moved small and powerful hands towards her neck. Ayame's body cart-wheeled in the air as Sakura tossed it, and before the end of the movement the girl's fragile spinal cord had been snapped. With a sigh, Sakura smoothed the almost-nonexistent gown over the girl's exposed, torn body to a level of near-decency. When she stood up she found the Lord of Rain had not so much moved his eyes from her.

"I don't understand," he said with a tiny smile. "Your movements are as smooth and strong as a trained shinobi. Perhaps better. Years in the Underground, yes, but—" he paused to make a dark chuckle, "you're a born fighter. I've never seen such a person. If I gave you so much as a month's worth of combat guidance, you could stand your ground against Kakuzu. But what is an arrogant son of a whore to talk of things like that?"

The warrior girl stared, aware and mystified.

The lord's eyes narrowed but his smile stayed the same. "That's a very rude name to call someone. Particularly someone who is both elder and superior. I'm glad you were able to keep a rein on your mouth, though. You're not the sort to spit in the face of your superior."

Briefly the girl had a mental chuckle, in that she was exactly that sort, when times called for it, but desperately and swiftly made her mind blank as a rock slate. She could guess what had gone on, but was afraid to think it had truly occurred.

"Rinnegan has seen your thoughts." he confirmed. "I was very lucky to use it on you when I did. It showed me your chakra when I first used it upon you. And your thoughts not very long ago. You mean to kill me, don't you…Sakura?" He got no response but a carefully blank stare and a firm, steady posture. "Then I'm very lucky to have found you first. I do wonder why I've made you so angry. And how you hide it so well."

"And I wonder how you can stand to let women be violated by animals in your own castle." she said, trying to control her seething anger.

"I wonder how you can stand to kill women so easily and not shed a tear." Pein retorted.

"Because it's better for her." Sakura explained. "Wherever she is now, she's not hurting or having demon children. I can kill someone by thinking that. If they want me to."

"And how do you kill a group of savage bandits?" he asked.

"By breaking bones and shedding blood." Sakura explained flatly. "There's not much thought required for men like them. But men like Iruka deserve much better than being harassed by bandits." She narrowed her eyes, questioning.

The mouth remained in position. "I have no quarrel with any of his people. Any dead of that tribe were killed in battle and not by me. I had no business with them but to retrieve you. But I am not nearly finished." Now, the fear that had been dammed with thoughts of Iruka and Ayame and bloodshed were violently released. She felt herself beginning to shake as the lord let his chakra become "visible," that is, able to be sensed by others with chakra. "Perhaps I will train you. I'd like to see exactly what would happen if I were challenged by a little girl. What a shame it would be to kill one like you. But perhaps I may change my mind." His eyebrow may have raise or Sakura's vision may have been failing with the thick chakra around her. "You may leave this room and wander the castle only to meet with me in a dark hall." The implication stood alone through the rest of the words.

Again the eyes of circular silver stone blasted into Sakura's mind. They surrounded the cracked, writhing emerald, drilled through it, bore deadly holes in it, let worms crawl through them like joyous children, and glowed like the hard and metal crown of a king. Her knees threatened to give and only by holding her breath could Sakura hold them in place.

At last, for the first time in long, grave minutes Pein moved. He made for the huge stone doors not five feet behind him and moved one of them with two fingers. "I shall have to tell the Xian villagers that their lovely Ayame has been murdered. You are free to move about my castle as you please."

"I'll see you very soon, little goddess."

The stone door slammed shut.

A door slamming, leaving the hero/heroine in darkness: no matter the situation, that is like the most classic cliffhanger ever. Speaking of movies, I went to the soundtrack of "I Am Legend" movie on iTunes and used the song "I'm Listening" as inspiration for the bulk of this chapter, (as well as various "Kung Fu Panda" fights) even though the mood of that song and this chapter doesn't match at all. It's a sad instrumental and well worth the ninety-nine cents.

Happy Steelers Win The Superbowl Day :D