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After leaving Yogo (3 months after birth of the water spirit) . . .

Balsa traveled back along the path in the Aogiri that Jiguro and she had taken from Kanbal. She traveled slowly, taking in everything with a new eye. She had never come back this way after Jiguro died and all she had were vague memories from her early childhood. After a week of travel, she came to the place where Jiguro had fought the first Spear sent to assassinate them. While she didn't clearly remember everything about the path they took, she vividly recalled the fight with the Spear. She stood silently for several minutes, unmoving. It had been after that first fight that she had realized just how much danger they were in.

Another week passed before Balsa found the path through the mountain. Despite watching carefully, she had missed it and had to backtrack. She emerged on the Kanbal side of the Aogiri the next afternoon.

As she looked over the terrain that she hadn't seen since she was six years old, the old desire for revenge was kindled. She quickly quelled her rising emotions and continued to the mountain road that would take her into the heart of the city that served as Kanbal's royal city. Her first objective was to determine the state of Jiguro's tribe and his family. It would be tricky to find information if perhaps Rogsam's son or grandson had taken the throne and still harbored the desire to kill her. It was unlikely, but not impossible. She would have to tread carefully. Her next objective was to visit her mother and father's graves. Finding her father's grave may prove more dangerous than trying to find Jiguro's family.

Fall was approaching in Kanbal, but Balsa could see none of the eye-catching colors that would be covering many of the trees in Yogo. After finding what was left of Jiguro's family, which was relatively easy, Balsa searched vainly for her father's grave. He most likely had not been given a marked grave, but she couldn't help looking.

After searching fruitlessly for her father's grave for almost two months, Balsa chose to go in search of her mother's grave. Traveling the now familiar roads of Kanbal, Balsa inquired and quickly located the place where her mother lay.

The grave was a simple headstone with her mother's name engraved in the front. Balsa knelt in front of the grave and respectfully bowed her head. She opened her eyes a moment later when she heard muttering. Two old women saw her look up and quickly walked away, still muttering. Suspicious, Balsa stood and quickly left. She had been followed by various people ever since she began searching for her father's grave and her well honed instincts were telling her that it was time to leave . . . quickly.

As soon as she began walking downhill toward the tunnel in the Aogiri that would take her back to Yogo, she felt the hair on the back of her neck prick. She didn't stop, but her ears began picking out the paces of those walking around her. There was a pair of feet walking at the same pace and in the same direction as she. She could also feel other gazes boring into her from all directions. She was surrounded and the intentions didn't seem to be good. There were too many people where she was. If a fight broke out, innocent people would be hurt. The past seven months that she had spent in Kanbal had familiarized her with the layout of the city and escape routes. She turned down an alley and the single pair of footsteps multiplied into six, but there were still some hiding in the shadows.

Within minutes, Balsa had led her pursuers to a deserted field. Harvest was over and winter was approaching so no one was in any of the fields. She bent down and picked up a handful of the dry soil. She let it slowly fall through her fingers and watched the dirt blow to the side. She closed her eyes and listened as her followers again circled her. She counted fifteen in total, plus another that seemed interested in only watching. She stood again and immediately dodged several arrows that whistled through the air toward her. The sheath came off her spear and she leapt over the small stone wall that hid three of her pursuers. Before they could even draw their swords, she had delivered sharp blows that rendered them unconscious. She knocked several arrows off course as they flew for her. She closely dodged an arrow that flew past her neck. As it passed, she saw that the tip was dipped in poison. She held her spear tightly as half of the remaining attackers surrounded her, blades already drawn. Balsa recognized the style of the swords they held.

"You were sent by the Emperor. Why would he wait until now? I was in Yogo for over a month." None of the assassins spoke. Balsa dodged another arrow and the six attacked simultaneously. Though they were clearly very skilled and experienced fighters, Balsa had all of them unconscious within five minutes. The archers were now her priority. Suddenly, she sensed three far more dangerous presences. They had been hidden in the streets watching. The archers were no longer alive, but the people that she sensed were more dangerous than they had been. She waited a moment and a person soon appeared. He didn't wear a hat or cloak, but he was carrying a spear in his hand and a sword on his back.

"Worthless scum. They didn't even make you break a sweat." Balsa didn't move, but listened as the other two circled around and closed in behind her. One hung back farther with a bow and the other advanced slowly with a pair of swords.

"Why did the Emperor wait until now?" The man was confident as he also began closing in on her.

"We were going to wait until you were in the pass, but these clumsy idiots failed to get you there." Balsa chose not to pose her question again as the two came almost within reach. Again, Balsa dodged a poison tipped arrow, but she didn't wait to be attacked. The man with two swords barely managed to block her thrust as she simultaneously dodged and attacked. She used the end of her spear to throw a wave of dust and rocks at the other's face.

As the fight progressed, it became obvious that the three were almost on par with the Yogo warriors that she had fought beside, but they had one major flaw. Though their combinations were well coordinated and powerful, they clearly were dependent upon a tightly enclosed area. The field Balsa had chosen was spacious and made it easy for her to dodge attacks that would have been almost impossible to dodge in the tunnel.

"Prince Chagum still talks about you." Balsa, panting, retreated in response to the comment. The three assassins regrouped and the archer continued talking.

"The Emperor was getting quite cross with his continual references to things you and the healer taught him." Balsa remained quiet, but her eyes narrowed slightly.

"Not to mention his talk of the street urchins you made him befriend." The archer was now smiling demonically and Balsa knew that the talk was supposed to be riling her, but she couldn't stop her blood from running cold. If anything had happened to Tanda, Shaman Torogai, or Tohya or Saya, she didn't know what she would do.

"We were hired to . . . cut the bonds that the prince had made with the lowlife scum." Balsa felt her anger rage as it had when she fought with Kalbo warrior. She didn't wait for the man to continue as she attacked head on. Her fierceness caught all three by surprise as they scattered in an attempt to confuse her. The archer was the first to fall under her blade. Before him body hit the ground, she spun and blocked the combined attack of the other two. They were forced to retreat rapidly as she switched back to offense again. The fear on their faces grew as her spear cut closer and closer to their bodies. The fight ended shortly after with a final sweep of her spear. Both dropped to the ground and Balsa stalked away, picking up her sheath as she went. As she reached the edge of the field, she heard stirring behind her. She spun around, flinging the sheath off again. She was surprised to see the archer sitting up, uninjured. He turned his gaze on her, but there was no longer any malice.

"What am I doing here?" Balsa knew that she hadn't missed in her deathblow, but the man was clearly alive. There was no blood and no wound. A moment later, the other two stirred, then abruptly sat up. After a few seconds, the three stood and walked away. They didn't look at her, nor did she sense any malice from them. She waited until they were out of sight before turning and walking toward the road.

Before she reached the road, she was again intercepted. This time it was by nine men wielding spears. Balsa stopped and quickly evaluated each of the men. Each of the men bore signs of combat and all were clearly experienced. Balsa couldn't tell if they were looking for a fight or not.

"Why have you been looking for the grave of a traitor?" Balsa held back a sigh. They were looking for a fight.

"No reason."

"You also sought out the children of another traitor and visited the grave of a woman related to a traitor. What has been your purpose here?" Balsa smiled gently.

"You are the ones that have been following me. Have you been questioning the citizens as well?" The man's face didn't show his surprise that she had known she was being followed.

"Are you the spear-wielder that fostered the Crown Prince of Yogo for a year?" Balsa was surprised that the fact Chagum had been fostered by a commoner had gotten out of the palace. Balsa could now sense the hostility of the men surrounding her. She was still tired from her last fight and these men were also highly skilled.

"Why would the King's Spears be interested in something that happened in Yogo?" Balsa watched as the nine men unsheathed their spears. Balsa looked the man in the eye. Now there was nothing, but hostility from the surrounding men. She sighed.

"I'm sorry you must have the wrong person." The level of hostility dropped, but didn't disappear completely.

"Then you wouldn't mind telling us the name of your teacher, spear-wielder. Your talent is incredible." Balsa knew that her style was similar to Jiguro's. She wouldn't be able to deny that her teacher was from Kanbal. And her spear design was the same as that of a King's Spear. She could think of no lie that would appease their curiosity. And the longer she held her silence, the more suspicious they grew.

Sorry it took so long! Hope you enjoy and let me know what you think 