That Most Heinous of Crimes
By Andrew J. Talon
Disclaimer: I do not and probably never will own Naruto or any other copyrighted works mentioned in this story. I am not writing this for profit.
A/N: Spider-Language is now in (( )) because of Fanfiction Dot Net's crappy formatting.
They were called Tokougumo. "Far Spider". They were among the mightiest warriors of the Mizugumo, and among the most skilled. Their home was proof of these things.
Their fortress was built out of tree trunks, bent and arranged as a gigantic sphere suspended by spider silk from every angle. Below it lay a river, with tangled trunks poking out of it as they snaked through the earth. Lanterns were lit all over, making it appear almost like a huge paper lantern.
Then, they came. Descending down on web lines, giant warrior spiders came down to the ground like crows would. Like crows for a funeral.
Oh yes, that's just what I need, melodramatic metaphors...
Their eyes seemed to glow red and orange thanks to the torches of their home. The largest one, a nasty thing four times as big as my spider form, landed last. He was clad in chainmail that glittered in the light, and sharp blue plates covered his legs. One of his eyes was missing, but he had so many it was hard to tell.
((At last. Suzumebachi, we meet,)) this gigantic spider spoke. His "voice" was composed of harsh, low growls and groans, as well as intimidating hisses. I made no movement. Inside, of course, I was frankly terrified
((Hanateregumo, I returned. I have come for the Kyodaigumo Clan! As Spider Sage, it is in my rights to have them as part of my summoning scroll!))
((You dare to speak of your rights in our land, Web Cutter? Brood Culler?)) Hanateregumo mocked. ((You refused the rite of combat before! You have no honor to bargain with!))
Ringumo bristled up, indignant, but I held up a leg to calm her. I looked over at my students, and back at Hanateregumo.
... Well, looks like I can't avoid this, I decided. It's all part of the plan.
((Very well. I'll gain some honor then... By defeating you in single combat,)) I called out.
Silence. Then, laughter. The laughter of spiders is not really a pleasant sound to a human. It's hard to put into words what it sounds like, but taking something from your nightmares would not be far off.
((You would fight me in such a form?)) Hanateregumo asked.
((It's the only way I wouldn't win out right,)) I challenged back. Hanateregumo laughed again.
((SO BE IT! We will duel tonight, under the lanterns of Toi! Here will you meet your end, Suzumebachi! Like a real warrior!))
((Well, it's something to look forward to,)) I returned. I turned to my students as the Spider Lord's guards and the Tokougumo warriors warily eyed each other. Given how many eyes they had, that was a lot of looking.
Sorry, that was terrible.
"So, you're going to be fighting him? Is that it?" Sakura broke.
I shrugged in a spidery way. "Yep."
"You're going to get killed, Sensei! Did you hit your head or something?" The pink spider cried.
"It's what he has to do to win their respect," Sasuke said quietly. Naruto stared for a long time, before he nodded back.
"Sensei... This is really stupid!"
I stared. Naruto growled.
"Stupid! You don't have to fight him! Let us find another way!"
"We will," I informed them. "But it's not going to be easy." I looked between them all. "There's something bigger going on here. You need to be ready to act when the time comes."
"Act? Act on what?" Naruto asked irritably.
"You'll know," I said. I looked over at Ringumo. "You've been very quiet, Gumo-chan."
The spider's eyes filled with tears, and she pounced on me.
"PLEASE DON'T FIGHT, ANDORYU! I LOVE YOU TOO MUCH TO LET YOU DIE!" She wailed. The guards around us were momentarily united in their disbelief and disgust at Ringumo wailing. I awkwardly patted her on the head with two of my legs.
"There there Gumo-chan... I've got a plan," I said.
Ringumo's crying continued, but she did it in spider. In human language, she asked:
"What kind of plan?"
"Well... I'm not really sure just yet. But when it's done, it'll be really, really clever," I said.
"Sure this will work?" I asked Sensei as Ringumo finished tying a bundle of sticks to Andoryu's back. We were standing around on a large branch several meters away from the Tokougumo group. That asshole Hanateregumo was flexing his legs and stretching dramatically as his fellow spiders clicked and whistled and stomped their feet on the tangle of branches surrounding the battle arena.
"Nope," Andoryuu replied.
Sakura sighed heavily. "Still going to do it?"
"Don't have a lot of choice," Andoryuu admitted. "I made the challenge. To back out now would be dishonorable."
"You still haven't explained exactly why this other spider clan is so important," Sakura pointed out irritably. "Maybe if we knew, we wouldn't think you were stupid."
"Ha! There!" Ringumo said with a spider smile, finishing her web work. "All set!"
"Good," Sensei replied. He scuttled out of her reached and looked at all of us. "The thing is, this clan is operating under a summoner from Orochimaru's village."
"Orochimaru?" I asked, confused. "Who is that?"
"A dangerous S-class ninja, very powerful, who would like nothing more than to destroy Konoha," Sensei replied. "If I can deprive him of a powerful weapon, then it's a gain to us."
"Ohhh... So why don't you just beat up the summoner?" I asked. That seemed a lot better than fighting a spider monster. My sensei chuckled as Sakura scowled.
"Because that's stupid! He's the Spider Summoner. He needs to do this with them!"
"Keep his own house in order," Sasuke said quietly. I shot a glare at him, but I had to admit he was right.
Had to happen sometime, I guess.
"That's another thing you'll learn on the path to becoming Hokage," Andoryuu said as he turned and hopped down to a branch. "If you survive." He blinked his eight eyes in rapid succession, before hopping away.
"DON'T DIE ANDORYUUU!" Ringumo wailed. She clutched onto Sasuke and bawled like a baby. Sakura and I moved away, leaving Sasuke to cringe.
Hey, if he didn't like hugs then... Screw him!
Hanateregumo was huge, and even without his armor he was more than a match for me. His massive fangs glistened in the lamp light above, and his mouthparts drooled.
He sat perched on one of the numerous twisting branches that circled above the water, as did I. This was their "battleground", a maze of giant tree roots and branches all seemingly woven into a stadium-sized basket. I focused on remaining calm even as his comrades bayed for blood.
((Let the trial begin!)) Shouted one of the older spiders in the audience, and other spiders began beating on silk woven drums.
((Suzumebachi Andoryuu! You will die by my fangs!)) Hanateregumo roared, and he sprang, crossing the short distance between us in a matter of seconds. Had I stayed motionless, his great fangs would have pierced through me, and with a swing of his body he would have torn me in half.
Obviously, I was not in the mood to be ripped into pieces, so I did what any smart spider does-I dropped down, using my webbing as a safety rope.
Hanateregumo slammed into the branch above me with a loud crash, as I descended down. I reached back and pulled two sticks from my back, and with a bit of Ringumo's webbing tied them together. I did the same to another stick, and another until I had a long pole which I slammed down against a branch and pushed on, hard, to aid my undulating body in a swing. Hanateregumo roared above me, and swung down to snap my safety thread with his jaws.
However, it was too late. My improvised pole vaulting pole let me jump to another branch, which I scuttled up quickly. Hanateregumo growled.
((Come back here!)) He snarled, and he jumped again, hoping to land on the branch I was on and dislodge me with the force of his landing. I dropped down all right, but my pole let me vault to yet another branch. The great spider hissed and the drumming above grew faster. I jumped down and tied a web line around a rock, which I tossed into the water.
Okay, okay, he's angry, good, I thought. Hopefully. I proceeded to the next step of my plan. I vaulted to another branch, once more avoiding Hanateregumo's body blow. And another, and another, and another leading the huge warrior on a merry chase.
Well not a merry chase. I was definitely not enjoying the smell of his venom and digestive juices, or the drums, or Ringumo and Sakura's gasps. Each time, I let out some more webbing, tied it to a rock and threw it into the water.
((Is your plan to run me down, Web Cutter?)) Hanateregumo snarled. ((You cannot outlast me!))
((You're probably right,)) I replied with forced calm. ((So why don't you come and catch me?)) I was back on the branch I'd started from, spinning my spinnerets fast into a quick, crude sheath for my abdomen. Hanateregumo roared and leaped again, angling his body so that he could grab me in his eight great legs. The only alternative to being caught was falling into the water...
So I did, curling into a ball so I would break the water tension.
The sheath around my abdomen would give me a few minutes of air. Hopefully, it would be all I needed. I looked around and spotted one of the rocks with webbing tied around it on the sandy bottom, nearby a large root. I swam down and hid myself underneath the root, clutching to the bottom in the shadows.
A massive disruption in the water above signaled Hanateregumo's entry into the water. He swam with confidence, secure that in this, his domain, he was king. After all, I was just a little web spinner confronting a bonafide Mizugumo-What chance did I have?
I closed my eyes to better focus on the vibrations, and slowed my breathing. The great spider swam down, deeper, closer to where I lay in wait.
Come on... Come on...
Come on, come on...!
I felt his great leg smash down near my hiding spot. I opened my eyes and focused on the blurry image of that great limb before springing into action.
I sprang out, grabbed the rock, and used the webbing on it to tie it tightly around his leg. I then swam away and threw the rock up out of the water, and climbed for it. Hanateregumo roared under the water and tried to follow me, but once out of the water I grabbed the rock, swung it around a branch, and tied it. Hanateregumo broke free of the water and bellowed. He fired a blast of water at me, grazing me and sending me falling back into the lake.
But my sheath gave me a short bit of air, which I used to swim for my life to another branch as Hanateregumo stirred up the water violently.
I climbed back out and recovered my pole where I'd left it. As fast as I could I leaped over to another branch as Hanateregumo surfaced.
((Hey four legs! Your mother banged a wasp!)) I taunted. The great Mizugumo snarled and fired off another water jutsu at me, which took one of my legs off. Hissing at the pain, I nevertheless jumped down back into the water.
It hurt even worse down here, but I was too far in the plan now. I could feel him straining against the noose I'd set up for him. It was only a matter of time before he figured out how to free himself.
Working quickly, I located another rock in the water. I swam up and scurried out of the water over the branches to another, and jumped back in just as Hanateregumo cut through the web line. He swam towards me, and was nearly upon me when I reached the second rock. His great fangs descended upon me, faster than I had anticipated, and with no other way out I held up the rocks and prayed for the best.
His fangs impacted the rocks, driving me into the soil. I clutched my body together as tightly as possible, holding my breath. I didn't know how much air I had left, but if I breathed in only water now I was a goner.
Damn... Damn...! He pulled back at last, in preparation for another strike. My body screamed for air but I had no choice, I had to do something. So, with the pressure lessened, I reached up and tied the rocks around his fangs. I then leaped up onto his face and threw the rocks out of the water, hoping they'd get stuck somewhere long enough for me to get some air.
I sprang up as the enraged monster spider rose. I swam to the nearest branch and scuttled up as fast as my exhausted body could. Hanateregumo roared and I felt almost certain he would crush me, but his movements became one of frustration. I looked up and would have smiled if I had the mouth for it-Both rocks had become tangled in some branches.
((GAH! You little-! I WILL DRAIN YOU DRY!)) Snarled Hanateregumo. I took an extra second to catch my breath, before jumping across the branches back to my pole. I got a scurrying start before leaping out and slamming the sharpened end of my pole right between his head and his great fat abdomen-The pedicel for those of you with an interest in arachnid physiology.
((AARRRRGGGGHHHHH!)) He bellowed, thrashing far more violently now. I swung back and forth on the pole, driving it in deeper in the gap between his exoskeletal plates.
I stopped when I was sure I was close to something vital, and looked down at him.
((There is no need for you to die, Hanateregumo,)) I spoke clearly. ((You have fought well. There is no dishonor in saving your life now. Declare me the victor and I will treat your clan with the honor it deserves.))
The Mizugumo were usually suckers for that big, dramatic sparing the life of your opponent thing. It was not something they often did, but tradition and personal interest had a habit of getting mixed together.
Hanateregumo snarled, all of his eyes looking up at me. ((Suzumebachi! You will never understand honor!)) He looked up at the assorted Mizugumo.
((COMRADES! Kill him!))
I looked over at the Mizugumo watching. Many of them held up spears or spider bows with arrows pointed right at me. And all of them let loose with their weapons.
"WHAT? WHAT ARE YOU DOING?" Naruto bellowed as the barrage flew for me. I tried to jump out of the way, avoid most of them, but a single spear lanced right through my own pedicel. The pain burned through me like fire, and I slammed into the branch I was trying to reach. Stunned, I fell into the water below.
Well... crap, I thought to myself. I recalled a quote from a particular episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation as my vision began to go dark.
"It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness, that is life."
Well... No offense Captain Picard, but from where I am, I thought as I slammed into the bottom of the lake.
Well... Crap, as our sensei might say.
"NOOOOOOOOOO! NOOOOOOO! WAAAAHHHHH!" Ringumo bawled. She began shrieking in the Spider Tongue at the other Mizugumo. Sakura was frozen stiff.
And Naruto was... Was...
"You... You...!" Naruto snarled, and my chakra senses began to scream at something horrific coming from him. His eyes turned red, all eight of them, and the air turned red and hot around him. He shuddered and shook, and on his belly something shined-But I couldn't see what it was.
All I knew was that my instincts, either spider or human, were screaming to get away from Naruto as his aura exploded with power. As it did, his features began to shift-It took a moment to realize he was turning back into a human.
Well... Mostly. Four spider legs still stuck out of his back, and his mouth bore two large fangs as he leaped across the great divide between us and Hanateregumo. The giant spider had pulled the pole out of his back, just in time for Naruto to slam into his back and drive him into another branch.
"N-Naruto! What...?" Sakura tried, but she was soon distracted by me shoving her out of the way of a spear.
"RINGUMO! We need to get back into human form, now!" I shouted. Ringumo was still bawling, crying great big tears from all eight eyes. "RINGUMO!"
"RINGUMO!" Sakura bellowed, surprising me. She scuttled over to Ringumo and smacked her across the mouth parts. The little Jorou spider snapped out of it, and blinked. "How do we turn back into humans?"
"W-Well, I'm not sure-"
"NARUTO just did! Mostly!" Sakura pointed out. Naruto was even now furiously attacking Hanateregumo, leaping around and punching and kicking him in the eyes, belly and any other vulnerable looking spot. Ringumo tapped her legs nervously on the ground.
"Well, um, my mommy did teach me a way to break a transformation lock... But I'm not sure if it will work the whole way!"
"Better than nothing! DO IT!" Sakura ordered, as more arrows and spears were lobbed our way. Ringumo's chakra flared frantically, and she extended her forward arms. She hit Sakura first, then myself. A Mizgumo warrior chose that moment to land on our branch and lunge for us.
"AHH!" Sakura cried, falling off the branch with Ringumo falling with her. I managed to throw myself to the side as I felt the transformation began. Unlike the orderly, easy morph of before though, different parts of me changed at different times. My forward legs turned into arms, my abdomen became my bottom even as my hair exploded out of the top of my head with all eight eyes.
The Mizugumo warrior turned and snarled, his chakra shaping itself for a water attack. Despite only being partially done, I clumsily pushed my fingers together and formed handseals.
"Katon! Goukakyuu no jutsu!" I bellowed as I unleashed a fire blast into the face of the spider. It screamed and fell off the branch. Three more stayed behind, prepping spears and arrows. I stood up, almost totally human again aside from the spider legs jutting out of my back. I gave all three a feral grin.
"Come on," I challenged. "Let's see what you've got!"
Seeing the spiders just... Just attack Sensei like that, just kill him... Without warning, without justification... It made me angry. So very, very angry.
My spider instincts merged with my own, and anger filled every part of my body. I didn't care about anything other than making that big, fat bastard Hanateregumo pay. Pay for killing my sensei who was willing to let him live.
I leaped clear across the divide, my chakra flaring all around me. I brought up my fist (when did I get that back?) and brought it down hard on the top of Hanateregumo's head.
"ARGH!" He bellowed. He spat something at me in the spider tongue but I didn't care.
Hurt him hurt him HURT HIM...!
He swung for me with one of his huge arms, and I jumped up to wrap my arms and legs around it. I dug my fingers into the tough, hair appendage and roared as I twisted my body. A satisfying snap filled the air and Hanateregumo roared in pain. He swung his broken leg around, trying to smash me but I leaped away. I kicked back off a branch and ricocheted for his eyes, and my fists and legs slammed into his eyes fast and furiously.
He screamed in pain, and something inside me roared in approval. I raked my fingers over his eyes like they were claws, and I drew great spurts of blood that covered my jumpsuit.
Hurt him hurt him HURT HIM HURT HIM...!
I leaped up and found the wound Sensei had inflicted on him. I drove my fist down into it, and then a leg, and then another leg, and I kept hitting and punching and kicking and stomping and ripping at it, all just to make the monster roar in agony.
He bucked violently and threw me off. I fell for the water and hit it with a hard splash. I gritted my teeth and tried to get my bearings, but the water began to swirl around me! Hanateregumo loomed overhead, a huge shadow over the water!
I was shot to the surface like a bit of meat I tried pressing to the bottom of a ramen bowl once. Up, up, right into the jaws of Hanateregumo!
"GAH!" I bellowed as his fang sliced over my leg. I grabbed onto the fang and with a flare of my chakra I tore it off.
"AAAARRRRRGGGGHHHHH!" Hanateregumo roared. I fell back into the water, and swam desperately, avoiding the massive spider's large legs trying to crush me. Looking up, I could see his belly.
HURT HIM! Roared the voice within, and with a flare of my chakra I shot back up, the fang held above me. I don't know what I hit, but I knew it was definitely his weak spot.
Just like Sensei said-Attack the weak point for massive damage...
I didn't have time to reflect on the fact I now had spider legs sticking out of my back. I was a little too busy using them to awkwardly run across the surface of the water for my life as arrows and spears landed all around me.
Ringumo managed to find shelter behind a rock protruding out of the water, and I joined her. Arrows and spears whizzed around us and bounced off the rock. I winced as a particularly big one struck right above us with a loud crack.
"We need to save Andoryu! We need to save Andoryu!" Ringumo said in a panic.
"I know, I know!" I shouted back, trying desperately to stay calm. Sasuke was fighting off Mizugumo high above us, but the flashes of fire and spider screams indicated he was holding his own. Naruto, with that monstrous red chakra of his, was fighting off Hanateregumo himself by the roars and screams but I had no idea if he was winning, there was too much chakra being exchanged. And far in the distance I could spot the exact place Sensei fell.
I bit my lower lip, then froze. My chakra senses picked up something big moving under the water. I focused intently, trying to get an idea of what it might be...
A fin breached the surface some distance away, and I realized it was a fish. A very, very big fish.
A very big fish headed right for where Sensei lay.
"Oh no, oh no, oh no," I groaned. I looked over at Ringumo. "Can you distract them?"
Ringumo nodded. "I can!"
"Okay... One... Two... THREE!" I shouted as I ran across the water.
"What happens at three-OH!" Ringumo shouted behind me. "HEY! HEYYYY! OVER HERE! COME ON WASP FANS, COME ON, HIT ME! OOH, TOO SLOW!"
Geez, what a bimbo! My Inner snidely commented.
I bounded over the water, using chakra in my human feet to try and speed up my spider legs. It was confusing, disorienting-I'm amazed I didn't just fall in several times. Somehow though, I was able to get to the water where Sensei fell, and my chakra senses indicated he was still alive.
The fish was closing in. I took a deep breath, and let my spider legs relax. I splashed down and kicked my feet hard, thankful for the spider silk clothing I wore. It wasn't weighing me down as much as cotton or wool would.
Where are you Sensei...? Come on...! I managed to see his small form below, legs waving in the water. I felt relieved-He hadn't begun to curl up like a dead spider. I wrapped my spider legs around him, and braced my feet against the bottom to kick us up to the surface...
Unfortunately, the moment I did, we ran into the mouth of the giant fish.
"MURGLE!" I shouted in shock as a big fleshy mouth closed around us. I could see the throat, see it undulating, just desperate to get us down into it's gullet. I spread my spider legs to brace myself against it's throat, but Sensei began to slip down. I grabbed onto one of his legs and grit my teeth, holding him up. But with my air diminishing, I was feeling weaker and weaker. I was fighting the reflex to breath in, try to relieve my need for oxygen but if I did that...
REFLEX! My inner shouted, and realization filled my mind.
I brought my legs around Sensei's body and held on for dear life. I ran through the handseals for a simple Raiton jutsu, and when my hand was charged I slammed it up into the roof of the monster fish's mouth.
It choked and shuddered. I did it again, with as much chakra as I could muster! The fish seemed to shriek around us, and a mass of gunk shot up from the throat. The fish's mouth opened, and we were both shot out into the water. With energy born from panic, I swam up, up, up...!
"HWAH!" I gasped as my head broke the surface. Pulling Sensei up, I swam with my other appendages until we reached the branch. I pushed his body up out of the water, and clambered after him, coughing violently.
"Haff... Caff...!" I shook and shuddered at the fish puke covering me. "Ugh...!" I shook my head and focused back on Andoryu-sensei. His chakra was fading fast, we were both cold and air deprived, and the only medical jutsu I knew was simple and unrefined.
"... Screw it," I decided, in total agreement with my inner. I slammed both palms into Sensei's head and focused all my healing chakra into him.
I was moving faster than I ever had before. Dodging slung rocks, arrows, spears-All of it so easily!
I couldn't understand it. Were they really this slow? Or was I that fast?
I didn't know, and I didn't care. All I knew was that the whole of the spider clan seemed to be trying to kill Sakura, Ringumo and Naruto. I couldn't let that happen.
I shot forward between two spider archers, a kunai in each hand, and slashed across their flanks. When their brother threw a spear at me, I leaped up, allowing it to pierce the side of one of the archers. Two smaller Mizugumo attacked me from both sides, their fangs enclosed in metal blades and their pedipalps packing steel piercing points.
... Damn Sakura for her love of alliteration...
Both of them moved together flawlessly, like one was a reflection of the other. They slashed, thrust, and bit at me from both sides, their bloodlust obvious. I deflected, parried and dodged their blows as we fought along a huge branch, all the while stones and arrows were slung my way.
It was insane! I was going to be overwhelmed, I could see it, sense it!
I leaped up high, even higher than I usually could, and locked my spider legs onto the branch above. I slipped my kunai into my wrist bands and ran through handseals.
"Katon: Hōsenka no Jutsu!" I bellowed, directing my fire blasts precisely to hit every spider I could see as they jumped for me. I let go of the branch and dropped down, throwing kunai into the ones I missed.
I landed on an arch-shaped root, panting for breath. I looked around and saw that all of the Mizugumo were pulling back, regrouping. I took a moment to look down into the water.
I smiled as red eyes gazed back at me from my reflection. Yes... Yes...!
"ARRRRRRR!" Shrieked Hanateregumo, and I looked over to see him be thrown through a branch and slam into the truck of a nearby tree. Naruto bounded after him, red chakra flaring around him like a flame. Hanateregumo, as badly injured as he looked, sat up and shuddered, glaring his defiance.
He bellowed what sounded like a threat, to which Naruto responded with a roar of his own.
"YOU KILLED SENSEI! I'LL KILL YOU!"
My eyes widened as I saw the great spider's chakra flare-He was putting his all into a final jutsu. Something big and powerful.
"NARUTO! NO!" I shouted. But that orange wearing idiot didn't heed me. He just plunged ahead like a comet for Hanateregumo. The Mizugumo raised his forward legs up, and the water rose around him. It twisted in mid air into a sphere, before with a sonic boom it exploded outward in one direction-Right for Naruto.
It connected and I resisted the urge to shut my eyes. Which was fortunate, as I saw something... Impossible.
Naruto's aura stopped the blast of water. He struggled against it, floating in mid air, his aura flaring even more brightly. With a mighty roar, Naruto threw up his arms and the blast of water burst into steam. However, as Sakura would probably tell you, instantly transforming water into steam requires a massive amount of energy.
And that energy usually takes the form of an explosion... Which this did.
The water seemingly exploded right into Hanateregumo's face as well as Naruto's, and both were sent flying back. Naruto slammed into the water at an angle, leaving a huge splash as Hanateregumo was slammed back into the tree trunk.
"NARUTO!" I shouted. I was tired, almost dead tired, but I pushed that out of my mind as I ran for where Naruto had splashed down. I dove in and swam down, seeing him floating with his eyes wide open. He reached up and grabbed my hand and, swimming hard, I got us both to the surface.
"Pfft...! Haa," he gasped as we got up to a nearby branch. I took a few deep breaths myself, staring at him.
"Naruto... What the hell was that?" I asked flatly. Naruto lowered his eyes, and sighed.
"... Doesn't matter... Sensei's dead," he said in a flat tone. I opened my mouth, unsure of what to say... Before the entire area began to rumble.
"H-Huh?" Naruto cried. "What the hell?"
I looked over my shoulder and my eyes widened. "LOOK!"
Out of the water rose a familiar, terrible form. Mizutoushou himself, water falling from his body like waterfalls.
I tensed up. Naruto did too. We looked at each other and nodded. We pulled ourselves out of the water. He assumed combat stances, each of us ready to fight to the death if we had to.
Mizutoushou looked around slowly, his every movement deliberate and terrifying. He looked down upon us with his mighty gaze. I trembled, but didn't move. Naruto growled next to me. I tightened my grip on my kunai, even though it felt like a useless toy against such a monster.
Then... The monster spoke.
"YOU WOULD FIGHT ME?" He asked.
"YEAH!" Naruto shouted back defiantly. "I'd fight you, and WIN!"
I nodded my assent.
Mizutoushou then made a horrific sound, one that took my battle addled brain a few moments to recognize-The laughter of a spider.
"THEN YOU DO POSSESS COURAGE," he spoke. He turned to Hanateregumo, who was lying against the tree trunk, badly burned and twitching.
"Mizutoushou-sama... Please..." He gasped.
"YOU BROKE THE CODE OF HONOR," Mizutoushou said gravely. "YOU ATTEMPTED TO STRIKE DOWN THE SAGE WHEN HE OFFERED TO SPARE YOUR LIFE. YOU AND YOUR FAMILY HAVE ACTED DISHONORABLY..."
"But... But they are humans! Outsiders! He is the Suzumebachi!" Hanateregumo begged. Mizutoushou raised up his leg.
"NONE OF THAT CHANGES OUR HONOR, HANATEREGUMO," Mizutoushou spoke. "FOR THIS DISHONOR... THERE IS ONLY ONE RECOURSE TO SPARE YOUR FAMILY."
Hanateregumo got to his seven remaining legs unsteadily. He bowed, even though it looked like it hurt like hell.
"NOW GO. TAKE YOUR PEOPLE INTO YOUR HOME. TEND TO THEM," Mizutoushou ordered. Hanateregumo scuttled away, almost limping, as he and the rest of his people followed him to Toi, which shined above.
Mizutoushou turned back to us. Naruto scowled.
"Hey! HEY! What's going to happen to him?"
"HE WILL PERISH BY HIS OWN FANG," Mizutoushou replied. "AFTER COMPOSING A POEM."
"Seppuku," I murmured. Naruto looked disgusted.
"FOR THE MOMENT... WORRY NOT ABOUT HIM," Mizutoushou said. "CONCERN YOURSELVES WITH YOUR MENTOR."
I saw a flash of white, and for a moment I started to expect my dead relatives to be reaching out for me next. But the white turned out not to be heaven, but instead a familiar cloaked form.
"You always did have a habit of getting into trouble," she spoke, her voice echoing in the strange black void we were in.
We all did, I thought back.
"Doesn't change the fact you keep getting in and out of it," she said.
Are you here to taunt me or... Or... Oh God... I'm dead, aren't I? You're here to guide me to the afterlife. Please tell me I'm not going to hell at least! I begged. Hey, how coherent are you going to be if you think you're dead?
The girl smiled and shook her head. "Not quite... Not yet."
Then what are you doing here? I asked.
"Just letting you know that you've got a bit more work ahead of you... And you'll be seeing me again real soon. Now," with a kiss to my forehead, "wake up."
"PFFFGAAAHHH!" I threw up, and trembled all over. "Ugh...!" I raised by arms up to my face and stared. Five fingered, pink digits. I ran them down by body, shocked that I was back in human form.
Though more shocked that I was alive at all.
"Sensei!" Sakura sobbed, wrapping her arms around my neck and hugging me. "Sensei! You're all right!"
"Ahhh... Y-Yeah," I coughed.
"ANDORYUUUU!" Cried another voice. I winced.
Ringumo, now in human form as well, glomped me hard enough to make me hear my ribs creak.
"Y-Yes, yes... Now...!" I gasped out. Ringumo was prodded into releasing me by Sakura, and Naruto and Sasuke soon entered my field of vision.
"So... Um... What happened?" I asked.
"Nothing much," Jorougumo's voice said. I looked over to see her in her preferred human form, sitting atop a branch with a smile. Behind her loomed the massive form of Mizutoushou, staring down like a mountain god.
"... Someone... Want to explain things to me?" I asked.
"I beat up Hanateregumo!" Naruto said with a grin. "And Sakura-chan saved you with Ringumo, while Sasuke fought off some mooks-"
"Better than you did," Sasuke snorted, but the barb lacked bite.
"Then Mizutoushou showed up, then Jourougumo appeared and made us all human again... Then you woke up!" Naruto said. He frowned, and crossed his arms over his chest. "But I'm still confused!"
"That makes two of us," I said evenly. I looked at Jorougumo, a terrible suspicion entering my mind. "Jorougumo-sama..."
Jorougumo smiled apologetically. "My apologies, Ando-kun, but... The deal was made before you ever arrived."
"... What are you talking about?" Sasuke asked in a flat tone.
"HANATEREGUMO HAS BEEN THREATENING THE PEACE TREATY AND MY POSITION FOR QUITE SOME TIME," Mizutoushou explained. "HE HAS BEEN AMASSING MANY FOLLOWERS, WITH THE INTENT TO OVERTHROW ME AND RESUME THE WAR."
"So, I offered him a deal," Jorougumo said. "Allow the Spider Sage to intervene and take care of Hanateregumo... And maintain the peace treaty."
"... You mean... This was a set up? From the start?" Sakura asked, shocked. "All of it?"
"Not all of it," Jorougumo said. "We were betting that Ando-kun would defeat Hanateregumo and diminish his standing while taking away several of his followers."
"THIS THOUGH IS A FAR BETTER OUTCOME," Mizutoushou stated. "HE IS NOW REMOVED AS A THREAT FOREVER, DUE TO HIS BREAKING OUR CODE OF HONOR. HIS ENTIRE FAMILY IS NOW DISGRACED."
"... You used us!" Naruto snarled. "You used ALL of us!"
"It is the Spider Sage's duty to preserve the peace of our world," Jorougumo said. She looked over at me with a little smile. "And as he is of my clan, I am happy to help him."
I stood up, very, very slowly. Sakura's chakra boosts had gotten my own moving again, and my strength, though diminished, was still enough for me to stand.
"Yes... You helped me," I said quietly. I looked right in Jorougumo's eyes. "But you also lost something in the same action."
"What would that be?" Jorougumo asked.
"... My trust," I said. Jorougumo looked pained, and I felt satisfaction at it. "I'm afraid it will take a while for me to bring myself to trust you again fully, Jorougumo-sama."
"... I see," she spoke in a soft whisper. I looked up at Mizutoushou.
"Hanateregumo's family will be taken care of and allowed to keep their lands," I stated.
"YOU WOULD RISK WAR FOR THE SAKE OF ONE WHO BETRAYED YOU?" Mizutoushou asked.
"I would risk war for the sake of the innocent," I said flatly. "His seppuku will absolve his family of his dishonor... That is the Code's law, is it not?"
The great spider laughed again. "YES... SO IT IS." He began to sink back into the water. "FARE THEE WELL, SPIDER SAGE TSUME."
And then he was gone. Jorougumo frowned, and looked over at Ringumo.
"Ringumo... Feel free to stay with Ando-kun as long as you wish," she said. Ringumo huffed, and turned her nose up at her mother. Jorougumo nodded before blowing a kiss to me.
"Until next time, Ando-kun," she said. I nodded respectfully, and Jorougumo-sama vanished in a flash of light and silk.
"Great... Our first big mission and it was all a set up," Naruto grumbled, sitting down. He slammed his fist into his palm. "I want to beat them all up!"
"Good," I said with a smile. "It's the right way to feel about these things... Even if sometimes, they are necessary."
"Do you believe this was necessary, Sensei?" Sakura asked.
"As the Sage, I have to keep the peace. It's my job," I said, with a tired sigh that had nothing to do with my physical exhaustion. I shook my head. "Hanateregumo broke the code of Honor, he must pay for it. But his family shouldn't have to."
I looked over at Sasuke. "Besides... This wasn't a total waste, right?"
The Uchiha heir smiled, just a little, before his face returned to a scowl.
"Let's go home, Sensei," Sakura said with a sigh. I nodded, and pulled out the summoning scroll.
"All right, everyone... Gather round. First class express to Konoha is leaving the station!"
I looked around. Where there should be trees and grass and the Hokage Monument in the distance, there was instead metal. Plastic. Functional, arranged into a cylindrical shape around us.
I heard nothing, the whole of the space filled with silence. Naruto looked around, staring behind us.
I turned around and looked. Through thick glass, a familiar blue and white form shone up at me via reflected sunlight. I closed my eyes tightly, and then reopened them.
The Earth as seen from orbit was still there.
Yes, this story still lives! I've decided that, what the hell, I like writing Naruto fanfiction so I may as well write it when the urge strikes me. Unfortunately I've also learned that I only write when I have something to say, so I will probably continue to be unpredictable a writer for a good long while.
But still, whenever you look me up, know that I'll have something for you to read, and hopefully enjoy.
Andrew J. Talon, signing off.