DNON

Cat-o-Nine Tails

A/N~Hello everyone! 3 3

It's taken me so long to update! I know that I've worried a few of you and I'm sorry for that.

Life gets in the way, and with bills piling up over winter, I've had to take on more hours at work unfortunately. As much as I'd love to sit and make lovely stories up all day my bill collectors don't accept one-shots. Lol.

I do have plans to continue (fingers crossed) a bit faster with my stories. I have big plans and lots of ideas for co9t, now I just have to find the time. Lately my days off have been few and far between but I have started on chapter 40.

I made a Ko-fi account! Well, a friend helped me cause I'm a bit hopeless with tech. She's been after me to try it for a while now, so here goes.

/kazeandkiba

There's not much there yet, but I was thinking if it works out, maybe I can put a few sneak peeks of upcoming chapters or stories? Check it out! I'm excited to try it.

A special thank you to my friend and Beta, Sakura's Unicorn for all her wonderful editing and advice. She's my rock!

Thank you for all your support.

K&K

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"The smallest feline is a masterpiece."

― Leonardo da Vinci

Cats pride themselves on their ability to do nothing.

John R. Breen

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Cat-o-Nine Tails

Chapter 39

Team Work Makes the Dream Work

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Sasuke slit one eye open and glanced around. He jumped down from the windowsill and stretched out, easing the lethargy from his limbs. He'd fallen asleep in while waiting for that woman to leave.

Sakura's mother, that insufferable woman, could talk forever about arranged marriages, he thought, sneering in disgust. You would've thought she was marrying her only daughter to the royal family the way she plotted and planned, going on and on to Itachi—henged as Sakura—about how successful their night had been.

Personally, Sasuke wouldn't know how the omiai went, since he and his teammate had been forced to leave by that yapping mongrel, but Mother Haruno glowed as she praised Itachi ad nauseum—so much so that the real Sakura, still trapped as a cat by the curse, paced the apartment, mewling miserably until his aniki picked her up and set her in his lap. He soothed the anxious little cat while her mother prattled on about grandchildren and Sakura's retirement from her dodgy line of work. The black cat's lip curled, baring his fangs to Itachi as the insufferable woman prattled on. Not receiving the slightest acknowledgement from his brother, Sasuke laid down with his tail curled around him, eventually finding the pull of sleep inescapable.

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Sasuke lifted his head and shook it to clear his thoughts. He looked outside to see that dawn was growing outside. He must've fallen asleep to the endless drone of Mother Haruno. The young Uchiha yawned, flicking his fluffy tail as he came out from behind the sofa. He immediately tensed with a loud hiss, the hair standing at the back of his neck.

For a moment, memories of his past flooded through him. In his mind's eye, Sasuke saw yet another person he knew lying dead in the arms of his brother! Rage and fear froze him, just like it did on that fateful night. His eyes met with Itachi's stern stare. Sasuke's claws extended, blood pounding in his ears.

"Mmmph. Kaa-san, I don' wanna..."

Sakura ended her dream-rambling with a sigh that caused an even more disquieting and annoying thought to enter Sasuke's mind.

'What the...' He scowled. 'Why the hell does she always let her guard down?!'

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"Put her down," Sasuke growled, flattening his ears.

His henge now dropped, Itachi's dark eyebrow twitched upward as his little brother's expression change from dismay to shock to downright seething mad. Sasuke's many clearly displayed emotions forced the well-trained former ANBU considerable effort to remain stoic.

'Some things never change,' Itachi reflected thoughtfully, his index finger itching to reach out and poke Sasuke's forehead.

Many times in their youth, Itachi witnessed his brother's distress and impatience over things like losing track of his favorite dinosaur, or not being able to go with big brother on missions. Somehow, this irritated cat, who looked ready to assault him so fiercely, reminded Itachi of how Sasuke would pout so adorably when he didn't get his way as a child. Despite his best efforts, Itachi's mouth slid into a smirk.

Putting a finger to his lips to silently caution his little brother, he watched as Sasuke's tail twitched uncontrollably. His smirk widened further as he smoothed back the kunoichi's silky, pink hair from her brow, making her murmur and his brother's tail shift sharper.

"No need to worry, foolish little brother. She is unharmed. After her mother left last night, our little kitten was quite distressed. I...comforted her."

Sasuke leapt to the arm of the sofa with a low growl. "Sakura, get up!" he snarled as jade green eyes blinked open in alarm.

"Sasuke-kun...what's wrong?" she asked in confusion when the fluffy, black cat suddenly appeared nose-to-nose with her. Itachi chuckled and her eyes went wide as soon as she realized her warm pillow was moving, shifting ever so slightly beneath her.

Sakura sat up so fast that she fell off the couch, but before she could reach the floor, Itachi caught her and stood up, setting her lightly on her feet. Her head spinning as she tried to reason out how she got there, Sakura stammered an apology, thanking Itachi.

Sasuke cursed and jumped up to the window ledge, glaring daggers at both of them before he turned to glower out the glass.

'They were at odds again?' Sakura glanced after her old teammate with a look of concern and back at Itachi. What had she missed?

"My little brother is out of sorts because your mission was unsuccessful, Sukoshi." Itachi's face again showed no emotion, even though his eyes appeared mirthful.

"Oh, no!" Memory came flooding back and Sakura groaned, slapping a hand to her forehead. She'd nearly forgotten! "Hito!"

"Don't worry," Itachi assured her, clearing his throat. "I've taken care of your former affianced."

Sakura and Sasuke's gaze flicked to each other for a split second before looking at the elder Uchiha brother in disbelief.

Sakura saw nothing at the omiai that gave any indication of it being anything other than successful! Her mother was positively crowing when she escorted the henged Itachi back to her apartment last night.

"I-I don't understand, Uchiha-san."

"Tch!" Sasuke sneered, showing his fangs. "You killed him, didn't you?"

Itachi's rasping chuckle made goosebumps rise on Sakura's skin. Sasuke scoffed and stalked toward the kitchen.

"No," he told them truthfully. "He's still quite alive. However, Hito will not bother you again, little one. And your mother is none the wiser."

Sakura sighed in relief and nodded, quietly thanking Itachi for his help before releasing him to his cat form again so his illness would trouble him less. He was hiding it well, but she could hear the wheezing he was trying to suppress. "I appreciate what you've done, but you need rest." Itachi nodded, taking residence on the sun-warmed windowsill that his younger brother had abandoned.

When she heard Sasuke crashing around in the other room, Sakura realized he was still upset. She knew from training with him as genin how irritated he was whenever Team Seven failed an objective. Their mission last night had been nothing short of a disaster, to be honest. She supposed he was even more of a perfectionist now.

'He's probably very frustrated,' Sakura thought and stopped, holding her hand over her stomach as it unexpectedly growled. 'Ugh! And hungry, too. When was the last time we ate?' she wondered. Itachi must've had a feast presented at the omiai, but she and Sasuke were too busy hiding from that diabolical dog, Poopsie!

Sakura came around the corner of the kitchen to find Sasuke perched on the countertop, glaring at her. 'At least he's trying to look fierce,' she thought to herself. He was utterly adorable as a grumpy black cat with his long hair rumpled from sleep. She bit back a smile and nodded to him.

Sasuke harrumphed and looked away.

Sakura chewed her bottom lip. "You must be hungry, ne?" she asked, suddenly feeling a bit apprehensive around the crabby cat. It never failed, Sasuke always had a way of making her feel anxious. "Er, well, anyway, I'm starving." She opened the fridge, hiding behind the door, only to find it nearly empty. 'Damn. I keep forgetting to go shopping.' She sighed and grabbed a lonely carton of eggs before searching the cupboards for some rice. "Is omurice okay, Sasuke-kun?"

Sasuke watched Sakura scurry around the tiny kitchen like a nervous mouse walking on eggshells around him. Somehow, it bothered the younger Uchiha even more than seeing her sleeping on Itachi's lap. He was powerless in his current fluffy state. She had nothing to fear from him. It was his brother who was a ruthless murderer, so why was she avoiding looking at him? Sasuke's ear flicked in irritation. 'She can be so annoying,' he thought crossly.

"Ketchup."

"Eh?" Sakura stopped rooting endlessly through the cupboard to look at him with a mixture of guilt and confusion.

His fuzzy black ears twitched and he turned away, unwilling to explain.

Sakura felt a pang of remorse. She realized she was a bundle of nerves around him. Sasuke had done his best to look out for her while they spied on the omiai and he'd made sure not to leave her behind. She'd trusted his instincts completely then. Why should now be any different? His demeanor might be gruff, but her teammate had never gone out of his way to hurt others.

"Oh! I see." A small smile lifted Sakura's lips. "On your eggs, right?" She laughed to herself "You bet, Sasuke-kun."

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As the soft gray light of the new day lit the morning mists that rose from the earth outside the village, Karin studied the walls obscured by the overgrowth of vegetation. A jungle of vines and trees clogged the unkept trails, and branches scratched her as she stalked through the underbrush behind Suigetsu, searching for a way to breach the barrier.

"Ugh! There's bound to be traps on these walls outside the village, you know! So, why the hell couldn't we have snuck into the Uchiha district inside the village?!" she groused.

"Duh." Suigetsu rolled his eyes as if she'd just had the dumbest idea in the world. "I couldn't stand another minute apart! You know they wouldn't let me keep my precious baby in there!"

"That stupid sword again?! Tch! So what!" Karin flipped her hair over her shoulder huffily. "You could have left it with Jugo at camp."

"And have birds shitting all over it and squirrels nibbling at the pommel all day?! Shut your mouth, woman." Suigetsu scoffed indignantly. "That blade is worth more than you!"

"Well then, you're on your own, idiot. I'm not going to climb this damn wall." Karin crossed her arms. "Even if you get past the booby traps, there's probably the ghosts of a hundred murdered Uchiha waiting to attack you on the other side."

"Ghosts?" Suigetsu snorted laughter, patting Karin's head. "Silly woman. I didn't realize you were concerned about me. Don't worry. I won't die so easily."

"Shut up, asshole! Who's says I'm worried about you?!" She swung at him and missed when he ducked, still chuckling. "Baka!" Karin seethed, as he moved ahead. "I just need you to take the fall when that blue-haired woman returns! She can slice and dice you into a million pieces!" she shouted after him. "And don't go that way, Suigetsu! I can see remnants of malicious chakra all along the wall there!"

"See! You do care," he teased, grinning a sharp-toothed grin at her. He moved further down the wall, waving his sword at her. "Just warn me if you see anyone, you horrible woman."

"Suit yourself, dumbass." Karin leaned up against a tree, studying her nails. "I don't know why my Sasuke-kun picked you to follow us anyways," she grumbled, biting her cuticle. "Like he doesn't have enough idiots around him already."

Moments later, Suigetsu's keen wail had her running to find him. She made it to the wall to find him trapped in an unusually strong genjutsu, his eyes burning red.

"Damn it, Sui!" She reached out to touch him and nearly lost her arm when his sword whistled through the air, inches away. His eyes were glazed over and he wasn't listening to her at all. Startled, Karin growled determinedly as the dazed water ninja battled the demons in his head by striking out all around him, felling trees and chopping brush, making all sorts of racket. If he kept this up, abandoned or not, he was going to draw attention to their presence near the Uchiha district!

"Quit it!" She dodged another strike of the bloodthirsty sword.

How the hell was she supposed to interrupt his chakra and break the genjutsu without touching him? She'd even gone so far as to throw a kunai at him. The blade nicked his arm and he kept right on fighting his ghosts, oblivious to it all.

'Now what?!' she wondered...and then inspiration struck! "Oh, yeah! You ain't gonna like this, baka." She smirked. "This is what you get for not paying attention my warnings."

Karin concentrated her chakra, sending Sealing Chakra Chains out of her body to strike Suigetsu in mid-swing. The chains hit him right in his chest and he went down like a pile of bricks, his sword hitting the ground with a loud clang. She ventured closer and found him transformed into a lumpy puddle of gooey gel, an unfortunate side effect of her Chakra Chains. Karin giggled at his predicament. She'd nearly forgotten the effect her poor control of the sealing chains' powerful chakra had on the water-nin last time she used them, when he'd escaped from Orochimaru's lair.

"Karin!" His squishy face glared up at her from the ground, violet eyes livid.

"Serves you right." She stuck her tongue out at him. "I told you it was a bad idea."

"Aww! And you saved me anyway. Allow me to thank you." Karin squealed as he surged toward her. She stepped back and tripped over a tree root as the oily goo that was Suigetsu sloshed over her feet, sliming her.

"Suigetsu!" the redhead squealed in horror, trying to extricate herself from the slimy mess. "I hate you!"

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The copy-nin ambled down Konoha's main street, perusing his favorite romance novel as villagers strolled past him. Funny, no one paid much attention to the tall ninja and, frankly, it always surprised him. His steps turned toward Sakura's apartment as he pondered his bloody past.

There was a time when his name alone struck terror into the hearts of others from many countries and, if one happened to recognize him walking toward them, they might stop and fight, but there was an equal or better chance that they'd run for the hills. He felt a slight pang of empathetic regret for the Uchiha brothers. Their prowess was known both in and out of Konoha. Their names alone invoked the kind of fear that legends were made of. Despite their best efforts, it might just be impossible to bring them back into the Leaf village fold where they belonged. Even bold and daring clans would not appreciate their amazing skill set after their trust had been crushed into dust. Kakashi sighed, knowing how hard losing that trust had been on his own father.

His thoughts and his steps were cut short as he turned onto the path to Sakura's door. There was an enormous crate outside it with a bow on top.

He immediately scanned the area. Ninja didn't really like surprises and neither did they advertise where they lived. It was a dangerous job at best, so no amount of caution was ever too much.

Biting his thumb, Kakashi summoned Pakkun. He nodded toward the crate in front of Sakura's door. "Sniff it out."

"Hai, hai!" In an instant, the small dog was checking the package for traps. Afterwards, he swiftly tracked the path of the people who set it there, coming back minutes later. "Seems fine, boss. No sign of explosives or ambush. The trail led back to the merchant district, Hito Compound." Pakkun tilted his head as Kakashi covered his face with his hand, groaning. "You know the place, boss?"

"Yeah. Thank you, Pakkun." He knelt to pet the pup affectionately before releasing the summons. "That's just great." He walked to Sakura's door, knocking once before opening it. He was greeted by the Uchiha brothers. Correction. The Uchiha cats.

The silver-haired ninja skipped the small talk. "Where's Sakura?"

"In her room." Itachi nodded toward the other end of the apartment.

Sasuke saw the calculating look on his sensei's face and his tail twitched. "What's up?"

When Kakashi opened the door wider, the boys followed him outside to the box on the landing. "Do you know anything about this delivery from the Hito compound?"

"There was an omiai yesterday," Itachi informed him. "I went in Sakura's stead to change her suitor's mind about the plan to marry her."

Kakashi pulled a handwritten note from the top of the crate and read it. He slapped his forehead. "Ah, I think, perhaps, you've given the wrong impression of our Sakura-chan to her affianced." He held the message up for the two Uchiha brothers.

~Good news, darling!

Since our little 'meeting,' I've decided that we should have more private time as newlyweds. So, instead of living with mother and father, we will have our very own, very private apartments! *wink, wink* I should have guessed from your burakumin status that you might enjoy things a bit rough around the edges. No need to be embarrassed, dearest. This will stay just between the two of us. 3 3

Your husband is ready to make ALL your dreams come true!

Lustfully yours,

Hito~

Kakashi opened the box with a low whistle. "Itachi? I thought you said that you changed Hito's mind about marrying Sakura-chan?"

Itachi nodded. He'd used the Mangekyo Sharingan on Sakura's fiancé, giving the merchant nightmares of absolute torture that the pink-haired kunoichi would inflict on him if she were to become his wife. Pain, bloodshed, torment. Prison would look like a refuge compared to the excruciating agony his new wife would rain on him after they were wed. Once released from Itachi's powerful genjutsu, Hito had been so quiet—he'd barely spoken the rest of the night. The blank look of futility in his eyes was one Itachi knew well from previous victims of his unsettling genjutsu.

Kakashi opened the box a bit further and the cats jumped up to investigate.

"That dirty bastard!" Sasuke cursed under his breath.

Itachi looked at the items in the package in confusion. "I don't understand."

Kakashi deadpanned, realizing that the deadly, older Uchiha was perhaps a little less world-wise than his younger brother. But, of course, Sasuke lived with the Snake Sannin for nearly three years…enough said. "Uh, Itachi—" He pulled aside a silky, black kimono to reveal a set of handcuffs, a cat-o-nine tails, and other scandalously wicked-looking 'toys.'

"You should've slit his throat," Sasuke growled lowly, turning to glare at Itachi. "You're slipping, brother."

"Hey, guys. What's going on?" Sakura popped her head out of the front door and the three of them froze. "What's this?" she asked, indicating the crate on the step and all three sprang into action. Kakashi slammed the lid of the crate down, Itachi stepped in front of her, blocking the door from opening further, and Sasuke snatched the note, tearing it to shreds.

"What the hell?" Sakura's eyes narrowed. "Kakashi," she growled.

"Sakura-chan!" Her sensei rubbed the back of his head. "I was just showing the boys, uh, my package! It just arrived!" The copy ninja rubbed the back of his head, chuckling rather sheepishly. "I finally indulged and bought myself the gold-leaf, leather-bound set of Icha-Icha Unabridged!" Kakashi patted the crate proudly. "Would you like to see?" he grinned behind his mask. "I can read some of my favorite passages to you. It's all new—"

"Oh, god, no!" Sakura turned pink, looking somewhat mortified at being offered porn by her teacher. "Er, I mean, no, thank you, Sensei. That's, uh, not the sort of reading material I enjoy."

"Come on, now, Sakura-chan." He chuckled good-naturedly, teasing his student. "I've seen the love novels you have mixed in with your textbooks."

"Those are romantic comedies," she said, stamping her foot, "not porn!"

"Maa, Icha-Icha isn't porn, Sakura-chan," Kakashi scolded. "How many times have I told you that?" He held his hand over his heart, his expression pained. "What you must think of your old sensei?"

"Eh?!" She put her hand over her mouth. "S-Sensei…gomen na."

Sasuke looked between the two in disbelief. Not only had Kakashi diverted her attention completely from the package, he'd managed to make Sakura feel guilty about it. He closed his eyes, shaking his head.

"Forget it, Sakura-chan." The silver-haired nin waved his hand forgivingly. "I didn't really stop by to show you my new books. I'm here to tell you it's safe for you to go back to the Uchiha district tonight with these two."

"Oh…hai, Sensei." Sakura smiled awkwardly in relief. "Arigato."

"Ja ne." The copy-nin waved and disappeared in a puff of smoke, the strange crate traveling with him. Bits of shredded paper littered the ground, blowing across the courtyard.

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Sakura sat quietly on the veranda of the Uchiha district house where her feline wards were being held. She breathed the cool night air deeply and watched the first stars glimmer on the horizon as dusk fell over the world, its shadows painting the property in shades of gray. One of the shadows emerged and ambled up the stairs to sit at her side, nudging her arm. Without a second thought, she reached over and stroked the tabby's head.

"Good evening, kitten."

She smiled. "Konbanwa, Kisame-san. Out for an evening stroll?"

"I'm always out looking for a little action." The cat grinned, revealing rows of sharp, white teeth. "Have you seen that pretty blonde lately?" He looked up at her imploringly.

"Not today, Kisame-san. I'm sure Tsunade's busy in Hokage Tower."

"Oh really?" His ears perked up and his tail twitched.

Sakura shrugged as she looked out into the shadows, watching as another pair of cats approached the porch…or at least one cat. The other looked more like a…

"Well... Look what the cat dragged in." Kisame greeted Kakuzu before wrinkling his nose up at the bedraggled cat behind him. "Hidan, you look like a porcupine and smell like shit."

"Fuck you, fucktard!" Hidan hissed, his voice taking on a slightly manic edge. The tiny carcasses of dead bugs and vermin that littered the zombie twin's pointy hide swayed as he stalked proudly toward the others. "That's the smell of death and I revel in it!"

Kakuzu rolled his eyes. "There's a mouse turd stuck to your forehead, dumbass."

The quill-filled cat bristled and growled, his hair standing on end. "Shut it, motherfucker!" He turned his head over his own back, ripping out one of the wooden skewers stuck there and spit the sharp, little stick at his partner. Kakuzu dodged the projectile with an angry hiss.

"Watch it, idiot!"

Hidan cackled madly, pulling out another toothpick and shooting it at his partner in crime.

"Dammit, Hidan! I'm gonna—"

Sai appeared on the porch next to Sakura. "Hello, Ugly," he greeted then halted, pinching his nose shut. "You're smelling particularly rank this evening. New perfume?"

Sakura frowned. "What are you talking about, Sa—" She caught a whiff of the nasty smell coming from the violet-eyed cat and covered her mouth and nose with both hands. "Oh, my goodness, Hidan! What have you been rolling in?!" Sakura looked closer and concern clouded her eyes. "And you're bleeding too?! Come here. What happened to you?"

"Fuck you, Pinky! I do what I want!" Hidan gloated, backing away to preserve his precious prey of prized payment to his lord. "Jashin heard my prayers and DEATH will rain down on you and the entire Fire Nation!" To punctuate his threat, the cat snatched two more skewers from his hide and sent them flying toward Sakura and Kisame.

"Why, you little shit!" Kisame scrambled from his lounging spot, growling at the lunatic ninja-cat.

"I'll take care of this, Hag." Sai announced, pulling out a scroll and paint brush. He put ink to paper with a practiced flourish before he placed his hands together in a tiger seal. The scroll bubbled, the black ink coming to life. Sai set it down on the step as hundreds of mice spilled out of the parchment, scampering down the stairs toward the stinky, bloody cat.

"Hey, asshole!" Hidan warned Sai. "You keep them creepy little fuckers to yourself!"

Kakuzu leapt aside as mice scurried past him, heading straight for Hidan, who was pulling toothpicks from his blood-sodden fur and spitting them at the rats as fast as he possibly could. A few mice vanished in splats of black ink, but most of the horde broke over him in a wave as he cursed them, screaming for Jashin and the other Akatsuki present to aid him. "Kakuzu! Help me, goddammit! You're my fucking partner, for Jashin's sake! Die, you little motherfuckers!"

Cat and ninja alike watched as the mice carried the writhing, squirming Hidan on their backs, some apparently still getting killed, judging from the blots of ink trailing behind as they lifted him up the stairs.

Sakura, Kisame, and Kakuzu stepped aside, watching curiously as Sai opened the door to the Uchiha house and let his cat-carrying vermin in.

"Sai?" Sakura looked at the dark-eyed ANBU. "Wouldn't be easier to clean him up and dress his wounds outside?" Sai shook his head, going inside and following his ink-summons down the hall. The cats ran inside too, their curiosity getting the better of them as Hidan screamed bloody murder and all manner of curses at them all.

"I could use a hand." Sai looked emotionlessly at Kakuzu who turned his head warily between the former ANBU and his mice horde. When Sai nodded to the bathroom, the patched-looking cat walked in after him, a deep chuckle coming from the feline as he figured out what was up.

Kisame laughed when he saw what was happening as well. "This is too good. Lemme get in on this." His enormous tail flicked mischievously as he rounded the corner.

"Eh?" Sakura's eyes widened when she came down the hall and peeked into the bathroom. "Sai!" She tried not to laugh, but it wasn't easy. "Isn't that a bit too cruel?"

"Not at all," Kakuzu assured her, flushing the toilet as Hidan screeched, scratching at the sides. He tried to escape from the bowl, but ink mice armed with toothpick spears kept him from succeeding. Suddenly, the toilet lid came crashing down on Hidan's head, splattering the remaining mice. Kisame jumped up on top of the lid, trapping the death-nin while the other Zombie Twin flushed again and again. "Shit should be flushed down the appropriate hole."

Sakura swallowed a giggle and nodded to Sai. "I guess the punishment should fit the crime," she murmured, hearing the foul curses spewing from the violet-eyed assassin. "Carry on," she ordered. "Try not to lose him, though."

A smile that seemed almost real graced Sai's face. "No worries. He's too fat to fit the pipe."

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Far off in the distance, a warm breeze blew through the trees in the forest outside the village, sending a twisted piece of parchment fluttering in its wake. Suddenly, a hand reached up, snatching it from the air.

"Hello... What's this?"

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Things you probably already know: Cat-o-nine tails-A multi-tailed whip, usually with nine knotted tails, originally intended for severe physical punishment.