Kagemane Complete

Chapter 10: Smoke and Mirrors

Tsunade's fingernails dug into her palms as she surveyed the human wreckage in front of her. So much wasted talent. She thought, trying to fight back tears. He has so much to pay for... She tried to imagine bringing all of Orochimaru's crimes to justice and realized that there was no justice to be had. He'd killed hundreds in his quest for power. At a certain point you were just trying to stop him from doing more damage.

She couldn't kill him for every innocent life he'd taken and he was too dangerous to try to capture. No, she'd kill him or someone else would...in a battle that meant little or nothing to all those broken lives he'd left behind. Hiruzen-sensei was right, it's always the next generation that pays for our mistakes.

She'd ordered Kakashi to cover their wounds, she hoped that it was taken as a sign of respect but really she just couldn't function at the sight of their now-stilled blood.

Tsunade kneeled down next to the first of the three bodies, Yoshino's eyes were already close and a small smile was on her lips as though she knew a secret. Tsunade hadn't known the woman personally but after hearing Shikaku's constant bellyaching about his wife she felt like she had. Strong yet soft. A kindred spirit and now dead. Never coming back.

"Rest well, Nara Yoshino your fighting is done and you've joined your ancestors, please think fondly of us." She murmured, hoping to set the woman's spirit at ease.

The next body she had little need to examine. The mutation that it had undergone was still apparent and it would be taken back to Konoha to study the seal that had been placed on it. Tsunade's eyes weren't focused as she studied the ruin. She was only trying to summon the will to move on to the last body. Ibiki had identified the female as Tayuya, one of the two sound nin that Shikamaru had released from prison.

Oh how I wish the last was the other sound nin. She thought, blinking back tears in her eyes, the last body was burning in her peripheral vision. There will be no parents to notify. She thought, her mind trying to find some sort of good to be found.

She walked numbly to the last body, lamenting her life's numerous failures and then knelt on the ground at the boy's side. I'm sorry, I didn't mean for our mistakes to become your burden. I will make sure he's made to pay, Shikamaru.

The Nara boy's eyes were open wide and she could still see the terror he had died in. Slowly and very gently she closed them. Her own eyes closed as her hand slide over the speckles of blood on his forehead. Kneeling across from her on the other side of the body was Asuma, his great shoulders shaking as he wept openly for his fallen student. Tsunade had known they were close, even before his outburst in her office and the Sarutobi was taking it hard.

If anyone saw the tear sliding down her cheek as she stood they made no mention of it.


"How do you know they'll know where to go?" Sasuke asked, looking annoyed. Shikamaru was beginning to think that Sasuke had two speeds, annoyed and condescending. He'd seen little else out of him in their three day flight from Konoha.

Shikamaru shrugged, "They wont know exactly but this meeting place is stupid, to put it lightly." Tayuya looked up from cleaning a rabbit, startled. They all knew that it had been commanded by Kabuto and it was unheard of for someone to speak ill of any decision that the Yakushi made. "Oto has a fairly short border. Even a regular person can walk it in two weeks. Unless I...convinced them otherwise, this will be their second place to look."

Shikamaru ignored the serpent that hung over his shoulders. Having the snake constantly touching him was annoying but it was less troublesome than having to hold the sword all the time. You said you prefer this.

That was a new development with the sword. The numerous people that had wielded it before him had imbued it with a semblance of a personality. At the moment this took the form of a mental link. It had manifested during the second day of their trip and it had almost knocked him out of a tree.

I don't need to stay in constant contact. The sword relayed to him. He called it a voice but it was more of a feeling, there was no voice in his head...it was simply a sort of knowing. The way he knew his toes were cold or that his ponytail was in place.

It's painful otherwise. He thought, remembering the first time they'd tried to separate. The pain became greater the further away they were from each other but even just a handbreadth was enough to cause a dull ache.

Dosu eyed the snake warily and scooted a little farther away from the Nara.

After finding out that the blade had a personality he had thought that there would a battle for superiority but the sword seemed to bend to his will readily, even forming opinions of things based on his observations of them.

It grew agitated easily at the Oto-nin and had even lashed out at Sasuke when Shikamaru had entertained the thought of placing the Uchiha in a Kagemane just to shut him up for a while. The normally reticent Uchiha had found himself in a position that he knew little about and around people that didn't care to explain it to him. As a result he was now a plethora of questions.

For his own part, Shikamaru was not pleased with keeping a fellow leaf shinobi from all the pertinent facts but until he could come up with a plan to get Sasuke away, there was little to discuss and he didn't want to alert the other two that there was something amiss.

Sasuke was the first differing of opinion that he and the sword had. It was resolved when the sword backed down so quickly that Shikamaru thought he was just being placated. As far as he could tell it was a thing of complete id, ruled by whim and emotion but also completely subservient to him. When he felt something, it latched onto this and built on it until he felt something else, switching quicker than he thought sanity would allow.

He had to be careful not to allow those emotions to reflect back to him but it wasn't difficult once he recognized the difference in thought patterns. He just had to pay attention more than he was used to. Not it, 'her'.

It also considered itself female. The last wielder, Orochimaru's current body, was female. It was the only reason he could come up with for it's...her...insistence on the differentiation. You're a sword, you can't get much more phallic than that and a snake is androgynous.

At your age you'd have to drop your pants to prove you're male. It's easier to be referred to as your correct gender though. He couldn't argue with that.

She also didn't appear to have or care for a name. Why would I? When I speak it is only to speak to you, when you refer to me...there is only me. A name is not needed.

He gave up the argument after a while, it wasn't that she forbade a name...she didn't understand the concept as he did.

"I'm unsure what sort of abilities you possess." She'd learned to differentiate between him thinking to himself and specifically addressing her and they'd developed a dialog shortly after.

There are certain things that I will always be but there are some things that you make me as well. He thought about this for a moment.

"What do you mean?"

I am bound by the serpent form and can never be made to harm one, they are the one thing in all your physical world that is spared from my edge. I am also poison and will be, even to you for a while. That didn't seem like a long list of attributes so he waited until it was obvious that no others were forthcoming.

"What about Orochimaru, would your poison work on him?" He thought, his face sliding into a scowl. He didn't notice Tayuya looking at him anxiously as she spitted the rabbit and began to cook it. He didn't think he'd have an opportunity to kill the sanin, Kabuto was his only realistic target and he expected to be dead or dying before he ever faced Orochimaru. It didn't hurt to be prepared though.

The sword sent him several images but he didn't understand what she was saying. When they only repeated he gave up and continued on. He wasn't feeling well and didn't feel like repeating himself. "How do I shape your ability?" There was no answer though, he only felt confusion from the serpent and turned back to his surroundings.

The fire at the head of Uchiha Madara glowed brightly and Dosu had been sent to ensure that it had enough wood to burn brightly through the night. He didn't want to be anywhere near it if his Konoha brethren showed up so he had set them across the lake where they could see the flame and were close enough to tend it but not so close as to be immediately obvious if anyone else showed up. He had a suspicion that they were already being watched though.

He caught the tail end of a conversation between Tayuya and Sasuke.

"...it's power, plain and simple. Don't be so goddamn dense." She said, turning the rabbit carefully despite the rancor in her voice.

Sasuke stood and faced her, "How does it work though?"

Tayuya checked the meat in the fire and glared at Sasuke, "He gives you the seal and gives you access to a power he found. It's his gift to us. You were to be given one but..." She trailed off, unwilling to state aloud that Orochimaru hadn't been able to find the Uchiha.

"I was locked up for the exams." He finished for her, staring at Shikamaru.

Tayuya looked between the two, "That'd explain why your skinny ass wasn't marked already. I'll give you some advice. When you see Orochimaru-sama beg him to seal you as well. If you don't die you'll be able to take on a Hokage."

Sasuke didn't seem to hear her, he was instead staring at Shikamaru who was beginning to take notice. "You're the reason I was locked up." His voice was quiet and Shikamaru had barely heard him. He could see the gears of Sasuke's mind churning up the problem. If Shikamaru was a spy for Orochimaru, why had he stopped him from placing the curse seal?

"We've all got our parts to play, Sasuke. Trying to figure out mine in all of it is only going to give that tiny little logic-process of yours a headache. I'm certainly not going to explain it all to you, it would be far too troublesome." Tayuya snickered loudly. The rabbit was cooked and she quartered the meat, giving him the first choice. He felt less than enthusiastic about food though and his stomach was cramping.

It will be an uncomfortable night for you. I'm building your resistance to my poison. If you nicked yourself with it now you'd die in a little under a minute. She explained. I was a little surprised to find out from you that your 'Hokage' lasted so long.

He mentally reeled at this. "Is that why he died, the poison?"

The snake slide up his arm to rest across his shoulders. I don't know for sure but as there is no antidote I would say yes.

He wasn't sure if it was the poison in his system that made him sick or the revelation that the thing across his shoulders was responsible for the Sandaime's death but he stumbled into the woods and vomited, returning only after he'd completely emptied his stomach of the ration bar he'd eaten earlier.

I didn't mean to upset you, I can't help my nature though. He ordered her back into her sword form and shoved her out of his mind. Tayuya and Dosu only had eyes for the blade, the former was actually beginning to sweat just seeing it.

He jammed the Kusanagi into the earth until only the hilt was showing and sat next to it, keeping his palm atop it. "It's Kusanagi, Tayuya...not the Yosamu." He said, noticing the beads of sweat on her upper lip.

She chuckled uneasily. "Yes, Shikamaru-sama. Are you feeling well?" She enjoyed living and Shikamaru was becoming pale, trembling slightly and was sweating profusely now. She hated to think what sort of dark work the sword was performing on the former leaf shinobi. She would be getting no sleep that night.

Sasuke scoffed slightly, shaking his head drawing both the ire of Dosu and Tayuya. "Catch the flu, Nara?" He said, glaring at Shikamaru.

Tayuya spoke up before Shikamaru could be bothered, "Let me kick his ass, Shikamaru-sama...I'll beat some goddamn respect into his mouth." She was already standing but he waved her off, the motion taking far more effort than he thought it would.

"He's being annoying but he's still important. Set..." He swallowed, his throat feeling dry. "...a watch. Bring...water."

Dosu hopped when Tayuya shouted at him. While he had been the team leader for his own team, Tayuya bore the master's mark. Orochimaru didn't enforce his rank structure, he appointed people that would enforce it themselves and he had little doubt that the kunoichi would hesitate to explain their relative positions in the world. Sasuke had put her in a foul mood. Sasuke. He spit in disgust.

He gathered water from the lake in a skin and brought it back to the firelight. Shikamaru lay shivering next to the fire, Tayuya looking at a loss as to what to do. He was unconscious now, his eyes closed and his eyelids dancing as he dreamt about Kami knows what. Dosu noticed, in a detached way, that his hand was still clasp around the Kusanagi.

Whatever malady was afflicting their 'leader' was taking a heavy toll. The boy thrashed and muttered becoming so violent that Tayuya actually had to grab him to keep him from burning himself in the camp fire. They had placed the fire in a pit to keep the light from going far. The sword in his hand became an adder, sleek and fiery in the light and slid up his arm. Shikamaru lay on his back, his head resting on Tayuya's thigh. She held him under his armpits so that he couldn't roll.

The adder coiled itself on the spy's chest and then rose upwards, flicking it's tongue and swaying back and forth slightly as it's master thrashed under it. It leaned forward, it's unfathomable, black gaze was directed completely on the kunoichi. He couldn't help but notice the wave-form pattern on it's back and wondered again if snakes and sound were, in some inexplicable way, connected.

Dosu shuddered as he saw it's tongue flick out and graze Tayuya's cheek. Her eyes were wide open and unblinking in terror and he saw them begin to water. He could hear her heart thumping wildly as the Kusanagi took it's measure of her.

His hearing was sharp already but he pumped a little chakra into his ears. He heard her whispering, though there was a crackling fire between them. "Please..." She said, swallowing. "...I'm just trying to help him."

The adder swayed in front of her until Dosu thought for sure that he was going to witness her death. Finally it lowered it's head until it rested on one of it's coils. It continued to stare at her but he heard her exhale the breath she had been holding.

I need that sword! He thought angrily. If I kill Sasuke now, my mission will be complete and Orochimaru will restore my arm. He'd lost his weapon when the Hatake bastard had cut off his arm in order to leave it behind.

I can blame the information leak on Tayuya, I could hear her screaming even at the far end of the dungeon. Orochimaru never needs to find out about my... He halted the thought. He wasn't sure if Orochimaru could read thoughts. Sometimes it seemed like he could and he wasn't willing to risk it. I didn't talk at all. I remained true to our cause, that bitch told them everything.

Tonight I'll take it, during my shift. I'll kill them both in their sleep and tell Tayuya... He thought about this for a moment. Tell her what? He pushed the thought away. The important thing was that they both die. Once he held the sword he wouldn't need to tell her anything. She'd fall into place and call him Dosu-sama.

Something touched her, something foreign. It held her around her throat. A few inches higher and she would have seen it's hand...would have cleaved it in two but now it held her. She was lifted away from Shikamaru and felt the tearing pain of the separation. It was something that she had grown used to over the years but she saw the Wielder writhing on the ground in silent pain.

If she went much farther from him, in his weakened state, he would die and she would be trapped in a husk of lifeless steel forever.

Shikamaru ran, he could see the receding form of his mother just ahead. He just had to reach her. He glanced behind him to make sure his father, attached by a thick length of chain, was following.

Sure enough his father's head bumped along in a bloody trail, the chain nailed to his forehead. He felt anguish tearing at his body as his mother put on a burst of speed, outpacing her flagging son, running far into the distance.

At his ear a snake spoke, it's tongue tickling him. "Cut it, Shikamaru-san. He's slowing you down." He found a sword in his hand.

"He's my father." He argued, still running. He wasn't out of breath but the agony was increasing every second.

The snake constricted around his shoulder tightly, "Please...I don't know why he's anchoring you down...release him. We'll both die if you don't."

He stopped in his headlong pursuit and looked back at his father. He remembered seeing life in those eyes but now they were just dull sockets. The head's tongue lolled out and there was no hair on it's scalp. He brought the sword around in revulsion and cut the chain free.

Almost as if he were the fourth Hokage he was in front of his mother. A dull glow illuminated her features and he saw Kabuto stand up behind her, his face ragged and horrible. "Give me the snake!" He roared, the kunai he held at his mother's throat slipping across her skin just barely, drawing a line of blood.

Sasuke watched the prone form of Shikamaru shudder as the snake was taken from him. He could intervene but he didn't see a reason yet, he was curious if the 'jonin' was up to the task. The Nara stood and turned towards Dosu, blinking blindly. He was seeing something but it was definitely not reality. He heard a single word form on Shikamaru's lips and his blood froze, "Mother?" The Nara asked quietly, his voice trembling in fear and barely contained emotion.

He watched as the boy's hands made several symbols. Darkness leapt forward from all around the camp fire, spears of shadow lancing out from the black. The first took Dosu in his remaining wrist and the Oto-nin dropped the snake. The spear of shadow burst out of the other side of his arm in a bloody spray. Two other spears erupted from the tops of Dosu's feet and made perfect arcs, sliding into his thighs, coming back out of his hamstrings and attaching themselves to the ground again, holding him in place. The Oto-nin screamed in pain and outrage.

He watched Shikamaru shuffle towards the Oto-nin dazedly, tripping on a stick, his eyes blank and unseeing. "You killed him..." He said, mumbling almost to himself. Dosu's one visible eye was rolling in fear now and Sasuke saw that Tayuya was on her feet, a kunai in her hand. He doubted very much that she had any thoughts of helping her fellow shinobi though. She was as transfixed as he was.

"Please! I didn't kill anyone." Dosu yelled.

Sasuke watched as Shikamaru's shoulders slumped and the shadows melted away from Dosu. There was still a thick rope of black connecting the two but it was the same Kagemane he'd always seen. Blood dripped from the wounds inflicted by the shadow spears, sliding down Dosu's legs.

Maybe he'll have mercy on... But he didn't have time to finish the thought. Shikamaru turned slightly and began walking. Sasuke couldn't hear everything that he said but he did pick up several words a few times, "Sorry..." and "...protect..." It wasn't until Dosu stumbled on the fire ring that Sasuke realized what was happening.

Shikamaru continued on, oblivious to Dosu's shouts. The Nara only stopped walking when Dosu was standing right in the middle of the roaring fire and then turned so that they faced each other. The shouts grew in pitch until Dosu was screaming wildly. The Nara stared at him as if he were a bug under a magnifying glass in the noonday sun.

The fire reached the Oto-nin's bandages and his shouts cut off as he turned into a roaring pyre. After a moment he saw Shikamaru's knees buckle and knew that Dosu was dead. The Nara fell, the shadows snapping back to where they belonged. He wrinkled his nose in disgust when the wind changed, bringing burnt hair and the smell of frying ham to him.

Dosu slumped forward, his head disappearing into the flames.

Shikamaru turned and crawled towards Tayuya who stood, transfixed as the apparition of her death advanced on her. The kunai fell from her numb hands, clattering into the dirt. Shikamaru reached her and she whimpered as he wrapped his arms around her waist, his cheek pressed tightly against her stomach. "...killed him, mother..."


Asuma growled in his throat. This is going nowhere! He slapped the table in annoyance. "He's not heading east, damnit!"

"We can't know that, he sent the distraction that way but it would be just like him." This from Ibiki.

Asuma shook his head angrily, "Look, he's getting to your flank, he does this all the time in Shogi. He sent the distraction east...if we head east, what's the farthest away he could move?"

"West." Kakashi said, immediately. The Copy-cat nin's books were gone, if out of a need to concentrate or fear of Asuma's wrath, no one knew.

"So he's going north or south." Asuma glared at the gathered jonin. "What's to the goddamn north?" He said, his finger spearing the Oto border. "Look, he's sending us a message. We have his letters, we have his direction...I'll bet my estate that if we comb the woods to the north we'll find his trail."

The gathered jonin had been looking to Kakashi for direction, everyone could see that Asuma had been emotionally compromised and though he was technically not allowed to participate in something he had such a stake in, no one felt the need to bring it up.

Asuma paused just long enough for the impatience to build in him again and then took the cigarette in his mouth and threw it angrily at the wall. Kurenai placed her hand on his shoulder and after a few deep breaths he calmed visibly. "I'm sorry, I know we all want the same thing." He said, looking back at Kurenai and then at Kakashi.

"Why didn't he bring this in front of the Hokage?" This from Hayate. "It would have been the perfect opportunity to trap Orochimaru if we knew ahead of time where he'd be. This has every warning sign of a trap."

Even as Kurenai tried to pull Asuma away from the room he rounded on Hayate with a roar, a trench knife in his hand. Hayate spit the senbon in his mouth at the rampaging Sarutobi.

Kakashi knocked the senbon aside and Tsunade, who had just entered the room, lunged forward and grabbed Asuma's wrist in her hand, stopping him easily. "Knock it off, both of you." She said in an offhand manner. "Asuma, if you can't hold it together I'll break your legs and leave you here." She waited for Asuma to calm himself. He nodded and made a quiet apology before she released his wrist. "That being said, this may be a trap but it's not a trap of Shikamaru's design."

Ibiki chuckled darkly, "Which means we might actually be able to survive it."

Tsunade snorted and spoke to the gathered jonin, "He didn't bring it forward because we..." She glared at the shinobi around her. "...that's all of us, failed to see Kabuto as the traitor he was. If we failed to see him, who else could have slipped in?" Tsunade shook her head sadly. "How could he come to us? We failed them all. We created this situation...failure after failure until one of our genin paid the price. Whatever victories we claim from now on are just atonement."

Asuma pointed at the map, "I...respectfully request we send...two teams if we can't decide. One north and the other as you see fit."

Tsunade stared at him intensely and normally the scrutiny would have produced an awkward smile from him but now he only met it with his own grim stare. "No." She said, speaking to them all, her eyes still fastened on the Sarutobi. "Just one team...heading north."

Tsunade straightened up, her jaw tightening. "Who's on the team?"

Even the two chunin at the door tried to volunteer.

Tayuya tried to rub the grit out of her eyes as the sun rose. She hadn't been wrong, there had been no sleep for her that night. The monster in her lap had finally calmed down enough to doze lightly, his hands were still loosely wrapped around her waist and his head rested on her stomach. His fever had broken during the night and he no longer looked unhealthy. The Kusanagi was curled around his neck, a terrible necklace that stared at her throughout the night. It didn't seem to need to sleep and while those black eyes were on her she decided that she didn't want to sleep too much either.

Fucking Kabuto, this guy's cracked and I'm probably going to be the next log on the goddamn fire.

She felt the Nara stirring under her he turned slightly to look up at her. She could see that while she still wouldn't classify him as sane, he wasn't seeing things that weren't there anymore either.

"Water..." He said, after taking stock of his surroundings. He was quiet and his voice was ravaged by the fever he had endured but he looked much healthier now.

Tayuya's heart leapt into her throat. "I'll get it myself, Shikamaru-sama." She said, sweat forming on her forehead. Kami I don't know what's friggin' worse, him awake or half asleep. She helped him to roll over and propped him against a log.

His first thought upon waking was that it was all just a long, horrible dream. He had fallen asleep on his mothers lap like he used to when he was a child and had just imagined it all. When he looked up to see the Oto-nin's face he was too crushed to feel embarrassed about the situation.

As he lay there against the log he saw Sasuke staring at him, a mixture of fear and hate on his face. Kami I hope that idiot never has children. Those brats wont even be able to squirt a fart out...way too uptight.

Still, now was as good a time as any. Tayuya was gone and he couldn't see Dosu anywhere. He gestured for Sasuke to come closer and with much effort sat up. The black-eyed boy approached him cautiously. As soon as he was close enough Shikamaru began talking quickly and Sasuke leaned closer.

"We've only a minute or so before Tayuya or Dosu gets back..." Where is that guy? "When we meet up with Kabuto, I'll give you a signal...I don't know what...when you see it, just run. Head back to Konoha and tell them what happened. They want me alive so you don't need to worry about me." He'd seen the last Uchiha move before, with Kabuto's attention focused on the last of the Nara firstborn, he should be able to get away. I'll be giving Kabuto a run for his Ryu by then anyways.

Sasuke only nodded, whether in understanding or agreement he didn't know and it would have to do. Tayuya walked into the clearing a few moments later, a skin of water in her hands.

With nothing to do but wait he recovered his strength quickly, both Tayuya and Sasuke were forced to hunt. His hunger was insatiable and after three fish, two quail and a handful of small potatoes he was finally full.

Chouij would be proud. He thought, rubbing his stomach. It would have to do for a last meal.

Who is Chouji? Shikamaru grit his teeth in annoyance.

"Stay out of my head, snake." He sensed confusion but the images stopped. He only had to endure her for another day. Then we'll both be dead.

"Do you want to die?" She asked, tentatively. She'd never disobeyed him before but he could tell that it hurt her to do so now. He tried to ignore his revulsion for her.

Of course I don't want to die. The reply was terse but already he could see why she had asked.

"Then why do you plan to?" In some things the sword was worldly, in others it was like he was talking to a child. It was both frustrating and refreshing and if he could get past the fact that she had killed the Sandaime he might even allow himself to think about it. As it was he replied bitterly.

I wont be second guessed by my equipment. Be quiet. Was he planning to fail by accepting his fate? It wasn't his innate sense of laziness that kept from exploring his options...he just didn't think he had any. Orochimaru and Kabuto held his mother. She came first in his plans and he'd already beat the problem to death in his head.

Like any good ninja he knew his limits. He could save her and Sasuke, he had a half and half chance at killing Kabuto and if he got to spit in Orochimaru's eye he'd be pretty lucky. None of the scenarios he'd run through his mind had ended with his mother, Sasuke and him still breathing. Do you expect her to do what you tell her to? He squashed that thought in his mind. I'll command her, for all she knows I'm still a jonin. She'll do it.

"Where is Dosu?" He asked and Tayuya went pale.

She bowed slightly, not seeming to know what to do with herself. If the idiot had fled...they only had limited amount of time to track him down and bring him back, provided they could do it at all. He had no idea as to the Oto-nin's abilities aside from what they'd told him.

"Forgive me, Shikamaru-sama. You...killed him last night."

He blinked at her, "Excuse me?"

She faced the ground, "Last night, you...did something with his shadow and walked him into the fire. That Uchiha asshole tried to move him out of it but you stopped him." She said, in an effort to draw attention from herself. His gaze shot over to the fire and saw that while the majority of the Oto-nin had been consumed by the flames, his skull was still smoldering and one of his feet had been spared from the worst of the flames, only the skin was peeling and cracked. The rest was a jumble of blackened bones mixed in with the wood.

He touched me and I asked you to stop him.

Shikamaru swallowed heavily, trying to stop the bile that was rising in his throat.

Pakun nodded to Kakashi and Tsunade barked at them from the middle of the jonin formation. "So?"

Kakashi looked back with his ever-present bored expression, "Asuma was right, Hokage-sama. They came this way."

All eyes turned to Asuma who didn't appear to care who had been right or wrong. "We're almost an entire day behind them." He said, scanning the tracks, his eyes hard and unreadable. Without further word he launched himself back into the trees, forcing them to follow just to keep sight of him.

Neji shook his head at Chouji, "Be that as it may, we've been ordered by the Hokage to refrain from seeking out Shikamaru." He paused, eying Shikamaru's former team. Ino stood next to Chouji who was beginning to form a classic taijutsu stance without even realizing it. Would they attack me? He wondered, idly. I would win but not without injuries to both sides.

Shikamaru's absence from their team meetings and training sessions had concerned him very little, it was common for people to break ties when they were promoted. It was necessary for emotionally involved people to delineate the line between leader and led. He had actually looked forward to Shikamaru's return upon which he hoped that the Nara would reign in Ino as Asuma seemed either incapable or unwilling to do so.

Ino had expressed concern that he had allayed. Concern that Shikamaru was in some sort of trouble. I was too sure of my eyes to listen to her words. He thought, bitterly. He had been so sure that Ino, while agreeing that she was most definitely their strongest weapon, was completely outclassed by his own perceptive capabilities that he'd refused to listen to her warnings.

Her superior experience with the Nara coupled with their parent's obvious friendship should have put more credence to her words in his mind but he'd discounted her as he had so many others and she'd proven him wrong once again.

It is not a pleasant realization, knowing that you are better suited as the hammer rather than the hand that wields it.

Still, the Hokage had given her orders and while he took great pride in admitting when he was wrong, this was not one of those times. Failing to interpret signs was one thing, there could be no interpretation of an order.

He had been commanded and as galling as it was, a hammer struck where it was guided. The problem lay with the shinobi in front of him. He was their leader while Shikamaru and Asuma were not present but they did not hold him in such high esteem as to prevent them from questioning his orders regarding this particular situation.

Only a weakling refers to a higher rank when explaining orders. I'll succeed or fail without invoking the Hokage's authority.

"It's...my fault that he has gone. Ino was correct in her assessment of his altered behavior. I will take full responsibility for not reporting her concerns. We will not be pursuing Shikamaru." He met their glares and pointed to the north.

"I do not see a problem with following our sensei though. If he happens to be looking for Shikamaru then it is unlikely the Hokage has ordered him not to." As he spoke their faces broke into grins and he heard the Akimichi cracking his knuckles.

"Konohamaru!" Chouji barked over his shoulder. He pulled the strap of the iron-banded log off of his shoulder as the Konohamaru corps appeared from around a corner, standing at attention.

"Chouji-san!" Konohamaru gave a quick salute and waited for Chouji to speak.

The Akimichi handed the log over to the three, it took all three to hold it and even then Neji could see a slight tremble in their arms. "Keep her safe. I'll be back for her in a few days."

The Corps left at Konohamaru's command, their leader yelling cadence, "Hup hup hup!"

"Speed is going to be an issue with us being so far behind." Chouji explained, grinning at Ino.

Whether by chance or by unconscious design, the three were ready to travel already, light packs laying on the ground in front of them. Neji signaled them into a traveling order, Neji in front then Ino and finally Chouji.

Shikamaru brooded. There was no other word for it. He'd never killed anyone before. There'd never been a reason for it. Any fool could kill. Capturing without killing was much harder. Now he'd killed without even knowing about it.

It seemed like the worst sort of murder to him. Not only had his opponent been unarmed and crippled, he was also under his command. Worse still was that he couldn't remember doing it. As if killing someone was as easy as rolling over in your sleep. It garnered no more thought than breathing. He shivered and drew up his knees. Could have been a chef.

I don't understand. He attacked us...he died. Why do you feel remorse?

Death is an inevitable part of being a shinobi but that doesn't mean it should become an autonomous function. He replied, thankful for once that he had someone to confide in. Killing should be a weighty decision made when all else is impossible.

You're contradicting yourself. She continued, showing him the plans he'd made over the last week. You mean to kill Kabuto no matter the cost for no other reason than he wronged you.

He began to protest in his mind but stopped. The sword was not baiting him, it was simply showing him what his emotions were hiding from his intellect. I will die tomorrow. I can't imprison him for interrogation, killing him is the next best option.

We. The sword corrected, sounding faint.

He turned his head to look at the snake on his shoulder, quirking his eyebrow at it. Excuse me? He asked, not quite understanding.

We are going to die, not just you.

He stood, ending the conversation. It was still early and he was famished. He ate his last ration bar and dreading another inward monologue with the monster he was now saddled with he turned to Tayuya. "So, Tayuya. Tell me about yourself."

Tayuya spared a glance at Sasuke who had returned to his usually taciturn self once he'd exhausted his curiosity. "I'm not sure what you want to know, Shikamaru-sama." She said, ducking her head slightly.

"Where are you from?" He asked, rifling through his pack for another ration bar. No use rationing them now. He found a smashed one at the bottom of his bag and took it out. They tasted like cardboard but they were surprisingly filling and had most of what you needed for a day of strenuous activity.

"Iwa." She said, not quite looking at him. He wondered and not for the first time, what it was that made her so afraid of him.

"How'd you end up with Oto?" He asked, finishing off the last of his ration bar. His teeth ached from chewing on it but at least his belly was full now.

She stared into the fire and poked it violently. "My parents were blacksmiths, I think. One day the Mist Village invaded and killed them both." She sighed and glanced back at him. He had stopped fidgeting with his backpack and was now carefully staring at the fire in front of him.

"Orochimaru found me, I was still in the shop. I'd been there for days. He said I had survived by..." She shook her head. "Anyways, he took me in and made sure I was trained. When I showed talent he marked me."

Her face was distant. "I found those bastards after I was marked, I cornered them in a village east of here, down the coastline. They were on an escort mission. I killed all three and I killed the guy they were escorting." She smiled blandly into the fire. "Orochimaru-sama told me where to find them. He knows what it means to have a score to settle."

Shikamaru thought about this for a moment. "Is that why you follow him?"

Tayuya voice sharpened, the first time he'd heard her temper aimed at him during the entire course of their flight from Konoha. "I follow him because there's no bullshit with Orochimaru-sama. What you see is what you get. He took me in because he saw strength. He didn't see a boy or a girl, an Iwa or a Kiri nin. He didn't chastise me when I killed the people that killed my parents and he doesn't care how I get a job done."

She glared at him from across the fire. "All he asks of anyone is obedience."

Shikamaru grunted. "That seems like a lot."

Tayuya shook her head. "It's nothing like what that dumbass Hokage wanted. He wanted you to think a certain way and behave a certain way. We've all heard stories about his ridiculous benevolence. What's the friggin' cost of all that kindness?" She pointed at Shikamaru. "Guaranteed if you thought about it for a while, you'd find something that he took from you with his self-righteous bullshit."

Shikamaru didn't have to think about it for a while. My parents. Hearing the late Sandaime talked about thus was enough to set his blood to stirring but he suppressed it and was pleased to note that the Kusenagi, even in snake form, made no outward sign of annoyance.

"I choose to follow Orochimaru-sama." She continued. "Everyone else wants you to want to follow them. It's all just a bunch of brainwashing crap. Everyone believes their cause is the righteous one. With Orochimaru-sama it's nothing like that. He doesn't want my love or my respect or for me to agree with his opinions of things. He just wants obedience. For giving me a life and for helping me get my revenge, I can obey." She snorted. "Hell, that's the least I can do."

Shikamaru took this in, his eyes on the ground in front of him. Neither noticed Sasuke's black eyes glittering in the firelight.

The sky was overcast by noon and a light rain started pattering down on them in the early afternoon. None spoke and even the Kusanagi was unusually taciturn. With Dosu...gone...he decided to get another load of firewood himself and it was then that he saw the three figures standing on a stone outcropping in front of him.

His heart skipped a beat as he locked eyes with his mother. Her jaw was set in a stubborn grimace. Her hands were bound behind her and Kabuto held one of her shoulders. She began to speak and the leaf-spy's hands dug deeper into her collar. She made no outward sign of pain but it stopped her tongue.

He shouted for Tayuya and Sasuke. The third figure was swathed in bandages and while the hair and the build of the figure didn't match what he remembered of Orochimaru at all but the eyes gave the snake sanin away.

"Welcome, Shikamaru-kun." Orochimaru's androgynous voice floated across the stones at him. Kabuto, in an odd display of deference, bowed to him formally.

This is the death mark? He shushed the sword in his mind, he didn't have time for distractions. Kusanagi slithered down his arm and into his hand, morphing in front of everyone's eyes into her sword form.

"I've done as you asked." He said, gesturing at Tayuya and Sasuke and trying to catch the Uchiha's eye. The black-eyed genin ignored him completely, fixated on Orochimaru.

Just have to hope he'll be ready to run. He was sweating freely now and it was an effort to keep his breathing under control.

"You're early." He said, simply. Trying to buy time for his mind to catch up to his surroundings.

The bandages around the sanin's mouth wrinkled as he smiled, "I didn't want a repeat of Dosu with Sasuke."

As Shikamaru opened his mouth to reply Sasuke stepped forward, "I want power." He said simply, his eyes burning fervently.

"Sasuke!" He hissed in warning but the genin payed him no more mind than he did anything else. His eyes were only for Orochimaru.

The sanin chuckled richly as he stared at the last Uchiha. "Kill her and I will grant you the power you desire." He didn't bother to look at Tayuya.

Shikamaru only had a moment to turn around to see Tayuya's surprise morph into pleasure. She actually thinks he means for her to win. Sasuke streaked towards her in a red blur and there was a harsh clang of metal on metal. Then they were gone, bounding off into the surrounding forest. Occasionally the sounds of their battle made it back to the four that were left but for the most part, silence ensued.

"Release my mother." He said, glaring at Kabuto.

The silver-haired genin glanced at Orochimaru who shook his head. "The Kusanagi has chosen you as it's next wielder. That complicates this somewhat, Shikamaru-kun." His voice was maddeningly calm.

"I will give it to you once she is released." Kabuto sniffed at this.

"At the expense of your own life? It would probably be more appropriate to say that if you do mean to give it back you don't intend to give it back hilt first."

His mother looked at the sword in his hand and a tear slid down her face though her stoic expression remained unchanged.

"What do you propose?" He asked, the sword at his side. It was relatively light as far as swords went but it still felt like it was going to drag him to the earth.

Kabuto thought about this for a moment. "Neither is a threat, Orochimaru-sama."

He saw his mother's eyes flicker with anger at this. Just hold your temper a while longer for the love of Kami.

Orochimaru seemed to be contemplating his options. "Release her, Kabuto. The boy will come with us if he wants to or not. If he is true to his word, so much the better. If not, she can't get far." Before he could say anything Orochimaru's leg came up and flashed out towards his mother. There was a sickening snap as he broke her knee.

Yoshino screamed in pain and fell onto her side, clutching at her now useless leg that bent at an impossible angle. Shikamaru yelled something and lunged forward, forgetting about Kabuto. He hacked downward at the sanin as he neared him only to be stopped with a shoulder jarring clang. Kabuto stood in front of him, a glowing blue kunai held in his hands. I didn't even see him move.

"Calm yourself, Nara. It's a temporary wound given the skill of your new Hokage. Give me my sword." Orochimaru said, his eyes feverish.

Yoshino spoke before he could answer. "Not today, you piece of shit." Then lunged upwards and passed her hand over the blade of the fabled sword.

All three screamed almost as one, "No!" But were not heeded. Even as Orochimaru knocked her to the side with a vicious kick in the ribs they could all see it was too late.

Yoshino coughed up a little blood. She took a moment to stop wheezing and then stood, maneuvering herself into position with only a little wobbling and carrying all of her weight on one leg. She held up the three fingers she'd cut on the blade and showed them to Shikamaru.

"I wont be a bargaining chip for my son's life. Don't ever give him the sword." She pointed to Orochimaru with the same three fingers, "Torture him at your own peril, snake. He can take his own life to get away from you and you don't get your sword." Yoshino wobbled unsteadily and Shikamaru rushed to her side. The sword clattered to the ground behind him and immediately turned into a snake again, following after him quickly.

The pain seemed a distant buzz compared to what he faced. Already her face was ashen and her breathing was short. She spoke in a whisper as he helped ease her to the rocky ground. "Stay alive, Shika...everything has an answer. The question is, 'How do I escape?' Get free and find ...a nice girl."

Tears filled his eyes as his mother's breathing slowed and her eyes glazed. Finally her breath gave out and she was gone.

He lay her head gently down and removed his jacket, placing it over her. Behind him he heard two sets of footsteps. They're close. Kusanagi filled his hand and he spun, sliding to his feet as fast as he ever had, the snake snapping back into it's sword form and cutting a whistling arc through the air.

The only thing he saw was a pair of amber eyes glittering at him before the world went black.

Sasuke leapt away from the tree just as it exploded, "Strong but slow, Tayuya. You'll have to do better!" He shouted, trying to force her into a rage. She'd activated her second stage seal and he was now mostly avoiding her summoning technique. They're being controlled by the flute. He thought, calmly. So far they weren't fast enough to tax him but if she put no more effort into the attacks than just playing a flute, she could wear him down eventually. He couldn't wait her out.

He heard her return shout even over the crackling wood of the tree falling over. "I will kill you, trash!"

He peppered the area where the voice had come from with shuriken, more to keep her busy than any real hope of striking her.

The Doki, at her command, crashed through the foliage and he darted to the side, barely avoiding a fist that promised to crush him in a single blow.

She's fast with that flute but she's controlling their every move which means she has to see me to be effective.

He took a handful of smoke bombs out of his thigh holster, glad that they were deep into the forest now where the wind was dampened. He threw the bombs at the largest Doki, the other two were likely bearing down on him right then but he still hadn't seen them. The area was instantly filled with a dark purple smoke, obscuring everything.

Ok, she can't see you...now what? He moved and immediately heard a sharp crack as a second Doki crashed to the ground where he had been. He made a single clone and it immediately took off at a run, heading towards the flute music. It wasn't part of any plan but he needed to buy himself time.


Tayuya's fingers blurred as she piped another refrain on her flute. She had seen the clone streak out of the smoke. While she possessed no byakugan or sharingan both of which haled from Konoha, any dolt could see that the clone that had streaked out of the smoke had not disturbed it in passing. She ignored the clone and tried to concentrate on blanketing the effected area in sweeping attacks.

The Doki were not typical summons in that a few solid strikes would not disperse them. It was due to the fact that they had no free will to tie them to their place of summoning. They did not think on their own but she was not worried about the Uchiha trash striking them a few times inside the smoke cloud.

Summoning a sentient creature was always with the caviat that if struck in a manner that would otherwise harm it, the creature would return to where it had been summoned from. Summoning a kunai, however didn't pose the same problems. In that respect the Doki were superior even to Manda. A kunai was only a tool however, not an extra set of hands and while they excelled in durability, they could not act independently.

She twittered a series of high to low pitched notes on the flute, performing an overlapping pattern of attacks that would flush the Uchiha out of his enclosure, all the while moving around the smoke cloud, careful to never stop moving. He's fast, for trash, can't stop moving.

She stared at the enveloping smoke for a moment more and then smirked.

The first explosion knocked the lungs out of his breath, the second was a moment later and almost on top of him. He had thrown his hands up reflexively at the first explosion and it was likely the only thing that saved his eyes as the second blasted through a trunk, flinging bits of wooden shrapnel everywhere. He didn't realize he was airborn until he exited the smoke screen and slammed, back first in a tree. He left a small trail of blood on the smooth bark as he slid down to a branch just under him.

He was still trying to get air back into his lungs when a giant banded club hummed through the air at him. He had just enough time to lean over, falling off the branch before the club took the top half of the tree off with a booming crash.

His lungs were burning and spots danced in his vision before he was finally able to inhale again. He sucked in air too quickly and then coughed, limping away from the falling tree trunk. Stupid! He railed at himself. If she couldn't see me, I couldn't see her and there was no way to dodge any attacks!

His sharingan had been active for a while now and he was starting to feel the drain. I need to end this soon. He took a set of special shuriken from his thigh holster, palming a few in each hand and dashed up the closest tree. He saw a sparkle of polished metal in the sunlight off to his right and pumped more chakra into his legs, turning him into a blur.

He sped up the tree, his feet glued to the bark. Behind him, still on the ground the club wielding Doki crashed through the trunk of the tree. It shuddered beneath him and he felt it tilt crazily even as he ran on. He made the transition from trunk to branch seamlessly. Running upside down now he could see Tayuya in her second stage curse seal, horns sticking out of her head at precarious angles.

Now! He threw both sets of shuriken first one handful then the other and felt the wire unspooling from his fingertips. The first set he threw in an arc directly at Tayuya, the second set he threw above her. Taking three kunai in hand he whipped them at the shuriken as they sped upwards. There was a sharp clang of metal on metal as he changed their trajectories and his trap was complete. Silvery wire glinted in the half light.

He yanked on several of the strands and watched as the shuriken attached to them curved inward. The first two bound one of her arms to her side though he could have howled in fury when he saw that she still had a hold on her flute with her free hand. Need two hands to play it effectively though.

Another set curved around tree trunks and sped back towards her, gripping her around her waist. There was a sharp twitter from the bound kunoichi and all three Doki descended on him, he dodged and lept, avoiding all their attacks and all the while yanking her back and forth the task was made easier due to the lack of variety her notes could bring but also more difficult from his own unwillingness to let her out of the trap.

The solution to the situation presented itself when the club wielding Doki attacked from above. He pulled sharply on the main line connecting them and lept towards her at the same time. As she passed overhead he heard a sharp yelp and released all the lines just as the club passed threw the air he had just occupied and where he had set the Oto nin.

There was a wet thud and he felt a warmth splash against the back of his neck. Immediately there were three distinct pops and he knew that she was dead. I didn't kill her! He screamed in his mind. She killed herself. I'm not like Itachi. I didn't kill her. He couldn't bring himself to look back at what had to be a very mangled body and instead let himself drop to the forest floor and walked slowly back to where Orochimaru and Kabuto were.


Asuma picked up the still form of his genius student gently. Tsunade didn't watch, she was already walking. Yoshino and the Oto nin would also be returned to Konoha, the former for burial, the latter for study but she'd already frozen up twice and she suspected that Kakashi had figured out why by now. They had a long and sad trek in front of them as well as a plethora of unanswered questions. Pakun had been unable to find any trace of either Orochimaru or Sasuke for miles around. It was as if they had just disappeared into thin air.

Kakashi had said nothing when she had called a halt to their search. He had found the boy's forehead protector early on but the scent that remained on it was of no use when there was no trail to follow. No one spoke as they made their way ever southward.

Neji called a halt when he saw the figures on the horizon. They were still a day away from the border but the blond hair of their new Hokage was unmistakable and they were heading towards the trio. They'd meet on the roadway and there was no reason to rush. Chouji and Ino, at first confused for the stop, saw the Hokage and the procession after a few minutes and left at a sprint, despite his orders. When he heard the choked howl of the Akimichi he knew that Shikamaru was dead. The day was wending it's way into night and he began unpacking what little camping supplies he had.

He dug a small fire-pit and surrounded it with stones. The fire was easy to start, there was enough deadwood to make it easy. He had taken a rabbit at midday and now cleaned and spitted it. It would be a meager meal split so many ways but he wasn't feeling particularly hungry and he knew that Ino and even Chouji wouldn't feel like eating either. He moved about the growing campsite with no wasted movement. By the time the Hokage and her entourage arrived the fire was warm and crackling and several logs were set up to sit on around it.

No one thanked him, no one said anything. Chouji wiped at his red eyes and walked off into the woods with Ino on his heels. Perversely he was glad that the Akimichi had chosen to hide his display of emotion from the rest of them. Neji felt numb and that was as it should be. How he should feel. Shinobi didn't cry for lost comrades. They honored them by living well and fighting on. Tsunade turned to him and spoke. He remarked, in a detached way, how hollow her voice sounded.

"I told you not to follow." She didn't seem angry, or even particularly interested in his response. The last thing he wanted to do was quibble the difference between her orders and what he had concocted to circumvent them. Not with Shikamaru's body just beyond the firelight, guarded by the last Sarutobi.

He bowed to the Hokage, "Yes, Hokage-sama."

Jonto activated the second stage of his curse seal, his breathing coming fast and harsh. They're all dead! He was one of the last now. The purge had started two days ago, it was a periodic 'cleaning of the closet' that pitted all of Orochimaru's test subjects against each other in a huge battle to the death to determine what experiments had been successful. He was tired and running on adrenalin alone. The last five had banded together when they realized it was the only thing that had stopped them disappearing one at a time. His eyes were wide open but the dim, underground citadel that Orochimaru had chosen as one of his test sites only had enough light to make you realize how dark it was. Dim shapes flowed past him and he winced as his already bruised shoulder slammed into a rough hewn dwelling.

They were locked in until only one remained. That Karin bitch will let him know when there's only one. He spat in his mind, she was the key to this whole barbaric exercise. He'd killed twelve himself but he wanted to prove himself to Orochimaru-sama. There was no other way out of the Hole. You impressed Orochimaru or you died, forgotten to everyone. I just need to get into a cul-de-sac with a good choke point. I'll draw him out, I can wait for days without food. His head turned sharply as he heard a sound to his right. He put on an extra burst of speed and careened off another stone hut, this time leaving a deep gouge in the granite from where his cursed seal armor ground into it. "Come out!" He screamed into the black, trying to convince himself as much as whatever pursued him that he was still in control.

He ran from memory alone. As he neared his destination he heard another sound, this time right behind him. He gripped a rock the size of his head and spun, throwing it with tremendous force down the alleyway. He waited, hoping to hear anything but the dull crash of stone on stone that met his ears. He backed into the narrow entrance, his back finally to a solid wall of stone. He's gotta come down that alley. When he does I'll take him.

As he tried to calm his breathing he reflected back on the jagged and twisted road that had brought him to such a place. Unlike some of the prisoners and experimental subjects he had volunteered to join Orochimaru's ranks. He had been fortunate enough to see the Sound Four in action. They'd torn through an entire regiment of samurai guards like they were toddlers playing with wooden swords. Each one had donned a horrific visage that had not only seemed to incite terror into their victims but also, exponentially increase their power. The fat one, Jirobo had sucked an entire company of samurai clean of chakra with a single jutsu. He needed that kind of power.

Jonto had been removed from his own village when his sister had opened her mouth about his various thefts around the town. It's not like he had been stealing for pleasure. They needed money, they deserved better than to live like peasants. Fire country kept them fed but any man with an ounce of pride wants more than just a handout. So he'd taken things. Quietly when he could, by force if he had to but he was very careful to never let anyone see his face. Or if that failed, to never allow them to pass on the knowledge.

And I was betrayed by my own blood. He grumbled in his head, not noticing as a shadow detached itself from a darkened corner of the cul-de-sac. Stupid bitch payed for it though, she wont open her mouth ever again. Thus had he found his way to the outskirts of Kirigakure, penniless and branded as a thief. No one would give him decent work and he was run out of every village he stayed in for long. Never gave me a fair shot after that.

He'd confronted the Sound Four after they had decimated the regiment. He could still smell the blood and carnage on them and his knees shook but he had to have that power. He begged them to teach him their secret jutsus. He was no ninja. What little chakra control he had was not the result of self discipline but rather of necesity. He'd learned a little on the go but if it gave him power such as those four wielded he'd gladly have sold away his family if he hadn't choked the last of it to death himself.

Now here he was, ready to finish the game. To take his place among the greats of the Otogakure. No one would stand against him and he would sit at the right hand of Orochimaru himself, taking all he wanted.

His courage was buoyed by the thought and as he screamed his defiance and contempt for whatever it was that had come to face him he barely felt the razor thin shadow slide between his third and fourth cervical vertebra and sever his spinal cord. He gasped once and fell to the ground limply.

"What the hell do you mean?" Asuma said, lifting Hyuga Hiashi off the ground with a single hand, the other poised to strike.

The Hyuga, for his part, only seemed mildly annoyed at the outburst. He stared down at the Sarutobi as if he were something to be cleaned off of a sandal rather than the son of their late Sandaime Hokage. "I left little to interpretation." He said, frostily. He glanced at the Hokage who's mouth was hanging open in shock and sighed. He channeled a spike of chakra into his fingertip and tapped Asuma on the shoulder with it. His feet hit the floor softly as Asuma's shoulder seized up and his fingers went limp. Hiashi smoothed his robes but did not step away from the irrational Asuma.

People should know their relative place in the universe. He thought, acidly. The loss of a few Nara was of little concern to the village as a whole and of even less to the clan leader of the Hyuga.

Asuma ignored his shoulder and looked at the Hokage as well, "That means..." He trailed off and then turned on his heel and shot out of the office before Tsunade could respond.

"Asuma!" She yelled, finally regaining some semblence of self control. It was to no avail, if he heard her he made not concession to it and continued on, heedless.

This is...distasteful. Hiashi turned to face the Hokage, a cool mask of indifference on his face once more.

"How do you know?" She asked, gesturing at the Nara's body.

He inhaled subtly and spoke, it was a a soft gesture and would be lost on anyone who allowed their emotions to rule their actions as much as the Hokage did but for a Hyuga it was on the level of rolling one's eyes. "When he...summoned me...I took a measure of him. He had a small cluster of chakra coils at the base of his skull, just there." He said, pointing at the cadaver. "This body doesn't nor has ever had such a formation."

"Oh Kami..." She said in reply.

He stood over the last one, sword raised. He knew that the man could feel nothing below his neck anymore but he still shuddered in revulsion as he felt the blade slide between his ribs and tremble slightly as it pierced his heart. You are too worried about mercy. He ignored the blade once again. It was a necessary evil but one that didn't bear talking to. It would keep him alive and that was all that was needed from it. He couldn't help but address the statement to himself though. The Sandaime knew all about mercy. My parents both suffered his mercy. If I can be, I will be humane but mercy is...incorrect.

He pulled the blade free to the harsh chuckling of the snake sannin and glared up at the small, circular hole in the ceiling where the two slitted amber eyes burned down at him.

Took a while on this one. Still dark at the moment but that's life. Hopefully I can get back to the goofy stuff soon. Story is still ongoing. Read, review and (hopefully) enjoy.

Any comments, questions or whatever can go through the review system or I can be reached at my aim Kagemanesuccess