If Tenten was surprised that she was the last one standing, it didn't register until much later. All thoughts and feelings had been put on standby.

Not a breath of wind disturbed the scene in the clearing, creating the strange illusion that time had screeched to a halt.

Her eyes didn't move from the bottomless pits bored into the black wood of the mask. The red patterns upon it swirled in her peripheral vision like flames, but still she forced herself to focus on the dark holes which marked the location of the man's eyes.

A drop of blood fell from her thumb into the dirt.

The man slowly raised his free arm in a placating gesture, and Tenten coiled in response, jerking her thumb to hover threateningly over the battered scroll at her feet.

"Now, there's no reason we can't be rational," said the man. "I see little point in continuing, do you?"

Tenten pulled her bottom lip between her teeth. From the tone of his voice there was no reason why she shouldn't trust him. Why shouldn't she just lick her thumb clean, dust off her pants, and leave this whole messy situation behind? And yet she remained perfectly still.

"We don't have time for this," drawled the other masked man, or woman, rather, if the pitchiness of their voice was anything to go by. "Just kill her and be done with it!"

A sudden shuffling somewhere to her left caught Tenten's attention. The woman whom had spoken earlier grappled briefly with a wriggling mass of limbs beneath her, finally stilling him with a sharp kick to the jaw. She trapped his wrists beneath her heel, snarling as she curled her fingers into his hair and ground his face into the dirt.

"Come now," continued the man calmly, ignoring the tussle behind him. Tenten's focus snapped back to the mask in front of her. "Just give us what we need-" Her thoughts immediately flew to the tiny scroll hanging about her neck, "- and we'll be on our way."

Again, when Tenten remained immobile, the man seemed to lose a little of his patience. He squeezed the listless figure looped under his forearm until it groaned. Loose limbs swung sickeningly as the man bounced the body in his grip.

"After all, no one wants to be the cause of the death of their teammates, now do they?"

Tenten's breath caught in her throat. The man chuckled, hearing that he had struck a chord. He motioned his free hand forward again. "Hand it over, sweetheart."

Tenten felt her fingers twitch towards the chain at her neck.

"That's it..."

She twisted her fingers through the chain and pulled. It gave with a light, metallic tinkle.

"Good girl."

Tenten gingerly extended her arm, her eyes flickering to the little blue scroll swinging from her fist. It had taken weeks to retrieve. All that time...


The masked woman swore as her charge began to squirm again. He had bucked her off of his back, writhing like an eel to release his wrists from the trap of the arc of her foot. With a sharp jerk of her ankle and a short string of muffled cracks, his wrists suddenly hung limp. Her captive gave a strangled gasp. The woman hissed in pleasure.

Tenten tore her eyes away, her shoulders slumping. She dropped the scroll onto the ground before her.

The man grunted in approval and shook free his arm of his captive, who hit the ground with a nasty crunch. The man strode forward to claim his prize.

Then Tenten was on her feet, her fingers a blur of movement as she formed hand signs faster than the eye could see. Black marks scorched the ground in a circle of symbols around the little scroll.


The man lunged forward, his paws grasping desperately, but to no avail.

A sudden puff of smoke, and the symbols and the scroll were gone.


Tenten glowered triumphantly at the man, her hand still in the form of the last seal she had performed to snatch away the masked duo's impending victory.

He was still for a moment. Then, in two swift strides, he was directly in front of Tenten. He pulled back his fist and slammed it into the side of her head, the force of the impact throwing her against the tree behind her.

Then: nothing.