I grabbed onto Itachi's arm and felt him squeeze back. The wind rushed by me, making my eyes water and blowing my hair out of its tie. I forced myself to look away from the bottom of the ravine. I met Itachi's eyes, and he nodded. He grabbed a kunai with wire and threw it at the wall of the ravine.

All at once I was jerked to a standstill, my insides feeling like they were still falling. I dangled, hanging onto Itachi's arm, unable to breathe. I looked up. A bead of sweat ran down Itachi's face, and the kunai embedded in the wall began to shift. I tried reaching for the wall, to cling with chakra, but I was too late. The kunai gave way.

I looked down instinctively, and barely had time to brace myself before we landed. My head cracked back against stone and my ears rang. My whole body was numb. I struggled to stay conscious. I pushed myself up and winced as my head throbbed. I reached back to gingerly touch the spot. No blood.

We were on a ledge, jutting out of the ravine, about five square meters. There was a hollow space in the wall, like a small cave, giving us more room. I moved away from the edge, and bumped into something. I looked down. Itachi laid face down, a pool of blood spreading under his head.

Panic thrilled through me, quick, shocking feeling into my numb limbs. I shook him. He didn't respond. I searched for a pulse at his neck. It was there, steady, strong. I turned him over, and saw that he had cut his head on a rock, and was knocked unconscious. It was superficial; head wounds just bled a lot.

I sat back, breathing a heavy sigh. He was alright. We were alright. We hadn't plunged do our death. Once he was awake, we could climb back up. Now was just the matter of waking him up . . . and hoping he wasn't too injured to make the trip. There was no way I could do it while carrying him.

"Itachi!" I called, shaking him. Then my hand touched something warm. Right, I had to stop the bleeding. I tore off a piece of my shirt and pressed down on the cut on his forehead, fervently wishing I had a first aid kit with me, and making a mental note to include such items in my pockets next time.

It wasn't long before the bleeding stopped, and rain was now coming down, growing heavier. I dragged Itachi into the little cave and crumbled against the wall, drawing my knees to my chest. I shivered. I had been so preoccupied with making sure he didn't lose any more blood that I hadn't noticed the rain; I was only lightly soaked, but the night chill made it worse. There was nothing around to make a fire, so I heated my breath, not enough for a full blown fire Jutsu, but enough to blow on my hands and warm them up. I wondered if Itachi was cold; blood loss would do that to you, but it didn't look like he had lost that much.

Dear God, that had been such a stupid thing to do. Was I losing my edge? No, I just wasn't used to this kind of team dynamic, this kind of mission. I was better than that. I had just lost my cool, acted on an instinct honed for wildly different situations, when I should have been using my head and adjusting my strategy to include new people. There was no point in agonizing over it now. I wouldn't make the same mistake twice . . . Hopefully.

I continued blowing hot air on my hands, as the rain outside grew worse. I could hardly see anything. The rain falling outside was the only sound, and it felt very lonely at that moment, huddled in a cave with only an unconscious boy for company. My hair swept down over my neck and stray locks clung to my cheeks. It felt better, having it long. I would let it down, but that only made me look more like a girl.

Next to me, Itachi stirred. I looked down.

"Tomoe . . ." He groaned, and tried to sit up. "What happened?"

"We were tossed over the cliff. We fell on a ledge. You cut your forehead open." I said shortly.

He moved, presumably to touch his cut. I felt him wince. "I see. What about the robbers?"

"Don't know. They might've attacked already. Hayama-sensei will be busy protecting the convoy. It's up to us to get back."

"You don't think they'll come looking for us." It wasn't a question.

"Nope. For all they know, we're dead." I shrugged.

"Dead . . ." He trailed off, but it felt like he wanted to say something more and couldn't. So, I kept talking.

"Your cut is superficial. You'll be fine, but you might need stitches. Although, you could have a concussion . . . they should have a doctor or something at the caravan who can take a look at you. We'll go back after you've rested a bit. It's not like we can see much in this rain anyway."

He still wasn't responding. Was he out of it again?

"By the way, Tomoe . . ." He said suddenly, making me jump.

"What?" I squirmed a bit.

"Up on the edge, during the fight . . . did you see what happened to that man I hit with the kunai?"

I thought back. He must have been talking about the one who got knives in his throat. "Oh yeah, that guy. One of the lackeys. Yeah, he's dead."

Itachi flinched. I looked over, curious. I was growing used to the lack of light and could see him cover his face with his hand.

"I killed a man."

For a moment, I didn't understand his point. I blinked, slightly confused. Then it hit me.

Oh. Was that what was bothering him? "Well yeah. That can happen when you throw a bunch of kunai at someone. Actually, that's what they're for." I said in a matter of fact tone.

"I wasn't thinking. My body moved on its own, I didn't think about . . ."

"You didn't think about what would happen after?"

He nodded. His hands were trembling.

"Wait a minute . . . was that the first time you killed someone?"

I don't know why I was so surprised. It was obvious, in retrospect, but my image from the anime of Itachi as a heartless killer was still engrained, somewhere in my head; every killer had to start somewhere. He was a seven year old boy, ninja or not. He had no practical experience in taking a life. They might prepare you for it during training, you might consciously know it was going to happen, but it was still a shock when it actually happened. It was a hard experience for any new ninja, but in this world it was buck up or drop out. I didn't think he would be traumatized by it, but his pacifist nature was probably making it harder on him than it would have been on, let's say, Shisui.

I was at lost for how to make it easier on him. Maybe it was something that he just needed to process on his own; the realization that he had killed, and would kill again.

"Tomoe, you've never done it, correct?"

"Ah . . ." I hesitated. I couldn't very well tell him that I had killed so many times I thought nothing more of taking a life than stepping on a bug. But still, I didn't want to lie to him. Not right now. So I settled for a partial lie. "I have . . . once."

He looked up. He wanted to hear about it, I supposed.

I drew my legs closer to my chest, tucked a strand of hair behind my ear, and leaned in, huddling into a ball. I took a deep breath, and stared blankly down.

"It was when my mother and I were running away, when our village was attacked. There was this boy who lived across the street from us. I played with him a couple of times, but we weren't really friends. He was just a neighbor, really. During the attack, he ran with us. Only . . . it was pretty chaotic. He was clinging to me, crying, and screaming . . . I was angry, and annoyed, so I pushed him away, real hard. Into the path of an earth style jutsu." I paused. "He was hit so hard he went flying. There was blood everywhere. I remember, I got some on my face, right across my nose." I traced the path with my finger. "After that, I ran with my mother. I didn't think much of it until it was all over, because it went by so fast. That's it. That's how I killed for the first time."

"That was an accident." he said quietly. "It wasn't your fault . . ."

"Yes it was." I said sharply. I relaxed my arms and legs, uncurling, looking up to the roof of the cave with empty eyes. "Whether or not you mean it, whether or not you intend for it to happen, the end result is the same. Someone's dead, and you can't undo it. You might wish to . . . you might regret it, and agonize over it, but that won't change reality. A person died, and it was your fault." I sighed. "If you can't handle that, maybe you ought to change careers."

The rain had let up. I crawled outside, onto the ledge, and Itachi followed me. "Are you able to handle it?" he asked.

I stood outside, stretched, and looked down at him as he came out of the cave. I smiled. The slight wind picked up and blew my hair back.

"Once you've killed one person, then two, three, or a hundred more makes no difference."

Itachi looked at me for a long time, still kneeling in the mouth of the cave. His eyes were unreadable, but slowly a look grew into them, one of resolve and determination. He stood up, and he was no longer shaking.

My story seemed to have given him some sort of courage. I was glad, even though it was a lie. But then again, they say the best lies grow from a seed of truth. It wasn't a story I would care to repeat, but if it helped Itachi, then I suppose it was worth it.

We were able to climb up the wall using chakra. It was a miserable experience, one that I would like to never endure again. It was still raining, so I got soaked, and the wind howled so hard it felt like it blew straight through my clothes; I got dirt and mud all over myself, especially my hands, which were scratched up by the occasional sharp rocks. Not only that, I discovered a fatal flaw in the design of this world's ninja outfits. Why, in the name of the Lord, did everyone wear open-toed sandals? The water got in them, dirt got in them, and in five minutes I was squelching up the cliff with mud in my shoes. There must have been some logic in that decision, but screw it, as soon as I was back in the village, I was buying actual boots, god dammit.

As soon as we were at the top, and I checked to make sure Itachi was alright to continue, we headed back towards the caravan. I heard sounds of metal striking metal, yells, oxen groaning, and smelled smoke. We stopped on a high branch ten meters away and activated our Sharingan.

"I see Hayama-sensei." I said. "He's near the front, protecting the leader . . . looks like he gathered all the merchants into a single wagon. Shisui's with him."

"And meanwhile, the robbers are pillaging the wagons." Itachi said grimly. "It's impossible to protect the whole convoy. They had enough time to get the merchants to safety, but that's only half the mission. We need to do something about the ones that are taking the merchandise."

"How many do you count? I've got twenty. Another ten keeping Hayama-sensei away."

"I agree."

"Too many for us. What do we do?"

"Why are you asking me?"

"You're the 'leader.' We both know you're smarter than me, so I'll do what you tell me." Also, whatever strategy I could come up with would involve me, a gas mask, and vaporized poison. I had no idea how to include Itachi, and going up against twenty people was a bit much. Hayama-sensei was busy dealing with the ones keeping him stuck to the merchants; if he stepped away, they would take hostages. We didn't know how long it would take him to defeat them all. We couldn't count on him.

Itachi nodded. "A diversion would be best. Do you have any smoke bombs?"

"Yeah. Actually, I've got something better." I took out one of my pepper bombs. It was a bit larger than a regular smoke bomb, had a wick, and was painted bright red. "It's made from hot peppers. I guarantee this will blind them for a good ten minutes. The only thing is, the fuse is really short. I'd have to get pretty close to set it off."

"Where did you get that?" He raised an eyebrow.

"I made it. I wish I'd made the wick longer, though . . ." I made a mental note to change the design.

"When did you . . ." He shook his head. "Never mind."

I retrieved my gas mask and goggles from an inside pocket. "I'll disperse them. This bomb has a range of fifteen meters, so stay at least that far away. After I set it off, they should run into the forest."

Itachi considered that for a moment. He looked doubtful about letting me go down there on my own. To me, this was the best plan. A simple smoke bomb would do little to disperse or incapacitate the robbers, and I only had one set of protective equipment against the pepper bomb. Not only that, but Itachi was injured; sending him into the fray was a bad idea. Given the circumstances and the tools at our disposal, we had little choice. He seemed to understand that.

He licked his finger and held it up to feel the wind direction. "You handle the ones that go west. I'll handle those that go east. We don't have to take down all of them, but we can make a dent in their forces. If you're unsure, let them run. Our priority is to disperse them and go help Hayama-sensei, so don't put yourself in unnecessary danger. You understand, Tomoe?"

"I have more than one bomb, you known. If I get in trouble I'll just set off another one. Leave it to me." I said, strapping the mask around my neck.

"Alright. Let's do it."

I nodded. I slid the mask over my nose and mouth, tightened the goggles around my eyes, grasped the pepper bomb in the other, and prepared to leap down to the caravan.

"Tomoe," Itachi said. I looked back at him. He was smiling. "Good luck."

"Godspeed." I saluted.

I jumped through the air, activating my Sharingan. As expected, it made up for the limited field of vision I had wearing these goggles. I pinpointed the twenty robbers swarming around the wagons, lifting merchandise out and loading them onto horses. Hayama-sensei didn't move from his position on the wagon containing the merchants. Judging by the chakra patterns, I guessed they had a hostage – sneaky trick, but effective. Priority would be given to getting everyone out alive. In any case, this seemed unusual for a group of robbers; they all had developed chakra pathways, like ninja.

Well, maybe not so unusual in this world.

I landed with a clunk on top the caravan in the middle of the horde. I straightened up and looked down at the startled robbers. I concentrated heated chakra into my fingertips, and pinched the wick. I grinned behind my mask.

"Let's start this game!" I yelled gleefully, raising the bomb over my head.

I hurled the bomb down.

It exploded into a cloud of red smoke. Immediately there were yells and coughs, accompanied by the sounds of scared horses, neighing and hoofs beating the ground as they balked in fear and pain.

"We're under attack! Run"

"Get the horses, now!"

"What the hell's going on?! I can't see!"

Confusion and panic spread as all people in a fifteen meter radius not wearing adequate protecting inhaled hot pepper powder, were blinded, and stumbled around like they were drunk. From the safety of my gas mask and goggles, I kept track of their movements with my Sharingan. My grin widened. The wind wasn't very strong, so it wasn't dispersing very fast; for a first field test, this was a remarkable success. I drew a kunai. They started to flee in all different directions, so I quickly cut the ropes off the wagons and jumped over to the west side and into the forest to intercept them. While Itachi could knock them out with genjutsu, I had no talent in that area and so had to use more physical methods of restraint.

The first man did my job for me. He ran headlong into a tree. The next two I put out with a good blow to the back of the head while they were running around incoherently. I crouched on an overhead branch, ready to hit them as they passed. It didn't take that long to put out those I could get; six of them, total. It's rather hard to put up a fight when you can't see and your airways are burning so badly you can hardly breathe. Another five fled on horseback, and I didn't bother giving chase. I disarmed the ones I got, tied them to trees (which was not easy, given how bigger they were than me), and checked over in Itachi's direction.

He had four under genjutsu; three more had fled; and he was fighting the remaining two. I rushed back to the caravan, went around the central wagon, noticed that the wind and rain had picked up and dispersed the pepper powder, and froze in my tracks.

Itachi was fighting . . . really fighting. He fended off their swords with a kunai, moving through a series of kicks and punches. It was entrancing to watch. Itachi's movements were always elegant, but seeing him in a real battle was even better; fluid, and powerful.

No, this wasn't right. He wasn't attacking . . . he was purely defensive. The two he was fighting weren't acting confused or blind. In fact, they had cloths over their mouths and noses. I bit my lip, my fingers tightening over my kunai. They must have run out of range the moment they saw me coming with the bomb. Well, it was only two of them. Itachi could handle two robbers.

Only, he was injured. I noticed him stumble one or twice, narrowly avoiding incoming blows from both sides by dodging backwards. His wound was bleeding again. The entire left side of his face was a red mess, falling into his eye and dripping down his neck. His reaction time was slowing; his balance and reflexes were off. His Sharingan blazed, deftly reading his opponents and allowing him to evade, but he couldn't find an opening to attack. He was cornered.

Why was I just standing there? I had to help, obviously.

Suddenly Itachi gathered himself and struck. Metal flashed and a spray of blood hit the ground. One of the robbers fell.

I sighed in relief. I was worried for nothing. He had this . . . of course he had this. He was Uchiha Itachi, for crying out loud, he could handle something like this. Yeah . . . he was fine. I started turning towards the front of the caravan, where Hayama-sensei was protecting the merchants.

I was kicked in the stomach so hard I went flying. I hit the ground and rolled, my goggles and mask unfastening, and came to a stop on my stomach, unable to breathe through the radiating pain, coughing and gagging. I tried to push myself up, but a hand came down on my head and slammed it back into the ground. I tasted mud and grit. I looked up through my bangs to see . . .

The grinning face of the leader, Ito. The one that had thrown Itachi off the cliff. I could just barely see, from this angle, five chakra signatures in the vicinity. Where had they come from? We'd gotten rid of all of them!

"That was a neat trick, kid." Ito said, smiling boyishly. He grabbed me by my hair and lifted my head up. "You messed things up quite a bit. Too bad you forgot about the rest of us. That red cloud was a very obvious signal."

"Tomoe!" Itachi yelled. "Let him go!" He tried to run to me, but his opponent stepped in. Their blades clashed and Itachi was pushed back, barely regaining his balance. He dug his feet into the ground, trying to keep on his feet. He gritted his teeth and kept his kunai drawn, even though he was on the verge of collapsing. "Wait for me, Tomoe . . . I'm coming to save you . . ."

"Your friend is very concerned about you." His grip tightened on my hair. I grimaced up at him. He was still smiling, not exuding the least sense of hostility.

Two could play at this game. I sneered and spat out a pebble along with a glob of blood and a tooth. "Yeah . . . he would be. Itachi always worries too much."

"Is that so? Well, he does seem to be more skilled than you are. We'll just have to take care of him first."

My composure broke for a moment, though I didn't let it show. My body was still racked by pain from being kicked so hard in the stomach. I twitched my fingers, and reached into my kunai pouch. I managed to get one without him noticing.

Ito gave a nod.

The man rushed back at Itachi. Their blades locked.

"Aren't you going to set all of them on him?" I said, without really thinking.

"We don't need five men to take care of one injured boy. Besides, this way is more interesting." He chuckled.

Okay, this was bad. This guy was a total psycho . . . well, not that I was one to talk, I thought wryly. I might actually have done the same thing . . . but that wasn't the point! I had to help . . . He said he'd save me, but he was really the one in trouble right now. I had to do something. I could still fight.

And just then, while I watched Itachi fend off the man's attacks, being pushed back and fighting for his life, I had a rather peculiar thought. How far was I willing to go to help Itachi? How far was I willing to go to 'protect' him? I had never thought about it before. I had always assumed, blindly, that I would kill because I wanted to or because my own life was in danger. Killing was for myself, never an acted committed for the sake of someone else.

So then, could I actually kill another person, not for my own benefit, but for his and his only?

And when Itachi fell down, and his attacker loomed over him with his sword raised, and I realized he no longer had the strength to fight, the answer came to me quite clearly.

I sprang to my feet and lashed forward, drawing my blade. I felt hair tear out of my scalp. I braced it against my palm, slammed into the man and drove it deep through his armor. I felt the recoil clearly echo through my body. Blood leaked out onto my hands. I twisted the knife and slashed upward. More blood sprayed everywhere. I felt some draw across my face.

The man collapsed. His sword dropped at my feet. I stood for a moment, feeling like I could almost start to shake. Then, an unknown emotion grabbed hold of me, and I felt perfectly, clearly calm. I picked up the man's sword.

"Who's next?" I whispered. There was no answer. I lifted the sword in front of me, my limbs feeling almost elastic they were so free of tension, and looked around at the robbers standing around me.

"Come and get it!" I yelled, my eyes widening madly. "I'll take all of you on!"

There was a pause during which the only sounds I could hear were the rain and the sound of my own heavy breathing. The blood on my hands felt slick.

"There are five of us, boy, and one of you. You can't win." Ito finally said. His smiled had dropped, and his face had darkened. "Give up."

"So what?"


"So what?" I screamed. "I'll take as many of you down with me as I can! Come on!"

"You'll only be able to get one or two of us. In the end, you'll still be dead." He drew his own sword.

"That's right. Who wants to be first?" I spun around, pointing the blade at them. "Step right up!"

That got to them. They shuffled and backed up, reluctant to engage. Ito was the only one to step forward. He took his stance.

I was breathing hard, and my mind was blank. I felt the blood on my hands, face, and clothes, the wind in my hair and the rain on my skin. I was ready for this. If it killed me, I was taking this bastard down.


It happened so fast, I didn't have time to react. I saw the blade flash and blood come out of Ito's mouth. His eyes widened. Hayama-sensei was next to him, soot on his face and a cut on his arm, wearing his usual stern look. Shisui teleported behind the closest robber and hit him squarely on the back of the neck. Hayama-sensei withdrew his sword, and Ito collapsed.

The ensuing fight was very quick. I blinked and it was over.

I looked down behind me. Itachi had passed out. Shisui slapped him and called to Hayama-sensei, who examined him for a moment and then lifted him up and carried him off. I raised my hand, about to call out, but my voice was gone. Shisui looked me over, and paled. He rushed to me and grabbed me by my shoulders.

"Tomoe-chan, are you okay? Are you hurt?" he said frantically.

" . . . I'm not injured." I said. His eyes flashed to the dead man next to me, and then to the blade in my hands.

"Tomoe-chan, did you . . ."

"Yeah." I cut him off. "I killed him."

He looked at me for a moment, and then drew me in a tight hug. "I'm so glad you're not hurt! 'Tachi looked so bad, I was worried you, too . . ." His arms tightened. "What happened? Why were you trying to take them on by yourself? Tomoe-chan, you're such an idiot!"

"Shisui, you're going to get blood on your . . ."

"I don't care!"

" . . . Don't make a big deal out of this." I pushed him away firmly. "I killed an enemy. It's going to happen again, so don't make a fuss. We're shinobi. It's part of the job description."

"But . . ." He shook his head.

"If you want someone to comfort, talk to Itachi when he wakes up. He'll need you then."

"No way . . . Itachi, too?"

"'Fraid so. Come on, let's get back to camp."

He nodded, and took my hand. I was wondering what he was doing, but then he started uncurling my fingers from around the shaft of the sword. They were so tightly clenched I had forgotten it was there. He gently loosened them one at a time until the sword splashed into the mud. Without a word he took my hand in his and led me back towards the caravan.

As we passed Ito's body, it gave a shuddering gasp. I paused, causing Shisui to tug on my hand, and looked back. Ito pushed himself up, spitting blood, and turned to look at me.

"Was that really your first kill, boy?" he said. I silently nodded. He laughed, and gave a wet cough. "Your hands aren't trembling. Your eyes are focused. What did you feel when you cut that man down?"

I didn't answer. I couldn't, not in front of Shisui. But Ito still smiled.

"You felt absolutely nothing. I can tell. You're the same kind of monster I am."

My eyes widened. "What do you . . ."

"It's a gift, being able to kill without remorse. Count yourself lucky. Not many people can do it like we can. I'd say you're in the perfect line of business . . . but this isn't going to last. Our kind doesn't do too well fighting for others. You'll find out sooner or later that spreading your wings and doing as you please is far, far more suited to you than taking orders and playing around at being a good ninja."

"Don't listen to him," Shisui snapped. "He's trying to get under your skin. Don't let him. Let's go back." His tug on my hand grew more insistent.

I stared down at Ito's grinning face, at the same time amused and bemused. Was it really that obvious? A chill went through me at the thought. Was it obvious enough that anyone else would notice? No, he was a special case. Apparently, he was the same kind of person I was, though it was impossible to know if he was twisted in exactly the same way I was. It was still peculiar, meeting someone like myself.


I looked back at Shisui. He frowned, and tugged again. He was insistent, and persistent. I was making him worry. I didn't want him to, though it felt strange that he did; whether that was a good strange or a bad strange I didn't know.

"Tomoe, Shisui," Hayama-sensei suddenly reappeared. "Go back to the convoy. I'll take care of this man."

"How's Itachi?" I asked quickly.

"I left him in the care of the caravan's medic. She said it was a concussion in addition to a skull fracture. He'll be fine, but he needs rest. Go to him."

That was all I needed. Shisui and I rushed back to the convoy.

The next day was spent repairing the damage. We helped the merchants while Hayama-sensei hunted down the remaining bandits. He found their hideout, and most of the goods were recovered. Some had already fled, though. While there were some material losses, we counted ourselves lucky: there had been no casualties.

A total of twenty-five prisoners were taken, and would be delivered to the proper authorities when the journey was completed. Ito was placed in a wagon of his own, so he wouldn't have the chance to orchestrate a breakout. His wounds were severed, but not life-threatening.

Itachi stayed in bed for three days, though not by choice. He had made his injuries worse by moving around so much. It was technically my fault; I should have forced him to stay out of the fight. But then again, would I really have been able to restrain him? My guilt was lessened by the fact that no one blamed me. It was still frightening how it might have turned out had Hayama-sensei not turned up.

The caravan moved on. The route was now safe. The prisoners weren't making a fuss. We still took turns guarding it (except Itachi – no one would let him for a good while). The mission was mundane and boring.

Finally, it was the day before we were to arrive in Kanzaki. I was doing my rounds when a teenage girl about twice my age came to talk to me. That was rather unusual, because ever since I had come back covered in blood, none of the merchants would speak to me and no one would allow their children within ten feet of me.

She was a pretty little thing, with black braided hair and a green kimono. Her lip quivered and her eyes constantly darted around like she was afraid something would jump out at her from the darkness. It was night, and the only light came from a nearby house-wagon.

"Are you the one who killed some of the robbers?" she said in a shaking voice.

I paused and turned around. "Yeah. Why?"

"Could you . . . could you . . ." She paused and swallowed. "You're a ninja, right? You take jobs in exchange for payment?"

"You got it. If you've got a mission, you should go talk to my leader. Or yours. I can't really accept anything on my own. I'm just a genin, see."

She shook her head. "I talked to Enro-sama already. He . . . he won't hire ninja for this. Even though we've got to!" She put her face in her hands and sobbed. "We've got to do it! They'll keep coming back if we don't!"

I raised an eyebrow. "Whoa, whoa, there, back up. What do you want us to do?"

"I need you to kill Ito!" she cried. "He'll always find a way to break out and come back! He'd been caught three times already, and each time he assembles more men, and each time the attacks get worse! Last time, he took three hostages. My sister was among them. When Enro-sama refused his demands, he killed her!"

"Keep your voice down!" I whispered urgently. "Do you want to get caught?"

She choked back a sob and wiped her tears. "Please. Please, help us. I know killing isn't right . . . but we don't have a choice anymore!"

I considered it for a moment. It was true that the likelihood of Ito escaping once we put him in jail was high, especially if he had done it before; this struck me as very much in keeping with his characters. I could see where she was coming from.

"So . . . what's this worth to you?" I asked.

Her face shot up. "You'll do it?"

"An assassination would usually qualify as a B or A rank. They're rather expensive. But, since I'm not ranked high enough to take those, I can knock down the price. So, what have you got?"

She pulled something out of her sleeve. "This isn't much, but . . ." It was a piece of jewelry. A necklace with a large blue stone on it. "It's valuable. It belonged to my sister . . . it's the only payment I can offer. Please forgive me." She bowed her head.

"Ah, that's fine," I held my hand out. She hesitantly dropped it in my palm. The chain pooled neatly, and the stone felt smooth against my skin. I had no idea if it was valuable or not, and frankly I didn't care.

"I'll take care of it tonight. Don't tell anyone."

"Yes, of course . . . thank you. Thank you so much." she bowed deeply.

I left to continue my shift, looking at the stone by the moonlight. It had a pretty sheen, at least. Slightly silvery, and shimmering like mother-of-pearl.

I waited until my shift was over, and crept into the closed wagon where Ito was being kept. He was chained to the wall, and his shirt was off. Bandages wrapped around his midsection. He looked up as I entered, and smiled.

"There you are, little monster. What brings you here in the dead of night?"

"I thought I'd check up on you," I said, strolling in. "I was feeling a bit sorry for you. Do your wounds hurt?" I knelt in front of him.

"They do. Your sensei wields a sharp blade."

"It's right here, right?" I poked him in the side. He winced. "I'll take that as a yes. I've got some painkiller here, if you want it." I held up the little hypodermic syringe.

"Since you're so kind to offer, I will gladly accept."

I popped the cap and felt carefully along his skin, feeling for the tell-tale sign of stitches. I located the wound and stabbed the needle in. With a quiet whoosh, the liquid emptied into his body.

"There you go. You should start feeling better soon." I said, pocketing the needle.

"Thank you." he said, in a genuine sounding voice. His wounds must really have been bothering him. I sat patiently on my knees.

Almost immediately, his face contorted. He broke out in a sweat, and started to shiver. He gasped. "What did you . . . what was in that needle?"

"Oh, nothing much. A plant extract. I made it myself." I smiled.

His eyes widened. "You . . ."

My hand shot out and tightly covered his nose and mouth. He tossed from side to side, straining against his chains, eyes wide with pain and panic as the poison quickly began to work. He tried to scream. My hand muffled the sound.

"Hurts, doesn't it?" I said, smiling sweetly. "It's meant to kill quickly, but it's rather painful. Well, that's the theory. I haven't used this on anyone recently, and not with this world's plants. So, how does it feel? Ah, I guess you can't really answer that, can you?" He struggled wildly, silent moans coming out from beneath my hand.

"You were right about one thing, you know. I am a monster. But I'm not the same as you. You see, I was a very powerful assassin in my day. I killed lots of people. I know what it's like to spread my wings and do whatever the hell I want, and I love it. Everything's a game. I was asked to do this, but I don't really care about the reward. I just haven't done this is so long, how could I possibly pass it up? Besides . . ." I tilted my head to the side. "You made me kind of angry. You hurt someone you really shouldn't have, and I'm not nice enough to let it slide."

"So you see, it's not really personal . . . I'm just not a nice girl."

I pressed my hand harder against his face as his struggles grew worse. His wide, horrified eyes bore down into mine. My smile grew wider. I stood and leaned over him, so that our foreheads nearly met.

"But don't worry . . . I'll stay right here until the end." I softly whispered. "Go to sleep, Ito. I hope you have nice dreams."

And I'm back, with a reasonably timely update! What a miracle.

The last two chapters were sweet, too sweet. I can only write so much fluff.

On another note, Spider Thread has passed 1000 alerts! That's a lot. In all seriousness, I appreciate everyone who reads this story, so having that many readers is wonderful.

Questions, comments, praise, criticism, rants, complaints, requests, random thoughts, reactions to what happened? Leave a review!

Peace out.