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This article, Wouldn't Happen to Me, is property of Cold hard steel.

This article, Wouldn't Happen to Me, is property of Achrones150.

Main Story:Of the Bloodline: Way of the Shinobi

Misted Over

It was getting well past sundown, and this was getting oddly suspicious.

He had not counted on the environment to make this seem like a bad special effect used in a theater set in the redlight district, but apparently as the sun lowered its head in the sky and eventually sunk behind the sudden line of th horizon, the veil of mist now clouding his eyes fell in its place.

It was thin and spidery, floating as if waiting for something to blow it away, or like it was anxious to get off shift so the sun could take over again. There was no moon, and the street lamps placed at monotonous intervals along the street were the absolutely only source of light in the town at the time. They glowed orange, setting the mist on fire, and leaving the darkened shadows to do their work on the rest of the world. For any other target, this would've been the perfect place to kill someone. Quick and silent, not even letting them scream, only watching from the shadows he had sprung from as their body sunk beneath the mist like a downed vessel at sea.

But, this was not the case.

She was no mere stranger or politician, but a strong one. She was his kin, but that did not effect his opinion. Ninja were more difficult to dispatch than others, especially when their guard was down.

And that never happened.

The crook blades were already on his arms, the metal itself screaming for use and his fingers twitching like the ears of an animal in danger, crawling on the side of a building like some strange, black, gnarled insect that was large enough to kill with the flick of a wrist. The alley he had chosen was perfect too, placed so the pattern of lamps intersected with the alley's location, allowing absolutely no light to shine on what might have been inside. He could see everything outside of his black world, but no one could see him. He heard footsteps, female, sandals, possibly hands free.

The last part worried him.

Beat.

Beat.

Beat.

Was that his heart beat? Or the footsteps? It was difficult to tell now. Either way, the sound that echoed so loudly in his ears was increasing its power, becoming louder, and louder, until it almost seemed deafening.

She was near.

His blood felt like it had been turned to gasoline and lit on fire, his mind flashing in every direction at once just for this one kill.

Two feet until elimination.

His hands were like stone now, tensing to the point of feeling his bones begin to hurt, and no matter what he did he couldn't relax, couldn't let this one slip. He hadn't missed the last one, or the one before that. He wasn't in a slump, nor was he nervous. But he couldn't calm down for some damn reason.

One foot until elimination.

The mist was flowing now, it was pardoning itself for being in the way of this individual.

Wait...

It was the mist. Those damn excuses for clouds were driving him nuts. He couldn't see clearly because of that water vapor, that hell's air that forced demons on his mind. His vision went with his sanity, he was probably just anxious because of the environment's accomodations.

Six inches to elimination.

It was unbearable now. Pressure was building in his ears, blood rushing through his hearing so fast it was like a monster was howling barely a centimeter away from him, blocking out all other sounds and senses. He could feel his legs tighten and his arms poise for that one millisecond of pure bloodlust he had come for, that one single occurance in the world where the population dropped by an infinitely insignificant number, and he didn't question why he was doing this. But this time, that number seemed oh so much bigger to him, far larger a price to pay on a head than the gold he was promised upon his success, which came every time to him without hesitation.

And he was blaming it on the mist.

But the mist didn't stop him from reacting when he saw the tip of her shoe cross his line of sight.

He leaped with such silence and swiftness he could have been mistaken for a ghost or some other spirit, the same ones he had blamed for this lack of confidence. He moved his wrists towards her neck, aiming for the same soft flesh he hit on every other human being he ever had brought death early to, the light gleaning towards pureness on her part, yet the mist did not stop him even then.

It happened in a flash....

His eyes met crystal blue.....

Her body met his.....

Her knee met his gut.

The wind was knocked out of his lungs violently, like a deflated airbag. But, as seemingly incredible as the initial pain was, it didn't help the sensation that haunted his skin when she spoke into his ear, in an amused and almost seductive tone.

"You're out late.... where are your parents?"

The force of her knee's trajectory was enough to send him off in a totally different direction quite a distance.

He had to admit it now, that he had underestimated this female target. And those few words she said had every effect on him he thought they shouldn't. The intrigued him with their slyness and playfulness, althoguh they scared him at the same time. They showed him that this was no schoolgirl. This was a shinobi.

After laying as still as if he was dead for about a minute, silent as his normal self, he felt his chest feel like it hadn't just been stabbed by a mountain. He staggered back onto his feet, the mask hiding the frown on his face and the clay echoing his breathing against his own ears. He took a moment to look her over.

She was standing in an idle position, one hand on her hip, and her other arm hung at her side. What parts of her skin that was showing were a very light brown. Her outfit, composed of a simple and black attire of a T-shirt and slightly-above-the-knee shorts, seemed to compliment and acknowledge her curves, an obvious sign that she was a young woman. Blonde hair hung neatly behind her back, tied in a loose, top-head ponytail. The same green eyes continued to bore into his own, and yet seemed to hold a hidden intention. The smirk was as clear as day, even in the mist.

As he had thought.

Dangerous woman.

He drew up his arms, spreading his feet while keeping his shoulders high, bending his back and not taking his eyes off of her. He liked to use this to imply the person standing in front of him had two seconds to live, but i this case it was to see what she reacted like. It would be interesting to mess with her if he could, these types were often insecure when it came to something.

The smirk didn't fade, and her eyes seemed to relax a bit. "So that's why you attacked me." She muttered, looking over the skeleton-like mask that seemed to meld into his face. "I missed the Day of the Dead."

Her voice held no fear, no surprise, and no hesitance. Despite the apparent danger that she could be in, it still held that same amusement. She wasn't afraid, for she knew that this man was one of her own kind. She had no right to feel weak, for they were equal.

She mocked him, because she herself was excited.

The man in the mask made no signs of retreating either. instead, he turned his head, as if it was on a swivel, and gave an intense glare that had a chance at at least pricking at this girl's confidence. Or at least he thought it might.

He was gone in what could be described as less than a split second, his movement not even disturbing the mist he was cursing even now for driving him mad. There was silence for the same amount of time it took him to fade out of existence, and the action was negated twice as quickly, as he spun around behind the girl, aiming again for the same target he had from the beginning, his blood rushing again and his ears howling in the warm, misty summer air as he attempted to get his job done.

Only for a moment she had lost track of him. But that simple feeling behind her, her drive of animalistic instinct that sensed her attacker approaching was all that was needed to simply turn her head, raise her right hand, and catch his hand, stopping it in its tracks.

Then, as quick as his own movements were, she pulled him in, having turned around completely. Raising her left hand into a fist, she let it fly straight into the bone-like material of the cold hard mask.

But her eyes were not the only ones who could see speedily.

The eyes she had stared into themselves calculated the swiftness of the movement, watching as the shape of her hand glided towards their body's face, and forcing him to move to dodge the attack though he knew that wasn't all he could've done. Instead, he twisted his head on his neck, changing the line of trajectory of her fist to whiz right past his ear, his skull and neck and spine contorting to inhuman levels of irregularity, his body even more like a ragdoll now than it appeared when he first attacked. He saw his chance as she overextended, and swung his right arm up to cut the bottom of her wrist. If he couldn't bleed her dry one way, then he could certanly try another.

It was a fact now that she wouldn't pull back in time before her wrist was cut. So, instead, she pulled her attacking hand upwards, while at the same time releasing the firm grip she had on his wrist. Then, she bent to the ground, twisting to sweep kick the man off of his feet.

The blade cut something, but it wasn't his objective, to his slight disappointment.

As he felt her leg connect with the back of his ankle, he over compensated for the change of balance, and backflipped over her leg in escape of the attack, hoping to land on his feet again and continue the surprisingly fun exchange of counters they were having.

But he had been immersed in the battle so much that he had forgotten he would be back flipping into a wall. A brick wall.

He had no time to stop this, and as he saw the red rock flying towards him at insane speeds, he just regretted choosing a place like this to fight, let alone do a backflip.

His head came in contact with the hard surface, and it kept going, not stopping at the wall but going through it. His head was now stuck up to his chin in hard, heavy material, and he had no immediate way to get out, but the most important thing right now was his vulnerability. He had little time to react if she attacked right now, and he was sure she would.

"Tch..."

The woman let out a sigh of disappointment, flipping through a set of hand seals. Just a simple exchange of blows and her opponent was already defenseless. What was even more embarrassing was that he had trapped himself, his body now hanging in what seemed to be a painful position on the brick wall.

"For an assassin, you sure are clumsy."

After those words were said, she reared back, placed the Tiger-sealed hand to her lips, and blew. A stream of fireballs erupted from her mouth, hitting him and the area around him dead-on. The fire swept down the alleyway quickly, having burst at such a fast rate.

He was right, as always.

But he did not expect her to use the fire technique in such close vicinity to a building, and he was thinking as fast as he possibly could to find a way to avoid the blazes that surely could end him if he wasn't careful. Time seemed to slow down as he heard the flowing of the conflagrations from her mouth, the heat rising to meet his body and the pain of the fire licking at his chest and arms.

But the mask did its magic again.

The bricks began to turn to dust, blackening like they were being burned with the fire that was about to torch him, and floated in midair for a small amount of time, flowing inward to his open jaw as if he was breathing in inhuman amounts of air, his throat an insurmountable black hole. The same fate befell of the flames that roiled around him, flowing inward and disappearing in the same amount of time it took for them to be conjured.

So that mask wasn't just for show, after all...

The woman folded her arms across her chest, staring at her newly-freed opponent. It didn't appear as though she was surprised. She had a suspicion the mask itself was for something, as if a weapon of its own kind. She had made the right choice in staying afar from him to attack. If she had went up close, she would've easily met the fate as her flames.

Still, she couldn't help but think. What kind of shinobi is he?

The man didn't stop there.

He bent his arms back, contorting them far enough to rest his hands on the bricks his neck was resting on that hadn't been obliterated, and pushed off hard enough to lift his feet from the ground, flying at the girl with his feet in front, aiming for a screw kick to the head.

How many hits would she need before she was taken down?

This time, she dodged, sidestepping as to let him whiz by. But her eyes were on him the entire time, in case of a sudden counterattack. She turned her body to face his own, hands once again at the ready.

And obviously he missed the attack.

Soaring right past his opponent, he landed on his feet again, crouching down on all fours and lowering his head to meet the surface of the thick layer of mist blanketing the world as of now, their scuffle disturbing the clouds slightly, causing them to swirl hypnotically.

The scraped the crook blades along the ground, creating a loud and eerie, screeching noise that echoed through the darkness that was the summer night they were fighting in, and they disappeared behind his back. They came back to rest on the ground with brass knuckles curled around his fingers, glinting in the dimmed lights.

He whispered something barely audible, the mist hiding the words even more, but it carried far despite its softness:

"What are you called?"

The woman's expression turned to one of surprise, at the sudden choice to speak. But, she wasn't past respect of her opponent. If he was willing to ask her name, he might not be focused on the sole purpose of killing her. Maybe he wanted a challenge to his own skills.

"You can call me whatever you want." She replied simply. "But my birthname is Hari Dokuyaku." She relaxed a bit. "What are you called?"

A moment passed in the silence thickened by the humidity suddenly drought on, most likely caused from the heat of Hari's attack. But it seemed like the man was making up a name, as if he didn't know how to respond to the question.

"Masque..."

Hari narrowed her eyes, pulling out a kunai and holding it out, the tip pointing off towards the side. "All right, then... Masque." She replied calmly, the smile gone from her face. "Care to explain why you chose me, of all people?"

Masque did not speak, but instead pulled a small black leather book, which was well worn, out of his back weapons puch, opening it to a certain page and holding it open to the light, showing the blond the pictures and words on the pages.

On one page, a man who was wearing many types of armor and weaponry was glaring out of the page, a frown on his face. Next to the mug shot a large number was printed in bold black font, a red marker exing out the number, obviously showing disapproval of the amount of money.

On the opposite page was the picure of the blond a similar face burning out of the page, her eyes cold and not nearly as arrogant or playful as they were now. Next to the picture was another number, with at least one more digit added, and a large red circle marked around it.

A thoughtful "hm" came from Hari, as she calmly nodded in understanding. "You're here to collect my head?" She muttered, frowning. "Who would want it?"

Masque closed the book shortly after her question, and leaped back to the edge of the street that was adjacent to a large pond, a very marshy area adorning the landscape and the dying plants looking like bones in the dim light. Masque himself was partially concealed, his mask and torso in the dark while his legts and feet were in full view. But his eyes were not dark, they were like small flames, bright as the moon if there had been any on this night, glaring wildly like a beast hungry for it's next meal and willing to do anything for it.

Creaking of clay against clay could be heard, signaling the hunter had opened his wide maw again, small lights inside his mouth showing three tongue piercings. A small wind could be felt, and then it turned to a breeze, and then a gust, and eventually a gale, trees being blown violently in the direction of the man in the shadows, lights flickering and lines of objects blurring, all moving in the direction of his mouth. He maneuvered his hands in front, read to grab and attack at any given moment.

Her eyes widened, and her chakra was focused to her feet, sticking her to the ground like a stubborn tree root. Since the fierce wind was blowing against her back, her sight wasn't completely impaired. Still, it was quite a struggle to stay in her spot. Her hair violently whipped in front of her, as she could only stare.

This was no time to be playing around anymore. It was very clear what his intentions had been from the start. He was the hunter, and she was his prey.

Only she wasn't as defenseless.

Feeling another flying object about to zip past her, she swung her kunai arm out. It only took a second before the tip of the sharp weapon sliced straight through a thick and dismembered tree branch. It continued on towards its flight path, undisturbed, however.

The metal glinted in the street's light, and Masque could catch the sight of the cold attack out of the darkness of the night. He closed his mouth, stopping the chaos around him and her, and jumped backwards, onto the shining surface of the pond behind him, a small 'splish' echoing across the calm from where he landed.

Whirr...

Another sound was heard immediately after. It was the sound of a kunai, a bullet against a tiger, zipping towards Masque at a horrifying speed.

He had only moments to react.

He watched the knife fly towards him, threateningly deadly, and realized something important.

He removed all chakra from the bottom of his feet, causing the water under them to become weak and allow him to fall through the surface, the coolness chilling him as he saw the weapon pass just over him as he sank below the blackness of the inky water, hoping his breath would support him for a long enough time to move this fight somewhere else.

Hari slowly walked over towards the pond that her opponent had just sank into. Narrowed eyes and a slight scowl expressed frustration now, her eyes gleaming as bright as the street lights above her head. Raising her tense hands, she prepared the same set of hand signs as before, stopping at the water's edge. She took in a deep breath and exhaled, a more accurate stream of fireballs coming from her mouth.

Debri floating in the pool, created by Masque's earlier attack, was set ablaze. But the flames did not stay in one spot. Once sensing each other's presences, they began to link and spread, dancing across the lake in a spiraling swirl. Soon, they enveloped nearly the whole lake surface with a crimson-red.

Lake of Fire

He was stuck, and there seemed to be no easy way out of it this time around.

At first he saw holes in the attack, and swam to just above the surface, but his hope was crushed at that point, as the flames came together to form a single layer of flame across the surface, not quite touching the water but nonetheless close enough to it to cause damage if he rose to the air.

So, he dove farther to the deepest part of the body of water, and concentrated heavily on his remaining air.

the mask had saved him before, why not now? What did he have to do in order to self preserve?

Hari remained silent for a moment, glaring at the emblem of the flames as they glittered the water. She pulled out another kunai, twisting it around her left index finger. Her next words she was sure he could not hear, but a dim and false eagerness hoped he could.

"Masque... I'll remember that name." She whispered, as she waited to see if he would resurface again.

Under the glassy clearness of the water, Masque was panicking, despite himself.

he was quickly running out of air, and the only way he could get more was to escape the dark, cold, wet confines of the pond, and there was no way to do that without incurring damage. He could feel his breath betray him, leaving his body like traitors who knew they would lose.

He slowly looked upwards from the muddy bottom of the pond, staring hard at the red and crimson of the flames that mixed with the black of the night, a collage of death meaning the same for him if he became a part of that painting. He ten let out the rest of the air he had, knowing his chances of getting out of this one were slim.

For Hari, it was simply a waiting game. She sat herself down on the ground, hugging her knees to her chest and watching the blaze, seemingly entranced by its brilliant nature. Her cold mask seemed to have faded, almost as if the scene in front of her was meant for romance.

"I can still sense your chakra signature..." She thought. "You can't hide down there forever. Sooner or later, you're going to have to come up...."

For some reason, Masque didn't feel a sense of drowning, or even breathlessness.

Thank God for the mask.

He was still afraid, however, to breath, or even let out anymore breath he may have. He noticed his vision was still clear, and when he felt around, he was still conscious. He heard cracking, a sign that the mask had changed form, and his hands flew to his face, the surface of the normally matte and rough facial covering now smooth and small ridges were carved above the jaw, and below the cheekbones. After further inspection, he found these were not ridges, but instead they were furrows, running deep and somehow warm. They weren't ridges.

They were gills.

The woman sighed. "This is getting boring...." She muttered, picking up a pebble and tossing it into the lake. Had he drowned already?

As the pebble hit the water, it seemed to detonate, the explosion spanning the entirety of the water and the flames themselves seemingly running from fear of a superior force of destruction. The surface of the water was disrupted, the charred and blackened debris floating on top of the blackness now flying in every direction possible, a small tree trunk heading for Hari.

"What?!"

Hari's eyes widened in shock, and she quickly pulled herself and widely sidejumped. Where she had once sat, the tree trunk slammed into, the force enough to impale the ground like an arrow. She breathed heavily, staring at the eruption that was taking place. Her hair whipped around her fiercely, and she had to shield her eyes from the oncoming winds.

The fires continued, igniting not only the waters but lighting up the area clearly, casting shadows that danced like the flames that created them. There was the distinct sound of metal hitting water, a small 'sst' for each piece that entered.

Or in this case, exited.

There was a thunder of this noise, almost drowning out the sounds of the conflagration, and small dots of black glinting crimson and scarlet rained downwards from the sky, unbeknownst to Hari until their presence was given away by the cold beauty.

Needless to say, she was shocked.

She could only duck and crouch, pulling her head under her hands, as she felt the aerial barrage slice into her skin. She gasped in pain as several of the weapons pierced into her back, nearly missing her spine. The ones that didn't hit her dead-on either scraped the surface of her skin, or pierced the ground around her.

Her heart was racing at an even more lunatic pace than before, as she continued to sustain the damage inflicted on her. "How?!" She thought incredulously, in an mixture of amazement and fear.

The environment was not mimicking her thoughts, it had not increased in wildness or even sustained its amount of insanity, but instead it had calmed down to the point where it was as if nothing had been happening like an explosion the moment before. The water was placid, back to it's original glassiness reflecting the now damaged and broken light provided by the street lamps.

Then a small form rose slowly out of the water, as if it was doing so to showcase itself in all of its dark glory.

But this wasn't a work of art, nor was it a statue. It was alive.

And its eyes were staring straight at her.

Trickles of blood dripped down Hari's chin, and she slowly stood back, the racking pain in her body hindering her movements only slightly. She shook herself, ignoring the sharp bites of the kunai teeth as they fell from her back, clattering beside each other on the ground. Her own hard expression mirrored Masque's own, as if still mocking the fear he was attempting to push on her.

Then, her feet found themselves running foward, stepping onto the now-clear water surface. Her arms were behind her, in the usual shinobi fashion, her hands clenched into fists.

Masque drew back his foot and skipped it across the surface of the water, his aim perfect, spraying murky and sandy water in Hari's eyes.

She turned her head sideways, the water instead splashing into her hair. The cold sensation almost took her off for a moment, but in an instant, she managed to recover. Once she was close enough, she raised her right leg up, a high kick aimed towards his face.

Masque again utilized the removal of his chakra supports, not ducking but falling out of the way pf Hari's attack again, this time grabbing her left ankle to drag her down with him. This was a good idea on his part, as he was the one with gills.

Immediately, Hari realized what his ploy was. She saw her vision go blurry, took in a deep breath, and held it as she was forcibly submerged. Glaring at the hand on her ankle, and now with a bit less restriction on movement, she swung her other leg into the crook of his neck. Then, with an insistent tug, she pulled her other leg out and swung it into the other side of his neck.

They sank down slowly, reaching down to the muddy pond bottom. Hari was at a perpendicular angle with Masque, her legs now a vice-grip to his air supply. It was now a game of chicken, to see which one would give out first.

But he wasn't even holding his breath.

Under the enormous strain on his neck, he turned his head, his eyes portraying amusement and an evil intent not to tell her everything that she should know, the orbs of a strange amber still glowing in the murky waters that their battle was taking place. He moved his hands to his neck, gripping her ankles tightly, just to keep her down there with him until she gave out first, to her unknowing doom.

The girl's eyes widened. In the dim view of the water, she could barely make out his chest rising and falling, as if he was breathing in air. The smirk on his face was clear as day, and it was provoking her shock and anger. She felt a burning sensation in her lungs now, bucking back in pain, as she remained suspended in the water.

"What the hell are you?"

Gritting her teeth, Hari allowed herself to bend backwards, her hands touching the bottom. Then, she closed her legs even tighter, her ankles like a pincer to his neck. She applied as much pressure as she could, attempting to crush his neck like an eggshell.

This time her tactic worked.

Masque, despite having gills, still needed his wind pipe to breath, even he was human, so his mask was of no aid in the current situation. His eyes widened considerably as he felt the tightness on his neck grow considerably, like the pressure of the water had increased beyond dangerous levels and it all decided to close in on him. His hands flew to her legs as fast as they could under water, and he attempted to wrest their grip from him before he too was fish food.

Yes!

She took the chance, allowing her legs to be pushed away again. Pulling one leg back, she gave one good kick to the face and swam back rapidly up, her lungs desperate. Her muscles burned, and in an instant, she burst out of the water and over it, the movement of a missle.

When she landed, her feet skidded on the water surface, but she didn't stop. She used the chance to take in a breath of air, the rejuvenation for her deprived lungs.

Under the surface, Masque was allowed the chance to breath also, his chest heaving with the breaths that no human would understand he could take. He looked around, disoriented despite himself, trying to find the female's location on the surface where he knew she was. Time to see if he could go for another trick.

"Damn it!" The woman growled, eyes narrowing once again in frustration. That was three times now! Three times that god-forsaken mask had saved him from his imminent death, and the last one being more bizarre than the first. It was frustrating her, that he had a simple tool to brush away death, while she could only jump and dodge.

She didn't want to admit it, but she knew that the tables had turned in his favor this time. She would have to be more careful. If she let herself be caught off-guard like that again, she would most certainly die.

Kneeling over and facing the pool, she continued to take heavy breaths, her hand gripped onto the spot where her heart would be.

He found her silhouette on the water, shimmering and shaking from the scuffle they had that sent small waves and currents flitting about in the murkiness. He planted his feet in the mud, small fish and maybe a frog skittering away, and he looked straight up and opened his mouth.

The girl was unaware, still recovering. Perfect timing.

He inhaled as deeply as his chest could contain, and let out a scream that rivaled that of a jet taking off. Clouds of foam and bubbles muffled his efforts, rising to the surface in every fashion known, the water shaking from the force of his vocal vibrations and the temperature rising slightly in the originally cool pond, a sense of tension rising as it did so.

Slowly, Hari got up, glaring down at the violent vibrations of the water. Her eyes searched, waiting for his figure to appear once more. She pulled out another kunai, holding it out in front of her with one hand.

It could only mean one thing: His mask was preparing to unleash its wrath on her once again.

The man under the water continued to scream, his breath seemingly infinite, and the temperature continued to rise, much faster than it had moments ago. Small air bubbles were forming everywhere, floating up to the top around his arms and feet, all going unnoticed as he didn't stop throatily belting out his muffled screams that brought disaster.

"Come on, you punk...." She thought, dimly aware of the screams he was making. "Come out, already...."

The mask was starting to glow dimly, a strange mix between red and crimson, both dull and vibrant that caught your attention easily and kept it there. But this wasn't the sign of a change or new power, it was heating up to an insane temperature, the air bubbles forming more quickly and closer in between, steam now rising from the surface of the water, flying into the night in clouds.

You'd think that both of their apparently excellent senses could notice a lone figure who was coming to the edge of the cliff they were just a far distance away from. But on the contrary, it was quite the opposite. She went virtually undetected, as she peered down the edge. At the sight of the unstable and bound-to-explode pond, her eyes widened in shock.

"....Shit."

But it did not explode.

Suddenly, all the water spontaneously turned into a cloud, at first bubbling and rough, then smooth and foggy, all vapor and nothing solid to stand on. The cloud expanded to cover the areas it overflowed at the pond's banks, reaching so high it was at the top of doors and almost like a new level of ground.

A moment later, there was a disturbance in the broiling fluff, and a small snap as if a smoke bomb had been set off, a slightly differently colored vapor expanding throughout the cloud, mixing and mingling with it in the process.

"SHIT!"

Hari immediately held her breath again, as the poison cloud enveloped her, obscuring her view. She didn't let a single bit of air in, not willing to take in even an ounce of the vapors. She couldn't even make her way out, due to her vision being blinded so much.

The other woman, however, merely smiled, raising one hand to point it at the cloud. "Poison....just like mine...." As if on cue, a long snake extended from her sleeve, slowly sliding down towards the ground below.

The Serpent of the Lake

Masque knew it was nearing the end of the battle. Not once had she successfully attacked him, and by the end he'd be walking to the collection station with her body over his shoulder. All he had to do was get her to inhale only a bit of this vapor.

His mask was cooling down now, slowly but surely, and he hoped its small light would not give him away as he stalked his opponent with his full sense of smell that he could use and she could not. Self-culturing poisons was a good idea after all.

The snake slid ever so silently downwards, still extending itself within reach, but still out of sight from Hari's opponent. The blonde-haired woman on the cliffside furrowed her eyebrows in concentration, a bead of sweat dripping down her face.

Suddenly his sense picked something up, another female, possibly an ally of this one.

He couldn't tell where this one was, or what she was doing, but he knew she was there. He needed to concentrate hard on the scent of the girl he was hunting and knock her out, then get away from this other one because he knew that a two on one battle would not turn out advantageous to him. His head sprung in one direction, realizing she was within leaping distance, and jumped through the thickness, making the least amount of noice possible, his fist raised behind him ready to strike from under.

But she struck first.

It wasn't aimed at him, however.

The snake, now within striking distance, lunged at Hari, wrapping itself around her waist before she could react. Her eyes widened, and as she was forcibly pulled away, she could barely make out the fist whiz by her face, and she gasped inwardly out of surprise.

A foolish mistake.

She realized it as well, putting her hands to her mouth, her pupils shrinking as she landed on her side. Out of shock, she had breathed in some of the toxic vapors before she realized it, and she had no idea what it was. She could only hope it was non-lethal.

Her thoughts were soon broken again, by a voice behind her.

"Hello there."

And There Were Three

His fist hit the ground before he realized he had missed completely, his opponent had done his work for him, and a new contender had just entered.

Why did these blonds have to be so strange in their ways?

He turned slowly on his heels to look at the two silhouettes in the fog, one taller than the other and one of them on the ground. His crazed eyes narrowed to inspect the taller one, and from whet he could see, she was definitely a female, most likely around thirty, maybe mid twenties, and she at least looked good enough to pose a challenge. What he hoped she didn't realize was that she would most likely be breathing in his toxins by now...

The standing one raised her right hand in a backhand position, before swinging it, this time five snakes extending from her sleeve. Like a sword, they created a gust of wind as they sliced through the air, enough to force the vapors out of her immediate area.

"Is that your way of saying 'hi' back?" She asked, folding her arms across her chest.

Her eyes didn't waver, unlike the girl's. They defied him, and he didn't like it. He rose to a standing position, and looked the woman over again. She could conjure up snakes, meaning she was a summoner with a snake contract. And there was only one man who he knew of that could possibly teach a snake contract that well.

Orochimaru.

He hadn't heard of anything about that man in ages. But it didn't matter now. He knew that his chances of beating this newcomer were slim. He was physically tired, and his chakra was lacking, on the lower side of halfway. So, he stepped back slightly, staring into the older one's eyes, glaring with an even greater intensity than he did the other one, no pantomime needed, and crawled into the cloud, not a sign of him after that.

The older woman turned her head towards the now-unconscious assassin, staring at her for a minute. Then, she walked over, kneeling over to pick her up.

She'd have to hurry. The poison was taking its effect.

The young woman had taken a toll.

The poison had her heaving as much air into her chest as she could, the intake ragged and shaky. She had multiple lacerations on her back, and quite a few bruises. Her evident fight before her own arrival seemed to be in the opponents favor.

As she picked up the fallen assassin in her arms, she couldn't help but feel a sense of sympathy. Turning around, she disappeared into the night air, as if she was never there.

What I Was.... You Will Be

There were times when Takigakure seemed like a bustling city, instead of a village. People out constantly on the streets, talking and gossiping about their neighbors. Miscellaneous item stands selling items to curious travelers and passerbys. Children playing ball out in the nearby lush and grasslands, keeping themselves under the watchful eye of their parents. The sun beaming down brilliantly, giving the village itself a radiant glow from a mile away.

At the dead of night, however, no such thing existed.

In the dark midst, only the cold brush of the wind roamed the village, kissing the buildings with its uncaring touch. Other than the dim lights of the Red Filter Inn, all of the building windows contained the same darkness that filled the sky. Pieces of stray paper blown across the dirt ground, along with other pieces of trash left by careless villagers. The occasional howl of the wind, along with the silence of dormancy, was enough to give the illusion of a nuclear holocaust: abandoned, empty, and dead.

That is, until a pair of silent footsteps moved the deathly stillness.

These footsteps were as if they were from an uncaring woman, nothing keeping her from stepping lightly as her sandals skimmed the gravle and dirt road that led to the inn itself, the place that she was looking for.

You would never know she had a burden to carry, a girl of twenty-one years in her arms, unconscious and most likely dying as she made her wa to the lighted windows and of the inn, her ragged breaths mixing in and out of a chorus with th breeze in the town, occasionally synchronizing with her keeper's footsteps.

Eventually, her silent feet moved through the door, and the bell rang above her head as she stepped inside. Her eyes searched around as she walked down the bright hallway towards the check-in station.

It must've been a queer sight for a woman to be carrying another woman, for when the attendee at the desk took a glance from the paperwork he was filling out, his eyes widened considerably. Immediately, he made a motion behind the counter, filing away his work, as they approached.

"Welcome to the Red Filter Inn..." The man spoke in the best "business greeting" voice, putting his elbows on his desk and clasping his hands together. "What can I do you for?"

The lighter blonde pursed her lips in a smile. "Yes. Are there any rooms left?"

The attendee looked over at the unconscious blonde in her arms. "Ok. Names?"

"Sachi Urami, and Ritsuki Urami." Her voice was unwavering, calm, and collected. That, along with her seemingly genuine smile, had the attendee convinced. The careful wording also threw away any thoughts of lesbianism between the two, as well. After all, they were a bit similar in appearance...

"One room, or two?"

"One."

With that, the attendee gave an acknowledging nod, then reached his hand out to rummage for something under his desk. After a few seconds, he reached back up and stood up, a key in hand.

"Follow me, please." He said politely. He slowly began to walk down the hallway, the blonde-haired woman in tow.

Eventually, after a long set of doors and maze-like corridors, they finally reached a brown door. Slowly, the attendee pushed the key into the lockhole, turning it. When a click was heard, he used his free hand to twist the knob, pushing the door open. He stood back, allowing for Sachi to walk through.

"Enjoy your stay!" Was his last words of politeness, before she heard his footsteps walk off again.

Now Sachi could look upon the blonde in her arms. Focusing her eyes, she could see multiple beats of sweat running down her face. Her teeth quivered constantly, as if she had just stepped from a blizzard. The rate of presperation was so great, Sachi almost considered the thought if "Ritsuki" was slowly melting.

She walked over to the bed to set her "patient" down, the muscles in her arms finally given the time to relax again. Then, she lifted a finger in a pointed position, aimed for the upper arm nearest to her, and thrust. The finger went cleanly through the arm like a needle, although she kept it from going in completely.

She let it stay for a while, and then concentrated. She felt her chakra concentrate inside of her finger, and after a moment more, she slowly pulled it out. Her entire hand started illuminating with a blue aura, as she held it over the affected arm.

Slowly, a black fluid started sprouting out of the inflicted wound, rising upwards towards the arm. Using her free hand to hold the arm in place, Sachi pulled her glowing one back, as she slowly continued to extract the liquid, until it had completely stopped coming out.

A feeling of relief came over her, as she moved her other hand over the wound, using her chakra once again to seal it this time. With that, her palms started glowing, and her eyes floated to the other blonde's expression. Her teeth were not chattering anymore, and her sweating seemed to have stopped almost immediately.

With a swipe of finality, she tossed the poison out of the window.

She was no medic-nin, that was for sure. But she had one favorable quality of their skills: a high degree of chakra control. Most likely, the current effects of the poison would last for a while, but at least her condition wasn't life-threatening anymore. Silently thanking her parents, she turned around, sitting on the bed.

"Oh God...."

Sachi's eyes widened slightly at the sound of the other blonde's voice. "That was certainly a fast wake-up call..." She thought, turning towards to meet the blonde's eyes.

They were still closed, much to Sachi's awe. But strangely, the sleeper continued to speak, her voice soft and near to a whispering tone.

"I...I thought you were dead...."

Sachi's eyes narrowed in realization. "She's dreaming....but of what?"

"It was horrible...." The sleeping blonde's voice was slightly strained, and Sachi could hear the twinge of distress in her voice. "He came at me.... he gripped me so tightly.... he didn't let go.... and he didn't stop...."

"...." Sachi remained silent. But a more confused expression dawned in her eyes, and her ears listened with a cautious intent.

"I wanted to scream...." It was as if the directionless voice was aimed towards her person. That very fact alone sent a twinge of apprehension down her spinal chords. "The pain was so awful.... but I couldn't let him know...."

Her last words sent the message.

"Then, he tossed me away.... like a used tool."

This time, the shock in her eyes was more apparent, and as she slowly closed them, realization dawned in her conscience. She couldn't help but feel a sense of sympathy for this woman, and even a microscopic pang of guilt for not being there when it happened. If she wasn't simply dreaming of a random event, her words had explained the suffering of her past, a burden that she would be forced to live with forever.

Slowly, she got off of the bed, pushing away the small feeling of guilt in her body. Her eyes were still closed, and her hair hung over them in a darkened and unreadable expression. She stood there for a moment, as if contemplating her thoughts, then took a step forward.

Her closed eyes immediately opened back up, when she felt a cold hand grip her arm and squeeze it tightly. An ache shot up her arm, and she bit back a groan of pain, as she turned her incredulous eyes towards the still unconscious blonde. The distress in her voice was gone, replaced by a resolute and unreadable tone.

"What I was... you will be." She whispered, before she relaxed the ghost-like grip on her arm. It fell to its side, as she went back to her sleeping state.

For a moment, Sachi couldn't move. Shock and fear were coursing through her, immobilizing every limb. She refrained her mouth from going agape for even the slightest, as she stared at the sleeping girl with eyes that registered amazement.

Then, she blinked, shaking her head. No! It was simply a coincidence. She wasn't talking to her!

She immediately walked forward, her footsteps silent as to not wake her. A sigh escaped her throat, as she placed her hand around the knob and turned it, opening the door to the empty hallway.

"Something like that..." She muttered, her voice quiet. "...wouldn't happen to me."

With that, she shut the door behind her.

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