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Posts posted by Kyo

  1. When Violet had planted her hand in his chest, Vincent felt an enormous pressure building in his head. He felt like screaming, but no noise came out. His vision blurred, and then was washed away to an endless, blinding white. Time seemed irrelevant, had he been like this for minutes? Hours? Day, even? All he could see was white, and all noise was drowned out by a high pitched whining noise that reminded him of the few times he'd experienced tinnitus. And then, as quickly as it had happened, it was all over. Violet and Meredith were looking at him expectedly. "Ready to go?" Violet asked with a smile. Vincent blinked twice, and then held his free hand up to his face, flexing his fingers. He felt a strange tingling sensation all over his body, and when he pushed out his will he felt the thrum of magic had returned to him. He also felt decidedly lighter, but also quite odd. 


    "Let's go." He said finally, and the platform they were standing on began to move on it's own, apparently at Violet's command. Vincent sat himself down on the moving platform with his legs crossed, and looked up at Meredith. "Circle, please." He said. Meredith nodded, and began to cast her magic. A blue ring of light appeared on the platform around him, an illusion conjured by Meredith's magic. Vincent sent his will in to the circle, and began to concentrate. 

    "What are you doing?" Meredith asked. 

    "Running interference." Vincent said. "Actually, you can help. Get in the circle." Meredith increased the range of the circle illusion so it covered her as well, and allowed Vincent time to re-apply his will. She sat down on her knees and sent her own will in to the circle, and felt the familiar sensation that she could only describe as a link being activated. She waited quietly for Vincent to instruct her. "Just focus on your own breathing, and my voice." Vincent said. She took slow, methodical breaths, regulating her breathing as she had done so many times before, although never whilst hovering above a sea of zombies. 


    "Now let your will extend outwards." Vincent said. "Sense with your will, let it just wander, allow it to take in everything around you."

    "Okay..." Meredith said uncertainly. Vincent waited for a moment. 

    "Can you sense that?" He asked her

    "Yeah...I think...oh...Vincent, no!" Meredith said with a gasp, holding her hand to her mouth. "You can't!"

    "Meredith...their just shades, not the real thing." Vincent explained. "You know this."

    "But...I can feel them." Meredith said, her eyes tearing up. "They're in so much pain. You're hurting them."


    "Don't get upset, Meredith. They're not people, they're not even alive, they're just..." Violet rolled her hand around on her wrist as if cycling for the end of her thought, "I don't know, but spilled milk and all that." She rolled her eyes, but then suddenly her demeanour changed and she knelt down besides Meredith and put her hand on the girl's shoulder, "We understand." She added, "But it is necessary."

    "Meredith, I need you for this." Vincent said patiently. "All my attention is on calling them forth. I'm essentially ringing a big bell, getting them to look through the void and focus on us. I need you to help them cross. Let them see their corpses. They have to see what you can see."

    "I..." Meredith said tearfully. "I don't think I can."

    " can." Vincent said, and he looked her in the eyes for a moment. He felt something pull at him, something otherworldly, and he looked away at the last moment, before he was trapped in a soulgaze with the young girl. That was the last thing he needed right now, for Meredith to be carrying all his baggage around in her head, or him carrying hers for that matter.


    "I'll try." Meredith said finally, and the anger in her words felt like someone had felt like a knife in his gut. He hadn't quite realised until that point, that somewhere down the line he had began to care for Meredith a great deal. The thought of her hating him, well, it didn't bear thinking about. He continued with his spell, and allowed Meredith to do her part. As they continued, a tension began to build in the air. When spirits were present there was always an odd sensation, even ordinary mortals could feel it somewhat. This was the very same feeling, but turned up by an order of magnitudes. There was a buzz in the air like static, and slowly a cosmic wind began to blow, as spirits manifested en masse, tearing apart the barrier between this world, and The Void. A horrendous, screeching, cacophany of noise filled the air, as wisps and shades materialized, and swarmed around in the air, appearing and disappearing through The Void, their skin and clothes transluscent. 


    Men and women in clothing of ages passed took to the battlefield, outraged by the forms of corpses rising again. They swarmed each of them with menace, their cold ectoplasmic forms passing through the creatures, tearing at the magical bindings that tied them to their master. The gunfire became much more frequent, the vampires no doubt confused and startled by the emergence of ghosts as well. The spell complete, Vincent stood up and went to help Meredith, but she would not move. She sat on her knees, tears streaming from her eyes. The knife in his gut twisted. "Violet, you can let us down now." He said. Slowly they descended to the ground, and the platform disappeared. All around them, zombies had began dropping to the floor like flies, the magical bonds holding them upright torn away by the terrifying power of angry and vengeful spirits. 

    "Meredith, you have to get up, we need to keep moving." Vincent said. 

    "No, you can't just leave it a mess like that." Meredith bit back. "You can't just leave this mess in your wake. I'll stay here, and settle them."

    "It's not safe." Vincent said with a frown. 

    "No, where you're going isn't safe." Meredith replied. "Just go."


    "Okay." Vincent said with a nod. He looked out in to the emptiness. "Eldest." He called out. The black cat appeared from nothingness and looked around at the remaining spirits that were swooping and shrieking overhead. 

    "Quite the display, Wizzzard." Eldest mewled. 

    "Guard Meredith with your life, understand?" Vincent ordered. 

    "A poor use of my talents." Eldest said indignantly. "But it shall be done,"

    "Good." Vincent said with a nod. Then he and Violet pressed on through the street, now littered with corpses. 


    As they moved through the dark street Vincent had realised the drumming had stopped. He supposed continuing would be quite pointless if there were no zombies to control. But it had only been a temporary measure. If he was given enough time, he would most assuredly be able to enthrall the corpses once more, and have them rise again. As they pressed ahead Vincent flexed his fingers and turned to Violet. "I feel...weird." He said. "I guess it's like when you put the wrong type of oil in your car. I mean it's magic's not mine."

    "It's yours now. Just give it time to settle in." Violet replied, "Once I get the hang of it, i'm hoping to reduce possible side-effects. It worked a lot better this time, I was pretty sure on what went wrong last time."

    "Last time?" Vincent asked. 

    "Yeah." Violet replied, with a sheepish smile. "Last time I tried to do that, it didn't go to plan. But I'm pretty much 100% sure on what happened, so don't worry."


    "Who was it last time, Violet?" Vincent clarified.

    "I don't know. I didn't get the chance to find out. They were hurt and I tried to help them, is all." Violet replied, slightly annoyed at Vincent's accusatory tone.

    "So you didn't just come straight back to see your dear old brother when you returned then?" Vincent pressed further, but he quickly shook his head. "Now's not the time. Your business is your business. Sorry, I'm just tired. Truth be told I've been tired for about a year."

    "Actually, I did. More or less. I was trying to help someone in the Void, but that doesn't matter now... look, I know i'm not perfect, and i'm pretty much a vampire for all intents and purposes, and... I share my body with another part of myself, which is a cat rabbit something... but despite all the weirdness... i'm also more confident in who I am. I'm happier... for the most part. I feel like i've been stumbling through life with blinkers on until now, so maybe just be happy for me."


    "You're right." Vincent said with a nod. "I'm just deflecting. It's myself I'm mad at. All this bad shit keeps happening, and every time it does I make another compromise. Another exception. I might not have broken any laws, but I've sure as hell skirted the line."

    "You've always enjoyed living dangerously, Vince." Violet replied, "You just don't see it like that." Violet let out a long sigh, "Well it took a while, but I suppose i'm right there with you in that regard." She laughed, awkwardly. "If it makes you feel any better there are other advantages to being a cosmic wizard assassin..." She looked at her brother, "I can read in bed with the light off." Violet grinned at Vincent and continued on.


    Their conversation was cut off by the sound of more gunfire up ahead. "Come on!" Vincent said, and they went off at a sprint. They took a right on to Race Street and crossed the road to the small park, where flashes of muzzle flare illuminated the darkness. When Vincent run up on to the grass he held his cane forward and shot ethereal blue light overhead, illuminating the park. Ivy was moving across the grass like a blur. Two of her men lay dead, and the others weren't anywhere he could see them. Ivy was carrying a pistol, firing expertly at a dark skinned man, who was completely bald, and dressed in a simple tan coloured shirt, and torn, blue jeans, and sandals. As she reached him she swung a kick with inhuman speed, and the dark skinned man blocked it as if swatting a fly. Ivy swung at him with her pistol and fired at point blank, but the dark skinned man seemed to have completely avoided it. Vincent opened his wizards sight, and he saw what had made the man so resilient and fast. 


    An aura of dark smoke emanated from the man. A familiar sensation crawled up Vincent's skin. This man was the voodoo witch doctor they were after, and he was channelling the dark energy of the Loa, Baron Samedi. "Violet!" Vincent called. "That's the guy! We need to take him out, now!"

    "Right. Let's not mess about then." Violet replied, and pointed her forefinger at the witch doctor. Without a moment's pause, a tiny jet of light burst from the end of Violet's finger and shot towards the witch doctor's head at an imperceivable speed. The shot connected with the witch doctor and the impact sent him off of his feet and in to the air, before crashing in a heap on the ground. 

    "Fucking hell..." Vincent whispered, in disbelief. That seemed a bit easy. But he had clearly spoke to soon. The witch doctor rose to his feet once more, the hole in his skull still smoking. He glared at Violet, but didn't say a word. Ivy saw this as an opportunity and appeared at his back in a blur, her hands fastening around his head, yanking hard and snapping his neck like a twig. She smirked in satisfaction, but it quickly turned to a frown, and she saw the man blink at her, even with his head facing the wrong way. 


    Then with an effort of will, his form was engulfed in a white light, the light of faith. The light burned the vampire and she recoiled in horror, screaming as she fled in to the darkness. The witch doctor grabbed his head, and with a sickening crack he twisted his head back round, and looked back towards Vincent and Violet. "Now that the devil's spawn has been dealt with, it is time to deal with both of you." He said calmly. "I am Giconi, and I serve my master, Baron Samedi. I have nothing against you wizard, I am simply destroying these creatures as is my master's will."

    "I'm afraid I can't let you do that." Vincent said, putting on his cocky demeanor in front of the enemy. "How about you try me on for size, I assure you a little holy magic won't do shit against me."

    "Arrogant." Giconi replied, shaking his head. "You do not even comprehend the power my master wields. I am but his vessel, but I am loyal, and I will not die by your hand on this night."


    "God, why is it that every time someone like you opens your mouth to speak, you sound like the Cobra Commander delivering a victory monologue...?" Violet rolled her eyes at the witch doctor, "Any thoughts, Vincent?"

    "Just one." Vincent replied. "Keep him busy!" He held out his cane towards Giconi. "Ignus Magna!" He roared, and there was a loud bang as white hot fire shot from his cane like a cannon, scorching the grass as the giant ball of fire careened towards Giconi. The witch doctor raised his right arm, and the flame exploded around him, engulfing him completely. But the fire began to pull inwards, slowly dissipating as Gicono inhaled it in to his own mouth, his eyes giving off an orange glow. When he had consumed the last of it there only remained black smoke and scorched grass around him. "Uh...well, fuck." Vincent said. 

    "Hi, i'm supposed to keep you busy - game of hot potato?" Violet asked, creating a heavy dark blue light in her hand that formed into a glass object, "Catch!" She yelled, and threw it at Giconi and then flew into the air, distancing herself from the imminent explosion.


    Vincent saw the explosion before he heard it. Blue energy lit up the sky, engulfing the part of the park where Giconi stood, sending dirt and rocks scattering every which way. Vincent had to raise his charm barrier to deflect the rocks coming his way, and when the energy finally settled there was only dirt, and rock left behind in a large crater, and Giconi stood within it. His skin was charred to a crisp but healing rapidly, and his expression was one of extreme disappointment. "Are you quite finished?" He asked, gently dusting off his charred clothing, as if it would do any good. Now practically bare chested, Giconi stepped out of the small crater and advanced on Vincent, holding his hand out with an open gripping motion. He began to chant words in a language Vincent didn't understand, and suddenly Vincent felt like the temeprature had dropped to below zero. Black smoke emerged from Giconi's outstretched arm and snaked towards Vincent like a living thing, clawing through the air like the energy that had sapped him of his magic back in The Void. 


    Vincent raised his barrier once more, and at once the black smoke was repelled, but continued pressing up against the barrier. Vincent's wrist burned with pain as his charm bracelet turned white hot, and he cried out as the trinket suddenly sparked and shattered, falling from his wrist, and his barrier shattered. The black smoke engulfed him and he fell to his knees, gasping for breath as he had done before. The horrifying sensation washed over him and he began to panic. Nothing he had done had so much as put a dent in Giconi. He felt so weak and intimidated. He didn't stand a chance. Violet's eyes shone through Giconi's black smoke, and she flew at him without reservation. Both her fists glowed as she channelled energy into them and with a cry, she threw forward her fists and released two enormous balls of concentrated energy. The mass looked almost as dense as dark matter and it seemed to warp the air around it. It wasn't incredibly fast moving, but Giconi had extended his will too far to swiftly adapt to the projectiles. The first ball of energy gently passed through his right shoulder and everything from shoulder to his entire right arm disintegrated in a second, leaving nothing behind. Giconi wailed as the second orb was almost upon him, and this one was dead centre.


    Giconi fell to his knees as his chest began to crumble away, and the black smoke retreated inside him. Giconi lay still, nothing but a husk, but the black smoke danced around him, clearly hard at work. Vincent coughed and spat on the ground, tasting copper in his mouth. The fact the smoke had retreated with Violet's assault meant that they had found a weakness. Clearly the dark energy of the smoke was what kept Giconi resilient to attacks, and it was already well at work to repairing it's vessel. Their time was short, and Vincent was once again exhausted, having been attacked for a second time by the consuming powers of the Loa. Still on his knees he put a hand to the inside of his coat pocket, and pulled out the leather bound book, The Grimoire. "Damn it..." he cursed as his grip tightened around the book. His entire body trembled. Vincent had not dared open the book since Violet had been trapped within a dream world. The experience had left him with a year of horrific nightmares, and the small piece of knowledge he had absorbed had felt like a sledgehammer against his skull. And yet now, he would do it again. He closed his eyes, trying to control his fitful tremors. And then, slowly, he opened the book. 






    Vincent found himself still on his kness, but he was aware that the ground beneath him had become hard and cold like stone. The room around him was dark, with an eerie green light. The large stone walls were covered in moss, and the air smelled of damp, and sulfur. "Asher." He coughed weakly. "Asher...are you there?"

    "He is not." A voice replied, a female one, that sounded vaguely british. 

    "Where is he?" Vincent asked breathlessly. "I need him. That's how this is supposed to work, right?"

    "It is." The voice replied, sounding slightly amused. "At least it would, if Asher was who you required."

    "What are you talking about?" Vincent asked. Footsteps echoed across the stone, and a pale slender hand gently caressed his chin, and lifted his head so he could look at the woman. Her skin was pale, and unblemished, her hair jet black and frizzy with curls. She was wearing a dark red lip stick. and her eyes were the same emerald green as his own. She rose to stand at her full height, revealing a slim frame wrapped in a dark green bodice, a black cloak draped over her shoulders, and her legs covered by a flowing, black skirt. 

    "Dear child, when you spoke with Asher it was because you sought wisdom about the Grimoire." She said quite matter of factly. "As the creator of the book he holds the most knowledge in that particular avenue, and so it is he that you spoke with."


    "And why are you here?" Vincent growled, growing irritated my the woman's tone. 

    "Because you seek the knowledge that I hold, the knowledge of..." The woman paused for a moment, touching her lip with her index finger. "...Power." She said the word as if it's very sound filled her with immeasurable delight. "You seek power Vincent. Power to destroy your foes by any means necessary."

    "Thats....that's not what I want." Vincent replied. "I just want a solution to this problem, this one right now. No more, no less."

    "Yes, you do like to tell yourself you're a good little boy, don't you Vincent?" The woman said with a smile. "But I would not be here unless you wanted what I offer. And I offer power, in it's purest and greatest form."

    "Who are you?" Vincent asked. 


    "Ah, a good question." The woman said as she turned from him, wandering the length of the room. She passed by each of the glass containers on the wall, her fingers dancing over them, as she examined each of the sleeping entities within. "I believe I have many names in your time. Granted many believe me but a simple fairy tale, but I am still known. My name is said in many ways, and in many tongues, although I particularly like the 'Morgue'. But you will know me as Morgana."

    "Morgana?" Vincent almost choked. "As in the Morgana? Morgana Le Fey?"

    "The very same." She said with a toothy grin. 

    "So...King Arthur, and Merlin...all that stuff happened?" Vincent asked. 

    "Ugh, Merlin." Morgana shook her head. "Stuffy old coot. I blame him for why our kind are in such a story state in this day and age. The Order of The Wise, indeed. He always did think a lot of himself."


    "Merlin was in The Wise?" Vincent asked. 

    "He founded it, silly." Morgana replied. "He liked keeping ones like us in line. He was scared of another me, I suppose."

    "You're a dark wizard, then." Vincent said. 

    "Oh don't insult me." Morgana hissed. "Dark Magic is simply what you call the magic you don't understand. It drives most mad, eats away at them. Quite pathetic, really. Most can't handle real power. You and I, well we are different. We are Hallowed, after all."

    "I still don't even know what that means." Vincent said, and he pulled himself slowly to his feet. 


    "It means we are better." Morgana explained. "We are pure. We alone can harness the untempered nexus of this world to it's fullest capabilities. Well, the only mortals at least."

    "Sounds pretty arrogant to me. That's how the Sidhe talk." Vincent said with an accusatory glare. 

    "Well they do call me Le Fey, don't they?" Morgana said with a smirk. "They're not as bad as you think. Winter are a horrible lot, not the best side to make friends with."

    "I doubt Summer are any better." Vincent said.

    "Not better, but quite different, perhaps you shall see one day." Morgana replied. "If you survive, that is. It would be a terrible shame if you died now. Especially since your sister went and cast her gift aside."

    "I'd do it myself if I could." Vincent said venomously. 


    "Oh but you can, you can just let yourself die." Morgana said. "It is of no huge loss. There will be others to take your place."

    "Others?" Vincent asked. "Who?"

    "At least one, that you know of, and thus I know of." Morgana said with a smirk. "But that conversation is not one you should be having with me. You need me to give you power."

    "I won't use dark magic." Vincent said flatly. 

    "Oh please, still going on about that." Morgana said, waving her hand dismissively. "Those Wise have really done a number on your generation haven't they? I have already told you, Vincent, you are different. The rules do not apply to you."

    "They do if I chose to live by them." Vincent snarled, his eyes narrowing. "If I compromise there, then where will it end? What would I become? It's not something I could ever take back."


    "You are quite correct." Morgana said. "Power is very alluring. But it is your birth right to wield it. If anyone can do so without fear, then it is you."

    "I won't!" Vincent snapped. "I won't use that kind of power!"
    "Then why are you here?" Morgana asked. "We can go round and around for days, but the fact remains. You stand here before me, because in your heart of hearts it is what you desire. I mean...why would I care? I am very much dead, and have been for a very long time. All that is left is my knowledge, here in the hands of a mere child. You are so much like your father."

    "Shut up!" Vincent roared. "I am not like him! He was a coward! He ran away and got himself killed. Meanwhile I sacrifice all of my principals for the people I love!" His hands balled in to fists, his arms shook with rage. "I'm so sick of dealing with his shit! He burdened me with all of his fucking responsibility! He even burdened me with this god damn curse! My whole life I just thought I had a knack for running in to trouble! But it's not me, is it!? It's this fucking Hallowed bullshit! It happens to all of us, doesn't it!?"


    Morgana paused for a moment, for once she was not smiling, and she bit her lip as she contemplated her words. Finally she said, "Yes, dear boy. That is the case." She gave a sigh. "It's unpleasant, at times. I won't tell you that it is all for the greater good, or that you are destined to be a hero. It would just be sweet lies, and you would know it to be untrue. But it is none the less the power that you wield."

    "Well I dont want it!" Vincent cried, and he really was crying. Tears finally began to fall, after holding it back for so long. For years he had held it back. The person he had been was now, in his mind, so cracked and broken that it was barely recognizable. He had lost so much, he had lost his father, his daughter, and his only love. For a time he thought he had even lost his sister. And when she had returned he had greeted her with scorn. He couldn't even allow himself to feel joy at having a loved one any more. It was too hard when he inevitably lost them. 

    "Vincent." Morgana said softly. "If you love them so much, then what are you waiting for? You know what you must do."

    "But..." He breathed. "I...don't want to give up who I am."

    "But you must." Morgana said, and she approached him, once again caressing his face. "Change is what shapes us. You are so broken, because you have not allowed yourself to change, to become something new. Your sister said as much to you, she's been saying it to you since she returned. You have been fighting her because she has changed. But you must see how happy she is, because she took that brave step. And now you must."


    "This isn't the same." Vincent protested. "I'll become something I hate...If I just give in, I'll become something people fear."

    "And so people should." Morgana said with a nod. "Sorcerers have become so dull in your time, hiding themselves away. There was a reason we were feared back then. We are a very frightening thing, you especially. That is why The Wise keep their claws in you, and try to limit you. Even they are afraid of what you might become."

    "And how does that make it any better?" Vincent asked. "That just gives me more reason not to."

    "Perhaps." Morgana nodded. "But you are one of the few who can master your power, even the great and terrible kind. You just need to accept who you are, and believe that you can."

    "I..." Vincent hung his head in shame. "I can't...I can't just make myself feel differently with the snap of a finger. It doesn't work that way."


    "Well...there is another option." Morgana said, and a smile returned to her lips. "You won't like it though."

    "Will it allow me to defeat this guy?" Vincent asked. 

    "I would like to think so." Morgana said with a nod. "Although I hasten to add that you could have done that anyway. You have used what you might call "Old Magic" before. When you killed the Queen, and once before that."

    " I haven't." Vincent said. "When?"

    "Ah..." Morgana said hesitantly. "How strange. I am sorry, but I am afraid that when you shared your consciousness, you did share all of it. Even the part that is locked away from yourself. I would love to tell you but...memory is quite a delicate thing. It is something you will have to figure out for yourself."


    "Great, more bullshit." Vincent said with a sigh. "So what is this other option. My magic is all tapped out, I can't use anything too powerful."

    "Vincent, dear child." Morgana said, shaking her head. "You are not a vessel in which magic is stored. You are a conductor, you simply have to draw in more, and rather more quickly than you would naturally. It is not difficult when you know how."

    "Then show me." Vincent said. 

    "That is exactly what I have been suggesting." Morgana said, rolling her eyes. "That is the other option. Allow me to do what you cannot. I will show you how it is done, show you what you can do. And then, if you choose to do so again, you will know how."

    "That sounds..." Vincent scratched his head. "Damn it...I don't have a choice. Fine. One time only."

    "Marvelous." Morgana said. "It has been a while since I stretched my legs..."






    Giconi finally stood up, once again fully restored by the power of his master. His attention turned to Violet, who was up and ready to fight, but she was tiring, and Giconi was confident that she would not have the power to defeat his master. A dangerous creature she may have been, but she was still a fledgling, whereas his master was nothing short of a God. He advanced on her, chanelling his master's energy. This time he would take her power, like he had taken the wizard's. He was down, and no longer a threat to his master. He need only repeat the process with this one, and then he would continue his mission.


    "Well, well..." Giconi turned at the sound of the voice. Vincent was standing, and he looked quite calm and confident, a soft smirk on his face. "...Don't you just feel oh so clever, hm?" Vincent said, and Giconi noted that he seemed to be putting on a british accent, for some reason.

    "Give up. You have already been beaten." Giconi said.

    "Really? I think I am going to have to disagree with you there." Vincent said, and he lifted his cane, looking at it with a raised brow, before casually tossing it aside, as if it were no more than a trinket. "America, is it? Very warm here." He said to himself, and then focused back on Giconi. "So, like I was saying. You appear to think yourself rather clever? Allowing yourself to be enthralled by you even know what it is, actually? Loa spirit. Well if it makes you happy. A demon, is a demon, is a demon. All the same to me."


    "Baron Samedi is no demon. He is the Keeper of the Dead. And he demands respect." Giconi said angrily.

    "Well he would tell you that, wouldn't he?" Vincent said, sahking his head. "You see you can never trust a demon. Harnessing it's power, now that is quite commendable. But you have made a most grave error, well, two actually."

    "And what would that be?" Giconi asked.

    "Well first, you picked a poor opponent." Vincent said simply. "But I suppose the worst of it is you allowed the demon to control you. You never let the demon control you. Let me show you how it is done. Azog, Shiggurath, come." Vincent snapped his fingers and on either side of him the ground suddenly erupted in an emerald flame. Two forms began to manifest from the fire. The creatures were almost identical, both of them large and moving on all fours, with beedy emerald eyes, and a horrific maw of sharp needle like teeth, each of them slobbering, their tongues hanging out like beasts. Their skin was a black, and coated in greasy, matted fur. Black iron armour coated their shoulders and chest, and each of them had a chain tied around their neck, with the other ends sitting in Vincent's hands. 


    "What are these creatures!?" Giconi spat. 

    "They are demons. I think I made that quite clear." Vincent said casually. "They are very, very old, much older than the one inside you. But most importantly, they are mine."

    "Then I will destroy them, along with you!" Giconi yelled, and he thrust his arm out, summoning the black smoke as he had done before. The smoke snaked towards the two demons, and Vincent shook his head in disappointment, before letting go of the leads. "Time for dinner, boys. Off you go!" He said, and in response, Azog and Shiggurath bounded forward, slobbering hungrily as they reached the black smoke. devoruing it in their gaping maws, before finally turning on Giconi and grabbing him in their clawed hands, tearing and gnashing at him violently. He tried to scream, but he had barely had a chance before they began to gobble him up rapidly. In the end all that was left was a splatter of blood on the floor. 

    "There we go." Vincent said. "You see, that is how it is done, Vincent. No need to thank me. It was nice to get out for a while."


    And then Vincent retrieved the Grimoire from his coat, and allowed it to fall from his hands. And just as suddenly, he collapsed backwards on to the ground, gasping suddenly, an expression of horror on his face. When Violet came to his side, he pointed frantically at the Grimoire. "G-get that away from me!" He yelled. "Violet, please! Take it away! N-never let me have it! Please!" He lay back on the grass, staring up at the night sky as he tried to fathom what had happened. What had Morgana done to him? What had she made him do? His hand fell over his mouth, and finally, he wept, his eyes wide in hysterics. 

  2. Vincent observed the strange creature that had appeared on Violet's shoulder. His instincts had urged him to react, to blast the thing with magic. Fortunately, he'd become a little too overexposed to such things, and had learned to still his actions, if only a little. Violet's reaction was a little tense, but she didn't seem to be alarmed by the creature's presence. And the creature itself, while quite unnerving, did not seem particularly dangerous. Still, there was no harm in checking. "Violet, would you like me to torch this thing or what?" He asked, making sure he had a firm grip on his cane. 

    "It won't do you any good." Violet crossed her arms irritably.
    "It won't." It repeated, chuckling. "Unless it would make you feel better. In which case, it would."
    "Willing to take one for the team..." Vincent said with a smirk. "I like this guy...or girl? It?"
    "I am a..." The creature pondered for a moment, "I am a thing. But you may refer to me as whichever sex you wish, or none at all."
    "Violet, can you translate for this Jim Henson reject, please?" Vincent asked. 
    "That..." Violet scowled at the creature as it beamed back at her, "Is... well...." There was no other way of explaining it, "My soul."
    "Your..." Vincent said, as he squinted at the creature, examining it carefully. "...hmm, neat." He managed to say finally. "So, Violet's soul, can you tell me all her secrets?"
    "I'm right here, Vincent." Violet bit at her brother.
    "He's curious." It suggested.
    "Pfft," Violet rolled her eyes, "Can we just do what we came here to do?"
    "Nooo...this is way more fun." Vincent said with a devilish grin. "So, Violet's soul, you got a name? Any hobbies?"
    "I would bare myself to you," It replied.
    "You can't tell him your name directly, he would have too much power over us." Violet warned.
    "My name is--"
    "--Zeal." Violet finished.
    "Zeal, huh?" Vincent said, and he eyed Violet suspiciously. "A little jumpy there, sis. Do you really think I'd perform magic on your soul?"
    "I think it's my soul." Violet retorted. 
    "She has a point." Zeal added. Violet jabbed her thumb at Zeal as though to say, 'See?!'
    "Come on, Vi." Vincent said. "You can see my soul whenever you like, you just have to look me in the eye." 
    "He has a point." Zeal added, smiling.
    "It's not the same, Vincent!" Violet started pacing uncomfortably, "I don't know..." She rubbed her forehead as though she was getting a headache, "We're both different, but the same. We're both part of the same being, but we're different, too. It's symbiosis."
    "Two minds, two hearts." Zeal said quietly.
    "Right...seems to me like the cat-rabbit is making more sense than you at this point." Vincent said, and he rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "So, Zeal, would I be correct in saying you are entirely true to yourself, right? Humans, we're conflicted, we don't even know who or what we are most of the time. You know who you are, yeah?"

    "I am. I do." Zeal replied, nodding.

    "Great, so..." Vincent paced around them, gesticulating with his hand to get his point across. "So Violet is a mess, sorry sis. But Zeal, you're clear. You know who you are, and you're part of The Void. So, by any chance, do you know how to navigate this place better than Violet?"

    "We are joined. Two voices in one form. Violet can traverse the Void, because I can traverse the Void." Zeal looked at Violet and the two looked as though they had held a conversation before both of them faced Vincent once more, barely a second later.


    "Alright you're losing brownie points now." Vincent said. "Enough of the Jedi bullshit. I am looking for a big, bad local spirit, who's been getting plenty of worship lately. This shouldn't be hard. I'm looking for the fattest dude at the buffet table. Let me think...if I recall, the one I'm looking for, he loves tobacco, and rum. Y'know? Spooky skeleton dude, big top hat, tail coat? Probably rude as hell."

    "I remember what you do not." Zeal nodded.
    "Excuse me?" Violet raised her eyebrow at him.
    "But it is not safe, I do not wish harm upon myself, Violet, or my brother."
    "Charming." Violet sighed and started walking, "I have vague memories of when I had privacy in my own mind..." She mused.
    "Sadly we don't have much of a choice." Vincent said. "But I did come prepared." He took a pouch from inside his pocket. "A little bit of Ghost Dust. Cold iron shavings, salt, basil...and a few other things, like depleted uranium, and don't ask how I got it." He wiggled the pouch in his hand for effect. " probably shouldn't touch this either. It's pretty much a catch all for most Void creatures, no idea what it would do to you."
    "Uranium would be beneficial... the rest...." Violet frowned.
    "I would rather it remain a mystery to us." Zeal added, eyeing the pouch.
    "Sure, no problem." Vincent said as he put the pouch away again. "Alright, well lead the way then."
    "We're already here." Violet replied, nodding at Vincent. Or rather, what was behind him. The swamp was broken up - if only momentarily - by a small shack. It was run down and looked like it could fall to pieces at any moment, and yet there was something strange about it. Disturbing, even. "If we're doing anything, we should go in guns blazing while we have the upper hand."
    "I advise caution." Zeal warned, Violet scowled at him.
    "I'm with Zeal on this one." Vincent said. "Always best to be careful with spirits. They're fickle, and their loyalty can be swayed. If we do it right then we might come out on top. Just follow me, I'll do the talking. Oh, and Violet, do not sass the ancient spirit demon. I mean it."
    "Oh please, I--" Violet stopped mid-sentence and gave Zeal an incredulous look before falling to silence. Then Zeal disappeared and Violet licked her lips and finally nodded.
    They made their way cautiously through the swamp, until eventually they reached the shack. Vincent took a deep breath and stepped up on to the porch, moving slowly, the wood creaking under his weight. No sooner had he reached the top step, the doorway to the shack was filled with a dark, flowing, black smoke, that seemed to dance around as it moved forward, like a living entity. Vincent forced himself not to take a step back, he couldn't show fear, not now. The smoke began to take shape, and before their eyes a being dressed in a black tailcoat, and black trousers appeared. His face was a white skull, and on his head was a large, black top hat. The spirit leered at Vincent for a moment, but said nothing. 
    "Baron Samedi." Vincent spoke the spirit's name, and it seemed to darken in response. 
    "Who are you to tread so carelessly in to my domain?" Samedi asked, and it was impossible to read it's expression, it's face was just a skull after all. 
    "Vincent Hallow." Vincent replied. "And I come...with a gift." He reached in to his pocket and produced a packet of cigarettes. He retrieved one and tossed it at Samedi, who snatched it hungrily from the air, tearing away the filter on the end and sticking the cigarette between his teeth, It lit of its own accord and he took a deep, hungry drag. In one pull he'd burned halfway down the cigarette, and when he exhaled he blew a large plume of obnoxious smoke in their face. 

    "Baron Samedi, I humbly come to you seeking information." Vincent said respectfully. 
    "And who says I give a rat's ass?" Samedi replied, before letting out an arrogant chuckle. "Who says I want to speak to you, hm?"
    "Well if you keep talking to me, I'll keep the smokes coming." Vincent said, and he shook the carton in his hand. Samedi eyed it hungrily, and grumbled, muttering to himself for a moment. He took another drag and burned away the rest of his cigarette, and held his hand out pleadingly for another. Vincent tossed one to him. "I need to know if another wizard has been visiting you recently."
    "Hm? Oh....yesss." Samedi replied as he tore in to the next cigarette. "Oh yes, very often. A very generous soul, a very obedient soul."
    "That must be nice." Violet muttered, then piped up, "Name him."
    "Why should I?" Samedi replied. "Why should I do anything for you? I have never seen you before. You are not know...nothing of voodoo."
    "But I am more powerful." Vincent said confidently. "I would be able to do so much more, with your support." 
    " do I know what you say is true?" Samedi asked. "Will you let me drink from you?"
    "I..." Vincent hesitated, but Samedi did not wait for approval. In a sudden motion he inhaled from the air, and Vincent felt like his soul was being ripped from his body. He fell down on one knee, and instantly held his hand up to stop Violet from charging in. "Wait..." He pleaded. Samedi gave another obnoxious chuckle, and inhaled again, and Vincent found himself down on all fours. His world was spinning. He just had to hold on a little longer. If he could gain this spirit's trust, then he would find the dark wizard. 
    "You...are most powerful." Samedi affirmed. "But you are a fool!" He snapped, and Vincent realised he had made a terrible mistake. "The Loa do not serve, it is your kind who serve us! The Witch Doctor is my servant! He moves as I demand! And you...are meddling. Yes...I see it. The home where the death cheaters reside. The one with the little girl...she has darkness in her. Now I know..."
    "Violet!" Vincent coughed. "!"
    Violet took a step forwards but before she could do anything she stopped and her expression fell neutral, "Let him go." She said calmly.
    "Hmm...let's see..." Samedi said in an amused tone, "I don't think I will. I should think you should flee, before I decide to have you as well, brethren."
    "Then I am sorry." Violet replied, and then suddenly her expression changed, and she was full of rage, "LET GO!!" She screamed and flew at Samedi, crashing into him. Her hands grasped his face and she drew from him. She felt his power surging into her and her eyes went wild, "Not so fun?!" She asked, pushing her fingers into his skull. But even as she did so, she could feel his power surging up from deep within him. Violet's reaction was not unlike a human who drops a dish having not realised it had been in the oven a moment before. She recoiled and leapt back, floating into the air and threw her hands forwards and released every bit of energy she could, including the energy she had absorbed from Samedi. The light and heat from the blast enveloped the shack and in that moment, Violet whirled around and grabbed hold of Vincent, and suddenly they were back in New Orleans, standing a stone's throw from the war council. Violet handed Vincent to Meredith, and then fell to her knees and slumped over. The light from her body dulled, and her hair stopped hovering and sank until it barely levitated above her shoulders. She looked over at her brother and smiled, "See? Was that so bad?" She muttered, looking as though she was falling asleep.
    "Violet..." Vincent gasped through deep breaths, as if he had just emerged from water. His skin was pale, and his eyes had become dark and his expression heavy. "...They know where we are...they're coming!" He managed to choke, before trying to stand up. But no sooner has he got up, he fell back down with a crash, and Meredith pulled him up, taking his weight awkwardly in her sleight frame. 
    "What happened!?" Ivy demanded. 
    "...No time." Vincent said. "Ready your men...they're coming."
    "What did you do!?" Ivy snapped, but she quickly calmed herself, and her expression became that of steely resolve. "Everyone, to your positions! This is not a drill!" The vampires around the house began moving quickly, gearing themselves in combat overalls, and loading magazines into military grade assault rifles. "Civilians were evacuated days ago, and we've made sure the local law enforcement won't interfere. We go at them with a full assault!"
    "Meredith..." Vincent whispered. "I need help me do this next bit." He stood up, finally managing to stand on his own two feet. "I'm not at my best, I need you to stay with me, okay?"
    "Of course." Meredith said with a nod. "Vincent, is Violet okay?" Vincent looked down at his sister, he looked worse for the wear, but he knew she would live through it. "Hey Vincent..." Meredith said with unease, "...Do you hear drumming?"

  3. A few minutes later the group strolled out of the fairground on Santa Monica Pier with Vincent leading the way. He took his phone from his pocket and scrolled through the contacts list until he found a phone number under the name "Vampirella" and hit the dial icon. The phone rang three times, before there was a long pause of silence, before a voice purred "Vincent, you do have excellent timing, child. I am in need of your assistance."

    "That's my line, Lucia." Vincent said. "We need to talk. Now."

    "Still haven't managed to muster any patience, have you?" Lucia replied, sounding quite amused. "No matter, it so happens that I need to put you to work quite urgently. I'll be more than happy to quadruple your usual fee, of course."

    "Look, you can keep your money. I don't have time to run an errand for you, there are more pressing matters." Vincent said.

    "Yes, I was expecting a call from you." Lucia replied. "Your kind are not the only ones who are aware of the current...climate. While our kind don't fear the cold very much, it would be unfortunate if our primary food source was to plummet in stock. How about this? Do this task for me and my brood will be at your disposal for as long as it takes to get your affairs in order. See? Am I not reasonable?"


    "Yeah, right, sure you are." Vincent said, rolling his eyes. "Look, let's talk this out in person."

    "Oh, I would really love to but..." Lucia drew in her breath dramatically, she seemed to be enjoying making this dramatic. "I'm in my estate in Italy. Deep within my Court's territory. I'm afraid that is why I need your assistance. Sort of a little spat going on inside the Midnight Court, a dispute over territory. It turns out my colleague didn't much like it when I decided to...mmm...well, de-throne him."

    "So you planned a coup and it backfired...great." Vincent said, shaking his head. 

    "Oh it hasn't backfired, just a little hiccup." Lucia assured. "As is the way with feuds, I have chosen to seclude myself where I cannot be reached by those who are not loyal to me. Rest assured, I have my best operative on the job. I want you to meet her, and she'll discuss your objective."


    "Which is?" Vincent asked. 

    "To assasinate Count Silas Lassiter." She said simply. Vincent pinched the bridge of his nose, his nostrils flaring as he did. Silas Lassiter, Count of the Midnight Court, was the current head honcho in charge of all the Sanguinarian Vampires in the Southern states of the USA. Lucia was his counterpart, controlling the Northern states. If she wanted to take him out, then it would mean her taking control of all of the vamps in the USA, minus Alaska which, apparently, the Midnight Court had decided was basically Canadian. 

    "Yeah, sure, no problem." Vincent said sarcastically. "So how does that work? Do I get to meet Bill Compton?"

    "Ah, jokes. There's the Vincent I know and love." Lucia said. "2127 Prytania, New Orleans. Tomorrow night, you will be expected and Guest Rights have been extended for yourself an no other."

    "So I can't bring a date?" Vincent asked with a smirk. 


    "Oh, finally ready to let little Merry come on a mission with you?" Lucia asked, before quickly adding, "and don't act so surprised, you know I have my eyes on you, child. I will extend the rights to her as well."

    "And...what about Violet?" Vincent asked. 

    " you've heard from her...wait..." Lucia gave a little chuckle. "She's there, isn't she?"

    "Are you literally watching me right now?" Vincent asked. 

    "Oh no, us girls simply have our ways." Lucia said. "I'm afraid the Accords only apply to those races who have signed the treaty. Violet is a darkling, she consorts with my kind at her own risk."

    "...Great." Vincent said with a sigh. "Fine, I'll speak to you later."

    "Goodbye, child...and safe travels." Lucia said, and then there was a click as she hung up. 


    Vincent turned around to face Meredith and Violet, and gave the back of his head an awkward scratch. "Well...of course, this day just had to get worse." He said with a frown. 

    "I can do a lot these days, Vincent. Mind reading is not among them." Violet raised an eyebrow at her brother and grinned impishly, "So...?"  She asked.

    " order to get support from the Midnight Court we need to assasinate the Count in control of the entire South region of the USA. Oh, and you might want to pack. We're going to Louisiana." Vincent said. 

    "W-wait, what!?" Meredith gasped. "What do you mean assassinate? We can't...can we?" 

    "I guess we're going to find out." Vincent said. "I'd rather go alone, but with something like this I have a feeling I'm going to need your veils, Meredith." Vincent glanced at his sister. "And I get the impression you wouldn't stay even if I wanted you to."


    "I've never listened to you before. It would be out of character for me to start now." Violet replied.

    "Figures." Vincent said with a nod. "Well Lucia has provided Meredith and I Guest Rights, which means we'll be safe from harm with her brood, but no such luxury for you I'm afraid. Nagloshi didn't sign the treaty, so your safety isn't guaranteed."

    "When is it ever." Violet muttered, "Speaking of which, we have uninvited guests."

    Vincent slowly glanced around the streets, but he didn't see anything. Then he did so again, this time using his Sight. The city was a grim, almost eldritch nightmare when looked upon with the Sight, but this wasn't unusual. And still, he so no creatures hiding behind veils. "Are you sure?" He asked. "I don't see anything."

    "I feel..." Meredith said, closing her eyes in concentrating. "Malice...pure malice. It's faint's getting closer."

    "Two out of three..." Vincent said, raising his brow. "I can't fight what I can't see. Meredith, veil us."


    There was a trickling sensation that washed over him as Meredith's will formed a veil, obscuring them from view. "You made sure to mask our scent as well this time?"

    "Mhm." Meredith said with a nod. "I...I think we should get moving, though."

    "If we wait around then we might catch a glimpse of our stalker." Vincent said. 

    "'s's like they're pleased." Meredith said. "We need to run."

    "Rubbish." Violet scoffed and stormed out into the middle of the quiet street. "I am not in the mood!" She growled, her feet lifted from the road and she raised her hands, purple light forming around them. "There!" She yelled, and thrust one arm out sending a blast of magical energy. The beam struck something and it howled mercilessly but even as a smile touched Violet's lips she suddenly found herself falling, a heavy weight on her chest. Why hadn't she sensed it? How could they possibly hide from her? Fire engulfed the invisible creature atop her and she quickly scrambled up and sprinted back to Vincent, "Changed my mind, run!"  She yelled, silently thanking Vincent for his quick reflexes as she passed him at speed.


    Vincent and Meredith went off after her at a sprint. Whatever was chasing them, he had no way of seeing them. He considered opening a Way to escape them, but he had no way of knowing if they had snuck in with them. It was too risky. They turned and made their way up a narrow street heading back in to the City itself. He turned to check Meredith was still following her, but as he turned he felt his steps slow, and instantly realised his mistake. He raised his arm up to his face, his shield charm creating a cool sensation on his arm as it activated. There was a crackle of magical energy, creating ripples along the invisible barrier, and as it flashed he caught a brief glimpse of a tortoiseshell fur, and a pair of deep, yellow cat-like eyes, and a maddening, toothed grin. The creature bounced off of his barrier and instantly disappeared again, as if it had been nothing but an illusion. He wasted no time in grabbing Meredith by her arm and taking off again at a run. 


    "Siths!" He snarled. He knew exactly what was chasing them now, but it didn't make him feel any better about facing them. Cait Sith were the personal assassins of the Sidhe. They were ruthless feline hunters, powerful and deadly. They wielded only one kind of magic that he knew of, a strange and unique method of disappearing from reality, far more effective and useful than any veil. He'd never heard of one being killed, let alone how anyone would even go about doing it. They were a fae creature shrouded in mystery, their only claim to fame being the inspiration behind the creature in Lewis Caroll's tale, known as the Cheshire Cat. Unfortunately, they were not impish, mad little creatures. They were the quickest and most effective killers in The Fae. "Violet! We can't out run them! They are way too fast!"


    "What did you do?!" Violet yelled, as she ran.

    "Killed a Faerie Queen, if you'll recall!" Vincent yelled back. "Although you were kind of blind at the time so I'll forgive you!"

    "Oh my... No!" She yelled back at him in frustration, "I saw it, didn't you? What magic did you use that made it appear?!"

    "Magic? What-Oh!" Vincent called. "I get you now! Here's a hint!" Vincent stopped at the top of the street and turned, holding his shield charm in front of him for protection, and his cane aloft. He channeled his will along his arm and up his cane, imagining the sensation of fast, crackling energy. "Fulgur!" He yelled, and suddenly the sky lit up at white bolts of lightning crackled through the air, lancing chaotically from the tip of his cane. With each spark, came images of creatures moving in the darkness, and with each flash they drew closer and closer. Vincent saw four, perhaps five. 


    "Electricity?!" Violet grinned, "Now that I can do! Let's play a game Vincent!" Violet lifted into the air and grabbed hold of one of the cables overhead, "It's called target practice!" Then she reached out and grabbed the next cable over, creating a circuit. Electricity passed through her body, frying her human 'layer'. Burnt away, only her dark purple form remained and she began to glow brighter and brighter. "I think..." Violet winced, "That's enough!" She yelled out and channeled the stored electricity outwards. Bolts spat and crackled as they skipped across the road, catching on anything and everything they could, held at bay only by Violet's magic. But revealing them meant she couldn't attack, "Any time now, fleshies!" Violet yelled with what little mirth she had left.


    "Do you remember when you were the subtle one?" Vincent called back with a smirk. "Let's go with an old favourite. Ignis!" Vincent roared and flame shot out of the end of his cane like a bullet from a gun, and crashed in to a nearby Cait Sith, sending him hurtling back down the street. Two more came bounding towards them and he shot another flame at one, but the other was too close, and leapt for his throat. He held out his wrist with the shield bracelet once more, and focused his will. In the last year he had spent a great deal of time training Meredith in the fundamentals of magic. In doing so, he had found that teaching the very skills he had acquired, allowed him to evaluate them in an entirely new way. In the last year he hadn't become much stronger, but he had learned a few new tricks. There was a crackle as his shield began to force his shield to change shape. The dome began to collapse in on itself, and extend forward in to a sharp lance, which the poor Cait Sith managed to impale itself on, letting out a horrible, high-pitched mewling noise. 


    The fourth Cait Sith descended from above them, and it was Meredith who had noticed. She raised her arms in the air, and sent up a dazzling display of light and sound, that reached the Cait Sith and suddenly exploded like fireworks, the bright flashing and loud noise disorientating it as it fell to the floor, jumping and flitting about like a mad kitten. Vincent raised his cane again and sent another bolt of flame, and the Cait Sith ran around, screeching as it's fur burnt away, until it finally collapsed on the floor. "Well then..." Vincent said with a sigh. "I guess that's the las-"

    A black furred cat three times the size as any normal one materialised from the air in front of him, diving hard at his chest and knocking him back on the floor. The creature leapt on to his chest and calmly placed it's claws at his throat in an openly threatening gesture. "You fight well, Wizzzard!" It mewled, it's vocal chords clearly not built for human speech. "You have murrrrdered my kin! Fortunately for you, I am not the kind to hold grrrrudges!"


    "Vincent!" Meredith cried, but as she went to move the Cait Sith's claws dug sharply in to Vincent's neck. "Your kin would do well to be still." The Cait Sith mewled. "If you comply then I may not end your life this day."

    "Pussy!" Violet barked at the top of her lungs - in a manner of speaking. "Do you know what happens to a cat when it's struck by a bolt of lightning?!"

    "Your previous attempts didn't work too well, did they, Hunter?" The Cait Sith replied confidently. "I am not kit, not like the others. I am Eldest, and my lap is that of Aurrrora herself. You would do well to heed that inforrrmation."

    "Th-that..would be the Queen of Summer...just FYI." Vincent coughed under the cat's paw. 


    "Fine." Violet scowled, and let go of the cables, "But I don't make deals with pets." At her last word, Violet held out her arms and without need for the words, Eldest was suddenly airborne. It didn't matter if she couldn't hurt the creature, as long as she could hold it there long enough for Vincent to get out from underneath it. "Take your time, Vincent. No rush." She bit sarcastically. Vincent shuffled out from under Eldest and stood up, picking up his cane and pointing it at the creature. 

    "I bet fire works just fine." He said with a smirk. 

    "If it reaches me..." Eldest said, and then with a flicker he disappeared, and then reappeared on the ground, licking his front paw with the utmost disinterest. "I grow tired of playing." Eldest continued. "My Queen wishes to test you, Wizzzard. You have passed the first."

    "I don't have time to play Aurora's stupid games. I'm trying to fix this whole mess." Vincent replied. 

    "A mess you created." Eldest said flatly. "My Queen cares not for the needs of a morrrtal. She deems you ill prepared for what is to come."


    "And what is to come?" Vincent asked. "I'm busting my ass to wrangle an army to take on Winter, I'd expect Aurora to help me, not make things more difficult."

    "The trial ahead is difficult." Eldest said. "My Queen thinks you may be strrrong enough to do what is rrrequired. Yet she must be surrre."

    "I can see why someone would have to take copious amounts of opium to make any bit of sense of the utter nonsense cascading from that orifice, let alone transcribe it into a book." Eldest gave Violet a cursory glance, and flicked his tail indifferently at her. 


    "So what do you want, Eldest?" Vincent said. "If the test is over then why don't you just get lost?"

    "My Queen offers her assistance." Eldest said. "It loathes me to say...but I am yourrrs to command, until the deed is done."

    "You're kidding, right?" Vincent asked

    "Fae cannot lie, or have you forrrgotten?" Eldest said. "Consider me your ally, until a new Queen has been crowned."

    "And how do I do that?" Vincent asked

    "A Corrronation cannot be forced, Wizzzard." Eldest explained. "It will happen when it happens."


    "So you expect me to walk around with a giant cat at my heels?" Vincent asked. 

    "Not quite..." Eldest said with a grin, and as he said it only his grin and his feline eyes became visibe, apparently floating in the air. "I will prowl the shadows. You may only speak my name, and I shall come forth. Until then, Wizzzard." And then Eldest disappeared from sight altogether, leaving the three of them alone in the midst of the devastation they had wrought on the street, with sirens blaring in the distance, and drawing ever closer. 

    "It's just one thing after another." Vincet growled. "Alright, back to the apartment for some supplies, then we take a Way to Lousiana." 


  4. "You know, I always wanted a dog." Vincent said casually as he sat next to the large black dog, who had was simply staring off in to space with his tongue hanging out, yet again. Once Vincent had approached him willingly, the dog began to lead him to where they were, apparently, supposed to go. It was safe to say that The Wise took secrecy to the next level. He had only been to meet their Council once before, and it had been a pretty unpleasant experience. Aside from that he wasn't even sure if he would be returning to the same place as last time. However the dog had taken him, after a particularly long walk, to Santa Monica Pier, and more specifically, to the large ferris wheel. "I didn't think they'd let a dog on a ferris wheel." He said as he took a cigarette out of his pocket and lit it, staring out through the cage bars of the small car they shared, that was now at the highest point of the wheel. "What'd you do, bribe the guy with some scoobie snacks?" he asked. The dog kept staring out at the ocean. 


    "You're an awful good listener." He said as he continued smoking. "It's almost like I'm talking to myself, but that's crazy, right? I mean what's not normal about a man taking a stray dog for a ride on a ferris wheel? I do this every Tuesday." Vincent eyed the dog expectantly, but still got nothing. He sighed and took another drag on the cigarette, trying to keep his fingers from quivering. While it was quite a cold night, the shaking was more likely to be because he was absolutely terrified. It seemed odd to him, after all he was just sitting next to a harmless, dopey-looking dog. But he knew the people this dog served, and he hated them even more for making him wait like this. Granted, he'd been dodging this particular trip for a fortnight, but he was a undependable but lovable rogue, and these guys were supposed to be, essentially, the wizard government. "Perhaps that explains it." He said to the dog. "You ever had to go down to tax offices? Those queues are horrendous."


    "Has anyone ever told you that your attempts at humor are quite childish, Vincent?" The dog said, much to Vincent's surprise. It's voice was deep, calm and quite eloquently spoken. There was a hint of a British accent but it was difficult to discern where from. Vincent froze for a moment as he heard it, for he knew that voice very well. 

    "Acherus..." Vincent said, his nostrils flaring. "That's a neat trick. Most people just settle for teaching their dogs to fetch, you know."

    "Do you really think it wise to test my patience?" The dog turned to Vincent, and it's eyes had become a pair of amber orbs, with sharp reptilian slits. They considered him like a hungry wolf would consider a baby rabbit. Suddenly the black dog did not seem quite so harmless, as he bared his teeth, pawing towards Vincent, forcing him to press up against the steel cage behind him. "I thought perhaps you had become a man, but alas, I still see a boy stood before me." Acherus' voice sneered. "So be it, little boy, it is time that you face up to your misdeeds." And with that, the cage was suddenly engulfed in golden embers and black soot. 


    Suddenly Vincent felt like he was falling, tumbling through darkness, hurtling towards a ground that could have been miles below him. He had experienced this horrible sensation before. This was Acherus' magic, the great power of dragon's fire, sending him hurtling through the nether, his destination unknown. He fell for what seemed like hours, until finally, he found himself stood on his feet, and everything had become suddenly and incredibly still. The ground beneath him was flat, and smooth like marble. The room was dark, but he could see a few shapes in the darkness. He was not alone. He remembered that he was holding his cane, and in an instant he had channeled his will through it, creating an eerie, blue glow of wizard's light. He stepped forward, holding his cane in front of him to light the way. But he had only gotten 5 steps before the entire room was illuminated, as torches ignited themselves with golden fire. 


    He was standing in what was, at some point, probably an ancient cavern beneath the surface of the earth. However the great cavern had been reconstructed, with supporting pillars, and a smooth floor, and a short series of steps that lead up to 5 throne-like chairs. All of it, in it's entirety, made of pure obsidian. Sitting in each of the thrones were faces he instantly recognized. The far most left chair was sat upon by a decidedly short and frail looking man, his wrinkled, leathery skin was covered in liver spots and deep, blue veins. His fingernails were long and black with decay. The man had barely a hair left on his head, but did sport a long and thin mustache. Vincent knew this man as Lao, one of the greatest alchemists to currently live. If the legends were true, Lao had managed to prolong his life by several hundred years. 


    One to the right from him was a little boy, no older than 12, with shock white hair and pale skin. He was playing a handheld video game console, and otherwise seemed oblivious to what was going on around him. Vincent didn't recognize this one, clearly a new addition to the council. However, he bore an uncanny resemblance to the man who had once held his place, right down to the white hair. In the central chair was a very plain looking man, dressed in a sharp, if slightly dated, suit. His silvery hair was swept back, and he had a thin beard, and pale blue eyes. Deacon Swan, he was the only American on the Council, and he was the sort of man who was firm, but fair, if a little strict. 


    To his right was a an Indian woman, dressed in a beautiful red and gold dress, her long hair was a very dark brown, her skin the colour of caramel. Her name was Prama, and despite her beauty, she was the type who did not suffer fools lightly. Unfortunately, she considered Vincent to be something like the Prince of Fools. She eyed him with little to hide her contempt, but said nothing. And on the far right next to her was a tan skinned man, who looked like he was possibly of Italian descent, with lightly tanned skin and black hair with a distinct widows peaked, dressed entirely in black. However he was certainly no Italian, not even human. Acherus Draven's amber, reptilian eyes gazed at him with that same predatory shine. His nostrils flared and smoke plumed from them, a trick only a dragon could pull off without a cigarette. 


    "So, you have decided to grace us with your presence, Mr Hallow." Deacon said, clasping his hands together in front of him. "Do you think we have nothing better to do than wait around for you?"

    "More like I was just shit scared, truth be told. Still am, actually." Vincent said, struggling to channel his usual childish mannerisms. 

    "Perhaps the boy holds a modicum of wisdow after all." Lao commented, looking highly amused. 

    "Perhaps." Deacon agreed with a soft nod. "Let's not waste any more time though, Vincent, do you know why you have been summoned."

    "Well." Vincent began, "I have a pretty good idea at least. Is it because I murderer Queen Shaylee, Sidhe of Spring?"


    "Indeed." Deacon said. "Perhaps you are not aware of the ramifications of such an act. Suring the equinox this year, there was no Queen to contest the Winter. Queen Isoleth's rule has continued past it's due, and if something is not done about it quickly, then it could spell catastrophe all over the world. If Winter's power cotninues to grow, then even Summer will be unable to contest it."

    "I understand." Vincent said. "Eternal Winter, doesn't sound very nice. So I suppose we better stop it."

    "And how would you propose to do that?" Prama asked, her tone entirely unimpressed. 

    "Take the fight to Winter. Summer has every interest to help us on this occasion. With a few badass wizards on her side, she could put a stop to Isoleth's reign." Vincent replied. 

    "Even if such an attempt were successful, what then?" Prama asked. "Do we just rinse and repeat year after year? This will only happen again as long as there is no Queen to rule Spring."


    "So then Spring need a new do we do that?" Vincent asked. 

    "We dont know." Deacon said irritably. 

    "Um..." The young man with white hair raised his hand, like a child with a question in school. 

    "Yes, Jeremy?" Deacon said. 

    "Well...the simplest solution would be to kill all the Queens." He said, as if this was the simplest thing to do in the world. "Just have the Hallowed one kill them all. Things should fall in to the natural order of things that way."


    "Uh...first of all, fuck that." Vincent said, shaking his head. "I'm not even sure how I killed Shaylee. It was an accident, and if I'd know how to control it I'd never have done it. You think I want this mess?"

    "Ah, so the Hallowed does not even know..." Jeremy said. "Perhaps that is for the best."

    " all know about this...power, that I have?" Vincent asked

    "Of course." Deacon said. "We have always known."

    "And...none of you thought it would be a good idea to let me know?" 


    "Vincent, you are quite fortunate we have not decided to execute you on the spot." Deacon said. "A power like that, the power to kill immortal beings, it is far too dangerous."

    "So...this might be the most stupid thing I've ever said, but, why haven't you killed me?" Vincent asked. 

    "Hahaha..." Acherus' laughter seemed to echo through the room, he had been quiet this whole time but had been watching with open amusement. "You really are quite a dull creature, Vincent. My colleagues may be one for holding a pretense of decency, but let me be clear. You are a dangerous weapon, one which we would like to keep on our side, so we may point you wherever we desire."

    "But...Deacon just said my power is too dangerous." Vincent said

    "Oh it really is." Acherus agreed. "I suppose it is rather the same as why mortals keep nuclear weapons. We all know nothing good can come of it, however, better to have something and not need it, hm?"


    Vincent's fists clenched at his side, and he glared at Acherus. "I'm not your fucking weapon, let me be perfectly clear about that." He snarled. 

    "That's quite enough of that." Deacon said, his tone that of finality. "Vincent, your abilities are not something I wish to address today. Nor are you to concern yourself with the mess you have brought upon us. We are hear to hold trial."

    "Trial?" Vincent parroted. "I haven't broken any laws."

    "You killed with magic!" Prama snapped. 

    "Not anything with a soul, though." Vincent said. "Check your rulebook, I think you'll find I've managed to skirt that one quite successfully."


    "He is also training a young wizard who is tainted." Jeremy said flatly without looking away from his video game. "It's his duty to report such things, and yet he has not come forward."

    "Ah, yes." Deacon said with a nod. "I notice you chose not to bring the young girl. Why would you do that, unless you suspect her guilt?"

    "All I suspect is you wouldn't even hear her out." Vincent bit back. "Nobody ever get's away with it, you know that."

    "You did." Prama said simply. "Saved by one vote, which I feel was a grave error."

    "That was different. I did that to survive and escape captors. I came to you straight away. I knew what I had done, and I came to you for help." Vincent said. "And all I got for it was persecution, and to yet again fear for my life. It was Alphonse who helped me through that time in my life, and I'm helping Meredith in the same way."

    "She is still required to stand trial." Prama said. "You cannot ignore our rules."

    "She used her magic on a Sidhe who was trying to kill us!" Vincent snapped. "She has never harmed a mortal."


    "A technicality." Prama said, shaking her head. "She is tainted, it will only be a matter of time before she breaks the laws. And then she will stand trial, rest assured."

    "Well until that happens you better pull another one out of your ass if you want to keep me here." Vincent snapped. 

    "Point." Jeremy said, raising his finger. "The death of Queen Shaylee will no doubt result in the death of countless mortals. You are the catalyst of this problem, one could even say you have committed in act of war. We would be well within out right to imprison you at the very least."

    "Well then what are you waiting for!?" Vincent yelled, holding his hands up at his side. "Go ahead, lock me up, kill me. I don't give a shit any more. What you should be doing is finding a solution! I am standing here, willing to help, and all you want to do is knock me down. Fine, do what you want. What I say doesn't matter."


    There was an uncomfortable silence for minutes afterwards. It was Deacon who finally spoke. "Shall we put it to vote, then?" He said. "All in favour of the incarceration of Vincent Gideon Hallow, for his negligent actions, please raise your hand." Prama raised hers immediately. Soon afterward Lao raised his. Jeremy thought for a moment, and then went back to his video game. 

    "I still think we should just kill all the Queens. It's the most logical choice." He said. 

    "It is not an option." Deacon said firmly. He turned his head to Acherus, who was staring down at the darkness at the other end of the hall. "Acherus, what say you?"

    "I say that we must postpone this." Acherus said, and he scowled in to the darkness. "Something comes."

    "What do you mean?" Prama asked. 

    "An intruder." Acherus said. "They are coming. I am keen to see what creature dares breach my domain uninvited..."

  5. Light rock music sounded from the carefully positioned speakers dotted around the small independent music store, the sign outside reading the word Harmonix. Inside the shelves were lined with CDs categorised first by genre, and then alphabetically. A few large tables in the center of the room housed rows of boxes, each filled to the brim with old vinyl records. Any spare space on the walls were lined with T-shirts, pinned up in display, depicting the logos of various bands like The Ramones, Nirvana and Foo Fighters. Harmonix was not particularly busy, especially considering most people listened to music online these days, and so much of their regular patrons were purists. A couple of them were sifting through the boxes of vinyl while two girls sat chatting behind the cash register. 


    "-So then Brian, totally wasted, just straight up punched the guy. Can you believe that?" One of them said in the very definition of a monotonous tone. The young woman was currently picking at her pink and black painted nails. She had platinum blonde hair that looked a little dry and damaged from years of peroxide abuse. She was dressed in a little, red tartan skirt, with fishnet stockings and a pair of black boots, and a tightly fitted black T-shirt with the image of a pair of bright led lips, and a red tongue licking the teeth. "...Merry, are you even listening?"

    "Hm?" the other girl replied, only now managing to peel her gaze away from the book she was reading. Meredith had made more than a few drastic changes in the past year. The flat, brown hair she had received on becoming mortal had been dyed half bubblegum pink, and half baby blue. She had a small, silver stud in her nose, and a silver hoop through her bottom lip. She had her hair shaved on one side, and the exposed ear was covered in piercings, and a large black spike through her lobe. 


    She was wearing a sleeveless, black T-shirt with an exposed midriff, and a pair of tight-fitting leggings depicting a black and white Rorschach design, and a pair of Converse sneakers, one depicting an image of The Batman, while the other depicted his arch nemesis, The Joker. "Sorry." She said finally, "I'm just a little tired today."

    "Engrossed in that book, more like." Her friend said. "I can't believe you're 20 years old and you haven't read Catcher In The Rye."

    "I just never got around to it." Meredith said with an awkward shrug. "There's a lot of stuff I never got around to."

    "Well it's okay, I'll let you off this time." Her friend said with a smirk. 

    "Thanks, Kate." Meredith said with a nod. 


    "So are you free after work?" Kate asked. "I know you're not old enough but my friend can get you a fake ID and a bunch of us were-"

    "I'm busy tonight, sorry." Meredith interrupted.

    "Well can't you reschedule? You never come out with us!" Kate protested. 

    "Because I'm not old enough, Kate." Meredith replied, "Besides...I have something to do tonight. Family stuff."

    "Bummer." Kate said, clearly unimpressed. "Sounds boring."

    "Far from it." Meredith replied, and she couldn't help but give a little smirk. 






    It was dark outside when Meredith left the store to make her way home. She had put on a black, leather jacket, that had a tailed section that went down to the back of her knees. It had been a gift from Vincent a few months prior, apparently he considered it of utmost importance to have a cool signature coat. She smiled to herself at the thought of the conversation they'd had at the time, it was a somewhat fond memory. Such things were precious to her these days. It had been almost a full year since they had rescued Violet from her dream state, and since that day things had become increasingly hard for her. On the news of what had happened to James, Violet had flew in to a rage and had went to attack them. Quite unexpectedly, it was Vael who had saved them. She had grabbed Violet, and spirited her away in to the Void before anyone could argue against it. Nobody had seen either of them since. 


    For the next few weeks afterward Vincent and Al had spent every waking minute searching The Void for her, but they never came up with anything. David stayed with her as long as he could, but eventually he had to go back to his home in Iowa. He had made a point of visiting them throughout the year, however. Al also left after they had given up looking for Violet. Thereafter it had just been her and Vincent. She had thought he might have taken things a little harder, but ultimately he said he knew Violet was alive, and that was all that mattered. Besides, he had a promise to keep to her. As soon as things got quiet Vincent had began to spend a lot of time with her, teaching her the fundamentals of magic. The process had been particularly difficult for her, as long as she could remember magic had been as easy to her as breathing. 


    Then the nightmares started. Vincent said they were a result of the taint within her, brought on by using dark magic. He had explained to her that the term "dark magic" was a poor term in the first place. It was used to describe incredibly powerful magic, magic born of raw will and desire. Vincent said it was easy magic, and that was why it was risky. Everything had a cost to it, and if we used magic without cost, it would corrupt us on the inside. The nightmares hadn't really ceased, and according to Vincent, they never would. However, he said she would eventually learn to live with them. She wasn't entirely convinced of that, after all Vincent wasn't exactly a healthy minded individual, and he had been going through this for years. Still, she supposed things could be worse. She had managed to get herself a job, and with the extra income coming in, Vincent decided it was time that they moved out of his apartment. They had moved in to a two bedroom apartment in the downtown area, and she was pleasantly surprised at how much better her life felt when she had a bed to sleep in instead of an old sofa.


    Also, throughout her training, it became quickly apparent that her abilities were intrinsically different from Vincent's. He had called her a "sensitive", explaining that she seemed to have a strong sense of magical energies, and how they flowed in the environment around her. This made her much more adept at delicate forms of magic, such as veils and illusions. However, offensive magic like evocation was difficult for her. She knew how to do it, of course, but her sensitivity also meant she could truly feel the intent behind magic. Magic born of anger and aggression made her feel sick to her stomach, and so she avoided using it at all costs. Finally, and this was something Vincent seemed to find the most annoying, was that she had no need of a focus. Staffs, wands and trinkets were of no use to her, and she'd found that in fact they were more of a detriment. Vincent looked at magic like a science, he used tools to help him visualize and understand it, whereas Meredith simply, well, felt it. It was as simple as that. 


    Looking up from her daydream, Meredith realized that she had been walking for a while now. She was now standing in an eerily quiet part of the city. This hadn't exactly been an accident, though. She wasn't lying to Kate when she said she was busy tonight. Working in a record store was what she did during the day, but at night, well at night she defended the city against the forces of evil, of course. She allowed her will to reach out in to the empty streets ahead of her. Her magical sense for oddities was apparently, far greater than her mentor's, and she had managed to hone in on this location with relative ease. Something dangerous was lurking nearby, and the more she analysed the situation, the more she realized that she was, in fact, being stalked. "Fantastic." She said flatly to herself. Then she took a step forward as she allowed her will to form a thin bubble around her. 


    Meredith's Veil was so delicately woven, that she experienced very little dulling of her senses while she stood within it. What's more, as she turned her head around, she could see that she had left an almost perfect replica of herself standing behind her. Veiling was a great way to hide from potential dangers, but if you wanted to take control of the situation, then you had to lay a trap of your own. She made sure to adjust her veil to account for the sound of her footsteps as she crossed the road and stood on the other side. It was just one of the many calculations you had to make, as well as considering the changes in lighting and shadow, although veiling at night was significantly easier. She waited on the opposite side of the road, watching her copy stand on the street corner, looking nervous and checking her phone periodically, making it appear like she was waiting for someone. 


    Her stalker was quick to make a move. In such a quiet area, she supposed that opportunity was bound to arise more quickly. A large shape moved in the shadows, she tried to follow it but it moved swiftly despite it's bulk. She frowned, when after quite a while, the creature had not bothered to strike what she felt was an easy target. In fact it hadn't allowed itself to be seen at all, and the movements she had seen looked like it was moving away from her illusion. That didn't make a lot of sense to her. Unless her stalker had noticed her illusion. The thought made her heart leap from her chest for a moment. How would that even be possible. She had been so careful when constructing it, allowing it to stand perfectly in place as she threw up her veil. Where had she slipped up? 


    Then it dawned on her. Whatever was following her, was moving like an animal, not a human. Animals didn't use their eyes very much when stalking their prey. Most of all they used their sense of smell. She hadn't accounted for that. Her replica would have no scent to it at all. She quietly cursed to herself, and then froze as she felt a creeping sensation crawl up her spine. If the creature was using it's sense of smell to track her, then that would mean...


    Meredith spun on her heel in time to see the large beast burst out from the shadows behind her, bounding towards her with bright, yellow eyes and dark grey fur, and powerful teeth bared to rip her to shreds. Instinctively she threw her hands up in front of her, and summoned a dazzling array of light and sparks, like someone had set off some fireworks in between her and her foe. The bright flashing and the noise startled the enormous wolf, causing him to back off momentarily, snarling viciously. Meredith saw her moment and went off at a sprint, abandoning her useless veil and tore off down the street as fast as her legs could carry her. She heard the scratching of paws beating against the pavement behind her, growing steadily louder. She knew enough about werewolves to know that running from them was an essentially pointless endeavor. 


    She turned down a thin alleyway, and hastily threw up another veil, this time making sure to mask not only her sight and sound, but also her scent. The wolf turned down the alleyway after her and paused for a moment, slowing it's pace as it sniffed at the air. Realising that her scent trail had disappeared, it let out a low growl of annoyance. Meredith had ducked down behind a dumpster, and it was all she could do to stop herself from shaking in fear. Calm down, she told herself, You need to think! She thought about what she had read in Vincent's bestiaries. Werewolf was a bit of a catch all term, after all. The thing that was following her was an over sized wolf, but a wolf in every aspect of it's form. Lycanthropes, she remembered, were actually human in form, but only had the strength and senses of a wolf. Loup Garou, on the other hand, were bipedal wolf men that only transformed on the full moon. Neither fitted the creature currently hunting her. That meant this wolf was a shapeshifter. Shapeshifter wolves usually moved in packs, and this one was alone. This seemed quite odd. 


    Unfortunately her inquiry was answered, as another large, grey wolf came padding down the other side of the alleyway. Meredith cursed inwardly. She was hidden, for now, but she was cut off on both sides. Eventually they would find her, even if she tightened the radius of her veil, eventually they would step in to it and break the spell. It was at a time like this where she wished Vincent had been with her. This was the sort of situation where his loud tactics were actually useful. She had to think about her enemy, and figure out their weaknesses. Shapeshifters were human, after all, and in a sense their abilities were just a very particular branch of wizardry. So they could be bound by the same means, presumably. She thought about forming a barrier around herself. At the very least that would stop them from reaching her, but then again they would probably just wait for her magic to weaken, and take her out when it dropped. But what if she could trap them in a barrier. 


    She had to perform the next few steps quickly, and with perfect timing, or else she was done for. She got up from her hiding spot and stood facing the first wolf she had encountered. Unlike Vincent, she had no need to draw a circle. She could envision it clearly, using her magic to create an illusion only she could see, and as she raised her hand she saw a faint blue glow form the shape of a circle around the wolf. She released her will, and in doing so her veil dropped. The wolf lunged at her, but slammed against an invisible barrier, it was trapped within her magic circle. One down, but she could already hear the second one bounding towards her. She raised her arms to repeat the process, but as she turned she gasped as the beast was already upon her. She had miscalculated it's speed, and as fear gripped her she fell backwards to the floor and closed her eyes, waiting for her imminent end. But it didn't come. 


    "You need a hand up, miss?" A strong male voice said to her. She opened her eyes to see the form of a well toned and very naked young man, who had an impish grin on his face. 

    "Oh...OH!" She said as she covered her eyes with her hands. The young man laughed at her reaction, and she heard another laugh coming from behind her, from inside the circle she had created. Then there was a third laugh, one that she recognised instantly. 

    "Vincent!" She hissed, removing her hands away from her eyes and staring past the naked young man. Behind him stood Vincent, dressed in his stupid, old duster, his messy, black hair now a little past his shoulders and in desperate need of a cut. "What the hell!?" She fumed. 

    "You no like way I teach, hmm, Grasshoppa?" Vincent said in a stupid accent, grinning from ear to ear. 


    "Teach? You mean this was training?" Meredith said as she got to her feet. "I could have been killed."

    "Nah." Vincent replied. "Eddie and Jake are old pals of mine. They're a local pack."

    "Yeah, We owed Vincent a favour so...sorry, miss." One of the werewolves said. "Can you forgive us?"

    "I..." Meredith glanced over the young man again, and then turned herself to face the wall. "Will you put some clothes on already!"






    "Here." Vincent said as he handed Meredith an ice cream cone. She was standing by their car outside an ice cream shop in the city. Meredith snatched the ice cream from him and proceeded to scowl at him as she took a lick. 

    "Don't go thinking this let's you off the hook." She said. "I least 5 more ice cream cones!"

    "Hehe...fair enough." Vincent said with a smirk. "Look, I couldn't very well warn you. I needed to make sure you could react to a dangerous situation."

    "Why?" Meredith asked. 

    "Because..." Vincent looked down the street as he spoke, and he inclined his head so that Meredith would look as well. At the bottom of the street, under a streetlamp, sat a big black dog, it's tongue sticking out as it panted away with a doggy grin. Meredith raised her eyebrow. 

    "So? It's just a dog." Meredith said with a shrug. 

    "That dog has been everywhere I go for the last two weeks." Vincent explained. "And I mean everywhere, I took a Way to London and the damn thing met me on the other side."


    " that a bad thing?" Meredith asked. "He looks friendly, maybe he just wants to be pals."

    "The dog is a big old softy." Vincent explained. "He's simply called 'The Black Dog' by most. His owner, however, is Acherus Draven, The Dragon."

    "...Why do I think that isn't just a nickname?" Meredith said in a worried tone. 

    "Because it isn't." Vincent replied simply. "Acherus is one of the last of his kind, and he's also an incredibly powerful wizard. More importantly, however, is that he's holds one of the five seats of the council."

    "...You mean that council?" Meredith asked

    "The Council of The Wise, yes." Vincent said with a nod. "In a sense, he's my boss, kinda."

    "Right, so what's with the dog?" said Meredith. 


    "The Black Dog is how Acherus tells you he's watching you, and in particularly, that your presence is required at a meeting with the Council." Vincent explained. "You were Fae once, don't you think it's a little cold, I mean Spring started a few weeks ago."

    "I guess...but..." Meredith dropped her ice cream on the floor. "You killed Queen Shaylee..."

    "Yep." Vincent said with a nod. "And I'm guessing that means nobody was there to contest Winter when the seasons were supposed to change. pretty bad, all things considered."

    "Vincent...are we in trouble?" Meredith asked. 

    "Oh yeah...big time." Vincent said with a heavy sigh. 

  6. "Hoss', how's it comin'?" Al called as he walked towards Vincent, who was inspecting a vial of dark blue, opaque liquid, whisps of steam still escaping from the top of it. 
    "Sleeping potion is done." Vincent replied. "Jus' need to make a circle around me and Violet, and complete the ritual before I go under."
    "Dangerous, putting yerself out like tha'" Al said. 
    "Yup." Vincent replied. "But there aren't any other options. I need to get in there and get Violet to snap herself out of it."
    "So...aren't you entering her mind?" Meredith asked. "Isn't that a taboo?"
    "It is." Vincent said with a nod. "But I'm no entering her mind, I'm entering her dream."
    "Is there a difference?" Meredith asked, screwing up her face in confusion. 
    "There is." Vincent said with a nod. "Dreams kind of...well when you dream it's like you make your own little pocket dimension, I suppose."
    "More enter the dimension of the Dream Aspect." Al said, raising an eyebrow to show his skepticism. "You make it seem simple, Hoss', but I've never heard o' anyone in my time doing such a thing. To be lucid in your own dream, thas one thing...but to enter the dream of another? I don't know..."
    "It can be done." Vincent said. "I've done it before...or...well the book has. It's a long story."
    "And one we don't have time for." David said. "My prayers will be with you, and I trust you. That is enough for me."
    "Thanks, David." Vincent said with a nod. 
    "Hang on." Meredith said as she waved her hands in front of her. "Dream Aspect?"
    "Mm." Al nodded. "It's only a hypothesis, really. There are some things in life tha' even Gods and Immortals have no control over. Absolutes tha' have always existed, and will always exist until the end o' days. We call 'em Aspects, but we don't really know what they are. Like Death, for example."
    "Yeah but death is just something that happens, it's not like a living being." Meredith said, shaking her head as if she was the only one speaking any sense. 
    "It's different with mortals." Vincent explained. "We have souls. There's a significance there. I mean there isn't any way to truly know, but you've heard all the mythology behind angels of death, the grim reaper, shinigami. It's a prevalent notion in every culture, stretched all across time."
    "There's usually a level o' truth to myths like that." Al said.
    "Never heard of a Dream Aspect, or whatever, though." Meredith replied, clearly not convinced. 
    "Mr Sandman...bring me a dream!" Vincent sang with a soft smirk. 
    "Bum, bum, bum, bum!" David chimed in. The pair chuckled at each other, and it felt entirely surreal to do so. Sometimes you just laughed when it was least appropriate. 
    "Dream, Death, Nature, Time..." Vael listed names between a sip of tea as casually as listing ice cream flavours. She stared into the contents of her cup and swilled it around irritably, "Needs sugar..."
    "I don't get it." Meredith said, looking a little bemused. 
    "Don't worry about it." Vincent said. "All you need to know is I'm going to go to sleep, and when I wake up, so will Violet."
    "Cocky." Al said. "Thas' the boy I know."
    "Yeah, well, I've been kind of a bad ass of late." Vincent said with a soft smirk. 
    "Well what are you waiting for?" David said. "Go save your sister."
    "Yeah..." Vincent said, nodding, and for a moment his false confidence faltered, and he looked fragile. He made his way to the bedroom where Violet was before anyone had any time to comment on it. 
    In only a few minutes he had drawn a circle around the bed where Violet was lying. Vincent lay next to her, and had bound his right wrist to hers with a length of thread. Just another symbolic gesture to strengthen his purpose. Thaumaturgy was his specialty, but this was no time to be throwing out the techniques he had held true to his entire life. Everyone was stood quietly around the room, silent either out of respect, or perhaps they were just unsure of what to say. He gave each of them a nod, and dutifully downed the contents of the vial in his free hand, and placed the empty vial on the bed next to him. He quickly projected some of his will in to the circle, sealing the area with his magic. He lay down and immediately began to focus on what he had to do. Already he could feel the effect of the potion. His body felt warm, and numb. Moving felt like a bothersome prospect, but lying still had the added advantage of helping him focus his mind. He thought of Violet, and focused on his desire to be close to her, and after a while he began to forget where he was, or what he was even doing. There was a deep haze, and then finally, a fade to black. 
    When he opened his eyes again Vincent felt suddenly, almost painfully alert. He was stood on the edge of a cliff face, the rocks beneath him as black as ink, and the sky a deep red. Beneath the cliff was a sea that stretched as far as the eye could see, it's waters violentally crashing against the rocks. The ocean was so black and mursky, but tinged in the red sky it looked like blood as it frothed and swayed down below. " definitely not Kansas..." He said to himself. Was this Violet's dream? He couldn't see her anywhere. Had he failed? Wherever he was, he was certainly dreaming. There was no place on earth that looked quite like this. 
    "Disappointing, Vincent Hallow." A deep voice said, coming from his left. He turned his head in shock, but the voice was familiar to him. A tall and pale faced man, with blackened eyes and black, untamed hair was stood next to him, dressed head to toe in a robe that looked like it was a living entity, shimmering like the stars in the sky. "You know I do not allow others within my domain." He continued. "I would suspect you have a death wish, but then again, it would be my dear sister you would have to seek out."
    "Sorry." Vincent said. "I guess I took a wrong turn. I wanted to go to my sister's dream."
    "Our meeting is no accident." The entity reponded, his empty eyes staring ever forward in to the abyss before them. "Again an arrogant old one invades my domain, and again you can be of good use, fortunately for you."
    "Is that your way of saying we're buddies?" Vincent said with a smirk. 
    "I told you once before, do not mistake my actions as an effort to help you in any way." the entity said. "I have brought you before me to inform you that what you have done, in any other situation, would not be tolerated. If you enter my domain again, under any circumstance, then you will not leave it. Do you understand?"
    "Uh...yeah." Vincent said, feeling his smart-assedness withering away. "So...can you take me where I need to go?"
    "I can." the entity said, and he turned his empty gaze on Vincent. "And I will."
    There was a flash of light, and Vincent winced, holding his hands up in front of him. After a moment he realised that there hadn't been a flash at all. His eyes began to adjust to the brightly lit room he was now standing in. He could smell antiseptic in the air, and as he examined the interior he realised that he was in some kind of hospital. He looked around to see if he could see anyone, but aside from a few hospital staff, the place seemed quite empty. He looked down at his feet, and examined the clothes he was wearing. He was dressed in his usual black jeans, black boots and an old band t-shirt, and to his relief he was wearing his trusty old coat. Missing, however, were his magical effects. No staff, no charm, no nothing. He tried to channel his will, and quickly confirmed his suspicions. "No magic..." He said to himself, "Well...that sucks."
    He walked down the corridor, trying to see if he could see any sign of Violet. This was her dream, though. She could be anything, she might not even look how she normally does. For all Vincent knew, she might be dreaming that she was a handsome, male surgeon from one of those cheesy hospital soaps on daytime TV. He noticed a nurse walking down the hall towards him, and he wondered if he could even interact with a dream character. Well, there was no harm in trying, he supposed. "Excuse me." He called to the nurse. "I'm...I'm looking for Violet Hallow?"
    The nurse looked at Vincent quizzically, as if trying to understand him, more than what he had asked. Then after a moment's pause she smiled and asked, "You must mean Mrs. Hallow?" She turned and pointed down the corridor, "Keep going straight and take a right, past the nurse's reception desk. Room 112." The nurse nodded to Vincent and carried on down the hallway.
    Vincent followed the nurse's directions, swinging a righ after walking down the hall. He found his pace turning in to a swift jog as the thought of finding Violet became more real in his mind. By the time he passed the reception desk he had to almost skid to a halt outside Room 112. He paused for a moment, swallowed, and leaned in to the small window on the door. He couldn't see very clearly, but the room looked empty of other people, aside from the woman lying on the bed. Violet looked almost like a ghost, but he was certain it was her. "What's happened to you?" He whispered quietly. He paused for another moment, before reaching for the door handle. 
    "Hello, Vincent." A soft voice called. When he turned, there stood a nurse. She was short, with a mop of raven hair and pale skin. She was beautiful, though petite, and she had a mischievousness about her face. Her lips and eyes were touched by black make-up, and stranger still, the colour of her 1940's nurses uniform was inverted. It was entirely black, and yet, the other nurses didn't seem perturbed by this at all. "Its rare I meet most more than once," She smiled, "But I think this was coming for some time now." She added, her smile broadening and her eyes glistening like diamonds.
    " are?" Vincent asked, looking mildly irritated at being interrupted. Everything about this woman seemed a little off to him. Her clothing, her demeanor, and how she knew who he was. Even if she was something conjured up from Violet's subconscious, there was something about her that just seemed to break the mold of this carefully constructed little fabrication. 
    "You can call me Dee, if you like." She replied.
    "Right." Vincent said, a touch of wariness in his voice. "It's nice to meet you but...I'm going in here to see Vi...I mean Mrs Hallow."
    "I know." Dee nodded, "And you can call her Vi, if you like. But doing so to anyone but myself would be a mistake. Also, I would advise caution in revealing your name to anyone but Violet." Dee smiled and reached out, touching Vincent on the side of his upper arm, "You have to be careful here, Vincent. Your enemy is all around you." Even as she said this, a nurse walked past them and Dee stopped talking and smiled at the passing nurse, who smiled back, her gaze lingering on Vincent with a strange expression on her face, but then she had passed them and moved on down the corridor.
    Vincent stared at Dee quizzically. She didn't seem to be a threat, but equally he hadn't expected any allies in this place. He wasn't quite sure what to make of her. The thought of hitting her with a kinetic blast and asking questions later had crossed his mind, but he had almost immediately remembered that he had no magic in this place. "Alright...I just want to get Violet and get out of here, so that's what I'm going to do." He said finally. He turned around and carefully opened the door, and stepped inside the room, allowing Dee to come in behind him. He turned to his sister, and it made his stomach turn to see her looking so frail and vulnerable. "Violet." He said, his voice a hushed whisper. "'s me."
    "Vincent." Dee stepped around the bed to the other side of Violet so that she was facing him, "For you, it might only have been days. But for Violet, she's been here for weeks. In this world, she believes you to be dead." She paused, watching Vincent, "You must tread carefully." She urged.
    "I don't have time for careful." Vincent growled. "She's dying, the real her is dying. She needs to wake up now, she just needs to see that this is a dream." Vincent placed his hand on Violet's. "Vi...can you hear me? Speak to me."
    "She's been drugged." Dee turned her gaze to the drip beside Violet's bed, and the little coil of tubing that led into her arm. "I can't stay much longer, Vincent. You have to steel yourself. In here, there are only two absolutes, the Doctor and--" Before she could finish, the door handle turned and Dee vanished. In stepped a man in a white lab coat that looked two sizes too big for him. He had a chiselled jaw, and bright blonde hair slicked back. His name badge read, 'Tenenbaum, L. - M.D'. The doctor looked around the room, frowning as though he was expecting to see something but was disappointed with what he was presented, then his disappointment passed and his gaze fell upon Vincent. "Hello, can I help you, Mr....?" His question hung in the air, as he held out his hand to shake.
    Vincent reached out and grasped the Doctor's hand purely out of reflex. His mouth was opening to speak before he could think of what to say. "Uh...Jimmy." He said finally. His thoughts had somehow fallen on that slimeball vampire who ran a night club in L.A. That was the first time he had seen Violet in nearly 10 years. "I'm an acquaintance. Mrs Hallow used to uh...pop in to my bar from time to time."
    "You're a bar owner?" The doctor asked, frowning but still smiling. "Excuse me," He asked politely, stepping past Vincent and checking Violet's pulse, and a number of other things. He pulled out a small pad and wrote something on it and then replaced it in his lab coat, "So tell me about yourself Jimmy, how did you get to know Mrs. Hallow? Are you telling me she was a patron of your bar? A housewife and mother?" The doctor looked over his shoulder and gave a wry smile, "I think you two were maybe...." He raised an eyebrow to imply 'something more, something that maybe Mr. Hallow never knew about'. One of the nurses entered the room and fluffed Violet's pillow.
    "Hardly." Vincent said, forcing a short laugh. "Actually she used to come in from time to time to get Mr Hallow, you know, when he'd had a few too many."
    "Ah," The doctor nodded, smiling a smile that said that wasn't the first time he'd heard this. "Well Jimmy, i'm sure Violet would have appreciated your coming here, unfortunately, she needs her rest so i'll have to ask you to leave. Miss Hallow has a surgery in the morning, and its vital we let her rest. You can come by and see her in the morning if you like? Nurse."
    "Of course, doctor. Sir?" The nurse put her palm to Vincent's back and gently pressed. Vincent wanted so desperately to fight her gentle pressing, he didn't want to leave Violet. But he relented and with a nod he stepped out of the room with the nurse. He thanked her and made his way back down the corridor, shuddering as the door to Violet's room clicked closed once more. He made his way to the exit of the hospital and found himself standing in the end of a sunet, light only just disappearing from over the horizon. 
    He let out a heavy sigh as he shoved his hands in his coat pocket, feeling the urge for a cigarette. How very like Violet's subconscious to not allow them to be on his person. He shook his head gently as he tried to think of what he could do. Time was running out and he had none of his usual magical tricks at his disposal. There was no way he could storm in all shock and barrel this time. For the moment, he wasn't a wizard, he had to accept that. So what was he then? Dead, apparently. That didn't really help him though. He had done as Dee had instructed, but he didn't even know if he could trust her. She might have been trying to fool him. Perhaps she was the enemy after all. There was something about her though, something unnerving, and dangerous, but at the same time very gentle. Something told him that he could trust her. 
    "Miss..." He whispered to himself, as he came to a fairly sudden realization. Doctor Tenenbaum had called Violet "Miss", and yet beforehand he had mentioned her husband. Normally he might have thought this an easy mistake for a person to make, but this wasn't real. It was a fantasy. That tiny slip showed a flaw in Tenenbaum's personality, something that he felt shouldn't happen to a dream entity. Dee had said something about Tenenbaum being an absolute, along with another she hadn't managed to say. "Violet." He said to himself. She was, of course, the absolute of her own dreamscape. If Tenenbaum was the same then that could only mean he was the one pulling the strings. But if that was true, then Vincent could do nothing to stop the man. It was just as the Grimoire had informed him, only Violet could get herself out of this. "Guess I have to wait." Vincent said to himself. Then he walked away from the hospital and in to the night. 
    Vincent returned just after midnight. The hospital had become even quieter at night, if that was even possible. Vincent moved swiftly but carefully through the wards, being carefully not to be spotted. He couldn't risk a nurse catching him and potentially thwarting his last chance at saving Violet. As he moved round every corner, the pressure was mounting inside him. He felt so useless without his magic. Even his fairly rudimentary attempts at veiling would have been enough to make this a relatively simple mission, but without even that, he felt terrifyingly normal, a feeling he hadn't really had since he was about ten years old. However, it was Violet's life on the line, and somehow he managed to summon enough care and attention to avoid being detected. When he reached Room 112 again he reached for the handle carefully, and gave it a soft tug, opening the door with a click. 
    The room was dark now, but Violet was still lying sedated on the bed. He rushed over to her and inspected the IV that was fed in to her arm. With a precise tug he removed the needles from her arm, and hoped to hell that dream drugs wore off quickly. He waited a moment or two, but Violet did not stir. He began to feel incredibly anxious, turning his head constantly to check nobody was at the door. Finally, desperation gave over, and he grabbed Violet firmly by her shoulders, and shook her frantically. "Violet!" He hissed in a sharp whisper. "Violet! Come on...come on! Wake up Vi...please!"


    Her mind felt sluggish. It took time for her thoughts to bubble up to the surface. Before she could gather herself, however, Violet could hear her name being whispered, in a frantic, urgent tone. By someone she knew to be dead. She couldn't see his face, for her vision had not, and might never return, but she knew his voice anywhere. She could smell the stink of his brand of cigarettes. But he was dead. Violet opened her mouth to scream but a hand pressed firmly against her mouth. Nevertheless, she tried. When all the air had escaped her lungs, and she had tired herself from thrashing, she pulled free of her assailant and stumbled out of bed, falling backwards into the hospital wall and scrambling into the nearest corner where she coiled up into a ball, and sat there shivering in fear and confusion.


    "Violet!" Vincent cried, edging carefully towards her. "Violet...listen to me. It's need to believe me." He edged closer still. "'re dreaming. You need to wake up." He said, turning his head as he heard the sounds of footsteps coming down the hall. "We don't have much time."

    "No! No! No no no..." Violet kept repeating, "You're dead. You're not here. I have to get better. I have to get better. Have to get better. Have to get better. Better and better and I will I will. No no no no." She shook her head and started crying as Vincent's voice insisted, Violet covered her face with her hands.

    "Violet!" Vincent said as his hands gripped her shoulders firmly, but not so hard as to hurt her. "Listen to yourself...this isn't you. You're stronger than this. I know you are..." Vincent took a breath and went to continue pleading, when the door opened behind him, and he whirled around on his feet. Tenenbaum stood in the doorway. "Back the fuck off!" Vincent roared at him. He was done with pretending. He couldn't take it any longer. He couldn't stay calm when looking at the man who had utterly broken his sister. "Violet!" He yelled back at her. "Get up! Come on!"


    "Calm down, Vincent." The doctor had his hands stuffed into his coat pockets. He was backed by large orderlies on either side of him. "We don't have to do this."
    "I'm better, i'm better. You're not here..." Violet muttered, grabbing hold of her bedsheets and clinging to them.
    "You're much better, Mrs. Hallow, I think maybe we don't even need to do the surgery now, hmm? Just come with me, and i'll make this phantom go away."
    "Don't listen to him, Violet! He's killing you!" Vincent snapped. "You have to believe me...believe me, even just for a moment, and I can show you." Vincent raised his hand towards Tenenbaum, hilm palm open towards the doctor. "This is your dream, Violet, only you can change it. Remember what it feels like to use magic! Remember the first time you used it!"

  7. Tatsuma was smoking his e-cigarette as he made the short walk to reach Nagai. He observed the scene with the same cold, detached expression, aside from a mild flaring of his nostrils which revealed his annoyance. "Let's not beat around the bush here." He said as he reached in to his jacket and retrieved a handgun from the holster strapped to his chest. The pistol was made of silver metal with a black metal grip, coated with a dark green anodised grip. The barrel thick and bulky, with a thin strip of green led light glowing across the side. It was a government issue EXT-19 Hand Cannon, the standard weapon of choice for people in his line of work. The pistol itself was loaded with highly destructive hollow point round designed to combat the more dangerous threat of a Bakemono. However it was also equipped with a electroshock pulse function, for a non lethal approach. However the key feature of the fun was the built in threat detection software designed by the Security Division of the government. 


    "I'm sure you know how this works." Tatsuma said, and he held the gun as if presenting it, rather than pointing it right at Nagai. "The EXT-19, often called the Equalizer. Based on the current scenario, it is likely that the threat detection system will consider you an individual who deserves lethal force, whereas this bystander here would be considered non-hostile and the pistol would be unusable. Perhaps if you were very fortunate the Equalizer would only authorise non-lethal force. However the system in place is quite flawed, for example it is unable to understand the potential value of this bystander to our investigation. It is quite likely that the system would authorise for me to shoot through this bystander in order to put down a highly dangerous individual like yourself." He took another pull of his cigarette and exhaled, the vapour swirling around his head. "However if I point this weapon and the assessment is made, I am duty bound to follow through with the order. So tell me, am I going to have to do that?"


    "Hey, you talk a lot when you hold a gun." Nagai sucked in air through his lips and looked at Cho for a few thoughtful moments, "That thing only every says 'kill' when it looks at me."

    "That probably isn't far from the truth." Tatsuma said with a nod. "Listen to me carefully, Nagai." He made a point of looking directly in to Nagai's eyes. "You said earlier that no human would hold your gaze, and yet here I stand as evidence to the contrary. The reason for this is that I don't particularly care about your propensity to commit crimes. Unfortunately it is my job to ensure that you don't, and I do not compromise when it comes to by work ethic. You have keen senses, if you choose to utilise them properly you can be a great asset. However, if you would rather just be a dog on a leash, I can work with that just as well."


    "Crime?!" Nagai spat, laughing. "You think humans don't look at me because I commit crimes? What's my crime?! I eat to survive." He shook his head in disbelief but took a deep breath and relaxed his grip. Cho quickly wriggled free and ran to Tatsuma, leaving Nagai facing him without a shield. Nagai patted his chest, "Well come on then, see if you can shoot faster than I can reach you. Then you can sleep at night knowing you did the right thing, huh? What are you waiting for?!"

    "I think I was quite clear that I would rather not shoot you." Tatsuma said. "Point your grudge against the world at someone else. I have a job to do and I intend to do it. It would be a lot easier on everyone if you did the same. There are advantages to playing the game to a degree. At any rate there is nothing I can do to change your situation, other than offer you the easiest solution. I'm glad you decided to take it on this occasion." 


    Tatsuma turned to Cho and grabbed him firmly by the arm. "I am going to be placing you under arrest now. You will be taken to the station for questioning and if you cooperate fully then, if you have done nothing wrong, you will be free to go. If you don't resist then I can leave the cuffs off. Do you understand?"

    "Y-yes." Cho muttered, looking back at Nagai. "But I haven't done anything wrong?"
    "Tch!" Nagai growled and shoved his hands into his jacket pockets, and walked back to the car, muttering, "The easiest solution would be eating you and migrating to somewhere with beaches and babes..." As he opened the passenger-side door he called over his shoulder, "Runners are always guilty!"
    "Mm." Tatsuma agreed to himself, "Guilty of what, though?" He added as he followed Nagai to the car with Cho, and led the young man in to the back seat and closed the door. He then got in to the driving seat himself. 
    As he started the car he turned to Nagai. "When we get back go get something to eat." He said. "SETS provides for you, right?"
    Nagai stared out of his side window, "Mmh... no." He replied, "When you're done questioning the kid, I get to eat him."
    "W-what?!" Cho squeeked. "I-I...!!" 
    Looking over his shoulder, Nagai grinned wickedly at Cho and closed his eyes, pleased with himself, "Gotcha!" He chimed, and then settled back in his chair.
    "So you've got jokes." Tatsuma said. "Good to see it's not all self absorbed whining and acting out."
    "Oi, Tats?" Nagai shifted tone, he sounded serious. His eyes focused off on something distant outside, "I hope you never know what its like to feel a ghoul's hunger. I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemy..."
    Tatsuma shook his head, but chose not to continue the conversation. He didn't respect excuses very much, and that was how he saw this, right or wrong. It was true that Nagai's need for human flesh went against the values of human society, for obvious reasons. However Tatsuma saw it differently. Nagai was an animal who was depriving himself of what he needs. The reasons for this could be many among Ghouls. Perhaps they feared the penalty for feeding on humans, others might have tried to hold on to their humanity as much as possible, and for those like Nagai who were under constant watch, it was challenging to truly keep your hunger in check. He understood that it was not easy, but then life rarely is. For Tatsuma, if a being is not willing to do anything for the sake of their own survival, then they deserve all the pain that they bear because of it. It was not a conversation that he wanted to have with Nagai, as it would be unlikely to reap any benefit for either of them. 
    Regardless he was much more interested in the leads they had established on the case. The young boy, Cho, he held valuable information. He wasn't guilty, at least not in the way Nagai had implied. He was far too cowardly, too genuinely afraid and surprised by what had happened. He didn't fit the profile at all. This boy wanted nothing more than to fade in to the background. The killer was the opposite. He wanted them to see what he had done. He wanted people whispering and gossiping, and he wanted people to be afraid. If killing was an art, then this killer was an artist. 


  8. Tanaka Tatsuma was sitting alone in one of the booths of a small cafe called Orais. He was warming his hands over a cup of black coffee, wearing a dark grey shirt with a slate tie hanging loosely from his neck, a long coat of matching colour was lying in a heap on the tacky red faux-leather of the booth's seat. Orais was decorated with a holographic design of a Parisian cafe, no doubt a vibe to complement their excellent coffee. He lifted his hand and ran it through his unruly, dark hair, before reaching for his breast pocket and retrieving a single cigarette. He placed it at his mouth and inhaled, the end of it lighting up without need for a flame. It was, of course, an electronic device that had been made to look like a cigarette, but he knew what he was inhaling was the vapour produced from a synthesized blend of chemicals designed to mimic the feelig of smoking, but this method was much safer than real tobacco, a substance that had been illegal for quite some time now. 


    He smirked briefly at the thought that this little device was much like himself, a mimic. For all intents and purposes it was the same as the real thing, but in reality it was simply a pretender. Tatsuma was a pretender to the human race. He had watched them his whole life, so much so that he had learned to make the motions expected of him in order to fit in with society. He had been watching the other patrons of Orais during his visit. A couple sat at a table nearby, talking quietly to themselves. What they were saying was of no importance to him, after all most people were liars so he found it poor practice to trust anything that came from their mouths. Instead he would simply make observations about them to uncover their story. 


    The couple were young. The man was well dressed, a professional. His posture was relaxed. Considering Orais was not the cheapest of places, Tatsuma could assume that the couple were not struggling financially. The young man was also smiling, genuinely. A real smile has nothing to do with the lips, and has everything to do with the eyes. Most people can force their lips to smile, but most lack the skill to hide the real expression shown in their eyes. It only took a few moments for Tatsuma to see that this young man was content with his life, and as a result everything about him became like an open book. His posture was relaxed and welcoming, his smile was out for all to see with nothing to hide. The young woman, however, was a different story. 


    She was also smiling, but her eyebrows were drawn up, showing ones in the know, like Tatsuma, that there was sadness lurking within her. Her posture was an attempt at being relaxed, but relaxation is difficult to mimic, because the very act of forcing yourself stops you from being relaxed. She fidgeted with the ring on her finger, and she was unconsciously leaning away from the man she was sat with. Throughout their conversation she never once looked her partner in the eye, and she was always touching her face, subconscious attempt to conceal it. This was an emotion Tatsuma understood very well, despite never experiencing it himself. Guilt. 


    With this information it would be quite easy to speculate what was going on. The woman had betrayed the man somehow. Chances were high that she had been unfaithful. However she could have also been careless, and gotten them in to debt. Either way the woman was to blame, and she knew it. Had she planned to leave the man, or grown to dislike him, then she would have exhibited other traits such as disgust. To find out more he would have to probe, but that was where he would draw the line. It was not his place to actually do anything about this, he simply enjoyed observing people. It was how he liked to pass the time, and keep his mind in the game. He was a Handler for SETS, and soon he would be meeting his new Hound, a Bakemono named Nagai. 


    Tatsuma had read his file. A human, once upon a time, now turned Ghoul. Responsible for the death of several members of his family, apparently through negligence rather than intent. It was nothing he hadn't read before. It seemed somewhat typical for Bakemono to lead tragic lives, and the ones who became Hounds were almost guaranteed of it. He pulled back the sleeve of his shirt to reveal a thin, silver band around his wrist. Almost immediately a sequence of tiny laser-like lights glittered from the bracelet and formed a holographic interface above his wrist. He pulled up a media file and allowed it to play, the audio set to be heard only by himself. 


    Tatsuma watched carefully as images of a mutilated corpse flashed across the small screen. Next was the news footage of security minister Nori Masahiko. He didn't bother to listen to his words, he had watched the video before, and he found a scripted public statement to be all but useless when he was investigating. Instead he watched the man himself. As the questions continued the expressions of stress on Masahiko's face seemed to drastically worsen. Tatsuma noted the clenching of the jaw before answering, the way he glanced at the reporters screamed of contempt. A fairly common reaction to the press, in fairness. 


    "The involvement of a Bakemono is all but confirmed," The minister nodded, "No human being is capable of this level of brutality."

    "Lie." Tastuma said, shaking his head and turning off the video. Humans were capable of untold brutality, Tatsuma knew this from the bottom of his heart. However he could tell by the minister's expression that he had also known that, and he had simply lied. He didn't judge him though. It was a necessary lie when dealing with the public. It wasn't indicative of the truth to condemn all unspeakable acts to that of the Bakemono, but it was the simplest solution to keep the public from becoming more panicked. He drained the last of his coffee and grabbed his coat, standing up and throwing it over his shoulders as he went to leave. It was time to work. 




    Masao Ko was speaking to someone as Tatsuma quietly entered the room. They were talking about the case. The young man with the tattoos he recognised from the file he had read. It was his new Hound, Nagai. He decided to wait and listen to what he had to say. 

    "Looks like her body is intact, in a manner of speaking." Nagai looked back at Masao with a grin, "But, some of her organs are missing. Unless they're pulp, I don't see a heart, or lungs, or liver." He noted, pointing at certain areas of the images. "Which means, either they took the organs, or--"

    "--they ate them." Tatsuma said, finishing the sentence. 
    The two men looked at him, suddenly aware of his presence. Nagai looked away, somewhat disinterested, and then continued his train of thought. 
    "They could have taken the organs for any reason, I don't see any signs of feeding in these pictures. Maybe we should see the body first hand, hm?" Nagai turned and looked at him expectantly, whilst Masao Ko gave a contemptuous snarl. "How 'bout it... partner?"
    " we're letting them play detective now, Ko?" Tatsuma said, ignoring Nagai. 
    "I was just familiarizing him with the case." Masao Ko replied. "Besides, if the culprit is feeding then who would know him better than another Ghoul?"
    "Him?" Tatsuma asked with a raise of his brow. "I didn't think we'd identified the gender of the killer. I'm fairly certain something like this is well within a woman's capabilities."
    "Don't be a smartass." Masao Ko growled. 
    Tatsuma didn't reply, and instead he reached for his wristband again, and with a few gestures the display projected on to the blank wall of the office. The display was something akin to a murder board. On it was a photograph of the victim, as well as evidence files including the news report from the minister. Over the section marked "Suspect" there was nothing. He cleared his throat and then gestured to the board. "What we're dealing with here is a show off. The extravagance of the scene, and the public status of the victim both point to someone who was looking to make a show of him or herself. This was no crime of passion, it is a deliberate attempt to provoke fear within the public. Forensics will be able to tell us if any organs are missing, and if that's the case then we can look in to the how's and why's."
    Tatsuma turned to look at Nagai and paused to observe him, assessing him carefully. "We need to interview the witnesses, as well as the Mayor and his family. Before that, however, we need to take a walk through the crime scene." He turned for the door as the holographic display disappeared, and he stopped at the threshold of the office, waiting for Nagai to follow. 

  9. [Ninmu]


    Long after everyone had eaten their fill, the night drew in to the early hours of the morning, and the adults said their goodbyes and retired to their beds. However, two young ninja had waited until their houses were quiet. And now they had met each other under the twilight sky, standing on the rooftops of Konoha. 

    "My dad went out like a light." Jin said with a grin. "So where should we go first? If we can find out where they are holding the second exam then we can get an idea of what's to come."

    "I could take Saya's form, or Isamu's." Yuri suggested, "Between our encounter with the Crimson Field, and my sister's teaching, i've learned a thing or two about disguise. I'm confident I can fool even an ANBU, so long as they don't have a password or something."

    "They might be on high alert if they expect something like this." Jin said. "Plus people are going to find it odd if the Hokage is wandering around in the middle of the night. As for my mom...I don't even know what she's like as an ANBU. She's pretty careful about that stuff. Seems a little risky. Hey...what about Hisato? Do you think they'd let him know what's going on?"

    "Hisato?" Yuri asked, and then considered it. "Do you think he knows about all that?" She asked, unsure.

    " know, the old lady would probably help us out." Jin said. "She doesn't give a crap about rules anyway."

    "Mmm... I think she would be our best bet. She has a vested interest in you, but is also willing to break the rules." Yuri nodded to herself, "Yes. She's our best bet. But, would she help?"

    "I'm not really sure, she's a bit unpredictable." Jin said. "But there's no harm in asking her. Now all we have to do is find her..." Jin scratched his head. "I don't know if I mentioned but...she's really fast.'s almost like she can teleport. She could be anywhere by now."


    "But will she still be somewhere in Konoha?" Yuri asked.

    "Well if she is, then I think I know where she'll be." Jin said. "It's where I first met her. Come on, I'll show you." And Jin took off, Yuri following quickly behind him. 




    As Jin and Yuri took off on their midnight mission, they had not noticed that they were being watched. A mysterious figure in a black cloak stood atop a building shaped like a tower, balanced on the top of the roof. The figure's face was entirely concealed by a strange, silver mask that was shaped like a mythical demon, known as an Oni. It featured two horns protruding from the head, and a fanged mouth, with two larger fangs protruding out of either side. The figure also wore a black, fitted hood under the mask, completely concealing any distinguishing features. The mysterious figure kept watch of them, until they were completely out of sight. Then he turned and leapt off of the tower, landing on the rooftops below and going off at a sprint. After he cleared a couple of rooftops, there was a tap as another figure started running alongside him. This one was dressed the same, but his Oni had a single horn on the front of his head. As they progressed, more and more figures joined them. There were now 6 figures running alongside each other, all dressed in black, and each with a silver mask, each Oni looking similar, each one with a number of horns on their head to indicate their number in the group. 


    They kept going until they had cleared the residential area, and descended to street level, weaving through the tight alleys without a soul even noticing. Eventually they came out at a run down, old building not far from the Hokage's office. They each scaled the building and broke in through the windows around it. They entered in to a room of complete darkness, but they struck out violently, and there were multiple thuds as the ninja laying in wait were put down effortlessly. They descended in to the depths of the building, and when they reached the basement they were greeted with light once more. Ahead was a long, metallic tunnel, one of the secret entrances in to Konoha's ANBU headquarters. The Oni each gave each other a cursory glance, and then they went off down the tunnel. 


    When they reached the other end, several ANBU appeared to bar their path. One of the Oni cut off from the pack, speeding ahead and running up the side of the wall, greeting the first ANBU with a spinning kick. The next one went to react, only to find two more of the Oni leaping on top of him and putting him down with barely so much as a whimper. They didn't stop to survey, they simply knew where they were going. They weaved through the labyrinthine corridors, before emerging in a room that looked like a large warehouse, filled with rows and rows of shelves that reached right up to the roof high above, and on each shelves were countless scrolls. Once again they each gave each other a cursory glance, and then they went off in separate directions without a single word for confirmation. Each of them began searching carefully through the shelves, making sure to put each scroll back after checking. The one with the two horns was the first to find what they were looked for. He examined the scroll for a moment, and then rolled it back up, then gave a short and sharp whistle, before moving back towards the tunnels. 




    Stood at the only way out, were the two remaining members of the Goei Shotai, Uchiha Mirai and Masamune Kotetsu, and behind them about 20 ANBU ninja. The two horned Oni stopped in his tracks, and each of his companions dropped around him from the parts of the warehouse they were lurking. The two groups stared at each other for a moment. The two horned Oni tied the scroll he was carrying to his belt, and then looked at Kotetsu. "Masamune Kotetsu...Samurai from the Land of Iron. You're a long way from home." The man said in the youthful tone of a playful prankster. 

    "Small talk will only delay the inevitable." Kotetsu said, as he rested his hand on the katana at his belt. "Spare yourself the trouble and come along quietly. You will be interrogated so that we can learn your motives for this unwarranted raid, and then you will be imprisoned. Either that, or you will die by my sword."

    "Hmm..." Two horns said as he rubbed the chin of his mask in a mocking fashion. "Is there a third option? I don't like those ones very much."


    "The third option is I subject you all to a hundred years of misery, in the blink of an eye." Mirai said coldly, and her eyes flashed a deep crimson as she awakened her Sharingan. 

    "Oooh...creepy." Two horns said. "But your Genjutsu only works if we look you directly in the eye. I don't think we'll make that mistake."

    "Enough!" Kotetsu said, and he strode forwards slowly. "Do not try to stall with me. Come and face me."

    "Aww, you're no fun!" Two horns said. "Well, it's your funeral!" Then he went straight for Kotetsu at a blinding sprint. Kotetsu gripped his katana, and then he drew it outwards in a horizontal slash. There was a moment where nothing happened, and then Two Horns was torn to shreds as if a thousand blades were cutting rapidly at him, and his remains scattered the floor unceremoniously. The Oni paused, and looked a little anxious. Kotetsu eyed each of them as he brought his sword back in to it's sheath. "Who else want's to try me?" He asked. 


    "Oh! Me, please!" Two Horns called, as he stepped out from behind one of the bulkier members of the Oni. Kotetsu's eyes widened in shock. 

    " that possible?" He asked. 

    "Oh I have a few tricks." Two Horns said. "I liked that one though. Infinite One Sword, am I right?"

    "Who...who are you?" Kotetsu growled. "You know too much."

    "You can call me Spirit!" came the reply. "These are my friends, Malice, Avarice, Wrath, Faith and Saint. Pleased to meet you!"


    "He mocks us." Mirai said. "Let's not waste time. They are likely agents of Akira."

    "No way, lady!" Spirit said. "You've got us all wrong! We just want to borrow this scroll, then we'll be out of your way."

    "This archive contains Forbidden Jutsu that have been locked away for a reason." Mirai said. "Whatever you have planned, we can't allow it to happen."

    "Well if you want to know what we're planning all you had to do was ask." Spirit said. "It's not like you can stop us anyway."

    "Confident." Mirai said. "You underestimate us."


    "You've got it backwards." Spirit said, and his voice sounded a shade colder, and more twisted. "You have completely underestimated us. We know all about Akira and his little Tailed Beasts, that's why we're taking this scroll."

    "What are you talking about!?" Kotetsu barked angrily. 

    "This scroll is just one of five. Five scrolls shared between five great shinobi villages. When you put them together, they show you how to summon and control and Tailed Beast. Pretty handy, don't you think?"

    "If that's true...then you will not leave her alive!" Kotetsu snarled, and then he went at a sprint towards them, Mirai and the rest of the ANBU following closely behind. 




    The large Oni with five horns, Wrath, moved quickly, drawing his own blood and placing his hand on the floor. He summoned a large boar that charged at Kotetsu. Kotetsu leapt in to the air, drawing his sword as he flipped over the boar, cutting it clean in two, before advancing forward. The three horned, Malice, and the four horned, Faith, both intercepted him, drawing their kunai. The three clashed, Kotetsu's katana a whirlwind blur as he moved expertly to parry their strikes. Meanwhile the six horned, Saint, moved for the ANBU, pressing his palms to the ground and unleashing a dragon made of rock that exploded out from the ground and crashed in to the ninja. They spread out to avoid it and advanced forward on Saint, sending a barrage of fire and water at him. 


    Mirai's body blackened and took the shape of a murder of crows, weaving through the carnage before her, and emerging from behind spirit, and hurling a barrage of shuriken at his back. Spirit moved quickly, summoning a wall of earth to protect himself from the blow. Then before he could react his wall was shattered by a great fireball that Mirai had sent his way. Spirit fell forward, but managed to get back on his feet. His hands were a blur as he performed the necessary seals, and then he pushed his hands forward, and sent a hurricane of wind towards Mirai, knocking her off her feet and sending her tumbling back in to the rows of shelves. Spirit realised too late when he saw Mirai's body explode in to a murder of crows once more, and the real Mirai appeared behind him, and plunged a kunai in to his neck. However this, too, was a feint. The real Spirit emerged from deep within the warehouse, riding high above on the back of a great hawk. The bird took a dive, knocking Mirai off her feet, before arcing round towards the other Oni, who leapt on to the bird, one by one, before it ascended in to the air, climbing higher and higher towards the roof. Working together, Faith and Saint summoned a giant ball of flame, and fired it at the roof, blowing it open, and the hawk carried them out in to the sky above Konoha, and away from Kotetsu and Mirai. 


    The hawk swooped over Konoha, and spirit gave a soft chuckle as he took the scroll from his belt and examined it. "That was a little too easy, don't you think?" He said to his comrades. 

    "Guess again." Malice said, and he pointed ahead of them. Standing with his arms folded, floating in the sky, was a young man in his mid 20's with a lean, muscular physique. He was dressed in black trousers with bandages wrapped around his lower legs, and was wearing a sleeveless, green combat vest with a hood. His hair was light brown, and cut short and spiky. His skin was tan, and his eyes were a dark brown. 

    "I-Is he...flying!?" Saint gasped. 

    "There's only one ninja who can do that..." Malice said. "That's Azuchi Dai, The Tsuchikage!"

    "Shit...the chuunin exams. He must be attending." Spirit said. "This could be bad."


    Dai lifted his head slightly, eyeing the hawk flying in the distance. He unfolded his arms, holding his hands close to his chest. A transluscent cube formed in between them, with a single white orb in the centre. Then he sent the orb forward, and as it hurtled towards the hawk, it expanded in size, growing larger and larger until it seemed completely unavoidable. 

    "Dive!" Malice roared, and the hawk plummeted almost vertically, narrowly missing the expanding cube, pulling up just above the rooftops of Konoha, and the Oni all leapt off of it and began sprinting across the rooftops. 

    "Particle Release, I've seen it before." Malice said. "It's a Bloodline Selection, more powerful than a Bloodline Limit. One of the only ones known."

    "Yeah, great!" Spirit called back. "How do we stop it!?"

    "You don't." Malice replied. "It allows the user to completely disintegrate anything within the space on a molecular level."

    "That's insane!" Spirit yelled. 

    "Agreed." Malice said. 


    Before they could make their escape, Dai came swooping towards them at speed, and stopped, hovering, before them all. "To invade one of the Five Great Shinobi Villages, during a Chuunin Exam, is an insult to us all." He said, his voice quiet but filled with a raging anger. "You are the ones who have raided Sunagakure and Kirigakure already. Even if you think you can take me on, which I sincerely doubt, I am sure the Hokage will be along shortly to assist me."

    "This is bad..." Malice said. 

    "I've been in worse scrapes!" Spirit said in response. "Leave this to me, just get out of here!" He tossed the scroll to Malice, and then the rest of the Oni went off at a sprint across the rooftops. Dai shook his head in disappointment. 

    "You are a fool. I will dispose of you, and then catch up to your allies."

    "No you won't." Spirit said. "Because you have no idea what's going on."


    "And I suppose you are going to enlighten me?" Dai said. "You think you can reason your way out of this?"

    "I know I can." Spirit said, and then he removed his mask and revealed his face to Dai. 

    "You're...what is the meaning of this!?" Dai snarled angrily. 

    "I'm glad you recognize me." Spirit said. "Allow me to explain everything..."



  10. [survival Examination]


    Jin was beginning to feel tense. He was past the point of feeling hungry, or even tired. The exhaustion had caused a pressure to form in his head, and every muscle in his body was tingling. His head bobbed as he struggled to keep himself from passing out. He was also worried about Yuri. Her little outburst seemed out of character, and he was concerned that she was being through too much stress in this situation. But worrying about Yuri was starting to become a difficult process as well. After all, he wasn't coping very well either at this point. He felt like he was going to fall asleep at any moment, and then all of this would have been for nothing. He'd be letting Yuri down, and that was one thing he couldn't bear to do. For a moment he had forgotten where he was, and then, as realisation of what was happening came to him, he jerked to keep himself awake and fell from his desk, hitting the floor hard. The hard floor's impact shot a jolt of pain through his whole body. Exhausted as he was, even something as simple as falling over was overwhelmingly painful. 


    "Jin..." Yuri pulled herself out of the chair and helped Jin back to his seat, "This is too much..." She muttered, "Some of the Genin here are in serious trouble, and we're not far behind..." She looked Jin over, her black eyes searching him up and down. For a moment, the veins around her eyes turned black, showing prominently beneath her pale skin, then they returned to normal. "You need healing." Yuri put her hand on his shoulder. Jin brushed her hand from his shoulder and shook his head. 

    " need to conserve your chakra." He said. "It's okay...I can do this!"


    "I've enough... to do this." Yuri replied, and before Jin could argue, she grabbed him firmly by the shoulder and pushed her palm into his chest. "Hold... very still." She added with a cautionary tone. A pool of black spread out beneath her hand and ran up her arm, at the same time as it spread across Jin's chest until it could be seen moving up his neck. A few minutes passed and then the spreading black mass subsided, withdrew and returned to Yuri's hand and she quickly pulled away. "I've stimulated your body to produce endorphins... to block pain and serotonin to... make you feel better. It might only last a few hours though, if that... And I won't be able to do that again..."


    Jin stood up, and sat himself back on his desk. For a moment he was silent, and he rubbed his hands together nervously. After a moment he nodded and turned to Yuri. "...Thank you." He said. 

    Yuri nodded but sighed, "It won't mean much... if this keeps up for much longer." She took a shallow breath and tried to continue, "We're going to have to make a choice... sooner or later. If we leave the room, we fail. But doing nothing is... only making us weaker. We have to make a choice... act now or accept the consequences... no matter the cost." Jin didn't respond. The exhaustion he was enduring him was reminding him of another time in his life. It reminded him of the importance of what he was doing, and why he had really came back. 







    Feet crunched along the stone-covered bank of a river that was running down from the stone mountains ahead. There was a forest on either side of the river, and Jin was walking upstream, following Sorano under the moonlit sky. He was carrying the large camping rucksack on his back, and looked exhausted. "How much longer?" He whined complacently. 

    "Not far." Sorano responded. "We're almost there."

    "Could you maybe carry the gear? Just for a little while." Jin asked. He had been travelling with Sorano for three months now, and not once had she ever carried the equipment. 

    "Are you so weak you'd have an old woman carry things for you?" Sorano said irritably. "If you can't carry a rucksack a few miles how will you ever hope to accomplish anything in life?"

    "A few miles!?" Jin said through gritted teeth. "We've been walking for a full day!"

    "And you've barely ever opened your mouth other than to whine about it." Sorano said. "Look, it's up here."


    Jin stopped to look ahead. The river had ended at an enormous cliff face, and he looked in awe at the great waterfall that cascaded down it, the tremendous force of the falling water sounding like a rumbling earthquake up ahead. "Whoa..." He said. "...Please don't say we have to climb that..."

    "No, boy." Sorano said. "We go through it."

    "Through it?" Jin asked. 

    "Come along." Sorano said, and the pair continued down the river bank towards the waterfall. When they reached it, the fine mist of water sprayed over them, and Jin found the sensation a little refreshing. Sorano moved closer to the falls, and then she disappeared behind them. Jin followed her, stepping in to the gap between the rock face and the waterfall, and the water rushing past him became deafening. He moved through it, his whole body getting soaked, before emerging in to a dark tunnel behind the waterfall. He followed the faint shape of Sorano, treading carefully to avoid tripping over the rocks. 


    Eventually they came to a flat stone wall at the end of the tunnel. Sorano placed her palm across it, gently feeling her way through the carved markings in the wall. Then, as he had seen her do at least once before, he watched as her fingertips glowed with a gentle, blue flame, and she pressed them on the wall. The flames carried through the markings in the wall, until eventually they made the shape of a strange symbol he had never seen before. It consisted of three concentric circles, and around them were symbols he didn't recognize. 

    "The elements of chakra that you know, are Fire, Wind, Water, Earth and Lightning." Sorano explained. "These symbols are known as the Five Movements. They represent an older view of the elements known; Fire, Water, Earth, Wood and Metal."

    "So what is this symbol for?" Jin asked. 

    "Do you remember when we met on the day of the attack on Konoha?" Sorano asked. "On that day I mentioned a clan that has been extinct for over four decades. This is their symbol. The Hitotsuyunagi Clan."


    "Hitotsuyunagi...I've never heard of them. Were they from Konoha?" Jin asked. 

    "At one time they were." Sorano explained. "During the time of the First Hokage. However, in time they chose to leave the village. They became a nomadic clan. However, they had a few hideouts in various places. This is one of them."

    "So...why are we here?" Jin asked. 

    "To show you this world's past." Sorano said. "And to help you decide your own destiny." She turned her hand on the stone, and the fire spread further, weaving through the intricate carvings, creating a leyline of glowing fire across the wall. There was a rumbling noise, and then the wall slowly began to rise up and disappear. Torchlight ignited and the path ahead was illuminated. Sorano walked through and Jin followed. The interior walls were smooth and man made, and the ground had become flat. They walked down the corridor for a few minutes, the torches lighting up as they drew close to them. 


    After a while they emerged in a pitch black room. It was difficult to see anything at all, but Jin got the impression that the room was quite large. "We're here." Sorano said. 

    "Finally." Jin sighed, and he dropped the heavy rucksack on the ground. he stretched his arms, flexing his fingers, enjoying the sudden sense of weightlessness he felt. 

    "Jin, if you will recall I mentioned that part of the seal on Yuri was derived from a Hitotsuyunagi Sealing Style. Do you know why they created such techniques?" Sorano asked. 

    "Is it something to do with Jinchuuriki?" Jin asked. "I'm not even quite sure what that is, I mean, not really."

    "Observe." Sorano said, and she bent down and placed her hands on the ground beneath her. Torchlights blazed around the room, flooding it with light. Jin watched as the sheer size of the room became apparent. It was a large ceremonial hall, and as his eyes fell on the walls of the room, he felt a sense of terror grip him. 




    Across the entirety of the walls, was a large painted mural, one that was very old. It depicted a series of strange and terrifying creatures, each uniquely different from the other. Among them was a large, blue cat, as well as what looked like a cross between an octopus and a bull. Another was a hulking, crimson gorilla. The creatures were all painted together, four on either side, and in the centre was huge, snarling, red eyed monster. A demon fox with nine tails. Even though it was just a mural, the creature looked truly terrifying. 

    "These are the creatures known as tailed beasts." Sorano explained. "They are a calamity. A tremendous force of nature. That one in the centre is the Nine Tails, which some believed was the strongest."

    "These things...are real?" Jin said with a gulp. 

    "They were...or they are, I suppose." Sorano said. "They were sealed away. It took a tremendous amount of planning, and a huge sacrifice. The entirety of the Hitotsuyunagi Clan gave their own lives to seal away these creatures, so that they would never harm any one again."


    "Old lady...why are we here?" Jin asked. 

    "To learn the mistakes of the past." Sorano said. "You see, before they were sealed away, the Tailed Beasts were a great and terrible foe. One thrash of their tails could destroy and entire village. And yet as with all powerful things, ambitious men tried to control it. Many people came to the same conclusion, which was that the Tailed Beasts were too dangerous to be left unchecked. And so it was decided that they would be sealed away, to be used in a method that posed the least amount of risk, and in a way that would provide the captor with a truly awesome power."

    "Jinchuuriki." Jin whispered. "...They sealed these beasts inside people? Inside ninja?"

    "Indeed." Sorano said with a nod. "Jinchuuriki became invaluable assets. They were considered weapons of mass destruction. Each village possessed at least one of them, at one time or another. Just the threat of unleashing the Jinchuuriki was enough to stop wars from happening. They completely tipped the balance of power."


    " of them is inside Yuri?" Jin asked, and he sounded like he was trying to fight back a bubbling rage inside him. 

    "That's...not possible." Sorano explained. "The Nine Tailed Beasts are gone. If Akira is to be believed, he has created his own. Tailed Beasts created by man. I never thought such a thing would be possible. And what's worse is he has committed a sin of the past, and created Jinchuuriki to house his creatures. Nothing good will come of that, do you understand?"

    "So...what do we do about it? If the Hitotsuyunagi Clan are gone, then they can't stop this from happening." Jin said. 

    "One remains." Sorano said. "And she will train another. If he so chooses."

    "She? You mean...?" Jin looked at Sorano, and she smiled back at him. 


    "I am Hitotsuyunagi Sorano." She said. "Sole survivor of my clan, and the one who holds all of our knowledge and secrets."

    "Old lady..." Jin said. His fists were clenched and shaking. "You're whole family..."

    "All gone." Sorano said with a nod. 

    "But...what was that sacrifice for if this is happening again?" Jin barked. "Why!? Why did they have to die if it was just going to keep happening!?"

    "Exactly, boy." Sorano growled in a tone of quiet rage. "That punk Akira has insulted everything my clan fought and died for. That is why I have chosen to come out of retirement, and to train you for what's to come. Do you think you are up to it?"

    "I want to protect Yuri..." Jin said. "...If this is how I do it, then there's no question. I'll do it."


    "A good answer." Sorano said, but her voice sounded sad. "However, there may come a time when you need to protect everyone else from Yuri. Are you prepared for that?"

    "I..what do you mean?" Jin asked. "Yuri would never-"

    "Yuri won't have any choice." Sorano said. "When you see her again...there will be signs. They will be subtle at first, but I will train you in how to spot them. To protect Yuri, to protect everyone, you will need to know how to stop her. I can show you how."

    "...Okay." Jin said. "How long do we have to train?"

    "I've never seen anyone master the necessary abilities in under ten years." Sorano said. "You're talented, but I would say that's your benchmark."

    " we have that long?" Jin asked. 

    "You best hope so..." Sorano replied. 





    [Naruto Main Theme]


    Jin's fists clamped around the edge of his desk firmly, as he stood up, and with a frustrated yell he hurled the desk across the classroom, smashing it in to the wall. Kazuo put his book down of the table in front of him and stood up, glaring at Jin. "What he hell do you think you're doing!?" He barked. 

    "I've had...enough!" Jin yelled back. "You've kept us in here, starving and tired for three days now! How much longer do you plan on keeping us here!?"

    "Get your desk and sit back down, before I toss you out of here!" Kazuo ordered. 

    "Go ahead!" Jin spat back. "But if you try it I promise I won't go without a fight! Maybe you'll beat me...but...I'll keep fighting until my last breath. You can starve me, beat me, you can even torture me. I'll never give up on my destiny! I'm going to...I'm going to be Hokage!"

    "Hmph!" Kazuo smirked. "You've got guts, but that's not enough, kid."


    Suddenly a table flew across the room and Kazuo was forced to react. He drew his kunai and sliced through it, the two halves flying past him and crashing into the wall behind him. Kazuo tracked the arc of the huge projectile and saw Yuri cracking her knuckles. 
    "What are you going to do about it?" Yuri asked, raising an eyebrow. She put her hands behind her back and released her insects in a wide pattern, dispersing so that few in the room could see them. Suddenly a dozen more students appeared out of nowhere and started clamouring. 
    "Let us go!" 
    "I've had enough of this!"
    "Throw him out!!" The last one yelled. Then they vanished, but were replaced with the indignant cries of the remaining students, brought to action by Jin and the rebellious students who first became vocal. Yuri brought her insects home and gave Jin a wink before turning her gaze back on Kazuo. 
    "You heard them." Yuri said finally, putting her hands on her hips.
    "So we fight." Totsuka said as she too stood from her chair. 
    "Interesting...I doubt this was how they wanted this test to go." Nonoi said as he followed suit. "But I must admit, I want this to end just as much as the rest."
    "The Konoha brat makes a fine point." One of the Kirigakure ninja said as he stood. "Besides...I'm itchin' for some bloodshed!"
    "I this is how it is." Kazuo said, shaking his head. "Is this your idea of being an effective ninja, Hideo Jin? You've caused a full scale revolt during an official examination!"
    "So what!?" Jin snarled. "If my enemies captured me and did this...are you saying you don't expect me to revolt!? Give me a break!"
    "Hmph!" Kazuo smirked. "Interesting...this is a higher number than we expected all pass!"
    Yuri grabbed the nearest chair and ran at Kazuo, only to find a half dozen of the other Genin were trying to hold her back, "I'll kill him!!" She yelled, cursing and throwing the chair across the room and began to pull the Genin holding her across the floor, her strength overpowering them.
    "Ahahaha!" Kazuo threw his head back laughing. "Quite the temper, Satomi Sayuri. How about you save it for Round 2, hm?"
    Kazuo's question confused Yuri long enough for her to stop her advance. She took a deep breath and let it out through her nose before sitting back on the nearest chair.
    "That was my seat--"
    Yuri turned and met the ninja's indignant expression with her own. Black eyes staring him down, her iron will and fiery rage mixed with a confident authority. The boy held his hands up and lost the colour in his face before backing away.
    "So..." Yuri growled, turning back to look at Kazuo, "What's round two?
    "You'll be briefed just before it commences." Kazuo replied. "You have three days to rest up. Someone will contact you with a time and a location, and you will go there. What I can tell you is you will be working in your teams, and you will all be each others opponents from now on. Even teams from the same village will be pitted against each other. Also, the next test is designed so that at least half of you will be guaranteed to fail. No more questions, you can go now."
    "Ah...finally." Jin said with a sigh. "Yuri, I hope your dad is ready for a large order. I'm going to need at least ten bowls of his Tonkotsu Ramen to get over this!"
    Jin turned around and saw that Yuri was nowhere to be seen. There was a small note on the chair beside him. Picking it up, he saw it read:
    Jin, I wrote you a Haiku to pass the time, enjoy.
    The noodles are mine
    Anguish now in despair, friend
    I feel no guilt bye.
    "...Eh?" Jin said, completely bemused for a moment. Then there was a croak from his stomach. "...YURI!!!" He roared. 

    [Little Song]
    When Jin finally arrived at the Ramen stand, he found Yuri sitting on a bench, quietly eating her food. He sat down next to her and saw that there was a bowl of ramen already waiting for him. He smiled to himself, and picked up a pair of chopsticks without a word, snapping them apart, and whispering "Thanks for the meal." And then he began eating in silence. After a few mouthfuls he let out a satisfied gasp. Ibiki's ramen had never tasted so good. The two continued eating next to each other, and never spoke a word. There was no need. Despite their exhaustion and hunger, Jin could feel that they both felt the same. They were excited about what was to come, and glad that they had passed the test. The Yuri with him now looked perfectly calm as she sat and ate, nothing like the highly strung Yuri that looked on the verge of a breakdown before. 
    "You know..." Jin said, putting his chopsticks down for a moment. "...Everything has been a bit of a rush since I came back. I think over the next few days we should spend some time together. We have a lot to catch up on, and we might not get this chance again. I was thinking, I'll speak to my dad, maybe you could come round for dinner tomorrow? We're going to have a tough time ahead so we should enjoy the quiet times, like this. What do you say, Yuri?"


  11. [Nine Tails vs Black Nine Tails]


    The brief pause when Jin's clones had landed, had felt much longer to Hisato, as the 5 clones, Yuri, and Hisato all squared each other up. That moment happens often in battle, where all the opponents wait for the other to make a move, waiting to interpret each others actions, and hopefully react quickly enough to come out on top. Jin's clones were the first to move. Confidence came with numbers, and they attacked in unison. One leapt and came down at Hisato from above, two more charging at him from behind, one more from the front, and the last from his left flank, with Yuri blocking the path to his right. Hisato had nowhere to run to, his only option was to fight back. 


    Everything happened in an instant. The clone to his left flank was closer by a small margin. Hisato brought his leg up and kicked him full force in the chest, sending him back, before the clone at his front threw a right hook at his face. Hisato weaved his head away from the oncoming fist and brought his own to the clone's chest, right under his outstretched arm. He jabbed him twice, hard, before bringing a left hook down on the clone's jaw, cuasing it to explode in a puff of clouds. The two from behind were next. Hisato leapt and spun around, catching the first with a sweeping kick to the head, before landing and immediately catching the foot of the clone from above, dragging him down and swinging him in to the final approaching clone, and they crashed in a heap before dispelling. 


    Expressionless and silent, Yuri ran for Hisato. She slid to the ground at the last second and kicked up into the air, forcing Hisato to leap up and at that moment she kicked off from the ground and pushed off from the ground with her arms, kicking up like a rocket. Hisato gasped and quickly kicked her away, careful not to touch her. Her hands touched the ground for a second time and she used the momentum to whirl her legs around like a capoeira martial artist. Hisato leapt back out of the way and formed a seal, a jet of concentrated water burst from between his lips and cut a line through the ground towards Yuri, fanning out and becoming a sheet so there was no escape. Yuri sprinted forwards to meet the water and leapt into the air. For a moment, Hisato saw nothing, watching Yuri disappear behind his attack. Then she burst through it, somehow unscathed, and he was forced to dodge out of the way - straight into Jin's assault.


    Three more clones came at him. This time they moved in a tighter formation and came at him head on. Unlike the last assault, these clones were moving in harmony with one another, and Hisato's movements became a blur as he blocked and dodged the strikes coming at him. What the hell is this? He thought as he deflected a punch and sent a couple of jabs back, finally taking down one of the clones. These clones are far more prepared. I can't defeat them with Taijutsu alone! Hisato dropped low and swept his leg out under one of the two remaining clones, who leapt up to avoid it. Hisato's hands weaved a few seals, and then the earth under the clone shot up like a pillar, but with the force of a cannon. The clone dispelled and Hisato dodged in time for the last remaining clone to send a punch straight in to the pillar of earth, followed by the cracking sound of broken knuckles. There was a high pitched chirping noise, and then Hisato finished off the remaining clone with a shock of lightning from his palm. 


    Finally Hisato turned to see that he was caught in the centre of the clearing, with Yuri behind him and the real Jin facing him. "Yo, sensei!" Jin called, "Looks like you're finally trying!"

    "You're not the one who should be testing me." Hisato replied. "I understand now. You sent clones in to test my taijutsu, and used their combined experience to strengthen your own knowledge for the real fight."

    "Yeah, that's right." Jin said. "Plus, I wanted to fight the real Hisato."

    "That's not the point of this exercise." Hisato said. 

    "I don't need money" Jin said with a smirk. "Besides, this is fun, no? I know it is for me."


    Yuri straightened up and faced Hisato, for a few seconds she barely moved, then she smiled, "As fast as ever, Sensei." Yuri added, "You moved so fast my bugs couldn't even stay attached to your boot." Then she started walking towards Hisato, "I'll have to do something else, so..." She seemed distant, as though in a daydream. Her tone and her expressions seemed muted somehow. "Are you ready, now?" She asked, her smile disappearing.

    Something tells me she wasn't being serious before Hisato said to himself. I need to prioritise keeping my distance from Yuri. Jin might cause problems but at least I don't have to worry when deflecting his strikes. Hisato smiled softly. "You've really grown up, both of you." He said. 

    "Aww look sensei's getting all sentimental on us, Yuri!" Jin said with a wide grin. "I suppose we better hit him where it hurts and take his money now, hm?"


    [Keisei Gyakuten]


    "What are we planning, Sensei?" Yuri asked, her tone seemingly indifferent, as she strode towards Hisato. "Maybe the fly is in the spider's web, and has yet to realise." Suddenly Yuri launched forwards, opened her mouth and spat. A thick glob of spit flew at Hisato who ducked to avoid it, as he did so, Yuri swept his legs out from under him and he hit the ground hard. But as quick as he'd touched the dirt, he vaulted back up and away from her. The spit hit the trees behind him and sizzled, eating through the trunk to leave a hole the size of a fist. Hisato was just getting his bearings when he felt a presence directly behind him. 


    He dodged just in time as Jin's foot swept over his head. Jin landed in front of him and whipped his other foot back round for another strike which Hisato blocked his his right arm and went on the offensive. He swung at Jin's face and the boy moved only a fraction to avoid being hit. Hisato dropped low and swept his foot out but Jin hopped to avoid it and moved back a few inches. Hisato was already coming back up on his front leg and spinning round to kick with the other, but Jin nimbly ducked and avoided it again. He's seriously fast! Hisato thought, This is the training of the God Step, no doubt about it. Hisato charged forward and sent a punch towards Jin's chest, but he dodged with a flicker and used Hisato's arm to rebound upwards and over with a flip in the air, landing with a tap on the ground, before lunging forward, his fingers grasping just inches from the note attached to Hisato's belt. Then Hisato also disappeared with a flicker, and Jin stopped mid sprint and straightened himself up, turning round to see Hisato a few yards away, keeping his distance. 


    "So you've mastered the Body Flicker Jutsu?" Hisato said with a smirk. "And your reaction speed is flawless."

    "Yours isn't too shabby either, sensei!" Jin said with a smirk, "But you don't have time to be running your mouth!" He added, before dashing forward in a sprint, closing on Hisato with alarming speed. Hisato only then noticed, that Yuri was closing on his back. 

    Yuri thrust her hand out, her palm clenched into a tight fist but Hisato knew that Jin would reach him first. He deflected Jin's first attack and immediately whirled around to face Yuri, but as he readied to deflect her attack indirectly, the sleeve around her arm morphed and expanded out, turning black as it turned into a large black maw with teeth. The jaws slammed shut on Hisato's arm but before Yuri could celebrate, Hisato vanished, leaving behind a cloud of smoke. Yuri turned just as Jin flew through the cloud of smoke, his fist primed. She dodged to one side, and grabbed his bare arm as he passed. Jin's face lit up, somehow Yuri had passed information to him. Then they both turned, and charged for Hisato once more.


    Hisato had finally accepted that he was going to be able to protect the note with both of his students coming at him head on like this. However he wasn't beaten yet. As they came rushing towards him he let a small, black orb drop to the floor. As it bounced off the grass the orb burst with a hiss and the area was surrounded in thick, black smoke. 


    Hisato rushed through the tree tops, hopping from branch to branch away from the site. He had to clear some distance, lay low and rest. He couldn't help but smirk as he had fled. They still weren't tough enough to beat him in a straight fight, but he couldn't keep it up without actually hurting them. Still, they had pushed him further than he had expected, and that alone made him proud. He almost felt bad for leaving them in the dust like that, but hard lessons were the best ones to learn. Before he could finish his thought, however, he became aware of another presence. He turned his head and looked down to the forest floor just behind him. Trailing behind him in a full on sprint, was Jin. 




    I can't believe it! Hisato thought, he's matching my speed! I suppose that's to be expected from Sorano's apprentice.

    Below him, Jin clapped his hands together to form seals, and then thrust both of his hands forward, sending a torrent of wind rushing up to the trees, cutting through the branches like blades, and causing Hisato to drop to the ground level. Hisato spun on his heel to meet Jin, who put his hand in to his leg pouch and hurled three shuriken directly at Hisato, who quickly swerved his upper body to dodge them. That attack was predictable he thought, and then his eyes widened as he realised the true nature of the attack; a diversion. Jin flickered behind Hisato from above, gripping tightly on his jacket, and as his feet touched the ground he hurled Hisato over his own shoulder in to the ground. 


    Hisato reacted just in time, and managed to get his feet on the ground, sliding across the dirt a few feet. He stood up to see Jin waiting, ready to fight. "You...really have improved. You've even managed to learn Wind Style ninjutsu" Hisato said with a nod. "But your Taijutsu still needs a little work. You're not ready to take me on in a one on one fight, even if you can match my speed."

    "Hm...I know." Jin said with a nod, and he smiled. "But I have to try, right?"

    "Right." Hisato said with a nod. "But you made a mistake, and it means you lose."

    "We'll see!" Jin said, and he gave a little chuckle. 


    Hisato and Jin sprinted for one another, and as they met they clashed in a blur of punches and kicks, each one matching the other, dodging, blocking, weaving and countering every blow. Finally Jin flcikered behind Hisato and saw his chance, and lunged for the note once more. He got so close that his fingers touched the very edge, and then he felt an iron grip around his arm. Before he knew what was happening he was being hurled through the air by untold strength. He crashed in to the ground unceremoniously and rolled a few feet before stopping and laying in a heap. He pushed himself up and bgean brushing the dirt off of himself. It had all happened so quickly, he hadn't even known what had truly happened. 


    He looked back at Hisato, who was facing away from him. His blonde hair had looked longer and wilder, and his skin had went a dark tan colour. However the affect seemed to be dissipating already, his skin lightening and his hair receeding back to it's normal length. Hisato turned around and Jin just managed to catch the glimpse of a golden flow in Hisato's eyes that was quickly fading. "Hmph! I can't believe you made me use that technique..." He said with a toothy grin. 

    "What...the hell was that?" Jin asked. 

    " why they call me the Lion of the East." Hisato explained. "And it's the reason you have no chance of getting this note. You left Yuri to pursue me on your own, and that was your mistake. You can be as fast as you like, but if you leave your team mates behind you'll always be at a disadvantage. You're done."


    "Mmm...." Jin said as he rubbed his chin thoughtfully. Then he burst out laughing. 

    "What's so funny?" Hisato asked. 

    "It's just..." Jin said as he tried to compose himself. "...I was a little worried that maybe we'd have changed too much, and Yuri and I couldn't work as well as a team." Jin's looked at Hisato, and his eyes held a devilish glint. "I never imagined that we'd actually get you though, sensei!"

    "Get" Hisato froze. Everything he had missed starting falling in to place in his mind. He had fallen in to their trap. 





  12. [Homecoming]


    The sun was shining, and Konoha was busier than usual. The streets were full of people, with lot's of new faces seeing the sites, browsing the market district, and finding room at the inns. A crowd of people were walking through the gates at the entrance of Konoha, the proceedings being held up by sweeps being performed by the ninja at the gates, who were checking people's bags. Sorano had dutifully allowed for her small bag to be checked, after all she didn't carry much other than her grey kimono and grass hat. She stepped over the threshold and made her way in to the village itself, surveying the rows of buildings, and the streets in between. Her gaze followed all the way up to the mountain at the farthest reach, where there were once 7 stone carvings when last she saw, but now there were 8. Sorano smirked at the new face on the mountain, one which she recognised. She turned her head back towards the gate with a sigh. 


    "Are you coming or what? All you've talked about for the last 5 days is Konoha, and now you're lolly-gagging?" She called back to the crowd. A brief moment passed where nothing happened. Then, from the crowd, a young man emerged. He was tall and lean, with the beginnings of well-defined muscle definition showing in his arms and legs. He was dressed in a pair of white shorts with an orange stripe down either side, and a matching shirt, sleeveless, and wrapped loosely around his front exposing his chest, and a fish net garment underneath. He also had orange finger-less gloves on, and his wrists were wrapped in white bandages. He was carrying a large hiking backpack, with pots and pans strapped to it clearly the bulk of the travelling gear. 


    Hideo Jin had become a young man in just a short year. His distinctive spikey, red hair had been cut short at the sides, with the length left at the top. His dark blue eyes were full of energy as he made his way towards Sorano, but he wasn't looking at her, he was looking over his home. "Wow..." He said with a grin. "Looks like they've rebuilt everything already."

    "Stuff like that gets done fast when everyone pitches in." Sorano said. 

    "I can't believe it's been a whole year." Jin said. "It feels really good to be home. She'll be here, right?"

    "Hell if I know. It was you that wanted to come back here as soon as you heard about the Chuunin exams." Sorano said. 


    "Yuri said Mira wanted to train her for the Chuunin Exams. So Yuri will be here...I know it." Jin said with a nod. "I wonder if my parents are home."

    "Well I'm pretty sure your father is in the village." Sorano said. 

    "What makes you say that?" Jin asked. 

    "Oh...I just have a feeling." Sorano said with a smirk. Jin furrowed his brow, perplexed. Then he saw it. The eighth stone head that was carved in to Konoha's Hokage monument. "Is dad!?"

    "I think so." Sorano said. "Looks like he's been busy this year."

    "My the Hokage!?" Jin just stared on at the monument. He couldn't believe what he was seeing. "This surreal."


    [i'm Home]


    "I told you things would change." Sorano said

    "I need to see them." Jin said. "My Dad, my mom, Hisato...and...Yuri! Let's go right now!"

    "Nobody is stopping you, boy." Sorano said. "I've got my own things to do. Quite frankly I'm sick of the sight of you anyway."

    "Old lady..." Jin said with a smirk. Then he looked at her and she smiled and nodded back. 

    "Go." She said. "And leave the backpack."

    "Thanks, I'll see you soon, old lady!" Jin said, and he let the backpack drop from his shoulders. It hit the dirt like a ton of bricks, causing splits in the dirt underneath. Then Jin took off like a shot, scrambling up to the rooftops and leaping across the buildings, faster and faster as he made his way across the village at rapid speed. He didn't know where he would find everybody, but he knew the first place he was going to look. 


    As he reached the other side of the village he finally found the building he was looking for. The Hokage's office. With a final leap he landed with a tap on the roof of the building, and no sooner had his feet touched the ground, has several Shinobi dressed in black emerged in front of him, each wearing the mask of the ANBU. 

    "The Hokage's Office is off limits to visitors!" One of them said sternly. 

    "Huh?" Jin said. "But-"

    "Jin!" One of the ANBU said in shock. Jin frowned, the voice sounded familiar. 

    "Yeah, that's me." Jin said. 

    "Oh...Jin!" The ANBU stepped forward, and she removed her mask and hood to reveal a head of long red hair, and dark blue eyes, just like his own. 


    "Mom!" Jin cried, and he ran forwards to meet her, and the pair embraced. Saya rested her chin on her son's shoulder, breathing a sigh of relief. She lifted it again, however, as she realised how tightly Jin was hugging her. His arms were shaking. 

    "Jin?" She said in a worried tone. 

    "I...I missed you, mom." Jin said, his eyes shut tight, and tears dripping down his cheeks. Saya smiled, and rubbed Jin's back. Her son was finally home. 




    [Kakashi's Theme]


    "So let's see now..." Isamu said, as he looked over the pile of scrolls on his desk. "So I think we should be fine if we just do these two missions. They carry much less risk, and that should allow us to meet our budget."

    "Uh, Hokage-sama...." A woman in spectacles was sitting across the desk from him, her blonde hair tied back in a bun. "What with the extra security precautions during the Chuunin Exams, our budget has almost doubled this month."

    "Oh...right." Isamu said, scratching his head. "Well then we can take the S-rank as well, that should do it."

    "I'm afraid we are a little stretched thin, what with most of the Jounin stationed here for the exams." The woman said, and she adjusted her glasses. 


    Isamu's head fell in to his hands and he let out an exasperated sigh. " made this look a lot easier." He grumbled to himself. 

    "Hokage-sama, if you will allow a suggestion." The young woman said. 

    "Yes!" Isamu replied. "Anything, please, if you don't mind, Sarada."

    "Well..." Sarada began, and she pushed her glasses up again, and the glare from the light made her look like a mad scientist. "You see these numbers are based on our current outgoing expenditure. If we implement a series of cost saving initiatives, and do a little creative reassignment of our Jounin for the exam, we can reduce our outgoings by at least 30% This would additionally free up Jounin to take on the S-rank mission which would inrease our incoming revenue for the quarter."

    "Uh...right." Isamu said. "Let's do that then." 


    "Very well." Sarada said. "That just leaves the these release forms, and a few risk assessments that need signed off, also the Kazekage has made a few special requests for his living quarters during his stay. Then you have a meeting with the Elders in an hour and-"

    "I hate this job sometimes..." Isamu grumbled. "Why did I even agree to it?"

    "The other two candidates said no." Sarada replied. 

    "Ah, right...that." Isamu said with a heavy sigh. 


    Just then the door opened and Saya stepped through it, with Jin following closely behind her. "Sweetheart...someone is here to see you."

    "Please tell them I'm busy, dear." Isamu said, not looking up from his desk. "I'm neck deep in-"

    "Dad..." Jin said, and Isamu's head shot up at the sound. 

    "...Jin!?" Isamu gasped. "You're home!" He got up from his desk, abandoning the giant stack of paperwork, and went over to Jin, hugging him closely. Then he let go and started squeezing Jin's arms. "Have you been working out?" He asked. 

    "Not really." Jin replied casually. "The old lady always makes me carry the gear though..."

    "I have to say...I'm quite surprised." Isamu said. "I didn't think you'd be keeping up with your training."


    "Oh, I'm doing a different programe now." Jin said. "Well a few, actually. I haven't really had time to practice our old forms."

    "Are you kidding!?" Isamu gasped. "My Taijutsu training was supposed to be my legacy to you!"

    "Well Sorano said it didn't fit with my training." Jin said. "She taught me her Taijutsu instead."

    "Is that so?" Isamu said with a smirk. "And what use have you for Taijutsu."

    "Oh, right." Jin said. "I decided. I want to be a ninja."


    [sasuke's Theme]


    "You're...serious?" Isamu said. "What changed your mind?"

    "I haven#t changed my mind." Jin said. "I don't like how ninjas act now. So...I'm going to be a different kind of ninja. I'm going to set and example for everyone else." Isamu looked at his son, but struggled to find words. The last time he had saw Jin, he seemed so lost, so unsure of himself. The Jin who stood before him now was a calm and confident young man. He answered quickly, but without hesitation, like someone who was sure of himself. What's more was the kind of calm aura he was displaying was almost zen. 

    "Well that's great news son." Isamu said finally. "I'm sure I can set you up with a new Genin team soon."


    "I already have a team." Jin said. "I want to be paired with compete in the Chuunin exams."

    "Uh...but've only ever done one mission." Isamu said. "And Yuri is still off training I think."

    "She'll be here." Jin said confidently. "I'm heading off soon to find Hisato. I want to train a little before the exams."

    "I...see." Isamu said. "Well if Yuri does show up, and Hisato agrees, then I don't see any reason why you can't."

    "Thanks, dad." Jin said. "Oh and congratulations on becoming Hokage."

    "Well, thanks." Isamu said. "It's a tough job."

    "Then you're the right man for it." Jin said, and he smiled at his dad. "Oh...I decided one more thing while I was travelling."


    "And what's that?" Isamu asked, folding his arms across his chest. 

    "I'm going to become Hokage." Jin said confidently. 

  13. [Grief and Sorrow]


    Jin's hands ran through the length of his hair, holding his head up over the desk in his room. He was staring at the desk, and had been for a long time. In front of him was the forehead protector he had been given when he had first became a Genin. It had been two days since the death of the Hokage, and he had not worn it since then. It was symbol of Konohagakure, of being a ninja, and he no longer felt like that applied to him. His tears had stopped a while before, and all that was left was an empty, hollow feeling. He could barely recall the last few days. Nothing seemed important any more, and anything that was important just had to wait. It was not just Jin, but the entire village. Just as the Hokage had become still, so too had Konoha, and the people within. This place had always seemed so warm, and full of life. Now it was a cold place, a dead place. The little feeling Jin had left, was focused on Yuri. Her grief seemed far more important than his own, and yet he had not seen her since. She had to be with her family, now more than ever. They would see each other again. Soon, in fact. 


    Jin stood up from his desk, finally. He was dressed in simple, black attire, with no accessories, or flair. Today was the day that the Hokage would be buried. The entire village was turning out for her funeral. In just a few short hours they would be allowed to say goodbye to her, and together they could grieve. Jin hadn't even known the woman named Masa, but he had known the legend that was the Seventh Hokage. Jin found a kind of sadness to that. Konoha was grieving the death of a symbol, and far fewer grieved for the woman. The emptiness he felt was the grief that one would have at such a loss. And yet the grief of losing the woman, a mother, wife, friend. That kind of grief was entirely different. 


    "GET OUT!" A voice roared from the bottom floor of Jin's home. He left his room and ran to the top of the stairs, leaning over the railing to see what was happening. A man in official robes was stood by the door, apparently quite shocked by the sudden display of anger. He was an older man who wore glasses, and looked very presentable and proper. 

    "Now Isamu...this is something that must be decided..." The man said in an attempt at a soothing voice. "...we must decide among the candidates..."

    "We haven't even put her in the ground yet!" Isamu barked. Jin had never seen his father in such a rage. "How dare you! How dare you come in here and..."

    "Isamu, I am also saddened by the loss of the Hokage but-"

    "MASA!" Isamu roared. "...Her name was Satomi Masa! She was my friend! She sacrificed herself to save this village, and you will allow her this moment!"

    "I...I see that I have come at a bad time..." The official said. "I'll come back tomorrow." The man made a quick exit, and as he closed the door behind him, Isamu fell to his knees. 


    Photographs crashed to the floor as he let his grip fall from them. In the photos Jin could see a young boy no older than he was now. He looked strikingly like his father. Stood next to him was a young girl, and for a moment Jin thought that it was Yuri. Then he realised that it was her, the Seventh Hokage, Satomi Masa. She was just a Genin in the photo, and judging by the other figures around them, it looked like a team photo. Another photo showed Masa, now a few years older, proudly wearing a green flak jacket, the symbol of a Chuunin. She looked so happy. And behind her was Isamu, who was smiling despite looking otherwise dejected. Jin noted that he wasn't wearing a flak jacket. The next photo he saw showed a Masa that looked much more like how Jin knew her. She was still younger, but she was wearing the traditional red and white hat of a Hokage. The photo looked like it was supposed to be an official portrait, however, Isamu had leaned in to the shot making a peace symbol with his fingers, and pulling a funny face. Masa looked like she was holding back the urge to laugh. 


    Jin had never known that Masa had been with Isamu since they were both children. They had been in the same team, much like he was with Yuri. And that thought hit him like a ton of bricks. He had been in a team with Yuri. He had left that life behind. He wondered if he had lost an opportunity to have a friend that was as seemingly close as Isamu and Masa were. He walked down the stairs to meet his father, and as he reached the bottom, his mother appeared from the living room, dressed in the same black outfit they were all wearing, and her red hair was loose and flowed right down her back. She knelt down and put her arms around Isamu, who was shaking. Jin could see the small puddle on the floor where his father was crying. Saya, however, was gently stroking his hair, and smiling softly as she comforted him. She slowly helped him to his feet, and walked him towards the stairs, where he locked eyes with Jin. 


    Isamu froze, like a child who had been caught doing something he shouldn't. Jin just stared at him. He wasn't sure what to say, or what to do. It was Saya who managed to break the silence in the room. "Sweetheart, we need to finish getting ready." She said to Isamu. "You'll want to look your best today."

    "She always said I looked scruffy..." Isamu said, sniffing as he spoke. "...even when I did dress up."

    "That's because you are scruffy, sweetheart." Saya said sweetly. "But you should make the effort. Masa deserves that much from you."

    "Yeah..." was all Isamu could manage to say. Then Saya walked him to the stairs and Jin stepped out of the way. As she walked past him, Saya gave him a warm smile, and for a moment it made him feel like things might be okay. His mother was very good at doing that. As she walked up the stairs, there was a knock at the door. 

    "Jin, could you please get that." Saya said. "We'll be down shortly." Jin didn't reply, but he made his way to the door and opened it. 




    Sorano stood at the door, dressed in her usual grey kimono, and wearing her grass hat. As Jin looked up at her, she gave him a soft smirk and nodded once. "Can I come in?" She asked. 

    "Uh...sure." Jin said, and he stepped back so she could come inside. Before she did, she slipped out of a pair of wooden geta, and left them at the door. Sorano entered the home and gave the place a cursory once over, before walking in to the living room and sitting herself down on a cushion by a low table. "Don't suppose you have any sake?" She asked. 

    "No, just tea." Jin said. "I could have my mom make you some."

    "No, that's all right." Sorano said. "Come, sit with me." Jin did as asked, and waited silently for Sorano to speak, but she did not. They sat in silence for a few moments, until Jin couldn't wait any longer. 

    "Why are you here, old lady?" He asked. 

    "To check up on a hunch." Sorano said. "How are you, boy? Not so good I imagine."

    "I'm...not sure how I am." Jin admitted. "I feel...empty."


    "Ah, so the fire has went out." Sorano said with a sagely nod. "But it's not always easy to light it again. Your tears have made the kindling damp, and no matter how hard you try, it just won't burn."

    "Uh...I don't..." Jin said. "What do you mean?"

    "The Will of Fire, boy. Don't they teach you anything?" Sorano said, and she gave a disapproving tut. "It is the very ideal on which Shinobi of Konoha stand. The Will of Fire states that the entire village is like a family. We all love, and cherish, and we fight to protect one another. It is this Will of Fire that allows us to go on, and we pass it to the next generation when we die."

    "'re saying that fire is out?" Jin asked. "So the village has lost it's fire, is that what you're saying?"

    "Precisely." Sorano said with a nod. "And while that is the case, the fire will begin to burn again with time."

    "I see." Jin said with a nod. "So what if we want it to burn quicker? Is there something we can do."


    "Well, time really is the biggest factor." Sorano said. "But for an individual, that time can be longer or shorter. And this can often depend on their Gyoku."

    "You've...lost me again." Jin said, shaking his head. 

    "Gyoku is the most important piece in Shogi, boy." Sorano explained. 

    "Ive never played, it looks boring." Jin said. 

    "Jin, Shogi is a game of war. This world is a board, and we are the pieces." Sorano said. "And the Gyoku is the most important piece. It is the piece that, when lost, means the end of the game."

    " does that have anything to do with the Will of Fire?" Jin asked. 


    "All Shinobi play their life like Shogi. Their Gyoku is the thing that they hold most important in life. The thing they cherish most in the whole world. It is the greatest source of their strength, and the thing that makes them most weakest. For some people it is just one person, one thing. For others it might be an ideal, such as to protect the future generations, or to protect your family. Do you understand?"

    "I think so." Jin said with a nod. "So the Hokage, her Gyoku...was us, right?"

    "Exactly." Sorano said, and she leaned in closer, resting her arm on the table. "The Hokage's Gyoku was this village. In it's entirety. Past, present, and future, all of it was the single most important thing to her. When she saw it being threatened, she did what any of us would for our special thing, she fought to protect it with her life. This village was her Will of Fire, it was what made her so powerful, and also so vulnerable. That is what it means to be a ninja, Jin. That's what it should mean."


    "Wow...I never thought about it like that." Jin said. "So...if I want to have my Will of Fire burn again, I need to find my Gyoku?"

    "I think you already have. You just don't realise it." Sorano said. Then she looked Jin dead in the eye. "What is your Gyoku, Jin?"


    [sasuke ~Destiny~]


    "Jin!" Saya snapped. Jin turned to see his mother standing at the entrance to the room, and she was almost unrecognisable to him. Her eyes were cold and dark, and she was stood poised, ready to strike. Her glare was fixed on Sorano. "What is going on?" She asked. "Why are you in my home, God Step?"

    "Mom, calm down." Jin said. "She's my friend."

    "She is a traitor!" Saya snapped. Jin turned back to Sorano, and he looked confused and upset. 

    "Is...that true?" Jin asked. 

    "Mm...more or less." Sorano replied, her gaze on Saya. "I wouldn't say I betrayed anybody but I was branded that way anyway."


    "You turned your back on Konoha." Saya said. "You had a responsibility and you walked away from it."

    "Heh, well aren't you the loyal dog." Sorano said with a smirk. 

    "Hey!" Jin snapped. 

    "I don't sugarcoat anything, boy." Sorano replied, shaking her head. "I'm too long in the teeth to have it any other way. I don't make excuses for who I am. You're mother is absolutely correct, I abandoned Konoha, at least as a ninja. You think I'm just some old lady, but if you ask most people, they'll tell you that I'm a legend. Not that I care much about gossip."

    "So...what you said about the village being a family..." Jin said. 


    "I never said it was my Gyoku." Sorano said. "Listen, boy. Konoha isn't all sunshine and daises. Sometimes in a garden you get weeds. Big, nasty weeds. I didn't like how this garden was looking any more, so I got out. It's that simple."

    "And now you come waltzing back in?" Saya said. "After what has happened here?"

    "What happened here just proves I was right." Sorano replied. "Konoha has some weeds that need uprooted and disposed of. There's a lot of things I love about my home, but when it begins to change I don't have to stick with it. It was a different time back then, I thought this place was lost forever."

    "And what about now?" Jin asked. 

    "Now...I realise I was wrong." Sorano said. "Masa showed us all that. The Will of Fire is still strong, but it needs to burn brighter. That's why I'm back. Because of you, Jin. I want you to come with me, tonight. We'll leave this place, and I'll train you as my student."


    "Absolutely not!" Saya snapped. "How dare you!"

    "No, how dare you!" Sorano barked back. "This boy is a Genin. That means you saw fit to allow him to travel this world, to fight, to lie, to deceive, and to kill. How dare you presume to have any say in what he does. You already decided that he was a man, and you can't take that back." Saya looked wounded by the remark, but she said nothing. 

    "Stop fighting!" Jin yelled. "Not...not today."


    "What's going on?" Isamu's father said as he entered the room, and then he noticed Sorano. "'re Sorano."

    "Yeah, yeah, we've done that already." Sorano said and gave a tired sigh. She stood up from the table, adjusting her kimono. "Hideo Isamu, you're quite the ninja. I think your son is an even better one, or at least he will be."

    "Um...thank you." Isamu said, looking a little confused. "But Jin doesn't want to be a ninja..."

    "Yeah, right." Sorano said. "He doesn't want to be a ninja like the rest. Nobody seems to have told him that he can be whatever ninja he wants."


    "Isamu!" Saya said. "She wants to take Jin away."

    "What?" Isamu said. "You're kidding."

    "She's not." Sorano said. "You saw it with your own eyes. Jinchuuriki. You know what that means."

    "What does that have to do with Jin?" Isamu asked. 


    "Jin." Sorano said, and she looked at him. "Tell me. Who is your Gyoku? Who is the most important piece on your board?"

    "..." Jin lowered his head for a moment, thinking. Then he looked up and said. "My friend. Satomi Sayuri."

    "That's why." Sorano said. "He's got the potential, I can feel it. And he has a bond with that little girl. He'll protect her, from anything, whether you like it or not. I want to make sure he's tough enough to face what will come."

    "I..." Isamu looked shaken. "I...understand."

    "Isamu!" Saya protested. 

    "It's Jin's choice, Saya." Isamu replied. 


    "There you have it, boy." Sorano said with a smirk. "It's your choice."

    "...Why should I go with you?" Jin said. "My dad is right. I don't want to be a ninja."

    "The people that killed Masa. They'll be back." Sorano said. "And they'll be coming for your friend Yuri."

    "What!? Why!?" Jin gasped, and he got up from where he was sitting. "Yuri's just a kid...why?"

    "You know why." Sorano said. "That seal that appeared on her. It's going to cause her all sorts of trouble down the road." Jin was silent. He remembered the coiled snake-like mark on her stomach. Sorano had said it was designed to keep something inside her, something big. 


    "I'll train you." Sorano said. "I'll show you things no other can. I'll show you how to protect her." Jin stared at Sorano. Then he turned back to his parents. His father looked worried, but he nodded at his son. Saya looked dark, and angry. She barely looked like his mother at all. It was as if she was a complete stranger to him. Was this the part of her she tried so hard to keep hidden from her family? Was this the Saya the ANBU? Jin looked away from her, and then back to Saya. 

    "When do we leave?" He asked. 

    "Tonight." Sorano said. "After the funeral. You need to say goodbye to her. And you can promise her, you will come back."

  14. [Kouen]


    Isamu was surrounded by Crimson Anbu in every direction. He stood ready, and as he clenched his fists there was an audible cracking from his knuckles. " have all turned traitor to Konoha." He said, as his eyes flitted back and forth, gauging every move his opponents made. "Very well. Then I see no need to hold back." He added, and the Crimson ANBU took that as their queue to strike. As the nearest closed in on him, he made a sudden movement and there was a flash of raw power that exploded out from him. He hit the ninja with a lightning strike, the force shattering the porcelain mask on his face, and the ANBU crashed into the floor in a heap. "First Gate: Opening." Isamu said through clenched teeth. Then he sped off across the hall, his body a blur as he crashed through multiple foes, each one knocked aside like flies. The Crimson ANBU were quick to react to the new threat. Three shinobi stood side by side in his path, each performing the same formation of seals in perfect synchronization. Then, collectively, they sent a huge jet of flame towards Isamu, the fire clawing forwards like a hungry animal, moving quicker and quicker, and growing larger and hotter. 


    Isamu kept sprinting, bringing his thumb to his mouth and biting down to nick the skin. Then he suddenly stopped, dropping to a crouch and placing his hands across the floor. "Rashomon!" He barked, and from the earth rose a collosal, towering barrier, it's edges covered in dangerous barbs, and the centre depicting a gruesome, toothed maw and a pair of angry eyes. The flames smashed against the barrier, crawling around it and bursting further forwards. Isamu stood in the space behind it, cursing as the heat of the flames scorched his skin. As the flames subsided he was left in a a field of thick smoke, his opponents converging around him in the darkness. Isamu stood up slowly, his burned flesh already beginning to heal rapidly. He lifted his head, to show that the veins around his eyes were bulging furiously. "Second Gate: Healing." He said. Then he performed some seals of his own, and took a deep breath. Then, he let out a blood curdling roar of fury, amplified by a great gust of wind that surged forward, cutting through the air and dispersing the smoke in a matter of moments. A few of the ANBU were knocked clear off of their feet, but more still were already advancing. 


    Isamu went off at a sprint, and he moved so quickly that his image was but a series of flickers. He sent his fist crashing in to the face of one of the Crimson shinobi, before leaning on his front leg and kicking up with his back to catch a pursuing shinobi in the chest. He advanced on another, hitting him with a rapid series of punches to the chest, before jumping up and bringing his fist down on his head, sending the ninja crashing head-first in to the concrete. 


    Masa flew towards the giant snake, forming seals in a blur. The creature whipped it's head back, thrashing it's tail and levelling the building behind it. Then it snapped forwards trying to bite the Hokage in two. Masa finished her seals, closed her mouth, her cheeks expanded and she spat. A thick white spray expanded out, interconnected like webbing, but still attached to her mouth. It flew out like a net and wrapped around the snake's face as it hissed in rage. Then she formed more seals and the webbing attached to her mouth vibrated and suddenly a bright blue bolt of electricity bounced down the webbing and shocked the snake. It's scaly flesh burnt and turned to ash wherever the lightning struck, leaving it horribly wounded. Masa landed mid-way up the snake's body and raised an arm, the black smoke of her insects formed around her arm, creating an enormous blade the length of a greatsword. With significant effort she plunged the metal into the snake's hide, piercing it's tough outer layer and then started sprinting, dragging it through it's flesh. But as she neared the snake's head it snapped it's mouth shut and then opened it's maw so wide that the netting finally snapped and it sprayed a jet of acid so large it was going to cover a large section of Konoha's residential district.


    Immediately Masa disengaged from the snake and vanished, appearing a split-second later in front of where the acid would momentarily splash down. She raised her hands up into the air and from them, a hurricane was born. Black as the night, stretching high up into the sky. Her insects fanned out and interlocked until there was an enormous black dome over the residential area, casting a shadow over the citizens of Konoha as they watched the barrier form just in the nick of time. The acid splashed over the black barrier and fizzed menacingly, then Masa whirled around and redirected her arms and the barrier imploded on itself, turning into a dense little ball, trapping the acid inside. Without missing a beat, the ball shot towards the enormous snake and exploded as it touched it's skin, bursting a huge hole from one side to the other. Masa let out a breath she'd been holding and quickly wiped away the few drops of acid that had landed on her skin, though the damage was already done, and she had holes through her arms the size of small coins.


    "Masa!" Isamu yelled as he made his way out of the facility and on to street level, heading for Masa and the snake. However before he could get very far, a black sludge oozed out the the cracks in the street, and then took form as a group on Crimson ANBU. Isamu lunged at them and swung a furious punch, only for it to pass through the ninja, whose body simply parted like liquid, and then reformed when Isamu relinquished his arm. He clenched his teeth and prepared to fight once more. His opponents were clearly some kind of elaborate clone jutsu, with the real one hiding somewhere nearby, pulling the strings. One of the clones lunged at him, and as it touched his arm, it stuck to him like glue, the black ooze crawling up his skin. More lunged at him, and with the weight of the first stopping him from moving, each connected with him easily, their bodies becoming a black sludge that quickly enveloped his whole body, weighing him down and stopping him from moving. He fell to his knees as more piled on, and soon he realised he was trapped under the weight of them. He sturggled weakly, as the black sludge covered his face, and finally moved over his eyes, and all he could see was darkness. 


    "Iaijutsu: Infinite One Sword." A voice called through the darkness. 




    Light suddenly returned to Isamu's vision, as the black ooze that had captured him was suddenly torn to shreds, by a flurry of dazzling cuts and slashes, moving so quickly that it might as well have been blades of wind. As the shreds of dark sludge spattered across the ground, Isamu stood up to see a figure dressed in a dark purple kimono, with black leggings and grey sandles, with wooden armour panels over his chest and arms, stained a dark brown. The man slowly drew his katana over the length of the saya tied to his waist, and then with a single motion, he sheathed the blade back in to it with a high pitched whine, followed by silence. The man raised his head of thick, shaggy black hair that seemed to naturally part to one side. He was in his 40's, and had cold, almost bored looking eyes that were a rare shade of orange, and a thin goatee. "I know you're currently on watch." The man said casually, "But I thought I might lend a hand, on this one occasion."


    "Kotetsu!" Isamu gasped. "Your timing is impeccable, as always."

    "Hmm...wasn't on purpose, just lucky I guess." Kotetsu replied. 

    "Well we need a little luck right now." Isamu said. 

    "Who needs luck when you've got the Goei Shotai in force, eh?" Kotetsu said, and gave the slightest hint of a smirk. 

    "She is here, too?" Isamu asked. 


    His answer came in the form of a maddening shriek. A Crimson ANBU came running around the corner, his mask missing and his face was the definition of panic. Hysterical, he barely gave them any notice as he ran off down the path. Before he could escape, however, his path was blocked by a flock of crows that swarmed around him, converging in a black mass that slowly began to take the shape of a person. The female ninja was dressed head to toe in a black cloak with long sleeves and a wide collar. Her hair was long and straight, like ink, and covered one side of her face entirely. Her visible eye locked on the hysterical ANBU, and it was a deep crimson, with three tomoe swirling menacingly around her iris. Caught in her stare, the ANBU fell silent, but his eyes were enough to encapsulate the sheer terror he was experiencing. And then, without warning, he simply collapsed from the trauma of it all. 


    "Uchiha Mirai..." Kotetsu said, his tone a little fearful. "She's a demon..."

    "I heard that." Mirai replied, and she glared at Kotetsu. "Stop flapping your gums. We have a job to do, the Hokage needs us."

    "I'm struggling to get to her." Isamu admitted. 

    "We're here now." Mirai said simply. "Go to her."

    "We'll take care of the rabble." Kotetsu said confidently, and then he drew his katana once more. 

    "All right." Isamu said with a nod. 


    Then Isamu leapt on to the rooftops and went off at a sprint, as the sounds of battle resumed behind him. Finally he began to close in on Masa and the snake, and as he reached them he leapt in to the air, and landed with a thunderous crash on an opposing rooftop, so that the snake was between him and Masa. He stood up straight, and as he did, his skin began to turn red, and his eyes had went entirely white, the veins all over his skin were pulsing violently. "Third Gate: Life." He said. 





    [A Crisis After Another]


    When the alarms started ringing Jin had sprinted up to the top level of his house, climbed out of the window and scrambled on to the roof of his building. When Yuri arrived shortly after him, he was staring off in to the distance, his eyes wide with fear. "Th-that's...near the Hokage's office...Dad!" He cried in a panic, as he watched the giant, slithering snake make it's way through the clouds of smoke and fire, tiny dots flitting all around it back and forth, dots that Jin knew were shinobi, fighting that horrible creature. 


    She couldn't believe her eyes. The snake was bigger than the building her mother worked in, it towered over all of Konoha. Panic spread over Yuri as she realised the first person there to combat this creature would be her mother. But why was it happening?! Were they being invaded?! She had heard that villages often used summons in times of war, but she had never imagined it would be anything like this. It was like out of a nightmare. She watched as hundreds of ninja in the distance fought and died. Crimson masks blocked those in white masks, or green jackets trying to get to the snake. Then, Yuri saw a lone figure standing atop a building, just in front of the snake. "Mom!!" Yuri screamed, and leapt from the building, rushing towards the chaos and destruction with reckless abandon.


    "Yuri! Wait for me!" Jin cried as he sped off after her. When he caught up he ran alongside her. "If your mom is there, then so is my dad. We need to help them!" 

    Yuri tapped off the next building, rushing towards the battle. A few more seconds and they'd be there. Her eyes were dazzled as flashes of electricity and fire, torrents of water, and all manner of other ninjutsu were thrown from one ninja to another. Hundreds of bladed weapons flew through the air, and Yuri had to twist in the air to dodge a stray kunai that almost caught her in the chest. There were too many people, yet she looked below her and hundreds of bodies lay scattered over the building rooftops and in the streets below. Who were the red-masked ANBU and why were they fighting against the rest of the Konoha forces? But her questions went unanswered, as her mind kept pulling her back to a multitude of horrors, the awful possibilities unravelling before her as to the fate of her family and her village.


    A figure blocked their path suddenly, and Jin came grinding to a halt. The man standing before them was not an enemy, but he looked angry as hell. 

    "What are you two doing here!?" Hisato yelled. "Run! Now!" A Crimson masked ninja leapt over the side of the building and lunged at Hisato with a blade that looked like a large needle. Hisato leaned backwards just in time, as the tip of the blade arced through the air, inches from cutting his neck. 

    "Sensei!" Jin cried as he sprinted forward. Hisato flinched in a moment of fear as he saw Jin coming towards him, and he miscalculated his next move, the needle blade cutting a large gash in his arm for the trouble. Pain snapped him back in to focus, and Hisato leapt in to the air and hit his opponent with a swift kick to the shoulder, driving him back. Then he lunged forward, his right hand drawn back over his shoulder. There was a blue spark and his hand suddenly ignited with crackling electricity that chirped and tweeted like a thousand birds. He brought his palm over the ANBU's head and gripped tightly, as the lightning coursed through him, causing his body to seize up and jerk frantically. When Hisato let go the ANBU dropped to the ground, his clothes were smoking, and one of his legs was still twitching. 


    Hisato turned to Jin, and he looked just as angry as before, but also relieved. "We need to get far away from here, right now."

    "I'm not leaving my mom!!" Yuri yelled at Hisato, and ran for the edge of the building. The battle was so close now, just a little further, she could make it. Hisato was quicker, and he was on Yuri in an instant, holding her shoulder firmly to stop her from running. 

    "Stop!" He barked. "I know what you must be feeling, but you will only get in her way. If she sees you, it will distract her from the battle. Just as it did me..." He inclined to the bloody gash on his arm as if to drive home his point. "Please, we need to leave. You can still help the village in other ways."

    "My mom's not like you!" Yuri snapped angrily. She knew Hisato hadn't meant it like that, but she'd wanted to hurt him all the same. She was so close, and he was stopping her, she had to help. She was stronger now, stronger than she'd been when she left the village. She'd even wounded a powerful jounin. She knew she could help her mom, she just had to get there. "Let go of me!!" She snarled, pulling away from Hisato frantically.




    Jin clasped his hand around Yuri's other shoulder. His grip was harder, more tense, and he seemed to be fighting back just as much emotion as Yuri was displaying. "He's right, Yuri..." Jin whispered, and it sounded like he was trying not to cry. "...I'm scared too...if something happens to my dad..." Jin wiped at his face with the sleeve of his jacket, and his body shook as his emotions came bubbling up. "But if my dad died trying to protect me out there...I know I'd never forgive myself., we...we have to trust them."

    Yuri burst into tears and pulled her goggles down from her eyes, covering her face in her sleeve as her shoulders shook. She whispered, "I hate you... I hate you..." Her shoulders slumped and she stepped back from the edge of the building. Wiping her eyes dry, she covered them with her goggles and her arms dropped to her sides in defeat, even as the battle raged in front of her.


    "Yuri..." Jin said, but he trailed off. He wasn't sure what to say. Then, after a moment, he reached out and took her hand in his. "...The whole village is fighting right now. Every kid in Konoha is probably feeling the same right now. I'm not saying that's right, because it isn't. I hate this too...but for the ones we love...we need to try harder." Jin looked out at the raging battle, and he gulped back another fit of tears that were on the horizon. "I may not be a ninja any more...but Konoha is my home. I love this village, and the people who live here. For that reason, I can't let my feelings get the better of me. I'm...I'm going to use my fear to help who I can. But...I need you with me. Just this one last time."


    "... Let's go." Yuri muttered, gritting her teeth.

    "Okay." Hisato said, folding his arms. "Then this is our last mission as a team. Let's make it count."

    "What should we do?" Jin asked. 

    "There are fires spreading out from the source of the attack." Hisato explained. "A lot of innocent people are being caught in the crossfire. We can keep to the shadows and scout for survivors. We provide support wherever we're needed. Are we clear?"

    "Yes, Sensei!" Yuri nodded obediently.

    "Alright." Hisato said with a nod. "Let's go."







    "Masa!" Isamu yelled from across the gap between them, the large snake looming in between them. "We need to take this thing down before it destroys half of the village! I'm going in, I'll find you an opening!" And then without warning Isamu leapt from his spot on the rooftop and crossed the gap between him and the snake. He landed on it's dry, scaly hide and sprinted upwards, chakra blazing from him like an emerald flame. The snake coiled around itself and the head came snapping towards him, but Isamu pushed off the snake and flew in to the air, only for the snake to turn upwards and come after him, it's jaws open wide. Isamu's hands blurred as he performed the necessary seals, and then his chest swelled when he took in a breath, and blew out a torrent of fire that came crashing down on the snake. The creature hissed and reeled backwards from the pain, but Isamu was still descending upon him. "Aaaaaaggggghhh!!" Isamu roared as he came down on the creature's head, his fist slamming in the base of it's skull, and the force burst out of him, causing shockwaves in every direction, and the ground beneath them began to crack and crumble. 


    Isamu leapt off of the snake's head as it began to rear up. He landed on the ground and went off at a sprint, the snake quickly giving chase. Isamu turned and went down a narrow street, and as the snake pursued the buildings crumbled under it's might. Isamu bounded from wall to wall, dodging the flying debris, until finally the snake caught up with him, and it's gaping jaws moved around him, snapping shut. It was still for a moment, satisfied with it's kill, but then it's eyes began to dart around in a panic. Slowly it's jaws began to pry open against it's will. Isamu has holding on to it's fangs and pusihing them upwards, his body was bursting with chakra, and his eyes were wild and frenzied. "Fourth...Gate...." He snarled. "...Pain!" Then with a surge of power, Isamu completely snapped one of the snake's fangs right off, and fled from it's mouth, rebounding off of the rubble and blurring from sight, reappearing above the snake with the giant fang still in his arms. With a final battle cry he thrust the fang down in to the snake's own head, pinning it to the floor. 


    Masa appeared beside Isamu, her feet quickly touching the floor as she stepped up to the snake. She took a moment to look around her. The entire centre of Konoha was in ruins. Half the buildings had been destroyed or badly damaged. Hundreds of bodies scattered the ground, like they were seeds for sowing. Masa's gaze passed over everything, as she heard the snake behind her quickly go up in flames. The body turned to ash and scattered to the winds until there was nothing left but a single body. Akira stood up from inside what had once been the snake, and looked down at the ash outline of his summon. Masa saw three dots on the horizon, and her keen eyes picked them out immediately. Hisato, Jin and Yuri. She smiled sadly and turned to face Isamu.
    "Well done, my old friend." Masa clapped a hand on Isamu's shoulder, "Look after them." Suddenly she thrust her other palm forwards with enough force to send Isamu soaring backwards, in the same instant she pulled back her sleeves, revealing a complex series of seals. Isamu landed expertly, but he was already too far back, and she had already begun. She slammed her hands onto the ground, and a huge bubble of energy erupted around her and Akira, sealing them inside what looked like an enormous glass container. 
    "Alone at last..." Akira mocked, grinning.
    Masa stared back at Isamu and put her hand to the barrier, "I'm sorry..." Then she turned her back on him, and faced Akira.
    The colour drained from Isamu, as his body returned to it's normal form, and he sank hopelessly to his knees. "Hokage-sama...Masa..." He said weakly. His head sank to the ground as the reality of the situation began to weigh down on him. He looked back at Masa, and the beginning of tears were forming in his eyes. " stubborn fool." He said quietly to himself. And then he brought his fist back and punched the dirt beneath him, angry that he could do nothing but watch. "Masaaaa!" He screamed after her, and then he sank back down, quiet at last. 

  15. [Homecoming]


    The sky was a pinkish hue as the sun began to set over Konoha. Jin was stood at the gates of the village, staring up at the rocky mountain in the distance which displayed the faces of every Hokage that had served since it had been established. Everything seemed very peaceful here, which was a stark comparison to what he had just been through. A short distance away from him, Hisato and Yuri were speaking with other ninja, who were taking two of Ayame's men in to custody. Hisato had bound their arms and tagged them with some sort of sealing jutsu that had stopped them from being able to use any chakra based techniques. They had made the long journey back to Konoha with a lot less talking and friendly banter than when they had set out. Jin had barely spoken to either of them. He had been thinking a lot on the way back, and he had made a decision somewhere along the way. He just had to tell them. 


    "Jin, let's go." Hisato called to him, and Jin nodded and returned to his companions. They walked through the gates and in to the village. When they reached the square that led in to the market district Hisato stopped them and they stood so that they were all facing each other. "Well, I'll report what happened to the Hokage. Along with our informant we can probably arrange a real task force to carry on this mission. So I think you should both get some rest, go home to your families. I'll be in touch when we have another mission lined up."

    "Sensei..." Jin said, and began rubbing his hands nervously. "Um...I have something to tell you both..."

    "What is it, Jin?" Yuri asked

    "Well..." Jin took a deep breath. "I won't be coming on another mission. I...I'm giving up on becoming a ninja."

    "What?!" Yuri felt like she'd just been punched in the face, "How can you?!"


    "It...wasn't what I thought it would be." Jin admitted. "I don't think I can do it. I'm sorry Yuri...I was really enjoying spending time with you. I just..." Jin turned his gaze to Hisato. "I don't want to become a killer. Those people we fought...they weren't bad people, they were just twisted up from bad circumstances. It seems like being a ninja only makes that more likely to happen."

    "It does." Hisato said with a nod. "It is a hard life. But a good ninja endures all things."

    "Well...I guess I'm not a good ninja." Jin said. "I enjoyed the time I spent with both of you, though." Jin turned back to Yuri, and gave a soft smirk. "This mission was a complete disaster. But one good thing came of it. I made a friend."

    "I..." Yuri shook her head, she didn't know what to make of it, "I can't believe you won't be a part of our team though..."


    "I'm sorry, Yuri." Jin said, staring at his feet. "But I'll be fine without me. You have all your other friends with you." Jin lifted his hand and pointed at Yuri, indicating to the bugs that resided within her. "A chain is only as strong as it's weakest link. There were times back there when I thought I was going to break. I don't think I'll be able to hold it together if it happens again."

    "A weak link can be fixed." Hisato said. "With training you can become a lot stronger, in your body and mind."

    "Maybe, but I just don't want to." Jin said. "I'll find a way to help people some other way."

    "You're sure?" Hisato asked.

    "I am." Jin replied with a nod. 


    Yuri clenched her fists, "You'll just give up being a ninja because there are ninja that kill people?!" Yuri could feel the tears welling up, "You can't just give up because other people are bad!" Then without warning, Yuri slapped Jin across the face, she felt the sting on her palm and the look of shock on his face, and then she ran for home, distraught and confused. Jin placed his hand on his reddening cheek, but didn't speak. He had let Yuri down, and the thought was making his stomach turn. 

    "She'll understand, in time." Hisato said reassuringly. "I don't agree with your decision, but it's yours to make. We'll make arrangements for the future of our team. Go on, you better get going."

    "Right..." Jin whispered. "Thank you, sensei. I...won't forget either of you."

    "Mm!" Hisato responded. "Likewise, kid. Now get going."






    Jin pushed open the door to his house and stepped inside. It was dark inside his home, and there were no signs of life. "Hello?" He called out, "I'm home". Nobody called back. Jin let out a sigh and turned himself back around, and closed the door behind him. He sat himself down on the steps outside of his house and rested his chin in his hands. No doubt his mother was on another mission. She might not have even been in the village. His father was probably with the Hokage, and would probably be home in a few hours. That didn't really feel good enough though. He needed them now, and they weren't there. Shaking his head, he stood up and walked down the street. It was quiet now that night had come. Many of the houses had lights on, and noises of people talking around dinner tables could be heard as he walked past them. 


    He walked for about an hour, and before he had even realised he was way on the other side of the village. The streets were thin here and the buildings around there were restaurants, bars, bath houses, and other places that adults tended to frequent. There was a lot of noise coming from a particular place. It was a bar of some kind, with rows of seats lined up outside of it. Steam rushed out from the inside and escaped in to the night air. As Jin drew closer he could smell sake, and tobacco smoke. He walked slowly, watching the people at the nearby table. 


    [sasuke's Theme]


    "All right!" A woman declared. She was dressed in a gray kimono and was smoking tobacco out of an old pipe, her head obscured under a grass hat. "It's time for you crusty, old farts to watch a master at work. I'll raise 17'500 Ryo!" The woman pushed a few chips in to the middle of the table and took another drag from her pipe. She leant back in her chair and tilted her head up, to reveal herself as an old woman. Her skin was slightly wrinkled and her green eyes looked tired. She wore red lipstick and had dotted a little, black beauty spot above her lip. Then, just for a moment, her lazy, drunken eyes darted towards Jin, and fixed him with a confident glare, before returning to their usual, sleepy look. 

    "Yer a bluffin' old hag!" The old man from across the table replied. "I'll see yer 17'500 and raise ye another 2'500!"

    "Interesting." The third man said. "I believe I have the winning hand here. I'm all in."

    "Shit!" The other man cursed, and tossed his cards down on the table. "Too rich for my blood!"

    "All in eh?" The woman said with a smirk. "You've got double the amount of chips I have. That's just bully tactics."

    "Are you gonna raise your bet or what?" The man replied tauntingly. 


    "Mmm...sure, I'm all in then." The woman said. "But I paid to see it, so let's see it."

    "Alright." The man said, and he flipped over the last card on the table. Then he placed his hand down so the cards were showing. "Full House."

    "Hmph!" The woman said, and then she placed her own cards on the table. "Four of a kind beats a flush, you lose!"

    "Damn!" The man exclaimed, and thumped the table with his fist. "I was so sure..."

    "I warned you, I'm a master." The woman said with a smirk. Then she reached in to the table and pulled all the chips in close to her chest. As she did, a playing card fell out of the sleeve of her kimono. 


    "Hey...wait a minute..." One of the men picked up the card and examined it. " cheated!"

    "You lousy, old hag! You're nothing but a crook!" The other roared. Then they lunged at the woman, who leaned back on her chair. She gave Jin another knowing glance, and then, she was gone. Jin blinked to make sure his eyes hadn't played a trick on him. The old lady had completely disappeared. He had seen ninja move quickly before, but this old woman had practically vanished without the slightest hint of a trace. The two old men were cursing and screaming at each other when Jin decided it was best to move on, and he took his leave. 


    He walked out of the district and continued through a park. He was passing by a bench under a lamp when, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that the old woman was sitting on the bench, drinking from a jug of sake. He doubled back and stared at her. He could have sworn she was sitting there before. "'re that old lady!"

    "Who you calling old, punk?" The sneered at him. "Doesn't the academy teach you to respect your elders any more?"

    "Uh...sorry." Jin said, and he gave a short bow. "It's just...well, you cheated those old guys."

    "Life isn't fair, you'll learn that soon enough." She said to him. "Anyway, what were you doing wandering around in a place like that? What are you, like, eight years old or something?"

    "I'm 13!" Jin said with a scowl. "Besides I'm a nin...uh." Jin scratched his head. 

    "Ninuh? I think it's pronounced Ninja." The woman said. "They must have really let the standards slip if you're what passes as a Genin."


    "No...I meant. Well, I'm not a ninja any more. I...I quit." Jin said. 

    "Smart move!" The old woman said with a smirk. "I should have quit when I was your age. Would have been much less trouble."

    "You're a ninja?" Jin asked. 

    "Not for the last 20 years." She replied. "I quit too. Giant waste of my life, that was."

    " you didn't want to kill either?" Jin asked. 


    "People die, punk." The old woman said. "Heck I sent a lot of people there myself. Not exactly proud of it,'s just part of life."

    "Well I don't want it to be part of mine." Jin said. "Becoming a ninja was a mistake for me."

    "I don't blame you." The old lady said. "But that doesn't explain why you're hanging around outside seedy bars like that at your age. Don't you have a home to go to?"

    "I do. It's just my parents are out and I just needed to clear my head." Jin explained. "I don't really know what I'm going to do from now on."

    "Mmm...I remember that feeling. Puberty is a bitch." The old woman said. "But you'll get through it. Then you'll fall and love, realise you had it all wrong, then start all over again. Then you get married and your life really goes to hell. Well, for most people anyway. Or you can become an old spinster like me! Haha!"


    "I...don't mean life in general." Jin said. "I just meant that I've always wanted to be a ninja. I've never thought of doing anything else. I don't know what to do now."

    "Well no point asking me, kid." She replied. "I'm a washed up old has been."

    "But back there, you moved so quickly." Jin said. "That's the Body Flicker Jutsu, right?"

    "You're pretty sharp." The woman said with a nod. "But what I do is better than any mere Body Flicker."

    "It was pretty cool, though." Jin said with a smirk. 

    "Heh, you're okay for a punk." The woman said. "What's your name?"


    "Hideo Jin." Jin replied. 

    "Well I'm Sorano." She said. "Here, have some sake."

    "Uh...I don't think I should." Jin said. 

    "Pfft! You big pansy!" Sorano said, and then she took a big swig from the jug and let out a gasp. "When you're old you'll appreciate good sake a lot more."

    "Well I'm not supposed to drink it. I'm a minor." Jin said sternly. 

    "Yeah, yeah." Sorano waved her hand at him in a dismissive fashion. "In my day there weren't any rules like that."

    "Well I suppose I have to go." Jin said. "It was, uh...nice to meet you."

    "Likewise, punk." Sorano said and she lifted her jug to big him farewell. Then, before he could turn around to leave, she was gone again. 




    [Different Sky]


    Hisato stood on the top of the Hokage's office, having not long explained the situation to her. He was staring out at the village, and looked deep in contemplation, when he heard a soft tap next to him, and he looked up to see a figure standing on the ledge of the building, on his right. She was dressed in a long, black cloak that disguised the form underneath, with only a featureless white mask revealed under the hood. Hisato turned his head back to look over the village and folded his arms. "The mask is a bit overkill, don't you think? I know who you are, Saya." He said. 

    "You are one of the few who does." Saya replied, her voice cold. "Just because we are in our home doesn't mean we can be reckless. If you had been more careful then perhaps things would be different. Perhaps I could go home and see to my son, who is lost and saddened by his experiences in the field. And yet now, because of the complete failure of that very mission, my team must leave tonight to clean up this mess."


    "I'm sensing a little hostility here." Hisato said darkly. "Do you have a problem with how I operate?"

    "When my son is concerned, I do." Saya said. "You are one of the best, Hisato. I find it hard to believe you didn't realise how dangerous Ayame was."

    "I just did as ordered." Hisato replied. 

    "Oh, please." Saya said. "That mission was fishy, and you knew it. Sending two Genin after someone like that. The Hokage would never have allowed it if she had known the details."

    "Nobody knew the details." Hisato said. "It was just unfortunate."

    "That poker face may work on everyone else." Saya said. "But you and I...we are of the same creed. Don't think I will fall for it for one second."


    Hisato turned his head to look at Saya once more, and he gave a short sniff to hide the flare of his nostrils. "You're mistaken, Saya." He said. "I suggest you go carry out your mission."

    "Such a faithful dog...or 'Lion', is it?" Saya said mockingly. "I'm watching you, and the ones who hold your leash. You best hope that I am indeed mistaken." Then with a flicker, Saya took off, and Hisato watched as her cloaked form leapt off over the buildings of Konoha. He sighed and his gaze fell to the floor. 

  16. [Glued State]


    As they made their escape Jin was thinking about what came next. In the heat of the moment he had found a quiet focus in his new objective: To get Yuri out alive. There was no time yet to grieve their fallen leader, and if he had been overcome with trauma then he'd probably be dead already. Instead he focused on doing what his father had always considered top priority, to control the flow of the battle. He had already gathered the facts. There were 12 ninja chasing them, all working together. Yuri had provided them an advantage with her surprise attack, which had also left Ayame wounded, hopefully for good. At any rate she probably wouldn't be after them herself, but her team were organised, and had been keeping tabs on them all along. They knew their tactics, their abilities, and they probably knew the terrain far better than Jin or Yuri. 


    The situation was exceptionally bad, and their chances were slim. He knew that with such a large group after them, they would likely split in to smaller cells and come at them from all angles. Even if they kept running, Eventually they would tire and get caught. If he was going to keep the upper hand then they had to change their tactics. He made sure Yuri was still close, and he signalled for her to stay close to him. Then he dropped from the tree tops and landed on the earth below, rolling to adsorb the shock of the fall, before moving on at a quick but silent pace. They had moved in to the cover of closely grouped trees, and he brought up his fist, level with his shoulder, signalling for Yuri to freeze. Then he pressed himself against the trunk of the nearest tree, and cupped his hand to his ear, signalling for Yuri to listen. He brought his hand down to waist height, and Yuri crouched when he did so. He crouched down with her and waited. 


    There was a soft tap in the distance and one of their enemies dropped from the tree tops. He stood still for a moment, lifting his chin and slowly sweeping his gaze around, trying to find any sign of them. Jin crouched lower to stay out of sight and held his breath. Their enemy was alone, and was standing out in the open. Perhaps if they rushed him they would be able to overcome him together, but that was a big risk. They had to look for an opening and make a break for it. And yet...why was this ninja alone? Jin narrowed his eyes as he watched the man, and then he motioned for Yuri to get ready. He put his hands together and two shadow clones appeared at his side, crouched down and out of sight. One of them quickly performed his own seal, and in the blink of an eye had taken the appearance of Yuri. Jin gave his clones a quick nod, and then they took off while the ninja's back was turned. As they crossed the clearing, another ninja fell from thre tree tops and dropped them both in an instant with a pair of kunai to their backs. 


    Just as Jin had expected, the first ninja had shown himself as a decoy to lure them out of hiding. The other had remained waiting in the trees, ready to strike at them. When the clones disappeared in a puff of clouds, the enemies had reacted by fanning out to sweep the area. This had it's good and bad points. All of this meant that they had managed to avoid detection, for now. However, it also meant they would start searching more aggressively, now that their plan had failed. He gave Yuri a nervous glance and then tried to think of what they could do. They wouldn't fall for another clone distraction. Then his eyes widened as a sudden realisation came to him. It was risky, but it was the best chance they had. 




    They shot out of their cover and sprinted across the clearing. Then, a second pair of them went off in the opposite direction, slowly and clinging to the cover of the trees. The enemy ninja rounded on them immediately. "Not this time!" one of them snarled as he lunged towards Yuri. Jin stepped in front of him, kunai drawn and the pair clashed. Jin dodged the flurry of blows and struck back, before the other enemy stepped in and countered his strike, and together the enemies pinned him down and cut him to ribbons. Only for Jin to explode in to clouds and disappear. 

    "A double bluff!" One of them cried. "Sneaky brat! Get after the real ones!" He added as he sprinted off over the clearing, after the real Jin and Yuri, but they were long gone. 




    Jin and Yuri had made their way out of the woods and had found themselves at a large cliff face, with a waterfall flowing down it, and a thick mist coating the bottom. Jin pressed on and motioned for Yuri to follow. They climbed the rocks around the waterfall, and edged around the side and slipped through it, in to a small cave that was hidden behind it. Jin let out a sigh of relief and sat himself down on a rock. "Okay..." Jin said, pausing as he took a deep breath. "...We should be okay to talk now. I...well, I think we have a lot to talk about. However, we need to think of a plan before we make another move. Let's assess the situation and try to think of something."

    Wiping the blood from her goggles, Yuri leant against the cool stone wall and caught Jin's eye before speaking, "Sensei is alive, Jin."

    Jin simply stared at Yuri in disbelief. "...Are...are you sure?" He asked.

    "Mm... i'm sure." Yuri nodded, licking her lips, "His wound was smoking, and the tissue was healing. I don't know how, but I think once the wound is healed he'll wake up - so long as Ayame and her ninja don't notice." Yuri shook her head, "I can't believe Kaoru was Ayame, or... the other way around, I don't know. Was there ever even a Kaoru?"


    "That's a question for another time." Jin said. He had been wondering the same thing, and the thought of what might have happened to the real Kaoru made his stomach turn. "If sensei is alive then that complicates things. We can't just leave him. That means...we need to go back."

    "But... Ayame was powerful enough to kill Hisato, more or less... and she has a whole bunch of other ninja who I didn't detect, even with my bugs surrounding the area. It was like, they must have seen them and choose not to kill or interact with them, but somehow masked themselves from my bugs..." This thought stuck with Yuri and she frowned, trying to think.

    "So we leave him to really die, then?" Jin said with a frown. "Tell me, what would a ninja do in this situation? I'm not even sure I know any more..."

    "I don't know..." Yuri wished she had the answers, but she didn't. Every thought screamed for her to run home to Konoha. But she couldn't. "We can't leave him, not if there's a chance he's alive. But... we're just genin..."


    "Says the girl who blew Ayame's leg off." Jin said. " don't even realise how talented you are, do you?"

    "I'm not talented." Yuri muttered, "Hisato got killed, and I just... froze."

    "As I saved our lives and gravely wounded our opponent." Jin said. "You did just what my dad would expect. You brought the flow of battle back within our control, just like he teaches with his Taijutsu, y'know?"

    "It's not good enough." Yuri bit her lip, "Mira would have killed her and she would never have fallen into a trap like this..." Yuri stared at the waterfall rushing over the exit to their cave, "When she was my age, she was sent on high-ranking missions. She was so strong, they awarded her a Jounin rank after two missions... I can never compete with that."

    "Yeah's not all about being tough, is it?" Jin said. "You should believe in yourself more, Yuri. I believe in you."

    Yuri held her head up and smiled at Jin, "... thanks." She took a deep breath, "So, when should we leave? Do you have a plan?"


    "Not really." Jin admitted. "I made a bunch of clones while we were running. They're spreading out and keeping watch. There's still 12 out there for the moment, one for each of the bad guys. The only trouble is I don't pick up on what they've seen until they are dispelled. But I figure if we stay here then I can record what they find out and build some knowledge about these guys, their techniques and stuff. Y'know, beat them at their own game."

    "Right..." Yuri nodded. She was proud of Jin, but she couldn't say it. He was intelligent, and clear-minded even when everything went wrong. She took a deep breath and pulled her left sleeve back so she could see her hand. With a moment's focus, she pooled insects in her palm and concentrated. They swarmed over her hand and tried to reach out, as though she was making a blade, but as they started to form, they fell apart and returned to her palm. "Damn..." She muttered, shaking her head, then let them return.

    "What's wrong?" Jin asked. 


    Yuri looked at Jin and then back at her insects, "I'm not really supposed to talk about it..." She said dejectedly, pursing her lips. "My sister would be mad."

    "Okay." Jin said with a nod. "Well then...I suppose we should try to come up with a plan." Jin stood up from the rock and took a step forward, but stumbled and fell down to his knees. He pushed himself back to his feet, his hand shaking as he did. When he looked up there were beads of sweat dripping down his face. "Sorry I...I tripped."

    "Are you okay?" Yuri asked, putting her hand on his shoulder.

    "Yeah...I..." Jin sighed. "When you create shadow clones you seperate your chakra equally among them. So with 12 out there my chakra is split 13 ways. It'll come back when I dispel the jutsu, minus any they've used. But...I guess that's one of their weaknesses. I'm not as strong when I'm split up."

    "Oh... I never learnt about shadow clones. My sister said we can't use them."


    "It's a potentially dangerous ninjutsu." Jin said. "It can put the user in a real bind if it's abused. But I don't really have any other options...right..." Jin stopped in his tracks, staring off at the back of the cave fearfully. Some colour had returned to his cheeks, and despite his shock he looked a lot better. "All of once!" He gasped. "But how did they...oh no!"

    "Jin...?" Yuri squeezed his shoulder, "What is it?!" She whispered fearfully

    "All my clones just got killed at once...and none of them saw who did it." Jin said fearfully. "It was a co-ordinated attack. But how do they know where we...the dog!" Jin spun on his heel so he was facing the entrance to the cave. "Ayame is a tracker! That wasn't a lie! That dog, remember? We need to run!"


    Just then a small husky dog with an eyepatch and a blue neckerchief stepped through the waterfall, snarling viciously at them. They were too late. Ayame knew where they were, and they only way out was blocked. 

  17. [Confrontment]


    When Yuri and Kaoru had returned they explained the events that had taken place while they were away together. All the while Hisato listened intently, never speaking and allowing them to get through what they had to say. When Yuri had concluded her report, he held his hand to his chin and let out a frustrated sigh. Folding his arms across his chest, he observed the situation they were in. Jin, Kaoru and Yuri were standing with him in a secluded area of the forest. Tied up to a nearby tree was Keigo, who had been calm and quiet since the time of his capture. Hisato felt that there was information about this mission that was obscured to them, and if they had any hope of succeeding they would have to find the answers. Jin was the first to break the silence. "Sensei, what do you we now?" He asked. 


    "Well...considering what happened to Yuri it's safe to say our enemy has a few things she doesn't want us to know." Hisato explained. "So our captive here gives us a bit of an advantage. I'm going to interrogate him and see what he knows."

    "It's not like he's just going to tell you." Jin said. "I do we get him to cough up the goods?"

    "Interrogation tactics can be quite unsavoury." Hisato said. "However in times where there is more at risk we have to do unpleasant things."

    "We would be better off learning what we can from him and terminating him." Kaoru added, his eyes sad. He looked down at the bound man and then turned his gaze on Hisato, "This man is a danger to us all, there is no easy way to restrain him or ensure that he doesn't escape, and later cause problems for us." 
    Yuri shook her head, "They don't seem like evil people though..." She muttered, holding her stomach where she'd been hit. Despite the fight, she hadn't felt any malice from the man, he was just doing the same as her. It was a strange feeling, and she wasn't sure she liked the uncertainty.
    "It can't be that simple!" Jin protested. "Don't talk so casually about killing someone..."
    "There's nothing casual about it." Kaoru replied calmly. "This man knows me. And I know him. Our village is smaller than Konoha, but i'm sure you understand that your village is like an extension of your family. So, you must understand the gravity of my words, when I say, that this man has to die."
    "No I don't know!" Jin lashed back. "If this man was really family to you...then you'd try harder."
    "How would my trying harder save this man's life?" Kaoru asked.
    "Who is he to you?" Yuri nodded at Keigo. 
    "He is a friend..." Kaoru replied, his gaze falling to the ground. Yuri's mouth fell open and she stared at Kaoru in disbelief, unable to form any words.
    "Maybe it won't do anything, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't try!" Jin said angrily. 
    "That's enough, Jin." Hisato said, and he turned his gaze to Kaoru. "If you know this man, then I will ask you to be honest with me. Do you think he will cooperate or provide information to us willingly?"
    "Keigo?" Kaoru asked, turning to face the man. The two looked at one another for a few seconds and then Keigo stared at the ground in silence. "No, he won't. Not by choice." Kaoru sighed, "He is a loyal and trustworthy person, to the end..."
    "I'm not staying here for this." Yuri muttered, and marched off into the woods.
    "Yuri!" Hisato called after her. "I am afraid I'm going to have to insist that you stay."
    Yuri slowed to a stop and clenched her hidden fists, "Why?!" Yuri snapped, without turning to look at her teacher. "Why do I need to learn this? We didn't even ask them what they were doing or why?!"
    "You are a shinobi, with a mission. Does it matter?" Kaoru replied.
    "Of course it does!" She whirled around to face them, "I was taught that ninja protect people! How are we protecting Konoha right now? We hurt them, they hurt us, we hurt them, and it goes round and round. I wanted to become a ninja to protect people, to protect my family and friends... not this."
    "Yuri..." Hisato said patiently. "It's true that we don't know enough about this mission. That's why what I am about to do is important. I want you to stay because understanding this part of being a ninja may be vital to your survival one day. There is a wide assortment of practices used to obtain information from someone, I want you to stand by and watch me as I do this. Do not speak, do not act unless told to so. That goes for all of you, understood?"
    "Yeah..." Jin said, but he turned his head away from Hisato. "...I get it."
    Yuri shook her head and crossed her arms in silence, but remained rooted on the spot. She knew if she opened her mouth, it would be to yell. Hisato took this as confirmation enough. He turned around and approached Keigo, who was still waiting calmly and quietly, his entire body wrapped in thin wire that kept him fixed to the tree. Hisato stared at him in silence, and Keigo stared back with an expression of mild amusement. "You're going to have to do better than that." He said with a faint grin.
    "You are a missing nin of Kusagakure. Keigo, was it? How old are you?" Hisato asked. 
    "Old enough." Keigo replied. 
    "And why did you attempt to assassinate us?" Hisato asked. 
    "Orders." Keigo said simply, sounding bored. "Like I said to the kid, it's nothing personal."
    "Are you sure about that?" Hisato said. "You're loyal to the Crimson Field, our enemy. Can I assume you share her feelings. Do you have any animosity towards Konoha?"
    "Heh." Keigo shook his head. "Maybe I do, maybe I don't. I still don't have anything against you guys, though. I've never met any of you. None of you have wronged me."
    "So you're just doing your job then?" Hisato said. "Just like us?"
    "Yep." Keigo said in response. "And that's all you're getting from me."
    "We'll see." Hisato said. "How about we talk about the Crimson Field, hm? The rumours say that she obtained that nickname after she was found to be the sole survivor of a particularly bloody battle. They say she was found within a field that was soaked right through with blood, hence Crimson Field."
    "That's the story." Keigo said. 
    "Oshiro Ayame. Quite the impressive kunoichi." Hisato said. "Apparently she did a lot for Kusagakure. I wonder why she changed her mind? It seems odd for an accomplished ninja to just completely change their mind all of a sudden. So I have to ask, what happened to her?"
    "Are you trying to say she's evil?" Keigo asked. "Give me a break. Who among us has the right to judge the dark deeds of others. You can't act all superior if you like, and you can dress this up, try to be accomodating to soften the blow. It doesn't matter. You can try being diplomatic for a while, for the sake of your Genin, but you know that in the end these kinds of situations always result in torture. Being a ninja is messy. The villages put ninja on these pedestals, and make their children excited and eager to become one. They train their children to become murderers. Maybe Ayame was just sick of it, did you ever think of that?"
    "And yet she has ordered you to kill two children in the process." Hisato replied. "It doesn't seem like she has risen above it to me."
    "Old habits, I guess." Keigo said.
    "Do you agree with her methods?" Hisato asked. 
    "Do you agree with Konoha's?" Keigo replied. "Do you even question your orders?"
    "I do not." Hisato said. 
    "Me neither." Keigo said.
    "Unfortunately I don't have time to do this properly. So I will have to hope I can obtain the most pressing information from you." Hisato said. "Where is Ayame headed right now?"
    "I've already told you I'm not talking." Keigo said with a sigh. 
    "Have you considered what it will do to Kusagakure if she succeeds in her plan? Whatever she is doing, if word get's out that it was her then it could lead to a war with Kusagakure. Konoha cannot protect Kusagakure from a major threat like that. Your village is small, and could be stamped out by any of the Five Great Shinobi Villages. Is it really worth risking the lives of your friends and family? Your comrades?"
    "I made my peace with that a long time ago." Keigo replied. "So do what you like. I'm as good as dead now, so it doesn't matter."
    "Then...what about your own life?" Hisato said. "Do you think you are really ready to die? Have you ever faced your mortality, and I mean really faced it?"
    "What do you-" Keigo stopped talking as Hisato's hand clenched against his throat, squeezing tightly. He began to choke but Hisato only gripped harder. Then when Keigo's skin began to turn red from the lack of oxygen, and tears began to well in his eyes, Hisato released his grip.
    "I'll ask again." Hisato said. "Where is Ayame going?"
    "Go to hell!" Keigo spat through gasping breaths. Hisato gripped his throat once more, and this time he drew a kunai in his other hand and pressed it's sharp tip up against Keigo's right eye, holding it just enough so that Keigo could feel the point pushing against his socket. He released his grip enough so that Keigo could speak.
    "I will make this as slow as possible if you do not cooperate." Hisato said. "You will relent, eventually. I can see that you have not quite managed to extinguish your fear of death. Very few people ever manage to accomplish such a thing. Many ninja think they are ready, but when it comes to the crunch they become terrified."
    "You're...just proving...that you're all no good." Keigo gasped. "There's no hope...for men like us. We've already been tainted." Keigo's gaze moved past Hisato, and fell on Jin. He looked scared, like he might be sick at any moment. "But him...they might just make this world a better place." Keigo took another gasping breath, and continued to look at Jin, and when he spoke he addressed the young boy. "...Violence and's a cycle. It'll go on forever unless we try harder to stop it. You know that, kid. And so does your leader, but he's too set in his ways to do anything about it."
    Jin simply stared at Keigo, his entire body trembling. He didn't know what to do, what to say. He was too scared to speak. "...Fine." Keigo said finally. "Just remember that I did this " He paused for a moment, and then he spoke again. "Kumogakure. That's where she's headed." Hisato instantly released his grip from Keigo and stepped away from him. 
    "Thank you." Hisato said. "I'm...going to let you live. Jin is right, we need to try harder if we're going to grow as shinobi."
    "Let me live? You just made my death a certainty." Keigo replied, and then he stuck his tongue out. A black symbol was etched in to the pink flesh of his tongue. "Sealing Method: Cursed Tongue Eradication Jutsu. All of us agreed to have them sealed on us. To ensure no information falls in to the wrong hands. Damage control, basically."
    "Why...didn't you just say so?" Hisato asked. 
    "It doesn't matter." Keigo said, and he smirked. "Hey...Kaoru." He turned his head to look at the young ninja from his village. "The kid was right. We're too quick to kill. Myself, Pain makes us that way, but that doesn't mean it's right. We should probably listen to the kids more often...I..." Keigo's eyes suddenly glazed over, and then he slumped over, and stopped moving. 
    "Why!?" Jin roared, and he rushed forward until he was stood at the tree. "Why would someone do their friends!?"
    "Jin..." Hisato began, but Jin cut him off. 
    "No! Don't try to rationalize it!" Jin yelled. "They were her friends, her comrades. How could she do that to them!? It''s not right."
    "No. It isn't." Hisato said. "But Ayame no doubt has her reasons. And her comrades all agreed to this. She may be dangerous but...she has inspired many good ninja to follow her. Her friends are willing to go to these lengths, because they believe in her. We still have to stop her, but that does not make the bonds that they have any less important. Respect your enemy."
    "I won't!" Jin snapped. "She abused their trust. And're not any better, sensei. You got what you wanted, so let's just go."
    Jin turned his back on Hisato and put his hands in his pockets. He wondered, was this what it was like to be a ninja? It always seemed like such an adventure to him, but now that he was living it, he wasn't so sure. He didn't want to kill anyone. Even if the people were truly evil, to kill them made you just as bad. That made sense to him. How could other ninja think differently? He felt cold, and a little fearful about what this road might do to him, what he might become. What if one day it was him who was threatening to gouge someone's eye out with a kunai. Was that what lay ahead for him? He wasn't sure about anything any more. Maybe this was a mistake. Maybe he didn't want to be a ninja at all. 


  18. Curtis stared out of the passenger side window of Sam's truck as they drove down the winding roads that passed through the forests of Darkpine.

    was playing from the radio as they drove in silence. Curtis' face looked paler than usual, and he had pulled the hood of his sweater up over his head, and his eyes were shadowed in dark rings. He and his father glanced at each other, Sam looking no worse off than usual. Curtis had awoke that morning, naked and cold, his face and hands stained with the blood of a deer, and had quickly realised it's remains were only a few feet from him. Everyone had regrouped at the cabin and got cleaned up, although none of them dared chance having any breakfast. Curtis had spent a good while in the bathroom throwing up the remaining raw flesh and blood that still sat in his now human digestive system. 


    His muscles were aching after the dramatic transfiguration that came with the full moon. He wanted nothing more than to sleep and try to forget the morning's events. It was always hard, having had no memory of his time as a wolf, it was typical to wake up to some shocking scene that left him feeling revolted. And yet he gave Sam a short smirk to let him know that he was okay. He wasn't lying either. Despite everything, the day after the full moon Curtis normally felt quite at ease. Perhaps leaving his human troubles at the door for one night and running free had a positive effect on him, even if he couldn't remember it. However Sam looked like he was working up the courage to say something. Apparently one of the down sides to being an Alpha was you didn't get to run free any more, you had to shoulder your burdens constantly just like a normal person. 


    "So...about this curse." Sam said finally. 

    "Oh come on..." Curtis growned. "My head is pounding. Do we have to do this right now?"

    "I don't want any resentment to fester from this, son." Sam said.

    "I might foster some resentment about you making my headache worse." Curtis said irritably. "And thanks for the reminder...I hadn't even thought about any of that today."

    "I'm sorry..." Sam said, shaking his head. "But it's going to become a big part of your life sometimes. I just want you to be prepared."

    "Should have thought about that before you lied to me my whole life." Curtis said, but his tone was light and he had a sly smirk on his face. "Look I know you're the big poppa wolf and all that but you don't have to micro-manage everything. I can...I can take care of this in my own way. And if I need you then...I'll just howl, like last time."


    Sam said nothing, but the swell of his chest and the slightest hint of a smirk suggested he was pleased with Curtis' response. They went back to driving quietly, and Curtis started messing around on his phone for a bit. Speaking about Vivian had made him think about her, and he felt the urge to talk to her. He found her name on his contact list and lingered on it for a moment. He hadn't actually spoke to her since that night. What was he supposed to say. It always felt really dumb to just say "Hi". He thought for a moment, and then he typed up a message and hit send. It read:


    - So how was your moon festival? Sorry I couldn't come, had to see a man about a dog :P


    To pass the time Curtis checked his Facebook for a few minutes, scrolling through pages and pages of clickbait, three week old memes and articles written by The Onion that people were, of course, taking seriously. After a few moment his phone gave a little chirp and the words "new message" flashed across the screen. He instantly clicked it and read the reply:


    Vivian - It was great! We had a bit of an issue early this morning, but I think it is sort of resolved now.


    Curtis smiled, just happy for a reply. He typed up another message and sent it:


    Curtis - Glad it worked out. I'm fast but I don't think I could have ran that far in time!


    A response came back from Vivian quite quickly. And soon they were texting back and forth. 


    Vivian - Oh no I wasn't in trouble, actually the opposite...had to help someone. Ironically the same someone you accidentally fought the other night. I think my moms would kill me if they knew where I was right now. So how was your change? Everything work out okay?


    Curtis - I think so, can't really remember any of it. Pretty exhausted though. This is about the closest I get to a hangover, or at least I think so. I've never had one. 


    Vivian - That must be nice! The no hangover part. I'm not a heavy drinker, but I've seen Lily go through a couple rough mornings. Any plans for today? Or just a lot of rest?


    Curtis - No plans, just catching up on sleep. I might go out tonight if there is something to do, I'll see how I feel after a nap. What about you?


    Vivian - Nothing planned for me, but if you feel like going out tonight Lily mentioned a couple people might be hiking out into the woods to dip in the hot springs. Could be fun!


    Curtis - I'll be there.


    The decision was a swift and easy one. It was barely a decision at all. He was tired, his body ached and the last thing he needed was to be going out that night. But the thought of a few girls in bikinis makes a young man do irresponsible things. 



    Finally, after a long drive, Sam pulled up outside the Archer household in the forest. He stopped the car and paused for a moment. There was a car outside of the house, and it wasn't one of theirs. He opened the door and Curtis followed swiftly, alerted by the scent in the air. The smell was human, and there was a sort of spice about it, some kind of cologne the person was wearing. A man emerged from the car. He was a black man who looked to be in his 30's with a shaved head and a muscular physique. His arms and neck were covered in intricate black ink tattoos, and he was wearing a white vest and a pair of black jeans, and brown boots. 


    "I was hoping you would be back soon." The man said with a distinct West African accent. "I thought it best to speak with you in person about this, Sam."

    "Giconi." Sam said, folding his arms in front of his chest. "This is my son, Curtis."

    "I'd say it is a pleasure but it would be a lie under the circumstances." Giconi said, and he gave Curtis a short nod. "No disrespect, of course. But I take it you haven't heard."

    "Heard what?" Sam said. 

    "Trouble last night, big trouble." Giconi said, his tone ominous. "Four people dead, one in critical condition in the hospital. Another is still missing."

    " In Darkpine?" Curtis said. "You're kidding right? A murderer?"


    "The Sherriff's telling people it was an animal attack." Giconi said. "Doesn't add up to me. Animals don't kill like people do. Not to mention, what with it being a full moon and all..."

    "Just you try and say it!" Sam snarled. 

    "Dad! wait!" Curtis interrupted. "He knows?"

    "Giconi knows a lot of things, Curtis." Sam said, never taking his gaze away from the man. "And he knows our pack wouldn't do anything like this."

    "I do." Giconi said with a nod. "But you have to wonder who else is going to put the pieces together. Some people aren't quite so understanding. You know who I mean."

    "They won't come back here." Sam said defiantly. "I made sure of that."

    "Nothing is for certain, Sam." Giconi said. "Anyway I only came here to give you a heads up. Hopefully this mess all gets sorted out quickly. I just wanted you to know."


    "Thank you." Sam said, and he gave a soft nod. Giconi seemed happy with this and went to go back to his car. However, as he did his gaze fell on Curtis, and he stopped. His eyes surveyed Curtis carefully, and it felt uncomfortable, like he could see something...deeper. 

    "What are you looking at?" Curtis said, his tone that of annoyance. 

    "There's something about you, Curtis." Giconi said. "That's an old wolf you got inside of you. Strong and talented. I thought they had stopped making them like you."

    "What are you talking about?" Curtis asked. 

    "Maybe nothing. Maybe something." Giconi said, and he gave a little smirk. "Maybe I'll see you again, Curtis Archer. Drop by and we'll get some ink on those arms, hm?" And then he got in to his car and backed out of the drive, and went back down the road. Curtis turned to Sam and shook his head in bemusement. 


    "Who the hell was that?" Curtis asked. 

    "Giconi." Sam replied simply. "He's a Tattoo Artist, he has a shop in town."

    "A Tattoo Artist?" Curtis said with a single raised brow. "So why does he know what we are? And what was he talking about, does he think we're in danger."

    "Maybe." Sam said honestly. "He's lived here for a long time. Never aged a day since I met him. He's human though, or at least he smells like one. I've never asked. He keeps himself out of trouble, except for the occasional warnings of bad omens and freaky weird stuff. He knows a lot about our world so I trust him."

    " you think he was serious about the tattoo?" Curtis said.

    "You're not getting a tattoo." Sam said. "Now go get some rest. I need to make a few calls."


    Curtis wasn't in the mood to be pressing for more answers. He was tired and his bed was calling for him. He was worried about the people who had died, and what might have caused it. Darkpine had been a quiet, sleepy town for the extent of his life. Something like this was just plain unheard of. At any rate it wasn't his job to investigate killings. He walked in to his house and went to his room, flopping down on his bed and within moments he was sound asleep. 



    She awoke to the sound of deafening music. The room was dark and smelled of damp. She didn't know where she was, or how she had gotten there. She remembered something about a crash. She had been with her boyfriend. Most of all she felt afraid. She was cold and hungry, and her leg was throbbing. She tried to move it and let out a pained scream. It was broken. She looked around the dark room but couldn't see anything to tell her where she was, but she could sense that there was something lurking in the room with her. 

    "Wh-who's there?" She yelled. "Please, help me!" She felt tears driping down her cheeks. 


    The presence was moving closer, stalking her from the shadows, approaching slowly. She got the impression that this person was doing it on purpose, taking some sort of sick pleasure out of her reaction. She wept as she held her hands out on the cold floor in front of her, looking searchingly in to the darkness. The figure edged closer, and she could smell it's foul breath wash over her. She gagged and pushed herself back, screaming from the pain in her leg as he pressed herself up against the wall. 


    A single, sharp claw gently worked it's way over her body, but she could feel it cutting in to her skin and she let out a terrified scream. Then the creature leaned in so it was inches away from her face, and her scream fell to a terrified whimper. There was a horrible, rasping noise that she realised was the creature's voice. "It will all be over soon, little witch." it snarled at her, pleasure in it's voice. "But not too soon...I want to have my fun first..."

    "Why...why are you doing this to me?" She sobbed. 

    "Because..." She felt the claw cut deeply in to her flesh, piercing through her stomach, and she tried to scream but no noise came out. "...You are simply a delicious meal...all of your kind are. I plan to have my fill." Then with a rumbling growl the creature lunged at her and it's pointed, rotten teeth sunk in to her neck and began to thrash around furiously, tearing at her flesh. She felt blood oozing from her neck, but the pain began to fade rapidly. The dark room became, somehow, infinitely darker. Then she faded away, melting in to the wall, in to nothingness. 

  19. [Ninmu]


    "I'm kinda hungry again." Jin said, rubbing his stomach. 

    "Tough. I told you that was the last stop." Hisato said. "Besides you must have ate three times your daily allowance earlier."

    "I can't help being hungry." Jin said with a shrug. "So where are we anyway?" 


    The group were currently walking through a large wood. The trees were were huge and their branches sprawled out all over the place, so much so that the sky overhead was completely blacked out. However as Jin observed closer he noted that they were not trees at all. Where trees ended in leaves, these stalks ended in large domes. Jin screwed up his face for a moment, and then his jaw dropped. "Hey...are these mushrooms?" He said. 

    "I did tell you there were mushrooms." Hisato said casually. "What did you think I meant when I said 'forest of giant mushrooms'?"

    "Well..." Jin looked a little sheepish, before muttering, "...I didn't think they'd be this big."

    "I think it's great." Yuri added, holding out her sleeve as a little moth landed on it before flying away a moment later.
    "Just watch your step," Kaoru replied, "This forest has had several generations of chuunin exams take place in it's depths. We try and clear it out every chance we get, but there are still thousands of undiscovered traps waiting to harm the inattentive."
    "Huh?" Jin said, stopping in his tracks. "You seem to know a lot about that, Kaoru-nii. Did you compete in the exams?"
    "I did, but..." Kaoru replied, slowing to a stop. He faced Jin and sighed, "A couple of years ago, we had the Chuunin exams in our own forest. But... we didn't finish it." 
    "Uh...we?" Jin asked, scratching his head.
    Kaoru hesitated, "I..." He paused, choosing his words carefully. "I pressed my team to join the Chuunin exams. I was so sure we were ready..." He swallowed, his breaths shallow, "But I was an idiot. We were nowhere near ready. Our medic was killed, and my best friend sacrificed himself to save me. I haven't taken the exams since." Jin opened his mouth to respond, but no words came out. Instead his head sunk to the ground, and an awkward silence followed. It was only broken when Hisato decided to move things along. 
    "We should probably cut the small talk anyway." Hisato said. "It's time to earn your keep. Kaoru, make whatever preparations you need and start tracking our target. Yuri, you're on reconnaissance, make sure our enemy isn't watching us. Jin, watch our back. I'll take the front and keep an eye out for traps."
    "Got it!" Jin said, snapping his head back up and nodding confidently.
    "I'll do my best!!" Yuri replied, nodding.
    "Alright." Kaoru walked ahead of the group, knelt down on the ground and bit his thumb, making it bleed. He wiped the blood across the inside of his other palm, forming a strange symbol, and then formed a series of seals quickly. After a few seconds, he finished, clapping his hands together and then slammed his blood-covered hand to the ground. There was a slight rumble and then a quiet 'pop' as what looked like a miniature husky dog appeared in a cloud of smoke. It wore a small blue neckerchief and a black eyepatch over it's left eye.
    "A--" The dog started.
    "Hey!" Kaoru snapped, "We need to track down a rogue ninja." 
    "Ah-- right." The dog looked at the other people present and then back to Kaoru, "Who're we trackin'?" 
    "Oshiro Ayame."
    "Just do it. Here." Kaoru held out a metal forehead protector, it's symbol sliced down through the middle. "Find her, or her comrades, Kappa."
    "Right!!" The dog whirled around and leapt into the trees.
    "Whoa..." Jin whispered. "Summoning Jutsu? That's pretty cool..."
    "Not bad, huh?" Kaoru grinned, "Making a connection with an animal is the strongest bond a shinobi can make, I think."
    "I agree!" Yuri replied, and held up her sleeves to show Kaoru, but he was already focused on talking with Jin.
    "I can show you how if you don't know already?" Kaoru replied.
    "Really!?" Jin gasped. "I'd love to!"
    "Jin!" Hisato snapped irritably. "Focus."
    "Right...sorry, sensei." Jin said, his cheeks going a little red. 
    The group continued walking through the forest at a careful but brisk pace, with Hisato taking the lead. As they went deeper the forest grew darker, and Jin began to feel more and more creeped out. Every snap of a twig, every sudden breeze, or the echoing noises of woodland animals, all made his head twitch in their direction, his eyes wide and alert. "Hey uh..." Jin whispered. "I was thinking some people might find this forest quite scary. I mean, not me but...some people. Y'know?"
    "This place is just..." Kaoru shrugged, "Full of bad memories."
    "Wait!!" Yuri held out her arm as the group stopped. She slowly lifted her arm up, and from just beneath the surface of the earth, a couple of feet in front of them, a small wooden block with black markings rose out of the ground. "It's a trap..." She added, and the wooden block moved off to one side, then lowered itself to the ground and a fine black mist came out from beneath it and surged forwards into the ground once again.
    "Hey...good job, Yuri!" Jin said with a wide grin. "Your bugs might be creepy, but they sure are useful!"
    "They're not creepy..." Yuri muttered defensively.
    "They're useful, at least." Hisato nodded, taking careful gauge of the trap they had set aside. "That would have incinerated a large section of this forest, and us inside it, I should think."
    "The exams are made to test ninja to their limit and beyond. Those who are not strong enough, are not expected to sign-up, but... most years, there are still deaths." Kaoru added.
    "Well we're not dead, and we have Yuri to thank for that." Jin said, trying to sound cheerful. 
    "The shinobi of Konoha are well-trained, it seems." Kaoru mused. Yuri smiled at the boys, "So you use insects then, Yuri?"
    "Mm!" She nodded quickly, "They're great for lots of things, and... but... I have to get a lot better before I can call myself a true Satomi clan member."
    "Figures I'd get stuck with a bunch of chatterboxes." Hisato said with a hint of a smirk. "As much as I like to see you all bonding, there is a time and a place. If you insist on flapping your gums then at least make it useful and provide me with a status report."
    "Uh, all clear from behind." Jin said. "Well, it's actually pretty dark know what I mean."
    "I have to..." Yuri slowed to a stop, "I need a second, there's too much happening right now, i'm struggling to make sense of it." Yuri winced as though she was hearing or feeling something unpleasant and shook her head like she was trying to get water out of her ears. "Chakra everywhere." She muttered, "There's a bubble around us, the bugs that have touched it have been killed... it's closing around us!!" Yuri yelled. Hisato reached for a kunai with a lightning hand, and the group were suddenly on high alert. Something or someone had trapped them, and they intended on snapping the trap shut for good.
    [Glued State]
    "Don't panic." Hisato said through gritted teeth. "We have to think our way out. We need to know what we're up against. Jin, send a few shadow clones out and see if you can breach the barrier."
    "Hm!" Jin affirmed, clapping his hands together in a seal. Three clones appeared around him, and each one jetted off in a different direction, leaping through the trees. The group waited patiently, as they heard rustling in the trees. Then, after a few moment, Jin gave an audible gasp as if he had seen something that the rest hadn't. 
    "This is bad..." Jin said, his eyes fearful. "They all just...died." His hands gripped in to tight fists as he tried to stop himself from shaking. 
    "I expected that." Hisato said, and he looked calm and collected. "You remember a shadow clone's experience like it was your own, correct?"
    "Yeah...pretty much." Jin said with a nod. 
    "Alright." Hisato said. "Don't worry about the barrier. Think about your surroundings. What was happening to the environment, like the trees. Were they affected at all as the barrier closed in?"
    " It all just looked normal." Jin said. 
    "And how far out did you get?" Hisato asked
    "Not far, about a quarter mile. Though it was a little less with each clone." Jin explained. "I'd say it's moving about a meter every 5 seconds."
    "Then we have to move quickly." Hisato said. "Yuri, what about underneath the ground?"
    "There's a lot of ground to cover!!" Yuri pleaded, as she held out her arms and braced herself.
    "You can do it, Yuri!" Kaoru took a step back, watching.
    Yuri focused as hard as she could and a few seconds later, a large black cloud of insects vented from the ends of her sleeves. Beads of sweat formed on her forehead and trickled down her skin as the insects spread out across the ground and disappeared into the soil. "There are too many rocks..." Yuri grit her teeth, "Soft sections of soil here," Yuri nodded at the ground in front of them, "But the barrier is closing fastest on that side, but I don't feel it beneath us..."
    "That's all I need to know." Hisato said with a nod. "I'll take care of the rest."

    There was a soft thump as a pair of feet landed on top of a mushroom pad that was growing high above the trees. There was a man down on one knee, his hands clasped in a seal, looking down in to the dark depths of the forest. The man was wearing a green coat with a high collar, obscuring his face, but without sleeves, exposing bare arms that were covered in elaborate seal marks. His long, brown hair was slicked back over his hair, and his skin looked dull and grey. 
    "Keigo." A deep voice came from the newcomer who had joined the man, apparently named Keigo. "Has it worked?"
    "Hmm..." Keigo replied, apparently deep in conversation. "...I'm unsure. There were a few things that hit my barrier and perished, and now it has completely closed in on them...hmm...four corpses. worked."
    "Good." the other man said, and he stepped forward to stand at Keigo's side. This man was tall and muscular, dressed in black trousers and the distinctive green flak jackets that were common among ninja. He had a headband tied around his head like a bandana, with the symbol of Kusagakure scratched out. "Ayame wants 100% confirmation. You need to see the corpses."
    "Yes...she would." Keigo said, sounding none to thrilled about the prospect. "Very well, Ren. Fall back and check if there are any more stragglers, I'll catch up."
    With that Ren leapt off back the way he had came. Keigo stood up, his hands disappearing under the long sleeves of his coat, then he stepped off of the mushroom and descended down in to the darkness, hopping from branch to branch, sprinting across the large branches, until finally he landed on the floor of the forest, and to his left he saw a pile of corpses. He walked over to them, and examined them. They all wore fearful expression, they had died quickly. Two of them were children, a boy and a girl. "Messy..." Keigo said to himself. "...Those bastards...sending children." He added, shaking his head. He went to walk away, tutting to himself in disagreement, when he heard the slightest click as his foot hit the ground. His eyes widened in realisation, but it was too late. The forest lit up in an almighty explosion, animals sprinted away from the burning fire that had made the entire area suddenly bright and clear. Then Keigo appeared with a flicker, on the outside of the blast zone. "That was close!" He said to himself. No sooner had he said it had shuriken began whistling though the air towards him. Quick as a flash he withdrew and kunai and with a whirlwing flurry he deflected each one, and stood ready for a fight. "Come on out!" He called in to the forest.
    A figure descended from the trees, a kunai drawn, and landed a short distance away from Keigo. Jin stared at the ninja, his eyes filled with a quiet rage. 
    "Oh?" Keigo said. "You're just a kid. How did you escape?"
    "You killed them!" Jin snarled. "You killed them all!"
    "Nothing personal, kid." Keigo said, and he looked a bit disappointed. "I don't like killing people, if I can avoid it, but I've got orders."
    "I don't care!" Jin yelled. "...I can't forgive you!"
    "That's...too bad." Keigo said, and he readied his kunai. "I'm afraid I'll have to kill you too, unfortunately. Messy...messy."
    "I'll show you messy!" Jin roared, and he launched himself at Keigo. 
    [strong & Strike]
    Keigo's eyes widened as Jin came at him with alarming speed. He sprinted forward as well and the pair clashed kunai as they passed each other. Jin stopped and spun around, leaping and sweeping his leg around at Keigo's head. Keigo ducked and Jin leant backwards, landing on his hand and springing back to his feet, bounding forward and striking with his kunai. Keigo parried it again, and swung a punch at Jin's face. Jin narrowly dodged and countered with a swift punch to Keigo's stomach and followed with a knee to his ribs. Keigo doubled back but recovered in time to avoid another kunai strike and caught Jin's wrist. However the young ninja carried on, running up Keigo's body and kicking him in the face, freeing himself from Keigo's grasp and flipping backwards, sliding across the dirt. 
    "Shit!" Keigo spat. "You're fast for a kid!" He added as he sprinted forward, his kunai raised to strike. Jin leapt and flipped forward, bringing his heel down on Keigo's hand, causing him to drop the kunai. Jin landed on his feet but Keigo whipped back up with sudden speed and hooked him hard in the jaw. Jin fell backwards across the dirt, tumbling over and over before crashing in to the stump of a tree. Keigo wiped the blood from his lip and began to amble forwards, when Jin simply disappeared in a cloud of smoke. "What!?" Keigo gasped, but he didn't have enough time to say much else. A hand grabbed his heel from beneath the ground, and suddenly he felt himself being dragged into the dirt like it was quicksand, until only his head remained above ground. Then the earth began to tighten and solidify around him, trapping him. 
    A sandalled foot came down on Keigo's head, pressing firmly aginst it and pushing his head to the side at an awkward angle, causing him to wince in pain. 
    "Uh-oh..." Said a man's voice. "Looks like you got your ass handed to you by a kid." There was a soft tap on the ground near Keigo, and then Jin walked in to his line of sight. 
    "Any longer and he might have had me." Jin said with a cocky grin. "Once he realised I was using shadow clones he might have started trying harder."
    "Underestimating a child...bad move." Hisato said, and he pressed his foot down harder, causing Keigo to yell in pain. "But hey, at least you didn't kill anybody, your conscience is clear of that."
    "" Keigo asked through gritted teeth. 
    "Shadow clones, duh." Jin said. "And any ninja out of the academy knows transformation jutsu. You just had to think there was dead bodies. Although I can't take credit, it was sensei's idea."
    "You followed instructions perfectly." Hisato said, and he sounded a little impressed for once. "Come on, you've earned it." He held out his clenched fist towards Jin. "Come on, fist me."
    "Eh!?" Jin stifled his laughter, and began clutching his sides in an attempt to hold it in. 
    "What?" Hisato asked. "What'd I say?"
    "Er...nothing." Jin said, giving a little chuckle. "You're supposed to say 'pound it', not...well nevermind." Jin held out his fist and wrapped it against Hisato's. "So, what now?"
    "Well this guy is gonna answer some questions." Hisato said. "...and we'll just have to see how Yuri and Kaoru get on with following the other guy."
    "Yuri won't disappoint." Jin said with a confident nod. "And Kaoru-nii is with her, he'll protect her!"


  20. "This ain't a good idea, hoss." Al said as he watched Vincent re-arranging his apartment furniture, clearing a large space on the floor where he could place a magic circle. "Tha' book may have the answers but ye might not like the price ye pay."

    "Well we're all out of options." Vincent replied as he threw down the wire circle he kept for such occasions. "It's for Violet."

    "Thas the only reason I ain't forcin' ye to stop this with ma own hands, boy." Al said, shaking his head as he resigned himself to what had to happen. "Tha' book changed your father, y'know. He never let anyone know it's secrets an' it tore him up."

    "Spare me another pity party for my old man." Vincent said with contempt. "If he'd stuck around then maybe we wouldn't be in this mess."

    "Your father loved you, boy!" Al snapped. "Don' you ever think he didn't!"


    "He had a funny way of showing it." Vincent said, and he turned away from Al, ending that particular discussion. He picked up the Grimoire and stepped inside the circle on the floor, as Meredith finished sweeping the floor with a broom, keeping the area as clear as possible. She looked at Vincent with a worried expression. 

    "Are you sure this will work?" She asked. 

    "Only one way to find out." Vincent replied. "Now get out of the circle. I'll be sealing it on both sides, nothing gets in or out."

    "I'm comin' in with ye." Al said defiantly. 

    "No." Vincent said, shaking his head. "If Vael tries anything you're the only one who can do something about it. I need you to look after David and Meredith."


    "Then why don't I come in with you?" David offered. "Or am I just here to make tea now?" He folded his arms and looked expectantly at Vincent. 

    "Not a bad idea. If there was ever a time for a Holy man to be by your side it's now, Vincent." Al said. 

    "I don't think the G-man really has my best interests at heart." Vincent said, shaking his head.

    "You'd do well not to snub the White God, hoss." Al said, his tone grave. "With the life ye live, ye should know such bein's are a powerful force." Vincent looked at Al for a moment and let out a heavy sigh.

    "Fine, whatever." Vincent said, and he turned his head to David. "Inside the circle, then." David did as he was told, leaving Al and Meredith on the other side, looking concerned. Vincent lifted his hand up and pushed out his will, closing the circle. 


    Then he knelt down on the wooden floor, with David standing at his side, and the Grimoire placed in front of him. He opened the book and began to take slow and deep breaths. As he did he gathered his will and allowed it to flow out of him, feeling across the space within the circle until, after a few minutes, it had filled the space with his aura. He could sense the gentle thrum of energy that came from David, as well as the strange aura that came from the Grimoire. Then Vincent gathered his thoughts and began to speak, allowing his will to channel out through his words to give them power. 

    "Keeper of the Grimoire, I call upon thee." He said in a commanding voice. "Hear my voice and come forth, reveal thyself to me." The command was followed by a few moments of silence, and nothing seemed to happen. To the spectators, nothing had happened at all, but Vincent heard the Keeper's voice loud and clear within his mind. 


    "You require knowledge, Vincent Gideon Hallow." The Keeper said. "What would you ask of me?" Vincent spoke only one word. 

    "Intellectus." He said. For a moment the Keeper was silent, and when it spoke again it's tone was grave. 

    "You wish to take my knowledge unto yourself, in it's entirety? No mortal has ever done such a thing. The experience is likely to end your life."

    "I have no other choice at the moment." Vincent said. "Trying to browse the contents of the book through you is taking too much time. I don't know what questions I need to ask to find the answers. If I take all your knowledge then I can use it to save my sister."

    "The knowledge contained within me would crush you, Vincent Hallow." The Keeper said. "However, there is another option available to you."

    "Go on." Vincent said. 


    "I am The Keeper of the knowledge contained within this book. I am a construct designed to provide information to the one who holds this book, the one who has given blood and name freely."

    "I know that already." Vincent said irritably. "What other option are you talking about?"

    "You may do as those before you have done. All bearers inevitably come to this conclusion. To gain the knowledge you seek you must become knowledge."

    "Explain." Vincent said, his brow furrowing. 

    "This Grimoire is the knowledge of all who have come before you. That knowledge was provided through an agreement with the bearers. If you wish to do this, then I will allow you to speak to them."

    "Them?" Vincent said, his eyes wide with surprise at what he was hearing. "You contain the consciousness of each person who held this book?"

    "Correct." The Keeper replied simply. 


    Vincent didn't answer immediately. He reminded himself that the Keeper was not a person. It had no concept of morality, it did not understand emotion. What it had offered seemed simple and advantageous, but few things in life were that easy. There would be a cost, there always was. It was a fact so evident that it might very well have been a law of the universe. This was why summoning demons was frowned upon by the Wise. They would offer promises of great power, in exchange for something of the wizard's, and what they asked for was never good, and rarely a fair deal. Vincent felt like this was one of those situations. And yet, he had no other options available to him. He couldn't let Violet die. The cost was irrelevant. 

    "Do it." Vincent said finally. And then, without warning, his world collapsed. Literally. 


    The building began to crumble all around him, dispersing in to tiny particles. The walls, the floor, the tables, chairs, drawers, all of it crumbled. Even as the building disappeared, so too did the sky above him, and the ground beneath him. As far as the eye could see there was only a white, empty void. The sensation was frightening, but it was something distant, something fabricated. It's the kind of feeling you get when you realise you're dreaming, and that everything around you isn't quite right. He knew that the world hadn't really crumbled to nothingness, this was all just an illusion created through magic. He had entered a different consciousness, perhaps the one that resided within the book. 


    Then, slowly, shapes began to form. Stone bricks formed around him, the kind that were used in the medieval ages to build castles. There was a fireplace with an eerie, green fire burning away, illuminating the room which had the qualities of an old dungeon. It was dark and damp, and smelled of mildew. There was a small desk in the corner, and across the far wall there was a row of large, glass cases, the contents shrouded in darkness. He stood up from his kneeling position and slowly took a few steps. When he did he heard something suffling, and turned around to see a figure emerge from the shadows. As he came in to the green light, the figure revealed himself to be a man in his 50's. He was dressed in dark robes and had long, jet black hair and a thin moustache. His eyes were a striking emerald, much like Vincent's own. Combined with his features, the man bore a striking resemblance to Vincent. 


    "Let me're the ghost of Christmas past, right?" Vincent said. 

    "I am decidedly more complex than a mere shade, Vincent." The man replied, his accent vaguely English.

    "Ghosts usually don't think they're ghosts, y'know." Vincent said, walking around the man and looking him up and down. 

    "I can assure you I am well aware of what I am." The man responded. "I am a consciousness. A replica of the real thing, constructed through complex magical systems that have long been lost to the sorcerers of your time."

    "Neat." Vincent said, trying his best to sound unimpressed. "Look if you don't mind I came here to help my sister. Are you going to help or not?"


    "All in good time." The man said. "Time, interestingly, is not a particularly relevant factor in this location. So you can be sure you have plenty of it to spare."

    "Oh well in that case you better make us some tea and we can have a long chat." Vincent replied sarcastically. "The sooner we get this over with the sooner I can save my sister."

    "Such a thing is not a guarantee. Knowledge can be provided, but it will not ensure victory." The man said. "Do you know who I am?"

    "Nah." Vincent said. "Don't really care, either."

    "I am Asher." The man said. "Or rather I am his consciousness. The man himself has been dead for...around 500 years I think."


    "And why does this matter?" Vincent asked. 

    "Well, I am the first. I am the one who created the Grimoire, by going through great lengths. The shared knowledge of all known as Hallowed rests within this Grimoire, knowledge that can be used in our battle against the adversary."

    "Whoa, whoa, whoa." Vincent said, holding his hands up. "What do you mean 'adversary'? I think you skipped a few pages in your introduction there buddy."

    "Apologies." Asher said with a curt nod. "It is something you will inevitably learn of, but perhaps now is not the time. I assumed, since you have awakened your power, that you were aware of the adversary."

    "Yeah, well, that didn't happen on purpose." Vincent said. "And I didn't kill an adversary, I killed a Faerie Queen. Which is going to bite me in the ass one day, assuming I survive the current shitstorm."

    "Yes, your power can end even immortal beings." Asher said with a knowing nod. "A dangerous power indeed. That is why it is only bestowed on the Hallowed."


    "Hallowed?" Vincent said. "You mean Hallow, right? Like my family?"

    "Dear boy..." Asher said, shaking his head. "It is true that at some point, perhaps to keep with the times, the Hallowed chose to take on the name as their own. Hallow is, I suppose, your surname as it is the one your father took for you. However, this is not a heritage born of bloodlines, I'm afraid."

    "What do you-" Vincent shook his head. "Look! I don't want to deal with this right now! I need to know what is trying to kill my sister. I was told to ask, what would a God want with a living battery of magical energy."


    Asher spoke a word, one that Vincent had heard before. It was something he couldn't even attempt to pronounce, but he had heard Vael say it before. The word for Nagloshi, in their own tongue. 

    "Dangerous creatures." Asher said. "Though not as dangerous as Gods I should think."

    "Are we talking about Gods as in, like, what? Greek Pantheon? Buddha? Ra?"

    "Yes, all of them." Asher said with a nod. "It is quite likely that they all exist, although some have perished. At the hands of the Hallowed, actually."

    "So...Gods are real?" Vincent said. "I mean...I knew it was possible, sorta, but..."


    "The Gods of the past have faded, and so has their power. In order for a God to be powerful, it must be worshipped. If a God is preying upon a Nagloshi, then it seeks to reclaim it's power. If that is the case then it must be stopped. The Gods of old are great and terrible beings, if they came to power once more they could bring untold havoc. There was a time where they kept each other in check, but if one was to claim such great power again, there would be no one capable of defeating them."

    "Right, so how do I stop it?" Vincent asked. 

    "Hmm...well in order to know that I suppose you will have to do what you came here to do." Asher said. "You must join your knowledge with ours."


    "Ours?" Vincent asked. Asher merely waved his hand, and the eerie, green light grew brighter and illuminated the room. Vincent's gaze fell upon the glass containers on the far wall, and they became wide with horror. In each of the glass cases, stood a full size person, each of them still as if sleeping peacefully. His eyes fell on the most closest occupied case, and he swallowed as he recognised the person within it. "...Dad!" He gasped. "What...what the fuck is going on!?"

    "Please do not be alarmed." Asher said. "That is not your father. They are, like myself, merely replicas. They are a constructed consciousness."

    "...Why are they locked up like that?" Vincent asked. 

    "It is simply how your mind interprets it." Asher said. "I chose, on this occasion, to speak to you directly. If you so wish it you can seek advice from any of the other Hallowed, including Elias Wolfwood."


    "So I could...speak to him right now?" Vincent asked. His body was shaking. He hadn't seen his father since he was a boy, and even with the knowledge that this wasn't his real father, the image in front of him felt hauntingly real. "I...I can't. I can't deal with this right now." He said, as if trying to assure himself more than Asher. " want to make a replica of me, then? Is that it?"

    "Yes." Asher said. "It is a simple and painless procedure. Your identity, all that you are, will be replicated and stored within the Grimoire. Nothing will be taken from you, it is simply a copy. However, there are risks."

    "Such as?" Vincent said. 

    "Intellectus." Asher said. "While you hold the book, all knowledge within it will be yours to access. There are a few restrictions in place. The knowledge will be buried until you require it. However, if you are not careful you may expose yourself to too much. If that could destroy your mind. By doing this you gain far greater access to the knowledge we hold, but you are more vulnerable in doing so. Do you understand?"


    Vincent let out a heavy sigh, and took his gaze away from his father's body. "I do." He said with a hesitant nod. "Let's do it."





    Vincent opened his eyes to see that he was on his back. He felt a warm energy wash over him, and then he noticed that David was knelt over him, his palms together in prayer. He could feel David's strange power coursing through him, giving him energy. He sat up and David stopped, and gave a sigh of relief. "Thank the Lord in heaven!" He said, closing his eyes for a moment. "You passed out, and your heartbeat slowed to a crawl. I...I was worried."

    "I'm alright..." Vincent said, "Thanks, David. I mean it."

    "I only did what you would do for me." David said, and he helped Vincent to his feet. Vincent realised he was still holding the Grimoire. He thought about what had happened, and about Violet's situation, and then, miraculously, he just knew. He dropped the book to the floor in a panic. Knowledge not of his own had entered his head as if it had been there all along. It had felt entirely overwhleming, and that had only been a portion of what lay within the Grimoire. He took a deep breath, and the turned to David. 

    "Could you pick that up for me?" Vincent asked. "I really shouldn't be touching it any more."

    "Yes, of course." David said, and he reached down and picked the book up. "Is everything alright?"

    "Yeah." Vincent said. "I know what we need to do now. I'll need some time to prepare."

    "I'll make some tea, then." David said, and he gave Vincent a knowing smile. 

  21. Curtis had left Darkpine hours before the night had came. His entire family had packed up and left, travelling a 2 hour drive out of town on to a reserve, and a further 2 hour in to the depths of forests surrounding the rocky mountains. They had always went to the same place on a full moon, a cabin out in the middle of nowhere, away from civilization. The cabin had belonged to Curtis' grandather, Isaac, and had been the agreed territory for his pack during the full moon ever since. According to Sam, it was important to shift in a location that was familiar, something that their primal selves would understand to be their territory. This would stop them wandering off too far, and in general just made the whole experience a lot less stressful. 


    When night fell the only light in the forest was coming from their cabin, and music played from an old record player. The entire pack were sat around the large lounge room of the cabin. The air was thick with cigar smoke that danced around the room in a haze. The coffee table was littered with empty beer bottles and a couple of whisky bottles that were almost depleted. Curtis threw back the glass of whisky he held in his hand, it's contents burning his throat. Despite the appearance, this wasn't really a party. The music playing came from Granpda Isaac's old record collection, and it was music that was familiar to all of them and it had become a sort of ritual to play it on a full moon. The alcohol was also a ritual. 


    Werewolves heal quickly, and this includes the processing of alcohol within their body. The upside to this was no hangovers, the downside was you didn't stay drunk for very long. The lead up to the full moon was a time when the pack avoided alcohol, but on the night itself they made up for it. It might have been nice to get drunk with his family on any other night, but on these occasions it was out of necessity. As the time to shift grew nearer, the more the pack suffered. Curtis had awoke that morning feeling tired and irritable. By the afternoon he could feel a prickling heat through his body, his muscles ached with tension, he was always hungry, always horny. This was happening to all of them, which was a recipe for disaster. The alcohol was a way to provide some form of relief, to numb the sensations they were all feeling. 


    All except Sam, of course. The Alpha, himself, had not touched a drink all night, and seemed content with calmly and quietly overseeing everything. Becoming an Alpha is complicated, there are no set rules or procedures involved. Strictly speaking an Alpha is a werewolf who has truly accepted his primal nature, and has achieved full control through understanding and embracing that part of them.It's easier said than done, however, for wolves are not meant to be tamed. Curtis, at that time, could only curse the wild animal within. Even amidst the drunken haze, he could feel his skin prickling and the steady thump, thump, thump of the cluster headache pounding through his entire face. Nobody was speaking, nobody wanted to. Despite the good music, the drinks, they were all going through hell. 


    Justin seemed to be in a similar state to Curtis, and was quietly nursing a beer and nervously tapping his fingers over his leg. He was sat on a sofa across from Curtis, with his father, Cain, sat to his left and his mother, Rowan, to the right. Cain was huffing away on a cigar and sipping whisky, he looked irritable and grouchy but he was holding it together like a man who had been doing this for a lifetime. Rowan was laying on the sofa with her feet resting on Justin's lap. She was normally a very graceful woman who only spoke when there was something worth saying, but lying there she looked tired and old. 


    Curtis' other uncle, Dominic, was sat on an armchair with a beer in his hand. Dominic was the youngest of the three brothers, he had tanned skin and tired eyes, his hair a mess of short, black curls. Despite looking weary, his expression was gentle. He had always been that way since he had became a father, always tired but always grateful for what he had. His two boys weren't there, of course, they were too young to be a part of this. However his wife, Claire, was sat on his lap, her body draped around him in a fitting embrace that seemed to show just how in love they were. Claire wasn't always a werewolf, but she had taken to it like a duck does water. She had long, wavy, dirty blonde hair and she looked strong, despite the difficult time. It was clear to Curtis that she was the pillar that held her family unit together, a wilf and confident woman, a good mother, and a good wife. 


    For a moment Curtis thought of Vivian, but his mind was muddled and he was struggling to focus. He had always wondered what his mother had been like at these events. He remembered very little of her, but what he did remember was that she was gentle and wise. She had never looked at anyone judgmentally, and she was always smiling in the memories he had of her. He couldn't picture her necking back shots of liquor and wishing hateful shit on the world like he was. Curtis craned his head around to look at his father. Sam was stood across the room, resting his back against the wall with his arms folded. Stood not too far away from him was Marcus who, while also enjoying a beer like the rest of them, looked relatively calm. For a long time now, they had all had Marcus pegged to be the next Alpha. Curtis didn't like to think about that. After all if Marcus became the Alpha, it would be because Sam was dead. Hopefully, that would be a long time from now. 


    Sam had caught his eye, and suddenly became alert. He pushed himself away from the wall and eyed Curtis carefully. 

    "It's time." He said, and pointed at his own eyes, "You're showing." At this Curtis stood up, stumbling a little, and caught a look at himself in the mirror. His eyes were a bright yellow. He turned around to look at the rest of the pack, and noticed that each of their eyes had also became yellow. The full moon was out and it's power was coming to a head. Curtis knew what this meant, he had done it enough times now. The pack were slowly getting up, and Sam had made his way to the door and stepped outside. Curtis followed suit, pulling his t-shirt off as he went and throwing it on the floor. He joined his father outside, and was slowly removing his clothes as he did. The rest of the pack were following suit. 


    Being naked in a forest with your entire family is not a comfortable experience. The first time Curtis had joined the pack he had refused to remove his clothes. That night the clothes he had worn had been torn to pieces. He had learned quickly that this was something that the pack had to do. That didn't make it any more comforting though. The alcohol probably helped with this too, he thought. But even now he could feel his senses becoming sharper, the effects of the alcohol fading quickly. The pack gave each other a quick look over, and then they nodded collectively and waited for Sam to guide them. Sam looked up at the sky, and to the full moon overhead. He frowned. Curtis looked up too. 

    "" Curtis said. The moon in the sky was casting a sinister, crimson glow. He had never seen anything like it. 

    "Nothing to worry about." Sam said. "Probably just some freak meteorological thing. Come on, let's go." 


    The last part had carried the weight of a command with it. Sam's eyes had turned crimson, like the moon, and then he ran off in to the woods, melting in to the darkness. The pack followed, one after the other, they ran. Once Curtis had started running, he knew it would be hard to stop. The tension had reached it's climax, and there was something freeing about running that helped him let go. He knew that in a moment he wouldn't be able to think about his human concerns. He pushed away the pain pulsing through his body. Only running mattered. He could hear his family running around him, he could smell their scent carrying through the air. Then, for a moment, the pain become overwhelming. His body screamed as bones began to break and re-align, muscles tore and re-formed. It became unbearable and in the last moment Curtis let out a scream as he leapt forward through the air. 


    It happened quickly, but for Curtis it had felt slow and agonizing. Mid-leap, his body suddenly exploded in movement, and like a snake shedding it's skin, a wolf emerged from where a boy once was. The wolf was large and covered in thick, black fur. It's paws were as large as human hands, and it's eyes were a piercing yellow. The wolf padded slowly through the forest, it's nose to the ground, suddenly aware of all the new sensations that had appeared. He could smell a hundred different things, and with it a hundred different stories. He knew which animals had passed by this area, and which direction they had left in. The wolf's ears pricked and it raised it's head. Something rustled in the darkness. His head darted to the right quickly, catching something move. He felt an overwhelming urge to give chase, to catch this thing. He almost did, when his attention was entirely taken by a low and deep howl that flowed through the night. More followed, and each was unique and different. They were his kin, and he could identify each by their howl. However the first howl was the important one. It was the one that commanded absolute obedience. 


    The Alpha had called for him. He howled back in return, and then began to move through the forest to where he had heard the sound. He could sense other wolves converging in the area around him. The closer he came to the Alpha the more wolves appeared, until eventually they all stood together, circling and sniffing each other. The pack were mixture of colours, most with the same yellow eyes, except for the Alpha who had crimson eyes. The wolves all sensed the Alpha's heightened awareness. He was more than they were, he comprehended more than they could. If he had called them, then it was time to hunt. The Alpha had found prey, something large enough for them to eat. He licked his lips hungrily and looked searchingly for direction. Standing with the rest of his pack, the wolf felt stronger. Alone they were dangerous, but together they were unstoppable. The Alpha made a chuffing noise and then began walking quickly. The pack followed eagerly, ready to hunt. The wolf was hungry, and in it's eyes there was little on this earth that it did not consider to be prey. And prey was to be killed. 





    The doors to the E.R burst open as a body was pulled along hurriedly on a wheeled stretcher. The form was difficult to decipher. There were deep wounds and gashes, and lots of blood. Nurses rushed to the aid of the Paramedics, as they wheeled the young man through the corridors. It was chaos as people shouted orders at one another, and others rushed to retrieve equipment. Eventually the stretcher disappeared through a set of double doors, leaving only a lone middle-aged man ambling along behind. He was dressed in a policeman's uniform and wore a cowboy hat. The Sheriff had a harrowed expression as he stopped in his tracks, letting out a heavy sigh. 

    "Just what happened to that boy, Sheriff?" A nurse asked as she approached him.

    "Lord knows. We were called out about a traffic accident." The Sheriff said. "Sure enough we found him near his car. It was a wreck. Forensics are sweeping the scene as we speak."

    "A car accident?" The Nurse said. "But...those wounds. They looked like bite marks!" The Sheriff let out another heavy sigh. 

    "That they do." He said with a sombre nod. "Hard to tell what he got from the crash, he's a mess. But most of the wounds look like teeth marks, maybe claws. It's hard to tell, I haven't seen anything like it before."


    "But...what could have done that?" The Nurse asked

    "No idea. Wild cat, maybe a bear." The Sheriff replied, but he didn't sound too convinced by his answer. 

    " you think it's still on the loose?" The Nurse asked. 

    "Whatever did this...there wasn't any sign of it at the scene." The Sheriff said. "Besides, truth be told I've never seen a bear attack in this town. It's not like 'em to stray out from the forest too much. This is just...barbaric. Rest assured though, I have my best officers on the case. If this is a dangerous animal then we need to deal with it before there are other casualties. Hopefully the boy will wake up. I need to inform his family."

    "Who is he?" The Nurse asked. 

    "We were lucky we managed to I.D him at all." The Sheriff said. "He's one of the boy's on the college football team, Matt Haynes, Quarterback."

    "Oh God...that poor boy." The Nurse said, holding her mouth to her hands. "I hope he pulls through."

    "Me too...although even if he does..." The Sheriff shook his head wearily. "...his football days are over."

  22. "Hi!" Jin said in response, thrusting his fist out like he was punching the air, but he held it there like an offering. "I'm Hideo Jin, pleased to meet you." 

    "Satomi Sayuri. Call me Yuri." She replied with a smile, then looked down at the boy's fist. She pulled back one sleeve and grasped Jin's fist with her hand and shook it like a handshake.

    "Uh...alright!" Jin said, and he gave a little giggle. "Well, Yuri, I hope we can be friends, but I have to tell you..." Jin turned away from her and folded his arms across his chest. "...I'll be the one taking Sensei's money!"


    Hisato leapt out of a nearby tree, quickly pursued by Yuri who yelled across the courtyard, "No you won't!" And reached out to grab the note hanging from their teacher's belt. As she tried to grab it however, the Hisato in front of her disappeared in a puff of smoke and she over-extended, landing quite unceremoniously on her face. She tumbled across the ground and then they heard from nowhere, yet everywhere.
    "That's one secret!"
    Yuri picked herself up and brushed herself off, clenching her teeth in frustration, "Fine!" She barked, crossing her arms as she thought for a moment, "The Satomi clan use bugs in their jutsu!"
    "That's not a secret!!" Hisato's voice corrected.
    "Dammit... we bond with the bugs even when we're in the womb, it's the only way we can have that fully symbiotic relationship."
    "Better!" Hisato called back. Yuri grouched, crossing her arms and pouting further.
    "...Bugs, huh?" Jin said, his face fixed in what was a clearly forced smile. "That's...that's" He added, before shivering. 
    "R-really?" Yuri perked up and smiled at Jin. It wasn't every day that someone complimented her clan in that way. Even with her mother being the Hokage, people had a peculiar dislike of their jutsu. But it was all Yuri had ever known, it wasn't unpleasant to her. "Wanna see?" She asked.
    "Uh...yeah, sure." Jin said, shifting uncomfortably like the mere thought made his skin crawl. "Just remember, you have to give me another secret if you mess up again."
    Oblivious to Jin's discomfort, Yuri pulled back one sleeve of her jacket and held out her hand, holding out her forefinger in front of Jin's face. Then, the tip of her finger darkened, and the little black area grew out until it was in the air like a golfball-sized cloud of smoke, "They're really small, you can't really see them unless you look really close. But they're quite pretty..."
    Yeah, Jin thought, pretty creepy. But he forced another smile in an attempt to mask the fact he was screaming internally. He couldn't help but think it might be useful though. Lot's of ninja clans had special relationships with animals, and used those bonds to extend their skills in the field. The thought of using bugs, however, was still an uncomfortable thought. "That's a pretty unique skill...I can't say I have anything like that." Jin said, although he didn't seem to feel too bad about it. "My dad trained me in Taijutsu, and my mom...well she works a lot so she hasn't taught me much, just one ninjutsu." What Jin hadn't mentioned was that during this conversation, he had been watching. His father, Isamu, had always stressed the importance of observation, and that mastery of the skill was far more useful than any ninja technique. When Hisato had disappeared, he had suspected that the figure that had stood there was a clone. Yuri's brief altercation only confirmed that suspicion. 
    "Listen, Yuri." Jin said. "Sensei is a Jounin. So attacking head on is out of the question. As long as he can predict our movements then he can control the flow of battle, and we won't stand a chance. Standing out here we're too easy to anticipate. So...I'm going to hide, see ya!" And with that Jin went off at a sprint, disappearing in to the trees. 
    [bad Situation]
    Yuri opened her mouth to speak, but it was too late, Jin was gone. She puffed out her cheeks in frustration, but then something occurred to her. She grinned and held out her arms, and the little black cloud was dwarfed as a large black mass spewed from the ends of her sleeves, fluttering them as they left. They hovered in the air for a moment, and then dispersed. "I'll find him first, Jin!" She called out, and sauntered across the courtyard, waiting for the telltale signs. Hidden among the trees, Jin smiled at Yuri's response. 
    "I'm counting on it..." He said to himself. Then he placed his hands together to form a seal, and released his chakra. 4 perfect clones of Jin appeared in the tree branches around him. "Spread out and find Sensei, don't worry about making a ruckus."
    "On it!" The clones said in unison, and the each of them disappeared in different directions through the trees. Jin stayed where he was, watching Yuri carefully. "Sorry to use you as a decoy, but that money is mine."
    A few seconds passed and then Yuri paused, mid-step. She frowned and turned her head at an angle, "Why are there five of you...?" She muttered, but at that moment, she felt something. They'd found him. Hisato exploded out of a nearby bush and Yuri dove towards him but missed, he was just too fast.
    "Secret!!" Hisato barked, as he vanished.
    "My bugs can secrete a variety of oils and toxins!" She barked back, "Including a paralysing toxin, and the secret is you've been bitten!!" She yelled irritably, but then smiled at her triumph. Though, she suspected their leader knew about her abilities and had come prepared, so she didn't sit around waiting. Equally, she knew he was just too fast, she was going to have to work with Jin, or else neither of them would win the prize. "Jin!!" She called out, "Pincer?!"
    In response, Jin shot out from the trees in front of Hisato and made a beeline for him. However Hisato was still to fast, and swung a right, running off with Jin and Yuri hot on his heels. Then, to Hisato's surprise, three more of Jin leapt out from the trees and cut him off. The first leapt at him with a spinning kick, which Hisato deftly blocked with his arm and brought his other fist up, catching the clone straight in the chest, followed by a pop and a cloud of smoke. The second slid across the ground to kick his feet out from under him, but Hisato leapt up and kicked the clone in the face and it also disappeared. The third came at him head on with a punch, which he deflected and struck back, dispersing it also. However by this point the real Jin and Yuri had closed in on him. Hisato turned and smirked, as the pair rushed him with fist's clenched. As the fists collied with him, there was a pop and a rush of smoke, and Jin lay on the floor, clutching his face. 
    [Fooling Mode]
    "Eh!?" The other Jin stammered. 
    "Idiot! Why'd you punch me!?" The real Jin yelled, clearly considering he hadn't disappeared like the other clones. 
    "Why'd you get in my way, idiot!?" The clone roared back. 
    "I didn't I was hiding in the tree, idiot!" The real one screamed. 
    "But you're right here! Idiot!" The clone yelled. 

    "Stop... arguing with yourself." Yuri raised an eyebrow. And people thought she was strange. She shook her head, "Hey, wait... do clones count as attempts?"


    "Indeed they do." Hisato's voice echoed around them once more. "Jin, you now owe 5 secrets."

    "What!?" Jin barked. He cursed and placed his hands together, dispelling the clone and then sat huffing on the grass. He gave a heavy sigh and then lay back on the grass, staring up at the sky. "Fine...well where should I start?" He said rhetorically. "Well I do have one secret, but it's not mine to tell. A ninja is supposed to hold the secrets of others dear, so I won't tell you that. Well the first thing is, I'm actually thirteen years old. I failed my first exam at the academy and had to wait another year. Second is...let's see...oh, the ninjutsu I used is called a Shadow Clone. It's the only ninjutsu technique that I know besides the basics. Thirdly, bugs really creep me out. I'm sorry, I didn't want to hurt your feelings."

    "Oh..." Yuri's expression sunk, but was quickly replaced with a devious smile, "That's fine. I guess i'll just have these back then." And as she finished speaking, a thin black mist rose up from Jin's body and returned to Yuri, disappearing into her sleeves.



    Jin froze, like a statue. His eyes slowly moved to look at Yuri, but his body remained still, like a painting with eyes that follow you. "Y-you...they...on me...I..."

    "They're not on you any more." Yuri rolled her eyes, "I just thought it'd be a good way to get to this." Yuri pulled out Hisato's note and snapped it, "We got it!!" She called out, a few seconds passed and then Hisato appeared in front of them. 
    "No, you don't. Cloning a piece of paper is academy-level." Hisato pulled his note off his belt and held it out in front of them, "Right?"
    "You can all come back, too." Yuri replied, and then the note in Hisato's hand dissipated, changed colour and returned to her as a small puff of black smoke. "We win!"
    "You mean you win." Jin said. "I just tried to play get it for myself."
    [Daylight of Konoha]
    "Yeah, and I did the same thing to you, but /we/ won." Yuri replied with a smile, letting Jin hold the note, "I knew I wasn't fast enough to get close to Hisato-sensei, so I planted my bugs on you, and they transferred when you got close enough. If not for you, we wouldn't have it." Jin mused on this and examined the note. Maybe they hadn't gone the right way about it, but they had managed to complete the task. Perhaps that was what mattered. As he looked at the note he frowned. 
    "Hey...wait a minute!" He said as he swiped his thumb over all the zeros, and noticed that they had come off in his hand, until only the number 1 was left. "You tricked us!"
    "Hahaha!" Hisato's let out his barking laugh as he threw his head back. "You guys didn't think I was gonna let you get your hands on my cash, did you?"
    "That's not fair, you told us we'd win a lot more!" Yuri crossed her arms as her temper blossomed, "You made a promise, we told secrets, and now you have to buy us lunch." She grinned, "At... Ibiki's." Hisato raised his eyebrow at Yuri and folded his arms. 
    "I'll tell you what." Hisato said. "I'll buy you lunch if you can pass the real test. You might have completed the objective, but you did so by using each other. If you pull that kind of crap on a mission you could get each other killed. So why don't you each tell me what you have learned about each other, and if you answer correctly then lunch is on me."
    "Well." Jin said as he pushed himself off the ground and stood up. "I learned that my Sensei is a trickster who doesn't play by the rules. I suppose our enemies won't play by the rules either, so that kind of attitude is probably useful. As for Yuri..." Jin turned to her and looked her over for a moment. "Her bugs are pretty creepy, but they're useful. With Yuri's abilities we can perform reconaissance effectively and possibly avoid fighting altogether in most situations. Even if we do get in a fight, well, it's like my dad taught me. Interpreting your opponents next move is one thing, but Yuri forces her opponent to make the move she desires, and as such she controls the flow of battle far more effectively than someone who merely knows the next move."
    "More rules..." Yuri muttered, "I've learnt I can't trust a word that comes out of my Sensei's mouth, this is probably just another trick." She let out a deep sigh, "But, I also learnt that working together is more important than winning at any cost. I learnt that I could bolster my own weaknesses by using the strengths of my comrade. I'm pretty strong, and fast, I think," Hisato grinned at her and raised an accusatory eyebrow, "For a genin! Alright.... but, Jin is faster, yeah... and I don't know how to make shadow clones. I probably can't, actually, even halving my chakra once would be a bad idea, plus my clones wouldn't be able to exist without the bugs, they regulate too much of my system." She let out another sigh and shook her head, "Teamwork wins, Jin is almost as smart as me, blah blahblah." She grinned sheepishly.
    "I guess that'll do." Hisako said, giving his team a hearty grin. "Come on then, let's go eat!"
    "Finally!" Jin said, throwing his hands in the air in exasperation. "Oh I guess that's another secret. I have a really high metabolism, so I eat a lot."
    "You stuff your face all the time and you'll get fat, kid." Hisato said. 
    "Yeah my dad thought so too. But you ask him, I can eat 10 bowls of ramen and still have room for desert. And..." Jin tapped his stomach to show how firm it was. "Not a scrap of fat on me."
    "10 bowls?" Hisato said with a sigh. "I'm regretting this offe for lunch already."
    "Oh I'll make sure that you do." Jin said with a cocky grin. Then the trio laughed and made their way back to town. 

  23. The story of our past is one that is etched in bone by the point of a blade. For as long as can be remembered humanity has waged war against one another. Factions formed and rose up against one another to control the land and make their mark as rulers. Nations rose and fell, but the fighting never ended. In order to employ more effective means of fighting one another, the ninja were born. Expert fighters who specialised in sneaking in to enemy territory undetected using special equipment and tools, and no short supply of skill. At some point in time humanity discovered chakra, and with that ninjutsu was born. Utilising the inner power of chakra, ninja were capable of strange and powerful abilities which were used to crush their foes. In the end ninja only made the fighting worse, and so the war went on. 


    It was at this point that the ninja decided that change was in order. The ninja of each country worked together and formed their own Hidden Villages within each nation. Inside this village the strongest of the shinobi was appointed as the leader, awarded the title of Kage. The Kage of each village would take requests from all people, and decide which ninja to dispatch on any mission, considering the money being offered, the difficulty of the mission, and whether the mission should be taken at all. And so it is now that each village thrives thanks to the ninja who do the difficult tasks that the every day folk cannot. This is a story of one such village. A village in the vast forest of the Land of Fire. 


    A village hidden within the leaves. 






    [Chain Explosion - Naruto The Last OST]



    Footsteps cut through the trees with the speed and grace of the wind. Three figures dressed in black moved under the cover of night, their presence concealed. As the trees began to thin out they spread out and went off in different directions. One figure was dressed in tight fitting, black gear, with a metal breastplate, hidden under a dark purple poncho that flowed in the wind as she hopped from tree to tree. Finally she breached the forest and the cover of the leaves. She wore a black mini-skirt and long stockings, a pair of simple black sandals on her feet. Her head was covered by a purple scarf that was tied around her forehead like a bandana, long red hair flowing out from the back of it. 


    She landed on the soft grass with barely a sound, and sprinted across it and ducking behind a nearby formation of rocks. She stopped to catch her breath under the white, taking sharp breaths under the white, featureless mask she wore over her face. She chanced a glance over the rock and examined her target. A short distance away was a stronghold, a fort manned with guards along it's walls. The woman gave lifted her hand and gave three distinct signals, communicating to her comrades that were hidden nearby. As soon as she had done so, two other black shapes shot out from nearby hiding places and tore off towards the fort. 


    The red-haired shinobi followed suit, moving from her hiding spot and sprinting through the grassy plain that lead to the fort. When she came to the wall she tapped off the ground with her feet and simply continued running, moving up the wall with the same speed and grace as she had on the ground. Then as she reached the edge she grabbed it and pulled herself over, flipping through the air and landing with a soft thump on top of one of the guards, pushing his head hard in to the floor to knock him unconscious. Her fingers felt around his neck for a pulse, and quickly found one. It was faint but the man was still alive. The shinobi pressed on, speeding down the fortifications outer wall until she found an opening and leapt, descending down on to the tiled roof of on of the buildings, allowing herself to slide down it's inclined side, and dropped off the edge. 


    She hit the dry dirt with a tap and stood up, looking around. She heard the murmuring of two people talking. It was coming from her left, from around the corner. It was growing louder. She moved to her right and around the corner of the building, pressing herself tight against the wall, and listening. The people were talking about something irrelevant, she didn't bother to make a mental record of it, but instead listened to it's volume. She waited until the noise had faded, and then she moved from the wall and continued on her path. Inside her head was a mental map of this fort, one constructed by the hard work of multiple reconnaissance missions. She knew where she was, and where she must go. 


    She made her way quietly across the fort, moving in between the buildings for cover. Before long the had reached the building she needed and moved round to the side of it. Then she scaled the wall and grabbed the ledge of a window, slowly pushing it open and climbing inside. She adjusted quickly to the warm glow of the lamps lighting the inner corridor. The light would completely invalidate her camouflage, but she was on the home stretch. She had to keep moving, trusting that her comrades would be in position as well. She moved down the corridor and took a sharp right, and descending the stairs to the lower floors. Then she made her way to a sliding door and pushed it across, finding herself in a fair sized room with grass mat floors and a small shrine on the other end. She walked across the room to the shrine and inspected it. The ornate lion figure was familiar to her, she felt around it carefully until she found the hidden latch she knew was there. She pressed it and a small compartment popped open at the front. 


    It was empty. She froze for a second, surprised by the realisation. They had found it. If they had done so, had they known the importance of the statue after all? How much did they know? Perhaps they could even anticipate that she would be here. If that was the case then...


    Alert to the danger, she turned to leave the room, only to find her way barred by a lone figure. The young man was slim with athletic muscle. He was dressed in a tight fitting, sleeveless top, and had long black gloves on each arm. He was wearing baggy cargo shorts and sandals, and he wore a strip of cloth tied around his neck, with a metal plate over the front showing a strange symbol on the front. His hair was a grayish white and cut straight at his collar. "Pleased ta meet ya, Anbu-chan." He said, with a sly fox-like grin. "Don't tell me ya gotta skedaddle already? I was hopin' ta show ya our special brand of hospitality."

    The red-haired shinobi's hands blurred as she formed a particular set of seals. There was a popping noise and clouds of smoke exploded at either side of her. She darted towards the figure, and from the smoke came two more shinobi, exact copies of her. She reached the white haired shinobi and pulled a kunai from her pouch, swinging it at his throat. With his sly grin still in place the shinobi leaned back casually, the tip of the kunai narrowly missing his neck. Then he pulled his leg up and out, kicking her in the chest and sending her back in to the room as one her clones came at him with another kunai. He nimbly dodged the strike, allowing her arm to stretch over his right shoulder. He lifted his arms and grabbed hers, locking her in place, before birning up his knee and catching her in the stomach, causing the clone to explode in to smoke and disappear. Then the ninja dodged the blow of the third by ducking down and sweeping out his leg to knock her feet out from under her. As she hit the ground he brought his hand down and clasped it around her throat, choking her until she stopped struggling and disappeared with a pop. 


    Meanwhile the real version stood up from inside the room. She gingerly rubbed at her stomach for a moment, and then readied herself. 

    "Shadow clones, eh?" The white haired shinobi said with a grin. "Ya gonna have ta do better than that." 

    "I'll show you just what I can do!" The red haired shinobi said quietly. The she sprinted forward and brought her leg up for a kick to his side. He lifted his arm to block it and struck back with his other arm. A flurry of punches and kicks ensued as each of the ninja brought blows to one another, before finally, the white haired ninja brought a Kunai out from his own pouch, and stabbed it violently in to her neck. The red-haired Shinobi froze in shock for a moment. Then, like the others, she disappeared with a pop and a burst of smoke. 

    "Another 'un!?" The white haired ninja said through clenched teeth. He spun on his heel and sprinted from the building only to see the red-haired shinobi rejoin her comrades, and sprint off over the wall of the fort. The white-haired shook his head, but another sly grin appeared on his face. "Doesn't matter. Konoha are in fer some bad times ahead."








    A young boy sat himself up in bed, stretching and letting out a big yawn. His hair was medium length and spiky, and he had a pair of dark blue eyes. He got out of bed dressed in white pajamas with little green lizards on them, and shuffled over to his closet. He took out his clothes and got dressed, swapping the pajamas for a pair of black three-quarter length shorts, a pair of black sandals, a fishnet vest, and finally a white jacket with a high collar and black stripes down each sleeve. He left his room and made his way downstairs where he found a plate on the table with a bowl of rice and a small note next to it which read:



    Had to head out for a while. Left you some breakfast. Good luck today. 



    Jin smirked and lifted the bowl off the table, gobbling up it's contents in mere seconds. Then he patted his stomach and let out a relieved sigh. On the table next to the bowl was a forehead protector with the leaf-like symbol of the village he lived in, Konohagakure. He picked it up and examined the symbol for a moment, a bit of pride swelling inside him. Then he took the forehead protector and tied it around his head. In Konoha, to be given a forehead protector was a sign that an academy student had graduated, and had began their path as a ninja. Jin had become a Genin, the first raknk of ninja, and today would be his first day of working in that role. He was to meet his new Jounin leader, an accomplished ninja, who would guide him on his journey, along with another Genin who he would be paired with. 


    He turned around to leave his house only to see the door open. A women stepped inside, dressed in leggings and a knee-length purple skirt, and a black t-shirt, with a purple scarf wrapped loosely around her neck. The woman had dark blue eyes and red hair just like her son, and when she caught sight of him she gave a soft smile. "Oh, you're still here." She said. "I've just got back."

    "Mom!" Jin exclaimed, "I was just about to leave. I have my first mission today!"

    "Yes, I remember." His mother said. 

    "How did yours go?" Jin asked. 

    "It...well you know I can't talk about it." she replied, giving an awkward and forced smile. "Nothing you have to worry about anyway."


    Hideo Jin was the son of two well known ninja. His father, Isamu, was a Jounin assigned to serve and protect the most important ninja in the village, the Hokage. His mother, Saya, was a member of Konoha's elite special ops ninja known as the ANBU. He knew very little about what she did, and most people in the village didn't even know of her position. While operating as an ANBU shinobi she had a code name, and a mask, to protect her identity. However to Jin, Saya was just his mother. She was a kind woman who was very encouraging, and a better cook than his father. He struggled to picture her dressed in the garb of a ninja, going on dangerous missions. But he knew she was strong, so strong that he wanted to be just like her. 


    "Do you know who my leader is?" He asked Saya. 

    "Of course I do." Saya replied with a smile. "But it's more fun for you to find out on your own."

    "Aw c' he tough? I mean I guess he has to be or...hey wait is it a girl!?"

    "Go find out for yourself." Saya said, and she gave her son a hug. "I have faith in you, I know you'll do well."

    "Thanks, I'll make you proud." Jin said. 

    "I already am." Saya replied, and she let go of her son and let him leave. "Go on, you don't want to be late."


    "I'll tell you all about it when I get back." Jin said with a confident grin. Then he walked out the door. When it closed behind him, Saya's warm smile faded and was replaced by a cold and distant look. She had failed today, failed in a mission that could bring great danger to the villagers of Konoha, and danger to her son. She wanted to sleep, but she knew that she would have to leave again soon. She had much to report. 


    Jin walked over the steps in the street near his house and made his way in to an open market area. Beyond that were rows of houses, buildings, watch towers and beyond that was the academy where he had trained. Even further still was the Hokage's office, and beyond that a great rocky mountain that stood over Konoha. Etched in to the stone were the faces of each Hokage that had served the village. In total there were now 7 faces up on the wall, the rightmost one being the current Hokage. Jin wondered if, perhaps, his own face would be carved upon that mountain. Or maybe it would be his partner who would have that particular glory. He knew she was a girl, but he hadn't been told who it was yet. He wondered if they would be good friends, or perhaps they would be rivals. There seemed to be endless possibilities in front of him, and for the first time in a while. he was totally excited about his future. 

  24. In the morning Curtis had woken up early, as was normal. He had gotten a shower and dressed himself in a simple white t-shirt and a blue overall he wore for work. He went down the stairs and in to the kitschy living room to find his father sitting on the sofa with a cup of coffee in hand, a half eaten plate of scrambled eggs and toast on his lap. He looked up at Curtis, looked him over, and then inclined his head backwards towards the kitchen. "There's coffee in the pot, and your breakfast is in the oven keeping warm." He said. Curtis wasn't really used to his dad being up before him, or having breakfast made for him. He just nodded and went to the kitchen to get himself a coffee and his own plate of scrambled eggs and toast.


    He sat on the armchair across from Sam and took a sip of his coffee. It was black, and bitter, but contained the rejuvenating nectar that was caffeine, and so it was good.  They sat in silence while he ate, he wasn't sure what to say. When he had arrived home the previous evening, Sam had wanted to talk to him, but he had ignored him and went straight to bed. He got the feeling that his father had risen early and made him breakfast with the express purpose of making sure they would talk. Curtis wasn't sure if he was ready for that yet. Somehow, he didn't think it mattered any more. Sure enough Sam cleared his throat and Curtis rested back in his chair, waiting for an explanation. 


    "So..." Sam said, pausing to choose his words. "Did Vivian explain anything to you?"

    "Yeah." Curtis replied. "She did."

    "Care to tell me what?" Sam asked. 

    "Not really." Curtis said. "How about you talk, and I'll see if what you say adds up with what Vivian said."

    "I'm not going to lie to you, boy." Sam said. 

    "You've lied to me my whole life, apparently." Curtis said, a jab of anger in his words. 


    "I didn't lie. I just...I was waiting for the right time." Sam said, his head lowering in shame. 

    "Your splitting hairs on that one." Curtis said. "Don't even try to justify it, because it wasn't right."

    "Curtis...I just wanted..." Sam sighed and shook his head. "I didn't want this for you. I wanted you to live as much of your life as possible without knowing. I didn't want it to hold you back, to make you feel more pressured."

    "I know why you did it." Curtis said with a nod. "I understand. Really, I do. That doesn't mean it was right, though. You should have told me. I could have been prepared for this. I mean Vivian said it was a curse, that it wasn't our fault, or yours. She said it started with her Grandmother, and Grandpa Isaac."


    "That's right." Sam said with a nod. "Your Grandpa had accepted it by the time I was born. He introduced me to Penelope when we were children. He didn't want us to resent each other, he thought it would endanger us both. It worked for a time. Penelope and I were friends to some fashion when we were children. We might have even been closer than that at some point...I'm not sure, I wasn't the brightest of kids. That all changed though, when your Emily came along." Curtis' gaze fell to his feet at the utterance of his mother's name, but his father continued. "I was head over heels for your mother. Penelope became a nuisance to me, having to protect her like that...I resented her for it. That was my fault, though. I was young and arrogant. Emily always understood though, she often took Penelope's side when there was an argument. Then when you were about 5 years old, Penelope had little Vivian. I was...furious."


    "Why?" Curtis asked.

    "Because it wasn't like it was an accident. She went to great lengths to have a child. She did it knowing I had my own child, and knowing that doing so would make you and her child vulnerable to the same curse, and the same life. I couldn't forgive her for that. That was when I cut my ties with her, as much as I could. We agreed to stay away from each other, and keep our children away from each other until the time came. Of course when she was in danger I would have to come running, but outside of that we never spoke. We still don't."

    "But...she's allowed to have a kid, Dad." Curtis said. "I did. You knew it was a risk but you had me."

    "I never said it was justified to treat her like that." Sam replied. "I'm not proud of my actions back then. I had only just become an Alpha, and I was still getting used to that responsibility. But...then your mother got sick a year or so later. She...well I knew she was going to die. I stayed by her day and night for weeks. Then one night a man came to Darkpine, someone who had a score to settle with me. He kidnapped Penelope, and of course, I came running. I made sure he paid dearly for doing that."


    "That was...the night Mom died, wasn't it?" Curtis said. 

    "Yeah." Sam said, nodding. "She died while I was off protecting Penelope. It wasn't her fault...but this curse stopped me from saying goodbye to Emily. It has interfered with my life so much, and I just don't want that for you. I wanted you to have a normal life."

    "Normal?" Curtis said. "We're Werewolves, Dad. Normal is a bit of a stretch."

    "That's a fair point." Sam said in agreement. "But here we are. Now you know the truth, and like it or not, protecting Vivian is your responsibility."

    "Well...I don't know how I feel about that." Curtis said. "I wanted to kill Lex the other night. What if I kill someone, Dad? I don't want to become a murderer."


    "I wouldn't worry too much about that." Sam said. "The curse had you react like that because you weren't aware. So it pulled on your instincts. Now that you'll recognize the signs. If you try to ignore it then you'll be forced to action like last night, but if you make the choice to protect Vivian then you will be able to approach the danger rationally. You are bound to protect her, you don't have to kill anything if you don't want to."

    "Well...that's a relief." Curtis said. "Well then I guess it's okay for now. I mean I don't have a girlfriend to get in the way, so it should be a little easier, right?"

    "It might be." Sam said with a nod. "Don't think I haven't noticed how she looks though. Spitting image of her mother. Don't get any ideas there, you hear me?"

    "Uh...what?" Curtis said, looking anywhere but at his father. "I don't know what you're talking about."


    "She's a Witch, son." Sam said. "And protecting her, situations like that can make your emotions run a bit high. But you have to remember that you're a wolf, and your partner in life must also be a wolf. Isaac turned your Aunt Rowan, and your mother. I turned Claire for Dominic. I won't do that to Vivian."

    "Are you for real?" Curtis said, incredulously. "I only met her last night. Give me a break, weirdo." Curtis stood up from the chair and took his plate through to the kitchen. He came back to see his father standing up. "So we better get to work." Curtis said. 

    "Actually, about that." Sam replied. "I need you to work late tonight"

    " come?" Curtis asked

    "You need to fix that Vampire's car. He's a customer." Sam said with a smirk. "Considering what he is, you'll need to work at night."





    It wasn't quite nightfall when Curtis pulled up to Lex's house. Although he noted that the cover provided by the trees meant there wasn't a great deal of sunlight that could get through. He wondered if this was perhaps intentional. He pulled up outside and got out of his car, carrying a bag of tools with him. He walked up to the door, and he heard the slightest of noises, little signs of movement. Lex had probably heard him arrive. He tensed for a moment, he wasn't entirely sure how Lex would react. The last time he had saw him he was trying to hurt him. But he had damaged his car, so he owed Lex an apology, and he'd repair his car. It was the least he could do. He took another few steps and then knocked loudly on the door. 


    "Lex. It's, uh...It's Curtis." He said loudly. "I wanted to take a look at your car if...if that's okay."


    A moment passed. Nothing. Then the door opened.