I hit the first ANBU before their feet hit the ground. Badass elite shinobi or no, physics was on my side and they went flying into a nearby tree. Dread crept up on me as I tried to force jump backwards. It wasn’t fast enough. A weighted cord caught my foot and with a sharp tug my momentum went from sideways to straight down.
Eating dirt was never a pleasant experience.
I tried to get my arm under me when what felt like a knee pushed me back down. A hand tore my wig off before grabbing my hair and yanking my head back. Black steel entered my vision and I gasped as it came hurtling forward then stopped short.
Blinking my eye lashes actually brushed the tip of the kunai as it was held aloft by a frozen hand. Not literally, though that wouldn’t surprise me, but still as a statue. The shock only lasted for another second before I pulled my arm out from under me and unsealed my blade. Channeling chakra, it only took a quick swipe before the knife was out of my sight, along with the hand I’d severed from the wrist.
There was a scream as the previously frozen -female from the voice- shinobi reeled back from having part of their limb amputated, releasing some of the weight from my back. I took that opportunity to roll away, getting my feet under me and slashing at the snare on my leg. By the time I’d gotten upright and got a look at the battle the screaming had stopped as the female ANBU clawed at a bubble of water that was encasing her head.
Ouch, someone had bubble headed her while she was screaming, which meant that she probably already had water in both lungs. It would require an immense pain tolerance as well as using chakra to physically stop your bodily reactions to keep your mouth closed through that. This ANBU, it seemed, had neither, because she slumped forward a few seconds later from the lack of oxygen.
Or maybe the lack of blood from the still bleeding arm.
I immediately searched the clearing for Suigetsu, my first guess for the bubble head, but what I found was the young girl from before holding a hand out near the ANBU. My eyes drifted towards the tree I’d sent the first ANBU into and found they were gone- no, wait. Not gone, buried up to their neck in mud.
“That looks like an interesting story.” A voice came from the other end of the clearing. I kept my stance low and held my blade up in a defensive position.
“They just tried to murder her.” The blonde girl said as she let her hand drop. Water splashed on the ground as the bubble followed suit.
“Well, she certainly gave more than she got.” Purple hair leaned over the female ANBU, looking at the still bleeding stump.
“Yeah, she did,” Top knot said as he walked forward, “We captured this one, what do we do with…”
There was a burst of smoke as the figure in the mud mound disappeared and a spurt of blood erupted from the side of top knot’s neck. I jumped backwards, barely avoiding the ninjito, not that it mattered because the follow up kick clipped my side and sent me spinning. I could only sense them when they made contact, but other than that there was none of the usual sense of dread that accompanied their arrival. They wanted to kill me, but they were suppressing the intent the same way Zabuza could.
“Typhoon Release: Sweeping Burst.”
The strong concentrated wind knocked me back into the ground, but since that wasn’t a very far fall, I didn’t take much damage. It was a different story for the ANBU, who went flying over my head and slammed face first into the tree. As the wind died down I rolled to my feet and built up the energy in my blade before flickering forward and slashing outward. The sword cut through the shinobi, as well as the tree he was temporarily stunned into, bisecting both.
Flicking my blade out to remove excess blood I pulled it back into a ready position as I darted back into the clearing. Was I a bit on edge? Yes. Was that totally justified since I had no idea who else was coming? Definitely.
I was met by the sight of the blonde, the bluenette and the purple haired dude all surrounding top knot, who was being tended to by short hair. They looked at me as I held my sword aloft, eyes shifting. We stayed like that for a few seconds even as I stared into the woods for any other attackers.
When none came, I set the handle under my arm, used a wrap to wipe away the blood, and sheathed my sword before flickering just past them to top knot. Startled by my appearance, short haired dude nearly let go of where he was holding his hands against the bleeding.
“Get out of the way.” I shouldered him as I let some clean wraps snake out from my arm and encompass the wound. My chakra pulsed through the wraps as I knit closed the artery and the skin of the neck. Even as I did that, I reached out with my bare hand and did a very simple hand check. The clammy skin that met my touch wasn’t good, “Do you know his type?”
My question was met with blank stares. “Really? None of you, fine.”
Unsealing a cord, I tapped his arm for a vein and plunged it in before I did the same with my arm and started the exchange. Honestly I needed to start just storing packs of blood away for just this sort of occasion. I was a universal donor, but I was so small it wasn’t practical for me to do field donations like this.
A hand reached down and touched my shoulder, “Is he going to be alright?”
“The blade wasn’t poisoned from what I can tell.” I turned to see blue hair, “He just lost a lot of blood. Even with a donation, he’ll need to eat iron rich foods to help his recovery.”
“What the hell just happened?” Purple said, “Why are a bunch of people here to kill a tiny med nin?”
“Well, we have some time at least. Assuming more aren’t coming,” The blonde girl paused, “Are more coming?”
“Yes.” This voice all but appeared right behind everyone involved, causing the group to jump.
“God damn it!” I screamed at him, “Why the fuck do you have to do that? I’m in the middle of a field surgery for fuck’s sake.”
“We don’t have time for that. We have to move.” He reached down and bodily grabbed me.
“Woah, woah, I’m still attached!?” I reached out and clenched the arm of top knot, who was pulled limply with me. “He still needs blood. You’re not taking me without him.”
“Why in the world would I…”
“They saved me okay?! One of them froze an ANBU in the middle of a killing shot, the other knocked them away in time to let me kill them. Now if we’re bolting, pick up my goddamn patient.”
“We don’t have time for this.” Zabuza groaned before grabbing the other person under his arm. He then glanced backwards at the rest of the group, “If you want to come, come, but I’m not slowing down.”
“What about the, oh nevermind.” Purple started but turned around the same time I did to see that mister encased in rubber had been beheaded.
“Yeah, there’s no point in capture. So hurry up, we need to get to a secure location.” Zabuza said, before he stood fully and took me and top knot, set us both on Rio and picked up the hinny before jumping off into the trees.
“You’re not killing them.”
“You realize that might be necessary.” Zabuza sat across from me in another shallow cave.
“It’s fucking not and you know it, if they were associated with Kiri we would have fucking known about it.” I snapped.
“What if they are mercenaries?”
“Oh, are there mercenaries? I didn’t know that was on the short list of people who are trying to you know, KILL ME.” My first smacked the stone and echoed, not that it mattered. We had a sound barrier up.
“There was no point in te…”
“What information is considered need to know stops when it prevents me from doing my goddamn job!” I lowered my voice a bit, which wasn’t much, but he got the point when I threw the angry words he told me around the time we first met. “You didn’t think it would be pretty FUCKING pertinent to know we were being followed by assassins?”
“Not were, are.” Zabuza said.
“Our speedy departure caused some delay on their reactions, it’s unfortunate that we weren’t able to stay in Lightning for too long. They can’t move as freely there, they also slowed after we left the ports of Wind.”
“That’s it! That’s why you were so upset when I switched beds. You thought I’d been killed already.” I replied.
“Abducted actually, killing in a civilian hospital would have been too much of a flag to the Suna nin. The desert was actually the best place for us, there were very few places they could make an approach without us seeing them.” His voice was level, which pissed me off. “Before that, when you were in Yakuza custody it made it that much harder for them to approach considering how dodgy the Yakuza are to shinobi in general.”
“God damn it, how many have they sent?” I rubbed my nose.
“I don’t know, we’ve killed at least two dozen though, they usually come only in groups of three. This was the largest yet.” He replied.
“Do I even want to know who’s sending all these fuckers?”
He just shrugged, “We clocked about three factions who are working to have you killed right now. Obviously Mei is working on rooting them out.”
“And you didn’t tell me, why?” I asked.
“It was a group decision and the short version is, you wouldn’t have left.”
“What?” I raised my eyebrows.
“You may not realize it, but you’re incredibly predictable, Mokuyabi.” He held up his hands and started counting on his fingers, “Despite some prudence, you are an attacker and not a defender. If you suspected that someone was gunning for you, you’d go and face them.”
I blinked and bit my lip, “I’ve run away before.”
“I’d like to cite the incident with the village as evidence that you didn’t keep that trend in recent months.” Zabuza let out a breath, “You’re stubborn, you prefer acting instead of reacting and you also have a frighteningly low regard for your own wellbeing, especially if other people you care about could be in the crossfire.”
My eyes lowered as I stared at him, “So I’m like you?”
“In some ways, but not in that way. I know where I’m needed, and I’ll work there as best I can. That’s why I’m here.” He poked his thick finger on my forehead, pushing me back, “Protecting one of our largest assets.”
“Asset? I’m a subpar crippled shinobi whose time would be better spent organizing councils than fighting.”
“You’re a symbol.” He countered. “Whether you want to be or not. To the civilians and to a large number of shinobi. If you die, we can have an uprising on our hands and we can’t afford to put that down. Even if there were no shinobi casualties, we can’t afford any drop in our current workforce. Especially since as long as you live, they are gladly working for our side.”
I let the words wash over me, even as I scowled. “And whatever faction is trying to kill me wants that.”
“It doesn’t actually matter what they want. Chaos, rebellion, or another shift in the very fragile new status quo. If you die they will succeed and destabilize our current power base, which is something that can’t happen.”
“So the whole looking for the swords.”
“A convenient excuse to keep you a moving target. If we actually find some of them, it’ll greatly improve morale, but otherwise…” He shrugged, “It’s also a good way to start proper training to get you away from that subpar, as you say it.”
“So how long is this trip supposed to actually last then? If the swords don’t matter? If it’s all about keeping me moving?” I asked.
Zabuza just shrugged. “As long as we need to, or until we’re recalled for other reasons. Not likely as long as you are thinking. Less than a year certainly, since we’d need to have you reappear to assure the public you haven’t been quietly killed while out of their sight.”
Leaning backward I rested my head on the cool stone wall as I looked out the cave, “You still can’t kill them.”
“They’re a liability.”
“They’re trained, at the very least they can fight better than those artisans. And at least one of them can make rubber.” I replied. “At least that person, we need.”
“The fuck what do you mean why? They can make RUBBER. Do you know how HARD it is to make rubber? That’s like half the reason we can’t make our own electronics. We acquire him, then we can cut costs on wiring, electric stations, making generators, nevermind rubber being used for things like protective clothing and for waterproofing boat hulls.” I stood up and pointed, “Purple hair there is worth an entire company by himself, and his friends,” I snapped, “That’s just gravy, we can add them to the Fuma as some new blood to add to our ninja force. Considering how incestiously small our population is, we certainly need the genetic diversity.”
Zabuza leaned forward and rubbed his eyes this time, “And what will you do if I kill them anyway?”
“You’ll have to have Haku freeze me, because you won’t catch me otherwise.”
He took in a deep breath, “You’re really going to play this game.”
“Why the fuck not, you’ve been playing with me this entire time by neglecting to tell me the point of this whole thing while I spun my wheels.” I walked towards the cave entrance, “Now come on, let’s figure out what these guys’ deal is and what I need to offer to get them added to our workforce.”