Chino lay crumpled on the floor, blood trailing down her face and one eye swollen shut. She coughed a few times before rolling over as I reached out for her. Suigetsu grabbed my hand and pulled me back. I didn’t get a word out before his other arm extended out in a stream of water, wrapping around her and pulling her up.
“Not a henge, but…” He flexed the water and something I didn’t see fell from her skin. The crumpled explosive tag was useless as the ink washed away in the water. “We have to go.”
“Take her too.” I reached forward.
“She might be faking.”
I opened her unswollen eye and found it dilated, “She has a fucking concussion.”
He conceded the point as I started wrapping Chino’s head with my wraps and he grabbed on to the both of us. We didn’t go through an exit, we went through a wall, though I didn’t like the property damage. It was efficient in its simplicity. After all, you don’t cover a wall as a possible exit point, plus it was just simple wood.
We didn’t stay to check what else was happening because this wasn’t a stand off, it was a chase. You never stayed on a battlefield where an enemy has had time to prep. I didn’t know where we were going, but it didn’t matter. I just trusted Suigetsu to get us there as I checked on Chino.
I could sort of push down the swelling in her head and heal the cuts. Going further down and examining her systems I could tell she’d been partially drugged, though I couldn’t tell the exact effects without more time to examine it. Since I’d wrapped her, I could get a good sense of her structure and was surprised to find that most of her bones had already fused. They hadn’t completely done so, but she probably wasn’t going to grow any taller no matter how old she was.
Out of curiosity I checked her pituitary gland and found it was deformed. I blinked as I stared down at the girl, was she a dwarf? She must have been, though not like Gato, she was a proportional one who, given how much her bones had fused, was at least sixteen years old, despite not looking much older than I was.
“Is something wrong, Buyo?” Suigetsu asked.
“She’s older than she looks.”
“So are you.” He noted.
“More extreme. I’m small, but I’m still growing, she won’t.”
Which was really uncomfortable to think about.
“We’re stopping.” He said simply before jumping off a tree and landing down. Oh, I should have known. We landed on a rock that was just large enough for the two of us to stand, while I held Chino in my lap and continued my diagnosis.
Now still, I could better check her vitals and found that it was probably a sedative and light paralytic. Probably why she didn’t resist having an explosive tag put on her. The head injury was probably to lure me closer to heal her, which was pretty damn cold blooded, but these were assassins.
Who were here now.
My eyes went up as the water swirled around us, making a small cyclone that caught the kunai that came flying towards us. I couldn’t see through the distortion of the water, but there were some people on the other side. I could mainly see Suigetsu with both arms in the swirling mass, looking back and smiling at me.
“Only that you haven’t killed them already.” I replied.
“Not my job.” He pushed the water back before stepping onto the river, his feet sinking in as he pulled more water into himself. “Guard duty. It sucks, but it’s necessary. How’s chibi doing?”
“I’m about to do a purge, then maybe we can get some answers.”
He grimaced, “Try not to get in the river. It always feels weird dealing with vomit.”
I rolled my eyes as I applied the jutsu and Chino started to shake. I turned her head as sweat dripped from her pores and she started to vomit. It took a minute for her to empty her stomach and when she was strong enough she nearly jolted to her feet, looking around confused.
“Wha, where?” She turned to look back at me, “You!”
I blinked, a bit confused, but her face turned into a scowl as she took a step towards me, and then was completely enveloped in water.
Whatever anger or attack she might have planned faded and turned into panic as she clawed at the water surrounding her. I didn’t see Suigetsu on the rock anymore, but his face appeared out of the pillar. “You know what Zabuza would want.”
“Don’t kill her, we don’t know what’s happening yet.” I huffed.
“I thought it was pretty obvious.”
I rolled my eyes. Yes, it was obviously an attack, but the details weren’t clear. I waved at him and he rolled his eyes and leaned Chino forward, removing the water around her head, and only her head.
She gasped as she tried to move, but the water crushed around her arms to prevent them from doing so. “Let me go!”
“I just healed you.” I pointed out, “And then you tried to attack me.”
“This is your fault! We were doing fine!” She screamed out. “Then those weird ninja guys came attacking after we bumped into you!”
“The first time I’ll grant you, but we basically cut you loose.” Even if I hadn’t wanted to.
She struggled, “But it didn’t end there! They approached us, said they’d pay us for helping to catch you then leave us be, said you were a terrible person.”
“The terrible person who healed you twice.” I said dryly.
“We didn’t believe them.” She said, “Most of us, he, he didn’t know, but then…” She closed her eyes. “Sutaro tried to accept their offer, tried to convince us saying that we did need the money and they’d leave us alone afterwards.”
“But then they attacked you.” I said.
“They took them okay!” She said, “Sutaro brought them back to us, and they killed him on the spot, and captured the others. They figured out I was a sensor and said if I didn’t lead them to you, they’d kill them.”
“Yeah, well, they’re probably already dead.” Suigetsu joined in once again. His face peered out. “They’re in force so they’re probably doing a big push. No point in keeping you around, or them.”
The blood drained from Chino’s face, “They, but, the Lightning group, they’re my,” The tears welled up in her eyes. “I just, we were…”
“Hey,” I almost moved to touch her, but her eyes opened bloodshot red with weird pupils.
“I’ll kill them!” She growled as blood streamed down her face from her eyes and her body started to convulse. This lasted all of five seconds before Suigetsu covered her head again and didn’t let her go until she fully passed out.
“I hope you didn’t cause brain damage, we can still use her.” I said as the water and the temperature suddenly dropped.
Looking around the river I found the source as Haku stood there with… it looked like seven frozen solid shinobi. Chojuro appeared a moment later standing on the rock and checking me over. “Are you two alright? We got ambushed during our rounds.”
“We’re fine.” Suigetsu answered, holding the unconscious Chino. “They sent this chibi in as a decoy but we took the traps off her. She’s also the reason they fou-”
The sound made me jump and I turned to see Zabuza taking his sword through the frozen shinobi, shattering their bodies into chunks of bloody ice. “Well, what are you waiting for? Kill her.”
He punctuated that last part by cleaving another shinobi dead. I stared at the display before looking down at Chino.
“She was coerced.” I countered.
“Doesn’t matter, she’s a liability.” He answered before cutting down another one.
“That is kind of true, Buyo.” Suigetsu rubbed his head, “If they have her friends, she’ll just keep coming for us.”
“Then we save them.” I said.
“No.” Zabuza said, his blade shattering two that were standing next to each other. “We kill her, we move on.”
“If we do that, we still have the rest of this group to deal with. If they have her friends as hostages, they must have more members stationed somewhere. We don’t have enough information.”
“It doesn’t matter. This isn’t an information gathering job, it’s protection. Best protection is to keep moving.” He stated.
“We didn’t do that before. With the Takami village! They tried to kill us.”
“They can’t track us, she can.” He pointed the sword at her.
“But she can track them too.” I said hotly, “She wants her friends back. She didn’t take them before, probably because she was outnumbered. If we help, if we save them, we take this section out at the source.”
“Or we could be walking right into a trap. It’s not worth the risk.”
I grit my teeth as I looked from them to Chino, then back at Zabuza. He killed the last of the seven on the bank and walked on the water, sword aloft. He moved, ready to cut her down, but I held up a hand. “She has a Dojutsu!”
He paused, putting the sword back down. “What?”
“I saw it! Her whole eye turned red, her pupil got weird, it was big and sideways, like a goat.”
Zabuza blinked before turning to look at the girl, “Her name was Chino, right? That sounds like the Chinoike.”
“The what?” Suigetsu asked. Haku walked forward, looking over.
“It’s a clan that was once confined to a place called the Valley of Hell, it’s thought to have gone extinct over fifteen years ago.” Haku leaned over to look at the girl. “She seems too young to be from there.”
“Except she’s not. I checked her, she’s at least in her mid teens, if not early twenties. She’s got some deformity in her pituitary gland, so she didn’t grow enough before her bones completely fused.”
Zabuza looked from her to me and set the sword down, “You really don’t want to kill her if you’re reaching like that. But it also doesn’t seem like something you’d make up. Your lies are usually more believable.”
“Weirder shit has happened, but killing her would be a waste. We have precious few bloodlines to go around back home.”
He let out a deep breath and closed his eyes, “You still want that rubber kid, don’t you?”
“I do, but really, this whole situation’s really shitty. I really… I don’t want them to die just because someone’s trying to kill me. What’s the point of being a moving target if they’re just gonna drag other people in anyway?”
“We didn’t drag them in, they approached us to talk to Haku.” Suigetsu said, “But they did pull their weight when you got attacked before, so they could probably be useful.”
Zabuza let out a deep sigh before Haku spoke up.
“If we thin the numbers here then make a dead run we might be able to shake them for a longer period of time than before. They’ve been catching up with us in closer intervals since we’ve left the desert and clearly just traveling as civilians hasn’t worked thus far. Also if we can recruit their help, Chino is roughly the same size as Ume, so we can send them back to Water as decoys.” Haku laid out.
“You’re just trying to justify that you don’t want them to die because of some weird kinship to their situation.” Zabuza grumbled.
“They survived the same way I did, by finding others to rely on. Is it wrong that I want to help them get back those they want to protect?” Haku’s smile was fine but I mirrored it.
“Okay, fine.” He rubbed his temple. “But we do this quickly and we don’t take unnecessary risks.”
I snorted at that. It wasn’t like we weren’t already at risk as it was. But at least we could somehow salvage this situation.