The fire crackled and sparked as the three masked shinobi dumped another log into the flames. They fed the fire’s hunger with a few more twigs and sticks, and finally sat down, conjuring some stumps and mounds of earth to rest their weary bodies on. Their masks, laying beside them in the dirt, proclaimed that they were special forces, black ops ninjas, while their forehead protectors were reflected in the firelight, casting the faint shadow of their village symbol on the ground. The symbol appeared to be an M on its side.
“Why are we heading towards Cloud and not back in Grass, again? This mission just doesn’t seem to make any sense to me,” one asked. “We’re not at war with them…”
“Assassination, moron,” a female voice replied. “We get in, kill a missing nin, and get out.”
“Seemed like a strange request,” the third said, mumbling in a very young, male voice. “I don’t like it either.”
“Are you suggesting we go against orders, Captain?” the kunoichi asked.
The young voice laughed. “Not in the least, Vin. But this man must be very dangerous to the village to justify us coming all the way out here.” He lay down on his small mound of dirt, forming a few handseals as grass sprung up around him, gently encircling him.
“The Bingo Book was very vague,” the first voice said, filling the air with a deep tone that felt as though it should have resonated through the forest, but in reality was wispy and breathy. His shadow loomed out behind him, easily the largest of the three, as he leaned forward, closer to the fire and his Captain’s resting form. “Captain, what do you know about this man?”
Vin seemed to lean in closer to the mound of young, soft grass as well, like a child eagerly awaiting a story. The Captain sighed, and sat up, facing his companions.
Vin was feigning childish again, her huge, bright orange eyes seeming to say, “So what’s the story huh huh huh?!” a complete contrast to her sleek, feminine body. She wore a tight fitting, tan long sleeved shirt, her wire mesh armor fitting snuggle beneath it. Emblazoned on each sleeve was a twisting vine of thorny roses, the blossom extending onto her black gloves. Her shiny black hair seemed to catch the firelight and highlight it as it flowed down to her shoulder-blades. Her forehead protector was tied around her waist as a belt, which held up her forest green short-shorts, leaving her legs covered only by her sandals and shin armor. On her back rested her blade, the ninja-to nesting quietly in its sheath.
“He’s a legend, almost,” the Captain said, his voice hanging in the still night air. “A recent legend, but a legend nonetheless.”
The Captain smiled, looking intently at his captive audience, his good friends whom he respected greatly. There were times in his life where he wondered whether or not he should have been a bard instead of a ninja. He was a magnificent storyteller.
He was also the youngest Special Ops ninja in the hidden village of Grass. His face was young, unscathed, and his hair was short and spiky. He wore a green T-shirt with a four- leafed clover on the back. On each petal was a red kunai. The Captain’s pants were simply black jeans adorned with large chains, and he wore simple sandals upon his feet. His companions were at least two years his senior as he was barely seventeen. The boy prodigy of Grass, they had said, after watching him regrow an entire meadow after a brushfire. He disliked the attention. And yet he loved storytelling.
“His beginnings are shrouded in mystery,” he began, his tone changing to fit the eerie subject matter. “Nobody knows for sure who he was before he became the Hidden Village of Cloud’s top ninja, making Thunder Ops before he was old enough to reach the normal age of a Chuunin. His chakra output was amazing, and his creativity was unbeatable.” The Captain paused for effect, letting his voice drift through their thoughts for a moment.
“And his determination…well, he man-hunted enemies until they were dead, regardless of how strong they were or how long it took him. His resolve was terrifying.” The Captain paused again. “Of course, the world had seen geniuses of his caliber before. He was nothing too special… until…”
“What?” Vin asked. “What happened?”
The Captain smiled. “It’s rumored that he began creating techniques that could only be considered… unnatural.”
“Unnatural… how?” the deep yet breathy voice asked.
“When his superiors examined the bodies he brought back from his missions, they found two consistent traits,” The Captain said, holding up his fist. He flicked his index finger up as he continued with, “One: there were always bite marks over major chakra arteries. And two,” he flicked a second finger up, “all his defeated foes were devoid of chakra.”
Silence hung in the air, interrupted only by the ominous crackling of the fire and the deafening silence of the still night atmosphere.
“But EVERYONE has chakra in them, even if they can’t use it!” Vin protested. “It doesn’t just dissipate when you die, that takes years…”
The Captain smiled evilly, reveling in the ghost-storyesque nature of his tale. “That’s just what they say,” he said simply. “Time passed, and he rose in rank, becoming next in line to succeed the Raikage, should something have happened to him. Until, of course, that day…”
“Cut it out, Captain,” the deep voice complained. “We want the facts, not dramatic reveals.”
“Quiet, Morimaru!” Vin snapped.
The Captain could see Morimaru’s huge bulk cringe, like a puppy being chastised. It was no secret the big lug had a huge crush on Vin. The man was 6’5’’ and built like a brick wall, but was a total softie, and the Captain knew it. Morimaru shrank back into his large, dark green cloak, clenching his huge fists. Beneath the cloak, he wore only his wire mesh armor. Around his neck was a thick, black collar, with red seals carved into it. He wore baggy black hakama pants, his forehead protector sewn into the fabric above his left thigh. At his side was the large katana he carried, preferring its strength to the short, straight standard-issue ninja-to.
The Captain smiled as he continued.
“Mind you, this is all probably just a rumor. They say there was a disturbance in the waters near the Country of Lightning’s port cities, and he was sent to investigate. From there, the facts are sketchy at best. It is said that as he walked out onto the waters to escort a merchant ship out of the harbor, three giant fins rose out of the water behind him, and a demon surfaced.”
Yet another dramatic pause. Morimaru and Vin’s faces paled at the mention of a demon animal. Priceless. The Captain suppressed the urge to chuckle.
“Demon?” Vin asked softly.
“A three-finned shark.”
The Captain smiled. His companions, though battle-hardened jounins, trembled in fear. Only Kage material could bring down a demon.
“The ship was destroyed in the resulting battle. The man fought with amazing skill and power, but was driven to the brink of defeat by the demonic shark. In a final act of desperation, he dove underwater and miraculously mounted the shark, biting into a major artery. He floated to the surface, and witnesses swear that the shark’s carcass seemed to dissolve into a red mist, which he sucked in and swallowed. Suddenly, he writhed in pain and almost sunk into the water again, until he formed a complex series of handseals and forced the technique upon himself. Lightning seemed to explode from the strike, forming a seal around his stomach. Then, he simply walked back to shore and killed everyone.”
Morimaru and Vin were silent. The nonchalant tone the Captain had used with that last part unnerved them.
An evil grin spread itself across the young Captain’s face. “Their bodies all bore bite marks, and were found chakraless. The town simply dripped in blood, and one need only follow the path of broken, empty bodies to see the direction he had gone. From there, he returned to the Hidden Village of Cloud, killed the current Raikage, and disappeared. It is rumored that he wanders the world with a deck of cards. Each card has a different powerful Ninja on it, and he simply draws from the deck and pursues that person until their bodies are found dead and chakraless.”
“Everyone died, right? Everyone in that city?” asked Vin skeptically. “Then where did the story come from?”
The Captain paused. “Well,” he said, rubbing the back of his head, “it’s just a rumor…”
The tension slowly released as everyone laughed nervously. “You’re such a talespinner, Captain,” Morimaru said.
“But if it were true,” Vin said, “we’re going up against some kind of chakra vampire?”
The dead air filled with an overpowering feeling of hunger as a chuckle drifted on the wind from the trees above. “Not really a vampire,” a raspy voice said, “More like a chakra cannibal…”
The owner of the voice fell from the trees above the team, and landed in their fire, scattering embers on impact. The three Shinobi rolled backwards, their hands flashing to their blades. The figure stood, his face obscured by shadow. He crushed the embers beneath his feet and laughed again.
“Honestly, you three won’t make much of a meal,” he said, “But since you’re looking for me, we might as well settle it now.”
Morimaru struck first. His katana flashed in the dead firelight as he dashed forward, pulling it from it’s sheath. The blade only cut air. His opponent grinned, his smile of malice filled with sharp teeth, and swung his foot in a quick arc. There was a soft thunk as his wooden sandals connected with the side of Morimaru’s head, sending him flying away, the light beginning to leave his eyes.
Vines began to coil up from the ground around the attacker’s feet. The Captain concentrated on the split-second of distraction he had, and tightened the vines.
Too late! Damn!
If only I had been watching more carefully, the Captain thought. If only I hadn’t been staring into the heart of the small fire we had built, my night vision wouldn’t be screwed to hell and back. I’d be able to f—
The target had moved away from the Captain’s vines with blinding speed. Before the Captain had time to counter, the target was flipping forward towards him. As the enemy flipped, he extended his leg, and attempted to slam his heel into the Captain’s forehead.
He’s fast, the Captain thought as he was barely able to put up his arms in time to block the attack. Even through his armguards, the blow rocked his forearms, threatening to break them. Before he could react, his opponent had used his arms as a springboard and launched himself up into the air. For a brief second, his massive body was silhouetted against the light of the moon.
Oh shit, thought the Captain.
Again, too late. The man fell with amazing speed, and caught Vin before she could fight back. He slammed into her, forcing her to the ground, and held her there for just a second, pressing his body against her own, reveling in the fear in her eyes.
“Let’s see how you taste…” he said softly by her ear, and gave it a tentative lick. The whisper floated on the still air as the forest seemed to hold its breath.
Vin’s last feelings were his impossibly sharp teeth biting into her neck, and her energy slowly leaving her, transferring into him. With a painful moan, she closed her eyes, and died.
“BASTARD!” Morimaru screamed. He picked himself up as fast as he could, breaking his left arm in the progress, and began forming seals. The Captain watched in horror as the enemy completely disregarded Morimaru, and kissed Vin’s lips, drawing out a thin, blue mist.
“You bastard…” Morimaru muttered as a shaky fist reached up to his black collar and ripped it off. The seals began to glow a bloody red, and seemed to rise into the air like demonic butterflies. Morimaru’s veins began to light up, brightness emanating from him as he began to run forward, blood streaming from his eyes and ears.
He’s using the suicide technique! the Captain realized. “Morimaru! No!”
“I must avenge Vin!” Morimaru screamed.
The missing nin licked Vin’s cheek once more before performing two jutsus simultaneously, forming one handed seals in rapid succession. He forced his arms out, and the Captain flipped sideways to avoid the thunderbolt that crackled through the air from his enemy’s palms.
The Captain blanched as he heard the sickening snap. The enemy had one hand on Morimaru’s face and the other in the small of his back, and had folded him backwards, shattering his spine. Morimaru gurgled slightly, his body gleaming from the inside.
“Burn in hell,” he muttered haltingly. Morimaru’s body seemed to intensify, with each vein clearly visible through his pale skin, the glow reaching its apex.
Silence suddenly filled the air. The murderer did not run, did not move, but spoke words that chilled the Captain’s soul.
Just as Morimaru should have exploded, his intended victim sunk his teeth into his neck. Morimaru tried to scream, but found all his energy being consumed. Chakra leaked out with an anticlimactic sizzle, and vanished inside his enemy. The Captain watched in horror as Morimaru’s glow faded, and he was forced lifeless to the ground.
“Hnnnn…” the man said, inhaling the blue mist that rose from Morimaru’s body. With a sigh, he exhaled in a sinister, “jaaaaaaah…” sound. His eyes turned towards the Captain.
Huge, the Captain thought. His eyes are huge, and he never seems to blink. He looks pale in the moonlight, his teeth many and sharp in that cruel grin. The same grin and eyes portrayed in the Bingo Book.
“Yasukana,” the Captain said, trying hard to force deadly resolve into his voice to replace the inherent fear, “You have killed my squad and my friends. I can never forgive you.”
“Ooh, finally. A challenging fight,” Yasukana said, straightening his wide brimmed straw hat, and shuffling his feet, the wooden sandals clacking against a rock. For the first time, the Captain had a chance to properly look at his enemy. Yasukana stood nearly seven feet tall, and wore a loose, white haori adorned with, suprisingly enough, cherry blossoms, with black hakama pants. Across Yasukana’s back was a large, sheathed sword nearly six feet long, unlike anything the Captain had ever seen. The loose fabric seemed pale in the moonlight, and billowed slightly in the light wind, along with his long black hair.
Yasukana took a step forward. In the moonlight, the Captain saw the metal forehead protector glint. It proclaimed he was from the hidden village of Cloud, or rather, had been. A long diagonal slash had gouged the metal surface.
Yasukana stared unrelentingly as the Captain paused for a second, stunned by the nearly palpable killing intent in the air. He couldn‘t tell if it came from Yasukana or from himself, but it unnerved him nonetheless.
The Captain began to plan his next move, but Yasukana struck first. Again he formed one handed seals with his left hand and reached into his haori with the other. A second later, as the Captain side-stepped the bolt, Yasukana laughed, a disturbing sound, his voice coming from behind the Captain.
He rode the lightening! the Captain realized. The Captain’s blade swung as he spun and parriedYasukana’s attack. The ninja-to clanged against Yasukana’s kunai. The force of the strike pushed the Captain back against a tree.
“Draw your sword, bastard!” he screamed at the grinning madman. “Take me seriously, dammit!”
Yasukana said nothing as he struck again, dashing forward. This time, however, the Captain did not parry. He closed his eyes and focused as his opponent approached. There was a heavy thunk as Yasukana’s attack struck the tree, the Captain nowhere to be found.
“You’re from Grass,” Yasukana thought aloud, “So… tree morphing technique?”
The Captain silently emerged from a branch above Yasukana, hanging upside down just behind the huge, murderous monstrosity, morphed into the tree from his waist down. The Captain steadied himself and swung his sword.
The slash should have decapitated Yasukana, but in a flash of electricity, Yasukana had dodged, and drawn his huge sword. It was a simple long, straight sword, curving only at the tip, the blade about four inches wide. With his initial strike, he cut the branch the Captain was half-dangling from. The Captain uttered a curse and dodged, slipping inside the main trunk of the tree. Yasukana laughed and swung again, slicing the tree in half. His fist struck the trunk, knocking it to the ground.
The Captain could only run. As the tree fell, he dove out and away, slipping inside another tree before he could hit the ground. Yasukana never gave him enough time to manipulate the tree and attack. Again Yasukana struck, cleaving the trunk in two, and gain, the Captain flung himself from the slowly falling trunk.
Yasukana met him in midair, and slashed at him again. The Captain blocked, and caught the nearest branch, swinging himself up and inside the tree. Yasukana landed and stood on the trunk of another tree, grinning in manic glee as he launched himself away, towards the Captain’s hiding spot. The Captain dove from the tree, muttering an apology to the plant as he activated the explosive tag. The tree exploded just as Yasukana hacked it in two. The Captain saw a vague flash of electricity and a bolt rocket away from the explosion towards him.
There was a subtle clinking sound as the Captain unhinged the chains from his jeans and wrapped them effortlessly around his forearms. The metallic whip cracked through the air, and the bladed chains had swung out and tightened around a tree branch. The Captain’s momentum carried him through the air, changing direction in midair. The bolt of electricity just grazed him as he swung up into the air and released the chain’s hold on the wood.
For a moment, he felt as if he were flying, and wished he wasn’t in a life or death struggle for vengeance. It would have been a calming, fun moment. But all too soon it was over, and the Captain was forced to land and dive back to the forest floor as Yasukana attacked again.
All he could do was run and dodge. Yasukana attacked like a demon, never tiring, never slowing. It was all the Captain could do to morph inside and move through trees, and wrap his chains around branches and trunks, changing his direction just in the nick of time. He was out-classed. Maybe, if he had his squad with him, working at their fullest potential, and they had gotten the drop on him, Maybe then they would have stood a chance.
The Captain ran up a tree as Yasukana cut it in half, and chased him up the slowly falling trunk. The Captain turned and ducked, avoiding his opponent’s huge sword, and swept him with his right leg. Yasukana flipped backwards along the tree in a gravity-defying handspring.
Perfect, the Captain thought, grinning.
As Yasukana dodged, the Captain kicked off from the tree and began to fall past him towards the ground. His arms whipped out and his chains cracked in the air as they wrapped themselves around Yasukana’s neck and pulled him down. The Captain heard the satisfying crack in his opponent’s neck as the bone broke. As they neared the ground, the Captain swung the chains down, forcing Yasukana beneath him. The ground shook as the pair hit the ground, and the Captain yanked back on the chains, severing Yasukana’s head from his neck. In a swift, fluid motion, he also brought his hands behind his back to the clover pattern on his shirt. As he pushed chakra into it, the kunai on the petals became real, and fell lightly into his hands.
A split second later, they were buried in Yasukana’s back causing his body to burn as the Captain flipped away, triumphant. He had done it! Killed the Demon Eater, fulfilled the mission, avenged his squa—
In a puff of smoke, the burning, headless body of Yasukana was replaced with a smoldering log with two kunai stuck deep in the wood.
The Captain saw the lightning just in time to raise his sword in a haphazard block. The clumsy move saved his life, as Yasukana, unscathed and grinning as madly as ever, emerged from the crackling electricity with a ferocious swing. Yasukana’s huge sword struck the flat of the Captain’s blade, snapping it in two and thrusting the Captain back, uncontrolled, into another tree. This time, however, the Captain was unprepared. He had used too much chakra, had been too surprised and stunned by the force of the attack to meld into the tree or change direction and swing away with his chains, and felt his back crack uncomfortably as he struck the trunk.
The ground rushed up to meet the Captain’s falling body. He expected Yasukana’s blade to cut him in two before he hit the ground, but, as far as he could tell, Yasukana had not moved. He loosened up as he fell, and was able to roll slightly on his back, sucking wind.
Yasukana’s footsteps seemed to reverberate through the ground as he finally began stalking towards the Captain. He was upon him, and there was nothing the Captain could do.
I’m dead, he thought bitterly. We failed.
Yasukana crouched down and leaned in close to the Captain’s face. The grin was gone, replaced by an even more terrifying seriousness. The Captain waited for the teeth, for the feelings of life to leave him, but it did not come. Nothing happened. Yasukana only stared intently at him. With a quick motion, Yasukana’s eyes never leaving the Captain’s face, Yasukana reached into his robes and pulled out a deck of cards. He flicked out a card portraying a ninja with glasses and a smug grin, and held it in front of the Captain’s face.
“Is this you?” Yasukana asked.
The Captain blinked. “What?”
Yasukana waited patiently for an answer.
“N…no, that’s not me.”
“Dammit, I did it again.” Yasukana stood, and returned his sword to the sheath on his back. “But, then again, you ARE strong enough to warrant a card…” The huge man put a hand inside another hidden pocket in his robes, and pulled out a blank card. Slowly, ink seemed to soak into existence, and a portrait of the Captain stared back at Yasukana.
“Okay, you’re in the deck now. Sorry for all the trouble. Seems you guys couldn’t really kill me anyway.” And with that, Yasukana vanished into the trees, leaving a hint of electricity in the air. The Captain just lay dumbfounded on the ground.
Seventy-five miles away, Shino sighed. This was going to be harder than he thought.