Chapter One ~ The Claw

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Kakashi paused in his sprint when the masked figure dropped in front of him. Neither moved. He studied the figure,  guard up: he was in enemy territory. It had armor slightly similar to the samurai further up north, but tighter, made so movement would be unencumbered. There was an emotionless mask covering the face of what Kakashi now inferred was an assassin.

He scanned the assassin further, spotting the throwing knives in the leather sash and the blades on both hips. There would definitely be many other weapons hidden out of sight. The assassin was on the smaller side, lithe, catlike; Kakashi would have the advantage of his bulk in a fight.

His observations were finished in a split second--almost as soon as they began. He remained relaxed, not conveying the sudden tension he felt or showing how a kunai was half a second away from leaping into his hand.

The blank faced assassin's gaze bored into Kakashi's eyes. "The Rising Phoenix has sentenced you to die," the assassin intoned.

That's when it clicked in Kakashi's mind. "You're the Claw!" He exclaimed, "You're the Claw of the Phoenix, the S ranked assassin in the Bingo Book!"

The Claw said nothing, mask hiding emotions, if there were any. The only response to Kakashi's exclamation was to slide two blades into waiting hands. Kakashi's only response to that was to raise his headband, revealing the sharingan.

"The Rising Phoenix has sentenced you to die," the Claw repeated emotionlessly.

"And what gives them the power to say who lives and who dies?" Kakashi spat back. "What gives you the power?"

Old grudges appeared evident on Kakaki's face, his last memories of confrontation with the Phoenix popping into his mind. His chest closed up, thinking of the student he'd lost in that fight. 

But he couldn't let her death be for nothing.

This was an opportunity to learn more about the organization; all that research within two years was finally paying up. This was what this mission was for, what everything was for: researching The Rising Phoenix.

"The Rising Phoenix has sentenced you to die."

With that final statement, the assassin attacked. Kakashi was immediately on the defensive as the Claw came at him with everything it had. It moved inhumanly, twisting and bending at incredible speed with no regard to it's own safety, just completing the mission.

Panting, Kakashi disengaged, jumping back to catch his breath. "My first solo mission in a long time and I get attacked by an assassin. Just my luck," he griped.

The Claw seemed to be breathing raggedly and was suddenly seized by a wracking cough. Kakashi tilted his head, curious as he watched the assassin collapse on one knee in the snow, shaking with the force of its coughs.

"You're sick," Kakashi observed. The Claw straightened immediately, chest heaving, but it was too late: its weakness had been revealed. "They sent you out even though you were sick?"

"The... The Rising Phoenix has..." the assassin rasped.

"Yeah, yeah, sentenced me to die, I get it," Kakashi finished, feeling something akin to pity spark in his chest as he viewed the assassin. How old could the Claw be? 14? 15? Definitely no older than 18.

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