Chapter Thirty Eight ~ Captured

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I crouched on the branch of a tree, studying my surroundings. A claw? Two, perhaps. Three or four wouldn't be surpassing my calculations by much either. Glancing about, I decided to retreat from the forest; they definitely would have an advantage in a fight among the trees. Out in the open, my enemy, how many ever ambushed, would not be able to hide from me.

For a brief moment, I considered retreating, but almost immediately dismissed the idea. I had an escape route (at least, hopefully). If my chakra reached dangerously low levels, and if they didn't hear from me within twelve hours the spiders would reverse summon me.

Hopefully.

I jumped out of the shadows of the forest, turning to face the trees and wait for my enemy to appear.

Finally, after several moments, I spotted movement walking out from between the shadows of trees. They must have been observing me, knowing my expectancy for their attack. I narrowed my eyes, studying my enemy closely, as it revealed itself.

It stopped around five yards from me, and neither of us spoke, opting instead to study one another. The Claw was the first to speak.

"You killed Chuku," the Claw informed me.

"Ah," I murmured, empty blue eyes flashing in my mind. "So that's what you called him. 'Hollow'. Fitting. Do you know what they called me?"

The mask gave nothing away, but after several moments, the Claw conceded, "Mujōna. Soulless."

I nodded, a smile that looked nothing like a smile gracing my face. "And what do they call you?"

Reaching up, the Claw grasped Its mask, and slowly removed it, revealing Itself. A burn disfigured the right side of Its face, pulling down Its eye where no eyelashes or eyebrow grew, smooth pink skin discoloring the cheek below it. Its short black hair didn't grow in a small strip just above It's equally burnt ear. Finally my eyes locked with hers—Its, Its, Its—golden hazel eyes blazed with hatred, so different from the boy's empty blue orbs of ice. "I am Honō."

"The flame," I murmured . The Rising Phoenix certainly had a cruel sense of humor.

"They only sent you," I mused, thoughts backtracking to the two claws they'd prepared just for me.

"I am all that is necessary to capture Mujona," she intoned. She truly believed that she was good enough to take me on alone. And the rising Phoenix thought the same, meaning that I would have to be on my guard.

I slipped the twin blades out of my sleeves and crouched in a low fighting position, knowing that no more words would be exchanged.

The claw raised it's own sword and lunged, smooth and calculating. It slashed in an upward angle, one that would be hard to block.

I brought my right blade down in an arc, meeting the Claw's sword and halting any movement. It flung several senbon toward my neck, and I had to disengage in order to duck beneath the needles. She followed up her attack with a sharp downward strike and I rolled toward her, swiping at her thigh. She twisted away.

I narrowed my eyes. Something was off about this fight. Something strange. The Claw lunged at me once again, and I carefully analyzed every move. What tipped me off? What made me think that this fight was different than any other?

She threw more senbon in my direction, and realization struck. It was the senbon. Or, more exactly, where she was aiming with them.

She wasn't trying to kill me. She was trying to incapacitate me.

The needles probably also had poison on them so if she missed the pressure points I would still be defeated. There were a million different ways this could go. But I had my strategies planned. It was time to carry through. There was a 82% chance that She would want to speak with me. I could still prove a valuable asset to the Phoenix. It spoke volumes that I was still alive, after all.

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