Chapter Sixty - Fight to the Death

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My heart thumped violently in my chest. My mind searched for any possible way out of the situation.

No. No. No.

I couldn't die, not here, not now. Not crouched on the ground like a genin who didn't know how to fight. What could I do? I didn't have enough chakra to risk ninjutsu, I was basically unarmed, my body was a wreck of injuries, and the Claw was five yards away.

"Leave her alone!"

My head snapped up, following the trajectory of the shurikan thrown at the Claw and my heart sank. No. He couldn't be this stupid, not after last time.

Aisa's face was pale and terrified but he stood strongly, holding his tonfa in a white-knuckled grip. The Claw tilted her head, considered him for a moment, then went to dispatch me so there would be one fewer enemy.

As soon as she killed me, she would go after Aisa, I realized. I stared, wide-eyed, as the Claw stabbed down at me, each second slowed to eternity.

"And Aisa. God. If something happened to him."

A flash of Aiden, crying at the bottom of our hill. I tightened my grip on the kunai.

Slowly, I leaned toward him so my right shoulder pressed into his left. "I won't let it," I promised rashly, recklessly. I told myself that I am only saying it to make Aiden pull himself together. "I won't let anything happen to him."


My kunai slid against her blade and it missed my throat by centimeters, piercing into the ground. In an instant I pivoted, placed a hand on the earth, and slammed my foot into her face, knocking the mask off. Then I turned, stabbed my kunai through her foot and shoe and into the dirt, and ran.

I grabbed Aisa by the arm, spinning him around and sprinting away. "You idiot," I gasped. "You utter idiot."

"She was going to kill you!" Aisa cried out. "What was I supposed to do!?"

"Stay safe!" I stumbled and barely suppressed a cry. "Stay out of it!"

Finally far enough away I stopped, whirling around. "Find Aiden," I ordered. "Go. Don't you dare come back."

There were tears in his eyes, spilling over onto his dusty, dirt caked face. "But what about you? You need help!"

"If you see someone along the way, let them know to come here. But your priority is to find Aiden and stay safe." I pushed him away, ignoring his tears. "Go."

I'd never been more relieved or more filled with dread than when he turned and ran and disappeared from sight.


It was unnerving, fighting knowing I was going to die.

I had recovered one of my blades, thankfully, but it wasn't enough to heal my injuries and replenish my chakra and give me five hours of sleep and food and water. In other words, I was still losing. Badly.

Even in my exhausted state, I was capable of basic predictions; I knew the most likely attacks the Claw would make. The problem was keeping up with them and responding with my own. Right now, the best I could do was prevent the fatal strikes from connecting.

The memory of Ibiki beating me up, trying to force me past some wall and onto another level flashed through my minds. If I wasn't so preoccupied, I would have smiled dryly. Well, Ibiki, I thought to myself, if there was some secret level of skill that can be reached through pain and desperation, now would be the time.

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