Davros's Fanfiction

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Ranma didn't really know what to make of Yasu. She, definitely a she, didn't seem even slightly bothered by the fact that she was out there for all to see, though all was a pretty small number. Every girl Ranma had ever known would be going postal about there - well, except Shampoo, if she thought Ranma was looking - but Yasu seemed entirely unbothered. That was a little bit on the unusual side.

But then so was running around picking fights with people for no particular reason so hey. Well, unless they were from Nerima, and then it was pretty much par for the course for anyone who could fight at all or who had delusions of being able to fight or happened to be called Gosunkugi. As someone who was throwing stones Ranma was very much stood in a glass house and she knew it. Eh, she'd never let that stop her yet.

She couldn't figure out what Yasu was after though. A fight, sure. But what else? Ranma wasn't in the mood for being screwed over and stabbed in the back by another random psycho. She needed the information but she needed to not have another pile of dead bodies sitting on her conscience, too. That was bad enough happening just the once. She wasn't keen on a repeat. Sure as hell not so soon.

Ranma closed her eyes for a moment as the memories kicked in. She'd really screwed up with the mayor and his family and they were dead because of it. But that was over. She had to go on. Soul of ice. Soul of ice and she opened her eyes ready to continue.

But Mousse beat her to speaking. "Just give us whatever information you have," he said. "You've had your fun. We've lived up to the deal."

Yasu leered at him. "You sure?" she asked. "I think the fun's only just starting. I've got this guy right where I want him. Well, I need him awake, but that'll come quick enough."

It was probably a good thing that Ryoga was already out. Death by blood loss was a distinct possibility if he was awake to hear that.

"Put some clothes on, will you?" asked Hitomi. "It's distracting."

"And here I thought you Hyuuga types would be seeing this all the time anyway."

"We see chakra coils, not tits, you pervert."

"My fantasies are shattered," said Yasu in a perfect deadpan. She stabbed her sword into the turf and executed a couple of quick seals. And in a puff of smoke her clothes returned to as they'd been. You could barely tell she was a girl at all like that. Ranma almost felt sympathy pains - it couldn't be fun to crush 'em in like that. "There, happy now?"

Hitomi looked like she was somewhere between blowing a fuse and gibbering in terror with fuse blowing rapidly overtaking any form of terror. Probably best if she stepped in, thought Ranma. Not that she was one for getting in the way of a good scrap, as a rule, but Hitomi would get gubbed by anyone who could go toe to toe with Ryoga. It didn't matter if they were already worn down. She wouldn't stand a chance.

And if Ranma was going to be honest, her own patience was wearing a little bit thin. She needed to do something, to get back at Orochimaru and his shower of utter scum, and make sure that it wasn't all for nothing. Yasu said she had a way to let them do that. If she wouldn't cough that up the easy way, then that would mean the hard way coming right up.

"Yasu," said Ranma. That got her attention. "You gave your word. Information in exchange for fun. Ryoga gave you what you were after. We lived up to our end."

Yasu sighed. "You people really are no fun at all," she said. "All work and no play. That really isn't living up to my deal at all."

Ranma just looked at her.

Yasu sighed again. "Fine, fine," she said. "You need to think about things a bit more, that's all. You came to the village to talk to Kentaro and that was all well and good, but what about what happened next?"

All of a sudden Ranma had a bad feeling.

"Why did you end up at that ramen shop? Why did you talk to its owner like you'd known them for years? She was a stranger, right? No-one to you. Free food doesn't make someone a big old friend no matter how easily please you are."

And the bad feeling was realised. The whole damned thing had been a sham right from the start. Why would a ramen shop ran by some defenceless girl on her own be in a part of town like that? It didn't make sense. You'd get up and move no matter how attached you were to it. There's no money in selling to people who just take what they want when they want it and no-one normal was going to go there with the neighbours she was keeping.

The ramen girl must have done something to make sure she ended up there when she left the meeting, but that was easy enough. A little genjutsu, nothing big or noticeable, just enough to make her take the right turn when she could go left or right, and arranging for the right thugs to pay a visit and make her take a sympathetic look at things. That would do the trick of making someone come over soft. That had done the trick.

There was going to be blood for this one.

"Ah, you get it," said Yasu. "Maybe you're not as stupid as you look. Man, even I knew you were being set up and I couldn't care less about this sneaking around crap you ninja types go in for."

"Who is she?" asked Mousse. "This girl."

Yasu shrugged. "Local boss of some description," she said. "One of Orochimaru's. The mayor jumped exactly as high as she told him to and that was about it for him. I think she's some sort of ninja, but she doesn't seem all that strong."

Ranma closed her eyes and counted to three before she did something she'd regret later. She'd never been so close to absolutely losing it. There was a distinct red tinge at the edges of her vision, even with her eyes closed, and she could almost hear her knuckles creaking under the tightness of her clenching.She'd trusted that girl. She'd trusted her. And the bitch had been working for Orochimaru.

For a few moments she'd been able to forget seeing the people she'd promised to protect laying there dead in a pool of their own blood, but those moments were gone. Now it was just sitting there. And it was driving her mad.

Soul of ice. Soul of ice.

Ranma opened her eyes. That was better. She felt calm again. Able to think without the red haze dropping. Much better. She just had to keep that up for a while and they'd be able to get through this without her going completely insane and just tearing a whole bunch of the local thugs limb from limb. As much as they richly deserved it that wouldn't really accomplish much of anything.

Mousse was the one to break the silence and jerk Ranma out of her thoughts and back to reality. "I'll kill her," he said. "And the rest of those bastards in the village. All of them."

It was real hard for Ranma to come up with any sort of good reason not to do just that. Just march on back and smash the hell out of all those mercenaries and the people who were hiring them. It wouldn't even be difficult, they were all weak, and it would be oh so satisfying . . . but not what they were there for. They'd been sent to track down the real threat in the area and take that out, not turn a bunch of low-life thugs into vaguely human-shaped stress relief tools.

But did that matter? They weren't exactly moving unnoticed, were they? They'd been spotted and kept under a close eye from the second they'd showed up at the damned village. Before, even.

"Wait a second," said Ranma. "If they know who we are and why we're here, why aren't they doing something about it? We should be up to our ears in assassins? It's not like that fight was quiet."

"I doubt they have anyone who can deal with us," said Hitomi. "You survived Orochimaru. That makes people think twice. They're probably setting up somewhere else right now."

What a cheerful thought. Not only had they failed, but their fame would get the people they were after to just vanish into thin air rather than consider trying to fight it out. Wasn't that just peachy.

"Wimps will be wimps," said Yasu. "They're not worth worrying about. If they run, they run. You can catch them later. But the girl running the place will probably still be there if you move quickly enough to catch her. She's going to have a whole bunch of boring crap to do before she can run."

And it occurred to Ranma that it was actually worse than that. "I've eaten food from her," she said. "So's Ryoga."

And on cue. "RANMA!"

Talk of the devil and all that. Ranma felt Ryoga's aura pulse from comatose to rage and had to make a sidestep at her best speed to avoid the pulverising blow that would have connected with the top of her skull if she hadn't. As it was the strike smashed a wide crater into the ground where she'd been standing and, well, even she would have been looking at lights out if she'd been caught napping with a punch like that.

Ranma didn't give Ryoga time to reset for another attack. She pivoted on her heel and slammed an axe kick down into the base of his neck before he could move from the crouched position he'd ended up in and he went down like a sack of potatoes. She just didn't feel like playing around with Ryoga with everything that was going on.

"Now really isn't the time, Ryoga," she said. "We have to work out how we're going to fix things. Fight later."

He didn't look overly happy, but being belted in the back of the neck when you're not braced for it isn't exactly the sort of thing you could just shrug off. He'd calm down by the time he could do something.

Yasu was looking at Ryoga with an expression that reminded Ranma way too much of Shampoo. "Ready to fight again just like that?" she said. "Now that's the sort of man I'm interested in. Lots of energy."

Ryoga's ears turned red. Which was all Ranma could see of him with his face being embedded in the ground. Oh, well. He was still twitching so he was still conscious.

"Your bizarre preferences are of no interest," said Mousse. "What you do or don't want to do with Hibiki is your business. We have more important things to worry about." He turned to Ranma, completely ignoring the thunderous expression on Yasu's face. "Saotome, you've probably been poisoned. We need to get whatever we're going to do done quickly so we can get you and Hibiki to the medics."

From bad to worse to just plain awful. Failed, failed, and poisoned. Probably, but that was bad enough. You can't exactly argue with the idea that an enemy might have slipped something into a meal that they gave you when you didn't know what was going on and didn't do anything to check it. Saying that, Ranma didn't feel anything, so maybe she wasn't. It wouldn't be the first time someone missed an opportunity or ten.

No, that didn't seem all too likely. There were too many chances. A ninja would take one of them. If there were no ill effects, that meant he just wasn't noticing them or there was more to it than just a quick poisoning and that's your goose cooked.

There was a plan forming.

"I have a plan," said Ranma. "I reckon we can make this work for us."

There was a time for subtlety and then there was a time for kicking doors in and making as much noise as possible. This was the second. And there was something deeply satisfying in watching the door bounce off the back wall after she'd applied her boot to it. It made an almighty clatter as it bounced off and then collapsed to the ground amidst a cloud of splinters and that was exactly what Ranma had been looking for.

Aoi didn't so much as flinch. If Ranma'd had any doubts about the whole thing, they disappeared right there. No normal girl would react like that to someone smashing their door in. And that was a normal smashing in, not belting it a dozen feet across a room and smashing it against the back wall. That was way outside 'calm reaction' territory for anyone even remotely normal. It was the sort of thing that would send your average person scrambling for the bomb shelter because it just didn't happen in their world unless there was a war on.

"Ah," she said. "I suppose that means you've figured things out."

She sounded bored, if anything. Which was pretty much the very opposite of what Ranma was feeling seeing her stood there, eyes half closed, admitting to the whole thing. Someone Ranma had considered a friend was standing there, every line of their body screaming contempt, casually admitting to being one of Orochimaru's. There wasn't even a hint of regret there. Not even an iota of second thoughts. It was pure, undiluted contempt.

The soul of ice had its limits and Ranma was fast approaching hers. She was about half an inch from boiling over and she could feel that tight knot of rage in her gut growing with every moment she spent in the company of this bitch. Orochimaru was the first person to ever inspire an honest desire in Ranma to just go out and murder someone, but Aoi was well on her way to finding a place on that list.

Ryoga seemed to be of a similar mind ad he oinked loudly from his position atop Ranma's shoulder. It was far more threatening than any sound a piglet should have ever been able to make but then most piglets can't blast building to matchwood when someone annoys them too much.

"You could say that," said Ranma between gritted teeth. "A friend clued me in."

That got a reaction, at least. A raised eyebrow and a look of mild confusion wasn't much, but it was something. "A friend?" asked Aoi. "I wasn't aware that you had any."

That was it. Ranma saw red and the ki blast that she let loose in the general direction of Aoi was just as red as her vision. The back wall of the store was smashed to splinters by the impact of the attack, but that was all it accomplished. When the debris cleared, Aoi was stood off to the side away from the destruction with nothing worse than slightly mussed hair and a hint of a flush to her checks to show for Ranma's troubles.

"Now that was just poor," she said with a shake of her head. "Where's your pride as a professional? You can't just go around throwing tantrums like a child. You're supposed to be a shinobi."

Ranma ground her teeth, but managed to hold off from tearing Aoi limb from limb just for a few more moments. "Why?" she asked. "What was the point of all this? You could have just dropped some cyanide in my ramen and been done with this days ago. What was the point of stringing me along?"

Aoi looked at her as if she were a child. "Why do you think?" she asked with an expression that set Ranma's teeth even further on edge. "I thought you might know something useful." She shrugged. "You didn't, but the effort cost me nothing and allowed me to eliminate a disloyal servant."

Ranma clenched her fists. She really, seriously wanted to kill this woman. It was a new thing for her, wanting to just outright murder someone, but she couldn't come up with ay particular reason not to. Forget Orochimaru. This one was right there in front of her and just begging for it.

"Ah, killing intent," said Aoi. "You seem to have strength, but I know the truth. You're weak. I can see everything you feel written on your face and in your body language. It's pathetic. Whoever trained you should be ashamed. No shinobi should dare leave their village with such a pathetic lack of self control."

That was enough. Ranma had heard about as much of this one's rubbish as she could take. She wasn't going to take crap from one of Orochimaru's pet killers if she could help it. There wasn't more than a couple of metres separating them and she crossed that in the blink of an eye with her fist cocked to deliver a strike that would have taken Aoi's head clean off if it had landed.

But it didn't. As Ranma reached Aoi a crippling, burning pain erupted across her body and dropped her to the ground gasping as he body just cut out on her and forced her down. Ryoga landed next to her, grunting and sweating in his piglet form.

"Now, now. Did you think that I hadn't arranged an insurance policy in case of something like this? Not all poisons kill immediately, you know."

It felt like her insides were on fire. Ranma had never felt anything like it, not even when the ghoul had hit her with the cat's tongue pressure point. She tried to force herself to get up but the pain of that almost knocked her out entirely as what felt like every muscle in her body promptly spasmed wildly and left her thrashing around on the ground like a landed fish.

"There's nothing you or your team mate here can do," said Aoi. "You can struggle, if you want, but my compound attacks your chakra coils. For a shinobi, when activated, there is no defence. Struggling will only make it worse."

Not the best news Ranma had ever heard. Okay, chakra coils. So it was going to make her hurt if she tried to use her ki. Which she did unconsciously. Wonderful. All of her strength was being turned against her and she couldn't think of much she could do about it. You can't just switch off being a martial artist and go back to being normal.

"It's sad in a way. My master thought you had some talent, but he was clearly mistaken. There's more to being a shinobi than punching things and spitting fireballs and you just don't have it."

Between gasps, Ranma tried to focus. She was better than this. There had to be something she could do. Some trick to turn the poison away and let her get back up and fight on. Being laid out, totally defenceless, vulnerable, in the face of one of Orochimaru's ninja was about as bad a position as she could imagine being in. It turned her stomach to show weakness to one of them.

Aoi knelt down next to Ranma. "You haven't learned the most important lesson for any shinobi," she said. "Emotions are weapons. Do you have any idea how many you've handed me? A shinobi cannot allow themselves to even feel these things and you wear them openly as if they were something to be proud of. Like a child. What use is grief to people like us? It's nothing but a weakness."

Ranma growled at her and managed to force out a few gasping words. "You don't know what the hell you're talking about."

"Oh? And you think that charging in with nothing but righteous vengeance as a plan was a good idea?"

Aoi stood up and turned away.

"My master may have further use for you. I advise that you consider your options before you arrive in his presence."

Three, two, one.

And on cue a dozen kunai smashed through the shop front window and hurtled towards Aoi. She was quick to roll away from the impact zone and the weapons either embedded themselves into the back wall or passed into the back street behind the store, but that just allowed Mousse to step into the store through the gaping hole where the door had been without anything to resist his entrance and keep him out.

Ranma had to admit that she'd never been so glad to see Mousse. Oh, she'd planned for this, sort of, but being stuck down and out with her guts burning away like she'd swallowed a litre of acid wasn't exactly pleasant. Knowing that her plan was probably going to be less than fun for her was one thing; being totally at the mercy of one of Orochimaru's was something else entirely. Mousse showing his face meant that it would all be over soon. Hopefully. Either way, at least she wasn't utterly at the mercy of one of Orochimaru's pet murderers any more. That was no small thing.

Aoi was quick to come out of her roll and she crossed the store in a heartbeat with kunai in hand to attack Mousse. He met her slash with a block from the sabre that just seemed to appear in his hand before forcing her back with a slash from the sabre that appeared in his other hand. Ranma would have shook her head if it didn't feel like it would fall off if she did so. Going after Mousse with weapons? Seriously? Not the most clever of approaches to go after someone who carried more weapons than the average army. And that was just in his sleeves.

Mousse offered Aoi no respite and stepped in with his blades whirling in a high-speed assault. With attacks coming from all directions and angles, Aoi offered little defence other than to retreat and retreat and retreat until was backed against the store wall with crossed sabres at her throat. It was rather anti-climactic, all told. Ranma had expected more excitement from the whole thing.

"You're beaten," said Mousse. "Give up peacefully and I won't cut your head off."

It seemed eminently reasonable to Ranma. Aoi, however, seemed to disagree with that and spat a cloud of something brown and ugly looking into Mousse's face that must have hurt like the dickens because he recoiled back and away from her clutching at his face without even a twitch towards the decapitation he'd been talking about. Mousse was no wimp so that must have been some bad stuff.

The time bought by that allowed Aoi to take a step away from the wall with kunai in hand again. But she didn't get far as a sword stabbed through the wall behind her and through her shoulder. A moment later the wall caved in and Yasu walked through with a grin on her face.

"Well, look what we have here," said Yasu. "Should I throw this one back or keep it, kids?"

Aoi yanked herself free from Yasu, pulling herself from the blade with simple force, and staggered away with her arm hanging limply by her side and blood gushing freely from the wound. The look on her face was wild. All her plans were coming crashing down around her and she didn't much like it. Ranma really couldn't help but find that a little bit satisfying. Not so much smarter and better at the whole ninja gig, now, was she?

That was where Hitomi came in, jumping through the hole Yasu had just smashed in the wall, and there was absolutely nothing Aoi could do as the Hyuuga entered combat range and slammed in those 64 palm strikes at machine gun speed. Aoi collapsed to the ground with a sigh and, just like that, the pain vanished. Victory. The poison must have been dependant on Aoi's chakra.

Ranma bounced back to her feet with a wince. Well, maybe that had been a little premature. Her insides weren't burning any more but she was still pretty sore. Whatever that stuff had been it sure as hell wasn't something she'd want to be getting anywhere near again.

"So, what are we going to do with her?" asked Yasu. "Tossing her head into the local bar could be interesting. See how all those thugs react."

"We're going to take her back to Konoha, alive, and hand her over to Ibiki," said Ranma. "She'll get what she deserves from him."

Mousse looked down at Aoi without even the slightest hint of pity on his face. "That'll make up for losing the rest of them," he said. "At least a little."

"Ibiki?" asked Yasu. "The torturer, right? I've heard of him. Supposed to be a right bastard. Guess I won't be seeing her again."

Ranma rolled her shoulders to try and work out some of the knots. "No," she said. She picked up Ryoga and put him back on her shoulder. He didn't look overly enthused to be there but he didn't try to bite her fingers off, either, so he couldn't have been too annoyed. "Mousse, Hitomi, can you guys get her out of town and see if you can get her to tell us where the rest are? I dunno if it'll work but it's worth a try."

That got her a nod from Mousse. "I'll see what I can do," he said. "I've picked up a few tricks."

It was probably best not to ask. Ranma didn't much care for that sort of trick, really. She turned to Yasu. "How would you feel about joining me in turning over the local bar?" she asked. "I don't plan on leaving any mercenary thugs behind to mess the place up even worse when we go back."

That got her a shark-like grin in return. "I thought you'd never ask," said Yasu. "Sounds like my idea of a good time."

Mousse and Hitomi cleared off with Aoi while Ranma went and got some hot water to change Ryoga back to his usual self. She'd never seen anyone get into their clothes as quickly as Ryoga did when he transformed back into his usual bit quite naked self and saw Yasu leering at him. If not for everything else that was going on, she would have found that utterly hilarious.

It was a relatively short trip from the thoroughly wrecked ramen restaurant to the bar favoured by the local thugs and scum. A couple of them were lounging outside with glasses of something or other foul looking in hand, but they took one look at who was walking down the street towards them, the expressions on the faces of the people walking towards them, and decided that discretion was the better part of valour. Smarter than your average drunken thug.

They stopped in front of the entrance for a moment.

"Bet I can make at least six of them piss their pants," said Yasu.

Ranma shook her head. She really wasn't interested in seeing that even if they were a bunch of bastards.

"Your loss."

Yasu booted the door open and stepped through. Ranma followed. The bar was one of the worst dives Ranma had ever had the misfortune to see. Cleaning clearly wasn't a priority for these people.She didn't even want to think about the stickiness that was tugging at her feet with every step. There were some things no-one needed to know.

Everyone was staring at them. Some had their hands near weapons. Most had looks of frozen terror on their face. Ranma doubted it was for her or for Ryoga, they weren't that well known, so it had to be Yasu. She must have had a serious reputation in the area to get that sort of reaction.

That scene held for a moment before Yasu let her killing intent loose. Ranma only caught the edge of it, not really being aimed at her and all, but it was pretty fierce. The local scum seemed to have a more, uh, drastic reaction to it.

"Told you," said Yasu. "I count a dozen."

"That's kinda pathetic. What sort of sword for hire pisses their pants like that?"

The dead sort, was the answer. There'd be a lot less mercenaries for Orochimaru to call upon in this neighbourhood when they were finished. As second prizes went it didn't seem such a bad one to Ranma.

Was there anything that rankled more than failure? Mousse couldn't think of it if there was. Their mission? Failed. Abjectly. They hadn't found the base of operations. They hadn't eliminated its staff. They hadn't destroyed it. They hadn't even came close to pulling the mission off, really. Their first attempt at getting some payback on Orochimaru for killing Anko had ended in failure and they hadn't even been going up against Orochimaru himself, but some minions that had still managed to make them look like complete idiots all the time.

Perhaps the right question was more like was there anything more humiliating than going up against glorified minions and still losing It didn't sit well with him. If you couldn't beat the cannon fodder, what chance did you have against the guy running the show? They were a long, long way off where they needed to be to beat Orochimaru.

Oh, they'd managed to do a snatch and grab on that stupid kunoichi running the café, but that was a consolation prize at best. She was just one of what was probably many and they had no idea where the others were hiding. It was barely even a start.

Which brought him to where he was. Aoi was chained to a particularly sturdy looking tree looking at him with little more than disdain and contempt on her face and he was thinking about how he was going to get her to dish up the information he wanted.

Her chakra was still blocked, courtesy of Ranma's pet psychopath, so that simplified matters somewhat. It would be much harder for her to resist any special techniques he used without the ability to use any defensive techniques that she may have picked up as a kunoichi. That would help. It was almost painful to admit it, and he had no intention of doing it out loud, but Hitomi had actually been useful and not a total liability.

But that wasn't exactly a cure-all. He'd only had a few months to work on his genjutsu and he'd never used it for anything like an interrogation. It had always been a few tricks to throw people off in a fight so that he could get in to use his preferred weapons techniques. He knew a few tricks but he really wasn't sure that he would be able to manage what was being asked of him.

That wasn't going to stop him trying, of course. He could hardly turn around to Ranma and say, "I can't do this." That would be weakness. How could he even dream of looking his beloved Shampoo in the eye when they got back to Nerima after something like that? It would be a disgrace. No Amazon could allow themselves to admit weakness to a rival and ever go back to who they had been.

So, he was going to do it. He would succeed, because he had to.

"There will be no escape or rescue," said Mousse. Mostly because he had Hitomi playing spy in the sky with her eyes. "You might as well just save us all some trouble and tell me what I want to know."

"You're trash," said Aoi. "You must be if you think that would ever work on a shinobi. We're not some common street thugs that would give up whatever little they know at the drop of a hat to save their disgusting hide. We're professionals."

Mousse felt his eyelid twitch. God, this woman was annoying. How could she be so utterly contemptuous in the position she was in? "You're awfully mouthy for someone whose life is in my hands," he said. "There's nothing to stop me from doing whatever I please to you."

She snorted. "Do your worst," she said. "It could never be as bad as what will happen to me if I betray my master."

"Orochimaru isn't here. He isn't in Konoha, either."

Aoi actually laughed at him. "My master just strolled into Konoha and came within an inch of assassinating your kage and destroying the village," she said. "Your security is a joke. Your entire village is a joke."

Well, that was the end of the peaceful persuasion. If she was that convinced that Orochimaru could just walk in and take her our for punishment, she wasn't going to play along. He didn't have any better cards to play to make her think about doing the smart thing. She'd seen the 'save yourself' option and rejected it. What else was there? Nothing that he could actually use.

Without a word he starting working the jutsu needed to dampen any sound needed in the area. It wasn't a quick technique to perform and he had to carry it out several times to create a dampening field for each angle. Enough to give someone who knew what he was doing and why time to think about things and to change their mind if they had even the slightest bit of common sense to their name.

Predictably, or so Mousse thought, Aoi said nothing and looked as defiant as ever when he completed raising the last barrier and turned to face her again in their newly cut-off little bubble.

"Are you quite finished?"

It'd had absolutely no effect on her. She was as defiant as she'd been before and he was going to have to go through with it. He was going to have to torture her. And he really didn't want to do it. She was a horrible, wretched person who deserved to die, but he didn't want to torture her. Where was the old mummy when he needed her? This was exactly the sort of thing she'd take care of with some obscure technique no-one under the age of about two hundred had ever heard of.

"One last chance," he said. His voice didn't waver, which he was somewhat proud of. "Tell me what I want to know. You must realise this is hopeless by now. Help isn't coming."

Aoi didn't answer. But her facial expression said it all. No. She wasn't telling him a thing. It was time for him to use his 'tricks' to try and make her talk.

The sound of his breathing was loud in his ears as he considered where to start with the task. He could physically beat her, but that was crude and unlikely to be effective. A body could only take so much damage before it shut down and he didn't really know how much an average shinobi could take before they reached that point. It wasn't like Nerima where ever martial artist could be thrown through buildings and be back on their feet to fight back a moment later. Ninja came in all sorts of fragile shapes as well as the not so fragile.

So, that led him to using techniques that wouldn't break her before he could get the information. Well, he had those. He hadn't been training with the snakes for nothing. They knew how to make people hurt and how to make them surrender to it. It was just another weapon to them. Another technique to pull out of the bag in battle.

"Kuchiyose no jutsu."

For the first time Aoi's expression turned to alarm as a snake shot forth from his sleeve and attached itself to her neck. It wasn't much of a surprise really. Having her master's summons used against her by a Konoha-nin must have came as quite a shock to her system. There she'd been thinking that she was escaping having Orochimaru's monstrous ways worked against her by standing firm and now she was facing snakes.

Her shock turned to a glassy eyed, dazed sort of expression within a few seconds as the snake's venom made its way through her system. It was nothing particularly dangerous, nothing fatal, but that particular snake delivered a venom which had an interesting effect on humans. It was a hallucinogen. It would damage her resolve and leave her vulnerable in the face of his other techniques as her mind weakened.

As the snake returned to wherever it had came from, Mousse quickly formed his chakra to perform a genjutsu. Aoi's chakra coils put up little resistance as his will infiltrated them, her mind already affected by the venom, and he quickly began his attack.

It was a simple technique that he'd chosen. If he were being honest, this was largely because he wasn't sure he could manage anything more sophisticated with his current skills and with a target he knew nothing of. And so he made her think that she was being set on fire. He had the flames start small, at her feet, around her feet, and watched as she flinched away from them with a sheen of sweat on her face.

"Just tell me what I want to know, and it stops here," said Mousse. "That's all I ask. Tell me where the other Oto-nin are and this can stop. There's no need for it to go on."

The only reply he received from Aoi was a wild shake of her head. He let her sit and think about it for a few moments, to no further result, before he kicked the flames up a notch and had them start to lick up her legs. Part of him enjoyed the technical challenge of fooling her sense into believing that her legs were on fire, the combination of pain and scent weren't easy, but mostly he felt a little bit ill. It was one thing to kill someone in battle. Another to do this.

Watching her thrash as she tried to escape the flames left Mousse feeling like he was going to be sick. But he couldn't stop. He couldn't start on something like that and just give in the second it turned rough. The woman was one of Orochimaru's. She almost certainly had an ocean of blood on her hands and had probably played some role in invading Konoha and hence in Anko's death. He had to remember that.

"I ask you again," said Mousse. "Tell me what I know and this can end right now. This doesn't have to continue."

Aoi said nothing. Her face was screwed up in an expression of agony such that Mousse was honestly surprised that she wasn't screaming, but she still didn't say a word. Not so much as a single syllable passed her lips and he didn't understand. Why would anyone ever put their self through so much pain in Orochimaru's name? He was hardly worthy loyalty. He was a monster. Even the people who served him were terrified of what he would do to them if they didn't do what he wanted. Fear could only get you so far. It didn't make any sense to him.

He turned up the flames. To Aoi's mind they would have been crawling up her chest and back towards her neck, her skin blackening and sloughing off underneath the heat, her nerves roasting and dying, the only smell in her nose that of her burning flesh. That finally made her scream. It wasn't a sound that made Mousse feel any better about what he was doing.

And then it stopped. Mousse flinched, ever so slightly, as the energy he was pumping into maintaining the technique lashed back at him unexpectedly and it was over. The genjutsu was broken.

"Not bad, brat," panted Aoi. "I didn't think you'd go that far."

She was bleeding from the mouth. Bleeding profusely. That was how she'd broken the genjutsu. Physical pain was an anchor. Experiencing some that wasn't part of the illusion would disrupt the illusion and she'd bitten down, broken her own flesh, and broken his illusion with that. Elementary stuff. The very basics of the trade.

He didn't really want to do that again. It had been bad enough just doing it once. Adjusting his technique to make it harder to escape and then selecting a new scenario to torture her with would be . . . not fun. Maybe he was going soft but he just didn't want to do it.

"Why won't you just tell me what I want to know and put an end to this?" asked Mousse. "It's pointless."

Aoi didn't look up from where she was sagging against the tree. "I would be nothing without my master," she said. "I was nothing. I will never betray him."

Not just fear. Loyalty. She had a real reason not to give in. Things made more sense to Mousse all of a sudden, but not in a way that made him think that it was actually going to work. If she was trained to resist, and she probably was, and she had real reason to not give, which she did, then what could he do? He was hardly an expert in torture. He didn't want to be, either.

"They're on their way back," said Hitomi from her perch. "Looks like they've finished taking their bad mood out on the local swords for hire. If you've got anything up your sleeve, now would be the time. We're going to have to keep her out cold till we get them back to Konoha and flush the crap out of them."

Mousse stared at Aoi for a moment and then shrugged. "I'm out of ideas."

Aoi shook her head but said nothing. Mousse couldn't claim to be sorry that she didn't. It was easier that way. Didn't make him feel that he was making a mistake in stopping. It turned out that there was something that rankled more than failure and that was what he'd been doing.