Infection - My Last Breath


Datura (emitter), Mune, Kanami, Shinji, Amuro

Date: December 13, 2010


After dealing with the psychological horror of the evil Datura has done, the members of the Tao Shih must come to terms with their own individual feelings long enough to overcome the source of the infection!

"Infection - My Last Breath"

Uzushiogakure, (Inside Datura's mind)

Despite Amuro's interference, the feeling of being watched by something does not abate, even if they manage to wrangle free of his grip and approach Riku. The closer one gets to either girl, the slower they seem to move, as if the very air that is around them is become solid. It becomes a struggle to breath, to hear, to see, even touch or smell, as if a darkness were trying to descend upon one's senses and smother them the closer one gets to the blondes. And always the watching, the waiting. It is perhaps akin to having a bleeding wound while swimming in the midst of a pool that one knows to be filled with thousands of ravenous pirahna. One knows what is coming, but does not know exactly when.


The form of Ryoko soon becomes much more readily readable as she nears the crumpled body of her sister, slowing down to a measured, though determined walk. There's an expression on her face that's been seen by the other members of the Tao Shih quite often: narrowed eyes, a small, tight upturning of her lips in malicious glee. Ryoko was smiling at Riku. Smiling at her dying sister.

"R… ryo… ko… help… me…"

Blood trickles from the side of Riku's mouth as her sky-blue eyes settle onto her younger sibling's face, her arm crawling across the grass as if trying to reach for the other blonde imploringly. Confusion and pain laced her features and each labored breath looked to be an agony. Ryoko's sandals come to a stop several feet away, looking down on the older teen's body with that same delightedly malignant smile, a smile that didn't seem as if it belonged on a human face. Slowly, she reaches up and undoes the clasps on her own Chuunin flak vest, shrugging out of the garment to let it slip into the grass behind her.

The girl who would become Datura looks around at the ground, turning first one way, then another, as if searching for something, before taking a few steps off to the side and bending down.

"…ryo… ko… what…? …help… me…" Riku's voice was wracked with pain, choked in blood, and interrupted by desperate sobs.


"You still don't get it, nee-chan. You never did." When Ryoko stands once more and turns to face her twisted sister, she's no longer smiling, instead wearing a mask of hate. And she's holding a rock. "I never loved you!" The younger blonde hisses, raising the stone the size of her own head above her with both hands as she advances on her sister's prone form.

"Ryoko… what are…?" The question never finishes before the first wet crunch of stone on flesh fills the air. In pain and fear, Riku finds her last dying surge of energy, trying to fend off her death with her one good arm. "RYOKO! STOP! STOOOOP! NO!" Her cries are animalistic, shrill. A second wet crunch is heard, Riku's beautiful face rapidly becoming unrecognizeable, disfigured as Ryoko slams the stone down again through the other girl's pitiful defense. "STOP IT, RYO-"


Riku's arm falls and her cries are silenced with the third strike. Ryoko, breathing hard, only lifts the stone, and then brings it down again. Lifts it, and brings it down, over and over again. Eighteen. Eighteen times she smashes her sibling's face. Enough for gray matter to spill out of the top of her shattered skull and to coat the murderous Yamanaka's hands, arms, chest, and face in her blood.

Even as Ryoko allows the rock to slip aside from her grasp, breathing raggedly with exertion and adrenaline, blue eyes wide and unbelieving, as if the act before her had just been done with another, the sky begins to darken. The Yamanaka teen is in the process of pulling off her dead sister's footwear as the trees begin to melt away, the cliffs and rocks to obscure. The murdered girl and her sister fade, fizzle, and then vanish. The grass beneath everyone's feet begins to wither and die, revealing coarse granite beneath. And in the distance comes an inhuman, abominable wailing sound. A sound which is drawing closer.

And now that feeling of being watched by something hateful, something angry and hungry, would be felt by all.


That malign, vicious feeling that Shinji is feeling is still over him, his focus on covering Mune is still keeping him rooted but he didn't know when or how whatever may be watching him will strike. Looking up in the air, and as he does he feels his body being pulled from where he is standing, glancing back as he is pulled along with Mune away from the area by Amuro, he just blinks. He didn't even notice their leaders voice when he hollared for them to stop, nor did he notice the pull on his body until he was already being drug away.

As they land away from Riku and Ryoko he looks to Amuro then the others but as he does the scenery changes. The grass dying and now a loud wailing sound is starting to come closer. Stepping forward before the women of his group, he doesn't think they can't protect themselves, but he is going to do his job to buy them time for whatever they need to do. The fear running through him is still gripping him, but he tries to clear his mind so that he can do what he must to ensure their safety.

Kanami watches the brutal slaying of Riku by her own sister. The fact Amuro stopped Mune and Shinji from preventing it is only vaguely comprehended on the peripheral of her consciousness. Instead she just watches the murder with slightly-widened eyes and pursed lips. Then Ringuu, the Lady Aoi Mask, asks in a voice of completely demented and vicious glee, 'Remind you of anything, Kanami?' Kanami startles and looks up at the Mask that has stringy black hair hanging in its features… Except for hints of a black-lipped mouth full of nightmarish teeth. She regains her composure and returns her attention to the macabre tableau before her.

"Oh, I imagine so. I actually had not made the connection immediately," she answers nonchalatantly, even as the younger Datura gasps for breath, horrified at her own actions… And then begins to switch clothing with her older sister. Ringuu just sneers silently.

Kanami's mother, in her Mystic Noh-Men, says, "Kana… It's coming." Then the weight of corruption and hate settles upon her along with the others. Kanami nearly buckles for a moment, but she is not in some dark cave this time. She is not trapped in a void. She is with others and she can fight. Kanami has made her decision.

She is real… And so is everyone else. That means she can't take this situation lightly. She can't allow herself to remain seperate. She has to do what actresses do, and live in the moment. If all of life is a play, then she will play her role. As a friend. "Let it come," she offers in a voice a lot more stable than she feels inwardly. Despite her decision, this is not a pleasant situation by any means. Ankoku Cave was a place where bad dreams went to die. Here, in Datura's infected mental space, is where nightmares BREED.

Mune appreciates Shinji's attempt to aid her, but she doesn't know what he can do against that abominable presence. She doesn't even know what SHE can do against it. Maybe nothing at all. But she can try to heal Riku, and spare Ryoko the pain of the memory--Then she is suddenly being scooped up and pulled away. For a moment she fears she has already been snared by the monster, but when she struggles to get free, she finds only a familiar-looking arm around her waist. The dark-skinned woman turns to look above her and finds Amuro's mask. "What--But I have to help--" she starts only to turn when she hears Riku pleading with her sister. She watches and feels emotional pain… And fear at what she is seeing too. This reminder of her own mortality… That all one has to do is slip and fall to end one's existence. 'Life is so fragile,' she thinks inwardly.

She watches what she assumed was going to be a heart-wrenching scene of Ryoko losing her sister. But gradually, the pieces start to come together. Ryoko picks up that rock, and she says those words. "No…" Mune whispers out. Then she thrusts out an arm and screams, "NO!!!" But it's too late. The rock comes down on Riku's face. And the scene unfolds as it did in the past. She has seen her share of gore and gruesome images. But dissecting a corpse or performing brain surgery are not the same as watching a girl murder her own sister only a few feet away, while the sister screams in pain and begs for it to stop. Until it finally DOES stop -- but in a disgusting way.

Mune feels ill.

The combination of the sinister presence watching her and the overly-vivid details of this scene just make her throw up. Or try. She has no food in her stomach, due to being a mental representation of herself. But she heaves and wretches anyway. And when it all beguns to fade away, to crumble and change into a different environment, and the monstrous force begins to approach, it is not terror that fills Mune's eyes, but tears. Mental construct or not, she has tears to cry apparently. She reaches out a hand to grab at Shinji's arm as he is held next to her, also in one of Amuro's powerful arms. Hot tears trail dowmn her cheeks, as she sobs.

'How could I have been so foolish? How could I have trusted Datura? How could I have started to think I understood her… That she was a friend? Is there some way I could have prevented all of this?' the tears are not for Datura. They are not even for herself. They are for Riku, and the betrayal she has just witnessed. When her head rises from its bowed position finally, to seek out whatever is coming for them, the salty moisture leaking from her cyan eyes has already ceased to flow. Her face is twisted in rage. Baring her teeth, she growls out, "Let me go, Amuro-sama. We need to leave here. Datura deserves whatever she gets. My only regret is that she won't suffer longer."

If she is not put down, she will do her best to free herself, no matter what that entails and then try to figure out how she can get herself pulled our pre-emptively.

Amuro does not comment on any of the proceedings, nor does he react outwardly. He knows what the presence he brought with him has to say. He knows how that individual feels. He can feel her horror, her regret, her pain, and her deep sadness -- deep enough to drown even the bravest of souls. But he does not share these feelings. He has more than enough suffering of his own to cope with without indulging in another's.

Mune sobbing as he holds her up off the ground in his right arm receives no sign of understanding, no words of sympathy. Her demand to be set down is followed at Amuro's pace, leaning down and making sure she has her feet beneath her before letting ago. He also releases Shinji at the same time. "We can not leave yet. And if we could, I would not let you," he says finally. The power of the Chakra Beast, even if only a fragment of its >true< power, is a foul thing. Being buried alive in a pit of blood and feces would be a more pleasant experience than having to be exposed to the despair, the hate, and the utter loss of all hope that the Chakra Beast engenders in those exposed to it. But Amuro has something that the Beast does not.

He can only pray to whomever and whatever may be listening that his secret weapon is enough. Otherwise it all ends here. "Prepare yourselves. We can not leave here until this is over -- one way or another, we must complete our original objective. You can act towards Datura however you wish when it is over." 'If we still exist,' he thinks to himself.

As the wailing grows ever stronger, as if the source of the unholy sound were getting ever nearer, visions begin to blink past. Some of them linger a moment, others rushing by so quickly they can't be comprehended. All of them swirling around in chaos around the group, forming a veritable tornado-like vortex as they ascend upwards into the rapidly-vanishing sky.

Datura grins with nubile innocence as she presses her palms together in front of her and bows to the masked man known as Amuro, a coinpurse filled near to bursting dangling by a string from her fingertips. And yet, with a perfect air of childlike innocence and naivete, she asks for even more.

The outcast Yamanaka sits in a bath, idly extending one leg out of the water, above the soapy bubbles that kept most of her body hidden, to languidly run a washcloth down her calf. Three feet from the tub lies a male, not much more than fourteen, wide, dead eyes staring at the wall as a kunai placed at the base of his skull pools blood on the floor. Gingerly, Datura reaches out of the tub and plucks up the scroll he was carrying before it can be stained by his crimson fluid, popping off the Tao Shih seal and unrolling it.


The visions swirl together above as the sky gives way to the same dark, starlit area they had passed through previously. The whipping of wind, the voices of the memories, and always that awful screeching wail make the volume almost overwhelming.

Datura sits with the Nogakujin on a lush, soft bed in the midst of a lavish hotel room. The younger girl is excited about something, clutching her hands close to her chest and squeal-giggling as she kicks her feet in mad glee over whatever they were talking about or had just happened.

A father lies over the still form of his child, both unmoving, blood matting the males hair and pooling beneath the little girl who'd barely reached her tweens, a cinnabun clutched in her lifeless fingers. Datura idly steps over the pair and bends down to retrieve the baked treat, taking a bite of the delicious, uneaten morsel as she nonchalantly walks away.

The runaway Yamanaka sits upon the edge of a clinical bed, her face red and tear tracks going down either cheek as the group medic kneels in front of her, her hands over the blonde's thigh. When Mune removes her hands, Datura inspects her leg, lifting it gingerly to turn this way and that, before bursting into a bright grin and gleefully clapping her hands together as she bows her head at the medic repeatedly in thanks.


A woman sits in a wooden chair, eyes wide, mouth open in a silent scream of horror. Her pupils are dilated and her body is shaking, her head moving back and forth as if to deny something that only she could see. Datura calmly leans forward, taking the woman's wrist, passing the edge of a kunai lengthwise over the vein on the underside of it, prompting a spurt of bright crimson blood to gush out. She repeats the process with the other, then places the throwing knife in the woman's hand before turning to leave.

The blonde stands near Shinji, her hands on her hip, her head cocked to one side, wearing the raiments of the Lady Ryoko. The male only gives her a blank stare before opening his mouth to reply to her. Datura's expression shifts, one eye squinting closed, the other opening wide, a single yellow brow arching towards her hairline as she purses her lips to the side as if she couldn't decide what he'd said was funny or just stupid.


And then all the memories are done sweeping past, disappearing into the center of the invisible vortex above, vanishing with seeming finality. No longer is the group standing in the bright, shining field in the Land of Fire. They seem to be back where they started: standing on a granite isle in an infinite sea of stars. It was roughly circular, a little oval, and about thirty feet in diameter on any given width. But now the path is gone and there are no other islands in sight. But the wailing is not, having only risen in both pitch and volume.

The flat, stoney ground in the middle buckles upwards, as if something were trying to push upwards from below. And indeed, something DOES rise out of that piece of rock, throwing pieces of debris, some large, some small, every which way. It's appearance is slick, oily, pitch black with no discernable anatomy, roughly spherical in shape, which was changing constantly due to the semi-liquid-looking nature of the thing. Were it not for it's position being marked by the absence of the stars behind it, it might almost be impossible to see against the dark background. Slimey-looking tendrils burst forth from its central 'body', which was nearly eight feet across, two dozen sticking out every which way like it was Medusa's own hair.

The wailing has finally stopped, but it can be felt. THIS was the thing which was instilling fear. THIS was what had noticed some of the group before making its way towards them. Despite not having a mouth, the beast lets out an ear-splitting screech-roar that shakes the very stone over which it floats, shaking loose a few pebbles from below to fall endlessly into the black void.


The vivid scene of the murder they all just witnessed still played in his mind as he stood where he is. He couldn't belive what he has just witnessed, but he is brought out of it when Mune, one he hasn't even talked to once grabbed his arm in support as she cried. He pulled her as best he could closer to him as he and Amuro held her. He assists Amuro in getting her onto her feet, but once she let go, Shinji moved ahead of their group.

As he stops where he is, more images, more memories from Datura swirl above them, grusome, cruel, and foul to say the least. He didn't know how one could do such acts, but maybe this is what the infection wants them to see? He really was hoping this was the case, no one could be so evil….could they? Then memories of his own is thrust back to him, all too clearly. He shunts it from his mind, he isn't here for himself or to find life lessons they all are here to help Datura. Upon thinking that Amuros words reach him. "We stand together. Mune, I know she deserves the suffering, but maybe this was here all the time controlling her actions. We don't know, I wish I didn't see what I just saw, but it's too late for it. We need to help her." he says to her.

Turning to look in the direction of the wailing, he watches as the ground ahead of them buckles upwards. Watching as the slimy black ooze rises, at first it's hard to see but watching it as it rises from the ground, Shinji takes a deep breath and assumes a fighting stance.

Kanami watches the flow of memories as well as she can, taking in both the good and the bad. She is in no position to judge morality, nor to judge Datura. She has done many awful things herself, without the slightest shred of remorse. Of course, up until just a few moments ago she didn't believe anyone else was more than a figment of her imagination. Why feel bad for killing a man who does not exist? It would be like feeling bad for killing a rabbit in a videogame. They're all fictional. Abstract concepts given a form identifiable by human senses. But now that she has come to terms with the universe in general, she no longer can rely on that seperation to protect her.

She has to save Datura from this infection, because no matter what the rogue Yamanaka may have done, and no matter what Kanami herself may have done, they have all seen how things lead up to the present. They saw what shaped Ryoko into Datura. She was not born a monster. She was MADE into one by both the actions of others and the circumstances that surrounded her development.

Kanami does not blame Datura, because Datura has a better excuse than most for why she has lived her life this way. Thoughts are becoming difficult now, however. The foulness of the Chakra Beast is all around. Memories flow past in a tide of visions. No doubt the ones she catches sight of are but a sampling from the entire panorama of recollections. The wailing and screeching is driving her barely-intact sanity back towards the broken shell that it has finally emerged from. Kanami holds her hands over her ears as the vibrations make her very BONES shake. It would be easy to define this all as fictional. Then she wouldn't have to care if she was in pain. She could just ignore it. What is pain anyway? A state of mind.

But she has made her decision, so she endures it. The change in scenery is taken note of but little else. The creature emerging from the island they stand upon is more of a priority. Kanami doesn't know what she can do in the mental space of another. Amuro's willpower seemed to be insufficient. But then the three masks that float around Kanami glow and transform into streaks of light. Her Mystic Noh-Men lands upon her chest and forms into a female warrior's breastplate, with pauldrons upon her shoulders. The Doujouji Mask forms into a sword that appears to have a snake-patterned handle, with the blade emerging from the open jaws of the serpent forming the cross-guard. The Lady Aoi Mask lands upon Kanami's brow and forms into a crown as well as turning Kanami's black hair as silver as woven strands of moonlight, and much, much longer than normal.

Kanami feels much stronger than normal. Even when wearing the Mystic Noh-Men in combination with another Mask, she does not feel this sense of connection… Of the power do what needs to be done. Colored patterns are born, die, and are reborn all over the few exposed areas of Kanami's skin, endlessly generating new designs. She is not alone. Not only are the other Tao Shih here, but also her mother, and two close friends. They will stand up to this horror, even as its very existence attempts to overwhelm her with terror and despair. Whether they win or not is yet to be seen.

Mune snarls at Amuro when he says he won't let her leave. "Try and stop me!" She may sound tough, but she has no clue how to get out anyway. Amuro saying that they can't leave until it's over sobers her. Whether they get out of here alive and intact or not depends on if Datura survives. However distasteful this may be… She will have to keep Datura alive. Not just for her own life, but because she swore to preserve life whenever possible. Maybe she doesn't always uphold that promise, but Datura is suffering not for her own actions, but because of some outside force that is tormenting her. And what Shinji said is also possible… Though she doubts this infection was always present. "Yeah… Maybe…" she offers non-commitally to Shinji.

The growing volume of the screeches and wails makes her feel like her head it is going to explode. "SHUT THE HELL UP, YOU BITCH!" she screams back at the wailing monster after it has emerged from the island's center. She gasps for breath, her ears ringing and her head throbbing with pain. As terrifying as this creature is, both in aura and in appearance, more terrifying is the prospet of not coming out of here alive.

So, running both on anger and fear, she prepares herself to fight for her life. If Datura survives as well… So much the better.

Mune doesn't know what effects this might have on her in the psychic plane, but she pulls out a vial of shimmering golden liquid from within her coat and gulps it down. In the real world, this elixir works because of the chemical composition. In here… There is no chemical. It's all in her head. Or in Datura's head. Whichever. So she works on convincing herself and Datura's mind both that what she just imbibed will make her stronger and tougher. Perhaps enough to resist the attacks of the Beast at least temporarily. But she is untrained in psychic warfare, so beyond that, she is on her own.

She draws another vial from within her coat and throws it hard at the pitch-colored abomination that has risen before her. Will the psychic representation of a corrosive acid do any harm? Only one way to find out.

The rumbling of the ground, the cacophonous wailing, the many visions of people and places and times he may or may not have been present for, are all fairly disorienting… Or would be if that was not >already< the state of Amuro's mind under >normal< circumstances. All those memories he has copied from others has turned the inside of his head into a virtual madhouse composed of scraps and pieces of other people's lives. So this is not exactly new.

The mass of oily tentacles (and potentially some vaguely humanoid features) seems to strike something in Amuro, because he offers only a single word upon seeing it. Even as the ground quakes beneath him, he can only say one thing: Its name. "Darkside," he states plainly in that extremely deep voice of his, though whether anyone can hear it over the rest of the noise is unclear.

What is clear is that it must be stopped. But he has to conserve his energy and he cannot rely on the ability that could end the fight immediately. He does not know if the side-effects would transfer to the physical plane or not, but it is better not to risk it here in Datura's mental space. Not unless absolutely necessary.

So instead he simply focuses his will, telling his psychic self that he is full of Chakra and ready to do battle. Maybe he cannot change Datura's mindscape, but he can certainly control his own self. However… Only when Darkside's weak point is exposed can he release his secret weapon. So he must survive until such a time comes. And maybe deal out some pain in the process. A kunai suddenly appears in his right hand in a puff of smoke. He hurls the kunai instantaneously at the Chakra Beast fragment -- and whatever it may have that approximates a head -- revealing there is a long line of explosive tags trailing after it, all leading back into Amuro's right hand, as though it were a portal instead of flesh. When the last tag leaves his hand, he sets them all off.

The incoming vial of acidic pain, the kunai that shoots towards it, even the explosive tags that attempt to reach the central mass of the pitch orb all fail to do so when the beast emits a wave of palpable chakra from itself. The attacks are turned to the side, falling to break against the ground, beginning to sizzle against granite in the case of the acid. The explosive tags are activated much too early, creating a chain of terrific explosions the moment the chakra pulse hits them, likely momentarily hiding the creature from Amuro's sight in fire and smoke.

The thing can feel Mune's anger, can sense her rage, hate, and fear. It is her at the moment it is most drawn to, her which is exhibiting the very emotions it fed off of. Just as Datura's worst crime was the memory that gave it the most strength, so is Mune the one who shines out from the group like a searchlight on a moonless night.

A long, distended tendril forms from the ooze that make up the beast, the rest of them withdrawing back into the floating puddle that formed it's physical presence. The tendril casts about wildly, like a firehose with no one manning it, as if searching for a presence, and then stills, having locked on to one. It shoots out like an arrow, it's edge forming a hard, sharp tip, headed straight for the medic's chest!

And yet Amuro would not escape notice, either. For his was the largest signature of chakra, another thing which fed the creature of terror and pain. He, too, it wanted to devour, to eat, and it would do its best to make sure he could not get away. Tiny spines form along one edge of its rounded body, facing the smokescreen. Before the visual disruption had even cleared or the last sound of explosion dies away, tiny dark needles of the deepest black come pouring through towards the masked male!


It is hard to keep your feelings in check especially when facing things of this nature. Like the spider incident, the rock monster and now this blob of black slime. Shaking his head, Shinji looks to the others to see where everyone is. Noting Kanami doning her mask, and Mune throwing a vial at the creature. He understood how she felt about this situation, but that had to be held in check for now, they had to help Datura and then deal with her when and if they win. Right now he didn't know what was going to happen. As Amuro says what it is called, Shinji doesn't hear their leader, right now his attention was focused on the blob.

Right now he did sort wished he had some ninjutsu to attack with, but then again he isn't a ninjutsuist. Watching as the blob formed a tentacle, then another one, his mind focused. As one tentacle shot towards Mune, then to Amuro. He didn't hesitate, moving with just pure speed Shinji is able to get in front of incoming spear like tentacle. With reflexes that he's trained to almost near perfection, Shinji is able to predict the strike and using a circular florish, he is able to deflect the tentacle away from himself and Mune. "I don't know what you guys cna do, but I will buy you time and keep you guys guarded as best I can." he tells them.

Kanami tries to analyse the opponent. But then she remembers this is no normal opponent. There is no proof it is even sentient. It might run purely on instinct or be so completely alien that no one can comprehend its workings or motivations. All she knows is it is strong and made out of Bad. But even the strong can be laid low.

She aims her sword at the Chakra Beast -- what Amuro called 'Darkside' -- and slashes three times. Kanami has zero skill at Taijutsu, let alone Genjutsu, and this funky sword is no different. So the sword does nothing… Except cause the blade to sprout venomous serpents that then streak outwards to try to bite Darkside and inject it with… Venom? Mind gunk? Who knows?

Mune sees the tentacle come shooting in at her. She is prepared to dodge, but it seems she doesn't need to. Shinji leaps in the way to deflect the attack with his hands alone. "Becareful," she calls out. "I don't know what touching this thing might do to you. We… REALLY do not need to be infected by this thing in ADDITION to Ryoko." She then considers her options. Simple chemicals are not going to do it. She may not be very well equipped for combat, but she's going to have to make the effort at least a little bit… Or possibly save her Chakra for healing those in need. If she even CAN heal anyone in here.

The physics os psychic planes escape her. Possibly because she never studied them. Either way, she decides to just pretend she knows about such and focuses her Chakra the way she would normally. Hopefully Kanami and Amuro can keep this thing distracted.

The failure of the explosive tags to do much is taken in stride, even as very loud and very bright detonations go off all over the place, masking the enemy. Before the flames have even begun to lessen in intensity a barrage of black needles comes pelting towards him. Amuro does not just have a massive amount of Chakra, he also knows how to use it. Evading by speeding himself up is no difficult feat. If he were relying solely on sight to distinguish black from black he would have had a harder time.

He is still looking for an opening… A weak point… He cannot strike with even half his strength until he knows where the 'heart' of the beast is. So he keeps things low-key for now. "Tajuu Kage Bunshin no Jutsu! <Multiple Shadow Clone Technique!>" Amuro calls out as he makes a certain unique hand seal. Six other Amuro appear. Two rush forward at the Chakra Beast fragment. One produces a sword from the palm of his right hand, which then goes flying through the air and begins to attack Darkside, seemingly of its own accord, though it is actually being controlled through hand gestures from that Shadow Amuro. The other Amuro attempts to get in close to the Beast, seemingly completely against what Mune just said about being infected, and tries to >punch< it as hard as he can. His skin has gone an odd dark-brown or dark-grey coloration. And his strength has just become enormous. Three other Amuro slam their right hands into the granite island beneath their feet and call out, "Summoning: Arsenal!" in unison. A >huge< cloud of smoke erupts from the ground.

When the cloud vanishes, there are only four Amuro left, counting the original. And a huge array of artillery pieces, statues of archers and soldiers bearing guns, bows and arrows, manning cannons, and more, all lined up behind that original Amuro. He keeps out of the fighting for now. No reason to risk himself. Though he has gained the same dark-brown coloration as the melee-fighting Shadow Clone… Just incase something happens he cannot foresee. The remaining Shadow Clone stands ready beside him.

Barriers begin to fly up as the members of the Tao Shih launch their counter-offensive. Dark-blue plates of energy begin to materialize in the air in the way of the attacks, crackling with bolts of black energy as they do. The first few strikes of Kanami's snake-sword manage to only get their fangs entangled in the shield presented as an obstacle. Others, however, merely go around the defensive obstacle, their teeth sinking into spongey, oily flesh. The tast would be foul, if they had any taste buds at all, nauseating even. Black gasses tear out of the 'wound', forming a ripped hole that doesn't seem to heal.

Amuro's sword penetrates one barrier, the clone wielding it sinking it deep into the beast itself. Unfortunately, the creature has no discernible anatomy at this time that would suggest hitting it in one spot would be better than hitting it in any other. Black gasesous substances 'bleed' out of the new injury, but the next blow from yet another clone is stopped cold, a blue shield of twilight energy appearing mere inches before the blow could be landed, crackling with malice as it prevents injury.

No sooner does Shinji stop one tendril, then another hydras its way out of that existing one as if growing another head. More and more quickly tendril out, spreading themselves like a laurel bush, each with a pointed, edged end, all of them dive-bombing towards the self-appointed male guardian. By getting in the immediate way, the taijutsuist had earned the creature's annoyance, and its attention.

Having deflected the attack away from himself and Mune. He hears Munes words of warning, "Alright." he says to her. "I don't see an easy way to attack this thing." he says to her. "I will do what I can to keep you guys protected." he tells them. Moving away from Mune, Shinji looks back towards the "Darkness" the tentacle comes back at him this time targetting him. He quickly moves to intercept it when it sprouts out a bunch of spikes, "Shit!" he says as he dives under it quickly letting it pass over him. It was easy enough to dodge but Munes warning of not touching it made this hard. He couldn't stand around and just let this thing continue on attacking the others.

Forcing himself to keep calm, Shinji moves himself up a few feet. He had to be able to react to the creatures attack on the others and hope to possibly take the incoming attacks or deflect the attacks from his group.

The serpents are not real serpents, per se… But whereas in the physical plane they are created through the twisted jutsu of the Doujouji Mask and are thus more or less made of Chakra, THESE snakes are made of the very spirit stuff that COMPOSES the Doujouji Mask. Inoue hisses at Kanami after some of the serpents successfully strike. 'Don't do that again. I will NOT risssk my very ssssoul for your 'friend'. That creature isss a corrupt monssstrosssity and can devour me whole!' Kanami does not respond to the warnings, but she heeds them. What can she do against a creature like this? Her main attacks involve snakes. So what…?

Then it hits her. Genjutsu. Genjutsu is about manipulating the Chakra inside of a person's head in order to control his or her perceptions and awareness. And where is she right now? INSIDE of Datura's head. Against what? A creature MADE of Chakra. She smiles slowly. "You will not have my friend, monster. I normally deal in the trade of fear with my Genjutsu… But just this once, I think I will do the reverse."

She attempts to form a Genjutsu Link with Darkside, even though she realizes by doing so that this thing might be able to travel back up the Link to strike at her in return. Normally, she uses FEAR as the element to open a Link. This time… She uses COURAGE. She tries to wipe all fear from her heart, as impossible a task as that may prove to be, and then simply strides forward confidently, focusing on what Datura means to her, and what she is willing to do to save her. If this creature is made out of all the BAD in the world, then its weakness should be GOOD.

…Maybe, anyway.

Kanami raises the Doujouji Mask sword high above her head. The blade turns into four serpents, each of which begin spitting bullets of fire at the Chakra Beast. The bullets explode whenever they contact anything. This is not Kanami's plan. Just damaging it will not be enough. She has to weaken it, or else it will just feed on their aggression. Or so she imagines.

Her own advice precludes her from getting in close to fight. But when one of those tentacles sprouts another tentacle in an attempt to stab Shinji, Mune does not really have to go anywhere to attack. It came to her. So she shrouds her hands in Chakra and attempts to slash a few times at it. It may not have any internal organs or true anatomy to speak of, but even if all she can do is wear it down slightly or distract it, so that another can take it down, that should be enough.

But she fears that there is no way to 'take it down'. She doesn't know if anyone else has any jutsu appropriate to this situation, but they are INSIDE OF DATURA'S MIND. Does just blasting away at this thing make any difference? Or should she be trying to find Datura herself and pull her out of this mess? Maybe if it can no longer feed on her, then it will just wither up and die--

A sudden realization strikes her. She turns away from the tentacle she has been slashing at while trying to avoid any counter-attacks from, and calls out, "AMURO-SAMA! I THINK I KNOW THIS THING'S WEAKNESS!" Can she get the vital information out in time, or will she be silenced?

The Shadow Amuro that got in close is repelled by the barrier. Hmm… So it didn't try to just infect the Clone. Good to know. Because Amuro realized only belatedly that those Shadow Clones are made of his own mental projections, not actual Chakra -- unless this Fuuinjutsu that Mino uses >does< give them Chakra -- and that either way the creature might attempt to infect a Shadow Clone. And then when the Shadow Clone is 'slain', that Chakra would return to him…

That could have been a costly error on his part. So he has the Shadow Clone using Earth Spear retreat for the time being, along with the one with the Dire Blade. They vanish into puffs of smoke. "I am listening, Mune," he replies calmly. "But wait one moment, would you?" Then he raises a hand and points at the Beast.

All the artillery, animated statues with firearms and archery weapons, cannons, kunai bomb launchers, and more, begin firing in a deafening, unending riot of sound. It is like being in the middle of a warzone, with all those projectiles attempting to strike Darkside and cut, impale, or just plain blow up, sending up great clouds of flames and smoke, as well as staggering shockwaves of force.

When the barrage finally ends, it is unlikely anyone can even hear Amuro were he to use sound alone. So he communicates via the Seals they all bear. « Now you may tell me, Mune. »

Though at first such a minor change that it may go unnoticed, the area around Kanami begins to illuminate slightly, the darkness of the 'outer space' around her receding just a little. At the same time, a large groan is heard, seeming to emanate from everywhere at once, as well as the sound of a woman screaming. The scream lasts only a second, high-pitched and in pain, before being cut off. And yet as the scream sounds the entire island lists dangerously to the left! Those who do not hold on to the smooth granite surface in some manner may suddenly find themselves tumbling down the rather steep incline! The floating isle is slow to right itself, the creature visibly shuddering in some manner, as the battle continues to progress.

The balls of fire shot at the chakra-beast are met with no resistance, no attempt to block or dodge the incoming blows. It's almost as if the creature wasn't even aware of their existence until they slam deeply into its side, shattering and burning the oily substance away around it. Black smoke pours from the wound, not from fire, but from within the thing itself, foul smelling and acrid enough to make weak stomachs wretch.

Mune's own attack is met with resistance, however, in the form of a portion of the blob's body attempting to wrap around her own limb and simply absorb the chakra of her attack! The medic manages to pull through, however, cutting large swaths through the thickened greasy substance before it manages to drain the chakra out of the attack. The problem comes from the noxious fumes from the wound, however, which then attempt to cling to her skin! If they make contact, they immediately begin to drain chakra from the blonde-haired woman, as well as causing an overwhelmingly paralyzing nausea and dizziness.

Amuro's projectiles are detected, the limbs that were previously attacking Shinji breaking off to swat down the many arrows, cannons, and bullets fired its way. There are simply too many to hit individually, and soon enough the many-limbs come together to form a latticed mesh before it through which none of the projectiles pass, only managing to scorch a few of the tendrils.

And then the tentacles withdraw, being sucked back into the heavily-damaged central orb, only to rise up again, forming a large, massive, edged tendril the width of a tree-trunk. This tendril shoots in an arc, going overhead, before coming back down like a an arrow to smash near Kanami's location, giving off an offensive, odious chakra pulse that was like a miniature explosion. Though poorly-aimed, it's attack covers enough area to perhaps still catch the Nogakujin, and certainly enough to destroy that portion of the isle.


Shinji still isn't able to do anything but dodge for now, but he keeps himself close to the ball o slime. As the rain of attacks strike he does hear a scream, He looks all around him, it was coming from everywhere. He hated not being able to do nothing, so far the only possibly being able to do something, well he didn't know unless Kanami is speaking loud enough for them to hear her and even if she was he probably isn't paying too much attention at the time. As the isle swings to the left, Shinji starts to slide until he manages to use this chakra which is still hard for him to use at time manage to catch himself after sliding down a good ways near the edge. Grunting and trying to grab the ground wiht his hands, the dark skinned Tao Shih guardian manages to keep his hold.

Shaking his head he starts to rush back towards the others, even with his speed though he isn't able to get towards where Mune and Kanami are as something shoots up from the blob only to land near where they are. Shaking his head, his only target is the damn blob. He had to take the pressure off the rest of the group somehow, so using his speed and grace, Shinji streaks off towards the blob.

He isn't using chakra but his normal speed isn't something to sneeze at. Leaping up into the air, Shinji spins rapidly and as he does he throws kick towards he guesses his center mass. Upon landing he strikes again with punch. He didn't know how effective it would be but he had to help somehow.

Kanami tries to evade the tentacle as it descends upon her. Yet… It does not seem to be DIRECTLY aimed at her. She puts it together too late. When the tentacle explodes she attempts to perform her special jutsu that can save her life. In the end, it is too late. She evaded the tentacle but not the attack. A blast of invisible, shredding Chakra blades come tearing out of the appendage, and rip Kanami to shreds!

Only… Why is Kanami wearing a red dress-suit, with skirt, fedora, and heels of the same color? How did she change clothes so quickly? The answer is that she didn't. Though she is injured, but only slightly. But the woman identical to Kanami that is lying on her back nearby, having been hurled away by the explosion of Chakra when it destroyed that part of the island, is not so lucky. She has holes in her, slashes, and is bleeding profusely. She tries to speak, but her lungs have imploded so she just makes wet noises in her throat from all the blood.

Kanami gets up and runs over to the woman that could be her twin. Where did she come from? "Rei… I wondered where you were," she says softly as she kneels down next to the red-garbed mirror-image. Rei cannot say anything, so she just looks into Kanami's eyes and an unspoken message passes between them. "Thank you, Rei-chan. Please rest now." She touches the woman and she fades away like a phantom, appearing to somehow MERGE with Kanami.

Kanami rises to a standing position. "I now embody all of the metaphysical elements," she begins. She turns to face the monster slowly. "From my mother, I obtained Order. From Inoue, Chaos. From Ringuu, Darkness. From Rei… Light." A cloak has appeared about Kanami. It seems to be made of radiantly-glowing feathers -- or perhaps just shards of crystal, each with a miniature star contained within.

"I do not hate you, Darkside, nor do I fear you. I do not love you, nor do I find bravery in your presence. But there is one you are keeping from me who I DO love… And so…" She holds out her arms as though to embrace the totality of the monster. "I offer you a sample of what you have never before experienced, and can never comprehend. I pity you for that."

Her armor, her crown, her sword, all become light. And then all the GOOD memories of Kanami's life are brought forth -- specifically those having to do with Datura. The parts where Datura showed joy. The parts where she and Datura expressed a sort of love for each other. A trust that was never truly spoken aloud, but existed nonetheless. She provides HER side of the memories, not Datura's side. She provides the internal struggle to rise above selfishness and apathy towards others. She provides her thoughts on why Datura is different. She provides her internal commentary and emotions concerning the changes being wrought by Datura.

In the darkness of Ankoku Cave, Datura was infected with evil. But when Kanami emerged from Ankoku Cave into the light, she was infected with compassion. And now she gives that compassion back to the monster a thousand-fold. A hideous assemblance of all the worst parts of Datura's life, with no room for love, is being exposed to that same alien emotion.

Kanami shapes all these emotions, all these feelings, into a massive SPEAR. Then she lunges at the monster, somehow wielding the weapon that is as tall at Darkside itself. Just before the point where she would hit if the monster does not defend itself properly, she says, "I love you, Datura."

The deafening explosions wipe all thought from Mune's mind simply through the pain that radiates through her skull. But more by reflex than conscious thought, Mune barely manages to leap backwards out of range of the clinging, toxic fumes. The smell was horrific just from getting a whiff of it. Her stomach clenches and heaves, trying to eject food that does not exist. Crossing oner arm over her face to try to block out the smell, she chokes and coughs. At least that got her senses back. But… She can't help here.

Datura is… Datura is evil! She is a monster! So other people treated her poorly. So other people kept comparing her to her sister. So what? Datura CHOSE to murder her sister for the actions of OTHER PEOPLE. There is NO justifying that.

Her anger, however, is not going to help. So she turns to Amuro and calls out in a strangled voice, "Y-you have to… Seal the bad memories… For now! That will weaken it!" Or so she believes. She is a doctor and a scientist. Very little of her studies have focused on mysticism and even less on psychic battles.

When she somehow hears the words of Kanami, she turns to look at her, and… Sees a second Kanami on the ground? The words being spoken, and then the injured Kanami vanishing are confusing to say the least, but there is no time for clarification. What Kanami is doing is… Beyond any experience Mune possesses. The half-Yotsuki woman can see it now, though. She has to remember the good parts… Even if they were all false… Even if every moment with Datura was a lie… There were feelings that accompanied those memories which cannot be destroyed so quickly.

So she turns her gaze on the monster and just tries with all her will to isolate the specific recollections of fun with Datura… Of concern for her well-being… Of hearing Datura say, 'I miss my sister.' She focuses on those memories as hard as she can. She cannot fight right now. Not if she is to focus to this degree.

Amuro was waiting for this. For this moment, when the creature is injured and weak. He thought when the time came that it would be him who directed the final blow. But instead the Seal binding his secret weapon simply tears and then shatters. He only has the time to whip his right arm up and aim it at the Chakra Beast, and then a torrent of blazing white fire comes tearing out of his palm. The fire attempts to engulf Darkside, but the flames quickly shape themselves into a different form. A pair of angel-like wings. And they are attached to someone.

A gigantic, goddess-like figure, with radiant flesh. She looks very similar to a young woman that was witnessed being bludgeoned to death not too long ago. And that is because she >is< that woman. Amuro removed the fragment of Yamanaka Riku's spirit that was buried in the Beast of Blood, in preparation for this. What he had not expected initially was that once it as removed from the darkness, the >REST OF RIKU'S SOUL WOULD COME FOR HER MISSING PIECE<.

Riku, in her entirety, is here. And she does not strike the monstrous mass of oily hate before her. She does not use any grand and powerful jutsu, or any sort of special powers. She just towers over everyone and everything, the tips of her white wings wrapped around Darkside loosely. All across her wings are displayed images of memories, similarly to what Kanami did.

But these are not just of the good times, but also of the bad. The struggles that Riku went through, how the whole time, everything she did, every attempt to improve herself, was not for herself, or her Village, or her parents… It was for Ryoko. She felt that no matter how much she improved, she would be inadequate. The same night that her parents had the discussion regarding sending Ryoko to Uzushiogakure, Riku had confronted them.

"There is no need for this. Please, just let me talk to her. There has to be a >reason< for all this. You know Ryoko! She is your daughter and my sister! She isn't a bad girl!" "I'm sorry, but we have to do something about her." "But--" "It's too late. If we don't do this, then she will be punished far worse." Riku didn't stop there. She marched out to the Communal Hut where the Yamanaka Elders resided, burst in on them and pleaded for leniency. "I will take over training for her myself!" "That is not possible." "I can do it! I >know< her!" "You do not understand. Your schedule would not permit such things." "My schedule?" "You have a mission to go on tommorow. A very important one. We cannot afford to have you wasting time on a spoiled child like Ryoko--" ">YOU'RE WRONG!<" Riku had shouted, startling all of them. "You think she's >spoiled<!? We were raised by the same parents. Do you feel I too am spoiled? Do you think you are somehow being rewarded for my services to the Clan? Do you think I am being given all these missions just to shut me up!?" "N-no, of course not. You're different. You are a prodigy, and natural genius. You're not--" "I'm not my baby sister, right?" she answered acidly. The Elders went silent and looked extremely uncomfortable. Finally, the head Elder said, "I am sorry, Riku-san, but this is not up for discussion. We have come to our decision." Riku just stood there for a moment and then said, "Then you can perform your 'important missions' yourselves."

She stormed out amidst cries of protest and demands for her to return. Riku practiced what she was going to say to Ryoko the next time she saw her. "Ryoko, I'm sorry. It's all my fault." She looked in the mirror as she talked to herself. "If I was a better big sister… If I was a better role-model for you… You wouldn't be getting treated this way. It just seems like… No matter how hard I try, I always feel like I'm not good enough to be your sister. Every time you get in trouble, I feel like I failed you by not being there, or not saying the right thing beforehand. And the stupid Elders… Always trying to tell me how 'special' I am, and how 'valuable' I am… But if I died today, the Clan would continue running the same. If anything happened to you… I… I wouldn't be able to keep on living."

As she speaks, the images of her own murder replace her reflection in the mirror. "Even when you were paying me back for my failures… Because I couldn't protect you… Because I didn't teach you right… All I could think of through the pain, was… 'Imouto-chan, I'm sorry for not being good enough.'" Then it all dissolves, and comes back to the present. Glowing too brightly for the details of her unclothed form to be visible, she has become only more blindingly luminescent during all this.

"But now, I have something else to say to you, wherever you are here in the darkness." The musical voice of Yamanaka Riku's ghost echoes the way no other sound has so far. "I forgive you for >everything< you have done. And I understand >why< you believed what you did about me. I forgive you… Whether you forgive me or not. I'm just sorry I can't stay longer."

Amuro raises his right arm again, as his last remaining Shadow Clone does the same. Then, together, Amuro and Shadow Amuro intone, "Sealing Technique: >Dual< Sum Of All Mankind Seal." Whatever is left of the Chakra Beast after all this is not going to ever infect anyone again. Assuming any of this works, of course.

As Shinji rushes forward, the creature doesn't so much as flinch before him. His first opening assault find only the thin air as it's body contracts and bends in ways only possible for a liquid, simply flowing around his attack. The followup strikes of his fist find only similar results, with the beast's body suddenly sucking in or splitting apart in the area he his attacking, nimbly dodging all damage done to it. Nimbly for a floating blob, anyway.

Once more the creature reacts as if it doesn't even see Kanami's incoming attack. Which is to say: not at all. There's no attempt at blocking the enormous white spear, no move made to get its bulk out of the way, nothing. It believed the unseen threat to be killed in its last attack, not still alive and active. So it must have been quite the surprise when the white-hot lance shears through its odious exterior, carving a path through the creature's body. For a moment, something resists, as if something solid inside had been struck, only to then also be pierced, the tip coming out the far side. The creature shudders, the inhuman wailing kicking up again as it shakes, growing four, eight, sixteen tendrils, and then more from it's body. Each of these thrusts into the ground all across the island, tearing through anything in their way. The beast had a jagged hole in its body, a vicious wound through which black smoke billowed, but it was not yet dead. Chakra begins to build up to precipitatious levels, until the very air begins to hum a dischordant note that causes the hairs on one's skin to stand up.

Those who are experienced in chakra know that so much energy cannot be stored in one place without unleashing. Violently.

The isle begins to crumble at the edges, pieces and bits breaking off rapidly, causing those standing upon it to rapidly begin losing ground to perch upon, forcing them closer and closer to the beast fragment, closer and closer to the impending explosion! And then the angel moves. She moves quickly, though it seems as if she simply serenely floats, possessing spectral, unnatural grace which belies swiftness. A hand is placed on the beast's oily skin, and immediately tendrils wrap around the limb, attempting to suck it in, to absorb it. As the skin over her arm begins to gray from the beast's unholy touch, those enormous wings begin to fold, encircling both Riku and the infection's source. A bright white light feels the air, more of a searing pain to the optics than an actual color, followed by the sound of an immense explosion as everything fades to white.

The wailing stops.

A gray void. For a moment, one could almost think they were in the sky, a sky right before the rain. Wispy white clouds flit past, as if moving through a fog. Nothing but the same in every direction: up, down, left, right, backwards, forwards. Gray air and white wisps. But this is not the sky. One can not walk upon the sky, stand on it, nor move through it. All four of the Tao Shih members would soon enough find themselves not alone, the others in their presence. Though the others may be standing upside down, sideways, or what have you. Gravity seems to be nonexistent here, and each person may walk wherever they wish, in whatever direction they wish. There is no difference between lying down or simply standing in an alternate position. There is no weight and no velocity to hold one back, and yet nothing is solid except each other.

And the crystallized ball. Nearly four feet across, the enormous sphere might at first resemble a shiny marble, albeit a ridiculously-sized one. Just beneath the glassy exterior is a murky, oily substance that shimmers and shifts. Occasionally colors break through to the surface, but only briefly, a shining mirage in a sea of black.


Shinji is the first to come into contact with the dead-looking orb. Suddenly, the opaque surface becomes clear, transparent to him. Something is happening inside, and there are voices, some of them familiar.

"WHAT IS HE TO YOU!? SOMETHING TO BE USED AND DISCARDED! DESTROYED WHEN HIS PURPOSE IS NO MORE!" Datura was screaming, wearing all gothic black, a dress laced with midnight web designs, her hair pulled up into its customary quasi-pigtails, her hands at her sides, balled into fists. …Her eyes had no pupils, and were coal-black.

"No! He has risked his life for you, to save you, that has to mean something!" Riku's white kimono nearly blends in with her pale skin, one hand clutching the cloth near her throat as she reaches out imploringly towards the third person within the ball.

Yamanaka Ryoko was on her knees, sitting back on her heels. The tattered remains of a gray kimono was upon her, cuts and sores having formed to mar her perfect skin. Her hair was in disarray, her lips dry and cracked. Her hands clutched at her head so hard that her fingernails drew blood as she whimpered, her blue-eyed gaze cast solely upon the ground.


"You're wrong about him, monster. There is compassion there, and the capability for understanding. You mustn't throw him away in naught more than power-mad paranoia!"


Both his attacks miss, but he isn't disturbed by it. One must know that not always will your strikes be true, some will falter to give openings for new attacks. Backing away from the greasy oily black sphere. Shinji quickly hops back again as the giant light spear from Kanami strikes home, utterly brilliant, slightly blinded from what he is witnessing, he has to cover his eyes a bit to keep from truly going blind, even if it is for a few seconds.

As the light dims a bit he is able to see, keeping ready and moving to where the others are, Shinji stays up in front, so far the others were more effective then he is at the moment, but then again who knows if his attacks would've done anything to the sphere? The wailing was something he really could do without, but it wasn't the worst of his problems. As the sixteen tendrils thrusts into the ground destroying the isle, Shinji finds himself trying to the best of his abilities to keep from falling. Flipping, rolling and trying to keep from being loss in the craters that is being created. Once the ground stops shaking, Shinji checks for the others, "Everyone ok?" he calls out. Upon their responses Shinji would look towards the blob and his eyes widen in shock, what little he knows of chakra it can't keep doing what it's doing. The humming in the air was causing him to worry.

Just then his whole world is flipped all kinds of wacky, first he saw him and the others standing on the isle, and now floating or well him standing upside down and to the left. He didn't know what was going on, "Umm….whats going on?" he asks as he looks to the other Tao Shih members. Shinji hasn't experienced anything like this ever in his life, ever since joining the Tao Shih he was a wander happy wander. No worries and no cares, meeting people as he went, even caused a married woman to see that he didn't care the she was married, he flirted with her anyways. But since then, he's faced many things, standing where he is now though this by far had to be the wierdest and if things like this keep happening he is going to ask Amuro….that train of thought stops. Looking forward he notices that he's near a dead looking orb. As he nears it more, it becomes clear and as he looks inside something seems to be transpiring. There a conversation going on, and well it sounds like they are talking about him. 'Why are they talking abou…..' he pauses in thought. Listening, and watching Datura, Riku and Ryoko talk about him. Datura and Riku think positive of his actions Ryoku against. He had to let them all understand, it's been a long time since he's really let anyone into his actions. "I'm not here for any selfish reasons." he states hoping they can hear him. "I don't know you as well as I would like to. That can be said about the others as well." he pauses for a moment, his eyes searching for Ryoko, Riku and Datura. "I'm here because someone I would like to know as friend, like to get to know was in need of our help." again he pauses, allowing his words to be heard for a moment. The calm and patience he shows is one no one has seen, again he's not gotten a chance to know everyone personally. "It's hard for me to say this due to what I've seen, but we all deserve a second chance. I know the ohters may have something to say, some harsh words, others more encouraging, but you need to pull yourself out of this. We want to help you, we want you to come back, but you have to trust in us to be able to do that."

What the Nogakujin sees is no different than what the male mercenary sees. Datura, dark and beautiful, Riku, light and regal. And Ryoko, stuck between them, near to tearing her hair out in misery and despair.


"That's not true, Ryoko! Think about your time together! Think about the things you've shared!"


"You don't have to live this way anymore, imouto-chan! Let go of the hate, embrace what's right there in front of you, please."


"Has life now become so hollow? You have turned from all that have loved you and what has have you gained!? Your life is not happy! And it never can be if you don't learn to care for others!"



The spear of light and joy was not easy to forge, and even harder to maintain. Once she has impaled the creature, even before it begins to tear the island apart, Kanami is almost ready to collapse. But she fights against exhaustion anyway. Why is she suddenly so tired when she has so much Chakra left to her? Because the 'help' she had, the spirits of her mother, a comrade, and a childhood friend, all of which were bolstering her in this horrible place, have vanished. No more cape of light, no more crown, no more sword, no more armor.

She's on her own.

That's when the very ground she is standing upon explodes.

When next Kanami is aware of her surroundings, it is as she lies upon… Nothingness. Some 'gray air', like fog, that fills whatever space she now exists within. This is not the void from before. This is just… Something else. She has no idea what and is almost too tired and dazed to care. Then she is drawn closer to the sphere of oily darkness. Even without moving from where she lies, she is just floating towards the orb. She bumps into it, and the contents suddenly become clear.

She can hear in her head the words of Datura and Riku. She breathes shallowly as she listens to the debate. Then her lips close as she breathes through her nose instead. Yellow eyes half-open, she stares down into nothingness as her smooth, ebony hair hangs about her and pools on the air itself around her head.

'Kill me…' she thinks. 'I would have laughed at that about six months ago. Has it really been half a year since we first met? Well, I would have laughed if you had spoken of killing me back then. Because for you to be able to kill me would mean you were real. And back then… I did not think anyone was real. No one but me.'

Images come to Kanami's mind unbidden. Memories of the past and herself as a little girl in the Land of Rivers.

For how much it has been raining of late, one might think this was the Land of Rain instead of the Land of Rivers. Which is not to say there was a lack of rivers. They had made themselves well-known thanks to the rains. The rivers and streams had become swollen with rain water and were spilling over their normal bounds, and starting to flood the forests and fields of the country. This was the third day in a row that Kanami's practice for a minor theatrical debut -- what she had previously insisted was her 'first play' though it was not so much a classic or scripted play as a way to show off her skill at performing -- had been postponed. It was supposedly because of the heavy rains, but she knew the real reason. It was because she wasn't ready.

She was often said to resemble a miniature version of her mother. She was just as elegant in features and mannerisms, but she lacked the refined beauty and grace that Seishino Merodi display. For now, she is simply an adorable, striking, and precocious little lady. But right now, an expression is on her face that none have seen on her before: Sadness and utter misery.

A week ago, her mother died. Right in the middle of watching Kanami's rehearsals for a 'test performance' at the theater, her mother just passed away. At first Kanami thought she was sleeping. But when her tugs on her mother's cold, lifeless hand received no response, and her entreaties to wake up and watch her dance were ignored, others came over to check. And that is when they found out.

The funeral has already been held, according to the customs of the people of the Land of Rivers. It has not stopped raining since the day of the funeral. And on a day like today, after three consecutive days of rain, it seems like it will NEVER stop raining. 'Good,' the little girl thought darkly. 'Let it keep raining. Let the whole world weep with me. Let it drown in my sorrow.'

Her teachers keep expecting her to push on ahead, to keep up her training, and to continue with her performance. They keep stressing the importance of 'No-Mind' -- the ability to act without thought, to move without intention, and to perfectly synch with a given role. If she could become someone else right now, just to get away from the pain in her heart, she would gladly do so. But their insistence on pushing her and driving her onwards as though she were a horse to be motivated by the whip… Well, their expectations of her are ridiculous. 'How can they expect me to play at pretending at a time like this? My mother is DEAD!' Tears leak from her eyes as she watches the rain drops pelting the glass pane next to her while she sits on a pillowed bench beside the window.

She turns, wipes the tears away and hops down to the floor. For no audience at all, she begins to speak lines from O Fortuna, projecting her voice as she has been taught, "Fate is against me in health and virtue, driven on and weighted down… Always enslaved! So at this hour without delay pluck the vibrating strings; since Fate strikes down the strong man, everyone weep with me!"

She then stands in her bedroom in silence. 'Well, things will be different soon.' She heads towards her dresser and picks up a simple, featurless, ceramic mask. No decoration or indication of gender is upon it. "Because I am about to bring you back, mother."

Kanami has not eaten in three days. The others are worried about her, but Kanami knows what she is doing. She needs to purify her body and spirit through fasting. She learned that much by listening in on conversations and by reading things she should not have been reading. Everything is ready. She has spent the required three days meditating. It should have cleared her mind and heart, and left behind only the purpose of the ritual she was about to perform. Given that she was still full of pain, she could only assume the purpose of the ritual was thus to alleviate her heartache.

She places the mask on her face and allows it to adhere there with her Chakra. Then she closed her eyes and focuses, trying to reach her mind backwards, tracing the route of her blood relations from the physical world into the spiritual. She opens her eyes and finds herself trapped in darkness. No sight, no sound, no feeling, no smell, no taste, no sense of time or place or anything else. She is simply a collection of frantic thoughts in a void, desperately searching for any sign that she is not alone. She would remain there for what felt like a full year in her mind. And then she finally saw something. She glimpsed beyond the veil that seperates life from death. And what she saw there BROKE her.

Kanami became aware, gradually that others were around her. Her family, and one of her teachers. They had found her on the floor of her room, pale, shaking, unresponsive. She would eventually recover, but she would never be the same. Kanami tried to talk to others about her experiences, but aside from being reprimanded for attempting to forge her Mystic Noh-Men before she was ready, they only said that her lack of eating properly for three days must have caused hallucinations. At times, when she begged her teachers to listen to her during her lessons, and they just kept right on talking and explaining like she wasn't even there… She felt like they couldn't hear her at all. Like maybe she was talking to rocks. And that is how she put it together in her head. They couldn't hear her, because they weren't real.

She was the real one. What she had done, they could not replicate. That is why they had no answers. She had seen beyond the world she had grown up in, and into the vast multitude of possibilities that encompassed every other world conceivable -- real or imaginary. Whatever she had seen was the truth. She had broken free of the shackles her own mind placed upon her. Meaning that it was up to her to decide the fate of everyone else. She was the Goddess. All existed because SHE existed. Without her, there would be nothing. So she decided to play her role.

Her teachers were delighted to see a marked increase in Kanami's rate of improvement both in theatrical arts, and in Ninja arts. She seemed to have gotten over the unfortunate loss of her mother finally. And in 5 years later, at the age of 13, she correctly created her Mystic Noh-Men. No one bothered to ask what spirit she had contacted. That was a personal matter, after all.

A year later, an argument with a childhood friend when Kanami tried to explain to the other girl how she felt, and what she had determined about the nature of reality, even though there was no real point in explaining to a 'fake person', resulted in said friend plummeting onto jagged rocks. They had been on a cliff, by the coast. Kanami had gotten down to where her friend was, looking perfectly calm, even as her friend groaned and cried in pain. Kanami sat down and ate lunch. Her friend died slowly, while her supposed 'best friend' watched interestedly. Just before the end, Kanami got up wiped her hands on her friend's clothes to get the crumbs from her lunch off, and then picked up a nearby stone that had been worn smooth by the tides, and finished the other teenager off. The feeling of power that flooded her when she committed this act was unreal. It was the closest thing to the pleasure of a woman's body that she had ever experienced. She had made this life… This 'fake girl'… And then she had ended it. No one had stopped her. No one COULD stop her. Because she was real, and they were not.

Pleased with herself, she climbed back up to the cliff and went home. She never admitted to having seen her friend recently when she was questioned. And though people searched high and low, no one ever found Ringuu.

Kanami lost a comrade during a botched assassination mission when she was 16. They had been posing as 'special' young geisha for a lord from a distant land who had already attempted to conquer the Land of Rivers through a hired Clan army, and thought somehow the Nogakujin would not trace it back to him. She and her Inoue were supposed to do ANYTHING to get close to the lord, and get him somewhere private. But Inoue had been unable to stomach the public molestations of the vile lord at a banquet in his honor. She tried to kill him too soon. Her poisoned hair pin was noticed by a guard and stopped from being used.

Kanami acted shocked. She perfectly portrayed a teenage girl who had been paid to have sex with a much older man to earn his favor for her Clan and had no idea her companion was an assassin. She was released after being questioned, in order to report back on the mission's failure and get new orders. If she had struck too, she could have finished the lord before anyone could react. But why should she risk herself for her friend and ally? Further, she was in her role. She could not break from the role she was playing because one actress wanted to spoil the play.

And yet it was Inoue's spirit that would make the force powering her Doujouji Mask. Ringuu would be the spirit to power her Lady Aoi Mask, many years later.

All of that was in the past though. Since meeting Datura, she had not just been following a role for once. For once, she was living for enjoyment. She was taking pleasure not just in knowing she was the Goddess, but also in what the 'false life' presented her with. And gradually, she began to feel attached to the blonde. "Datura… Ryoko…" she whispers out as she lies in the fog, pressed against the sphere. "I care about you. You matter to me. Because as well as understanding you, I have been made STRONGER by you." She lifts her arms a bit, and pushes herself up off the air, and rests both palms against the orb with the three blondes in it. "Without you, I would still believe everyone else was fake. It's true… When I first met you, and for months afterwards, I saw you as just a toy. An amusement. Nothing more. But no longer. I have rejected the concept of a 'false universe'. I once said something to you, when we were at a dayspa." Her voice gains strength and volume.

"'Life is but a stage, and all the men and women merely players. Each man has his entrances and his exits, and one man, in his time, plays many parts.'" She smiles. "Do you remember how you responded? Because I do. You said if anyone was real… If anyone was the 'main character'… It would be YOU. And now, with all of us here, trying to save you, I think you were on to something. I understand Stage Theory better now. In our own views, each of us is the main character of our own play. There is no single overarching view that defines everything. It is how our various plays interact, meshing together, and forging something new and wonderful, that is what really makes life what it is. Without you to contribute to my story, and me to contribute to yours, we would not have the epic tale that we have told together. And without you, I would still be trapped in the belief that I am alone in the universe."

Kanami presses her palms against the orb harder, leaning against it with her slender body. "We still have many stories to tell together, Dat-chan. Our tale doesn't end here. The world is a big place, and the two of us… No. ALL of us are ready to resume our adventures and to create a story that will be told and retold for ten-thousand years." She smiles and rests her forehead on the orb's surface, closing her eyes. "Are you really going to let this be the end of your story, Dat-chan? 'And then she died'? No dramatic flare, no indignation, no stubborn refusal to give in? Maybe it's selfish to beg you to come back to a world of hurt. But I can promise you right now, that even though no one heard me when I tried to reach out for help, that I will hear what you say, and I will take your hand. I don't want to be alone. And I don't WANT to be real if it means existing without you."

The images are the same, as always, when Mune comes into contact with the shimmering, inky black marble the size of a small car. It's the words that are different, things that only she could hear and no one else present. Whatever mind foolery was going on here, it was ensuring each shinobi heard a different tune.


"It doesn't have to be that way! She came here for you. That says it all! You could not ask for a more loyal friend, imouto-chan. Do not let paranoia deprive you yet more joy."


"No! She did not tell him to cause you pain, Ryoko. Please, he brought me to you. You have to fight this, you have to turn away from what your life has become. What measure of happiness has the killing and the money every brought you?"


"No, you can choose another way! Please, Imouto-chan! For once, don't turn away from the people who care about you."

The appearance of Riku, the visions of the past reflected in her wings, the spear of light, the island's destruction, and then the massive explosion of Chakra… The devastation is too great for Mune to cling to her positive feelings and thoughts. She hurts a bit when she recovers her senses, but surprisingly not as much as she should. When her partially-bare chest is pressed to the orb, she becomes aware suddenly and tries to use hands to push away--but already she is seeing and hearing things. Ryoko in the middle, with Riku and Datura on either side harping on and on about their opposing viewpoints.

Mune narrows her eyes and focuses on Ryoko. She looks to be in pain. As much as Mune had meant it when she said it before, Ryoko does not deserve to suffer. Maybe she made a bad decision. A terrible, horrendous, monstrous decision, but eternal torment is not the solution.

"I won't condemn you to suffering. That isn't my place to decide. But… I want to kill you. You have done so much evil, and now it has come back for you… I should just leave here and turn off whatever is keeping you alive. I really should." She looks away, towards Amuro, and then to her right, towards Shinji and Kanami. Maybe they aren't hearing what she's hearing or seeing what she's seeing. Various thoughts flash through her head, but mostly the cold, calculating logic she tries to abide by under ordinary circumstances has long-ago gone haywire. Now it's mostly turbulent emotions. Her first sensei trying to teach her to analyse a situation, consider all the variables, and then act. Amuro drilling countless more lessons into her brain. Neither of them told her to rely on feelings or illogical assessments.

"…I've seen what you've done. I witnessed you murdering your own sister. It was a betrayal of every thought and feeling I had for you. I thought you were bratty but essentially just a good person who had a rough life. Now, even after witnessing everything… Or perhaps BECAUSE I have witnessed everything… I understand. And I agree. You're right. The world is a terrible place, full of selfish backstabbers. They didn't show you the recognition you deserved. They were blind to your feelings. You were justified in being angry. But even knowing all that…"

The dark-skinned woman clenches her hands into fists and tightens her grip enough so that the sound of her own skin applying immense pressure on itself is audible. "…I still hate you. We all went through the same hell trying to save you. We endured all the memories, and I felt sympathy for you, and a desire to ease your pain from the tragic death of your sister… Only to watch you murder Riku. No matter what OTHERS may have done or how OTHERS may have treated you, it is YOU who is responsible for your actions! You CHOSE to take it out on the only one who supported you through everything! The only one who would have listened, the only one who would have laid down her life to protect yours… She was the only one -- other than YOU -- who blamed her for your failings. I just CAN'T forgive you! I hate you so much I could kill you right now!"

She raises a fist in the air, engulfing it with Chakra, prepared to bring it down on the orb's surface and smash it to kingdom-come!

No blow ever lands.

"But…" Mune clenches her teeth, and gradually relaxes her hand as the Chakra flames fade away. "…Even so, with all that you have done, while I can't forgive you… I can give you an answer to this dilemma, and I can give you a second chance. Hateing you won't fix anything nor will killing you. Just like killing me or hateing me won't make you less miserable than you are right now. Maybe I came here as a friend and will leave here as something less. But before you decide what to do, I suggest you listen to this:"

Mune places both palms flat on the orb's surface and intones, "'Freedom isn't found in chaining yourself to the expectations of others.' It comes from a story I've been writing. I may be a scientist and a doctor, but even I like flights of fancy sometimes. The story is an adventure novel about an independent young woman who is seeking the meaning to her life. Her sister left behind words of wisdom for her, and it is this heroine's decision to journey all over the world, and completing her sister's scroll with the wisdom she obtains from her experiences. There are good times and bad times. Joy and sadness. Love and hate. But in the end, she decides that there is already enough bad in the world and enough hate. So when her own Village comes for her, demanding she return and fulfill her duty, the woman stands tall before the assembled forces. She refuses to go with them and return to her 'duty'. They declare her a traitor and insist that she give up. She draws her kunai instead. One woman against an entire army."

It is almost like the others can SEE the scene being described as a real scenario. Mune's voice gains fervor as she continues to explain and describe.

A blonde-haired woman with blue eyes in a kunoichi's outfit stands in a field. Before her are hundreds of enemy ninja and soldiers. They are shocked for a moment that she thinks she can fight them off. The leader of the enemy forces draws his own sword and motions for everyone to stay back. Then he charges the woman. They engage in a serious of rapid clashes with blades, until the heroine falls to one knee, exhausted. The leader stands triumphant over the golden-haired woman. "It's over for you, woman! I don't even know why we're bothering with a traitor like you." The heroine's head down, breathing hard, she opens her mouth and asks, "Can I say just one thing?" "TOO LATE!" The leader yells out as he stabs her through the belly with his sword, making it come out her back. As the leader grins with the heroine's limp body leaning against him, the kunoichi's bloody lips manage to get out, "You can give up…" The stabbed heroine fades away as another one stands behind the enemy. Then she finishes, "…On me giving up." Before the leader can turn to face her, she delivers a kick to the warlord's face that sends him to the ground with missing teeth.

"Maybe duty exists in this land of ninja," the heroine begins. "And maybe loyalty too. But I am loyal only to the memory of my sister and my duty is only to myself. I am responsible for my own actions, not those of your Village or any other. And I vow that if freedom exists in this accursed world, I will find it and grab it with both hands!" The warlord stares throughout the speech. "You aren't the coward and traitor who we were sent for… Wh-who are you!?" he demands in fear from his spot on the ground. The heroine stands tall before her fallen foe, all of his minions too stunned -- and perhaps scared -- to help. "My name…?" the woman begins.

Then she holds out her hand and says, "It's…"

Mune goes silent. Then she opens her cyan eyes for a moment and looks in on Datura. Then she looks at Riku. And finally, at Ryoko. "Yamanaka Datura," she finishes. "The very first line on the scroll her sister left her was, 'Freedom isn't found in chaining yourself to the expectations of others.' YOU said those words. I have admired your spirit, your determination, and your will to live the life you wish instead of what others expect of you. You are free in ways I have never been. And I think we have more than enough hate in this world, so I'm going to give up on hateing you. And you should give up on listening to either Datura OR Riku. Datura is telling you wha to do, and demanding you kill and accrue 'power' by any means necessary, and to be strong. Riku wants you to love and accept everyone, and to be happy. But you don't have to go to either extreme."

"You can be the heroine in that story, Ryoko. You can choose for yourself to be happy AND strong. You can love and accept or hate and kill… But just as Riku supported you in life, and the expectations of others held you back, you can do reverse everything. You can break from the expectations of others and accept the support of those who care about you when you need it. You can be independent, but you don't have to be alone. And like Kanami said…"

She looks at Kanami. "When you get out of here, we'll all be ready and waiting to continue our adventures… And no matter where the road may lead, you can still be the heroine. If I truly didn't care about you at all, I would have attacked you. If I truly wanted you to die, I wouldn't be giving you this speech. You're worth saving. So don't waste our efforts to save you."

Amuro's vision of what is within the sphere is much the same, but the words are different.


"To what end? Is the life he leads any less filled with misery than your own?"


"And what enemies are these? No one hunts you, no one hurts you but yourself, Imouto-chan! Will you keep on killing simply to prove your power over life and death? Oh, Ryoko, let it go. That life, you don't need it. What will this nebulous 'power' get you that you cannot already gain?"


"No! Something has to give, Ryoko. He is trapped in his own misery, do not mire yourself in it, too! There has been enough pain."

Amuro was unwilling to use this particular Seal technique just for a fragment of the Beast of Blood. The Sum Of All Mankind Seal is potentially the strongest Jutsu he has in his arsenal… More so than even his Jutsu for controlling the memories of others. More so than his Jutsu for killing someone outright with a touch. But it comes at a price in the form of one's physical health and one's overall power. Amuro managed to split that "cost" between himself and a Shadow Clone this time, but even so he is much weaker now. When Darkside is wounded by Kanami, weakened by Mune, and distracted by Shinji, the final blow is dealt by Riku. Then Amuro just tries to pull the Chakra Beast in two different directions at once. He does not find out if he succeeds in his plan to not just Seal away Darkside, as was his original intention in coming into Datura's mind, but to make it lost forever in a timeless, formless, inescapable prison from which not even Amuro can recover it. That was the new plan, after witnessing all of this: Not to reclaim the Chakra Beast fragment from Datura, but to make sure it goes away forever and cannot be recovered by any means.

But, as mentioned, Amuro does not find out right then if he is successful. Because that is when the mental universe that is Datura's mindscape appears to >explode<. The vast amount of Chakra building and then releasing has various effects on various people. To some it is just disorienting. To others, it is a devastating experience that throws all of existence into chaos. To Amuro it does something else. Something completely unexpected, even for an ancient man like him. It makes him >remember<.

What does Amuro remember? He remembers his life from >before< his earliest recollections. His first memories were of waking up in a hospital bed with the woman who would later become his wife, Uzumaki Natsu, tending to him. That was it. He was already in his 20s at that time. More than 20 years of life and not a single memory to show for it? Well, it seems something has been knocked loose, because now he is recalling something… Something from… His childhood?

Though everyone experiences something different when contacting the orb, as Amuro's drained and exhausted body touches the sphere containing Datura, Riku, and Ryoko, the towering masked man gives no indication of even being alive still. Standing on the grey fog that shrouds evertyhing, red-haired woman in the combat uniform of an Uzumaki kunoichi stands off to the side, watching with concern. She is not seen by anyone else here. No one except Ryoko and Amuro, that is. But when she turns her gaze on Ryoko for a moment, Natsu seems to come to a decision. She takes one of Amuro's massive hands in her own much smaller hand and then places her other hand on the sphere.

Then, what Amuro is remembering, his thoughts, and all the rest, are clarified for a moment and projected to all members of the Tao Shih here in the psychic plane.

The grey skies of winter are filled with a hazey sort of cloud cover. Snow begins to drift down in motes of white. A young boy stands alongside the road, in >very< old-fashioned clothing, and looks up at the sky. He has shortish black hair, and a leather cap on his head that looks similar to a beret. This is his first snow, so he stares in confusion and amazement as the snow flakes fall down around him.

When I was a young boy,

The boy jerks a bit and looks up as a man nearby takes his hand. The child can only see some of the man's features in the dim lighting, but recognizes him anyway.

My father took me into the city
To see a marching band.

A city unfolds around the boy, seeming to exist mostly because he perceives it, rather than because it was already there to perceive. As the youngster stands on a street corner with his father and watches a band come marching through, the boy smiles and laughs. Clapping his hands with joy as drummers, flautists, trumpeters, and many others give a show for the entire city, the boy does not realize why the parade is being held. It is to raise spirits, yes, but it is also to honor the fallen. Because this procession is taking place over a hundred years ago, more than half-way into the Clan Wars.

He said, "Son when you grow up,
would you be the saviour of the broken,
the beaten and the damned?"

As his father's heavy hand lands upon his shoulder, the youth that would later become known as Amuro turns his attention away from the paraders who pass by wearing a mix of black and white, with faces painted to resemble skulls. His father is asking him a question. But he does not understand the words. He just looks up at the tall figure, dark circles around his young eyes.

He said "Will you defeat them,

Amuro's father gestures across the street, at a crematorium, where the bodies of the slain are piled higher than one's head and are being hauled away inside to be incinerated.

your demons, and all the non-believers,
the plans that they have made?"

Amuro's father removes his hand from Amuro's shoulder and in Amuro's view the older male is just walking away and leaving him in the crowd.

"Because one day I'll leave you,
A phantom to lead you in the summer,

The snow that falls from the sky is not snow. It is ashes. And as Amuro's father wanders off into a sea of others dressed all in the same black, it becomes impossible to distinguish one from another. Amuro begins to panic, as the marching band continues to march and play their instruments.

To join The Black Parade."

Amuro runs around, trying to push his way through the crowd of morose on-lookers, all watching the skull-faced men play their instruments in the street.


More bodies are shovelled into the furnace across the street.


Amuro looks all around in fear, shadowed faces emotionless in response to his plight.


He catches sight of something red amongst all the black, and turns desperately to find it with his wide eyes.


Standing there across the street, in front of a howitzer-looking artillery piece, are several men in black robes with red clouds: they are strong-looking, grizzled veterans. They are mercenary soldiers known as 'Akatsuki', but they may be able to help Amuro find his father. Amuro starts to run across the street, seemingly in slow-motion…

An explosion goes off somewhere in the distance behind Amuro suddenly, masonry and wood works being scattered through the air and onto the street below as a building ruptures in a ball of flame. Child-Amuro lurches to a halt and turns to face the noise and the light of the flames, and others all around begin to flee, sometimes bumping him, and other times nearly knocking him down.

Another explosion goes off, destroying the city wall off to Amuro's left. When he turns to face it, a third explosion goes off just a few feet away as a shell lands nearby.

Then the memories of Amuro's childhood that are being displayed are replaced by a rapid deluge of images -- the memories of many other people, and many other lives, all stuffed into the same head. Among those memories and people that stand out are the red-haired woman that so far only Amuro and Datura have seen… As well as Datura herself, Shinji, Mune, Kanami, and Tomoyo. A virtual tsunami of experiences, emotions, and recollections, all visibly displayed to the others.

Then the wave of memories settles and turns into specific memories of a specific person: Datura. Datura can be seen meeting Amuro -- adult Amuro this time -- for the first time. She is being offered a heavy pouch full of coins for some reason, and accepts it in both hands as she bows forward, smiling innocently. In a blur, Amuro's right hand comes up and plants his palm against her forehead. Her blue eyes go blank as Amuro searches through her mind and copies some of her memories. Those memories visibly trickle up his arm and vanish into his mask in a way that is not normally seen in the real world. Then Amuro pulls his hand away, and a moment later, Datura's glassy-eyed expression regains its life and 'innocence' as she asks for more money. Even as she does this, the same set of memories from a different perspective overlays the current memories. Riku's spirit hovering above and watching over Datura.

Sometimes I get the feeling she's watching over me.
And other times I feel like I should go.

Datura turns as though hearing something, before shrugging it off when Amuro gives her a second -- though smaller bag -- and then skipping off to perform whatever has been asked of her.

And through it all, the rise and fall, the bodies in the streets.

Child-Amuro, covered in soot and bleeding from shrapnel wounds, stands in a devastated city, surrounded by the dying and the dead for a moment. Then the memories flick to a Kanami as an adult meeting Amuro at a theater in the Land of Rivers, after the Clan Wars and getting the same mind-reading treatment as Datura, and then Kanami's memories are added into the collage of lives.

When you're gone we want you all to know…
We'll carry on,

Datura's face with Riku floating behind her.

We'll carry on

Kanami's face, half-covered by the Mask that has been blessed by her mother's spirit.

And though you're dead and gone believe me
Your memory will carry on

A very exhausted-looking Datura crying for a moment, somewhere private and secure, as she is forced to remember the murder of her own sister at her hands.

We'll carry on

Kanami on-stage and performing, giving a soft smile that does not reach her eyes.

And in my heart I can't contain it

A younger Kanami trying to talk to her teachers about what she saw when she tried to make her Mystic Noh-Men, only to be ignored.

The anthem won't explain it.

A rapid shift to a scene of Shinji's initiation into the Tao Shih, in which Amuro checks his mind out with the Seal on his right palm. More memories join the others.

A world that sends you reeling from decimated dreams

Shinji wandering all over the various countries, seeing suffering everywhere, but doing nothing to stop it. He takes his payments for his mercenary jobs and just shakes his head at the way people hurt each other.

Your misery and hate will kill us all.

Shinji, from Amuro's point of view, only a short time ago, fighting against something that is literally pure evil and which could end his own existence at any time, all for the life of a woman he barely knows, just because he is tired of standing by and doing nothing, and wants to make a difference here and now -- with those he chosen to fight alongside not for money, but for a purpose.

So paint it black and take it back

A new memory is unlocked for Amuro. One he has never before recalled… Amuro as a young man, inking his right palm with a brush. The kanji for 'memory' is on his skin now, and he clenches his hand into a fist as he prepares to wipe the memories of every person who has ever met him, and then do the same to >himself<. Suddenly, there is Mune meeting with Amuro, and her own memories join the tapestry of lives that surrounds everyone now.

Let's shout it loud and clear

Mune as a teenage girl, with bruises and welts all over her from her sensei, 'Master Yue', and then Mune deciding not to take it anymore. She rises from her corner and drugs her teacher with the same skills he taught her. No knowledge is worth being treated like this. She just walks out of his home for good and leaves the old man behind.

Defiant to the end we hear the call

Mune as a grown woman uses her master's knowledge to heal instead of harm. She makes cures instead of poisons, and defies his teachings in doing so. Then she turns suddenly as though seeing the viewers.

To carry on

Mune's face with her high-collar in place.

We'll carry on

Shinji's face with war paint on his cheeks and over his eyes.

And though you're dead and gone believe me

Mune returning to the Land of Lightning to find a single, unadorned grave for her mother and all the rest of her direct relations. All the power and schemeing by her mother, and this was all that Yotsuki Makoto had to show for it? Mune turns away, memories of her mother floating about her.

Your memory will carry on

She won't let that be the end of Makoto. She will endure for eternity, so that her mother will always exist. Then the scene cuts to Shinji as…

We'll carry on

Shinji battles against a large group of ninja, and seems not to be doing so well.

And though you're broken and defeated

Shinji looks up from where he kneels on the ground, injured, as Amuro steps in and ends things rather swiftly. That was their first meeting.

Your weary widow marches

Amuro turns to face Shinji, but finds instead the sight of Natsu lying on the ground, dead. He rushes over, his mask dissolving as he becomes much younger again. When he arrives at his wife's side, however, she turns into a mass of black tentacles that reach for him.

On and on we carry through the fears

Kanami faces her fears and attacks the Chakra Beast fragment with her courage and love. The scene shifts to the recent past as Kanami impales Darkside with her spear of light.

Disappointed faces of your peers

Ryoko and Shinji, back to back, remaining unacknowledged on one side, and ridiculed by strangers on the other.

Take a look at me cause I could. Not. Care. At. All

Kanami passing through life unattached to anyone or anything, absent of empathy and hollow of true happiness.

Do or die, you'll never make me
Because the world will never take my heart

Shinji agrees to enter Datura's mind to save her without a moment of hesitation or concern for himself.

Go and try, you'll never break me
We want it all, we wanna' play this part

Mune contacting Amuro out of desperation to save Datura's life when she finds she can't do it on her own.

I won't explain or say I'm sorry
I'm unashamed, I'm gonna show my scar

Various images of Datura and Ryoko at different times in their life, including Ryoko miserable after the death of her sister and Datura laughing, and then Datura lying in the hospital bed in the present, looking horrible, even as memories of Riku show that her sister was willing to go out and >find< Ryoko if she ever got lost outside her body.

Give a cheer for all the broken
Listen here, because it's who we are

Kanami's sanity shattering after her experiences with her failed Mask-forging, and yet even as a thoroughly insane individual, she chooses to abandon the comforting madness and embrace all that she fears just to protect Datura from further harm.

I'm just a man, I'm not a hero

Amuro himself clenches his hands into fists and begins to rise into a sitting position as his memories and thoughts speed up and blur together, no longer just rememberances or just conscious thoughts. They are blending into something >other<.

Just a boy, who had to sing this song

Child-Amuro stands alongside Natsu and stares in confusion at his older self for a moment, before smiling and starting to cheer as the ancient man forces his mental self to his feet.

I'm just a man, I'm not a hero

All the memories of all those hundreds -- or perhaps >thousands< of people that fill Amuro's brain are assembled now. A massive crowd surrounds everyone here in the fog. Their voices are distant despite their proximity. Some yell condemnations, insults, and worse at Amuro. Others yell encouragement, praise, or just stand and watch. Amuro is running on empty right now. His Chakra and physical self have been exhausted by all of his feats recently. And yet he rises and places his right palm onto Ryoko's sphere of torment and indecision.

All the voices, all the memories clamoring for his attention, all the thoughts warring within, while his wife stands there next to his child-self and just wait.


Amuro brings his head up.


He sends arcing lines of Chakra throughout the orb, and says in his deep voice, "Datura."


"It is time to wake up."

Amuro flares with the last of his power he can afford to spend without dying, as he broadcasts for all to see the reason why he chose each member of the Tao Shih individually, and why he copied some of their memories. Because all of them, Tomoyo, Mune, Shinji, Kanami, >and< Datura, are the ones he wants to replace him as the leaders of the Tao Shih after he dies. And he wanted to make sure that they would be remembered for who they REALLY are if he does not die before them… So that he can make sure everyone remembers their stories and what they tried to accomplish.

We'll carry on
We'll carry on
And though you're dead and gone believe me
Your memory will carry on
We'll carry on
And though you're broken and defeated
Your weary widow marches on

"I am not going to live more than half a year longer. I could see who you really were, Datura. I could see the Ryoko that still lies within. And that is who I wanted to take over from me, and guide everyone to a future where people like Ryoko and Riku can live side-by-side instead of having to compete. You can replace me if you wish. On that much your injured self is correct. But there is no need for betrayal or manipulation. You will just be offered the choice when the time comes."

Do or die, you'll never make me
Because the world will never take my heart
Go and try, you'll never break me
We want it all, we wanna play this part
Do or die, you'll never make me
Because the world will never take my heart
Go and try, you'll never break me
We want it all, we wanna play this part!

The words of everyone around the sphere reach into it's depths, spurring the three women in into further heights of pleading, despair, and rage respectively. Ryoko, trapped between her sibling and her infected rage cringes further into a ball on her knees, the low, barely-audible keening of unchecked anguish escaping from her. Her nails dig furrows into her skin, enough to cause thin streaks of blood to mat parts of her blonde hair, crimson on yellow, and leak down her cheeks. She's shaking her head, slowly at first, mouthing a word over and over, a negative denial of everything going on around her. It becomes more violent by the moment, until the blonde's head is thrashing from side to side as she screams in vehement despair.

It's not long until that scream is the only thing coming from the orb, a bright-hot whiteness filling its interior, becoming so startling in its purity of color that it causes physical pain to look at. And then the screams form a pair of words, a single pair that is infinitely audible, felt as much as it is heard.


The sphere explodes, hurtling all away from it, spreading the members of the Tao Shih out in different directions. They hurtle outwards through the gray fog of nothingness, wind-that-isn't-wind rushing past them to tell them of the bone-crushing speed with which they are moving. Until they hit some unseen wall. Senselessness slams into each person, lack of sight, sound, feeling, hearing, touch, all gone in an instant. It is the same feeling from when they first began their journey into the rogue Yamanaka's mind, with the same distant feeling of being cold. Yet something is different.


The vaguest of senses that they are not alone, that someone is with them, around them. And the feeling that they are moving very, very fast, but without any phsyical indicators of such. All too suddenly, the five senses of each return with the same violence that they were taken away. They are back in their own bodies, in the hospital room, every sense suddenly so ALIVE after being dead that each one might HURT for the first few seconds. Each may feel a little drained, as if they had used a low-level jutsu for an extended period of time, yet no physical maladies that may have been suffered are present on, nor within, their bodies.

A quick take in the room would reveal Datura still in her bed, unconscious, her head rolled to one side, a nurse standing over her with a worried crinkle to her brow. Uzumaki Mino looked to be just about to fall to his knees next to the Tao Shih teen's bed, his hands folded as if he intended to pray. A more detail inspection would reveal the hands on the wall-clock… haven't moved. Not an inch. Seconds. They were gone for mere seconds.

Mino's head snaps up. "What happened! Did the technique fail?"


Shinji listened to those who spoke out while trying to communicate with Datura, but the one that catches him off guard is Amuro. He saw those memories, heard what he was saying and it took him off guard for a moment. His admission of what he wanted from them now coming to light, it moved him to a degree but turning ot look to Mune, and Kanami. All he knew right now was that everyone was here for Datura, why couldn't Datura see this? They all are here for her no matter whats happend, even though she did murder her sister. But he did see that she deserved another chance and wahte happens afterwards would be dealt with by them all.

But as Shinji is about to say something, Datura screams at them to get out. The sudden impact of her words reaches him and as he is about to say something, he feels her world shatter. "COME ON WE ONLY WANT TO HELP YOU!" he hollars at her as he is blown away due to the sphere exploding. All he can do is watch as he and the others are blown all in different directions, did he fail? Did he not keep his word to Amuro, or the women of their team.

As awakens on the bed he was on, his body ached, and he felt tired. He isn't dead, he isn't burned or even hurt. Looking over at the clock, it was only seconds? What the hell, it felt like hours, hell even days possibly. Rubbing his head as Mino asks them what happens, "She threw us out." he says to the man. He didn't know what else to say, trying to sit up, Shinji sits and tries to get himself together.

As witness to all that the others had to say -- Shinji's pleas to let him help, Mune's anger that dissolved into determination, and the staggering medley of emotions and memories from Amuro -- Kanami is a bit overwhelmed. Already weakened by her exertions, she provides no resistance when she is told to get out. She takes it as a warning, rather than a denial of their help. But she can't really do much. So she is hurled through the void once again. And though she fears it, she does not hide from it.

The next thing she knows she is waking up rather suddenly. The flood of sensations makes her eyes sting, her ears ring, her nose burn, and her body writhe with the overpowering feelings of air moving across her skin, and the texture of the cot beneath her, as well as just her own clothing! When she eventually gains enough coherence, to not wince at the sound of first Mino and then Shinji, she says quietly, "We did our best. I think that at this point we just need to wait and see if Datura can pull herself out of it now that the infection is destroyed…"

Then she turns her head to look towards Amuro and asks, "…It IS destroyed, correct?"

Mune doesn't know really what to think about what everyone else had to say anymore. Shinji and Kanami were easy enough to understand. But Amuro… It was just… Too much. Too much information. She is hurled at impossible speeds towards an unseen wall, and when she hits it… She feels like maybe she just died. Then she wakes up. And despite the pain and realization that all of that took place in only a few seconds of time, the dark-skinned woman is glad to find out she is actually alive and that she has not been in there for years. She was worried that perhaps Ryoko's protest and the sudden ejection was due to Mino pulling them out in an attempt to keep them from dying inside of Datura.

Her cyan eyes widen and she shoves herself back to her feet. She is slightly tired, but she has more tha enough Chakra to perform an emergency resuscitation if necessary. "Is she still breathing?" she demands suddenly. "What's her pulse look like?"

Amuro lies there and takes stock of himself. Did infusing his Chakra into Ryoko's prison to try to give her the strength she needs to break free work? He does not say anything to anyone. He just lies still and says and does nothing. He does not feel the presence of the Chakra Beast fragment in the dimensional prison he created for it. He is not even sure if the prison itself still exists. But that is really beside the point. As long as it is not still inside of Datura, he can worry about it later.

More important is whether Datura is still intact, and whether Riku's soul was thrown out as well or if she is still inside somewhere. Two souls in one body can be rather messy. Amuro should know. "I do not know if something like that can actually be destroyed. But I attempted to put it somewhere it can never return from."

"Threw you out?" The Jounin intones as he rises back to his feet, a serious frown on his face. He continues, in little more than a mutter to himself. "I was afraid she may repulse attempts to enter her mind, her or the infection." To Kanami's words, he can only spread his hands helplessly. "What exactly happened? I only completed the jutsu moments ago! Did any of you see-?"

But this inquiry is derailed by the medic's pointed question about the well-being of the patient, causing the Uzumaki to spin around and look first to the prone Yamanaka, and then to her attending physician. The woman, somewhere on the wrong side of forty, takes her hand away from Datura's forehead, ceasing her prying open of the young woman's eyelids. When she looks up, she's wearing a soft, comforting smile.

"She's sleeping."

"We know that!" Mino snaps irritably. "That has been the problem for some days now!"

But the nurse is already shaking her head, like a patient parent correcting an errant child. "No, she isn't unconscious or just sedated. She's sleeping." The woman points to the machine's keeping track of the blonde's vitals. The numbers and squiggly lines may be incomprehensible to most in the room, but Mune would recognize them right away. Heart rate and blood pressure were leveling out rapidly, ceasing their heightened sense of preservative fight-or-flight instinct that was sure to enventually cause her heart to give out. Her chest was rising and falling in a slow, easy rhythm. "We won't know any more than that until she wakes up. Now out!" She makes shooing motions towards the door like a mother hen scolding chicks. "The poor babe needs her rest!"

Upon searching for it later, Amuro would discover no trace of the Chakra Beast fragment on this plane or any other. Whatever he had done had managed to put it beyond the reach of anything on his world. Had it become another world's problem now? They had no way of knowing. Uzumaki Mino, of course, was filled with questions about the group's astral excursion.

From the prone blonde there was the smallest of sounds as she breathes in, then a slightly louder one as she exhales. It was so soft it might go unnoticed by the trained ear beneath the nurse's scolding and evacuation drill.

Datura was snoring.

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