“Scorpion!” Bear said, drawing Kyo's attention, though it took a second longer than if he'd used her real name.
She was still getting used to this code-name thing.
Well, she'd gotten used to kitten so there was nothing that said she wouldn't get used to Scorpion, too.
“Sir?” She questioned, rising from her seat in the large training room they'd been using all through last week. Five, or rather Sparrow, had been helping her with her taijutsu, and a few of the others were around, too.
“Your team's here,” he said casually.
Kyo nervously wiped her hands on her trousers, waved a hasty goodbye to Sparrow and followed Bear when he led the way out and down the corridor.
She was still new to this place, and fairly unfamiliar with all of it, but wasn't this corridor leading down to some of the hidden exits?
She didn't ask if she was leaving on a mission, though tou-san would be worried if she left without a word.
“Hawk,” Bear spoke up abruptly, drawing the attention of one of the three ANBU huddled close together at what looked like the end of the corridor. “I come bearing gifts.”
“Our new teammate?” One of the others said, this one with a grinning mask that looked somewhat dog-like.
“Scorpion, ANBU team 23,” Bear said, waving a hand at the three men. Then, he gave a respectful nod at Hawk, turned on the spot and wandered away again, leaving without a sound.
“That's him?” The canine-masked guy slumped. “He's tiny.”
Kyo bowed politely. “Nice to meet you,” she greeted, for lack of anything better to do. “Please treat me well,” she added, because that might be something that needed to be stated out loud.
“Kami, it's a kid,” the third member said, sounding slightly shocked, even through the voice-distortion seals. He was tall, broad-shouldered and rather imposing. But that sentence alone gave Kyo an inclination of his personality.
“I'm Hawk-taichou,” Hawk finally said, seemingly finished with his close inspection of her. “Come with us.”
And he jumped out of the concealed opening, the rest of his team close at his heels.
There was nothing other than for Kyo to hastily follow.
They settled down in one of the ANBU training grounds, the security seals carved into rocks in each corner all activated.
“Take a seat,” Hawk-taichou said.
Kyo slowly lowered herself to the ground, pulling her feet close to her hips, clasping her crossed ankles with her hands and giving Hawk an expectant look.
“I'm Hawk, taichou of this team. This is Hyena and Horse,” he introduced, pointing first at the canine-masked guy, and then the tall boulder of a man.
Hawk, Hyena and Horse? Kyo definitely felt like the odd one out. Was there supposed to be a theme?
“I'm Scorpion,” she said, perhaps redundantly, but it felt like the right thing to do after they'd introduced themselves.
“Specialisation?” Hawk asked promptly.
“Poison,” she hesitated slightly, before adding, “Stealth.”
“Sorry, taichou, I just have to ask,” Hyena interrupted, leaning forward to peer at Kyo. “How old are you, kid?”
Kyo stared at him a moment, before she flicked a glance at Hawk, who didn't seem upset or opposed to hearing the answer.
Horse gave a soft whistle. “Damn,” he swore. “Have you even graduated from the Academy yet?”
“Yes,” Kyo returned flatly. Because, really?
“Right, back on track,” Hawk said. “If you're a poison specialist, I take it you're an assassin.”
“Wouldn't you have read my file?” Kyo wondered, fingers tightening slightly on her ankles.
She got the sense Hawk was grinning at her. “It's always interesting to hear what people will tell you themselves.”
“Yes, I've been trained with assassination in mind,” Kyo answered with a sigh.
“Which is excellent, because that means you'll actually fit into this team,” Hyena said cheerfully. “We're all capable of dabbling in the art, though none of us are true specialists in that particular branch.” He snickered quietly at his own... tree pun?
Kyo wasn't even sure.
“We're a bit more versatile, so I hope to brush up on your close-quarter combat skills before our first mission,” Hawk said, causing Kyo to slump.
“I was afraid you'd say that,” she muttered, before she firmed her shoulders and determinedly faced her new captain. “My stamina is rather poor, too.”
Hawk nodded. “We'll work around it.”
“It's a good thing we've got a Horse, then!” Hyena exclaimed delightedly, as if this was the best thing that had happened to him all year.
Horse snorted, but didn't seem to have taken offence.
Hawk gave a heavy, long-suffering sigh, as if mentally asking the higher powers that be what he'd ever done to deserve this.
Kyo couldn't help but smile faintly behind her mask.
“You look super creepy, by the way,” Hyena told her sincerely, sounding rather admiring, making her bite her lip to keep from laughing.
Her mask was... special, that was for sure.
There was hardly any white on it, making the little there actually was stand out all the more. The majority of the porcelain had been painted black and red in a rather insect-like manner, with black pincers in the region of her mouth.
Sparrow had said the red paint made her look poisonous, which was entirely fitting, she supposed.
“Then let's see what you can do,” Hawk declared, getting to his feet and giving her an expectant look.
Kyo followed with a small, indiscernible sigh. She supposed they wouldn't appreciate being poisoned, either, so her needles were out, too.
What followed was a gruelling few hours where Hawk had her running through hoops. Or at least that's what it felt like.
At the end of it, Kyo was still on her feet, but panting harshly.
Hawk-taichou gave a satisfied nod.
“Meet up here every day for four days, and then we have a mission,” he said, tilting his head to look at Hyena and Horse, too.
“Sure, taichou,” Hyena replied easily, firing off a lazy salute.
With that, they were all dismissed for the day, and Kyo returned home, trying not to worry about what sort of mission she'd end up going on.
Apparently, whoever decided these things weren't a believer in starting slow, Kyo mused.
She and ANBU team 23 had left the village and were on their way to Taki, to assassinate an Iwa merchant that was supposed to be deep in the smaller country.
Kyo was being carried on Horse's back, to conserve her energy and to make sure she'd be at full capacity if they had to fight unexpectedly.
At least it didn't seem like Horse minded. He hardly seemed to even notice the extra weight, to be quite honest.
Being ANBU hadn't been all that different from what she'd already been used to, so far. This was the first mission she was going on, but the training Hawk had put them through had been remarkably similar to the things sensei had made her do since she was six. If only on a higher level.
The last week had been intense.
It took them two and half, almost three days to reach their destination. Mostly because of the level of caution they had to resort to the closer they got to the Iwa border.
It was the first time Kyo was part of a team that were just as stealthy as she was, and while it wasn't difficult to maintain the grip on her chakra, per se, it did feel strange to do so for such a long period of time.
They reached a larger village, more of a proper city, and snuck inside with no one the wiser.
Which was where Kyo had to get to work.
Hawk had provided her with a picture of her target, as well as some basic information, and they tracked him down fairly quickly. All four of them settling in to watch and observe him until night fell.
Sneaking into the inn he was staying at, into his personal rooms, was disturbingly easy.
No one noticed a thing and Kyo settled in to wait for her target and his companions to fall asleep for the night.
Part of the group was down in the inn's main room, drinking themselves into a stupor, so Kyo wasn't feeling particularly worried on that front, and they didn't have any shinobi guards.
This close to their home country, they were evidently feeling secure enough not to bother.
Her target was a slim man, a bit on the tall side, with grey hair and plenty of lines on his stern face. The glimpses she'd gotten of his eyes had showed a dark, intelligent gaze that made him look altogether crafty.
Kyo patiently waited until the room was still and quiet, filled with nothing more than the soft, peaceful breaths of the deeply sleeping.
Dropping down from her hiding place, still as fully concealed as she could make herself, with no presence to speak of, Kyo walked on light, silent feet to where her target was sleeping on a fuuton on the tatami floor.
Kyo crouched down next to him and slipped a needle from one of her wrist cuff holsters.
With a steady hand, she gently slid it through the skin on his upper arm, into the muscle underneath and then withdrew it just as gently.
The man didn't so much as stir.
Kyo wiped the blood off the needle on her pants, tucked it away and then left to rejoin the rest of team 23.
The merchant, her target, would be dead in a few minutes.
It felt like meagre comfort that she'd picked one of her kindest poisons, ensuring the civilian wouldn't feel a thing. He'd just... fade away in his sleep.
“We good?” Hawk asked in barely a whisper.
Kyo hadn't yet mastered the ANBU sign-language, but she was working on it. She knew the most vital signs by heart, at least, so they could make do in emergencies.
She gave a firm nod.
“You're terrifying, kid,” Hyena praised cheerfully, bumping her shoulder gently with one fist. “It's awesome.”
Kyo shrugged and didn't feel like responding.
It felt like she should be having some sort of reaction to this.
She'd had her first kill years ago, of course, but... it had always been in the heat of battle, life or death, people doing their best to kill her in turn.
This had been nothing like that.
That man she had just killed hadn't done a thing to her, personally. He was just living his life, doing his best to make a decent profit while he was at it.
And Kyo had killed him. Easy as anything.
Just because he came from the wrong country, was funnelling money into the wrong country. Helping funding Iwa's side of the war, whether he wanted to or not.
There was probably something wrong with her, Kyo mused calmly as they slipped out of the village without a sound, leaving not a trace but a dead body behind them. Because what she'd just done? It felt like a kindness.
After all the violent, painful deaths she'd seen by now -after just two, almost three years on the job- people dying was normal. How you went, though... that was the question.
At least her target had gotten to die in his sleep, without knowing a thing.
It would have to be enough to comfort her until she got back home, where she could talk to sensei and tou-san about this new development. Her lack of a reaction.
Eyes dry, hands steady, Kyo leapt back onto Horse's back and settled in for the ride.
Shit, Hyena's sense of humour was already infecting her mind.
Slipping back over the border into Fire Country, Hawk started leading them along the border in a westward direction instead of continuing straight back to Konoha.
It made a certain amount of sense to Kyo.
Their mission had gone without a hitch, they'd made good time and they didn't have a mission waiting for them back in the village. So it was perfectly logical to do a silent sweep of a small stretch of the border, check in with one or two border stations and just offer a bit of assistance if needed.
Hawk-taichou hadn't taken them further than a few kilometres when there was a flare of chakra to the north-west of them, up ahead but closer to the border, in the direction of where Taki and Kusa met.
'Heads up,' Hawk signed and changed course, speeding in the direction of the chakra spike, Horse and Hyena hot on his heels.
Kyo took a deep breath and began to mentally go through the weapons she had on her person, what poisons she had available.
It was the first battle she was going to consciously, if you ignored that one shortly after she'd just become a Genin, and she hadn't fought in that one. Not really.
She knew this would be different.
When they were drawing near, Kyo patted Horse on the shoulder in warning and then dropped from his back, opting instead to take her spot in the formation they were supposed to be running in. Hawk had adjusted it to take Kyo's young age and corresponding stamina into account.
Then there wasn't any time to think.
Hawk paused at the edge of the battle-field to take in the situation, make sure there actually were Konoha shinobi present and find the most advantageous point to insert his team.
A second later, they were in the thick of it, appearing out of seemingly nowhere to go after the Iwa shinobi trying their best to crush their comrades to a bloody pulp with blunt force and frankly terrifying earth jutsu.
Kyo had a kunai in one hand, and used the other one to flick lethal needles at everyone within easy reach she could, without distracting herself enough to get killed.
Instead of trying to go toe to toe with the generally burly Iwa nin, Kyo flitted around her teammates, severing a tendon here, stabbing a needle into a thigh there, going in for the kill when the opportunity presented itself.
It worked beautifully. Until the Iwa shinobi realised four ANBU had arrived to the fight instead of just three.
At least Kyo's size made her difficult to spot.
Hyena was trying to fight two Iwa nin at the same time, to shield the injured shinobi behind him.
Kyo raced towards him, speeding through hand seals. She finished in time to spit a series of small, deadly wind sickles, about the width of a grown man's hand, at the Iwa shinobi from the side, managing to hit one of them.
The man swore as the razor sharp wind attack sliced into his side and he turned towards her with murder in his eyes.
Kyo belatedly realised she had gotten too close.
Managing to slip beneath the no doubt devastating punch aimed at her face, Kyo jumped away, flicking a needle at the guy's throat in retaliation.
Which was brushed aside with an armour-clad forearm.
Kyo quickly jumped off the ground for the trees when her opponent flashed through hand seals of his own. She didn't want to stand around and wait to be swallowed up whole and ground to dust by the soil beneath her feet.
But she couldn't leave Hyena to take the attack in her stead, either.
Working as fast as she was capable, Kyo built up the chakra for her own attack, took a deep breath and raised her hand to her mouth.
With an explosive exhalation, she spat a near solid wall of air at the Iwa nin, who looked determined to weather the seemingly-harmless attack. It was usually used as a distraction, or to toss your opponent back.
Drawing a senbon quick as a snake, she coated the larger needle in wind chakra and threw it at the man's throat.
When he raised his arm to deflect it like he had the first one, it went cleanly through his forearm and lodged itself deep in his throat, all but disappearing from view beneath his skin.
Panting slightly -she'd used quite a bit of chakra in that jutsu- she remained motionless for a second too long.
She felt the impact, like a heavy punch, on her leg, but no pain.
Instead of inspecting the injury, Kyo threw herself back into the fray. She didn't have time to assess the damage right now; she'd end up with something worse if she stalled.
Helping her teammates, Kyo still tried to be careful with her leg, as much as she was able to without getting killed.
This was a battle fought on a higher level than she was used to, and it showed.
She did her best, though.
Running up the side of a tree, Kyo launched herself at an Iwa shinobi who'd been about to kill a man with a Konoha hitai-ate, and she practically landed crouched on his shoulders, stabbing a needle into the side of his neck, straight through the main blood vessel.
He'd die in a few seconds, which left Kyo free to flick to the next opponent, leaving the Konoha shinobi behind to hopefully catch his breath, focus and increase his chances of survival.
It was a free-for-all here, and Kyo couldn't think, was too busy reacting, taking in and sorting information to dwell on anything.
And all of a sudden, it was over.
Kyo found herself standing off to the side, having just killed a teenage-looking guy with black hair, his red and brown uniform stained with blood and stone dust, and there were abruptly no other enemies to focus on.
All of it had taken no more than a few minutes.
Breathing harshly and feeling twitchy like hell, Kyo glanced around, realising she should be looking for her team.
“Scorpion!” Hawk-taichou barked, making her jump and instantly shunshin across the remnants of the battle-field and next to her captain.
“Sir?” She asked, voice strained as her chest heaved to supply all her aching muscles with oxygen.
“You're still alive,” he commented. “Good.”
“Thanks for the assistance,” one of the regular Konoha shinobi said, giving Hawk a quick, shallow nod, before he turned to bark orders at his remaining men.
“Injuries?” Hawk asked once he'd made sure there weren't any other threats around.
“Nothing but bruises, taichou,” Hyena bounced on the balls of his feet.
“None,” Horse replied, much calmer than the shorter man beside him.
“Scorpion?” Hawk pressed, looking like he was giving her a once-over. Not that the black clothes made it easy to spot blood and stuff.
“Think so,” she managed, mentioning at her left thigh, which she couldn't really put any weight on any more.
It was pulsing in time with her heart, but she still couldn't feel any pain. She had a suspicion that that would change quickly now that the fighting was over with.
Hawk crouched down next to her and prodded her thigh experimentally. “You have a shuriken in there,” he commented flatly.
“Oh,” Kyo said, blinking. Yeah, that would be consistent with what she could remember; feeling something hit but there clearly hadn't been a kunai sticking out of her leg and she hadn't had time to dwell on it.
Hawk signed something to Horse, who positioned himself behind her, putting one hand on her shoulder, the other taking a steady hold of her left hip.
Without warning, Hawk pressed his fingers against her thigh, grasped the blood-slick shuriken barely sticking out of the muscle, and oh, yeah, she could definitely feel that! It was very much starting to hurt now.
Then, he pulled on the shuriken.
Kyo's entire body twitched harshly, without her consent, one hand lashing out at Hawk's face and her vision turned white.
“Don't do that again,” she managed in a strangled voice a second later, voice trembling so violently the words had been barely understandable.
Blinking tears from her eyes, she became aware that her arms were restrained and Horse was holding her back flat to his chest, which left her feet dangling in the air.
Hawk had a firm hold on her left hand, which was holding a needle just a few scant centimetres from his shoulder.
“Yeah,” he huffed. “We're leaving it in; it's stuck in your femur.”
At least he wasn't holding her reaction against her, Kyo supposed slightly hysterically, feeling like nothing more than a raw knot of pain and fading adrenaline.
After another moment, Hawk released her hand and Kyo slipped the needle back in her cuff with trembling fingers. She couldn't remember grabbing it.
“Horse,” Hawk said briskly, signing something Kyo didn't have the presence of mind to try and translate right now.
Horse nodded and Hyena pulled a roll of bandages from somewhere, while Hawk went to talk to whoever was in command here.
“Try and stay still, kid,” Horse said, the vibrations from his voice shaking her whole body, it felt like.
He shifted his hold on her and Kyo wrapped her hands around the arm he held around her chest like a steel band, watching Hyena lean down to wrap up her leg.
Hyena tried to wrap the bandage around the shuriken, to prevent it from pressing on the very sharp object lodged in her bone, but it still hurt like a fucking bitch.
Kyo's hold on Horse's arm was white-knuckled and she was this close to just saying fuck it and scream by the time Hyena finally finished.
Breathing hard enough it was like she'd just ran as fast as she could across all of Fire Country, Kyo very much doubted she'd be able to do much of anything on her own, and that was just judging off of how much she was shaking.
It felt like she was gonna shake out of her own skin.
“We good?” Hawk asked when he came striding back to them, all lethal grace and fluid motions.
Kyo managed a stiff, jerky nod, unable to loosen her death-grip on Horse's arm.
“Then let's head back to Konoha,” Hawk said calmly.
Kyo's brain didn't have any input, feeling like it had shorted out due to the excruciating bundle of pain that was her leg.
Instead of swinging her onto his back -like she'd half expected- Horse slipped his free arm under the back of her knees and held her in front of his chest.
Like a princess, a distant part of Kyo's mind supplied helpfully.
Not that she gave a shit.
She'd never understood why people called it the princess-hold to begin with; she doubted a real princess of any repute would agree to be carried at all. But then again, carrying a woman with a long skirt or dress in any other way would be tricky, so wouldn't it be more logical to call it a... dress-hold or something?
Feeling mildly nauseous from pain and exhaustion, Kyo let her head fall against Horse's shoulder and tried to settle in for a long run.
Since they were rushing, now, they might make it in about a day, she mused distantly.