The stranger was fast, jabbing out with the blades in each hand like a scorpion's stings. Each time, Nagato dodged and each time, it was by a smaller margin. In honesty, taijutsu had never been his forte, his focus being better directed to mastering the exotic array of jutsu his Rinnegan allowed him. Even so, he was no slouch in a knife fight, and it was a little galling that this man was so readily gaining the advantage. He dodged backwards, using a burst of his flight to make some distance as his hands began working through hand signs behind his back. The masked man pressed forwards, closing the distance in a matter of moments. The stranger brought his blades to the fore once more, only for Nagato to release the first of his jutsu, a lesser earth style technique he had learned as a boy.
"Earth style: Stone lance."
The earth beneath the man's feet shifted and warped, a ragged shaft of rock erupting forth from it, up into his foe's knee. The man didn't even pause in his attack, simply walking through it. Nagato raised his other hand, resorting to the wind style now to keep his opponent at bay. He called forth a thin wall of slashing winds, a barrier designed to cut anything that passed through it to ribbons. Again, the stranger simply stepped through it. Nagato growled. Why was it that his every attack on the man seemed to be even less effective than the last? Was he fighting a ghost or something?
The masked man jabbed again with a blade, a wickedly curved knife seemingly designed to part flesh from bone. Nagato sidestepped, only to find resistance, the man's foot waiting outstretched, ready to trip him. He stumbled, caught himself with his flight and shoved himself back once more as the second blade shot like lightning towards his face. He barely made it away in time, the blade piercing the skin below his left eye and carving a shallow trench into the flesh. He swore, feeling the blood begin to flow down his cheek... Then he stopped feeling it. The wound was numb. He swore again, louder.
"Poisoned weapons?" He asked, furious.
"Of course they're poisoned," The stranger replied, sounding almost irritated. "It's the sensible thing to do."
Nagato felt the numbness spreading, the flow of his own blood carrying it through his body at an unsettling rate. He raised a hand to the wound and grit his teeth, before muttering:
A part of him was glad of the numbness that prevented him feeling the pain as his jutsu tore away a chunk of his face big enough to fill a teaspoon. There was no way to remove the poison already coursing through him, but the lions share of it would have still been in the wound. He hoped this would be enough to save him.
Without giving him a chance to recover, his foe advanced once more, dropping the blades now in favor of his fists. Nagato moved to defend himself, but he was sluggish, his body refusing to operate fast enough to be effective. He barely managed to deflect the first two blows before the third caught him in the midsection. It didn't hurt as badly as his brain told him it should have. He wasn't one hundred percent sure whether that was because his body was slowly shutting down or because his foe was holding back. Neither option was pleasant, really.
He landed hard on his back, his head striking the pavement and sending his thoughts into a momentary jumble. Lacking much else in the way of options, he raised a hand towards his foe, readying a push with his Rinnegan. Again, the man flickered and vanished, the push dissipating harmlessly into the empty air behind him. Once more, Nagato wasn't quite sure exactly how he knew the strike was coming, only that it was. Again, he tried to dodge it, bringing his arms up weakly to defend himself, but when the man re-emerged atop him, he simply batted them aside, more a hindrance than anything else at this point. He reached down towards Nagato's face with a hand, his fingers finding his blood smeared left eye socket.
Even without being able to feel the pain, Nagato would still have called it the most unpleasant experience of his life as his eye was plucked from its socket. It was hard to describe, like a tugging in his mind, something exerting a physical force where only the mental normally held sway. Then, half of the world went dark. His remaining eye watched with horror as the stranger lifted his left eyeball from his face, a small voice in the back of his mind noting with slight surprise that the Rinnegan pattern actually continued around the entirety of the sphere, not just the front.
Somewhere to his left, a voice shouted his name and the stranger flickered out of existence once more as a veritable storm of paper sheets swept through the air above him.
"Konan," he mumbled, barely able to speak. "Get away. He's too strong for us."
His partner did not respond, simply taking a defensive stance as she waited for her foe to reappear. Yahiko was not far behind her. Nagato took some comfort in at least knowing that their foes were likely dispatched. The two remaining heads of the hidden rain stood back to back, eyes scanning the field in every direction. They were waiting a long time.
Again, Nagato felt the presence before he saw it, and raised a numb finger to point his partners in the direction of their foe.
"There." He whispered, his voice faint.
Husband and wife turned as one in the direction specified, Konan releasing a torrent of her paper shuriken, Yahiko readying a barrier to cover them.
The masked man reappeared, except now, he was no longer masked. His face was broken, one side of it crushed and warped almost beyond recognition, the other surprisingly handsome, his skin a deeper, more human hue than the pale, sickly shade of his regenerating arm. What truly stuck out, however, were his eyes. The unbroken half bore a shining red iris, the pupil shaped into an odd, angular design that Nagato could have sworn he had seen somewhere before. The broken half, much to his displeasure, now bore the Rinnegan.
If the stranger was surprised that they had a counter waiting for him, he did not show it. He raised a hand and the swarm of blades stopped well short of him, some unseen force tearing them to pieces in mid-air.
"Sorry I took so long," The man murmured. "It took me a while to figure out how to work this thing." He gestured to his stolen eye with a grin.
"You mother fucker!" Yahiko shouted, weaving hand sign after hand sign before placing his hands to the ground. High above them, the great glass ceiling of the hidden rain began to crack and split, the snow piled lightly atop it rapidly converting back to water as it began to shoot towards the stranger in pellets the size of a thumb nail.
The man raised a hand towards the oncoming strike with a smile, then let out a cry of pain as the first pellet struck his shoulder with a crack. Nagato managed a smile. Apparently the thief had yet to realize that the almighty push needed time to recharge. How unfortunate for him, to have the same arm broken twice in a single fight. Their good luck ended there, however, as the remainder of the onrushing volley seemed to pass through the man as easily as every other attack had seemed to.
Once more, the stranger vanished. Konan raised a hand to her husband's shoulder, silently advising him to cease the attack before it could drain him further.
"Have to... take him by surprise." Nagato realized aloud. "Get him while his guard is down. When he's attacking, when he thinks he's defended."
Wordlessly, his two friends nodded. Unfortunately, as they all knew, that was easier said than done.
Again, Nagato felt the pressure building in the air behind his companions and opened his mouth to warn them, a hand raising to point, too slow.
The man emerged, a knife clutched in his remaining good hand, which he swept sideways, aiming to carve a narrow trench into his foes' backs. Nagato acted on a half formed thought, almost an instinct. He directed his pointing hand towards the man, aiming his power not at the foe himself, but at the knife.
"Pull." He whispered. The blade jerked in the man's hand, the pull less than half as strong as Nagato had intended, but still strong enough. It pulled with enough force that the handle yanked backwards in his grip, pulling his strike off course. More importantly, though, it seemed as if Nagato's suspicion had held true. As the blade slid from his grasp, the stranger grabbed for it by instinct, forcing him to remain solid for a few vital moments. The base of the guard-less blade rammed into the side of the man's palm as he reflexively tightened his grip, slicing a shallow cut into the skin of his palm.
The stranger let out a wince as Yahiko and Konan turned towards him, ready to strike. Yahiko plunged a blade into the man's face, Konan sending a swarm of paper darts through his midsection. It was too slow. The strikes slid through him, but it didn't matter. Nagato had done what he needed.
"That's why you don't use poisoned weapons, you idiot," Nagato said tiredly, a wry grin crossing his lips. "If you cut yourself, it's game over."
The man didn't respond at once, gazing for a moment at the slight wound on his right hand, then, his broken arm dissolved once more, just as it had when Nagato had broken it, only this time, it did not re form itself back into an arm. Instead, it became something strange, a long, thin limb caught somewhere between a human arm and a praying mantis claw. Without hesitation, he lashed out with this new appendage and severed the poisoned arm at the shoulder.
"Good lesson," he said through clenched teeth, glaring down at Nagato. "I'll try to remember it for next time."
The two gazed at one another for a moment, before the stranger let out a sigh.
"Well, I can't win now," He muttered, more to himself than anyone else, it seemed. "I can't do hand signs like this and that push jutsu only worked with my human arm... Screw it. I got what I needed. I'm out of here." With that, he stooped, the pale, blade like appendage re-forming itself back into a human arm to pick up his severed limb. Nagato noted with some surprise that the skin of the severed limb was a sight darker than the pale one, closer in complexion to his face.
"You think we'll just let you leave?" Konan asked, her voice calm, despite the clear rage in her eyes. "After everything you just did?"
"I can't really see how anything you do would be able to stop me," The stranger replied coolly. "Feel free to try, but I'm fairly sure you'll just wear yourself out on attacks that just don't seem to hit me."
He turned to leave, striding easily through the ruined village, towards the hole in the wall his enslaved beast had created.
"Hey," Nagato called after him. "You said you needed your human arm to use my jutsu, right?"
The stranger turned, scowling.
"Yeah, what of i-"
He aimed the shot for the severed limb, intending to tear the thing from the stranger's grasp and smash it to pulp against the far wall, but it flickered, both the arm and the pale appendage holding it disappearing up to the man's shoulder.
"Nice try," the stranger allowed. "But I'm not that easy." Then, with another flicker, the rest of him vanished as well, leaving the three leaders of the hidden rain to tend to their broken village.
Without a word, Yahiko turned towards the distant, fallen form of Matatabi and set off to find their son at a run. Konan remained behind, standing watch over her fallen companion.
"Are you going to be alright?" She asked, her voice touched by a deep concern.
"I'm fine," he murmured with some difficulty. "It's just an eye, Konan. We could have lost a lot more here."
Konan considered this in silence for some time, then nodded, her eyes returning to the gaping hole in the village wall.
"We need to find out who those people are," she said quietly. "We need to make them pay."
"Yeah," Nagato nodded, closing his remaining eye wearily. "I know."
AN: This chapter feels weird to me. I'm not one hundred percent sure why.