Author's Note: Sorry it's been a while. I couldn't find the right way to end this chapter. I hope you still enjoy.


A high sun rose in the noon of the day. Clouds held high but were thin and offered little shade. Sunlight blessed the waters with a swift gleam and a pale blue sparkle. There water was churning but quieter still. Beneath the shining water's surface laid, ever concealed, the trap and cunning of the whirlpools. Yet a force beyond knowing had calmed the weather and the noise, almost to a point and purpose beyond chance.

Cutting through the water, white and blue, was a lone ship, great in size, made of wood, smoothed and fashioned white like the water beneath it. Atop its mast, a great canvas was blown to full form. It too was white and captured the gracious wind that blessed it with good bearing.

The ship was large and could hold a dozen men, maybe more. But the ship was empty. The decks were deserted, the crows nest, vacant, and the lower decks as silent as the night, save only for the quiet breathing of two individuals.

Naruto steered the ship as best he could, and found it delightfully responsive to his commands. Haku had brought him to one of her discoveries in her days scouring the city for him. She had found in the city's west, a great harbor in size and breadth, spanning a length greater than any Naruto had seen in the Land of Waves. Rotting fagots of wood bobbed up and down to the rhythm of the tide. Naruto saw the ports empty, housing no more than lonesome water. Only a single dock held a ship. It was magnificent, a jewel of white and glass and silver. While the city of Uzugakure had turned to grey in its long slumber, the ship before him, held firm, its silver coat contesting the waves of time. At the ship's prow, a long-haired maiden, fashioned from metal not wood, held steady gaze outwards to the horizon. There was no name for the ship. So to were there no other ships in Uzugakure to give names to. Naruto decided the lone ship would inherit its city's name as it cut through water back to the mainland.

Haku tapped her foot irritated. She hadn't appreciated Naruto's reluctant silence. He had scarcely offered her even half an explanation and certainly nothing involving his knowledge of the Senju. He had boarded the ship, headed westwards towards land, with great speed and determination with little word or reason to the one who found it. The fair ice-user tried prying forth that which Naruto was so heavily burdened with, but his lips remained disciplined. His words were thought carefully and meticulously – the few that he did utter.

Naruto realized he was passing over the guardian whirlpools of the grey city. Haku was there, ready to guide him, but Naruto found her only half necessary. Somehow, he could feel where to go. Something inside of him steered the ship for him, to safe passage. As if imbued with the spirit of the city, Naruto passed safely through the devices that kept it safe for generations. Now free from the whirlpools, the great white ship pierced the water with great speed and a strong wind behind it.

The rhythmic sound of water sloshing and beating against the elegant frame of the ship, and the dynamic flapping of the sail against the wind sounded good to Naruto. He fell into a sea induced trance, held ensnared by the beauty and breadth of the ocean before him. He thought how it looked from above; such a large ship, now looking small in regard to the expanse of the ocean.

Unwillingly, Naruto's thoughts turned back towards the one recurring image in his mind, that which had taken hold of his subconscious attention. He thought back to that bridge, and him standing on it with nothing but white in company. It disturbed him deeply to think of the whiteness. And yet, his thoughts betrayed him and refused to tear focus away from it. He wondered why it continued to plague his sleep with dread.

An inhuman cry made Naruto's heart jump slightly and almost lose his footing on the deck's dry surface. The white dream vanished from his mind, but so to did the tranquility of the sea. He had just been reminded of the reality of his existence. The noise in his head struck an ever deeper and more awful tone, higher than a banshee's scream, lower than a beast's snare and deeper than any voice uttered before.

Haku placed a hand on Naruto's shoulder comfortingly. It felt cold and warm.

"The Kyuubi?" she asked gently.

Naruto closed his eyes and nodded. "The seal…well it's fixed. But it was too much to hope for that the howling would go away."

He rubbed his seal uncomfortably with trepid apprehension of what lurked just beneath the surface of the seal. Such a thing that even he couldn't comprehend after all these years was being held back by mere drawings and ink. Alas, it would not suppress the noise, foul and rotten.

"How long have you heard them?" she asked him.

Naruto thought back. "I can't remember when it started. It just…it was always there. Sometimes louder, other times more mild. Some days more frequent, others, maybe once or twice. But it's been there, everyday I can remember. I've never really gotten used to it. I mean I can cover it up pretty well. But…there's no ignoring it."

"How can you ever have any peace with that thing screaming?" she asked.

Naruto let out a bitter chuckle. "When I find out, I'll let you know."

Haku looked down at her feet. "You know, Naruto…you don't have to bear this alone."

The jinchuuriki sighed, trying to spot the fleeting and shrinking form of Uzugakure. "Of course I have to. It's my burden to bear. It's in me. It'll be with me until I die. No one can stop that. No one can help me there."

"If I can't help there, let me help elsewhere," Haku pleaded. "Please Naruto, just tell me! You're not acting the same. If you'd just explain the situation, I'm sure I'd-"

Naruto turned away abruptly and crossed the ship's width to the other side, silently. Haku's gaze followed him there. She crossed her arms and shook her head.

"Naruto, are you ever going to have faith in me?"

Naruto didn't answer but he cursed himself silently. He felt Haku's arms wrap around his waist and her chin rest in the crevice of his neck.

"Well," she spoke softly. "I'll be with you the day that you do."

Naruto felt like dying when she spoke those words. He bit his lip painfully and felt a deep urge to crawl into a hole, in shame, never to see the light of day again. He didn't deserve her affection, her loyalty. He could hardly return it in kind. Bile welled up in his throat and he tried his hardest to speak, but found himself again, scared and mute. He couldn't tell her. He just couldn't. Her embrace was cold and warm and Naruto felt like the scum of the earth.

The voice that asked him to follow it through the whiteness was cold and warm but he couldn't take that blind step. Fear rose to his head every time he considered telling Haku. He had accepted his many burdens. Haku made it less painful.

He couldn't tell her.

He couldn't lose her.

Naruto turned his attention back to the boat. He couldn't believe how elegantly it handled, especially in the hands of one so inexperienced as he. Haku had told him it was mariner's blood. It was scary how close to the truth she was. Naruto maneuvered the ship across open water with ease, almost with will alone. It was as if he felt as if he were the ship itself, feeling rushing water across his chest, splitting open the water with steady speed.

The ocean was a vast place. How much water was in this world? Naruto couldn't even imagine. And yet, this last white boat cut through the water which faded away upon impact. The great white ship left waves in its wake where once stood volumes upon volumes of untamed and impregnable vastness. Naruto liked to imagine himself as the boat. On closer inspection, it was a reassuring thought.

He felt something different at that point. It was not remorse or pain for his losses. It was not the cold and warmth of Haku's touch. It was not the mystical enchantment of his people nor was it the dark unknown rage of the tenant which dwelled within him. It was something wholesomely different, foreign even; something that didn't belong and was for all intents and purposes, alien to him. Naruto let out a frustrating scream in his head. Had he become the whipping boy of fate? How much more was he destined to endure? Naruto felt the ocean of the world begin to crush him with overwhelming pressure and force. He carried with him already this affection he could not reciprocate, something within him he could not understand, and of course, this new red legacy he was obliged to fulfill. What else had been thrown at him?

Naruto looked overboard and wondered how fast he could cut through the water if he jumped overboard and swam the rest of the way to shore. He wouldn't have gotten far. He was not the ship he sailed. The Uzugakure was a testimony and monument to the unbreakable. It's hull reinforced with solid metal and hard materials. It's mast, thick with rich and smoothed wood, white as ever throughout the ages. Naruto looked at his own arms and legs. They were flesh and bone. They'd wrinkle and ache in the water.

He tasted something bitter but somehow also sweet in his mouth. He frowned and rolled his tongue around his mouth. The sensation had passed as quickly as it had come. His fingertips felt slightly tingly for some reason. His right hand then ignited in an invisible flame. Naruto felt his hand on fire, yet he felt strangely, no burns or scorches.

And up beyond the clouds, so faint, it was little more than a whisper, Naruto heard the caws of crows.

OOO

Ahead of him, Kiba and Shino murmured on. Neji was quite content with that. Not having to participate in conversation left his mind free to attempt to expunge his troubling thoughts as he flew through falling leaves and a brisk westward wind. Some nights, he still couldn't believe he had done it. Some days, he'd wake up, almost convincing himself that he had dreamt it all up. But when the dawn came, it brought back Neji's reality. He couldn't take back what he did. He couldn't fictionalize it into a dream or fantasy. It was real. His actions were real. And however just, he believed them to be, it did not stop the terror from reaching him every night.

Here, in the wilderness of trees and birds and longtime comrades, Neji felt less worried. That was, before the conversation began to shift.

"I don't understand your hostility towards the Hokage," Shino murmured. "Did he do something against your clan?"

"There just something I don't like about him," Kiba responded, vaguely. "I don't know what it is, but Danzo rubs me the wrong way. He smells…off."

"You should really start calling him Hokage-sama," Shino corrected. "Especially now…now that Tsunade-sama…"

Kiba held his head low and solemn. "I still can't believe it," the Inuzuka remarked. "I can't believe she's…"

Neji was spared his guilt when Kiba's voice trailed off gradually. The Inuzuka bent down near his steed's ear and whispered soft words at the dog. Akamaru, the giant dog took a deep sniff and barked several times at Kiba. The pair halted on a nearby branch. Neji and Shino stopped behind them.

"What is it?" Neji demanded.

Kiba and Akamaru each took more large sniffs into the air. Their nostrils flared and Shino watched his teammate's amazing sense of smell work once more. Kiba's voice and expression were serious.

"Neji," he said, lowly. "To our eleven o'clock, several miles out. I caught a small scent…it could be nothing, but this one ain't a smell I'd soon forget."

Shino wordlessly sent out his bugs. They came together, forming in multitudes so vast it resembled a thick blanket in the air. In strict coordination, they flew forward in Kiba's detected coordinates. Neji focused and enhanced his Byakugan.

"Is it there?" Kiba asked immediately.

Neji breathed deeply. "Yeah, it's there."

"What is it?" Shino demanded sharply. "What's going on?"

"I smell a snake."

"This way!" Neji cried. He launched off the branch and was quickly followed by Kiba and Shino. They flew between the wooden pillars of the forest in a fast blur with fallen leaves in their wake. Through scent and sight, the trio of shinobi and a great wolf dog let themselves be guided. The scent was becoming stronger. The sight was becoming clearer. Neji pressed forward, knowing he would find something soon. Behind him, Shino, Kiba and Akamaru had fallen into a tense silence. Akamaru growled every softly as his paws scraped the wooden bark of trees.

"Here!" hissed Kiba.

They halted. Slowly, they all realized what they were looking at. The eerie and spooked feeling in the air, and the thick, unnatural atmosphere left but only one conclusion. This was a hideout of Orochimaru of the Sannin. With its master gone from this world, Shino slowly let his bugs fly from his sleeves to determine what now was emanating this strangely familiar feeling. Kiba whispered to Akamaru who assumed an offensive posture. Neji turned around to face his teammates.

"Whatever's waiting for us, we're about to find out," he spoke. "Kiba."

Kiba understood perfectly. He went down on all fours. In front of them, stood a very wide stone slab, no doubt barring entrance to an underground complex. Both the Inuzuka and Akamaru growled ferociously.

"Double Wolf Fang"

Spinning rapidly, the two figures slowly intertwined into a single great force, which smashed into the heavy stone slab with enough intensity to generate a small gust around it. The heavy slab gave way and cracked open with much noise and debris. The Konoha shinobi immediately dashed into the lair.

The spine-chilling groans down the dimly lit hallway intrigued and confused the shinobi even further as they pursued the sound down the narrow hallway. The hallway led into a hall with many connecting corridors. They stopped in the middle of the room.

"Shino." Neji said slowly.

"I know," replied the bug user. "We're surrounded."

"They smell…dead," Kiba whispered.

With a weak fire technique Neji lit the hall and saw horrifyingly, dead flesh and hollow eyes standing and approaching them with all the vitality of the living. Neji raised his Byakugan's range further and what he saw would haunt him to his grave.

"I need to get to the eastern hallway," Neji whispered urgently. "Can you buy me time?"

"We can do more than that," Kiba acknowledged before him and his beast companion leapt into the fray, followed soon after by a reluctant Shino.

In the commotion, Neji leapt over many heads and made a dash for an opposing hallway. He had to duck under the violent flails of nearby enemies. With the suppleness only Hyuuga commanded, Neji maneuvered around the sharp projectiles being launched at him and the odd fireball zeroed in on him. Behind him, he heard another crash and could only hope Shino and Kiba were proving their worth as strong soldiers.

Neji dashed down the hallway with greater urgency than he could remember. His feet barely touched the floor as he sped down the narrow corridor, leaving his pursuers behind easily. The walls began to curve and turn with the obvious intention of promoting disorientation. But with his active Byakugan and clear sight and goal, Neji could not be deterred or distracted. What he had seen demanded nothing less.

The clanging of chains blessed his ears as he knew he was close. A door stood in his way at the end of the tunnel. The battle behind him had all but fallen mute. He must have travelled great distance, or at least that's what he wanted to believe. The alternative, that the battle had finished, did not bold well for his companions. Neji knew he wasn't supposed to be here. This was not his mission. But he pushed on, and crashed through the door, breaking it into many pieces.

"Lady Luck works in strange ways," spoke a voice in the shadows.

Neji gripped the hems of his robes tightly. "Kabuto!"

The spectacled shinobi walked into the flickers of the flame. His glasses flashed with the dancing orange flames. The grin on his face, however, glowed regardless of lighting. Neji knew instinctively, this couldn't be a clone. The odd and unnatural feeling of Kabuto could not be replicated.

"Well, maybe this is a good thing," Kabuto sighed to himself. "I'm done with my research here. And I was getting tired of the place anyway. Time for a change of venue."

"You're not leaving this room alive," Neji growled.

"Dead, alive," Kabuto mused. "Soon you will find how meaningless those concepts are."

Neji assumed the traditional Gentle Fist stance. "What did you do with Anko? I saw her here."

The rustling of chains made Neji snap his head towards a far corner. His jaw dropped loosely as he saw Anko, weak, broken and bleeding out of more wounds he could count. Rage boiled within Neji. As he turned his attention back towards Kabuto, the spectacled man smiled sinisterly. Around him, a large white snake coiled around his body. The snake reared its great head and bore its thick fangs. It struck at Neji who intercepted it with a blow to the top of the head. He pinned its upper jaw to the wall with a kunai for good measure. But the distraction had done its job. Neji looked by and Kabuto was gone. His anger began to cool and his perspiration turned cold and began to chill him. He made his way towards Anko. Her body looked emaciated and weak. He raised her head and propped it against his shoulder.

"Anko," he spoke.

She didn't respond. Her heavy eyelids didn't even react.

"Anko!" he said, a little more forcefully.

Her chest heaved as she took in a struggled breath. She labored against her own body for several moments. The expression on his face told him everything he needed to know. Neji saw her ready to sob and scream as one. But she hadn't even the strength. The defeat in her eyes was painfully evident.

Neji hadn't noticed the amount of blood she had lost. She was quite pale. He hadn't a clue what Kabuto had done to her and wasn't keen on imagining it. Anko hadn't said a word yet. She struggled even to keep her eyes open. He heard a desperate croak from her throat and awkward clicks from her tongue. Her jaw jumped and wiggled slightly. Her face was constrained and she struggled desperately so. Neji leaned ever close to Anko, trying to discern her message.

Her voice was raspy and broken. She looked directly into his eyes.

"Betr…be-betrayed."

Her eyes moved slightly to Neji's left, an ever so small gesture that all but the Byakugan would have missed. Her head bowed low and Neji could feel the last trace of life leave her body.

"Neji!" cried a voice behind him.

Neji turned around solemnly. Kiba had a serious look but not nearly as grave as the expression Neji wore.

"Anko…is she…"

"She's gone," Neji replied after a while.

"Well at least we got Sai," Kiba sighed.

"What?" Neji snapped. "Sai? He's here? Alive?"

The Inuzuka took one absent sniff in the air and made a sour face. "Huh? Yeah. He looks alright, maybe a scratch or two. Shino's tending to him."

Neji began making hand seals as he found the small tattoo above Anko's right breast. He whispered something softly ahd tapped the tattoo. He stepped back as Anko's form went up in bright blue flames. It crackled silently, flames biting at Neji's robes but ultimately falling short. When the flames died and the blue hue faded, Anko's body was gone. It was better that way. No one else would ever have to see her like that. Neji bit his lip. He would have to speak to her mother, sweet old lady.

"Neji…this whole thing…it's a complete mess," Kiba admitted.

"I know," Neji said, grinding his teeth.

"We still have a mission. But Sai needs to be debriefed at Konoha."

Neji's nostrils flared as he let out a frustrated exhale of air. "I'll take him back."

"What?" Kiba barked. "What about the mission?"

"The mission is yours," Neji said. "We find Sai at an enemy encampment? No way I'm letting him wander back to Konoha on his own. He better have answers."

The pair of them left the room, now empty and as shaded as it had once been, with no sign Anko had ever been there.

OOO

"Akatsuki!" Ao cried, alarmingly. He took position in front of the Mizukage, shielding his leader from harm.

Mei's eyes narrowed. "Who are you?"

"I see you don't remember me," muttered the masked Akatsuki figure. "I wonder if that's a compliment or an insult."

"Declare yourself!" cried the Mizukage with more authority and strength than she currently commanded.

"No."

Her response was a dozen of ice shards sent towards the figure. They passed through his form and shattered on the rocks behind him. Ao bolted from his position and made to stab the figure with a small blade he had drawn. Madara let the blade pass through him before grabbing the surprised ninja's wrist and forcing him to release the blade. Madara swiftly caught it in his other hand had made to bring it down on Ao's exposed side. The blade's thrust met solid ice. Madara saw a clear pillar extending back to the Mizukage, now wielding an elongated Water's Blight. Ao used this to put distance between the pair of them. Madara decided he did not like the way this ninja was wielding his stolen dojutsu. He locked eyes with the Mist Ninja for but a second. But it was enough. Ao collapsed to the ground, delirious with pain. The Mizukage jabbed the long blade with surprising speed as Madadra once again let the ice pass through him. In almost a goading fashion, he walked towards the Mizukage, the blade sliding through his chest.

"It seems Katsurou and Kisame did a number on you," commented Madara. "You haven't moved from that position. It seems as if you are unable to."

"Don't think you know me or what I'm capable of," Mei grimaced. "I am a Swordsman of the Mist. A blade of the depths. I will not yield, I will not cede –"

"I will take by the sword or die of it." Madara finished.

"Did Katsurou teach you that as well?" Mei spat.

He was getting dangerously close. Mei used all her strength merely to appear able to even stand. The pain her leg was enflaming her nerves and spreading quickly. She hadn't enough chakra to attempt that technique twice in such a short span of time.

"No. Someone sang it to me many years ago," Madara spoke.

The Mizukage hid her shock and leaned heavily against a tree trunk to get to her feet. She flared her chakra, hoping to have enough to muster ice mirrors. If she could move with the light she had a chance of winning. But the strength did not come to her. This was the end.

The Mizukage held her blade tightly to her chest. This lone mystical peace of glass and ice stood as her sole companion throughout the years. She lived for the sword, by the sword. She would take by the sword or die of it. She was a Swordsman of the Mist. A blade of the depths. She would not yield. She would not cede.

Madara launched a killing thrust at the Mizukage. She heard Ao yell from the distance. Her blade bit her hand with a reassuring coldness. She waited for the contact. It never came. Instead both Madara passed through her, awkward and inadvertently. Just as Madara was about to strike, he had seen from the corner of his eye, an incoming projectile, homed into his body. He passed through the Mizukage, looking for his new assailant.

Mei saw the distinct blade embedded deeply into the tree trunk. She knew who had come.

"You won't take her," growled Yagura, furiously.

Madara got up, masking his irritation.

"Twice you've corrupted my students and now have made attempt on the life of another," Yagura spoke with venom.

With the wave of a hand, the blade dislodged itself from deep within the tree and flew back to Yagura's hand. Both blades were now unsheathed and Yagura had begun approaching Madara at a brisk pace. He had forgot nothing of his last entanglement with Madara, all those years ago. Yagura watched his feet closely. Madara's legs bent, his feet ready to push off the floor, needing to materialize to propel his body. At that moment, Yagura opened his mouth and let out an inhumane cry, more ferocious and terrible than anything of this world. It filled every corner of the world with its insidious nature and its very essence was strong enough to ring Madara's ears, disorientingly and threw his now material body backwards.

Madara, now on his back, looked up at the sky and saw Yagura airborne and descending, blade tip pointed at him, intent on piercing Madara's heart as he landed. Madara disappeared into the ground, reappearing a great distance from Yagura.

"I know your tricks!" Yagura called. "Face me once more and I will finish what I started."

Yagura turned around and expectantly saw a scene he had already seen twice before. It was as if the material world was bending to some strange anomaly. There were ripples in the air, only, they weren't ripples at all. It was as if the invisible fabric of the world was being strained. Whatever it was, Yagura saw the familiar sight of Madara being consumed by it. In seconds, the anomaly died, with Madara gone.

"Mei!" Yagura spoke, lacking no concern.

Before Yagura could reach her, Ao stepped in his way, determined.

"Stop!" he said strongly. "Mizukage-sama, don't forget who he is…what he's done."

"Step aside," Yagura stated deadly.

"No."

"Ao! That's enough!" Mei snapped.

Ao turned around, ludicrously. "After what he did to the village? Do you know how many lie dead because-"

"Better than you do," Mei growled. "And Sensei knows better than either of us. Let him pass. That's an order."

Yagura stepped past Ao and knelt beside Mei.

"Your wounds," Yagura noted gravely. "I'm sorry. You should never have had to pay for my mistakes."

"They were my mistakes too," Mei replied resolutely.

Yagura turned away. Mei's eyes followed him. "You were running not only the village but the entire country! You had bigger things to manage, sensei. But I was with Ichiku and Kisame and Katsurou everyday. I should have seen the signs…and I should have stopped what he did to you that day."

Yagura felt a horrible feeling pooling within him. A tender silence was cast over them.

"Who was that man?" Mei asked, at last. "He knew our oath, he knew me and if I'm not mistaken, you both knew each other."

Yagura spoke deliberately. "That was the Second Mizukage. Madara Uchiha."

"Madara…" whispered the Mizukage, unbelieving. "How can that be? He was killed by Hashirama Senju ages ago! If there was an Uchiha leading Kirigakure someone would have noticed!"

"The Sharingan concealed him for his tenure," spoke Yagura mournfully. "He leads the Akatsuki. Believe me Mei, he is no friend of Kirigakure. And with such extensive knowledge and history in our lands, he is more deadly to us than any other country."

Yagura peered around and saw the lacerations near the Mizukage's back.

"The marks on your back," Yagura whispered.

"Kisame's doing," spoke the Mizukage. "I don't know how he did it but he fashioned himself a new blade. It…it looked like…"

"It looked like part of the Sanbi," Yagura finished. "He called it the Samehada. If Kisame was able to clash with it and emerge victorious with a new blade, he's far deadlier than he was all those years ago."

"Sensei, Katsurou was with him," Mei said gently. "He and Kisame were at the Shadow Summit. All hell broke lose there. The Tsuchikage killed the Raikage and now both countries are going to war."

She would have had a hard time fashioning ice colder than the stare on her sensei's face. His jaw clenched and his eyes turned hard and alien.

"So Katsurou and Kisame are working together now," Yagura muttered. "I suppose it saves me the trouble of hunting them down individually."

Mei grabbed her old sensei's arm. "You don't have to go sensei. You've paid enough for the sins that aren't yours. Come back to Kiri. We can find them together."

"If you walk through the Kiri gates with the likes of me, you'd be nearly as unpopular of a Kage as I was," Yagura warned. "They hold no love for me in Kiri, only hatred. And I don't blame them."

"To hell with what they think," the Mizukage spoke. "You're not in this alone."

"Yes I am," replied Yagura. "The league of Swordsmen is over, Mei. My students are either dead, on their way or wounded enough as it is. My name has been struck from history, only ever uttered as a curse by the people. I am in this alone, Mei."

Mei used a pillar of ice to help her stand on her feet. She looked fiercely at Yagura. "Why must you do this to yourself?"

Yagura shook his head. "You know, I never was able to congratulate you on becoming Mizukage. You've turned into a fine woman, Mei. You've made a great leader and lifted Kiri out of the mess I left it in. There are few things I have done right in my life. You are undeniably one of them."

Mei managed to smile at him sadly.

"Remember," said Yagura, eerily reminiscent of his old days of teaching and tutoring. "Stay healthy, don't let stress starve you to death."

Mei laughed. "I'm not fourteen anymore sensei."

"Even so," sighed Yagura lightly. "Remember what I taught you. You are the sword. When you go into battle, you better have shields at your back. I suppose this is as close to a proper send off as I'll ever give. Trust your instincts. Love your people and they will love you. Fight for them, and they will fight for you. Rule with a strong fist but a stronger spirit. Keep the waters calm. Keep the city safe. And don't listen to that Daimyo for a damn second."

With overwhelming sadness, the Mizukage wretched her face into a white smile. A lone cold tear began its descent down her cheek.

"I wish you could find peace some other way, sensei," Mei noted solemnly. "Please don't forget sensei, even if you still think you made Katsurou what he is, you did rescue him that day. You rescued that boy. And that is not something needing regret. I fear through your coming actions, you will lose even more of your students, sensei. I just pray you don't lose yourself. Don't forget who you are."