Mikoto looked away from his research papers, of which detailed the ruins located deep in the territory of Hi no Kuni, and toward the front of his tent. The door was open and flapping in the afternoon breeze. Which in itself wasn't cause for worry, the reason behind his sudden action was that he clearly recalled closing and locking the door earlier that morning. It wasn't rare for some of the local wildlife to stumble into his tent while he was reading. And he had taken precautions to prevent that sort of thing from happening often.

He was no longer alone.

It was so easy to switch into his shinobi mentality. He hadn't used that way of thinking in so long that it was mildly shocking to see how easy the sudden transition was. But he was on high alert. His eyes wandered the perimeter of his tent in search of his new found companion, weary. No one should know he was here, in the southern reaches of Hi no Kuni. He hadn't informed his village of his current whereabouts and he tried to remain as under the radar as possible.

“I hope you didn't come here to murder me, visitor-san. You will find yourself terribly disappointed. I wasn't known as the Ironclad Titan of Iwa for no reason.”

The candle on his desk flickered and in just a hairsbreadth of a second, he was armed with one of the precious few kunai he kept on his person. It was old and had seen better days. But it was enough. Sasagawa firmly believed it would prove all he needed to combat his assailant. Only time would tell if his assumption was correct, unfortunately. Then the individual struck from the shadows!

Mikoto pivoted on his heel, senses screaming at him as kunai clashed with kunai and sent sparks flying. His attacker was shorter than him by several inches. Any other traits on their appearance were kept hidden by a black cloak. Frowning, the raven surged chakra through his main muscle groups and forced the attacker back. As they flew, he noticed the shock of green hair in the shadows of the hood.

Instantly, the retired Jonin relaxed.

“Maa maa, Kazuko-chan. That wasn't nice. You almost made me think I had to kill you and throw your corpse in the river.”

His assailant stopped as soon as he mentioned the name, a soft feminine chuckle echoing from beneath the hood. They grasped the hem of their cloak and removed it, revealing their identity for all to see. It was Kazuko Hiroaka! Former Genin of Team Two, teammate of the equally as well known, Kaori Fukuzawa and Mikoto Sasagawa, and Poison Mistress of Iwagakure no Sato.

Mikoto could only smile at the sight of his old teammate. He hadn't seen her in well over six years! Not since he had been promoted to Jonin and qualified for his research license. He had retired from the active forces and left the country to travel and study the world. They had, however, kept in frequent contact through the use of messenger birds. Which brought on his first question. Why was she here?

It seemed that, even years after Team Two was disbanded, she knew the inner workings of her teammate.

“I wasn't sure if you would receive the letter in time, so I had to come in person. It was the only choice I had.”

Mikoto regarded her as calmly as his personality would allow, already on edge the moment time was deemed important. He was already in the middle of connecting the dots. If she was on limited time, it was important. Uncomprehendingly so. On top of Kaori's lack of presence, she was probably involved. If not the entire reason to begin with. Only one idea came to mind.

“Is Kaori-chan...?” his voice cracked at the end, leaving the question unfinished.

To his immense relief, Kazuko shook her head in denial. His fears were quelled but his curiosity grew in proportion. Why was she there, if not to inform him of their mutual teammate's demise?

“Kaori-chan is safe for the moment. But she's in trouble and we need to help her. Or you need to, anyway. She specifically asked for your help in this matter, since I am limited in what I can do.”

“What kind of help can I offer? I haven't been in Iwa for at least eight years.”

“Shinichi Fukuzawa-san and Kaede Fukuzawa-san have promised her hand in marriage to one of the other noble families. Kaori-chan wants you to represent her in trial by combat. You know the terms of this situation, don't you?”


Mikoto knew what was required of him and what he was responsible for once the trial by combat had concluded. He was required to appear on her behalf and defeat the man who wished to marry her. Whoever that was. And once he emerged the victor, as he had no doubt in his own skills, he was to marry the very woman he defended. They would need to consummate their marriage and provide proof of their consummation by creating a child within two years of the ceremony.

The worst case scenario was no longer the worst case scenario, it seemed.

'I never thought I'd live to see this of all things. Kaori always hated the idea of marrying someone. I can only imagine how she feels about marrying someone against her will. But to ask me of all people to represent her...? I suppose the old term applies to this situation. Better the Shinigami you know, than the Shinigami you don't.'

His eyes hardened with resolve, one that neither of his teammates had seen in quite some time.

“Give me half an hour to pack up the campsite.”