Another update for this.

I was amused by the reception last chapter. Apparently, some people believed I had Sasuke go all the way with his deception, whilst others suggested the more logical and sensible idea that he either utilized a genjutsu or controlled his puppet from afar.

I intentionally left it vague enough. Choose whatever you believe makes the most logical sense, whatever you feel is easier to digest or whatever possesses the most horrific implication. That's the beauty of fiction: it's open to interpretation.

As I said, this story is more or less an experiment. So... que sera?

It's been a while, so forgive any accumulated rust that may have occurred since I last wrote.


Yamanaka Inoichi was no stranger to corpses. He was no stranger to death. He was no stranger to cruelty. He was no stranger to wickedness. Even so, the corpse unsettled him. The writings upon flesh, curse words ranging from 'Yamanaka Slut' to 'Whore' to 'Cunt' embroidered her from head to toe. She had not gone quietly into the night. No, the numerous bruises on her skin could testify to that. Her eyes were still open, staring blankly out into space. Her final expression was etched, firmly, eternally, unto her face: terror.

The ANBU created a wide perimeter to prevent civilians and others from getting close to the scene. It mattered little. The damage had likely already been done. Her killers had set out to make an example, discarding her body in the middle of the central street, the busiest and most occupied pathway in the village. Many had already seen her, and as for those who had not, the rumors would spread regardless.

The Sandaime was on the scene. His face was grim. "To think that something like this would happen in our own village..." he shook his head. "I want whoever is responsible found, Inoichi. I want them found, and brought to justice."

The Sandaime did not need to tell him. Inoichi already knew what needed to be done.

The day almost seemed to sweep by in a blurry, incoherent frenzy. The crime scene was swept for clues. The body was taken to Konoha General for autopsy to discover the true cause of death. Inoichi spent his time, staring at the dust, wiped clean of footprints or evidence. The Inuzuka hounds were brought in, to trace scents, and the Aburame got involved, their bugs scouring for remnant chakra signatures.

There was nothing.

Inoichi didn't believe it. No, Inoichi chose not to believe it. A murder, committed against a member of his clan, and done in the open. A girl's body, clearly desecrated, and the sources at his disposal claimed that there was no evidence to be found at the scene. He ordered a deeper, more intense search, only to be baffled by the lackluster performances of those at his instruction.

Inoichi didn't understand it. Not at first. Not until he reached Yamanaka Kino's apartment, in the heart of Konoha's Red Light District. Inoichi disliked the district. He did not care if he was called a prude, but it was not his belief that shinobi needed meaningless sex and alcohol to alleviate the struggles of their daily life. There were better ways, he felt. More effective ways.

Those thoughts were shoved to the side as he found the victim's door clearly ajar, her apartment ransacked. Spray painted words of 'slut' 'whore' 'bitch' and other obscenities lathered the room. The bedding was stripped clean, the drawers tossed upon, and the room was rank with the scent of dried piss, plastered all over the walls.

"I'm sorry, Yamanaka-san, the trail is cold."

Yamanaka Inoichi's nostrils flared. His hands were kept, wisely, smartly, open. He did not ball his fists. He did not clench his teeth. He gave no outward expression of the depths of his desire to slam his fist through a person or object.

"Try again," Inoichi said. "There must be a scent which can be used."

The two Inuzuka Chunin at his command almost seemed to grunt at his order. His direct order. Inoichi did not need to be a master of cold and warm reading to see how reluctant they were.

"Is there something you want to say?"

"I just don't see why we're going through all this effort all for a dead whore," the Chunin said. Softly, underneath his breath, Inoichi's ears caught something else. "She wasn't even that good a lay."

Yamanaka Inoichi discovered onwards what the problem was. He'd grossly underestimated human nature. Yamanaka Kino had garnered a higher body-count than what he'd previously assumed. That, however, was not the reason for the clear reluctance into the investigation of her death.

Techniques were traded for a night of pleasure. Potentially, more than just techniques. Clan secrets, likely, private matters and information. The young girl accrued from as many places and Clans as she could. And of course, to offer clan secrets and teach clan jutsu to an outsider of your clan, regardless of the reason, was a considerably punishable offense.

In the Hyuga Clan, it had already led to the death of one man.

An investigation into Kino's death meant an investigation into the activities she commenced in her life. It meant finding and tracking her potentially hundreds of sexual flings, and in doing so, exposing and incriminating several individuals. Inoichi doubted that all of Kino's encounters had been with young and single men, and thus, an extra layer of danger was involved in exposing potential infidelities and marring thriving relationships.

Shinobi clans were like flighty, panicky animals. They were docile when left alone or with a clear route of escape. Yet, when backed into a corner, they would use every method available to fight, claw, bite and scratch until they escaped or brought down their enemy.

Inoichi's day ended at the coroner's office, staring down at the corpse of a dead girl. I failed you. He failed a member of his clan. Failed her, when she'd been suffering from the trauma that led her to vanish from active duty. Failed her, when his Clan Elders all decided to disavow her from her own family because of her activities. And even in death, he'd failed her, because it was unlikely that he would ever get to find her murderers.

"Blunt force trauma was the leading cause," the coroner said. "…Yamanaka-san, I'm sure I don't need to tell you this, but judging from the nature of these wounds..."

"Give me the full list."

"…claw marks, contusions and discolorations, dead skin cells underneath the nails indicate she attempted to fight back but…" the coroner cleared his throat. "…the most troubling, is that her chakra circulation was already stopped before she died. It would be an unusual thing, except… when we line up some of her bruises with her tenketsu…"

"The Jyuken."

The coroner's words were measured. "Will you take it up with the Hyuga Clan Head?"

Inoichi wanted to snort. "No." That wouldn't do. Hyuga Hiashi was an impassable wall, and the man would deny any knowledge of Kino and insist that none of his clan members would ever be capable of debasing themselves. He would do so, until he could do so no further, and then claim plausible deniability entirely, most likely offering sacrificial scapegoats from the Branch House whose innocence or guilt could never truly be determined.

The Yamanaka Clan Head found his thought weighing down on him as he made his report, arriving at the Hokage's Office long after the sun had set. The old man it seemed, was taking a moment, to glance out his window, a pipe in his lips, and both hands held behind his back.


Inoichi was not sure where to start. Where to begin. What to say. A girl was raped and murdered, and the clans are attempting to cover it up? Was what where he could start? The village I believed in as a lie? Was that, perhaps, the best place to begin? Inoichi's silence stretched longer than he knew was comfortable.

"So, it is as I feared." The Sandaime exhaled smoke from his lips, his eyes closing solemnly. "I had hoped that it would not turn this way."

"With your backing, Hokage-sama, it doesn't have to."

"And what would you have me do, Inoichi-kun? Declare to Konoha that it's proud and noble clans are conspiring to cover up a murder?" The Sandaime chuckled. "Demand the Clan Heads provide a list of all their members who'd had an acquaintance with the girl? No, Inoichi-kun. It will be their word against ours."

"I can verify by checking their memories. We –"

"Look at how it will appear Inoichi-kun. A Yamanaka girl is dead, and the Yamanaka Clan Head points accusing fingers at those be believes guilty. They deny his accusations, and he demands to rifle through their minds." The Sandaime turned around, dropping his pipe on his desk. "No matter the outcome, I cannot foresee a future in which tempers are not frayed, and clan relations are not irrefutably damaged, if not worse."

"So…" Inoichi couldn't swallow. A lump settled in his throat that simply refused to go down. "…so we do nothing." The words were acrid. "We simply… do… nothing?"

"We make a choice, Inoichi," the Hokage said. "A difficult choice. But we must make this choice for the sake of peace. I cannot fathom what goal the girl sought so desperately with her actions, and she did not deserve such an ungraceful end… but we cannot choose the life of the one over the life of the many."

"…I understand, Hokage-sama."

Inoichi's bow was strained.

"I must leave now, to prepare funeral arrangements."

"Do as you must, Inoichi-kun."

Yamanaka Kino was not the only one who died, that day. The man died, in Yamanaka Inoichi. The same man that dies in all who keep quiet in the face of inequality. Justice was laid naked on the altar and ravaged by power, all for the sake of peace.

Yamanaka Inoichi's worldview attained a new, darker tint. Had he known, at the time, what the consequences entailed, he would have fought much, much harder, for justice to prevail.


Konohagakure no Sato

One Year, Four Months after the Uchiha Clan Massacre

Two Weeks after the Yamanaka Incident

His Henge was of a random, nondescript girl he'd encountered once at a grocery store. His mastery of the E-Rank Supplementary Jutsu was almost satisfactory. He chose a feminine form because from his time controlling the Yamanaka woman, he came to understand that people were naturally less suspicious and more welcoming of females. He didn't understand it. It made little sense as to why one would believe a person less dangerous merely because of two flesh mounds atop their chest. He didn't question it, regardless.

They gathered at the Yondaime Square. Whilst he stood around in the area reserved for civilians, his gaze was always watching up above. He watched the shinobi on the rooftops. The shinobi around corners. The shinobi, Genin, grouped up like poultry hens in the areas assigned to them. Weak, he examined one Genin. Weak. He examined another. Weak. Weak. Pathetic. Pathetic. Worthless. Worthless.

He could tell now, at a glance, whether an opponent was worth his time or not. Konoha's Genin were not. No longer. Not since he had accumulated and invested the knowledge of the different clans and their fighting styles and patterns. He had not yet named it, his new taijutsu style. He decided he would grant it a name once it accomplished his goal. It was merely a style which assimilated every other style and balanced it into one. Assimilation Fist? He felt it was suitable enough as a temporary name.

His gaze disregarded the Genin, and focused instead on an area of the square, where only Chunin resided. His lips pressed tightly. Average. Average. Weak. Weak. Passable. Passable. Below-Average. Below-Average. Medium. Weak. Pathetic.

The rank-and-file of Konoha were nothing special either. He could take them on. He knew he could take them on and decimate them. It irked him. Konoha was praised as the strongest Hidden Village, yet, from his estimates, there were so few individuals within Konoha whose strength was comparable to his target.

He needed a new benchmark. He needed a suitable opponent to go all out against and evaluate his current capabilities. Fighting against mental projections of enemies could only go so far, and unless he was in the thick of battle, in the middle of a fight, he would be incapable of gauging his own strength accurately and knowing what he needed to improve.

His eyes flickered over to an area with Academy Students to which he had once fought. He was almost nauseated. Have they not grown at all? The difference in strength he could tell from glancing at them was negligible. It felt as though they were static objects, stuck forever in time whilst he kept advancing forward. Whereas once upon a time, he had managed to beat all of them while taking a few hits, he was absolutely confident of being able to defeat them without ever being touched, and with both hands tied behind his back.

Why do they not progress?

He didn't understand it. It was not just them. Nearly everyone seemed to grow at the pace of a snail. Their progress was laughable. How could they live such lives, content with that little advancement?

The crowd began to buzz, and he returned his attention up above, to the podium. The old man was present it seemed, ready to make an announcement. His expression was stern. Firm. For a minute, he did truly appear to be the person people said he was. The strong and powerful leader of the strongest shinobi village in the world.

Can I defeat him?

He ran through the numbers. Over, and over again, upon different scenarios. The answer remained the same: No.

Not in direct combat, at the very least. In fair, single, one-on-one battle, he stood no chance. Of course, he was a shinobi, not a samurai, and fair, single, one-on-one battle was not the type or nature of warfare he was interested in.

Can I kill him?


It depends.

The boy under the henge shook his head. Start easier. If he wished to test his chops and his ability to assassinate opponents vastly superior to him, starting with the Hokage was an overly ambitious goal. The man no doubt had fought off his fair share of attempted assassinations, so, it would be a tough task.

Has Itachi fought off attempted assassins?

He was not sure. There was a difference between fighting off an enemy who sought to defeat you and fighting off an enemy who sought to kill you. An enemy who sought to kill you would do so regardless of the means, and was more invested in ending you as quickly and effectively as possible rather than engaging in a prolonged battle.

"People of Konoha," the old man began. His voice traversed the crowd despite there being nothing to amplify it. A jutsu, perhaps?

"It pains me to gather us all here, on such a solemn occasion. A heinous crime has been committed in this village, and we are here to deliver justice."

The boy under the henge made no outward motions. …will they?

"One of our own, Yamanaka Kino, was found, a short two weeks ago, assaulted and killed, and left on display." The Hokage's voice was hard. "A barbaric and inhumane act we do not take lightly. After a serious and lengthy investigation, we were able to source out the guilty parties responsible."

His heart thumped slowly in his chest. Fear? No, not fear. Apprehension? No, it was not that either. Anticipation? Perhaps, he felt. Perhaps that was what he felt.

"Nise Yūzai, a shinobi who has notably been missing since the incident, and has now been declared a B-Rank Missing Nin, has been discovered to be the culprit."

The crowd's whispering and muttering got increasingly louder. The boy underneath the henge paid no attention to any further words spoken by the man standing atop the podium. He paid no further heed, to the whispering and discussions. He did not leave the crowd, for it would be suspicious to do so at that moment, but at the same time, he could not help the rapid, fast-paced beating in his chest.

they covered it up.

He had little doubts that this Nise Yūzai, person was a real shinobi. Perhaps a shinobi who chose the wrong time to defect. Perhaps someone sent on a long-term undercover mission, and required the infamy for his task. It mattered little. What mattered, was the truth.

They covered it up.

Konoha, the Hokage, and the rest of the village, they covered up the clear evidence and produced a scapegoat, rather than potentially engage in an investigation that would damage the reputation of the clans.


The word settled in his stomach. The idea which had been in his mind, ever since that night in which he asked how, how it was possible, that in an entire shinobi village filled with Hyuga who could see vast distances, Inuzuka who could smell and hear far superior to any normal person, and Aburame, whose insects could detect foreign chakra signatures –

How had none of these people noticed that the Uchiha were being massacred?

Not one Hyuga had their Byakugan activated? Not one Inuzuka heard the sounds of battle, smelled the smoke or tasted the acrid coppery tang of blood in the air? Not one Aburame had their kikaichu bugs notice the flaring of chakra signatures?


This confirmed it. This confirmed it, because he knew the ones who killed Yamanaka Kino.

He, was the one, after trading her body for techniques by stringing her along on a genjutsu, who utilized the Yamanaka's Mind-Body Disturbance technique in tandem with the Demonic Illusion: Hell-Viewing Mirror to incite and make a group of three lynch and kill her.

They had gone further in their violence than he intended, but it was a consequence of using a genjutsu which was designed to show you your worst nightmares.

Hyuga Hikari, Inuzuka Oku, and Sarutobi Rui.

Those were the names of the three tools he'd used to cover his trail. One was a Main House member, the other was the nephew of the Inuzuka Matriarch, and the last was the Hokage's second cousin. The Hyuga had been the hardest to rope in, due to the Byakugan's resistance to genjutsu, but casting via auditory triggers had ultimately provided the same effect.


Did Itachi bribe them? Threaten them not to interfere? Did he strike a deal with them? What was the offer he made them that was enticing and convincing enough for the entirety of Konoha to sit back and let him murder his clan without raising a single finger to help?

Conspiracy. Conspiracy. Conspiracy.

It went larger than just the clans. Other shinobi on patrol that night, sensors, gate guards – and – and even –

His gaze turned upwards.

Did he know?

The Hokage. Had the Hokage been in on it? No. It wasn't possible. What could Itachi possibly threaten the Hokage with? His brother was formidable, but surely, he wasn't that formidable. Had the Hokage been a willing participant in the conspiracy, or was he really, truly just a senile old man who had no true say in what happened in his village? Ineptitude? Was that the man's excuse?

He didn't know. There were too many questions, and he was merely grasping at straws. Answers. He needed answers. He couldn't go to the Clan Heads themselves, it would be too suspicious. He had maintained a relatively low profile thus far, such that it would draw attention if he were to suddenly decide to meet with one of the Clan Heads. That aside, they were not likely to provide him any real answers. Whatever they told him to his face would be to their benefit not his.

Regardless of what the truth was, he was certain of one thing:

Konoha betrayed the Uchiha Clan.


Uchiha Clan Compound

11:55 PM

The last Uchiha double-checked his scrolls. He'd learned about storage scrolls and their utility from one of the civilian paramours of the Yamanaka girl. It had been a slight hassle, purchasing the equipment whilst under henge, but his transformation had attained a level of flawlessness that he doubted few others could match.

In one scroll, he kept the weapons and valuables he'd found in the Uchiha Clan vaults. In another scroll, newly purchased kunai, shuriken, and weapons were kept within. In a third, he stored medicinal equipment, herbs, antibiotics and other necessary first aid and supplementary items. In the fourth, he kept his taijutsu, ninjutsu, genjutsu scrolls and knowledge, along with other shinobi arts and clan secrets he'd attained over the months of puppeteering the Yamanaka girl.

The fifth scroll held miscellaneous, day-to-day items. His family picture frame. A sleeping bag and shinobi rations. Clothes, a simple pot, cooking and eating utensils, along with a few spices.

Money would not be an issue, as he had converted nearly all of his family's total assets into cash, and had them in the sixth and final scroll on his person. The six scrolls were kept in a simple backpack, and with that, Uchiha Sasuke was prepared.

He emerged from his room, his house, and stepped unto the silent streets of the Uchiha Clan Compound. He did not gaze upon it with sentimentality. He did not feel sentimental. The compound stopped being his home once his family no longer inhabited it.

He exited the gates of the clan compound, staring upwards unto his carving. The carving of his parents which now stood at the entrance. There were words which he could have uttered. There were words he felt he should have uttered. He did not care for those words. He felt he would utter them once his task was done.

Rather than say any words to the giant carving, he uttered words instead to the wind. "I know you're there."

The night breeze was almost pleasant. Sasuke had chosen to garb himself in a casual black shirt and shorts. He had warmer clothes stored away in scroll number five. Once he was out of the relative humid weather of Land of Fire, he would likely need to change into them for the colder nights.

"ANBU-san." He said to the wind. "The ANBU woman with purple hair, hiding on the fifth branch of the third tree at my three o'clock."

There was no response. Rather than speak any further, he uttered a single word. "Shunshin."

Amongst the various remnants of property that he'd inherited from his dead clan, he'd found a training journal which belonged to his brother's friend. There had been another Uchiha, who, like him, had taken a D-Rank Supplementary ninjutsu, and pushed it above and beyond its limits. It was finding that man's training journal that initially inspired Sasuke to begin pushing the limits of what a jutsu could and could not do.

He appeared directly in front of the ANBU, who's reaction time almost made Sasuke's nose crumple in annoyance. The masked woman leaped away from him, landing out in the open, and leaving the boy to squat quietly on the tree.

"…are you really an ANBU?" he couldn't help but ask. "Five." He said, raising his hands. "Five. Those are the number of ways I could have killed you in the ninety-four milliseconds it took you to react."

The ANBU woman said nothing. He could not make out her expression with her mask, but he didn't need to. He rose, quietly, from his crouched position, and bowed his head, lightly.

"You've been watching over me for the past year." He said. "Almost every day." He added. "Thank you."

He could tell from the twitch of her body that she was surprised.

"Because you've been watching me so closely, I learned how to sense when I'm being watched. I learned how to slip away from someone's observation. On occasion, I would watch you, and thus, I learned how to stalk a stalker unnoticed."

He remembered how difficult it had been, originally. Using a clone as a distraction, he would 'leave' his home and go about on what appeared to be a grocery run. While the ANBU stalked his clone, he would stalk the ANBU, copying her movements, trailing her actions, adjusting for the tiny incongruities he noticed in her approach and pattern, eliminating as much error as possible to refine his skill.

At the very least, he was now confident that his stealth and trailing ability was ANBU-level, if not above it, seeing as how he managed to consistently evade and fool the woman for the better part of a year.

He doubted it would be enough to fool Itachi. No, he needed to test his mettle in unfamiliar environments, against unfamiliar enemies where there was the extremely real threat of consequence.

"Where are you going with that backpack, Uchiha-san?"

It was the first time he'd heard her speak. Her voice was softer than he imagined it.

"To hunt Itachi."

"I can't let you do that."

"I know." Sasuke said. "Which is why I am going to let you stop me."

The ANBU woman's body language shifted again. "I do not understand."

"I am going to come at you with the intent to kill, ANBU-san," Sasuke said. "If you succeed in stopping, subduing or defeating me, then I am nowhere near ready to hunt Itachi, and I will turn back and enter my clan compound without complaint."

He pointed his finger at her.

"If you cannot, then I will walk out of Konoha's gates, and I will not return until my brother's head is in my hands." Sasuke tilted his head. "I believe this is fair."

The woman slowly drew her tantō, entering into a stance. "I do not wish to hurt you, Uchiha-san."

Sasuke took a deep, long breath. "He made ANBU at eleven," He said. "ANBU Captain at thirteen." Sasuke drew scroll number two, and he withdrew a set of four kunai and shuriken from within.

"If I am to surpass him, I must first be able to catch up to him."

"You are not the monster your brother was, Uchiha-san."

Sasuke felt the cold steel in his hands, and he acquiesced to the sentiment. "I know." He flicked his fingers. "I have to be greater."



She would have missed the motion had she not been paying attention, Yugao knew. In that brief moment the boy flicked his fingers, the shuriken in his hands were gone. The blades pierced through the cold night air faster than any normal human could have thrown them. Her blade came up, almost in the nick of time, deflecting away the initial barrage of four shuriken.


He was in front of her before she completed her deflections. The absurdity of his speed nearly made her lose her footing. He's a bloody eight-year old for Kami's sake –

He grabbed the shuriken she just deflected, spinning his body and tossing them back at her faster than the initial throw. A small crack of sharply displaced air echoed outwards as the deadly stars zoomed back in on her.

I can't parry that. She knew on instinct that it was impossible to deflect them. The force and speed they were tossed at would stagger her too greatly and leave her defenses open. Dodge. She rolled to the side, immediately –

And he was there.

How is he… the Shunshin?

The boy was already there, hand outstretched, firing off four kunai aimed, terrifyingly, at her vital spots. She strafed to the right, barely managing to evade the point-blank attack. One of the kunai passed right below her ear, taking a good chunk of her hair along with it.

She barely had time to recover from her dodge, as the clang of metal hitting metal to reached her ears. Instinct more than conscious thought was the only thing that stopped her from being stabbed in the back, yet, it wasn't enough to stop a single shuriken from lodging itself into the back of her right thigh.

Fuck! Distance. She needed distance. With a swift, rapid use of Shunshin, she made a large berth between herself and the child-looking demon in front of her. Her heartbeat was pounding deafeningly in her ear. Without looking, she reached behind her, and dislodged the shuriken from her thigh. The wound was superficial, but it did not discount the fact that it was a wound nonetheless.

He'd managed to draw first blood.

Uzuku Yugao was not pleased with the way things were going. Back then… that shurikenjutsu work –

She'd seen it before. Anyone who'd ever worked with Uchiha Itachi knew that the man had been a monster of shurikenjutsu. Yet, what she'd witnessed was something else entirely. The boy in front of her, the child in front of her, managed to set up a trap using shuriken and kunai that was almost unavoidable.

If I choose to parry or deflect the shuriken, he's fast enough to catch what I've parried and send them back with more speed than the start, Yugao observed. And if I dodge, he predicts the direction I'm going to dodge to, and is already waiting there to set up a trap. That wasn't the kicker. It was the final thing. And, somehow, if I manage to dodge again, he's already lined up his aim to ricochet off the first set I already evaded, and gut me from behind.

It was insane. Insane. Yugao couldn't pull it off even if she trained for a hundred years. The amount of foresight and the absurd level of precision needed to be able to time and aim shots, and use attacks your enemy evaded as a set-up for new attacks –

That was already High-Chunin, if not Jonin level of skill. It was using an application of the barest basics taken to the logical extreme. With nothing but ludicrous precision, timing, and shurikenjutsu, she, a member of the ANBU, found herself being forced unto the defensive by a boy who's voice had not even started cracking yet.

Then… there's the fact that he's using the Shunshin.

Uchiha Shisui had been famous as Shisui of the Shunshin for a reason. Somehow, someway, Uchiha Sasuke had chosen to walk in his footsteps: a successor had mastered Shisui's art. It wasn't uncommon for people to reinvent or reuse techniques made by others and make it their own, just as how the Yondaime had taken the Second Hokage's Flying Thunder God technique and reinvented it to become the famed Yellow Flash.

The problem however, was that Shisui had clearly required the use of the Sharingan for his own high-speed movement. Yugao looked at the boy's eyes under the dim moonlight, and as far as she could tell, there were no red spinning eyes staring at her.

"ANBU-san," the boy's smooth voice came. "I've allowed you three-and-a-half full seconds of respite out of the appreciation I have for you."

Cheeky little shit!

"I will not grant you a second chance of respite. If you are holding back out of the belief that you will hurt me," the boy's killing intent flared. "You will die."

At first, she'd believed it to be excessive bravado talking. Now, Yugao wasn't so sure. There was little doubt in her mind now that if she messed around, she would get seriously hurt. It already stung at her pride to know that somehow, the boy had been evading and duping her observation for the past year, and she knew that once she had to give that part of the report to the Hokage, she would kiss her ANBU career goodbye.

"Next test," the boy said. "Taijutsu."

Uchiha Sasuke vanished from her field of sight. Yugao had less than a fraction of a second for her to raise her right arm to guard. It almost appeared in slow motion to her. The kick, aimed for the right side of her ribs, almost seemed to curve, as the boy spun, and with the unholy use of centrifugal forces, redirected the kick instead at her left side.

Yugao's eyes flashed white. The wind burst out of her lungs, as her sense of proprioception went haywire struggling to decipher which way was up and which way was down. She tumbled through the air, forcefully righting herself as quickly as she could, and applying chakra to her feet to stick firmly to stop herself from skidding across the ground.

Her brain struggled to catch up while her lungs struggled to breath. She knew several of the ribs on her left side where most likely cracked. She wouldn't be surprised if one or two weren't utterly broken.

W-what – what was that? W-what type of eight-year old hits like –

He was in front of her again, this time, with his right hand outstretched at her head. Instinct preserved her life, forcing her body and sidestep the assault. A wave of pressure travelled outward from the point of impact, the residues of which shattered her ANBU mask like a fragile clay pot.

She backstepped away, confused, hurting, and barely able to catch her breath. A sharp pain on her left side halted her retreat. She cradled her cracked ribs on her left side with her right hand, and held her tanto shakily in her left.

She grit her teeth, hard. So hard she could taste copper. I've been on the defensive from the start. From the very start of the battle, the boy had forced her into defense, and she wasn't able to do anything to stop it. Her eyes couldn't trace him when he used the Shunshin. His reflexes were inhumanly superior, and his taijutsu –

She didn't even know what to call it.

Yugao was a lot of things, but she wasn't stupid. Dear kami no, she wasn't stupid. There were a lot of good, great, magnificent causes out there to die for, but this was not one of them. The Uchiha blurred in front of her again, this time, with a palm outstretched, and Uzuki Yugao chose her pride to take the blow.

"I surrender!"

The pressure from the palm strike blew her hair backwards. Dried the sweat clean off her brow. His palm stopped, inches away from her face, as her ragged, coarse breaths escaped her lips. Had that connected –

Had that blow connected, she would have died. No ifs, ands, or buts. She would have died. She couldn't help the new trickles of sweat forming at the top of her head, nor could she stop the shudder that travelled down her spine as she glanced up to see the boy's passive, almost unenthused expression.

Monster, Yugao thought, without meaning to. Uchiha Itachi created a monster.

His palm came down, slowly, as he dusted his clothes. "You will not stop me from leaving the village?"

She couldn't even if she wanted to. "…where will you go?" The least she could do now, was discover as much as she could to give the Hokage.

"I don't know." The boy said.

"You… don't know?"

"I have a general plan," the boy said. "To work as a mercenary for hire. An independent hunter-nin. From there, I'll travel wherever work takes me, honing my skills and techniques further, and keeping my ears to the ground until I find him."

He was… oddly forthcoming with his plans.

"You're wondering why I'm telling you my plans?"

She jerked back. My mask, she remembered immediately. Her mask was off. Her expression, and face, was in clear view. The Uchiha boy smiled at her. It was a caricature of a smile. A smile that appeared as though it had been practiced countless times over and over in front of a mirror.

"I was never officially a Konoha shinobi, so I can't be declared a rogue nin. I'm telling you my plans because once I'm out of this village, it'll be impossible to bring me back if I don't wish to come back. If the Hokage insists, then either I kill the people he sends after me, or they kill me. Either I return with Itachi dead or I don't return at all."

Yugao was short on words to give him. Short on things to say.

"What would you grade me?"


"My skills," the boy asked. "What would you grade me? If you met me on the battlefield and fought me without knowing anything about me, what shinobi rank would you think I was?"

There seemed to be an earnest desire to know the answer in his eyes. It was so pure, it disarmed her. "…Jonin, at the very least."

His expression widened into what may have perhaps been, the first genuine smile she had seen on Uchiha Sasuke's face.

"Finally," he pumped his fist. "Jonin-level at eight." He pumped his fist further. "…I'll kill him." He turned to her, eyes burning alight with what she could only describe as the infamous, will-of-fire.

"I'll kill Itachi." He breathed. "I swear it."

Whether it was the pain getting to her, or perhaps the sheer conviction in his voice, Yugao didn't know. Yet, at that moment, when Uchiha Sasuke uttered the words that he would kill the infamous Uchiha Itachi, Yugao actually believed him.

"And once Itachi is dead, I'll make sure everyone who betrayed the Uchiha follows him to the grave."

Betrayed... the Uchiha?

"Thank you for everything, ANBU-san."

Before she could question it further, the boy was behind her. A chop slammed into the back of her neck, and Uzuki Yugao's world tethered into darkness.