It is, by nature's laws, fit that only the strongest shall survive in the outcome of a death match. When a bear is cornered by a pack of wolves, it results in a marvelous struggle with only one party as the winner. Will the bear strike and take down an opponent first, or will the wolves draw first blood? Either way, such fierce fighting can be seen anywhere in the course of nature.

Humans are no exception. When one village fights to overcome another, the air is filled with the stench of death and dismay. Shinobi are pitted against each other in order to determine just which group of ninja can claim the title to being the strongest clan in the country.

However, they are not immune to disease, to injury, to old age… And such is their shortcomings as creatures of this earth. Even the most invulnerable of individuals will die some day, either during a mission or in their sleep. After all, no one is immortal, at least not to my knowledge.

The only beings that are not subject to the weakness of being human are the demons. Scores of years can pass before their hairs turn white or their fangs grow dull. But they too are not immune to death. At least, not the lower-leveled ones.

The bijuu are different. They have earned names and titles for their notoriety and fearsome power. As far as records state, the oldest is said to be over ten centuries in age, and the strongest of them all. I want to see what makes this beast so powerful, and why they are at a level that no shinobi can ever hope to accomplish.

It is my goal to gain all the knowledge in the world by learning the secret arts of others. It is my desire to be able to perform every jutsu in the history of mankind, even if that means that I have to travel to the ends of the earth to fulfill it. It is my wish to be the first human being who has the ability to live forever, to surpass the ranks of the demons and the gods. It is my dream to be able to obtain that power.

And I will make it all happen.

-- Taken from former Leaf Sannin, Orochimaru's observational logs


Black River

Chapter 03: "Breaking Away"

By Hikagi and A Writer Wannabee


"Katon: Gokakyuu no Jutsu!" the shinobi breathed as he formed the necessary seals before targeting his opponent. He let the massive fireball stream from his mouth towards the enemy who was trying to remain hidden in the trees nearby.

He scoffed in contempt at his opponent's obvious lack of skills. There was a reason why he was a jounin of the Leaf, and it didn't matter who his opponent was. He had one of the best track records for accomplishing missi-

"Too late," a voice came from behind just as soon as the fire engulfed what he had thought to be his target. A scream rang through the forest as the last remaining Leaf shinobi fell to the ground, decapitated.


Orochimaru felt a small smile creep up into his body as he watched the man fall down, now dead. He released the genjutsu he had cast over the bushes with a wave of his hand, and instantly the figure writhing in the fire disappeared .

The distinctive tangy smell of iron was so heavy in the air that it wouldn't have even taken the enhanced oratory senses of the Inuzuka or Hatake clans to sniff it out. He kicked the dead body out of amusement before turning his back and exiting the clearing, letting some of the more predatory beasts circle in due to the strong and alluring stench of blood.

It didn't matter if he cleaned the crime scene or not. The Third would have known by now what had transpired, regardless of how well the Sannin tried to cover his tracks.

He had, after all, disposed of an entire squad of chuunin the other day without a second glance.

But still, he reasoned to himself, there was something to be gained through all of this. His eyes glowered and shone eerily through the foliage while his unnaturally long tongue tasted the cool air.

There was just one more thing he had to do…


Whoosh. The leaves stirred suddenly as a swift being darted through the bushes, leaving a trail of wind behind him.

The figure being followed didn't seem to have noticed that someone was tailing him and merely continued in the same direction, taking the time to look at his surroundings before walking a few more steps.

The shadow flitted up to the trees to get a better look at his target, being careful as to not disturb the more fragile twigs and dry leaves around him. Like a predator watching his prey, the hidden figure watched as the older boy kept looking around, trying to find where his friend had gone.

But it wouldn't do the poor thing any good. After all, he was Uchiha Itachi. He was the most powerful child to have ever been born into the clan. He was the next heir to the Uchiha name. He was…

A sudden rush of wind caught the young boy by surprise as he was hauled off his feet upside down and into the waiting arms of his companion, Kisho, who had somehow managed to sneak up on Itachi from behind while directing the young Uchiha's attention to his clone in the clearing.

He was caught.

"Let go!" Itachi growled, trying to break free from his cousin's grasps. "Lemme go!"

"Not until you manage to get me," Kisho said with a slight smile in his features. "I'll give you another ten minutes to find a way to surprise me."

Another ten minutes, eh? That, he could do.

Itachi continued struggling while discreetly slipping something out of his sleeves, careful to make sure that he didn't give anything away until the veeeeeery last second. Then, when Kisho's attention focused elsewhere, he quickly took the shuriken out of his hand and slammed it down on his elder's shoulder…

'Gotcha…'

Poof!

…Only to have the figure in front of him burst into a cloud of smoke, leaving a log with the sharp weapon embedded deep within the bark.

'Blast. Kawarimi no Jutsu… He's already mastered it by now…'

And now, he had no idea where Kisho had gone. The older boy had hidden himself so well that Itachi couldn't figure out in which direction to start. He could only hope that his instincts were up to the challenge.

Itachi closed his eyes and sought for even the smallest indication that would lead to Kisho's hiding place. Gradually, his breathing slowed and the rhythmic pacing of his heart quieted so that not even the pounding in his ears prevented him from hearing the whispers in the forest.

There.

Itachi's eyes shot out as he felt something stir a little to his left. Quickly making a seal, he tried to camouflage himself with a genjutsu before taking off into the bushes in search for his objective.

Racing across the ground in a matter of seconds, he pulled out a kunai and kept it in front of his face, wary for what ever traps might be in store once he reached his destination.

There was a shrill sound of something cutting through the air and Itachi jumped out of the way before the projectile could hit him. Then calculating where it had come from, he took to the trees and attempted to find the owner of the shuriken.

The figure before him realized that he was found out and quickly took off, running at a pace that Itachi could barely keep up with, making the younger of the two push himself even harder than before.

They somehow managed to get back to the clearing, both panting a little louder than normal. Itachi hid a smirk when he realized just where Kisho was standing and drew out two more kunai from his pockets. Kisho eyed the weapons warily with the expression of one who didn't know what to expect from the situation.

Without warning, Itachi threw all three of his weapons into the air, making the older boy jump out of the way in response.

The first one had been aimed at his face. The second and third ones had been aimed off to the side at the legs had Kisho decided to jump out of the way. Kunai number one hit a nearby tree, kunai number two ended up hitting the ground, and kunai number three just barely grazed his target's pants near the calves.

While Itachi was cursing his luck, he felt something cold and sharp on his neck and he instantly froze. Kisho was no longer standing in front of him near the area where the kunai had fallen. Instead, only two were still at their respective places, and the third one was being pressed against him, held by the person he had just missed.

"Damnit!" Itachi spat.

"Nice try, kid," Kisho said into the younger boy's ear. "But you lose this round, and I still have yet to take you home." Belatedly, he added, "And make sure your mother doesn't hear that kind of language coming out of your mouth."

"I'm notta kid," he attempted to argue feebly while trying to scowl to indicate his displeasure. It only ended up making him look like he was pouting instead, which earned a chuckle from the other boy.


"Ne, Onii-chan," Itachi asked in a deceptively calm and casual voice while the two made their way up the private lane that lead to their housing complex. He tried not to let any trace of hopefulness creep into his words because that wasn't becoming of a shinobi. "Do'ya think we c'n train tom'rrow too?"

"I don't know," Kisho replied, ruffling the small boy's hair affectionately. "I might have to go on a mission tomorrow. Besides, don't you have better things to do than to hang out with this old fella?"

"But I'm all grown up now," Itachi stated. Inwardly, he was pleased that Kisho had responded to the "Onii-chan" bit – it was the first time Itachi had used it to address him, and he was relieved that it didn't make him feel awkward in the process. "I can go wherever I wanna."

Kisho pretended to think long and hard about something, placing a hand on his chin for effect.

"Ne, Itachi. How old are you?"

"Fi-six," he stuttered, showing the corresponding number of fingers to his elder. Kisho stopped walking and bent down in a squat so that they were now eye-to-eye. They were right inside of the main gates anyway, so it couldn't hurt to stall just a little longer.

"I don't know if you need anymore training from me. It looks like you're already really good at being a shinobi, and you haven't even entered the academy yet."

"But I wanna be like Kisho 'Nii-chan. I wanna master the Sharingan like you."

Kisho shook his head. "I haven't mastered it yet, kid."

"But you got it to work already," Itachi countered, "and I haven't even done that much. Besides, I'm not a kid anymore."

"Hey, that was just last year. And I'm way older than you are. There's no need for you to rush into it just yet," Kisho said, ruffling Itachi's hair again. "And don't worry. I don't think you are. Just a little kid, I mean." They exchanged a brief smile until the sound of someone clearing their throat reached their ears.

"Uchiha Kisho," the man in front of the closest building said. Immediately, the two young boys stopped conversing with each other and came to attention in front of their elder. "The Family Head would like to have a word with you."

"Yes, my lord," Kisho replied, bowing as he did so. Itachi followed suit, not understanding why his cousin had been called when he himself had not. Did his own father not think highly of him? Was there that much of a gap between them? Weren't they only four years apart? (Sometimes it seemed like four was a big number – especially when Kisho-Nii was more than half his age! – and at other times, it didn't.) That wasn't that much of a big difference…

Itachi didn't say anything as the elder led his older cousin away, even when the pit in his stomach intensified with worry.

Little did he know that that would be the last time he would ever get to see his favorite cousin until that title was given to someone else.


The meeting with the Family Head had been abrupt and shocking, bearing nothing but bad news. It had felt like a slap in the face or gut, leaving him dazed until he had somehow managed to reach his room, where he had started hyperventilating.

He was now huddled in a corner, trying to sink into the floor. Maybe if he held his breath long enough, he would become invisible…

"Your jounin instructor has defected."

"The other day, ANBU forces found the dead bodies of shinobi that had gone missing, all killed in the same manner and dissected."

"He's never coming back. Even if he did, he would always be considered a traitor."

"He is now considered one of the most dangerous missing-nin in recent history."

"Rumor has it that he decided to join the Akatsuki."

"It is imperative that you get another teacher as soon as possible."

But where? No one else had been willing to take him, not with all the political problems his heritage brought about.

And now that the news of Orochimaru-sama betraying the Leaf had reached the rest of the clan's ears, more gossip started between the women, hurting Kisho more than he ever thought it would. They had taken care to never say these things to him directly, but Kisho was better at hiding his presence than they had thought and had ended up hearing a good deal of what was being said behind his back.

It was how he had graduated a year early from the academy without bringing too much attention (but never enough – never, never, never – according to Uchiha standards, he muttered bitterly) upon himself. After all, what kind of a shinobi were you if you stood out like a sore thumb?

"Filthy half-blood. He should never have been born."

"Worthless bitch of a mother. We never should have let those two get married."

"A shame that such a talented individual wasted his blood by becoming attached to an outsider."

"Low life. Scum."

"Good-for-nothing freeloader."

"Brat."

'That's not true!' Kisho thought, trying to prove them all wrong. "None of it's true! Sensei is going to come back!"

And his mother, his poor mother was suffering from all of this as well. They blamed her for the death of one of their finest warriors even though he had technically been killed in the middle of a mission. Anything bad that happened would be her fault as well, such as broken jars, or dying crops in the gardens. The women at the watering wells would give her a hard time, or make her wait unreasonably long for her turn to wash her laundry. They would snub her in passing on the Uchiha grounds and sometimes set prank traps to make her life harder than it already was.

'It's not true. He will come back…'

Despite all of this, Kisho had never seen her lose hope. Even through the death of her husband and the constant jeering from others, (and now the bad reputation cast upon her only child by his teacher's betrayal,) she remained strong, never letting the circumstances bring her down. Years ago, she had explained that to one who had lived a harsh life from the very beginning, they were but mere obstacles on the road of life.

In a way, he wished that he could borrow some of her strength because he couldn't figure out what to do or where to go or what his life was going to be like from now on.

'He's never coming back.'


It was now dark, and Kisho was still sitting in the same place he had stationed himself hours before. All the lights in the rest of the building had been turned off long ago, and only the moonlight allowed him to see in the darkness.

He felt like he was dreaming now; everything felt so surreal in comparison to how the rest of the day had gone. Sometimes, if he glazed his eyes over enough, he could see the vague impressions of objects swimming around in the air. They were all shapeless, formless and indistinguishable, but Kisho felt that that was how they were supposed to be.

And like a dream, it didn't make much of a difference if he closed his eyes or not. He felt numb all over, almost as if he were in the form of a spirit instead of a body. These weird sensations were of no surprise to him, however. Nothing seemed like a surprise after the news about Orochimaru-sama…

Being sent to the academy had been like an adventure. Graduating from it had been an accomplishment. Being picked to be on Orochimaru-sama's team had been an honor. Being nominated for the Chuunin Exams had been a surprise. Finding out that his sensei had betrayed the Leaf had been a shock. The only other shock as devastating as this had been many, many years ago.

He remembered when his father had died and the funeral shortly after. He had cried for days, wallowing in self-pity until his aunt had scolded him for it. He was not the only person suffering, she had said. Everyone who had known him had been affected, herself included. The one in the most pain had been his mother, Oba-chan said. He had still cried afterwards, but not with the same intensity as before.

No such tears fell now.

He was never coming back… Neither of them were ever coming back…


Something was in his line of sight, he dully realized. It was blocking the moonlight from his face and was standing right in front of him. He was about to ignore it and go back into his trance-like depression state when that something touched his shoulder and gently shook it. The sudden contact made Kisho become more alert as he focused his attention to the figure.

"Anko…?" he said, blinking away all traces of zoning out. "What are you doing out here alone?"

Not that it mattered. Sensei was never coming back.

"I came to see how you were doing, Kisho-kun," she said gently. "I snuck in after everyone else went to sleep. Besides, I'm not alone right now."

"What do you mean?"

Here, Anko fidgeted nervously, as if worried about something. She bit her lower lip and pressed two of her fingers together.

"C'mon. I need to show you something."


They were well outside of the Uchiha grounds now. Anko had led them to the nearest uninhabited area the first thing after leaving the Clan's gated community. Kisho had no idea what was going on, but trusted his teammate on the matter.

They stopped near one of their frequented training areas where Anko proceeded to do a few hand seals. She quietly summoned a snake and sent it into the bushes, then sat down to wait, signaling Kisho to do the same.

"What's going on?"

"Just wait; you'll see."

A sudden rustling alerted the two of another presence, and Kisho immediately went on the alert. When the third person made its way into the clearing, Kisho's eyes widened.

"Sensei," he breathed.

He's…

"You're…back," he said, disbelievingly. He wondered if this was all a dream as well, just like the near-invisible apparitions from before.

"Come, Kisho," the Sannin gestured. "Come join me."

Kisho got up unsteadily on his feet and followed his supposed teacher towards the forests, apprehensive about what might happen to him. For an instant, he hesitated, questioning his sensei's motives.

But… Orochimaru-sama had been one of the only ones who didn't seem to mind that his mother wasn't a true Uchiha… Sensei was the only one who seemed to care about his training…

Kisho paused before the row of trees, debating what to do.

On the one hand, he loved his teacher and Anko very much and would go through any lengths to serve and protect them. On the other, Orochimaru-sama was leaving his home, the place he had been raised in.

His thoughts ran amuck, confusing his brain. A sudden thought hit him and his hesitation faded away, replaced by something that could only be called resolve and a sense of purpose.

If Sensei was betraying the Leaf for a good reason… then he would too.

With that decision made, Kisho took another step and disappeared into the foliage, leaving Konohagakure no Sato behind him.

To Be Continued…


Ika's Notes:

Uh, if I haven't said that this is slightly AU, then I say so now. Mixing up of timelines, changing a few canon events, making up things – all that, and more.

And this chapter (if you haven't noticed) takes place a few years after the previous one. Also, Uchiha Kisho and Uchiha Ryuushi are original characters. Fanart of Ryuushi is located on my profile. I'm trying to work on Kisho's (as well as a few others) right now. No guarantees, though.

Review responses will be located in the forums.

Bee's Notes:

This chapter was one of the original ideas for this fanfic. I'm happy to see that it's finally posted. (This was supposed to be the first chapter, but Ika-chan's plot bunnies said otherwise). I hope this would make the fiction more realistic since it started featuring more prominent characters from the canon.

Yatsuka Hikagi

A Writer Wannabee

August 22, 2007