AN: Another chapter that details why having an insane jinchuuriki being the driving force behind your military and your friendships is probably not a good idea. And also: why this story laughs in the face of any rational system of morality.
Disclaimer: It is quite literally impossible for me to own Naruto, because if I owned Naruto it wouldn't be Naruto anymore because Naruto isn't the main character in my version. Which…is a bit of a problem, isn't it?
Konoha, 3:50 PM
The Village hidden in the leaves had had its fair share of tension over the years. When a quarter of one's population could cause small scale natural disasters on a whim things getting out of hand was never out of the question. Over the years shinobi had committed crimes, drunk shinobi had committed even more crimes, civilians had gotten rowdy, and the occasional enemy spy had snuck in and caused a ruckus. Even Sakura, from roughly her birth to the age of seven, had been a one person disturbance with the amount of violent attacks that had happened around her on a day to day basis.
But the closest Konoha had ever come to war inside its own walls had been from an outside force: the Kyuubi no Kitsune. It was in no small part thanks to the quick actions of Konoha's shinobi and the Yondaime Hokage that the Kyuubi had been pushed out the village after the initial attack. And really, one just didn't anticipate a Demon King and living embodiment of hatred attacking because of an Uchiha with a god-complex who happened to live in the village a few generations back. One also didn't prepare for that same demon to get sealed in the stomach of a baby and then left alive to be abused, become embittered, and then plot for revenge.
So it was understandable that there were no plans on the books to deal with a large scale civilian riot backed by a portion of the ninja population turned traitor. All caused by said jinchuuriki indirectly of course. It was simply so bizarre new strategies had to be drawn up from scratch and the squads on-scene were literally making things up as they went.
And that was a disaster just waiting to happen. Uchiha Sasuke knew that too well, Sakura had taught him the finer mechanics of cause and effect quite thoroughly.
Sasuke listened to the crowds below him in disinterest as another shop had its windows broken open and was vigorously looted. It wasn't a shinobi shop so the ninja squads patrolling from the roofs really didn't care enough to interfere. The writhing, screaming mass numbering in the hundreds roared its approval for the mayhem.
There were no longer people down there, he mused, just a living breathing thing that attacked what it wanted on a whim with no concept of the consequences. But those consequences would come, they always did.
"And that's…thirteen shops gutted, twenty-three looted, and thirty-six damaged." Hanabi declared cheerfully, fussing with her clipboard as she check marked another shop into non-existence.
He relaxed back against the roof, letting Hanabi move in his lap as she wished while her byakugan scanned the area in a systematic sweep. The mob continued their violence and the noise was beginning to irritate him. There was no chakra for him to see, only the sea of sound and the hot smell of human sweat to inform him what was going on below. He would rather just not know.
He buried his face against the back of her neck and hair and inhaled. The sweet and lingering scent of her invaded his senses and drowned out everything else.
She leaned against his chest knowing exactly what he was doing. "Is it that excruciating for you being out here?"
His reply had a decidedly sardonic lilt. "Extremely."
She made a sympathetic noise in the back of her throat and turned to nuzzle her face against his neck. Just as Sasuke was beginning to wonder if her attention to his neck was going to lead elsewhere his ears picked up the patter of footsteps.
He shifted Hanabi sideways on his lap but he couldn't move her far. They both had earpieces hooked up to the same radio on his belt and the wires were short. He tracked the sound of the person moving towards them and murmured in her ear. "Company."
She hid her mouth against his shoulder and murmured back. "ANBU."
The ANBU landed on the roof next to them and the voice was deep and definitely male. "Anything new to report on damages?"
Sasuke smirked. "Why the hell are you asking the blind guy for a visual report?"
The ANBU shifted uncomfortably and then sighed. "Fine. You…" But Hanabi was still curled against him and the ANBU couldn't catch a glimpse of her face. The ANBU hedged. "…whoever you are. What's the status of the district?"
She answered slyly. "The district is deteriorating. The mobs are currently trending westward and becoming more violent as they go. Of course, they were just trending east five minutes ago so there's no rhyme or reason to their movements. Vandalism and arsons are piling up but beyond that there's nothing pressing to report."
"No genjutsu influence?" The ANBU asked.
She made a quick sweep with her eyes and Sasuke felt the chakra. "Nope. This is genuine rioting, no sign of any ninja manipulating them or otherwise."
Sasuke didn't know if that made things better or worse. The good news was no traitor ninja had yet slipped the cordon that'd gone up, but the bad news…if there was no one influencing the riot there was no one to take out to settle this.
That was the problem with mobs. They were a hydra; cut off one head and another would just grow in its place. There was no leader to assassinate, no politician to take hostage, no one person to threaten into compliance. And if his side wasn't going to devolve into out and out genocide there was nothing they could really do but corral the mobs from spreading.
And even that, unsurprisingly, was beginning to fail as the rioters realized the ninja weren't allowed to use deadly force. The shinobi couldn't even use genjutsu effectively to try and stop them, affecting hundreds of people at once was a stretch for even the greatest of masters and the amount of chakra it took was staggering.
They could use genjutsu augmented by seals to calm a few rioters down and send them back but currently their best genjutsu masters were doing just that only guarding the most critical points of the Village. Between the armories, the Hokage's tower, ANBU headquarters, the Interrogation and Torture building, and the various ninja divisions scattered in every district, their supply of Genjutsu experts was stretched to the breaking point.
And throwing out killing intent only made the mobs run elsewhere and frankly Sasuke had gotten rather comfortable on this roof. He wasn't in any hurry to move.
All they could do was sit back, record the damage for insurance claims, and watch.
"So…" Hanabi said airily. "When do we kill them?"
The ANBU gawked at her. Sasuke made a quick check to make sure Sakura hadn't showed up unannounced as that sounded so much like something the jinchuuriki would ask it was eerie. Sakura had rubbed off on them all, Hanabi especially.
Deciding the ANBU wasn't going to gather his wits anytime soon Sasuke bumped his forehead against his girlfriend's, smiling at her as he did. "When the order comes down the line we'll act, and not a moment sooner."
She rolled her eyes and played with the zipper of his flak-jacket. She scoffed. "And what, we let the village burn while we wait?"
In the background the ANBU snorted. Hanabi had just voiced the mood of every ninja out there.
Sasuke smoothed her hair down, for once finding himself the voice of reason. "Pretty much." And being reasonable was something he was still getting used to. Then again considering the company he kept, the first person not to suggest kill them as the answer was usually the sane one.
The ANBU threw them a salute. "Carry on then, it seems you have things…under control." Though judging by his tone, the phrase under control was used very loosely.
With a flutter of a cloak and the gentle clack of steel they were once again alone. Hanabi immediately returned attention to his neck, pressing a kiss right over the pulse of his jugular.
"Is now really the time for that?" He asked blandly.
She continued to kiss down his neck only pausing to answer. "It's always the time. If the village is going to burn no matter what I do, I'll enjoy myself instead."
He couldn't help but laugh and agree with her. He slipped his hands to her hips. "Now that's something I can get behind."
She smiled against his neck and he reclined them back on the roof. Beneath them the mob continued to rage around like a beast on the warpath, ruled by some unknown collective that dictated their every action. Predicting their path was the about as effective as trying to catch the wind. The riot was a fickle thing that only answered to itself and nothing Sasuke could do would change that.
So he wouldn't try to. Right now he had a beautiful girl lying across his chest with every intention of having a good time and Sasuke was willing to oblige her.
He slid a hand under her chin and tugged her up. She followed his lead and slid her body along his and moved so they were face to face. She reached up gently and undid the headband over his eyes, allowing it to fall to the roof forgotten.
The mobs below screamed, unknowing and living in their own world driven by impulse and lust.
Sasuke thought they had the right idea and he let his impulse go wild. Their lips crashed together almost desperately. Hanabi had stopped being tentative a long time ago and it showed in how she kissed and how she moved. His hands traced her body as their mouths tangled, back, hips, thighs, legs. All soft, all warm, all within his reach.
Sasuke had never loved anything as much as he loved Hanabi. Not his family, not the memory of his brother before his decent into insanity, and not even the desire for revenge. And because of her he could live in the present without the past dragging him back down. For that alone he would adore her forever.
It was right as he was thinking that the radios in their ears let out an earsplitting screech of static. Sasuke shouted inpain and covered his ear and Hanabi whimpered and pulled at the wires. Both of their earpieces were ripped out and Hanabi climbed off him massaging the side of her head.
Sasuke picked the radio back up and in the high pitched whine of static he heard a few short bursts. "…compound teams…I repeat equipment is jamming lines…locate powered signal and remove…compound Bravo may—the source…all channels repeating…cascading failure immanent…"
With one last vicious crack the line went dead. Sasuke shook the radio but whatever had happened had rendered the tech useless.
Hanabi climbed back into his lap groaning. "What was that?"
Sasuke sensitive ears were still ringing and he'd barely heard her voice above the clamor from the riot. He mused on the words he'd heard and pieced things together. "I think one of the clans had some jamming equipment they never told anyone about. Looks like the radios are fucked until further notice."
She twitched. "Typical." She moved to kiss him but then paused uncertainly. The mood had been ruined and they both knew it.
Sasuke laid back down and Hanabi flipped over to rest her back on his chest. She stared at the sky and felt the strength of his heartbeat against her back. It wasn't making out exactly but it was comforting in its own way.
Above them a small, jewel bright bird flitted on the breeze seemingly unaware of the chaos below. A familiarity of it nagged at her but considering her family's neurosis with symbolism and birds, it was probably best she not think about it too deeply.
"Sasuke?" She murmured as she reached her hand down to search for one of his.
His hand immediately reached up to clasp hers. "What is it?"
Sasuke waited for her to speak but she shifted against him and said nothing. He knew her though and what was on her mind was clear.
"It's about Naruto and Sakura, right?" He asked calmly.
She pouted. "I didn't ask that."
"You were not asking pretty loudly." He deadpanned.
She sighed and held his hand tighter. He rested his chin against her head and let her bring up the sore subject at her own pace.
"You don't have to answer." She informed him. "You don't have to say anything but…I'm afraid. With what happened at the apartment and the fight with Naruto and all the blood…what if it happens again? This time with Sakura?"
He grasped her other hand and folded her arms and his across her stomach. It was an almost-hug and she felt incredibly small between his arms and chest. "It won't happen. I promise. You heard Naruto apologize and Sakura…well…we already hashed it out. She isn't looking to fight, not about this."
"But what is this?" She whispered.
Sasuke tensed. He'd known this question would come, Hanabi and been unbelievably patient with him to not bring it up. Not to ask why he and Sakura no longer talked, not to ask why they didn't go up for coffee in the mornings anymore, not to ask why he was on a hospital bed because Naruto had tried to rip his guts out.
"It's in the past." He allowed.
She jerked her head sideways so his chin could no longer rest there. She stared at the roof away from him and said nothing, but he didn't need words to know she was annoyed with him.
Sasuke held her tighter. "It was about the Uchiha massacre."
She breathed in sharply and wiggled in his arms. He let her go and she flipped again, straddling his stomach and grabbing the front of his jacket. "What…how?"
The old memories screamed back into his head, clawing at the jagged wounds there that were barley closed. His blood pumped with the fury of revenge not taken and he wrestled with the beast and drove it back down. The past was in the past and he wouldn't let it hurt either of them anymore. "It doesn't matter. It's finished. It's done. The bodies are buried and her hands are so soaked in blood no one noticed a few more drops."
She asked tentatively. "Did she…?"
"I can't tell you anymore." He reached up a hand to caress her face and his palm cupped her chin and his fingers reached far into her hair. "Sakura always knows. If I told you you'd look at her differently and she's rather attuned to that sort of thing."
The hands in his jacket tightened. "Is it dangerous if you tell me?"
His answer was brutally honest. "I don't know."
She chewed on that thought a long time. "I understand." Hanabi told him, and he could tell from her sincere tone she truly did. She pressed no further and laid on top of him, placing her head beneath his chin and wrapping herself around him.
He rested his arms on her back and stared into the sky unseeingly. But he could feel it even down to his bones how vast and blue it was above him. And somewhere he still remembered that breathless azure shade of blue even though his eyes would never see it again.
Everything was over and done. There was no forgiveness. No acceptance. But he'd found his peace and the skies for him were finally turning clear. He didn't care about this civil war or the Great shinobi war that would no doubt follow, he didn't care about Naruto's issues or whatever atrocity Sakura was plotting next. It was a nuisance at best and he just wanted to breathe in the blueness of the sky and the smell of Hanabi's hair and forget.
And his skies would stay clear as long as he could hold this resolve...
Above them a bird road the wind. Its vivid feathers flicked and guided it as it surveyed the couple that lay below. The bird had heard everything and the human soul inside of it wondered. The puzzle was getting deeper and the past was drenched in blood. And the only question was: where did that blood lead?
Konoha Hospital, Hallway Outside Room 424, 4:37 PM
When Naruto stumbled into the hallways he looked exhausted and that was probably because he was exhausted. The blond had been at his apartment sleeping after being discharged from the hospital at dawn. Then around noon some ANBU had come to drag him out of bed because the whole village was rioting.
Then the radio lines had gone down and all hell had broken loose.
Being the only person on scene who could be many places at once, he'd sent his clones in every direction issuing hirashin kunai to the squads in each district. He'd spent all his time since being a one man communications network with his clones leaping from seal to seal in bursts of yellow relaying messages and coordinating the response.
Command was nowhere to be found and as he was running everyone anyways, Naruto had taken over authority and hadn't given it back. Since no orders we're coming from the Hokage's office telling him differently he hadn't felt too concerned over usurping the entire army. If he'd been inclined to lead a coup he could have done so easily. At the moment though he was too busy putting down the other coup in the village to get too many delusions of grandeur.
Then between tightening the cordon around the compounds and herding the riots away from vital chokeholds, the original Naruto had landed in a burst of yellow in front of a jonin and a handful of chunin.
That's when the world decided since things weren't difficult enough already, to just make things as worse as possible.
He had wasted no time. "What's your status?"
A jonin answered. "We're holding Naruto-sama. Those bastards won't get in here even if we have to use force to keep it that way."
Naruto had nodded. "Right. Just don't get wild; the moratorium on deadly force was still in effect when the radios went down."
The jonin's jaw had tightened at the rebuke but he'd nodded in determination. "Of course sir." He then hesitated. "If you don't mind me asking, how is Sakura-sama doing?"
He'd blinked. While people usually enquired after her to Naruto considering they were teammates and lovers, the way the question had been phrased struck him as odd. "Why wouldn't she be doing fine?"
The chunin, he later realized, moved to a safe distance away from him. The jonin who had a better survival rate if Naruto lost it kept talking. "Didn't you hear sir? These riots started because Sakura-sama was poisoned at the Peace Talks this morning. There are rumors that the Hokage arrived at the hospital carrying her covered in blood…Sakura-sama's blood."
Naruto's veins ran cold and his vision seemed to narrow on one point high over the jonin's shoulder. His voice could have frozen lava in its tracks. "Tell me everything now."
The entire ghastly story spilled from the jonin's mouth. The ambush, the poisoning, the escape, the Hyuga compound blowing half to hell and no one knowing why, the riots starting, the rumors of Sakura having died on the operating table…
Naruto had cut the jonin off with a wave of his hand. In a fog of part fury and part terror he didn't even remember giving orders. "Hold your position until further notice, and stop spreading rumors before it comes back to haunt you."
The next thing he knew Naruto found himself running down a hospital hallway with his senses locked on Sakura's chakra signature. It was there and burning steady but his terror only fell from mind-numbing to slightly manageable.
When he skidded to a stop in front of the door to her room four men were waiting for him.
Nara Shikamaru's smile was decidedly unfriendly. "It's about time you showed up. We need to talk."
He tried to step around them. "I don't have time, Sakura—"
"Sakura's fine." Chouji interrupted. "But you won't be if you don't stop and listen to us."
"Bullshit." He growled. He had always gotten along with Sakura's friends amiably enough but today was the first day he'd ever considered murdering them outright.
Kiba, crouched by the door, grinned up at him in a very nasty manner and didn't move. "You heard the man Naru-kun. Don't worry about a thing; I'll protect Sakura while she's naked in there with the girls just fine."
The leer on Kiba's face made Naruto blood pressure spike. Only Chouji stepping between him and the Inuzuka stopped a bloodbath from occurring.
Shino snapped. "That's not helpful Kiba."
Kiba snorted. "Dude, what have I ever done that led you to believe I was helpful?"
Chouji's face was hard but not as unfriendly or outright challenging as Kiba's and Shikamaru's was. "Come on man, let's not do this in the hall."
Naruto reined his temper in and looked around. A lot of nurses were staring at him worriedly, the ANBU at the end of the hall weren't even pretending to do guard duty, and patients were sticking their heads out of their rooms curiously. Naruto looked back to the door and felt Sakura behind it as steady and alive as ever. He made up his mind grudgingly. "Ten minutes."
Shikamaru leveraged himself up from his wheelchair and his reply was callous. "That's plenty."
Chouji herded them into a supply room and Kiba stayed by Sakura's door and waved cheerfully as they left. The door to the room shut and a silence descended that could only be made by judicious application of security seals in the walls. This little get-together hadn't come out of the blue, it was a damned ambush.
"What is it?" Naruto snapped. He'd never claimed subtly to his name and he wasn't going to start now.
To his surprise the usually quiet Shino started things off. "It's come to our attention, one way or another, that you and Sakura are having a fight." That bland statement only barley hid the cool contempt in Shino's voice.
Shikamaru had no such compunctions and he growled. "You made her cry and frankly I don't give a fuck if you're her boyfriend or her teammate or even Hokage-elect. Sakura doesn't need shit from you not now or ever."
Shino placed a hand on Shikamaru's arm to quiet him but didn't disagree with what the Nara had said.
Naruto felt a curl of fury building in the depths of his guts. "It's none of your damned concern. None of you. That's between me and Sakura and maybe Sasuke, if that."
Shikamaru after weeks of stress watching his family betray the village, getting his stomach blown open by his old sensei, and watching helplessly as his oldest friend had fought for her life, had none of his usual patience or apathy. Shikamaru was furious. "We were here long before you were. You dated her what, three years? We've known her for ten and we've ridden out the worst with her, if we don't protect her no one will."
"She doesn't need protection from anybody! It's not like she even trusts you." Naruto chuckled bitterly. "She doesn't trust anyone. She lies and pretends everything is all right and—"
Chouji interrupted him. "Have you been living under a rock? Sakura lies to everybody. If she isn't lying to you something is very wrong or you're about to end up very dead. That's the way she is."
"And as for trust." Shikamaru continued. "If you'd even taken a look at the life she's lived, that she trusts no one shouldn't surprise you."
"I might know that." Naruto mocked. "If she actually told me a damned thing about herself."
Shikamaru rolled his eyes. "Oh poor you. The jinchuurikri who's been treated like shit since the day she was born doesn't like to talk about herself. Did you think dating her would be easy? She's a fucking mess and at the first sign of things not being all perfect and happy like the façade you constructed you throw a fit."
The curl of fury in his guts turned to an inferno. "Maybe all of you are hunky-dory with Sakura lying, but I'm her lover and I'm not going to accept whatever crap she comes up with!"
"Making you her lover doesn't make you her most loved, Naruto." Chouji rumbled. "She doesn't have to answer to you."
"Then who does she have to answer to? It's not like you're stepping up to the plate." The blond snarled back.
"Whoever she damn well pleases or nobody." Shikamaru answered flatly. "Life isn't fair; there isn't a judge or jury sitting around to call us account for out actions. I want her to smile and you trying to dig through secrets she wants buried isn't going to help that."
Shino raised his hand and both Shikamaru and Chouji took steps back. The Aburame was as impeccably calm as ever. "This is getting us nowhere. Naruto, Sakura is an adult and even if you're her lover that gives you no particular prerogative to dive into her past if she doesn't want to share it. That's she lied about it, we've established, is part of her neurosis and is likely never to change. That you've taken offense to something she does to everyone is childish at best or delusional at worst. You seem to be operating under the fallacy that being her lover makes you different than the rest of us, you should know it could have been any of us."
Naruto felt like his head was being crushed in a vice. "What do you mean, any of us?"
Shino shared glances with Shikamaru and Chouji and both men nodded. Shino, now with permission kept speaking. "What I say next in no way means we love our wives or girlfriends less or Sakura more. Any of us could have been her lovers in the beginning."
Naruto's jaw unhinged. Then he felt the not so irrational need to smash Shino's face across the floor in a bloody smear.
Shino seemed to sense this but his voice didn't show a hint of fear. "I do not know why she chose you. It could have been convenience, it could have been love, it could have been because you're the only one with a reputation strong enough to take the hit of dating her. Regardless, she considered the rest of us for that before she chose you and it could have been any of us."
"Hell." Chouji murmured. "If we go for most loved it probably would have been Hinata."
That statement seemed to amuse Shino to no end. "Or, judging by how similar their…interests in interrogation technique and clothes, I wouldn't be surprised if she had an affair with Ino."
Chouji looked oddly conflicted about that. "I don't know whether that annoys me…or turns me on."
Shikamaru and Shino shared a glance and agreed out loud. "The latter."
Naruto couldn't find enough oxygen to breathe or process his thoughts, let alone shout.
Shino seemed to take that as a signal to continue. "You are close with her but with no certainty could you claim to be the closest. There is no ownership in this, no right that allows us to control this or you. Life is messy and we will do what we can to protect Sakura from the worst of it. Even if that may be from herself and against her own wishes. We do not ask for her penance for her crimes Naruto, we do not ask her to answer every detail of her life to sake our curiosity, we only ask that she be happy."
Shino walked to the door and beckoned his friends out with him.
Naruto shouted after them. "What was the point of this? What the hell do you want me to do?"
Shino turned. "Either grow up or get out of her life, your call."
Naruto felt his lips press down until they became bloodless. "You have no idea the things she's done, no idea of the horrors she's lied about."
For the first time Shino smiled and it was so cold and so vicious Naruto felt a chill. The Aburame clan head answered venomously. "And you seem to be under the mistaken impression that we would care, Uzumaki Naruto. Now if you'd excuse us."
Sakura's oldest friends wandered out of the room and left Naruto behind. He stared at the wall one long moment and mumbled. "I loved her and I always will."
He considered those words.
"I dated a lying psycho." He crossed his arms and stared at the floor. "I'm a slightly more truthful psycho."
He closed his eyes and sighed heavily. "What a mess."
He turned and with a buzz of yellow light vanished from the hospital.
Konoha, 4:45 PM
The shriek of bending steel and roaring flames drowned out the chanting of the crowd and dusted their heads with ash. Within the riot two figures moved with the mass following it as it went from district to district carving a path of devastation. Like many in the crowd the two wore bandannas over their faces.
Unlike most they wore jackets with the hoods up hiding the rest of their features. From behind their masks and hoods the two figures shared the same deadly and vicious green eyes rimmed by crimson.
"I've got eyes on target. All chunin and they're looking terribly antsy up there." The first figure murmured.
"Enough to panic?" The second asked coyly.
The first threw an arm around her partner's waist. "Enough to lose their damn minds. You want the honors?"
The second practically purred. "Oh yes." She opened her hand and revealed sharp rocks with the weight of kunai. The second figure eyed the roof and picked her target, the chunin second from the right with hair that had an unnatural burnt orange hue. The chunin had a vest, arm guards, and a staff hanging on his back.
The second threw the rock so fast the chunin didn't even notice it before it had pierced his shoulder and passed all the way through. The pair saw him grasp his shoulder in shock and tumble back, swearing in panic as he did. Some of the mob had seen this and the blood and started pointing and shouting; soon the whole crowd had their eyes on the squad.
The pair grinned at each other.
The first asked. "Time for some enemy shinobi to slip the cordon, don't you think?"
"Too right." The second answered. "Now let's get wild."
On the roof one ninja had gone to help his downed teammate while the other two stood on the lip of the roof scanning wildly with their hands on their weapons. They were itching for any excuse and the pair on the ground would give them that excuse. They weaved through the mass of bodies in the street and began their assault, throwing rocks with a speed and power only ninja could have.
The squad on the roof assumed correctly they were under assault from fellow shinobi and unfortunately another of their number went down with a rock through the arm. The squad leader, seeing his friends and teammates go down, let his panic turn to fury.
"We've got a breech! Contact Naruto-sama!" The chunin roared as he ran through hand seals and threw his arms wide.
The pair in the street only had a split second of warning before a bolt of lightning arced from between the chunin's hands and into the crowd. The smell of burnt flesh and ozone filled the air along with screams.
The mob began to stampede and the pair moved in retreat and nearly got trampled in the process. The squad of chunin spotted them and one began to give chase. The pair of instigators grinned at each other, their eyes now fully crimson, and ran.
When a clone of Naruto's arrived in a sizzle of bright yellow the two rogue clones of Sakura were gone. "What's going on?" The jonin shouted, looking down into the crowd that was shrieking in rage and fleeing in every direction.
In the street four bodies laid burnt and still, dead by jutsu. Another twenty laid moaning, dying from crush related injuries of being stampeded over by their cohorts. No one moved to help them and all would eventually die in the street.
"Naruto-sama!" The chunin with burnt orange hair shouted over the din. "We have a breech in the cordon! Enemy shinobi just assaulted our position under the guise of the crowd." The chunin winced and grabbed at his shoulder to stem the bloodflow as his teammate attempted a medical jutsu. "Akio gave chase sir."
Naruto's clone nodded. "I'll go assist him as soon as I can, the rest of the squads out here need to know the cordon's been breached." In another burst of yellow he was gone.
In the next ten minutes seven more attacks would happen across the city outside the cordon, injuring a dozen of the Hokgae's loyalist ninja but killing none. In retaliation over fifty civilians died and the rioters went wild in response, setting fire to all they touched and destroying what could not be burned. When some ninja gave chase the perpetrators of the attacks slipped back through the cordon and vanished. Each disappeared outside a different clan compound and within minutes rumor spread that hostilities for the civil war had officially begun.
Communications and Radio Hub, 4:55 PM
Clones that lived any longer than a few hours were always a pain to dismiss. For some reason when they survived longer than that they got strange, and the flow of memories and emotions she'd receive always gave Sakura a headache. Some clones got philosophical over life and death, some got depressed, some became flirty and entertained sexual fantasies the whole time. For whatever reason they were neurotic and unpredictable and she always braced herself before removing them one by one.
Within a two minute window over fourteen of her clones who had been living with the Kyuubi for a week, and then led guerilla attacks on his initiative, destroyed themselves to escape loyalist pursuit. The memories that flooded in almost had Sakura putting her hand through a table in a pain-induced-rage.
"Are you alright Sakura?" Tsunade asked, glancing up from a flowing pile of data papers and tangled wires that a few techs were trying to explain.
Somewhere in the background the infernal high-pitched whine of the jamming signal rung over the open radio lines. Sakura tried not to flinch as her skull wrenched in agony.
The former jinchuuriki grabbed her head and tried to force her face into a relaxed grin. It came out as more of a grimace. "Just a bit of a headache Hime, probably an after effect of the poison. It's nothing to worry about."
She was going to murder the Kyuubi when she got her hands on him.
Tsunade interrupted her plan of finding the Demon King, maiming him, and leaving the pieces across a solid square mile by snapping at one of the techs next to her. "What's taking so long? We need the damn radio lines up and running!"
"I'm sorry my Lady." The woman hip deep in a gutted relay interface answered tightly. "But whatever equipment is pouring out the signal is keyed into our network. My guess is the Nara, but at this point we don't know. We're trying to clean up the signal and free up one line but it's slow going."
Sakura spoke up. She was furious as hell with her clones for going along with the Kyuubi's insane plan but it had given her a golden opportunity to kick the civil war forward. And she'd be damned if she didn't use the chance he'd given her. "I doubt we're going to get the radio's working until we destroy their equipment Hime. The bigger worry is what they've got planned with all the radio's down. My guess is they're going for chaos, small squads slipped into the civilians and attacking simultaneously. We have an edge of numbers on them, but those numbers will be useless if we can't communicate and organize…"
As if by some divine timing Naruto skidded into the room with his chest heaving and his eyes furious. "The cordon's been breached! We've got enemy ninja attacking in all sectors and we've traced them back to the compound's before losing the trail."
The room of anxious techs and engineers, who until then had been buzzing and panicking over the radio lines, went dead silent.
Sakura stood up to move towards him but Naruto angled away from her and went straight to the Hokage. His expression was grim. "I've got an ad-hoc network up but the lag is going to complicate things. We need the ban on deadly force against civilians lifted, if we don't kill or clear them out the rebels can attack us at will."
Sakura, even if Naruto didin't seem to want to look at her, wouldn't be left out of the conversation. "We need more time to set up our forces for a full on assault. We either pen the civilians in or kill them or…"
Tsunade slapped her hand on the table to silence them both. Her honey hued eyes flashed. "One at a time. Naruto!" She barked. "Are you sure that is the only way to eliminate the rebel's advantage?"
The blond nodded coldly. "Yes. I know it's distasteful but…" He trailed off and his eyes went wide. Sakura recognized that look; he'd just had inspiration hit him.
"I have an idea." He said hurriedly and turned and disappeared with his hirashin technique.
Tsunade stared at the empty spot that Naruto had once filled. "Do you have any idea…?"
Sakura shook her head. "Your guess is as good as mine."
Minutes later he reappeared with an armful of scrolls, a confused Jiraiya, and a map of a village as long as he was tall. Tsunade snapped her fingers and a few techs gathered the map and spread it across a table.
Naruto drew a hexagon around the compounds on the map with a pen and at the six distinct points he scrawled out seals. When he was done with whatever he was doing, Naruto jabbed his finger at the map. "We need to push all the riots back into this area. At this point we already have ninja loose in the crowds and if we start slaughtering wholesale they'll know the jig is up and go all out. If we herd them back without killing too many they'll let us. Once everyone is inside this area I'll take care of the rest. You'll even have time to plan the counterattack at your leisure."
Sakura cocked her head sideways, she was good at seals but only dealing with souls, living creatures, and all things jinchuuriki affiliated. Whatever Naruto had planned was far out of her scope of understanding. Even Jiraiya seemed vexed by the patterns Naruto had laid out. "This array…even if it was possible you couldn't power it in a million years. The sheer size of it…"
Naruto smirked. "You seem to forget our village does have a resident well of never ending chakra."
Every eye in the room looked to her except Naruto's. Sakura knew all the enemy ninja were still inside the original cordon and it was her clones that had precipitated the attacks. And even with this inside knowledge she now had no idea what was going on. Naruto had an insane plan, the Kyuubi was running his own games behind her back, and Naruto wouldn't look at her. What had happened since she'd cried on Naruto at the hospital and left the Kyuubi to his own devices?
She began to wonder if this is how most people felt around her when she was running her own schemes and refused to explain. She wasn't sure if irony quite covered it.
"Well," Sakura licked her lips. "I guess I've just been volunteered. What's the game plan?"
Konoha, 5:20 PM
"Sasuke-san!" A chunin shouted, throwing himself onto the roof next to them and disturbing Hanabi from her rest. "The orders just came down from Naruto-sama! We're pressing the riots back west!"
No one called him Uchiha anymore, Sasuke vaguely wondered why that was as he sat up and Hanabi slid off his lap. The chunin flicked his eyes to Hanabi but said nothing. Sasuke calmly straightened her shirt to cover up the bite marks he'd left on her neck, he couldn't see them but he knew exactly where he'd left each one. Hanabi did not touch his collar as she was happy to let the world see what she'd left on him. He didn't mind.
"Rules of engagement?" He asked calmly as he picked up his scythe from the roof and gave it a test swing. The air around him crackled with electricity and Hanabi giggled as she gathered some of it on herself and ran it across her skin.
In his blindness his chakra coursing down her made Hanabi stand out like a shinning beacon.
The chunin answered excitedly. "Civilians are now expendable. We're not supposed to slaughter them, but if we have any stragglers who don't get moving…"
"I get the picture." Sasuke replied dryly. "Hanabi?"
"There's a new technique I want to try out." She answered. "Let me lead?"
He nodded and the chunin spoke up one last time. "Watch yourselves, we've gotten word the cordon's gone down. Enemy ninja could be anywhere."
Sasuke grinned. "Sounds like a good time."
In a swirl of wind and leaves he sent himself and Hanabi to the street below. When they hit the concrete the road splintered under them and Sasuke let his killing intent loose. The rioters scattered giving them a circle of space in every direction. The two shinobi stood back to back.
Hanabi's hands crackled with chakra and it took on a charge and turned to white hot lightning. She told him casually. "You know the jyuken can be used for more than just blocking chakra points."
Sasuke swung his scythe letting a crack of lightning ring through the street, followed by a roar of thunder and air that knocked people from their feet. "Is that so?"
"Yep." She responded cheerfully, flexing her lighting ringed hands. "Use lightning natured chakra instead of regular old chakra and you've got instant paralysis. Of course, if I hit the muscles around the lungs…"
"A slow death." He finished.
"You got it." She dropped into a stance and prepared to charge into the crowd in front of her. They were currently staring at the people Sasuke had already flattened in horror.
Sasuke considered that. He was beginning to understand why Sakura and Naruto smiled when they were in battle together. There was nothing like fighting back to back with the person you adored above all others. There was a connection, an easy fluidity, a wordless communication. And of course for shinobi a bloody and violent battle…well, that was just their foreplay.
"I love you Hanabi." He murmured over his shoulder.
She bumped their backs together. "I love you too. See you when this is over."
He nodded and his scythe turned from lightning to fire. The light of flames played shadows across their faces and they were bathed in the glow of hell. He said one last thing. "Don't go too far."
They smiled adoringly as they flung themselves into the crowd and that only heightened the horror of what followed.
The ninth district of Konoha where jonin Uchiha Sasuke and unsanctioned chunin Hyuga Hanabi were stationed would officially have the highest civilian casualty count when the night was over and the bodies numbered. Unofficially they would be venerated by their fellow shinobi for it.
Most of the bodies were too burned to identify, the others were remarkably untouched and had died of suffocation or heart attacks. The civilians herded back would never forget the sight of the beautiful young girl who could kill with just a touch of her hand and her body wreathed in lighting. They would not forget the last Uchiha who set a man on fire for accidentally bleeding on the girl and they would not forget she kissed him in thanks for it in the middle of battle.
Sasuke and Hanabi truly were products of their upbringing, and this memory would serve as a lesson in how cruelty bred cruelty.
Hyuga Compound, 5:39 PM
"What do you mean the attack already started?" Akimichi Choza shouted. "You said sundown was when we'd strike and if you didn't notice the sun is still in the sky!"
Nara Shikaku snapped back. "I know what I said!"
The once beautiful Inuzuka Tsume snarled and her heavily scarred face twisted. "Somebody jumped ahead. Do we know what spineless bastard is responsible for starting the attack early?"
Shikaku cut in. "We don't know. We haven't track down who did this and our forces are already in position. We have to keep going while we still have the element of surprise and the radio lines down."
Choza spoke up. "It was probably the same people who poisoned Demoness. We've got someone trying to sabotage us from the inside." There was a lon, silent moment following this when every leader in the room shared suspicious looks.
"We don't know that for sure." Shikaku interrupted.
Choza raised his eyebrows. "You were the one to teach me to see things logically, what else can you see looking at this? Gemma gets captured and the news of his detainment gets leaked to us early enough for us to avoid the arrests, that bitch gets poisoned at the Peace Talks, our families get bombed inside the compound minutes later, and an attack starts early that we didn't cause. Either someone has their own agenda in this or there are a hell of a lot of coincidences going on."
Shikaku raised a shaking hand to his face and sighed. His voice was worn. "I know. But that's all conjecture and we'll probably never know the truth. We have to worry about the battle here and now and not get caught up in whatever got us here. If we get distracted for one second we'll all be dead."
Everyone sat for a silent minute contemplating that.
Tsume snorted and turned to the man sitting next to her. "What about you Kakashi? How's your little Intel operation going?"
Kakashi who until then had remained silent, picked his words carefully. "The tension in the Death Squad has cooled but…there's some very wrong in their past they're all hiding."
"And what's that, huh? Why should we care about those little monsters and them bitching at each other?" Tsume responded derisively.
"Their secret is the Uchiha massacre." Kakashi replied coolly and watched in ruthless amusement as Tsume was struck silent. "Naruto seems to be peripheral to whatever happened relating to that, but Sasuke and Sakura fought about it and then Naruto found out after the fact. Apparently it was more for her lying about it than actually doing it that set off their own argument."
The head of the Nara clan stared at him as if he was trying to see inside Kakashi's skull. Shikaku asked sharply. "What about the massacre? She was seven at the time, they all were."
"I don't know for sure." Kakashi admitted. "Sasuke was overheard saying something about the bodies already being buried. Whether these are literal bodies or bodies of the more metaphorical kind…"
"She couldn't have been part of the massacre she just…we know Itachi did that." Tsume responded hotly.
"We know a lot of things." Shikaku murmured. "And we also don't know so much more. Whatever she did the specifics may not even matter."
He looked to Kakashi and the jonin got the drift of the Nara's inspiration quickly. Kakashi responded while smiling under his mask. "We may not know what she did, but if we imply we do… wars have been started with less information than what we have."
Just as he said that a chunin none of them knew by name burst into the room. "The Hokage's ninja are pushing the riots back towards us!"
Shikaku snarled. "Looks like they figured out our game plan, whoever staged the attacks early…it seems they really wanted to sabotage our assault before it began."
"So what do we do?" Choza asked.
Shikaku looked at them all and the grimness in his eyes was missed by none. "We press forward before the civilians are at our gates and our advantage is gone. Move out."
The senior shinobi and leaders of the rebellion left the Hyuga compound to push to the front lines. All the while Kakashi twisted the words and lies and truths he knew. Uchiha massacre, Naruto and Sasuke trying to kill each other, Sakura just going missing that night, Naruto and Sakura crying and screaming at each other the next morning, Sasuke and Sakura standing silently while resentment boiled between them. He had to figure out the secret that was splintering them so he could finish the job.
By the time Kakashi arrived to the line it had already retreated another few blocks. He threw up his headband and looked for the nearest ninja he knew with his Sharingan. In the crowd henge and genjutsu were peeled away and he spotted a chunin he recognized.
He landed on the road beside him and nearly scared his friend out of his skin. "What's going on Iruka?"
The teacher turned insurgent clutched at his chest and swore. "Damn it Kakashi put a freaking bell around your neck! As for the situation…our cover is thinning out as we speak. The Hokage's ninja aren't taking any prisoners."
"Damn," Kakashi spat. "We need to push to the front and—"
A new chorus of screams filled the streets and thunder rumbled and shook the very ground. Lightning roared overhead and it was so bright the jonin had filmy spots dancing on the edges of his sight. Someone was throwing around massive lighting jutsu and not playing around about it.
Iruka's face went ashen. "Shit, shit, shit! I can't believe that fucker is already—"
"Who is it?" He snapped.
Iruka looked at him and in all the time Kakashi had known him he'd never seen the chunin honestly afraid. Right now there was terror in his eyes as the civilians surged around them and fled. "The Reaper comes."
"Well hey there Kakashi." A familiar voice called out. Kakashi looked up to see Uchiha Sasuke crouching on a roof with the little Hyuga at his side. "Long time no see, huh sensei?"
"Sasuke." Kakashi answered, drawing a kunai and holding it at his side. "What a pleasant surprise it is to see you again." Behind his back he motioned for Iruka to move away in the hope his henge hadn't yet been noticed.
The little Hyuga girl (Hanabi, Kakashi remembered) called out. "You can't fool my eyes you son of a bitch. Why don't you come out here with your real face?"
Iruka sighed and dropped the act entirely. Sasuke turned his head from the chunin dismissively. "Why don't you go play with him awhile Hanabi, I've got some unfinished business with Kakashi."
The little Hyuga giggled. "Of course. I'll leave you to it then." She turned to Iruka and raised her eyebrows. "Coming?"
A muscle worked in Iruka's jaw. "I taught you in the Academy Hanabi, don't think you can just order me arou—"
Kakashi hadn't even blinked before Hanabi had planted her foot in Iruka's gut. The no doubt chakra-enhanced blow slammed him off his feet and into a burning building. The little girl even stopped and smiled at Kakashi before skipping off into the inferno after her prey. The whole exchange had been so fast and baffling he hadn't even tried to stop her.
Then Sasuke was right next to him. "Getting slow in your old age sensei?"
The red-hot scythe came for his neck and the renegade jonin moved sideways to let it sear past him. It hit the ground with a loud crack and Kakashi took the opportunity to plant his foot into Sasuke's exposed sternum.
The dark haired jonin was blown off his feet but didn't let go of the scythe in the ground. Instead it became a fulcrum for him to swing back and kick both of his feet into Kakashi's chest. The older man barely got his arms up in defense before the strike rattled his bones and sent him flying.
Sasuke kept on coming and Kakashi felt the other jonin's chakra wash the street. He had heard of the infamy of Sasuke's blind fighting technique but he had never seen it firsthand. Suddenly and unsurprisingly Kakashi wished he hadn't ever had to witness it.
Fire turned to lightning and Kakashi's eyes went wide. His Sharingan was all that let him dodge the lightning swinging from Sasuke's scythe that would have ended his life. As it was the rush of it passing by left a painful sting on his skin and the deafening sound of thunder booming in his ears.
Kakashi hauled himself back to his feet. He'd come back to the village when the fourth war had started and it'd been a few months since he'd been in a fight for his life. Kakashi had missed it and despite himself he smiled. "I taught you lightning jutsu Sasuke. Did you really think you could kill me with just that?"
The Uchiha just smirked. "It was worth a shot."
With a pained, nostalgic jolt Kakashi was reminded of Sasuke as a genin. Back when the past had been almost simple and he'd thought the genin his protégé. "What happened Sasuke?"
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?" The other jonin scoffed and started spinning his scythe slowly. The lighting crackled into a deadly ring Kakashi didn't want to know the purpose of.
Suddenly Kakashi knew exactly what he needed to do. "I was your sensei, you couldn't stand the sight of Naruto or Sakura and you wanted revenge more than anything. And now you answer her beck and call? What happened?"
The Uchiha snorted. "Really Hatake? You were the lazy son of a bitch who taught me out of spite and I barely knew Naruto and Sakura then. We both know what kind of power Sakura can throw around; that I became her pet instead of yours shouldn't be that big of a surprise. I was always an opportunist at heart and she gave me Itachi's head on a platter when the time came."
Kakashi needed to know the truth and sow the seeds of doubt and his Sharingan spun. "Even after the Uchiha massacre?"
The ever pale Uchiha went bone white. His knuckles tightened around his scythe and the spinning stopped, letting the crackling ring of lightning vanish. He rasped. "What the fuck did you just say to me?"
"Sakura's secrets aren't as well hidden as she'd like to think." Kakashi picked his words carefully because in reality he had no idea what the truth was. "I know what happened. You're a fuckin' dog Sasuke. You know what she did and you still let her hold you by the throat on a leash. You're nothing but her attack dog now, what the hell happened to your vaunted Uchiha pride?"
It never occurred to him Sasuke would attack. Or that Sasuke would throw his scythe. Kakashi barely shushined out of its path and before he'd even rematerialized a pair of hands were around his throat and crushing the life out of him.
He let a Rakiri charge to life in his palm but Sasuke just grabbed his wrist and let the lightning burn his exposed skin. The Uchiha's voice was practically guttural. "You fuck with Sakura and you end up dead. End of story. My family is dead and nothing I do to Sakura will bring them back, and anything I do to her will just get me executed and leave Hanabi alone. I love Hanabi more than I hate Sakura. Hell, I love Hanabi more than I ever loved my family."
Kakashi braced his right leg and drove his opposite knee up. Sasuke leapt back easily and skidded through the dirt. The crackle of lighting filled the air between them.
Sasuke's face was ugly. "I'm her dog all right but that psychotic bitch leader of mine at least makes it clear where we stand. I don't kill her she doesn't kill me. I don't stand in her way and she let's me do whatever the hell I want. She killed my family once and she can do it again if I cross her. There's no room for pride anymore."
And suddenly it was all clear in his head. Jinchuuriki Sakura had had a hand in the Uchiha massacre. Kakashi felt light headed as everything he thought he'd known about the situation was turned on its head. "The Sasuke I knew would have never bowed to the woman who killed his family."
Sasuke spat. "The Sasuke you knew was a conceited little bastard who didn't know how the world really works."
The world was ugly and brutal and they both knew that, but this…what had once been just a ploy to get an advantage was now something Kakashi really wanted to work. To see what Sasuke had been twisted into in the time he was gone was sickening. He didn't want to just turn Sasuke against Sakura anymore, he wanted to free him.
The older jonin took a deep breath. "It doesn't have to be that way. Haven't you noticed Sasuke? Half the village is willing to back you up to kill Sakura, all you had to do was ask for help and we'd have given it."
Sasuke's jaw set in an unreadable and harsh line, and just as he opened his mouth to answer a kunai landed in the road between them. It had three prongs. Kakashi felt his blood turn to ice.
A familiar buzz and yellow burst bisected the air and Naruto stood between them. "Time to pull back Sasuke."
The Uchiha's face smoothed out. "What's the rush?"
Naruto gave a dismissive wave. "You'll see. Grab Hanabi and get out of here."
Sasuke turned his head to the burning building behind them. "Hanabi!"
A scream came from deep inside the burning structure and Hanabi trotted out moments later covered in soot. She looked disappointed."Already?"
"Sorry." He held out an arm and she latched on.
Kakashi shouted after them. "What I said still stands! You can change this!"
Almost imperceptibly Sasuke looked troubled and then the pair was gone in a burst of wind and leaves. Naruto remained staring at his old sensei dispassionately. "You're a real piece of work Hatake."
He answered archly. "Considering who you're fucking at night and being led around by, I think that more applies to you Naruto."
For a short, terrifying moment, Naruto's face turned into an ugly violent thing Kakashi couldn't recognize. It vanished under a hardened exterior. Naruto answered with vicious sarcasm. "Better her than the old bastards who ran this village into the ground. Sorry sensei, just never swung that way."
The response didn't surprise him but right now all Kakashi was worried about was casting the seeds of doubt. "We both know she's a liar Naruto. Just what else is she keeping from you?"
Naruto flipped him off and vanished in a sizzle of yellow light. Kakashi found himself alone in the road. That hadn't really gone to plan but it was a start, he'd shatter the death squad before this civil war ended.
Nearby Iruka stumbled out of the rubble. One of his arms was an unrecognizable hunk of charred muscle. The jonin winced. "What happened?"
Iruka fell to the ground breathing hard. "A Hyuga with lightning chakra, too much creativity, and a vicious streak a mile wide happened."
That was as far as the conversation went. Seconds later the sky turned to fire.
Konoha, 6:07 PM
A child was crying. An adult tried to comfort the sobbing girl covered in blood but the tears kept coming and no one else but the one adult even stopped to even look at her. All over the city this scene had played itself out more than once.
Nearby a group of children drew in the dirt with sticks and ignored everything around them. And around them people ran past screaming and shouting, throwing out rumors to each other and running away from the next push from the ninja of the Hokage. None had time for the abandoned children drawing in the dirt.
None of them noticed the children were drawing with sticks with the tips coated in ink and blood.
One of the children, a little boy, looked up to the crying girl and the adult. "All done sensei."
Immediately the little girl stopped crying and her eyes as red as blood glittered with malice. "Oooh, what next?"
"Get in the circle and power it up." The adult tugged at her hand and his hair turned from brown to white as the genjutsu melted off. Jiraiya smiled down and the little girl let her henge melt as well. Sakura smiled back.
She stepped into the circle and the children who were drawing all turned into identical copies of a blond jonin. Their hands hit the circle of seals and they glowed blue, and all the clones of Naruto grinned. Sakura screamed as the seals turned to red and a pillar of light ignited into the sky.
Five more pillars went up across the city, stretching miles into the sky and deep into the ground. Red lighting powered by demonic chakra snaked between them. The pulses increased in intensity and they flared up and then flattened into sheets of light. The crackling went smooth to resemble a sheet of curved red glass. The chakra cooled and the giant cage reaching far into the clouds and deep into the ground turned a fathomless purple and stabilized.
Inside each corner of the cage hidden in the pillar of chakra, a clone of Sakura's could barley be made out suspended in the brilliant currents of seals and lights. The new cordon had gone up but this one was of a far different breed.
Unknown to both sides over a dozen Yamanaka had been using soul possession inside bird bodies outside the barrier when it went up. When they ran low on chakra three birds with human souls inside tried to pass through. They burned up on impact and died without a sound.
A few more tried to fly high enough to get over it only to find it had a roof of demonic lightning capping it. Four more Yamanaka died there. A few tried to leave their physical shells to pass through. Their soul's disintegrated on contact with the barrier and three more lost their lives.
The last five tried to find human bodies to posses but they had waited too long and with their chakra as low as it was they couldn't even posses children, let alone adults. Once outside, their bird vessels flew away and with no place to return to three of the souls frayed into nothing.
The last two found animals to house themselves in but their chakra continued to wane and eventually even the animals became strong enough to reject them. They died as well. The Yamanaka Intel sweep on the Hokage's forces ended without said forces being any the wiser.
At the Hokage tower the original Sakura and Jiraiya watched the barrier go up.
"He reversed engineered that barrier Orochimaru used in his invasion during the exam." She shook her head in wonder. "He's really something, I only ever told him about it one time and sparingly at that."
Jiraiya grinned proudly. "Kid can do things with seals I've never seen. And with you in the mix…well, he's gonna make the impossible possible before long."
"Too right." She turned on her heel. "I need to go inform Hime the barrier was a success. Those rebels are fish in a barrel in that thing."
"You go do that." Jiraiya chuckled and clicked down his radio. "And looks like Naruto's was right. Barrier has the jamming signal hemmed in. Communications are on line, out here at least."
He turned away from her to begin a long relay of orders, no doubt taking back over control of the ninja force Naruto had...forcefully taken command of. Sakura calmly looked back at the barrier filling the rapidly darkening sky.
Then her stomach dropped and her body went cold. She hadn't even considered just what that barrier covered. The entirety of the Clan district and a chunk of the commercial and civilians housing districts were now trapped with no escape. In between the Clan and the housing was the abandoned district.
As of five minutes ago the entire rebel force had been trapped behind inescapable walls with the Kyuubi no Kitsune and a handful of her clones. Horror did not even begin to cover it.
Hopefully the Kyuubi would remember to stick with the plan and not see this as an opportunity to have his own fun.
Yeah, slim chance of that happening considering what he'd already talked her clones into doing today.
Her leisurely stroll to the Hokage's office turned to a sprint. Along the hallways she ran into people crowding around the windows, straining in excitement trying to get a view of the barrier.
She didn't have time to enjoy them gawking over Naruto's masterful work and when Sakura slammed the doors opened Tsunade glanced up, frazzled. "Did it work?"
It took Sakura a minute to remember why she was here over her panic. "Uh…yes. The barrier is stabilized, Jiraiya should be gathering reports now and any ninja and civilians not hemmed in by the barrier are being…culled."
She'd been every insistent on that point, Naruto hadn't argued (or really even acknowledged her), and at that point Tsunade and Jiraiya were past the point of caring. Within an hour the streets outside the barrier would be cleared.
One way or another.
"Good." The older woman made a quick notation on a report. "By the way your battle plan has been approved. Congratulations General Sakura."
She blinked. "Thank you my Lady." And then shook her head. There was nothing she could do about the Kyuubi right now; she had to prepare to finish the final act of this war and that meant she had to concentrate all of her willpower here and now. "I need three field commanders, do I require your permission or am I autonomous from here on out?"
Tsunade's lips quirked. "It's your choice. Who do you need?"
Sakura tilted her head, considering. "Shikamaru of course, he's just a given. Jiraiya-sama also. Right now our forces need stability and he's pretty much the last old generation ninja still on our side and everyone respects him. And lastly…"
She almost asked for Naruto but in the end knew she couldn't. "Akimichi Chouji as my last."
The blonde tapped her fingers on her chin. "I see the first two, but the Akimichi?"
"Chouji has his own way with people and frankly…" Sakura sighed. "Chouji is a clan child. This civil war is going to end in a massacre of one side or the other and even if no one ever says it out loud, those responsible for it will be reviled. Chouji's reputation is pretty much shot with what his family did, and I trust him to be able to do this.
The other woman sighed. "So that's why you request independent command. All the credit and all the blame, and here I thought you were just looking for glory."
"I wish." Sakura's eyes went dark and her irises were jagged from bitterness. "I won't have your legacy be one of blood Hime, and Naruto can't be General over a war that will wipe out half our village if he's going to be Hokage one day. Someday when passions die down and grudges cool our people will hate us for this. I was never meant to rise any higher than I have and frankly I've been taking on the sins of this village for years. One more won't hurt."
The other woman stood as if to come around the desk and hug her but then stopped. "I…can't deny that Sakura."
The former jinchuuriki shrugged. "This isn't a burden for me. Please, this is what I was born for. Let me be the weapon I was forged to be." By Itachi, by Tsunade, by Jiraiya, by the Kyuubi. No matter who it was in her life all of them had shaped her into the peerless killer she was today.
The Hokage let out a heavy breath and fell back in her chair. "I'm sorry history will remember you for this."
Sakura lowered her head and her smile was hidden. "I'm not."
And that was that.
Abandoned District, 8:19 PM
The area covered by the barrier was, at a rough estimate, only five percent of the village in terms of square miles. Trapped inside of it was over a third of the total shinobi force of Konoha and over half the civilian population.
It was not a surprise that went the barrier went up absolute chaos broke out for those inside it. The command structure of the rebel force had been tenuous at the best of times and with grudges and clan rivalries acting up at the slightest provocation (and their own jamming equipment making all field radios still useless), anything remotely close to cohesiveness was gone.
Stuttering efforts were made to try and break the barrier in all quarters, but after the first few deaths due to flash frying most attempts quickly halted.
The civilians were even worse off. They'd been rioting for hours and used as cattle by the rebels, then they'd been chased like animals by the Hokage's loyalists, but in the end a mob was still a mob regardless of where it was. Inside of the barrier riots were still breaking out from a mix of terror and frustration.
Luckily for the rebels that only lasted long enough until the civilians realized they were trapped in there for the foreseeable future and burning down the only shelter they had wasn't the wisest option. The mobs dispersed quickly laying claim to ground and the clans suddenly found themselves with squatters on their doorstep looking for a place to sleep.
The clans, Inuzuka, Hyuga, Akimichi, and Nara alike quickly and brutally disabused them of that notion.
In an unsurprising response the abandoned district was quickly flooded by civilians. It took one particularly curious man only ten minutes to stumble upon a certain room.
He'd looked in once, gaped, and quickly ran for help.
Exactly twenty-two minutes later in a surprising amount of efficiency Hatake Kakashi found himself standing in that room. He'd made the mistake of looking at the barrier with his Sharingan and it was like staring at the sun. He'd gone nearly blind and had been rushed back to the Hyuga compound for medical treatment, leaving him there at the moment a hysterical civilian came running for help. He still had filmy spots dancing on the edge of his vision as he looked around in shock. "What the hell is this?"
The small squad with him, a mixture of Hyuga and Inuzuka, looked equally baffled.
What were once sterilized medical sheets were laid out on the floor covered in blood. Pans and sheets of sterling metal were covered in an odd mix of medical supplies, surgical tools, and containers of chemical compounds.
Metal bowls with seals etched on the sides were filled with half dried, rotted fluids Kakashi couldn't even begin to identify. He didn't even really want to either.
There was a mattress in one of the closest and it was oddly bare. Rusted kunai were scattered around it giving him the feeling this place had been used long in the past as a bolthole.
And the walls of the room had seals scrawled in ink on every square inch, still rippling with chakra and happily and going about their work.
Kakashi knew an ad-hoc medical lab when he saw one but the better question was: what exactly was it here for?
One of the Hyuga jonin, main branch judging by his unmarked forehead, activated his Byakugan. He frowned. "I recognize this seal matrix Hatake-san. It's a chakra blocker; we have these in the walls of our own compound."
Kakashi rounded on the jonin. "This is a Hyuga lab?"
The main branch ninja quickly backpedaled. "No sir. These seals are also on any major secure building in the village, covers them from Byakugan, Sharingan, and chakra sensors. These kinds of seals hide a lot of things from view."
So this could have been made by anybody in the village who knew the right secrets. Lovely.
He rubbed at his burning eyes. Right now they were hemmed in a giant barrier trapped and like animals with seemingly biiger concerns, but Kakashi didn't believe in coincidences. This recently abandoned lab was right here right now for a reason; one he strongly suspected had to do with this civil war. But how?
One of the Inuzuka gagged. "Fuck. It smells like…it smells like body in here."
The senior jonin processed that. "What do you mean?"
"It's like…" The Inuzuka winced and uncovered his nose long enough to take a deep breath. He gagged again. "I can smell blood sure, but also innards: guts, liver, heart, muscle, stomach lining, brain matter…I've smelled dead bodies and torture rooms before but nothing has ever come close to this. And don't even get me started on all the chemicals in here."
Kakashi kneeled down to examine one of the trays. A bottle of ammonia and a bloody pair of latex gloves were on it. He did a quick scan and picked up only residual chakra.
He was no sensor and he knew he'd need help for this. "Someone, hell, anyone go get me one of our sensors and medic nins and get them here pronto."
The Inuzuka gladly bowed out to do just that. In the meantime the squad gingerly began picking through the remnants of the room. They hadn't discovered anything else before the sensor and medic nin arrived except for the fact who ever had been using this place had cleared out quickly. There wasn't any sign they'd try to clean up or hide anything at all.
Either they'd been caught off guard or…they just hadn't cared if anyone found this place. Kakashi hoped it was the former but with a sinking fear he knew it was the latter.
"Hatake-san?" At the sound of his name Kakashi turned around.
First he saw the sensor, a dark haired woman with a slight build and a touch of gray hair around her temples. Kakashi could not remember her name or even if he'd ever worked with her at all.
The medic nin on the other hand was an old acquaintance named Tanaka. He'd been a top medic until arthritis had made the more delicate surgical techniques impossible for him, and instead he'd become the head administrator of the hospital and had remained there until roughly three years ago. Then Tsunade had become Hokage and had fired him on the spot.
Tanaka had been in charge of the hospital during Sakura's childhood when she'd only been allowed in when the point had forced by the Hokage and she'd been close to death. If Sakura had anything less than life threatening injuries she'd been tossed back on the street while still bleeding.
Tsunade had not been pleased. Since then Tanaka had carried a deep and abiding grudge for both women, Kage and jinchuuriki.
Kakashi stood up to shake Tanaka's gnarled hand. "Good to see you."
Tanaka gave a thin smile and cast a disgusted eye around the room. "What do you need us for?"
The jonin raised his arms to the room at large. "I need to know what was being made here." He glanced to the sensor. "And who and how many people were making it."
They both nodded. The sensor sat down, crossed her legs, and let her hands fall into a mediation seal. Tanaka began picking through the bloody detritus cast haphazardly against the walls.
The sensor piped up. "One chakra signature is in here, highly degraded. The amount of chakra being thrown around in here was…substantial."
"How much?" He pressed.
Her brow furrowed. "So much I would have told you the jutsu that caused this ended less than a minute ago. But due to the natural degradation…I think it's been nearly three days."
Kakashi counted back on his hands. Three days ago…
Tanaka cut into his thoughts with a revolted shout. "Human experimentation! I haven't seen a lab set up like this since…since Orochimaru."
The snake Sanin had been dead for a few months, courtesy of Sakura, so he was obviously resolved of any blame.
Tanaka kept rambling, shaking an empty bottle at them as he did. "Look at this. The supplies here are for reconstructive procedures but the blood…bah! Live dissection isn't out of the question. And judging by the chemical make up of the fluid in these dishes…someone was growing human organs here. Probably cutting up some poor bastard and ripping out his old organs to put in the new artificially made."
"But why would anyone do that?" Kakashi asked in bewilderment. Maybe he'd been wrong about this being involved with the civil war…
"We've repaired organs before in the hospital or replaced them with donors. But full on reconstruction from scratch? Someone crushed, burned, pulverized? Hollow them out and drop new organs inside, put some skin grafts on them and call it day. The leap in medical treatment alone…" The medic shook his head. "This seems to have been developed from our reconstructive process for corpses. I never imagine that anyone would be able to transition that to a long term viable treatment for the living."
A chill crawled down the jonin's back. One charka signature with a huge amounts of chakra being thrown around, violent experimentation, advanced medical techniques and all taking place in a hidden lab. If this was Hokage sanctioned it would have happened in the basement of the hospital under lock and key. Someone was obviously doing work off the books, and it was something horrible enough they hadn't asked for permission or had already been rejected.
Three days ago jinchuuriki Sakura had vanished for one night and no one had know where she'd gone. It all made a horrifying amount of sense.
"Who has the skill for this?" Kakashi already knew the answer.
Tanaka frowned. "Tsunade of course. No doubt Shizune as well, but this kind of work would need a team of medics just to power the chakra requirements alone…" He trailed off in horrified realization.
The silver haired shinobi swallowed. "Or one jinchuuriki with extensive medical knowledge and a lot of shadow clones."
Tanaka went bone white and sagged. "That bitch." He breathed.
Kakashi massaged his forehead. He was missing something. Tsunade had always indulged the worst of Sakura tastes and a little human experimentation with this kind of results…the Hokage would have gleefully funded it and probably joined in. There was something far more to this and not seeing it when he knew it was vitally important was driving him up the wall.
Then Tanaka picked up one last dish, looked inside, and swore. "God help us."
Kakashi took a sharp breath. He didn't want to ask this and his body felt oddly clammy. "What is it?"
The hollow, terrified, and appalled eyes of Tanaka told him everything. "She was making a spine here. A brain. Dear god, that poor bastard she did this too…"
And the secrets and horrors just got deeper.
Briefing Room, ANBU Headquarters, 9:34 PM
"Settle down everybody. We've got a lot to work through and not a lot of time to do it." Akimichi Chouji spoke to the room at large and the hundred odd ninja sitting around him in the rising seats quieted.
The jonin was a big man, genial in his conduct and respected by all he worked with. He was also a juggernaut on the battlefield and no one wanted to get on his bad side.
Chouji smiled. "Good. You're all here because you've been chosen to join the strike force that will head inside the barrier at midnight tonight."
One jonin let out a shout from the back. "For Sakura-sama!" A resounding cheer went up at this.
The Akimichi smiled benevolently. "I'm sure she'll appreciate the sentiment, and I'm also sure you'll be all happy to know this plan was designed by Sakura herself and she'll be leading one of the divisions into battle."
Relieved and excited murmurs met this announcement. There were still rumors going around that Sakura had died on the operating table after the poisoning, and one of the objectives of this briefing had been to soothe a lot of fears and bed even more of the rumors.
"Now." Chouji tapped his finger on the board behind him. "This plan has five phases that will be carried out by four separate divisions, if you consult the packet issued to you at the door you'll know which division you'll be a part of."
Papers shuffled and various ANBU, jonin, and chunin checked their assignments. Some cheered, other just nodded, and a few looked over their neighbor's shoulders jealously.
He snorted. "As you've seen the four divisions are Toad, Deer, Slug, and Fox. If you haven't guessed yet the Toad division will be lead by Commander Jiraiya backed by sub-commanders Uzumaki Naruto and Uchiha Sasuke. Deer will be lead by both myself and Commander Nara Shikamaru, with sub-commander Yamanaka Ino assisting."
A few wolf-whistles echoed in the room, mostly from the ANBU in the back. Ino scared the shit out the rank and file ninja but to the ANBU she was their darling and their diva. Chouji made a mental note to keep his girlfriend away from the ANBU in their unit.
He smiled blandly. "Slug Division will follow lady Tsunade-sama and sub-commanders Shizune and Aburame Shino. Lastly the Fox Division will be led by General Sakura, with sub-commanders Aburame Hinata and Hyuga Neji supporting her."
Those in the Fox Division let out an excited shout, and Chouji let the good natured bantering and bickering go on for a minute before making a cutting motion with his hand. The room fell back to silence.
"Before we get into the grittier details we need to talk equipment. The rebel forces are mostly wearing the designated Konoha uniform and their ANBU the standard issued armor and masks. Because of that we ask all of you wear different gear. Red, black, purple, orange, yellow, whatever you want as long as it's not blue or green. And make sure it resembles the standard uniform in no way. Headbands are optional as we need to be able to tell friend from foe, and because of that…" Chouji lifted a small, black circular container off the table in front of him. "Everyone has been issued this."
The room rippled as everyone pulled out the strange containers they'd been handed with their briefing packets. When opened the inside held a slick, translucent gel that was colorless.
Chouji stuck his fingers in and calmly smeared some gel in a rough pattern on his cheek. "Now if you'd all repeat after me." He then performed a jutsu with four seals and touched his left eye.
The room at large followed him and when they touched their eyes s film of chakra spring up, giving the room a blue-green hue and allowed them to see the gel on Chouji's cheek stand out brilliantly like white paint under a backlight.
"Once inside the barrier have this jutsu activated at all times. All of our forces will paint the kanji for fire on their left cheek and it will allow us to differentiate between friend and foe without giving our enemy the same advantage."
Appreciative murmurs rose at this. It had been Ino's idea once she'd gotten a glimpse of Sakura's plan.
The Commander slapped his hand on the table. "Now onto the plan. Phase Alpha will begin at 11:30 and Slug Division will exploit an opening in the barrier that is on an underground walkway that runs under the old Temple of flowers."
The temple had been closed down for years, but the system of tunnels for the priests under it still remained. Even if he despised Naruto right now Chouji couldn't help but admire the foresight it would taken to know the temple and it's tunnels was there and leave a small flaw in the barrier right there in order to utilize it.
He continued. "Slug will set up our foothold, defenses, and field hospital and once they've secured the area all three divisions will cross into the barrier as well. After that we begin phase Bravo. Deer will move to take the Nara compound and destroy their jamming equipment while Fox and Toad will move into position. Radios may be up outside the barrier but inside the jamming signal is still running. When the lines are open the message will be sent out to begin phase Charlie. Toad will move in a southern sweep to draw attention of the main thrust of the rebel force while Fox will head straight to the Hyuga compound to begin liberation efforts."
One chunin spoke up. "Liberation efforts?"
He nodded back. "Yes. It was brought to our attention by lady Aburame Hinata that while the rebels have all made their choices to stand against the Hokage, the branch house of the Hyuga was not given that same chance."
This time he heard some discontented buzzing. He slammed fist slammed on the table. "Quiet down! They may be Hyuga but they've been slaves all their lives. Lady Aburame, formerly Hyuga herself is going to give them the chance to turn against their masters. Fox will fight long enough to distract and kill the Main house so we can get any deserters evacuated outside the barrier. Once outside their caged seals can't be activated. Slug and Deer who will be puleld back by this time will secure the evacuation corridor."
That quieted them down. He knew those Hyuga rescued would have to prove themselves, but after knowing Hinata for years and the dirtier politics of her clan, he realized most of the Branch if given the chance for freedom would offer their loyalty and their lives in a heartbeat.
He cleared his throat. "Slug will signal us when the evacuation is complete. That will trigger phase Delta: complete and total retreat of all divisions."
The room devolved into a complete uproar. The anger and frustration and fury was palpable and Chouji road it out, his face unreadable.
He snarled. "If you're all done whining we'll continue."
Slowly the gathered ninja tapered off into a tense silence. The jonin waited a little longer, letting it fester. Only when it seemed like it boil over again did he speak. "When everyone is back outside the barrier phase Echo begins."
"And what happens then, huh?" A jonin jeered. "We hope the rebels go away?"
"No." And Chouji's smile was practically feral. The juggernaut was here. "Hell arrives."
Hokage's Private Office, 10:51 PM
The lights had been left low in the room but they had all the illumination they needed. From the balcony windows an eerie purple light poured in cast from the barrier just a few miles away. It was a constant reminder of the battle fast approaching and while the atmosphere was calm there was a raising, painful tension that grew with every minute.
Tsunade sat behind her desk quietly, paperwork gone, Hokage's robes cast away. She was in battle gear for the first time in decades. Wire mesh, a tight armored vest, well fitting pants, military grade high heel boot with blades in the heels.
It'd been awhile since she'd fought a war on the front lines and Tsunade wanted to do it with style. Though mostly her division would be manning and guarding the field hospital aided by dozens of Sakura's clones and the entirety of the medical ninja corps. But still it was the thoguht that counts.
The couch across from her desk held Shino and his lady Aburame curled on one end. Sakura's head was in her friend's lap and Hinata was calmly braiding the jinchuuriki's long hair into a tight plait. Neji laid sprawled in another chair, Tenten sitting on the arm and murmuring something in his ear.
Last sat Hanabi and the girl had moved away from everyone. Every once and awhile she sent Sakura a chilly glance and the older girl didn't seem to notice or just didn't care.
Tsunade had a radiopiece in her ear and it crackled. She stood up with a new gravity in her posture. "It looks my division has been assembled. I wish you all the best Fox, sub-commander Shino?"
He sighed and got to his feet as well. He kissed Hinata first, a lingering, desperate kiss before they broke apart. Their eyes shared one last glance. Sakura sat up long enough for him to kiss her forehead as well before he brushed past. "Take care of each other you two."
Shino was a dear friend.
The girls nodded. Together Hokage and the last loyal Clan Head swept from the room.
Sakura lowered herself back into Hinata's lap. "It's almost here." She could barely keep the excitement out of her voice.
"I know." Hinata soothed, returning to braiding the other girl's hair.
On the eve of this battle Sakura had always pictured spending it with Naruto. Or Team Seven. Or all of her friends.
Now she sat with three Hyuga and Tenten and somehow she didn't feel that disappointed. Being with Naruto right now would just be tense and awkward (and he was ignoring her for some reason she couldn't quite name) and honestly out of everyone…
No one could calm her like Hinata. And she needed that badly. Who knew what the Kyuubi had gotten up to while they were still assembling their forces?
Sakura's radio crackled. She switched it on. "General Sakura here. What's your status?" She listened to her subordinate, nodded to no one, and flipped the switch off. "Our division is ready. Neji? Could you take Tenten and Hanabi and prepare them for our arrival?"
"Of course General." The jonin nodded and got up. He stepped in the purple glow left by the windows and she saw tonight he wasn't wearing a headband. The suppression array tattooed across his caged seal stood out starkly. It would be quiet the nasty little surprise when the Hyuga saw it later tonight.
They filed out and Hanabi cast her one last cold glance. Sakura wondered how much the girl knew now, and how many secrets Sasuke still kept from her. Maybe none. Sasuke had done something with his loved one she never could…
Cool fingers brushed her forehead. "What's wrong Sakura?"
The dark haired jonin looked up at her first female friend. A girl she had adored for a decade. She answered honestly. "I'm a liar."
Hinata's soft finger tips ghosted across her face. "I know."
Sakura didn't know whether to smile or frown. "Even to you."
The lady Aburame's eyes flashed with mirth. "You're saying this like it should come as a surprise."
"Oh." Sakura answered lamely. "Then why…" She didn't know how to ask the question.
Hinata pulled her into a half embrace. "Why do I not care? It's called unconditional love Sakura. I love you and I forgive you for everything you've done."
From anyone else she would have raged, been resentful, called them a liar. She had never looked for forgiveness, never wanted it, had no regrets. And yet…lately…
"You don't know everything I've done." And she hated herself just for saying that. For trying to prevaricate and talk someone out of believing in her. Because if they didn't believe in her Sakura couldn't let them down like she had Naruto and Sasuke…
Hinata grabbed her face and turned her back. Her voice was smooth and silk yet hard as steel. "I. Forgive. You."
And in that moment Sakura realized something. As soon as this civil war was over she didn't have to answer to anyone, she could live her own life, choose her own path. She could keep the lies she wanted to keep and tell the truths she wanted to tell and it was all up to her. The regret didn't have to hurt and the guilt…she just had to let the guilt go.
Sakura returned the hug. "Thanks."
"No problem." Hinata smiled, turned Sakura around, and finished tying off her braid. "I'm sure everything will work its self out. Naruto will stop being moody and…"
Her heart skipped a beat at the sound of his name. She arched a curious eyebrow. "When did you see Naruto?"
"I didn't." Hinata replied airily. "But Shino did."
Sakura had a sinking suspicion in her gut. "When?"
Her friend didn't look guilty in the slightest. "This afternoon at the hospital. The boys headed him off before he came to your room and had a little talk. Naruto didn't come back afterwards."
Hinata never spoke badly about anyone but the message of her words was clear. Naruto didn't come back so how much does he really care?
He friends were certainly treacherous and Sakura had no one to blame but herself for that. She had made them into what they were after all.
She didn't know whether she was irritated, amused, or wanted to cry. "A talk about what?"
"It's nothing you need to worry about. Just assume we all did something behind your back and we're not asking for forgiveness anytime soon." The pale-eyed girl answered in a cheery sing-song tone.
The former jinchuuriki groaned. "That sounds oddly familiar, haven't I used that line?"
"Possibly." Hinata pulled them both to their feet and changed the subject. "It's about time we left for the field, General."
"I understand , thank you sub-Commander Aburame." Sakura gave a manic grin in return. Sixteen years to reach this night, nearly a decade of her own planning, and it had all come down to this breathless moment. Hinata had forgiven her even for this.
She could enjoy this bloodshed without anymore regret. Which was probably not Hinata's intention but she no longer cared. This night and her life was hers. No one would take that from her anymore or make her feel guilty for having it. Not even Naruto. Not even the Kyuubi.
Sakura touched Hinata's shoulder. "And I forgive you too you know, for going behind my back. I know you lot did it because you're my friends."
Hinata's smile dimmed ever so slightly. "You shouldn't have to cry over him."
"I'm not. Not anymore." She was tired of the guilt anyways. "Let's go."
The two old friends linked hands and they stepped out into the night. On the horizon an amethyst glow burned and their eyes flamed with it.
The radio in her ear crackled and a jarringly flat voice came on. "Attention all forces, phase Alpha has now begun…"
War waited for no one.
AN: So the question you have to ask yourself is, which really is better for a person? Naruto who wants Sakura to change and face her own flaws and lies even if it ruins them, or her friends who accept her unconditionally and sometimes enable her cruelty? The answer isn't always very clear.
And away from that for a bit. Sorry this update took so long. Fall semester was horrible this year and frankly it was the hardest thing I've ever had to do. So thank you to everyone for being so patient about this.
I'm also doing a massive rewrite of this story that should be up to replace earlier chapters in a month or two. The first 16 or so chapters will be COMPELTELY different and a heck of a lot better. So there's that to look forward to.