Disclaimer: Give me a break already…do you know how hard it is to come up with over a hundred different disclaimers! (NOT a question!)

AN: Oh, and sorry for the long wait, but, hey, at least this is extremely long.

Chapter 60: And the Circle Comes Round

Fourteen years later

Sakura moved to her windowsill, keeping the curtains closed tightly as she turned to her seven year old twins. They had recently undergone the awakening, despite their youth, and this would be their first eclipse. Given their age, she'd decided to keep them inside, away from all windows until the eclipse was almost over. She didn't want them overexerting themselves on their first Viewing like she had all those years ago.

"Ok, Hikaru, Akira, listen closely to me." Turning to her son first, she said, "As the eldest Hoshi of your generation and a Spirit Walker you must come to understand what will happen, Akira. For, as I'm sure your uncle has told you, it is very similar to what happens when you seek out a spirit. If you can catch the feeling this gives you and can harness it, you'll have an easier time of things later."

Turning next to Hikaru, she said, "And you, my daughter, are the only other Time Walker besides myself, and thus you must become familiar with it. After all, should anything befall me before another Time Walker is born, you will automatically be the next Pillar…" Sakura trailed off as she thought about how she didn't like it. That was one tradition she couldn't get rid of.

She didn't like the idea of forcing her child, or any child for that matter, to have to lead a clan, even one as small as their own. Even worse than in other clans, though, being the leader of the Hoshi meant you had access to the Great Knowing. And as she had learned, the Pillar had to access the Great Knowing often, whether she (or he) liked it or not, because the Pillar was the only one who could.

She didn't like it, but she understood it. There had to be a Pillar: the Great Knowing was too dangerous a tool to allow anyone and everyone access to…and too heavy a burden to expect anyone without the proper training and control to be able to carry without going crazy.

As it was, she knew some people already wondered if she wasn't crazy. She had, after all, according to rumor, agreed to sacrifice herself and marry Itachi Uchiha (the reasons Itachi had wanted to marry her varied from rumor to rumor, but no rumor included Sakura having wanted to marry him in return) so that he would stop the Akatsuki from utterly annihilating Konoha…which it had been on the verge of doing at the time; and the people of Konoha knew what to expect by then.

At the time, the Akatsuki had already annihilated Grass (in a single day the village had been wiped off the face of the planet without any warning) and then they had dealt with Lightning. What happened to Grass showed Konoha how easily the Akatsuki could utterly destroy them, but it was Lightning that made them decide (with only a little delay) to agree to the ultimatum the Akatsuki eventually gave them.

Lightning, unlike Grass, was given demands similar to what Konoha would latter be given. Lightning's leaders had, of course, not agreed to their demands and then declared war…they soon paid for their idiocy. What was surprising about this story however, was how, or more to the point, who, paid for the idiocy.

Unlike with Grass, the Akatsuki didn't demolish the whole village with one deadly stroke of their new, ungodly power. They used this power instead to destroy only parts of the village. As rumor had it, the only ones who died in this first show of power were the politicians who had turned down the offer. When the village only appointed new politicians and their ninja tried to attack the Akatsuki representative (Sakura knew it to have been Konan), who had come to deliver their ultimatum, though, something extraordinary and horrifying happened.

The rumors said that the terrible power the Akatasuki commanded fell from the sky like lightning, destroying the ninja who had begun to attack, as well as anyone who tried to attack after that. Soon the people tried no more, for they knew it was useless. However, there was one more thing that happened before the Akatsuki representative came forward once more, and it happened to a mixed group of ninja and normal citizens (one of which was the newly appointed leader of the village) who were whispering amongst one another heatedly.

They were arguing, as anyone could see, but not even the people beside them could understand what they were saying, for they were speaking in some sort of code that only they knew. People watched in horror as the 'lightning' fell on this group, believing that everyone would die for merely talking in code. To their surprise, though, only four of the group died. The greatest surprise, however, came latter, when they found out from their new leader that, supposedly, the four who died were the only ones completely for attacking the Akatsuki, the others hadn't been sure.

The rumors said that this caused those left alive in the Lightning village to agree when the ultimatum was finally given. After all, who wanted to fight against a power that could not only kill you in an instant, but could apparently read your mind, or at least your loyalties, as well.

What the rumors didn't know, however, was that it had been Sakura who had controlled the attack on Lighting (if she hadn't, her father would have killed the whole village as he had Grass, since, for some reason, she had much more control over the trapped tailed-beasts than he did: she could limit who was killed, where as he couldn't), and that she knew what the people who were arguing were saying thanks to the Knowing, not mind reading.

Well, needless to say, after that show of power (along with the warning Sakura had given Tsunade in her letter), the fifth Hokage was unhappily forced to agree to the Akatsuki's demands so that her people would live. Once she arranged everything as favorably as she could for Konoha (this included retaining most of it's self-government with a little help from behind the scenes by Sakura) she stepped down from power and appointed Naruto as the sixth Hokage.

Sakura repressed a sigh as she returned her attention to her children. "Now you two, make sure you're comfortable before we open the curtains. Once you catch sight of the eclipse, you won't be able to move until it has ended."

A childish smirk lit up their faces as they chorused in union, "Like you four years ago!" The story behind their statement was quite simple. That year Sakura had been pregnant with her quads (according to her cousins, multiples were quite common amongst the Hoshis) and had woken up one night. Without thinking she had gotten up and gone to the kitchen to get a glass of water. As she'd been reaching for a cup on a shelf, however, she'd looked out the window and caught the beginning of a lunar eclipse. Needless to say, she'd been quite sore when she was finally released.

Sakura fought to keep her own smile from appearing outwardly, though she wasn't quite sure she was winning. "Yes, exactly. Now, if you're ready," the twins' heads bobbed up and down, perfectly in sync with each other, "than we can-" Sakura found herself being interrupted by a shrieking from the next room over.

Suddenly her eleven-year-old son burst into the room, holding his newest baby sister in his arms. He scrambled over to her like the sky was falling and stammered, "She-she's crying! And, and, I don't know what's wrong! And she won't quit, and-" Sakura chuckled as she took the baby out of her terrified son's arms. Normally Takeshi acted like the Chunin he was (he definitely took after his father when it came to his ninja skills), but when it came to his two little sisters, he was always skittish. She sometimes wondered if he feared that a feather would break them.

With the ease of practice Sakura rocked the baby, cooing gently until she fell asleep. As she looked down at her peaceful slumbering face, Sakura couldn't help but be glad that Itachi had (somehow) persuaded her to not give up until they'd had a second girl (something about Hikaru being lonely). Handing her back to the still tense Takeshi, Sakura smiled gently, "Yuki should be fine now. If she starts up again, though, you'll have to try to get a hold of Hinata or Ino and ask them come help, because your aunts and uncle will be, well, doing what we'll be doing."

Takeshi nodded, his face slowly becoming serious once more, "I know, mother; you didn't have to tell me." He didn't wait for her reply as he turned and left the room. As soon as the door clicked shut, giggles erupted from behind her. Turning, she found the twins in each other's arms, quivering with laughter.

Smiling, Sakura patted them on the head, "Come now, you should be used to it by now." As the two split apart and settled back into their previous positions she continued, "After all, before she was born, he was acting exactly the same way with you, Hikaru."

Sakura thought Hikaru blushed, but she couldn't be sure since her face was still red from laughing; that is, until she spoke, "He was never that bad with me!" Both Sakura and Akira rolled their eyes at this blatantly obtuse statement. Noticing this, Hikaru added, "It's true! He's worse with her because she's only a few days old!" Mother and son just shook their heads, knowing smiles on their face.

Turning back to the curtains, Sakura repeated, "Now that we're ready, lets begin." With one tug of her hand, the curtains parted, and the dull light of a solar eclipse entered the room. Looking at the sun, Sakura felt the time paradox grab ahold of her. That's truly what this was, for as she'd found out, the reason eclipses caused this phenomena was because during that time, the time continual and the Great Knowing were both closer than normal to both each other and the 'present', thus allowing all Hoshis to catch a glimpse of the continuous circle of time.

Sakura watched as the eclipse rewound her life before her. She was hiding from bullies in a back ally, then on missions with team seven, then fighting Sasori, then being captured by the Akatsuki, then finding out Sasuke had destroyed Sound and disappeared, and then about her getting married to Itachi.

Time swirled around her as yet more visions came to her.

"Ayaka!" called a very angry Sakura who was lying on a bed accompanied by two pink haired three-year-olds and a black haired seven-year-old; her stomach was way too round, explaining why she had yelled rather than gotten up to fetch Ayaka.

"Yes, Lady Uchiha?" Asked Ayaka unperturbed as she entered the room. The twins were sitting on their mother's bed, their eyes wide and questioning while Takeshi just stood there, a smirk on his face. Noticing this, Ayaka quirked an eyebrow at him, then turned to hear what Sakura had to say.

"Ayaka, will you please beat up Deidara for me?" Ayaka took a step back in surprise, leading Sakura to explain, motioning first towards the little girl, then rubbing her temples, "He was teaching Hikaru how to make a bomb! I'd do it myself if I wasn't stuck on bed rest, but, alas, I am until the babies are born, so I need you to do so for me."

"But," Ayaka exclaimed, "Lady Uchiha, I can't!"

Sakura rolled her eyes, "I've told you countless times, you don't have to call me that. And why can't you?"

Ayaka blushed, then almost wailing she vowed, "Well, if I beat up on him," she stuttered for a moment then continued in a much quieter voice, "he'll fall in love with me!"

Sakura tilted her head confusedly (the twins copied her movement cutely behind her), "What are you talking about?"

"Wh…but…you…" Ayaka stuttered, "You mean you haven't noticed?"

"Noticed?" Sakura's voice was very seriously confused, "Noticed what?"

Ayaka shook her head, "Uh…never mind then." There was a moment's pause as three pink haired people stared at her wide eyed. Ayaka sighed, her shoulders slumping, "Fine, I'll go teach him a lesson." Standing straighter than before, Ayaka then stressed, "The only reason I'm doing it, though, is because you asked me to. Remember that!" Without another word, Ayaka trudged out of the room, calling for Deidara.

"Mother," began her younger son, "what was that about?"

Shaking her head, Sakura whispered, "You know, Akira, I have no clue either." It was only after she trailed off that she noticed that the room was not silent. Takeshi was snickering. When he noticed her looking at him, he just smirked, then walked out of the room, still chuckling. As he exited, she thought she heard him cough, then say, 'Oblivious'.

The scene changed, and now it appeared to be Ayaka's birthday and Sakura (who was no longer pregnant) was holding a small party for her. Deidara was offering Ayaka a present, his red face turned away from her. Ayaka took the present, her face pink, and Sakura heard her mumble to herself, "I knew this was going to happen." And once again, she heard Takeshi snickering in the background.

The scene changed again, and now she was witnessing her quad's second birthday. Both sets of identical twins were tottering around on their chubby little legs, looking for all the world like little angles…that is, until the oldest, black-haired child, Haru pushed the youngest, pink-haired child, Kohaku down. Kohaku started screaming as Haru tried to take the toy out of his hands.

Instantly the mess worsened as the mirror images of both boys entered the mix, the black-haired Ryu went to help his twin while the pink-haired Kaoru did the same thing for his twin. The whole shindig would have become an utter disaster if, at that moment, Itachi hadn't walked into the room. All four instantly sprang apart, looking guilty as Itachi's eyes landed on them. That didn't last long, though; soon all four were running to their father, their faces lit with glee as they flung themselves at him.

The scene changed yet again. Now Sakura was sitting with Hanako, Noya, and their little girls. Sakura was speaking quietly so as not to wake the two girls who were sleeping on Hanako's lap, but her voice was excited, "Guess what's going to happen to Inuka soon!"

A smile on his face, Noya asked, "What has that silly cousin of ours done this time?" He then turned to said cousin's sister and added, "No offense to you, of course." Hanako shrugged, then motioned for Sakura to continue.

"It's a good thing you're sitting down, because you won't believe this." Sakura's smile only widened as she went on, "Inuka's finally decided to get married!" Both of her cousins' mouths dropped open, just the reaction she'd expected.

Hanako sputtered, "Wh-what? B-but, she hadn't said anything about that to me! I mean, sure they've been dating for three years, and they practically grew up together, but… When did she decide this and why wasn't I told?"

Noya tried to calm his over exuberant wife down while Sakura just watched. She hadn't been too surprised when, five years ago, they'd decided to get married, even though they were cousins. Their temperaments complemented each other, and both adhered more strictly to the old Hoshi ways than did Inuka. Sakura wasn't sure if they had married because thy truly loved each other (more than family love, because that, she knew they had) or if they had done so to keep the Hoshi bloodline strong. One way or the other, though, their marriage seemed to be a happy one, so, no matter their reasons, she couldn't complain about their doing so.

When Sakura was sure that it was safe to begin speaking again, she explained, "Inuka just didn't want everyone to know until she had everything planed out. The only reason she told me was because I am a part of her plans. Since she doesn't have a father, and I am the Pillar, she decide that she wanted me to do for her as I did for you; namely, she wants me to hand her off in her father's place." Pausing to look at Hanako's face, Sakura decided to add, "And she asked me to inform you that she'll speak to you tonight, once she gets back from work."

Hanako's face suddenly brightened, no longer feeling left out by her twin. Petting the younger sleeping girls' hair, she asked quietly, "So, who proposed to whom?"

Sakura snickered, she knew what Hanako was getting at. "Don't worry, this time it wasn't Inuka who finally got up the nerve to propose, but Tobi." Three years ago, after knowingly pining for each other for half a year (Sakura had a feeling they'd liked each other for much longer), it had been Inuka who had finally asked Tobi out.

Her view went white, and in the silence that followed, she saw a shape far ahead of her. Then a voice carried to her over the vast nothingness, rustic with age, but not raspy as had been her great grandmother's. It was the same voice that she had heard in many of her dreams lately. It belonged to an old woman who always seemed to be just out of sight. This time, however, Sakura could have sworn the distance between her and the distant voice was less. She thought she could almost see a shimmer of water near the shape in the distance…but she wasn't sure. As in all dreams past, the voice repeated a prophecy.

"The blood that blossoms,

bound in truth;

lies foretold

in homeroom.

catastrophics left unsaid,

breath held until the end.

The blood that blossoms

from the roots,

cometh forth

from new shoots.

Shoots and roots interwound,

death defying without a sound.

The blood that blossoms,

bound in truth,

after eighth bud institute,

return to roots

soon will come,

once the phoenix game is done."

Normally this was where the dream would end, but this time the voice said something else as it faded away, "The fire…soon…prepare…life is forfeit."

Sakura came out of her trance suddenly as the sun returned to normal. Turning, she saw her children slump against each other, weary smiles on their faces. Even such a short period of time had exhausted them, but that was what she'd expected, so she'd made sure they were ready for bed before she opened the curtains. Standing up, Sakura herded the twins out of the room and to their beds.

That finished, Sakura went to check up on her other children. The quads were easy to find, they were having their afternoon naps in the next room over. It took a bit of searching to find her eldest, but eventually she found him sparring with his father in the backyard. Leaning against the door-frame, Sakura watched them, noticing how much Takeshi had taken after his father. Truly, if not for a few of his personality traits (such as his non-antisocial behavior and his love of little kids; though Sakura figured that came from having so many younger siblings), he'd be exactly the same. Takeshi had even begun to grow out his hair like his father's.

Shaking her head ruefully, Sakura went back inside to make dinner. Normally she'd have joined them, but not today. She'd prefer not to overdo things so soon after having given birth…at least, not if she could help it. After all, tomorrow she and Takeshi were going to go take baby Yuki to visit her grandfather.

Itachi would normally have come as well, but there had been signs of a possible large-scale attack in the near future (it was hard for her father to destroy ninja when he didn't know where to look for them, and it was hard for Sakura to pinpoint and tell him people's position in a forest…trees tended to all look the same), and Li had ordered him to stay.

That night, Sakura dreamt the same dream she'd been dreaming since she'd gotten pregnant with Yuki. It was a memory of her first visit to the Great Knowing. Last night, her dream had ended at the point where she had left the Great Knowing; this time, just as every time before, her dream progressed farther than it had the night before.

For a long time, Sakura couldn't find her voice as she mulled over Mei's story. Eventually thought, she turned her mind away from that and thought of her next question, "Could you tell me how Konoha is doing? How are my friends? Is Tsunade better? Has Hinata recovered? Has Neji? And what about Naruto? How-"

"I can only answer one thing at a time, child. Calm down and let me begin to answer." Sakura closed her mouth and nodded, distantly noticing that she really wasn't feeling any pain at all right now, not from her headache, her throat, or that guy's Jutsu. She didn't have time to wonder why though, because Silver began to speak again.

"Tsunade is recovering at a natural pace, but is still unable to use her medical Jutsu. Before you ask, yes, it is being caused by Hachino in order to keep her weak and unable to speed up the village's recovery rate; thus keeping the Leaf village too busy to search for you. I'm sure you can take a gander as to at least one reason why he wouldn't want you found, so I won't waste your time giving all the reasons."

"Neji will eventually make a full recovery, but it will still be a while. His injuries were borderline lethal. Physically Hinata is completely healed, however, emotionally she is dealing with a number of gaping wounds. Her father's death came as a horrible shock for her; and Neji being at death's door…well, it's a good thing he's been recovering. That's one wound that that is mending, at least. And then there's Naruto…the poor girl's worried sick about him. He's-"

At this point in her previous dream, Sakura had been shot out of the Great Knowing, and the dream had ended, but not this time. This time, things went differently than she remembered. She didn't remember being told at this time what had happened to Naruto, but in this dream, Silver continued, "He's dying because he's been captured by the A-"

With the shock of hearing that Naruto was dying, Sakura involuntarily jerked back. That instant of inattentiveness to Silver, and Silver alone, caused her to catch a glimpse of something from the corner of her eye. Sakura froze, caught up in a vision. She was grappling with a huge man, bombs adorning his entire body like a bulky wetsuit. Sakura knew Deidara would have scoffed at their simplicity…but simplicity didn't make them any less dangerous.

The man was trying to ignite the bombs, and a beat-up Sakura was trying to stop him. But something was wrong…Sakura wasn't overpowering him. They looked to be in a stalemate…and just as Sakura thought that, someone else barreled into the picture, flinging Sakura off the other man and giving the him the time he needed to ignite the bombs. Sakura's hands were flying, putting together hand signs as there came a flash, and then-

Sakura shot up in bed, covered in a cold-sweat. Breathing heavily, Sakura brought her knees to her chest, and just as she had back when she was younger, she whispered to herself that it was just a dream…only now she knew otherwise. Her dreams were almost never just dreams. Dreams such as that tended to be premonitions of what could (not necessarily would) be…and this dream, this premonition, had been about- Sakura shivered as the thought hit her like a thunderstorm-'…my death…'

An arm snaked around her shoulders, making Sakura jump. But, of course, it was only Itachi. Leaning into his embrace, Sakura began to whisper an apology for having awoken him, but he cut her off by saying, "Shh. Whatever it was about, you can change it- just as you did all those other times." Kissing the top of her head he added, "But changing the future can wait 'til later. For now, sleep. You have a long day planed for tomorrow." With that, Sakura sighed and both of them laid down once more. As sleep crept upon her, Sakura was glad she only ever had the memory-dream once a night.

The next morning Sakura and Takeshi set off early with baby Yuki. Since this was a family visit to the Akatsuki, not a business one, Sakura didn't have to wear the Akatsuki robe. Even though when she did wear it, she always wore it open to show that she was not a true member of the Akatsuki (as well as always wearing her unscathed forehead protector), it was still blistering hot in the summer. She didn't know how Itachi did it.

They traveled quickly, stopping once for a quick lunch and only a few times for dipper changes. Never did they see another traveler. It was nearing three o'clock when their complacent surroundings abruptly changed. The path ahead that had been empty moments ago was suddenly filled with ordinary looking people. This in itself wouldn't have been too surprising; this was a well traveled path, after all, so it wouldn't be too hard to believe that a large group would be traveling on it.

What was surprising, however, was that she hadn't sensed them coming…which meant they had to be ninja. And if they were ninja-pretending-not-to-be-ninja…then this was most likely the band that was reportedly on it's way to attack Konoha. Sakura stiffened, then elbowed her son in the ribs as if he'd said something silly, effectively stopping him from doing or saying anything that would have given their identities away (as he'd been about to do).

Shifting Yuki in his arms he looked at her quizzically. Sakura barely gestured in the oncoming entourage's direction. He looked, and a moment later his brows furrowed as he noticed what she had noticed. Turning back to her, he whispered, "What should we do, mother? They're, well, you know," Sakura nodded, "and all of them are carrying such large packs; whatever's in them, it can't be good." she nodded again.

As the silence drew on she surveyed the group, and noticed that one tall man in the middle was wearing a brown cloak that obscured anyone's view of him…and unlike everyone else, he was not carrying a large pack. Sakura felt a tingling sensation in the back of her mind, but she didn't have time to explore into it. Instead, she thought over their options, and finally she decided on a course of action.

"Let's try to just walk past on the side of the road." She whispered, thankful that neither of them were wearing their forehead protectors or anything else that would single them out at the moment. "If nothing happens, we'll just walk on by, and as soon as they're out of sight, we'll run until we get to your grandfather's place. Then we'll have him, Pein, and Yuri help us deal with them before they get to Konoha."

"And if something does happen?"

Sakura smiled to herself. Of course he had caught that, "Then you complete the second part of that plan while I hold them off." Takeshi began to protest, but she cut him off, "If I say 'go', you will run for all you're worth. That's an order." Takeshi bit his lip, but nodded. He may have been a genius, he may have already been a Chunin, but first and foremost he was her son…and good children obey their parents…especially when they know they're right. He may have tried arguing one more time anyway, just to get his dislike of the plan across, if they hadn't come within hearing distance of the enemy.

They took to the side of the road, letting the larger group pass them. With abated breaths they walked casually onward, hoping that no one saw them as anything more than a mother and her children. They had almost passed them by, when suddenly Sakura heard a gasp and the word 'pink'.

It was in that moment that Sakura cursed herself for forgetting that pink hair was a dead give-a-way that she was a Hoshi, and thus lived in Konoha where the few still living Hoshi resided. "Go." She whispered as she turned to meet the five men that were rushing her. She could only hit one thing at a time, and in order to stop others from chasing after her son, she raised her fist and shattered the ground rather than the faces of her opponents. It worked, and soon it was just her and them…just the way she wanted it.

Sakura wiped blood from mouth, glaring up at the large man in the brown cloak, the one whose face she had yet to see. She'd done perfectly well against the others, but halfway through the fight, this man had suddenly made his comrades retreat and continue on to Konoha while he stopped her from delaying them anymore (as she'd been intending to do all along).

At first she'd thought him stupid, but she quickly learned that he was a thousand times better than those wearing the packs. No wonder he hadn't been laden down with the extra weight; he was probably their strongest member. Essentially their bodyguard.

Sakura took a step back just in time to dodge the man's fist. She'd already learned once that those fists weren't something to be taken lightly. This man was insanely strong. On top of his strength, he could take her Chakra enhanced punches as if they were normal punches. That was not a good sign. Breathing heavily, Sakura cursed herself for the second time that day. All her weapons had been in the bag that Takeshi had taken with him and the baby.

Clenching her hand, Sakura ducked under his next punch. As she came up, she straightened her hand, creating a Chakra scalpel and slicing up with it in hopes of hitting internal organs. She missed, however, as the man noticed her move, though he probably didn't understand it's purpose. He jumped back just in time to save his skin (and organs)…however, his obscuring cloak was another matter.

The cloak fell to pieces, reveling to Sakura her enemy for the first time…only this wasn't the first time. The man now standing before her was wrapped in a skintight layer of bombs, just as he had been in her dream. For a moment, Sakura thought the world stopped moving as, his secret having been revealed, the man began to reach for the trigger. Sakura instantly jumped the man, forcing his arms away from where they had been going. She only just remembered what had happened in the dream a moment before the man's comrade returned and barreled into her.

As Sakura was flung away, she knew she'd given her children time to evacuate the area the bombs would encompass (the area would probably be quite large, given their sheer numbers), and of that she was happy, but…she didn't want to die…not yet. As she hit the ground, a thought returned the favor.

She wouldn't be able to move her body away from the area in time, but…there was still a chance she could escape the blast…if she could go back in time. Sakura swiftly righted herself on the ground thinking quickly. Though she knew she didn't have the Scroll of the Circle with her, she didn't count that as a major disadvantage. She was a Time Walker. She could traverse the circle of time without a scroll. It would just be harder.

Hard…but not impossible.

Sakura knew the principle of Time Walking without using the Scroll of the Circle, thanks to the Great Knowing, but she never had done so before. Throwing these thoughts aside, Sakura didn't waste anymore time; instead she let her hands fly as fast as she could make them go, praying she'd make it in time. If she could only finish and get out of there a moment before the blast reached her, she'd live. She didn't care how far she went back, so long as she did. The situation was suddenly a race with time.

The man was reaching down-she was getting close-his fingers found whatever it was they'd been looking for-she was almost there-he pressed down-just two more-the ignition process began-just one more-the bomb exploded.

Sakura saw white light through her tightly closed eyes-

-and then-


Sakura opened her eyes wearily, wondering if she'd made it in time, or if she was dead. Everything was pure white. Sighing sadly, she said aloud, "I guess I didn't make it in time…I must be dead. I-"

Sakura would have continued if a familiar voice hadn't rang in the air around her, speaking in the Ancient Language, "You have not died yet, Kirschebluesse." Startled, Sakura looked around frantically. For a moment, she saw only white, but then a glimmer in the distance caught her eye. It was only then that she noticed how similar this place was to what she'd seen only the day before during the solar eclipse. The voice had been familiar, because it was the old lady from her dreams, the one who always repeated that prophecy.

Sakura ran toward the distant glimmer floating in the sea of white light. She had no sense of time, but it felt like merely a moment before she found herself standing at a break in the sea of white. In it's place was a river of black, and far in the distance she could see where the sea of white continued on the other side of the black river. Connecting the two white banks was a bridge of grey, and on the far end of the bridge was the woman, bent over with age, but striding toward the bridge of grey as if she weren't old.

Sakura followed suite, going directly to the bridge. She didn't know why, but she got the feeling that touching the black river would be a very bad thing. She didn't even know why she called it a river. It wasn't flowing, as far as she could tell, and there didn't seem to be any space between it and the grey bridge, and yet…it felt like something that had to be crossed over, not waded through. 'River' and 'bridge' just felt right.

Unlike when she'd been crossing the sea of white, it felt like it took an eternity to slog along the bridge. Each step was a hard won battle. She was concentrating so hard on simply placing one foot in front of the other that she didn't even know she'd reached the middle of the bridge until she saw two feet standing before her. Looking up, she found the white haired, blue eyed, old woman. And it was only then that she came to know true old age. She couldn't even begin to guess how many years this woman had lived through; for up close, Sakura knew she was seeing a walking time capsule.

A smile crept onto the ancient woman's face, as if she knew what Sakura had just thought; she then chuckled. It was a warm (if, slightly sad) sound, not the dry rasp her great-grandmother had brought her to hate, and Sakura couldn't help but smile in return. As the laughter died down, the ancient woman began to speak once more in the Ancient Language, "Yes, Kirschebluesse,it has been a long time…a long time indeed."

Sakura, having heard that word for the second time, asked, also in the Ancient Language, "Why are you calling me…Kirschebluesse? My name's Sakura."

"Because," began the ancient woman as if it were obvious, "you need to know your real name." Without waiting for Sakura to ask, she added, "You may call me by what you already know me to be." It only took a second for the implication to set in, then Sakura gasped as realization hit her.

"You're the World Walker!" It only took a moment more for her to add as she thought about the prophecy she had been repeating to Sakura in her dreams, "And you're the one who wrote the journal- or at least, the prophesy at the end!"

The ancient woman, the World Walker, nodded nonchalantly, "I did play a part in that, though I won't tell you what part. You'll figure that out on your own eventually." The World Walker probably would have continued speaking if Sakura hadn't blurted out the thought that just fell on her.

"That prophesy…it was…about me!" The woman nodded in silence, which was broken by Sakura's sudden question, "But why, and what does it all mean?"

The World Walker smiled and answered patiently, "It was not made for you to figure out in time, only for you to find. It is so the next Pillar will one day be able to figure out what has happened to you. As to what it means, well, why don't you say what you have worked out so far? Then we shall know what I need not explain."

Sakura puzzled over the odd wording of the World Walker's last sentence, but answered anyway, "I now know that 'the blood that blossoms' is referring to me through the myth about cherry blossoms getting their color from blood. The 'lies told' and what was 'left unsaid' probably has to do with me not telling Itachi about the dream I had about my death. I can also tell that the 'eighth bud institute' was talking about Yuki since she was my eighth child, but, what about the rest? What's with the roots and shoots and…and phoenixes?"

The World Walker nodded her head, but to Sakura's dismay, didn't give a satisfactory answer, "Good, then I need not explain anything." Sakura couldn't help pouting childishly. She wanted a real answer, and the ancient woman standing hunched over before her knew it…and ignored it. "Now, to explain where we are, and what the situation is."

She didn't give Sakura time to say anything about the change in subject, she just went on, "That over there," she waved her hand at the white sea Sakura had just come from, "is your World. That back there," she motioned behind herself, "is another, connected yet different World." There came the slightest of pauses, then, "Now, time is a single continuous circle, but it is all the different times, all the different circles, that make up the links of an ongoing chain-link fence. Every link a different World."

"As the World Walker," she explained, "I am employed by what you would know as the Great Knowing to traverse all the circles. My job is to influence events in Worlds when they need it most. Sometimes I make another World be born, other times I stop Worlds from coming into existence, but in both cases I have to go to the exact place where the new World has the capability of coming from. In a way, you could say I have to find a specific fork in the entire time stream, and then I have to influence what will happen with that path."

She took a few breaths, then went on, "Time Walkers influence time when they traverse their circle. However, they can only make things as they were meant to be because it is their own World. It is the same principle that allows me to change what needs to be changed in Worlds not my own. I am an outside entity to these Worlds, so there is no set path for me to take, and thus I can forge my own."

"This," she motioned to the grey bridge below their feet, "is the only connection point between this World and that World. Such connections exist amongst all Worlds. I was the first person to ever be able to find that this connection-between-worlds even existed, and you will be the last." Sakura just stared, too startled to even jump in surprise. The World Walker continued as if Sakura's eyes weren't bugging out at her abrupt statement.

"I've lived way too long, as you've noticed. I've lived so long that even Orochimaru would have envied me." If that was a joke, Sakura didn't find it funny. A smile lit the World Walker's face as she noticed this and explained, "What's funny is that Orochimaru was searching for eternal youth, and he failed miserably. Meanwhile I, who never sought such, found as close to it as existed. However, no one lives forever. Even if his horrid experiments had worked, and he just kept extending his life, he would have still one day just up and died. After all, death is a necessary aspect of life. You cannot escape it."

Her chuckles were fleeting as she quickly continued what she'd been saying. "My time is nearing it's end, but yours is only just beginning. When I die, you will be the World Walker." Sakura's jaw dropped.

Without warning, the World Walker walked past Sakura, towards the sea of white that Sakura had vacated. As she walked, she motioned towards the black river, stating without turning around, "Once I'm gone, lower yourself into there. It will take you to the Great Knowing, or, more to the point, those you know as Silver and Orange. They will tell you everything else." Looking towards the black river, the World Walker's reflection caught her eye.

Sakura didn't think her jaw could drop any farther than it already had…but it did anyway. As she comprehended what she was seeing, she heard the World Walker say peacefully as, having stepped onto the sea of white, her body began to disappear, "…and the circle comes round." Sakura stared, her mind in utter chaos at the World Walker's disintegrating reflection…

…it was her own…

She had just met herself.

That's the End! For those who've been nagging at me to finish up, here you are. There is a poll up on my profile about what my next work could be about (though I will be taking a brake before I start working on another story).

I've put a one-shot (semi) SakuxSasu up called Nightmare if you'd like to read it (you'll understand what semi means when you read it).

As always, no flamer shall be allowed to step foot (or keyboard) into my domain. Now, onto the pretty list!

Thanks to: Juniper11, butterfliesofpurgatory, Tabeko, QueenThayet12990, xoBreathe, xokatherine229, I-Love-Akatsuki, Okinawa Angel, KurenaiBara-chan, Inner-me-is-chaos, bellacullen3, ItaDeiPei, Hao'sAnjul, icinnamonx3, So Happily Unsatisfied, NightWing101, All I Want For Xmas Is Ikuto, .assassinator, dark Alley, & vampire-queen4ever for reviewing!