A/N; It has been a year since I've updated. It's unacceptable, I know. Many of you have begged and pleaded with me, desperate to know what happens next, or if I plan to keep writing this story, or any ItaSasu story. I will answer you now; Yes, I plan to continue. I never intended to give up on any of my stories. Life happened. My apologies.

With that said, I also wish to inform you that this chapter is part 1 of chapter 9. This is the 'flashback' you typically get at the beginning of each chapter, only it was lengthy enough to need its own chapter. Part two will carry on with Taka, and young Itachi, and I hope to have that completed a bit sooner than next year. ;)


Chapter 9 ~ Part 1

/..Love of mine, someday you will die, but I'll be close behind, I'll follow you into the dark. No blinding light, or tunnels to gates of white, just our hands clasped so tight, waiting for the hint of a spark. If Heaven and Hell decide that they both are satisfied, illuminate the 'no's' on their vacancy signs. If there's no one beside you when your soul embarks, then I'll follow you into the dark../

:: ::

He was standing, watching, unaware of why he couldn't move. He just stood there, doing nothing as he watched his only brother's wrists being tied, the ropes drawn over a wooden frame that hung high above the ground, so that his brother's legs dangled, unable to touch the earth below.

He could hear himself shouting, pleading with the faceless people who had bound his sibling, and left him helpless as others approached from dark crevices in the walls of sepia-colored nothing that stretched out beyond this one, painful moment.

No matter what he did, nothing changed. His voice was lost to the crowd which was present; all they could hear was their own laughter and shouts of prideful vengeance as they pelted the dangling boy with stones, and they beat his naked frame with sticks until his pale skin was covered in violet marks and angry, reddened welts.

When, at last, his body moved, he rushed toward his sibling, hoping beyond all hope that his brother's stillness was from being knocked out, though a vibrant crimson liquid had stained his pretty hair and was crawling down his face and neck, streaming steadily all the way down his body, to the tips of his toes, and dripping slowly to the ground.

"Hidetsu!," Zeto called out to his lifeless twin, throwing himself toward his brother to save him.

Zeto felt himself rush forward, then he opened his eyes, the scene before him suddenly disappearing, being slowly replaced by the soft, brown material of the tent he was sleeping in. He was panting, breathless, his naked frame damp with nervous sweat as he caught his breath, looking around in panic as he came to realize that what he had been seeing before was all.. Just a nightmare.

He remained upright, just as he had propelled himself amidst his horrid envisionment, letting his muscled chest expand and contract, his pale skin reflecting the brownish tones of the tent itself, as one of the material-walls was illuminated by the orange light of the fire outside, which still crackled with burning life.

Finally, Zeto swallowed dryly, trying to soothe the scratchiness in his throat from his heavy gasping, then he turned his golden-yellow eyes to the male at his side, who was stirring slightly under the blanket. Zeto laid his hand delicately upon his brother's shoulder, as if to check to see that Hidetsu's flesh still maintained a life-like warmth. This touch was what finally brought Hidetsu to consciousness.

Hidetsu moved beneath the blanket, stretching, letting out a soft, sleepy groan, then his lashes slowly raised up to reveal the yellow optics beneath his pale eyelids. He was, momentarily, in a sleep-ridden daze, and he stared up at his twin sibling, barely registering that Zeto was staring down at him, then, finally, his mind followed his body into waking.

Sitting slowly upright, the blanket fell away from Hidetsu's naked chest and abdomen, folding against his hips as he held himself up on his hands. "Brother?"

The lithe teenager gazed through the low light and the tired dullness of his senses to see the worried expression on his brother's countenance; this is why he whispered to him in concern. Zeto spoke no verbal response, instead, he leaned in nearer to the one who had been sleeping next to him, and he pressed his lips to Hidetsu's, letting their skin touch softly, reassuringly, tenderly.

It seemed just a random affection, yet Zeto's fingers came to clutch at Hidetsu's shoulders, tightening their grip on him possessively, protectively, letting stray, white locks lace between his digits.

Feeling his sibling's heart delving into fear, as if he were one with his twin, Hidetsu pushed his brother away, if only to connect his yellow eyes with his brother's identical pair, to seek answers deep within. "Brother?," Hidetsu whispered, his voice whining in worry, "What's wrong?"

Zeto decided to let himself be contained, turning his emotions inward, and hiding them beneath a tough facade, and he flopped himself back down with a huff, the barely softened feel of the ground no comfort beneath his back, and he writhed slightly to wrinkle the blanket that was pressed into his skin. The withdrawn twin blinked as he folded his arms behind his head, gazing into nothing as he reflected on the horrors of his night, keeping a relaxed, pensive expression all the while.

"I had a terrible dream," Zeto spoke, his tone soft, and his yellow eyes distant, "I dreamt that I lost you."

Silence gave way to a curious stare, Hidetsu watching his unmoving sibling while contemplating the stronger male's unconscious sensitivity. As serious as this topic was, Hidetsu couldn't help but let a fond grin come over his pale, pinkish lips, and even in the dark, he glimmered with adoration for his beloved brother. He moved nearer to Zeto, feeling his warmth as they huddled together beneath the blankets in their tent, and he settled himself back down with his head upon his brother's shoulder.

In a soft, trusting whisper, his breath ghosting warmly against Zeto's neck, Hidetsu reassured his normally withdrawn brother, and placed delicate fingers smoothly upon his naked chest. "You don't need to worry about me so much, brother." Hidetsu thought back to the time of their banishment, of a time that they both came so near to starving out in the forest. "You were the one who kept us both alive when we were sent off to our deaths. If not for you, I never would have survived."

Zeto merely sighed in the annoyance that came with being overly praised, not so keen on flattery. "..and without you, my powers would be useless. Our rare chakra mutation makes us dependent on one another, you know that."

A soft laugh resonated from Hidetsu's thin throat, just to be stifled against the blanket. "Yes, I know... One of us produces the yin of chakra, and the other produces the yang. We need one another for the chakra to infuse. It's a rare curse for rare twins, which is what we are. But, that's also how I know we'll never be parted. We're meant to be together, forever."

Feeling the clutches of sleep wanting to sneak back up on him, despite his nervousness, Zeto resigned himself to the warmth and comfort of his brother at his side, and he held Hidetsu close. He maintained his awareness long enough to speak, saying, "I hope you're right, Hidetsu," then the silence of resolve surrounded the two dependent beings, and they slept once again.

:: ::

An evening passed around a roaring campfire, and a dinner that consisted of a skimpy soup made with broth and bones gave way to the clip-clopping of hooves belonging to mighty, black horses, who snorted and swished their long, untamed manes with fiery attitude. This was the usual preparation before a raid; dwindling supplies, and angry bandits.

Zeto perched on a log near the flame, staring at it as if to absorb it into the yellow embers that were his eyes. At his side, his brother quietly sipped at the bland broth that had been their meal, keeping his head low, and his face hidden in the shadow cast by a hood that hung over his head at all times, other than times of privacy.

Finishing, Hidetsu cast aside whatever makeshift container had held his soup, and replaced a concealing mask over his face, hiding his identity. His face was one that appeared as a mirror image of his stronger brother's, and in keeping this carefully secret, it became a great weapon in misleading foolish foes.

"You aren't lagging behind, are you, Zeto?," came the gruff voice from the direction of one of the many trails that the bandit group had set through this particular patch of forest; it was paired with the thump of heavy footsteps that could have only belonged to a great, monstrous creature, or an impossibly large human being.

Zeto knew immediately who this voice belonged to, and he turned his yellow optics to face the darkness off to his left, just outside the luminous range of the fire. As surely as those heavy footsteps grew nearer, a man appeared from the forest, and came into the light. He wore a confident smile, his face adorned in numerous battle scars, like trophies of his many victories. Some of these scars were hair-thin, and very fine, likely from the blade of a shinobi, though most were jagged and unrefined, and could not even be hidden beneath stubble and dirt.

The immensely tall and heavily muscled man came to stand near Zeto, warming himself by the fire as he made conversation, to make haste. His shaven head reflected a fuzzy, orange aura, the fire's rays not quite finding this surface to be mirror-like, as it was roughened and dirty.

Zeto took to his feet in the presence of the man standing before him, lowering his head momentarily in a show of respect to the leader of the bandit group that they belonged to, as well as the person who once found two children in the woods and took them under his wing.

"I was waiting for my shadow to finish," Zeto gestured to the mentioned 'shadow', who was well defined by this term, covered entirely in a black, hooded cloak that was tattered along the edges. The 'shadow' did not even move or make any attempt to be acknowledged.

"Your shadow is always so delicate about everything, and so indecisive," the burly man chuckled darkly, "some might wonder if that shadow is actually your opposite in some minor physical details, as it is certainly opposite you in everything else."

The man chuckled again to himself, but carried on with the reason he had approached, it being the fact that the group was meant to raid a nearby village during the night, then relocate camp. "You're ready now, then?," he asked of Zeto, paying no heed to Hidetsu, as Hidetsu was nonexistent.

"I am," Zeto assured, his voice hard and steady.

::

The thundering hooves was metaphorical to the echo of the bandit group's churning stomachs; ferociously rumbling. Each man and woman was a merciless force, out to save their own skin, at the cost of the hides of so many innocent, not that Zeto cared. In fact, if he had to guess, he would say that the people he had been raised alongside longed for the taste of blood, smoke, and rancid death so fervently that it quieted their empty stomachs for a time.

To the bandits, a village painted and illuminated in hellish red was more so a heaven in their eyes, and with twisted smiles on scarred lips, they slaughtered their way through all who stood against them, until they had completed their purpose. This purpose was always the same; to steal the villages food and supplies. Being able to feast after all the carnage was like positive reinforcement in every bandit's mind, unconsciously teaching them that killing was a rewardable act.

Zeto rode in late, yanking the reins of his horse to slow the galloping beast to a sliding halt, its hooves pounding the ground, and slicing into the dirt as it obeyed the commands of its rider, giving only an indignant snort in retaliation.

The elder twin peered into the glowing fires consuming the village before him, feeling the heat and smoke burning his eyes and skin. It made the air thick and almost acidic to breathe, charring the lungs of those who foolishly did so, and surely these bandits all had inner scars from this common reoccurrence. Zeto felt no pain from this anymore; he was accustomed to it. He was comfortable in all the chaos, from the fires to the screaming villagers who tried meekly to retaliate.

"Stay here..," Zeto spoke sternly, turning his head back toward his 'shadow', who held onto Zeto around his waist. The apparition-like Hidetsu merely nodded obediently to his brother's words, and hopped from the back of the horse, up into the cover of trees above, to hide.

With Hidetsu hidden, Zeto kicked his heel against his horse's side, and the massive beast carried on into the village, just as fearless and used to fire and chaos as the bandits themselves.

Despite how practiced all these murderous thieves were at the art of raiding a village, however, Zeto found himself engulfed in a sort of madness that he had never yet encountered in his young life. For once, the men and women he had grown up with were also among those who were screaming in confused terror.

The bandits had found out soon after they penetrated the village's meager defenses that this small, and helpless village was not quite so helpless on this particular night. As fate would have it, tonight a squad of shinobi had taken refuge in this village, and though they were slight in number, they were powerful enough to kill bandits with ease.

Zeto jumped down from his horse in confusion as he spotted one of his fellow thieves running in desperate panic and struggling to remain upright, despite having multiple kunai buried in his legs. The man was so determined to escape the bloodbath he had walked into that his mind didn't even bother noticing all the metal protruding from his flesh.

"What the hell happened?!," Zeto barked his question over the roar of flames and the screaming, giving the other bandit a shake to rouse him from his focused desperation.

The injured man shook his head, a hand over one injured eye as his unscathed optic flickered about in nervous terror. "We invaded the village as planned, but.. We didn't know that there were some of those goddamned' ghosts from the hidden villages here.. I didn't even know how many there were. It seemed like dozens... I was with a group of ten other men, at least, but those ghosts attacked us, and everybody around me fell so quickly... It was like their bodies just started falling apart for no reason.. Arms and legs, and heads all just flying off, and I only caught the slightest glance of a ghost every now and then as it all happened.. Then, when it was just me and the boss left, I realized that there was only one ghost, just standing there, his bloody fingers clutching a katana with relaxed ease, as if he were just slicing down unruly tree branches.. He had a mask over his face, and red armor, like it was covered in blood.. The boss let out a holler', like a roar, and he charged deeper into the village.. The ghost went after him, and I escaped.."

The white-haired boy nodded his head to the injured man in understanding, though his comprehension of these 'ghosts' from hidden villages, and their strength, was minimal. He hadn't encountered what the bandits referred to as 'ghosts', a shinobi, since the night his old village was invaded, and his family that had formerly been from a hidden village was slaughtered for their betrayal. Even then, he had hardly seen a ninja in action. He only possessed enough awareness to know that they had killed his clan when he was only a child.

"..Take my horse, and get out of here," Zeto firmly spoke, shoving his ally toward the black horse who was patiently, obediently, waiting. "I have to find Boss and help him."

The injured man did not protest, and gladly crawled up onto the horse's back, even despite his tattered limbs; it must have been the drive of adrenalin and fear that kept him going, for now. He still cast a grim look down into the fierce, yellow eyes of Zeto, knowing it would be the last time he ever saw that determined stare, and he spoke words of warning. "You don't stand a chance against those ghosts. You had best run while you have the chance."

The young, stubborn boy shook his head. "I won't betray Boss. He took me in when I was helpless. He saved my life."

The other man said no more to Zeto, knowing the younger male could not be swayed with words; he assumed that the boy may soon understand the reason he had been warned, and why his attempts would be fruitless. However, he thought it was more likely that Zeto would die before any of that. He wouldn't risk his life waiting around for the white-haired teen to come to his senses, so he rode off from the village as quickly as he could force that horse to gallop.

As for Zeto, he, too, ran upon his own selected path, winding through the dirt streets, among the blazing infernos, and people who bolted here and there, like rats in a maze of horror that they could not escape, though they tried so very, very desperately.

Loyal Zeto stopped for a moment, looking to his right, and then his left, unaware of which way he needed to go in order to find his leader. He was panicked that he may be too late to save Boss, and he panted, gasping for oxygen, though he breathed only gulps of smoke. He swallowed, hoping to dull the burn in his throat so he could breathe easier, feeling his muscles growing heavy from exertion and a lack of clean air feeding them and giving them strength.

Then, as Zeto was almost ready to simply run in whichever direction his legs carried him first, he heard a wail that was unquestionably the voice of his leader, the man who had found him and his brother, alone and starving in the forest.

The white haired boy wasted no time in flying on nimble feet toward the scream, a blade yanked from a holster at his waist now ready to cut as many throats as necessary to save his boss, his heart brimming with bravery, though his mind was muddled with doubt.

He had heard the Boss scream a lot in his lifetime, but never had he heard anything like that come out of the strong, proud hulk of a man.

Zeto came round a corner, only to shield his eyes as a building collapsed, its frame no longer sturdy as the fires converted it to ash, and embers flew out of it upon impact, rushing toward the white-haired, young bandit. His luminous, yellow optics were hidden beneath an arm, which he draped across his face as small, stray bits of embers burned against his skin. He quickly lowered his obscuring limb to peer out over the mess of ash that still twinkled with little orange lights, and tiny, dancing flames.

The sudden rush of hot air from all around rustled the teen's locks, making him seem just as much a ghost as the hidden-village shinobi, while he stood staring from behind a murky cloud of rising smoke. Beyond the small heap that was the collapsed home, he could see his Boss, the man that raised both he and his sibling, standing among a group of much smaller shinobi, strong and upright, like some fantastic pillar of muscle that simply could not be toppled by even a divine force.

The bandit leader was standing, unwavering, his face masked in a fearsome snarl, though his eyes no longer saw the shinobi surrounding him. Those eyes gazed forward, meeting momentarily with Zeto's own glowing, yellow optics in the man's last moment of life, just before the light within them faded, and the handful of shinobi all withdrew their weapon's from the bandit-man's monstrous frame.

The young teen could see that while his Boss's legs did not buckle beneath him, and he stood, his lips drawn back from his bared, bloodied teeth, the man's eyes still rolled back in his skull, and the man died on his feet.

"No!," Zeto screamed so loudly that his voice surely tore apart the inside of his throat, the strain of it like sandpaper in his lungs, but he didn't even notice the sting of that pain, nor the heat of the fire beneath his feet, licking at his calves as he bolted across the rubble of the fallen building.

His approach was nothing even mildly close to subtle, and all of the shinobi were immediately aware of his presence as he ran toward them. It could not be seen from beneath their mask, but though they all felt that this kid was a foolish one for running into a battle so thoughtlessly, his loyalty to his leader was respectable, and his tolerance for the pain he must have been feeling was something they wouldn't have expected from any lowly bandit. (The way all of the other bandits ran for the cover of the forests when they acknowledged that their typical power-in-numbers-scheme wouldn't work so flawlessly tonight showed them all for the shameless cowards that they were. This boy, however, had maybe been of shinobi bloodline. At least, they assumed.)

Because of this unspoken respect, the masked soldiers decidedly used their lightning-fast skills to overwhelm the teenager, and they knocked him quickly unconscious, rather than simply slaughtering such a fine spirit. In the end, this was not their village, and they had no care as to how these bandits were punished, as the matter was out of their hands; they only stepped up to defend those who could not defend themselves in a time of need.

This was how Zeto ended up being handed over, alive, to the leaders of the village by the shinobi, after the rest of the bandits were chased out, and the fires were under control.

:: ::

"Perhaps this one is worth taking with us? I know he is already a teenager, but we may still be able to train him in the shinobi arts.. We need as many soldiers as we can get.."

"He surely would only regard us begrudgingly, Tobi, even if we did spare his life.. We killed his leader, and it is doubtful that he will forgive us."

"Yes, Oniisan.. I suppose you are correct."

An echo of unknown voices died out in the back of a pounding head. The teenage bandit found the words of these mysterious voices to be undecipherable, their meaning unknown to him. Even so, he tried to listen, knowing that those voices were referring to him, which made them of semi-importance, but the more he attempted to focus his attention, to more the sound faded, becoming almost inaudible beneath a flurry of other voices.

"I believe that this kid is 'Zeto'. He was banished from the herb village, and they've since put a bounty on him when they found out that he became a bandit."

Zeto stirred, becoming suddenly aware of a new set of voices, speaking of something entirely different, though he was clearly still the topic of discussion. It was very difficult to pay attention, because there was a pounding in the back of his head that was impossible to ignore. It spanned down the back of his neck, as if the delicate bones had been snapped, and it even ached in his back and shoulders.

Softly, the young boy groaned, his lashes fluttering lightly as he roused to consciousness, but he dared not open his eyes yet; he had no idea where he was, though he remembered invading a village during one of the typical raids. The group had clashed with a band of shinobi, and Boss had been...

(Oh fuck... Boss was dead..)

Zeto clenched his jaw and his fists in recollection; his gut twisted, a bitter, sickening sensation coming over him. He wanted to weep, knowing that the man who was like a father to him had been killed, but.. He couldn't bother himself with that at the moment. He had himself to worry about, and.. Hidetsu. What had happened to Hidetsu? Was he captured as well? Was he dead, too..?

(No, that couldn't be. If Hidetsu was a practiced expert at anything, it was the art of hiding and sneaking.)

Zeto slowly attempted to move; without opening his eyes, he could tell that he was sitting upright on some sort of hard surface. He tugged lightly at his wrists- They were tied behind him, so he was probably bound to a chair.

"Well, then I suppose we're lucky. We're lucky that those shinobi had taken refuge here on their way back to their village, and we're lucky that this little shit has a bounty on his head, because that bounty will be going toward fixing the damages that his friends caused last night."

The Herb Village had put a bounty on him? Again, Zeto grit his teeth, an intense rage flaring to life in his hateful, blackened heart. That village betrayed his family, sent he and his brother off to their death, and now they had put a bounty on him, even though he never made a move against them?

His desire for vengeance began to steadily rekindle as he quietly simmered in his hatred, remembering suddenly that he swore a long time ago to return to that village, and kill them all. He bit his lip, still moving around subtly enough to not be noticed, hoping to escape the binding that held him. Without Hidetsu, Zeto was literally powerless, his own kekkegenkai lost to him. He needed to feel his brother's presence, to feel his brother's chakra, and infuse it into his own.

And then, as if in response to Zeto's unspoken pleas, the elder twin could suddenly feel the radiating warmth of his sibling's yin-chakra, the gentleness of it reaching out to his own yang-chakra, drawn to it through a force that was nothing less than magnetic.

Knowingly, Zeto smiled secretively, the expression unseen as his head was hung forward, and his long, white hair hid his face from view; this vicious smirking was in response to Hidetsu's approach, the elder twin knowing his brother was there moments before three sharp knocks at the door rang out for the men present to hear.

"Who the hell is that?," one man growled as he trampled toward the door in a stomping, agitated gait.

The seconds passed in a tense, breathless vortex of time; Zeto counted them to himself, absorbing his sibling's nearby chakra, and infusing it inside himself in order to harness his own genetic birthright. He dared not move as one man closed the distance between himself and the door, but as that man halted, and the skin of his fingertips could be heard barely tapping against the doorframe, Zeto quickly began to sink his own bodily cells into the chair he had been bound to, disappearing from sight before anybody even knew he was gone.

With a slow, gritty sound, the door was casually opened, only for the men within the room to lay their eyes on the image of their prisoner waiting just beyond the threshold. Gleeful, yellow eyes indulged in their shock as a grin spread across Hidetsu's impish countenance, and he greeted his enemies with joyful malice, crying out, "Helloooo!"

In disbelieving shock, one, or perhaps both of the men, turned their heads to look back in the direction of where they previously had Zeto bound, thinking it completely impossible that he could have been right there, bound to that chair when the knocking came about, and not be there now, but rather, outside the door.

But, as impossible as it seemed, Zeto had indeed vanished, and now stood in the doorway, mocking them with a smile on his face.

The men hurriedly, albeit clumsily, produced weapons from sheaths at their hips. The man who they assumed was 'Zeto', however, did not stick around long enough to allow them to swing at him, choosing, instead, to leap up onto the roof, disappearing again with a tricky laugh to chorus his quick and cat-like movements.

Unlike a shinobi, the man atop the roof could not disguise or hide the sound of his footsteps, and as he bolted across the roof, the men inside the building followed along, directly beneath. When one thought he could not possibly miss the cunning trickster, and hoping to keep him from escaping, he thrust his sword up through the low ceiling, piercing the structure, and hopefully impaling the man running along the rooftop.

All fell silent. The men assumed that the target had been struck, and the proud victor pulled his blade back, only for the smile on his face to quickly fade away; there was no blood staining the sharp weapon.

"You missed him!," one man growled at the other, enraged in thinking that their bounty had now slipped through their fingers.

"Looking for me?," came a voice from behind one of the men, as if spoken by a ghost who had simply materialized where it now stood.

Both villagers faced the voice, finding, in shock, that the captured Zeto now stood among them once again. As well, where he had been previously disarmed, he now tightly clutched his weapon in hand, glaring at them with yellow eyes that dripped with bloodlust. He spared them not even a single moment to wonder how he could have pulled off this wonderful vanishing and reappearing act, though he wasn't even a ninja; he cared little for praise and amazement.

Zeto did not hesitate. In rebuke for all that had happened in such a short period of time, he let his blade fly through the air that separated the other men from him, cutting them down and swiftly ending their lives. The blood from the one fatal blow splashed upon the young male's cheek, and he stared down at the lifeless bodies at his feet, not even wiping away the crimson droplets as they slowly dripped down his pale skin.

"Are they dead yet, brother?," called another voice from the doorway, in a coy, amused tone. Zeto turned to face Hidetsu, who was standing there, waiting for him with relief glimmering from deep within his identical eyes.

The elder twin nodded to his sibling, and finally wiped the blood from his face. Hidetsu began toward his brother, looking him over from top to bottom, to make sure he wasn't hurt.

"Are you alright?," Hidetsu whispered, placing his hand tenderly on his brother's shoulder.

Again, Zeto nodded, but otherwise spoke no response to his twin's question. Instead, his first words to Hidetsu were of his gratitude. "Thank you, brother," Zeto quietly uttered, his tone softly sincere, "you risked your life coming here. I'm grateful to you at the same time that I wish I hadn't put you into this situation at all."

"Stop that," Hidetsu quickly snapped, raising that hand from his sibling's shoulder to be placed delicately over his lips. "Any danger that you face, Zeto, I face as well. You are part of me that I cannot lose, that I simply cannot do without. You know that."

As Hidetsu's fingertips were removed, Zeto nodded to his twin's words, agreeing, saying, 'right,' and nothing more. Instead, the elder of the two brothers choose another important subject to mention.

"Hidetsu.. Cover yourself up quickly," Zeto instructed, referring to the cloak and mask that his twin normally wore to conceal his identity. Ever since the two brothers had become part of the bandit group years ago, Hidetsu's appearance had been kept secret, erasing his identity over time, so that only Zeto existed. This served to keep Hidetsu, the weaker of the pair, from gaining any negative attention. As a secondary purpose, it was used as a method of confounding and misleading enemies in desperate situations.

The tattered, black cloak was produced quickly from a bag that was strapped over Hidetsu's shoulder, hanging at his hip. He donned his eternal disguise, questioning his brother as he did so, finally succumbing to his curiosity concerning how Zeto had even been captured. "What happened, brother?"

A sigh escaped from the very bottom of Zeto's lungs, and he spoke in a low, disheartened voice as he moved toward the door, peeking out to make sure things looked clear outside. "The Boss is dead.."

"What?!," Hidetsu hissed in shock.

"There were shinobi. They caught us by surprise. They killed the boss, and most of our group ran, so it has probably splintered off into smaller groups. They might have all been captured or killed by now.. There's no way to really know," Zeto calmly explained, though his heart felt as if it sank lower with each word. For both he and his brother, one mishap had completely destroyed the only way of life either of them had ever known. "Also, I heard my captors speaking before you showed up. Apparently, our old village has placed a bounty on me."

Hidetsu clung to his sibling's side, his frame shaking with worry as he spoke, his voice trembling nervously. "We should leave this area."

Zeto took in his frightened sibling's words, having already considered this option, himself. His yellow eyes glared ahead, into nothing, burning with inner rage that he could not ignore. He shook his head to Hidetsu, denying his brother's request.

"I want to stay for a bit longer. We can gather some supplies, then leave in a few days, but.. I'm going to settle things with our old village first."

:: ::

Night blackened the dense, concealing forest walls, walls built of old trees who stood quietly watching everything, the wise witnesses of all that had happened in this unforgiving wilderness. How much death and destruction had these silent pillars watched over the years, without even flinching? Could they predict the future of two, young brothers with the experience they had collected throughout the passage of decades?

Zeto stared out into the abyss of the forest, unshaken by the creaks and constant movement that echoed from the darkness beyond the soft illumination of a campfire. He knew the sounds of the forest very well; he could spot the difference between wild creatures of the night, and stalking, sneaky human beings. All seemed safe, for now. He and his brother hadn't been spotted after escaping the village where he had been held prisoner. Nobody noticed them at all.

The older twin shifted his gaze over to see Hidetsu quietly watching him. His mask lay forgotten at his side, though his hood was still pulled over his head. The glow of the fire played across Hidetsu's identical features, twinkling in the yellow depths of his eyes as he observed his older sibling.

"You should sleep," Zeto urged, knowing that his brother couldn't have gotten very much rest since the chaos that occurred last night. "I'll take first watch."

Hidetsu's hooded head was given a gentle shake, denying his brother's request. "It's alright.. I'm not tired. You can sleep, if you need to."

Zeto, as well, denied that he needed sleep yet, shaking his head right back at his brother. "I have too much on my mind to get to sleep."

The two were unable to meet any resolution concerning the need for rest. Zeto remained stern and fixated on contemplating his plan for vengeance all through the night, whereas Hidetsu's thoughts had wandered to some place mysterious, though a smile tugged at the corners of his lips.

The older of the two watched his brother with a reserved expression that hid his curiosity. In focusing hard enough, he felt that he could form a mental link with his brother and interpret his thoughts as if they shared one mind.

Hidetsu had hidden his worries away in the back of his mind; his heart had been torn apart with stress from the night previous, knowing that something terrible had happened to keep his twin from returning from the raid. Now he sat alongside his beloved Zeto, aware that his sibling still desired revenge on that wretched village that banished them years ago; this came with further worry that something even worse could threaten Zeto all over again.

The younger of the two didn't wish to spend precious time pondering the possibility of something disastrous. Instead, he found himself remembering that he and his brother had been banished from the herb village, because their clan was marked for execution, and the herb village wanted no association with them. There was one other thing that contributed, however, or so that was how Hidetsu remembered it.

Their parents had left the twins in the care of the village leader and his family. Then, one night, the family discovered a strange act that commonly occurred between the twins. And this is where Hidetsu found his own thoughts to be humorously ironic; the brothers had been punished for actions that they still enacted commonly, and as one twin plotted revenge on that village, the other contemplated initiation of the very forbidden thing that got them banished in the first place.

At the very least, it would serve to leave one of them submitting to the physical demand for sleep, by the time they finished.

Hidetsu moved over to his brother, touching him as casually, as naturally as one would touch themself. They moved together without need for thought, or words; it was pure instinct. Their bodies came to be as closely pressed to one another as they surely had been as they developed inside their mother's womb, like one soul split into two identical people.

With hands that guided one another, one set desperately uncovered just enough of Hidetsu's backside, as another came to withdraw Zeto from his pants, and those hands tugged each other closer and closer, until they were one.

:: ::

"..Zeto.. Don't do this. It isn't worth it," whispered the shadowy, cloaked figure standing just at arm's length behind Zeto. Zeto did not yet turn his head to face his concealed sibling's worried voice. Instead, he stared off into the distance of the trail that would lead him to his old village.

The vengeful elder twin's fiery, yellow eyes stared, as if he could see through the twisted forest, straight down into the valley of the Herb village; He glared with all of his merciless fury, the hatred brimming just beneath the glassy, yellow surface.

Eventually, Zeto turned back to his brother, who was not only cloaked, but shadowed by the trees of the old forest that stood reaching toward the sky, and blocking out the early morning sun. The older male was confident in himself, in his ability to destroy a village of people who weren't even shinobi; despite that, he still wished to look upon his brother, as if this may be his very last chance.

The morning air was still, and cold, and soft puffs of steam came out from behind Hidetsu's parted lips as he breathed in a slow, calm manner. Zeto found that his younger twin's reserve was merely an act, however, as he brushed the hood back to reveal Hidetsu's face, masked in a worried, apprehensive expression. The boy's pale brows tugged together, wrinkling the skin between, and his yellow eyes were glassed with worried tears that Hidetsu simply did not allow to be shed.

To comfort his beloved brother, Zeto pulled him into a warm embrace, holding him tightly, until he could feel Hidetsu's heart beating against him. For a moment, the older male remained silently in this comforting repose, but he held firmly to his resolve in his mind, knowing that he could not do as his brother wished. Because of this, he did not want to allow Hidetsu to be deceived, even for the shortest second, and Zeto uttered his words of determination quietly to Hidetsu as he held his brother close.

"Don't worry about me, Hidetsu.. I've grown up raiding villages and killing without cause or reason, and I've yet to be killed for it. This time I have a real purpose for my actions, and I will succeed without fail, and after that, I will come back to you, and we won't ever look back. We'll live as our clan once did, and our lives will be peaceful.

Softly, Hidetsu shook his head, unable to look at his brother, nor believe his words. "You've always had Boss and our allies to watch after you in the past. This time, you're all alone," the younger twin's hands raised, and tightened possessively into his sibling's tunic. "The danger is far too great.."

With a long, deep sigh, Zeto reached up, laying his hands overtop of Hidetsu's, and he held onto them tightly for a few passing seconds. Then, he tugged Hidetsu's hands away from his clothes, and pressed them down away from himself, refusing to listen to his brother's pleas.

"I'm sorry..," Zeto whispered, "but I have to do this."

The older male turned on heel, and started down the path that would lead him to his old village, the village he was sworn to rain Hell upon, allowing them to feel the pain of his life for a short time before he killed every last one of them, as payment for their wrongdoings.

Hidetsu, reluctantly, let his sibling slip away, watching Zeto in silence as he vanished into the forest.

:: ::

'This was just like all the other times,' Zeto had told himself, 'Nothing has changed.'

The teen was unaware of whether he meant the Herb Village, or his intent. Surely, the village itself looked exactly as he remembered it, when last his eyes looked upon it. His intentions, similar to all the bandit raids in his past, was to synthesize the chaos he had grown up in, and it was there that he would make himself at home once again.

Zeto found himself dreadfully lucky as he managed to escape the sight of a small band of shinobi as they left from the Herb Village. Shinobi constantly traveled into this particular village, because the villagers specialized in natural medicine, and healing that the ghosts just couldn't replicate; For this reason, Zeto didn't worry. The shinobi had no business with him, so far as he knew, and they didn't waste their time on minuscule bounties.

Once the shinobi were well away, the blood-thirsty teenager jumped to perch, unnoticed, upon one of the village's wooden, fortifying walls. Though the land enclosed by the walls seemed great, it was a large space of communal farmland, with a tiny area of homes sectioned off to one side. Quite honestly, the villages setup made Zeto's attack far too easy.

Though the boy had come armed with a large jug of flammable oils, he made his way down to the massive fields that were the center of the village, thinking of what an extraordinary inferno the dried field could create. He ducked himself among a tall, shriveled crop that had dried out, still standing, like a wall, despite having its fruits already harvested. It was likely set to be cut down this very morning so the field could be planted anew, but the white-haired bandit smirked to himself, knowing the villagers wouldn't get that chance.

The slightest spark set fire to the entire field, serving to block the village off from the gate in their own fortifying wall, and locking them all inside the inferno. The heat, and embers that quickly rose up from the blaze drove Zeto onward; he had been thrust early-on into the searing flames and bloodshed of village raids and he had grown from boyhood to manhood braving walls of fire, and keeping his thoughts in order among chaos of panic and the noise of terrified human beings using their last breath of life in screams of horror.

It was all so comforting and familiar; that, along with the knowledge that this was the vengeance he'd been envisioning bitterly since this village had banished he and his twin- It pulled his lips tight with a dreadful smirk.

As the fire he'd set himself closed in around him, Zeto at last burst from his cover. He hadn't been nervously second-guessing himself or hiding, he simply held no fear in his heart for the pain that came from heat licking at his flesh and he'd been busily looking for a sturdy enough cane amongst the field, even as it burned. This cane became a makeshift torch; it was held firmly in one hand, while Hidetsu trickled a path of flammable oils from the inferno that had already began to char the farmland to blackened cinders. The white-haired apparition bolted toward the homes of the villagers, a path of fire following at his heels, as though he spawned it from hell beneath his feet.

Zeto leapt atop the first house he came to, looking back to see that the fire had chased him here and was just barely nipping at the wood construction in its path, the oils feeding the flame sizzling all the while. Next, Zeto turned his maddened yellow gaze to the people who were already rushing about below him in confusion.

'Why had our farmland just erupted in a wall of hellish orange light and blackened smoke?', they must have been wondering. Many reacted in panic, and some concentrated on trying to put the fire out, foolishly not questioning why it had even occurred. But some of the villagers had noticed the boy standing aloft, far above them. Nervous stares lifted to the figure holding a torch as he proudly incriminated himself.

And in a moment of pure pleasure, the teenage bandit fondly noted that he could hear the sound of his own name being uttered from behind the lips of the villagers in dread, and he laughed aloud, before letting his torch be lowered to the roof on which he stood.

From here, Zeto took not another pause. He had all the drive he needed, and the adrenalin rushed through his veins like a high, pure madness. He jumped with cat-like grace from one rooftop to the next, spilling oil and lighting fires with dutiful determination.

He would burn this village to the ground, and take as many lives as he needed to feel satisfied, and it was unlikely that there was any satisfaction to be had until he was sure that he'd destroyed this wretched place beyond reconstruction. It was all these vile cowards deserved for standing to the wayside while his clan was butchered, and for sending he and his brother off to their deaths when they were but children.

Below, pure chaos erupted, surrounded by the blaze. The villagers scrambled in utter, panicked terror, unsure where to run, ignorant to the fact that they had nowhere to go, or if there was anything they could do to save their pathetic little lives. Zeto, too, was now entrapped as he leapt down from the last roof in line to be set aflame, and he wildly bashed at any villager within his reach with the flaming cane he'd used to spread the fire, letting the jar of oils crash upon the ground, into a lake of inferno.

The enraged bandit nimbly darted away as his flame of hate and vengeance spread about the town streets, and he at last drew his sword from his back, relishing the first impact of the blade against flesh, and the scream that tore from his victim, chorusing the cries of pain from the villagers who had foolishly been captured in his fire trap.

But as much as he wished to savor this moment, time was of the essence, and in order to make sure that none of the villagers escaped, Zeto darted with great haste toward any movement that caught his eye, swinging his blade for fatal blows, sparing as little thought of consequence as he did mercy.

Meanwhile, back at the camp, Hidetsu was tidying up the area in preparation to leave the country entirely, distracting himself from all of his nervousness concerning his twin sibling. He'd been lucky enough to find a horse that had strayed and had been wandering from the night before, and he packed supplies onto the back of the ebony beast, though it snorted in complaint.

Even beneath his mask, Hidetsu did not fail to notice how the ears of the horse suddenly rotated in the direction Zeto had departed from, the direction of the path that led to the Herb village. The worrisome, younger twin was on edge as he awaited his brother's return, each minute feeling as though it lasted an eternity, especially now that he and his sibling were meant to be on the run. He was anxious to know his brother was safe, and anxious to be on his way, and with a heart full of hope, as well as nervousness, the cloaked, masked bandit warily sauntered a few paces down the path, glancing around for any sight of Zeto.

But even after the young bandit turned a full circle, he did not spy his brother, and was suddenly left in an eerie silence that seemed far too quiet.

"Brother?," called a trembling voice, having only enough time to utter that single word before a trio of shinobi descended from the foliage above, surrounding him.

Hidetsu took a surprised swing at the ghost standing suddenly before him, but the shinobi easily blocked his measly punches, and shoved him back into the clutches of the rest of the ninja squad. He struggled in vain, the two trained shinobi grasping him from behind and restraining him as though he were nothing.

The two holding the young bandit from behind tore the hood down from over his head, and then, in a careful, precise movement, the shinobi standing before Hidetsu removed the mask from over his face. Still flailing, in refusal to give up, though he was plainly already defeated, the boy turned his head away, his white hair falling in disarray over his countenance, obscuring it from vision. However, the shinobi grasped the boy harshly, taking a handful of his shiny, colorless locks, and he yanked Hidetsu's head forward, getting a good look at his face, looking the boy dead in his enraged, yet fearful, yellow eyes.

"This is the one the village has a bounty on," the shinobi addressed his squad in a plain, emotionless tone, speaking of the boy they had captured as though he were nothing but an animal, as though he couldn't hear the cold, clinical tones, devoid of human emotion. These people were indeed less than human; it must have been just another reason that bandits called all shinobi 'ghosts'.

"This is Zeto," the shinobi reiterated, confirming their success, as they'd obviously come searching for the sole purpose of capturing Zeto.

And though the shinobi were incorrect, and they had captured an entirely different person from whom they'd been searching, Hidetsu spoke not a word to deny that he was who they were looking for, choosing instead to kick in begrudging fury, spitting at the shinobi's face like a wild, venomous snake, earning himself an offended slap across his pale cheek before he was dragged away.

Back, just outside the Herb Village, the true Zeto had traced a path through the woods in the opposite direction of his camp. He had fled the village when a band of shinobi came to investigate the chaos, the goodie-goodie ghosts using their ninjutsu powers to stifle the flames, much to Zeto's dismay. Though it left him with a feeling of incompletion concerning his urge to destroy the Herb Village, the fires did make for the perfect distraction, so that the small group of shinobi failed to notice him making his retreat.

The elder twin still smirked secretly to himself, however; he could recall there being a playground just a short walk away from the village, through the forest. A tiny deertrail was the marked path which children of the Herb Village followed when they scampered off to play, outside the village and beyond the watchful eyes of their parents. Zeto's feet quietly pattered along the trail worn into the earth below his feet as he hurried toward the place where he knew he would find more victims; he hadn't succeeded in completely destroying the village, but he well intended to destroy any chance for a future it might have had.

As the blood-soaked bandit walked into the clearing, his eyes danced over the familiarity of the swings, slides, teeter-totters, and a merry-go-round occupied by joyfully laughing children, all spinning round and round, unaware of the danger lurking nearby.

Zeto observed the park, thinking back to yet another time when children scampered about, happily playing without a care in the world. But he also recalled two young boys who sat side by side on the swings, their feet absently kicking at the dirt beneath their sandals, their swings moving in perfect unison. He knew that these two brothers stayed by one another, certain somehow that they were not part of this village, that they did not belong here, and a time would come when everyone else knew it as well.

And now they would know the truth of it more than ever, as well as the undeniable fact that this tragedy was one of their own creation, one that they had set into motion when they mercilessly sent those two boys to their death. For one instant, Zeto was almost glad that some of those villagers had managed to escape his wrath; he was glad because somebody would live to discover why this all had happened, and somebody would have to explain the reason behind all the carnage, all the slaughter.

With a sadistic smile, Zeto set upon the playground. Just as easily as he had cut down adult villagers, he drew his katana on the unsuspecting children. One or two adults were present, and they ran at Zeto upon hearing the first agonizing screams of the village youth as their short lives were abruptly ended, but they stood no chance against bandit boy, who'd grown up thrust into violence, all because of the people he now laid to waste.

When not a single soul was left alive, Zeto felt an undeniable sense of accomplishment. His hands were soaked in blood, so he sheathed his katana, and wiped his blood-spattered cheek against his sleeve. He knew better than to dawdle now; it was certain that the remaining villagers or even the shinobi that had shown up would be pursuing him soon, so he hurried off into the forest, off toward the campsite where he'd left his twin sibling to wait for him.

:: ::

"Hidetsu!," the bandit boy called out as he arrived back at the camp. He carefully descended from the foliage, having leapt through the cover of the trees in order to keep himself concealed, as well as to better cover his tracks as he escaped.

The young bandit had bypassed a small stream on his way back; he'd washed the blood from his hands and face, though stray spatters still stained his clothes here and there. Despite having lived a life of killing for no other reason than because he was told to do so, he felt that now he was meant to leave that all behind, to start anew, and for that reason, he had made an effort to appear cleansed when he approached his sibling. He made an effort to appear as though he fully intended to start as new life with his brother, instead of looking like a bloodthirsty madman.

"Hidetsu?," Zeto called again, thinking his brother had simply hidden out of nervousness, after perhaps hearing him coming.

But as Zeto stood looking at the emptied campsite, and at a tied horse that seemed to have been abandoned fully out in the open with supplies tied to his back in full readiness for a journey, Zeto couldn't help but allow a hint of suspicion to pour into his mind. What good did it do to hide, while leaving evidence of one's presence fully out in the open?

Hidetsu was efficient at making himself disappear, even without using his kekkegenkai. This was too sloppy for him. It was as if he had been interrupted amidst readying himself for Zeto's return.

Taking a deep breath as his heart suddenly beat with fearful intensity, the elder twin turned round, his observant yellow eyes flickering over the scene, over the subtle details. There were sandleprints in the dirt leading away from the previous campsite, sandleprints that belonged to Hidetsu, without a doubt. Zeto followed at a nervous pace, fearful of what lied ahead, though his gait was steady. The bandit spied a mess of furrows in the dirt, directly ahead of Hidetsu's tracks, and he swallowed dryly as he approached.

As plain as words scrawled upon a scroll, the furrows told a most plain and obvious story. Hidetsu's tracks halted suddenly; there was a circular mess in the dirt where they ended, three other sets of prints apparent, but as though belonging to a trio that had appeared out of nowhere. (Zeto glanced up, indeed spotting some damaged foliage above, from where surely shinobi had descended upon Hidetsu.) Within the circle, there were various scuffs and uneven marks. These were signs of a struggle. Then, the path continued, with three individuals walking and one individual struggling but inevitably being dragged away by the highly trained ninjas.

Then, a few paces ahead, Hidetsu's mask laid forgotten, as well as his cloak, which had either been torn from him, or he had slipped out of it whilst attempting to escape. Undeniably, the younger twin had been captured by hidden village ghosts, and was steadily being dragged back in the direction of the Herb Village.

Zeto's heart sank from his chest into his gut, his lungs frozen in apprehension and dread; he had hardly a hope of getting his brother back from three shinobi, even if he could catch up. And after the heinous act he just committed, he could only imagine what horrendous thing would be done to his brother, despite Hidetsu's innocence.

In a rush, Zeto collected the cloak and mask from the ground, pulling one article over his head as he bolted down the path, following after the shinobi. His face was then quickly concealed by the mask, and he tugged the hood of the cloak over his head, none of this slowing him from his desperate, fearful pace.

He had to help his brother. Without his twin sibling, he was incomplete, and so he had no other choice but to save Hidetsu, no matter what it took.

:: ::

The leader of the shinobi trio quickened his pace at the top of the hill. He spied great billows of grayish smoke once the squad emerged from the forest, and they decidedly hurried with great concern, having not expected to find the town they left not so long ago in ruins upon their return.

At the village gates, they came face to face with a squad of ninja from a rival village. The encounter was none too friendly, but both groups were acting in aid of the neutral village, so the two squads cooperated as best as they could manage.

The group at the gate informed the returning band that the village had been attacked, and explained that they found the village in flames, and that hundreds of bodies littered the streets. They kept their words short and to the point, with tones devoid of any emotion. Likewise, the group that had just arrived explained that the village had hired them to capture a dangerous individual, and here they flaunted the helpless bandit in their custody.

Hidetsu looked up at the other shinobi as he was shown to them like a bartering piece. His yellow eyes were steely, and empty, aside from the vague spark of curiosity he showed when he diverted his stare from the shinobi and the glimmering metal banners protecting their foreheads, to the devastation that was plain upon entrance to the village. He hadn't thought his brother was capable of such merciless brutality and destruction. It might have been revenge, but even Hidetsu had assumed that Zeto had specific targets. He was perfectly unaware that his brother simply intended to do as he once proclaimed, the very day the two were outcast.

He came to kill them all, and from the look of things, he very damn near succeeded. With so little vigor and will to go on, those who remained collected their dead, most sobbing, while some bitterly cursed, and sent livid stares in Hidetsu's direction.

The shinobi guarding the gates chuckled and commented that the supposed 'dangerous individual' looked completely harmless. To this the shinobi that had captured him simply agreed that he had been very little challenge to them, and proceeded into the village.

One of the shinobi that had been watching the gate guided the newly arrived band to the very man who was meant to take over as village leader. (He was son to the elder leader, and had little choice but to assume control in this dark hour of devastation.)

This man was young, and clearly strained after the violent attack; his mental state was delicate, having lost the entirety of his family, from his parents to his own helpless children, but despite his mourning appearance, he held himself with some degree of resolve as the shinobi were taken to him.

"We're very sorry," the leader of the shinobi squad spoke, though his voice was entirely apathetic, "we sincerely wish we could have been present during the attack, perhaps then we could have assisted. It's unfortunate."

The newly appointed leader shook his head, his sorrowful voice speaking in recollection of his childhood, "We haven't seen such violence here since the village was raided by shinobi who were hunting for a traitorous clan that had lied to us in order to hide out here. That was ten years ago."

"Again, we apologize for not being present to aid the village," came the shinobi's voice. He sounded bitterly disinterested. "However, we did capture the bounty your father hired us to pursue. If you could confirm that this boy here is Zeto.."

The new village leader turned a hardened glare to Hidetsu, and Hidetsu looked him in the face without a sign of relent. His pale face was without expression as the man examined his countenance; He remembered this man easily. This man was the son of the man who banished the brothers from this village, the man who caught the brothers in their forbidden, intimate acts. The one who looked upon Hidetsu now was just a boy back then, though older than the twins, and while Hidetsu remembered him, he had obviously forgotten Hidetsu, or at least, that Zeto had a twin.

"This is Zeto," he confirmed. "This is the one who attacked our village not even an hour ago."

Of this minor detail, the shinobi had been unaware. It did serve to cause a wave of confusion among the group, however, which was clear as the trio exchanged puzzled glances. "..we caught this man about an hour ago. An hour away from here."

"He has some unique form of trickery that he uses consistently to escape. He had been captured by a nearby village just the other night, yet he managed to get away, even after being bound and having his weapons taken away. I cannot explain how he does what he does, but I can tell you without a single doubt, this is the man that killed my family, and hundreds of people from my village." The new leader came closer, fixing his glare even harder on Hidetsu's face. "I saw him close up while he was here. I looked right into those demonic, fire-colored eyes. It's him."

"Then we will leave him in your custody to do with what you will," the shinobi leader relented.

"Could you and your squad stay just a while longer?," the new leader asked, "We intend to execute this dangerous and slippery character immediately. We could use your help in making sure he doesn't pull any of his trickery in order to escape his punishment. It will be done quickly for that reason, and for the sake of giving those of us who remain alive some sense of closure. Many of us have lost loved ones today. Justice for those who've died is the only thing that can begin the process of healing."

In wake of the horror this village had endured, the shinobi group agreed with ease.

:: ::

Zeto's desperate bolt back in the direction of the Herb Village ended the moment he got near enough to observe that shinobi had been posted at the village gates. Getting caught hardly mattered to him, really. Dying hardly mattered to him. All that mattered was making sure he got his brother out of this mess, no matter what happened to him in the process.

The young bandit easily found a way into the village without being noticed. The fortifying wall had been burned in a few different places, and the villagers were too busy counting their losses to pay any attention. They all went about assuming the storm was over.

Somehow, the masked bandit found that he could blend in without a challenge. Not much attention was placed on him, and even so, villagers must have assumed he was a shinobi. Hidetsu's mask had been taken off of a dead ninja, and with multiple bands of shinobi from different villages present, it made the perfect disguise, not that Zeto gave it much thought. He was too lost in his own dread, his own fear; he knew his brother was here, yet he couldn't feel his chakra. Hidetsu's lifeforce usually called out to Zeto. It drew him in like a magnetic force, but now.. there was no pull. There wasn't anything.

The masked teen slowly, warily walked toward the village square. He carried himself as though he belonged here, as if he weren't the one who caused the devastation each person around him was facing. Beneath his pretenses, however, his heart was jumping, pounding so hard that Zeto's pulse rang in his ears like a war drum.

Not so far away, he noticed a gathering of villagers. (He hadn't thought he'd left so many alive, but he supposed they were masters of hiding like filthy cowards.) The young male panted beneath the stifling mask, his breath filtering in quick, anxious puffs so that the warm humidity collected against his cheeks. He walked toward the gathering at a steady pace, faster than he could muster his courage, tears stinging at the corners of his eyes as he came closer, close enough to see a tall, wooden frame standing high above the crowd, and a pair of delicate wrists tied harshly to the top beam.

He stopped, and turned away. His hands lifted to touch the mask over his face, his roughened fingers blotting out what little light came through the eyeslits. His chest seized, frozen. His gut almost turned. He could barely breathe. Still, he turned back around, finding some courage deep inside himself to continue onward.

The young male's vision was blurred and glassy, but from the back of the crowd, he could see his brother hanging from the tall, wooden frame. Zeto could see Hidetsu's arms stretched above his head, bound to the top of the wooden frame, his weight pulling against his rope-bound wrists until they bled. His legs dangled, his feet unable to touch the ground, even as they hung bonelessly, blood seeping down his legs and dripping from his toes into two conjoined puddles beneath him. Hidetsu's white hair was an unrecognizable mess of red, and his head fell so lifelessly that the teen's chin pressed into his collarbones. His pale, naked flesh was battered, bruised, and welted from beating sticks and stones that he had been pelted with. Great, uneven patches of sickly violet discoloration collected around the boy's abdomen, and neck, proof of his internal injuries, but he showed no sign that he was capable of feeling any pain.

Hidetsu was delicate. He was tender and soft, and gentle. His body wasn't capable of withstanding much punishment, and as a result... he was stone cold dead. It must have taken so little to destroy him, to take his life.

"It looks horrible, but I'm sure you shinobi see these kinds of things every day," a man spoke as he came to stand at Zeto's side. Zeto glanced in the man's direction, surprised by the sudden sound of a voice breaking the echo of astounded, sickening silence in his ears.

"..who was he?," Zeto asked warily.

"He was a bandit by the name of Zeto," the man answered. "He was banished from this village as a child, about ten years ago, and I guess he joined up with some bandits. I don't think anybody really knows why he was banished, but it must have left him pretty sour, because he is responsible for what happened here. As punishment, we all stoned him to death."

Zeto bit his lip bitterly, his tears finally spilling down his cheeks beneath his mask. Hidetsu.. He didn't even deny being the one they were after. He didn't confess that his twin brother was responsible. Hidetsu quietly took the sentence for Zeto's vengeance, protecting his brother, whereas Zeto ignored his pleas to leave, obsessed with revenge.

This was all his fault.. his brother was dead, and it was all because of him.

"You're a fool," Zeto muttered in a deep, enraged growl, glaring at the man from behind his mask. "The bandit Zeto had a twin brother by the name of Hidetsu." Zeto raised his hand to point at the lifeless body of his brother hanging before him. "That boy is Hidetsu. Hidetsu wasn't the one responsible for the massacre here, but Hidetsu is the one you people have killed for it."

In shock, the man spoke up in a puzzled tone to the masked man he assumed to be a shinobi,"How could you possibly know that?"

With a movement that was shockingly abrupt, and too sudden for the eye to properly follow, Zeto tore the hood from his head, and the mask from over his face, glaring at the man before him, as well as the rest of the villagers who still stood, red-handed, before Hidetsu's lifeless body. "Because I'm Zeto!," he declared, brandishing the katana hidden from beneath his cloak, its metallic ring sending the crowd into a panic.

Zeto's yellow eyes traced every little movement with much more madness than he could have mustered before; before he killed for vengeance, and he dared to feel the morbid joy of slaughtering these selfish traitors. Now, his heart and soul were torn in sorrow. He cared not whether he lived or died, which made him more dangerous than ever, and he had even greater reason to spill every single villagers' blood here and now.

Unfortunately, this time, he was met with shinobi opposition, which he plainly knew he could not stand against. One passing second of clarity reminded the boy to cling to his life, to live on for the sake of making sure he saw this debt repaid. The words of warning were muddled in the chaos of his mind, however, and he refused to run. Not yet, anyway.

Even as shinobi closed in around him, Zeto jumped back from a barrage of shuriken, but he did not run. Instead, he jumped and climbed up the wooden frame where his brother was bound, hacking the ropes from around Hidetsu's wrists, and clinging to his twin's body as it fell. Still, he was mercilessly assaulted with more shuriken and kunai, all of them meeting their mark this time since he could no longer dodge, but the most sound that came from him was a muffled gasp of pain at the feeling of blades puncturing his flesh.

Somehow, against impossible odds, Zeto shoved his way around any who stood in his path, slashing wildly with one arm, while he balanced his brother's limp body over his shoulder. He escaped somewhat gracelessly over the fortifying wall before he realized that the shinobi had simply let him go.

The hidden village soldiers knew these sorts of incidents all too well. The newly appointed village leader maybe fretted at their village's antagonist escaping to do further harm another day, but the shinobi had far surpassed the mandate of the missions they'd been paid for, and they saw this entire situation as a problem created by the village, by their foolishness. They gave birth to this demon, and it was theirs to handle.

One shinobi spoke in his defense that perhaps the one responsible for the village's destruction hadn't died, but instead, he was now suffering the same loss as the villagers, and leaving him to let those wounds fester was surely more painful than the release of death.

:: ::

He didn't even know where he was. He didn't care. The young bandit laid upon the freshly shifted dirt of his beloved brother's grave, his fingers slowly tightening in the loose soil, squeezing it, then releasing, tearing at the earth with dirty, beaten hands.

The boy sobbed, but weakly, having hardly enough strength left to force out of himself. His back and legs ached, deep wounds dotting his flesh and weeping blood to accompany his tears.

Night had fallen over the land, and clouds had rolled in to create the illusion of early sunset. The darkness surrounded and engulfed the broken boy. He felt that he would die soon; the slumber of ill fatigue began to fall over him, bringing with it haunting whispers that rang quietly deceptive in Hidetsu's voice.

'..I know we'll never be parted. We're meant to be together, forever..'

The echo of conversations past shook Zeto from the grasp of sleep, threatening to force him to remain wakeful until his heart simply refused to beat.

They were meant to be together. Always. Zeto without Hidetsu was only one half of a person. He was incomplete without the one who was born beside him. He could not go on. That was how he knew his end was nigh.

With a single rumble of moaning thunder, the clouds resigned themselves to sorrow, and wept their heaviest, most mournful rain down onto the forest. In a mindless, broken trance, Zeto stood, and wandered off into the darkness, with only one destination in mind; the afterlife.

He prayed to soon find himself once more at his brother's side.

:: ::

"...brother...," a distant voice called out.

"Brother," came the voice again, nearer this time.

"Brother," the voice spoke with gentle persistence, until very slowly, Zeto's white lashes raised just enough for the glimmering yellow of his eyes to be seen. He looked up, curious, wondering whose voice it was that he was hearing.

"Hidetsu..?," Zeto answered weakly. The young bandit had wandered, delirious, through the forest, exposed to the cold and the rain. He had lost a significant amount of blood, and hadn't a clue as to how much time had passed. He hardly was even aware of where he was now, or if he was even alive any longer.

Peering up with sore, swollen eyes, sensitive from endless weeping, Zeto squinted at the image before him. Bright light glared from behind somebody who was bent over him, looking down at him with concern. As the white rays from above shone over the figure, his hair shimmered a vibrant white, and hung over his pale, perfect skin, and his eyes like glittering, yellow jewels.

"...Hidetsu?," Zeto bid once more, his voice soft and pleading. However, as he attempted to reach up to the one crouched over him, his hand weak and trembling, his eyes adjusted to the sun's glaring light, and he realized the one looking down on him was but a shadow in comparison to his former vision. The bandit's blurred eyes refocused to observe a young, but war-hardened male, whose face was sweet but masked with apathy forced upon him by years of bloodshed. This young man indeed had a most porcelain complexion, but his hair framed his countenance in messy, inky black, as dark as night, the same as his concerned, yet distant stare.

This man wore the emotionless mask of a shinobi. Zeto was far-too aware, even in a state of half-consciousness.

"Brother!," the young shinobi spoke in a smooth, sweet voice that was just as devoid of true emotion as his face; he was clearly calling out to somebody else present, not addressing Zeto. "Brother, I found a young boy. He seems weak, but he's alive."

The slow, but steady sound of footsteps rang clear from some place nearby, coming ever nearer. This person's gait was sure and he walked without any real attempt to conceal the sound of his sauntering. Then, like the shadow of a giant, massive enough to eclipse the sun, another man appeared behind the one who was bent over the bandit. His body was concealed beneath the bulk of shinobi armor, the color of drying blood or fading fire, but his hair was also the same shade as the midnight sky on a moonless night.

He regarded the boy in question with the cold stare of his lightless eyes, sparing as little care as a fathomless pool of nothing. This man wasn't simply wearing the mask of shinobi apathy; the mask had become his true face.

"If you feel so much pity for him..," he spoke, addressing the one who had called him over, "..then it would be best to put him out of his misery."

"Don't be so heartless, Oniisan!," the boy crouched over Zeto half-hissed in a tone that was somehow empty of any true threat; perhaps it was friendly chastising. "..we're on our way back to Konohagakure. Why don't we just take him?"

The standing man gave Zeto another harshly observant stare, studying him and measuring him all at once. "He doesn't appear to be a shinobi," he stated in a tone that seemed empty of opinion on the matter, "..but he's probably still useless to us."

Zeto, meanwhile, was barely clinging to reality; he hardly grasped shinobi banter in such a state, and blearily mumbled to himself, shuddering in the sorrow of what reality still lingered in his mind. The death of his beloved, his Hidetsu.

"...Hidetsu.."

"Who is Hidetsu?," the one crouched near Zeto questioned in a soft, plain tone,"..you keep mentioning his name."

Zeto's yellow gaze, just barely able to look up from beneath the heaviness of his eyelids, somehow focused its last reservoir of strength and attention on the one so near him, the one speaking his brother's name. "My brother..," he uttered, his voice a mere whisper, "..they killed him."

The young, injured, and broken bandit shivered from weakness and cold, mumbling his lost sibling's name again, hardly audible as his lids became too heavy to remain open, and his head gently fell to one side.

"..the boy lost his brother, Oniisan..," the young shinobi kneeled next to the injured bandit spoke softly, the slightest hint of pity apparent, "..we can't just leave him."

There was a short silence before the kneeled male slowly turned his soft, dark eyes toward his elder sibling, casting him a pleading stare. In turn, the elder shinobi sighed in defeat, and responded in a tone still fully apathetic.

"Senjuu-san clearly has no reservations about who he allows into our village. My word matters as little to you as it does to him, so you needn't ask my permission... just bring him along, Otouto."

::

:: ::

..tbc..

::