Hey friends, back again with another update! You can really thank Loteva, maxridelover, ThriceJinxed, twinkletoast, and especially iluvinusessnar for the update:) In fact, I was going to update something else, and then I read iluvinusessnar's review, and I was like d'aw, got to update SoA!
So, here it is:) Hope you enjoy it! And if there is anyone out there who would like to beta the next chapter, please let me know:)
Chapter 36: Learn How To Die
And as my lady bounced a baby on each knee,
we formed a little village in a grove of aspen trees.
In peace we lived, for a very long time,
until refugees came again, of the old Uchiha line.
~The Third Book of Akash, Verse Two
Sakura was in Naruto's office, focusing on drawing in one shaky breath after another. Saki was at her side, supporting her mother on her shoulder; without her, Sakura would have crumpled to the floor.
"Damn it, Shino!" Naruto roared. "Are you sure the tracking seal isn't working?"
Shino took a deep breath. "Forgive me, Hokage-sama," he replied, his voice hardly audible. "It seems the seal is no longer operative."
Naruto went red in the face and turned toward the wall, trembling with anger. Sakura rose on shaky limbs, and put a hand on his back. "Naruto," she rasped, "stay calm. That's the only way we'll figure this out."
The Hokage turned to Sakura and looked like he was about to scream, but as soon as he saw Sakura's stricken expression, his rage deflated. He collapsed into a chair. "Bring me Shikamaru," he muttered to Shino. "I can't think straight right now." He shook his head slowly side to side before facing Sakura. "Sakura-chan, go home for now. Try to rest, if you can. Shikamaru and I will assemble some sort of plan, and I'll send out an entire legion of ANBU tonight to scour the countryside. We'll move out in the morning."
Sakura nodded, unable to lift her leaden gaze from the floor. Saki bit her lip as she picked up her younger brother from the floor, who was busy sticking discarded pens in his mouth. Saki removed the implements from his grubby fingers, slung him over her shoulder, and sighed. The walk home for the Uchiha family was sombre, and for once, Saki had nothing to say. Her mother dragged herself to her bedroom, leaving Saki to tuck the youngest Uchiha in for the night.
She entered Takeo's room without turning the light on and placed him in his crib.
"Ow! What the fuck!" Saki seethed, rubbing her forehead. It was too dark to see what she had just knocked into. Muttering curses under her breath, she fumbled for the light switch.
"Wow," she muttered, "that has got to be the ugliest mobile I've ever seen." She strode forward and rocked the paper mache, making the tiles bounce on their strings. Takeo cooed with delight. Saki rolled her eyes at the hideous work of art, but then, crept closer, suddenly intrigued.
"This looks like otousan's handwriting," she mused, peering at the puke-colored letters of the alphabet. "Why would otousan make something so ridiculous right before mysteriously disappearing?" She put her finger out again and sent the mobile spinning, and her eyes were accosted by bright red letters.
"Wait a minute..." Saki muttered. She activated her sharingan, and as the letters swirled above her brother's head, a word materialized from the crimson letters. Saki's eyes widened in surprise. "Mom!" she shouted, her voice high-pitched and shrill, "Mom! Come here, quick!"
Sakura stumbled into the bedroom, staring at her with bleary eyes. "Saki? What's wrong?"
Saki whirled around to face her mother. "Okaasan, who is Karin?"
"God damn it, who is trying to bust down my door in the middle of the night," Karin grumbled, pulling the covers up other her head. "Ibiki," she muttered, her voice muffled by the blankets, "go and kill whoever is knocking."
Ibiki rolled his eyes. "It's probably important, Karin-chan..."
"Fine. You go deal with it then. I'm going back to sleep."
Ibiki grinned sadistically and yanked the covers off of Karin's head. "Oi! You fucking fascist!" Karin screeched. "It's probably for you anyway—leave me out of it!"
Ibiki ignored her protests and pulled her out of bed and towards the front door. "Kami forbid if you don't get all your beauty rest—you might become ugly!" he teased.
"IBIKI!" Karin was about to let him have it, but at that moment, the Hokage, closely followed by Sakura and her children, literally burst through the door. All traces of mirth left Karin and Ibiki's faces.
"Hokage-sama!" Ibiki bowed.
"Hokage-sama," Karin called gruffly. She had nothing but respect for this man. Before he had come to office, she had basically worked as Konoha's slave, and lived (read: rotted) in prison. But after Naruto came into power, he had put her on house arrest and began paying her an extremely generous wage for her work. Though he was a bit stupid, in her opinion, she truly admired him: he was like sunshine in this village, infusing light even to the deepest and darkest corners. Her corner being no exception.
Sakura looked at Karin darkly from under her red, swollen eyelids. "Karin," Sakura called in a hoarse voice, "Sasuke has disappeared. We haven't been able to locate him via any of his seals. But before he left the village, he made a mobile with your name on it and hung it over my son's crib. Ideas?" Sakura muttered tersely.
Karin blinked. "Listen, it's the middle of the night, and I haven't the faintest idea—"
"Well," Naruto barked, striding forward and looming over her, "start getting a clue."
Karin gulped. "Of course, Hokage-sama. It's just—do you have any other information? A mobile isn't a lot to go on," she muttered.
Saki spoke up. "Karin-san," she began in a tremulous voice, "I believe that since your name was floating above my brother's crib, there must be something about Takeo that only you can understand—at least, that is what I think my otousan thinks..." Saki took a deep breath, then peered up into Karin's wide red eyes. "Okaasan told me that you are an adept sensor; I think that's what otousan wanted you to do. Please, help my little brother?" she pleaded.
Karin's gaze softened at that. She shook her head and held out her hands for the child, took Takeo in her arms, and all but ran to her small office in the back of the house. "Listen," Karin snapped over her shoulder, "I personally couldn't care less if that bastard Sasuke is in danger. I'm only helping because I owe both Sakura-san and Naruto-san a huge debt. And because your daughter, Saki, seems to be a decent kid."
Sakura nodded. She really could blame Karin for her sentiment about Sasuke, who never did apologize or even talk to his former, estranged teammate after his return to Konoha. In fact, Sakura mused, she didn't think the two had had any contact at all these past ten years. And if it weren't for Sakura's superior medical training, Karin would have died long ago of heart failure, courtesy of a lightning blade from one, Uchiha Sasuke. Sakura silently thanked Kami that she, at least, had accrued good karma points with the red-headed research and development head.
"Please forgive Karin," Ibiki murmured to their guests, "she gets...extremely grumpy when woken up in the middle of the night."
Karin snorted and pretended to ignore him, while Takeo cooed up at his new holder and pulled on her long, red hair. Karin smiled despite her foul mood and placed the child on an examination table.
"I'll go ahead and take a look at his chakra network," Karin barked, "but I can't imagine I'll find anything that either Sakura or Naruto haven't seen..." Steadying the child with her hands, she closed her eyes and activated her chakra. After a few moments, a frown firmly etched itself on Karin's pale face.
"What is it, red-head?" Naruto asked, stepping closer to the table.
"Shut up—I'm trying to concentrate," Karin muttered before ignoring him completely. If the situation hadn't been so dire, Saki might have laughed to herself; as it was, she was staring into Karin's face intently, as if she could divine what Karin was thinking. Finally Karin rose and held out the child for Sakura to take; wordlessly she deposited the toddler in her arms and marched over to her filing cabinet.
"Karin-san?" Sakura ventured.
"Shhh." The red head pulled out a thick notebook and started flipping through it; she finally found a page, read for a moment, then snapped the book shut. "Sakura, take a blood sample from your son. I have to run down to the lab and procure some slides."
"I'll take you," Naruto offered as he stepped forward, "I have a kunai stashed at your lab."
"Eh, I'm going to throw up if you hiraishin us!" Karin wailed.
Saki slapped her face— this was the genius they were seeking out for help?— while Ibiki shot Karin that look. Karin glared at Ibiki. Ibiki glared right back at Karin. After a moment, Karin finally sputtered, "Fine. We'll hiraishin there. But if I throw up on your official Hokage shoes or whatever, don't come crying to me."
Naruto grinned wanly. "It's a risk I'm willing to take, Karin."
In a moment, Naruto and Karin winked out of the room, and Sakura turned to Ibiki. "Charming as always, I see. Ibiki-san, any idea where the blood drawing equipment is?"
"Of course," he replied gruffly as he procured a syringe and a glass vial. "Please excuse Karin. She becomes extremely agitated when his name is mentioned."
Sakura blinked. "You mean...Sasuke?"
Ibiki nodded. "She would like nothing better than to kick him in the nuts until his balls fell off. And I don't blame her."
"Ibiki! My daughter is standing right here."
Ibiki shrugged. Saki chirped, "It's okay okaasan, dad can be a real ass. He probably did something really rude to Karin-san. What, is Sasuke like an ex-boyfriend of hers?"
"Saki!" Sakura yelped in horror.
Ibiki merely chuckled. "Smart kid. Maybe you'll join the interrogation unit when you've grown, half pint; we can always use sharp minds in the Torture Force."
Saki bowed. "Thanks Ibiki-san, but I was really looking to go into something that combined espionage and medical skills..."
Ibiki clapped the youngster on the back. "But you see, you can combine those two talents perfectly in the Torture and Interrogation Force. For example..."
Sakura shook her head and ignored the other two as she drew blood from Takeo. He whimpered, but otherwise was extremely well behaved, considering. Just as she finished corking the vial, and as Ibiki was talking about the delights of using medical jutsu to torture enemy ninja, Naruto and Karin flashed back in. Karin looked green in the face and was hanging onto Naruto for dear life.
"Gah! I hope you appreciate what I'm doing, Naruto! Being woken up in the middle of the night, thrown about via nauseating jutsu— I see a pay raise in my near future," she grumbled as she steadied herself against the table. Regaining her composure as best as she could, she uncovered a microscope and began gazing at slides.
"Blood," Karin gestured with her free hand towards Sakura, without removing her red eyes from the lens of the microscope. Admiring Karin's focus, Sakura handed her the small vial of blood, which was quickly poured onto a slide and examined by the squinting researcher. "Sakura, come take a look at this." Karin finally met her gaze and gestured for her to look at the slide.
Slowly, Sakura approached the microscope and observed the blood. "It looks like the white blood cell count is low..." Sakura murmured. But there was something else too, something that looked familiar—but what was it?
Wordlessly, Karin switched out the slide of Takeo's blood for another. Sakura squinted and increased the magnification of the microscope. "This looks quite similar to the previous slide. Whose blood is this?"
Karin leaned against the wall and folded her arms across her chest. "Gomakashi. That fucking zombie that tried to decapitate me in the lab the other week."
"What?!" Sakura's head whipped up from the microscope to stare at Karin. Everyone else in the room was silent as Karin slid Takeo's slide next to Gomakashi's. "Sakura, keep looking. I'm about to activate the blood with chakra. Watch what happens." Sakura looked on in horror as both samples of blood began bubbling; the remaining white blood cells died on each slide, and then a purpled substance rose to the top of each.
"This is that poison..." Sakura whispered. "But how did my son...?"
"That isn't important right now," Karin snapped. "We need to administer the antidote to your son." She whirled around to regard everyone else in the room. "And we need to test everyone else to see if they've been infected by the virus, before this thing spreads like plague."
Itachi nodded approvingly as Yuki demonstrated her knowledge of the new jutsu. "Good," he murmured, "I think you know the jutsu well."
Yuki exhaled sharply, then channeled chakra into her palms to mend her broken, bleeding skin. "Thank you, Itachi-san." She rose, a bit wobbly on her feet, and asked, "What do I need to do next?"
He smiled at that. "You are eager to learn, and that is good. But the next part of the journey is difficult..."
"What are we going to do?"
"We're going to awaken your mangekyo sharingan."
Yuki blinked. "Em...it's already activated."
"No," Itachi shook his head, "you have my old mangekyo, which will come into play when we use the jutsu I just taught you. But you'll need the kind of mangekyo that Aya possesses if you want to be able to travel inter-dimensionally."
At the mention of her name, Aya materialized from the aether. She bowed politely to Itachi and then turned to Yuki. "Are you ready, Yuki-chan?"
"Sure, but I don't know what I'm ready for..." Yuki spread her hands out, palms up, in a gesture of surrender. "Am I supposed to have two mangekyo sharingan or something? That just seems like overkill to me... I don't even want a mangekyo at all, let alone two!"
Aya and Itachi shared a look. "It's more like a modification on your current mangekyo," Aya finally replied. "And in order to achieve it..."
"You are going to have to die," Itachi finished for her.
Yuki's face turned ashen. "W-What...?"
Aya rolled her eyes. "Itachi, that was the worst way to explain it."
"My apologies, Aya-sama," he replied in a monotone.
"Yuki, you're not going to die per se—you're going to remember all the deaths you've already had."
"You mean..." Yuki said, "like with Mukudori? I'm going to experience my other past lives?"
Aya nodded, her face grave but kind. "But you're not actually going to die. Okay? Trust me. You'll do just fine."
Yuki mused that this was going to be like jumping into a cold lake: you had to jump in quickly, without thinking about it, otherwise it would be a painfully slow process of adjusting to the water. "And if I want you to help me...?"
"I'll come running. All right?" Yuki nodded and Aya took her hand; Itachi's body dissolved into a myriad black wings which whorled like a great, feathered vortex. Suddenly, Aya pushed Yuki into the spinning darkness—
Yuki fell through space, through feathers, and stars, and darkness.
While she fell for what seemed like hours, she mused that she had already experienced Mukudori's death, and while the experience had been unpleasant and painful, it hadn't lasted all that long. But perhaps she'd had other lives where she had died long, horrible deaths? Kami, what could be worse than being stabbed to death by her fiance and then dying in the arms of her best friend? And on top of that, how many past lives did she have in the first place? She hoped it wasn't too many...
Then her thoughts stilled, and she felt herself transform into the body of a snake. There were no thoughts, no sounds, just sliding on the grass, slithering, eating, sleeping; but while she was lying in the sun, a hawk came and snatched her up from her rock. It pecked out her eyes and ate her flesh greedily, until there was nothing left of her green, scaled skin.
Yuki blinked, and now she became a bird, wheeling in the the clear sky. But the sky darkened and it began to storm. She tried to fly back to her nest in the driving rain, but the thunder startled her and the flashing lights confused her flight. She was struck down by lightning. Her body plummeted to the earth, burned feathers flurrying to the wet ground.
There were many short lives like that, mostly calm lives ended by quick deaths. But the endings were always met with new beginnings: she was a deer, a mountain lion, a lynx, and more, so many more, their lives flowing on and on and into each other in rapid succession. Eventually, her human lives began, and they were not as harmonious or simple.
She was a man, a prosperous baker in a village—a thief stabbed him in the chest and stole his money. The knife stung and burned, and Yuki could feel her body sinking to the floor, the blood ebbing out of her heart as if pulled by a final tide. But what hurt more than the knife was the reason for his death: he hadn't been killed for food, or in self defense, but for a few coins. A loaf of bread. This man died raging, in his heart, against the injustice that had been dealt to him.
But that was only the beginning of her bitter, human existences.
She became a woman whose lover strangled her when he found her in bed with another man; a young boy who slipped and fell into the river to drown; a soldier who was dismembered in battle; a baby who died in a house fire; an old woman who died of old age, surrounded by loved ones; a father who perished in an earth quake. On and on, the experiences of a myriad different lives filed her senses, like a series of lucid dreams. As they flowed over her consciousness, one question always remained.
What was the point of all this fruitless living? To die in such small, insignificant ways, only to be reborn to the next banal existence—to die at the hands of ignorant, rageful, hateful people, or to perish simply from the whims of fate. Bitterness and despair began to bloom in her heart.
More lives came, more vividly this time: she was a young girl, beaten to death by her father. Yuki could feel the hateful kicks, the emotions of this girl as her screams faded to whimpers, and then finally melted into silence, the last question mumbled from her ashen lips: Why?
Then she was a mother, murdered together with all her children by enemies who had come to burn her village down. Her senses were full of the screams of the little children, the smell of burned flesh as they were barricaded in their burning house—how could people be so cruel? As they died, their little souls flew out of their bodies like startled birds; they found new incarnations and began another life together in a different constellations, over and over again. Here she died of a wasting illness, and there she died of a broken heart; in another life she died in a war, and in another, she perished from starvation.
The cycle of lives slowed, and Yuki had a sense that they were becoming closer to present time. She was a male child, born of the Hyuga clan; she was murdered for her eyes before she reached the age of six. She was born into the Hyuga family again, this time as a woman; she was killed in battle. And again she was born into the Hyuga clan, as a man who was strapped down to an operation table and experimented on, his doujutsu mutated and morphed until, his body racked with pain, his eyes became dyed red with three whirling commas on his irises. This man, like the life before him, died a gruesome death on the battlefield, his mutated eyes plucked, his body left on the field to be picked by black birds.
Time shimmered, waves of black birds screeched and covered Yuki's body with dark wings. When time resolved itself, she was Mukudori once more. Yuki braced herself; but instead of experiencing this death for the second time, her form split into two, as if she had created a shadow clone. Yuki felt herself in her own body, and she was looking across space at Mukudori. It was eerie, like staring into a skewed reflection.
"Yuki," Mukudori spoke in a soft, high voice, "there is one final death that you must witness."
"Um...hello me. Er, past me, I guess." Yuki ran a hand through her hair, more than a little discombobulated. After all, it wasn't everyday you died a thousand deaths in rapid succession. Yuki drew in a sharp breath and contemplated Mukudori's words before replying. "You mean, I'm not going to witness your death again?" Mukudori silently shook her head no. Yuki mused, "So...then I had another life between my current one and yours...er...I mean, mine?" Yuki asked, tongue tied. She thought to herself that this past life stuff was really confusing.
Mukudori smiled sadly and shook her head. "No. You will experience the death you will have as yourself, as you are now... As Uchiha Yuki."
Yuki choked. "I don't want to die!" she gasped, fighting to regain her composure.
Mukudori chuckled at that, but not unkindly. "Haven't you learned by now, Yuki-chan, that you've already died many times, and will die again? You, as you are now—you will not stay the same, like some statue or stone carving. Your soul flows through forms and changes like water, flowing from the river to the ocean, then evaporating and raining back down to earth."
"But this will be different," Yuki muttered. "This will be me—and I don't want to see my own death."
"All the deaths you have seen have all been you...come now, it is time for you to see," Mukudori chided, and with that, she pushed Yuki away from her, and into a dark abyss.
As she fell, Yuki thought, idly to herself, that she was getting awfully tired of falling through darkness. As in response to her thought, all at once, a light pierced her body. When the light reached her eyes, she was shown many things at once: herself dying in battle against Uchiha Madara, her blood spilling out onto the earth, her mother screaming her name. She saw herself dying in a fire in palace, enemy ninja using her own fire jutsu against Yuki and trapping her in it. She fell in the chunin exams in the final matches, she had been cocky, had not taken her opponent from Mist seriously and he had taken advantage of that—
Many more disjointed scenes danced across her eyes, and she thought, mournfully, that these were all the future possibilities of her death.
Finally, one last image came to her, by far the worst of them all. Her younger brother, now a grown ninja, fought her. It was a harsh, bloody battle. The field in which they fought caught on fire, and smoke blackened the sky. But even so, Yuki held back, not wanting to kill her youngest brother. He used her hesitation towards his advantage, and Yuki ended up with his sword running through her breast. She smelled smoke and charred flesh, she felt the cold metal, laced with lightning, protruding from her torso, and she gaped up at her brother in horror.
"How could you...?" Yuki gasped, blood coughing up from her lungs.
Her brother merely shrugged. "I need your eyes. That is all." And with that, he pried her eyes from her still warm body. Yuki couldn't even scream—she was choking on her own blood. The whole world went black.
NO! This CAN'T be happening! How could this be the future, killed by her own brother for her eyes? FUCK NO!
The world became a fiery place of pain. She could feel her body burning, as if she had just been cast into the deepest pits of hell. She was sure she was screaming, but she couldn't hear a sound; it was all deathly silent, and burning, burning, oh Kami, she was burning but nothing was consumed, no, she just continued to burn—
"Yuki." All at once, the pain stopped. Yuki gasped, amazed to find that she could breathe. Shaking, she looked up from the ground and up into Aya's face. Apparently, she had collapsed on the ground; Aya helped her up. "Show me your eyes..." Aya said.
Slowly, Yuki opened them; Aya gave a grunt. "Good. You are now ready to learn how to travel the worlds."
Yuki took a deep breath. "That—that was horrible."
Aya nodded in apology. "I know. Forgive me. But now that you know the secret of death, you can overcome the separation between time and space. It was necessary..."
"Aya-sensei? I saw...I saw so many of my future deaths. Tell me, which one will happen?"
Aya shrugged, and lifted her hands, palms up, as if to signify that she did not hold the answers. "The future is constantly changing and shifting in response to the present. Know that you have the power to change your future."
Yuki gulped. "I saw—"
"Hush. You mustn't tell anyone what you've seen, not this or any of the things you've experienced," Aya replied with urgency. "It is between you and your spirits."
Yuki sighed at that, feeling alone and bewildered. She blinked, and then remembered the purpose of this trial. "What do my eyes look like?" Yuki asked, curious.
Aya smiled. "The constellation of the mangekyo looks the same. But unlike the one you inherited from Itachi, the light of this eye won't fade if you use it to protect, and not to kill. You must never kill unless it is strictly necessary, and only then to protect someone else... Do you understand? If you violate this rule, then you will go blind."
"Like my father," Yuki mused.
"Yes. Like your father."
"I see." Yuki ran a hand through her hair and exhaled sharply. "Ok. Well, no time to waste. What's next?"
Aya laughed at that. "Summon Tama. She will be your next teacher."
Thanks for reading:) Please, if you like this story, drop me a review and make me smile;)