Thanks to everybody who left their feedback for the last chapter. I can't believe the story is less than five hundred reviews away from the five thousand mark! That's incredible. Thank you so much to everybody who has followed and stuck with the story up to this point. I realise it has been slow moving but I hope chapters like this one will make it feel worth the wait.

This is another SasuSaku exclusive chapter. Make sure you listen to the indicated track on my profile under Chapter 38 toward the end of Sakura's visions, from the point when Hades is standing, staring at two lifeless bodies on the ground onwards. This one really captures the emotions I was aiming for when writing so I can't stress enough how important it is that you listen. Please pace yourselves to read the part where the shadow hands come out of the earth at 3:02 on the track. Goosebumps guaranteed!


Enter now unto despair,

Where hope is cast without a care,

Where shadows impel all light to flee,

As a raven, that caws in flightless plea,

The night doth shroud,

And dead in ground,

A stone heart weeps,

Without a sound.

Adrenaline coursed through Sakura's veins as she carefully tracked the death deity's movements. Even the simple act of blinking was a risk – just one slight second of indecision and she knew Sasuke would be onto her in a flash. He was circling the perimeter of the arena with languid grace, his charcoal eyes locked onto her in turn. As if to make a deliberate point, he dragged Kusanagi's tip along the sandy ground after him, leaving a dusty trail in his wake.

Sakura could practically feel the arrogant smugness rolling off him. And he had every right to be confident; his breath-taking speed and physical strength left her with little hopes of claiming victory. But she was determined not to let her nerves get the better of her this time. It didn't matter that he was inappropriately dressed, she told herself fiercely. It was a minor inconvenience that she would just have to do her best to overlook. She could not and would not allow herself to be distracted by his appearance. There was too much at stake, after all.

She had sparred with Sasuke frequently enough to gauge his preferred combat style. Short and sweet, he liked to move in for the kill quickly and directly. Sakura predicted that he would seek to antagonise her first, of course. He always seemed to derive great satisfaction from making her feel as uncomfortable and agitated as possible.

As if on cue, he taunted silkily, "Afraid, Sakura…?"

Sakura gripped her sword tightly with both hands, her eyes firmly on Kusanagi. Every few seconds her gaze would dart to his feet, then his face – before returning to the slender blade in his grasp. With every step he took to his right, she mirrored him, maintaining a safe distance between them.

"Should I be?" she answered, keeping her concentration in check.

A tiny half-smirk danced on Sasuke's mouth. He could detect the tangible tension weighing heavily on her small shoulders and from the defensive manner in which she was holding her weapon. As if she expected him to pounce at any second. And she had every right to be anxious; she had no idea what his stakes were - what he intended to take from her once he made her concede defeat.

Sasuke's pulse quickened with anticipation at the thought of pulling Sakura close, of cornering her and ensnaring her. He could practically taste the inevitable conquest; however, he would take his time to trounce her efforts. He would relish doing so.

"If you surrender now, I will spare you," he offered.

Sakura's eyes flicked briefly, cagily, onto his. "Spare me what?"

This time he did not bother to keep the wicked smirk from manifesting itself upon his lips.

"Pain," he said emphatically.

Sakura ground her teeth together, promising herself that she'd withstand anything if it meant wiping that conceited look off his face. She decided that it was far worse to wait for him to come to her and waiting would only cause her uncertainty to escalate. She had no way of predicting what his first move would be. So it was better to do what she knew he least expected - test the waters before he made his advance.

Steeling herself, Sakura stepped forward.

Internally, Sasuke was pleased. Here was progress; she was being daring and acting first – even though her decision to do so left her more vulnerable to a counter-attack. Still, it mattered not who began the offensive – the end result – which he envisaged as being a flushing Sakura pinned and writhing beneath him - would remain unchanged.

She continued edging cautiously towards him, her eyes trained on his weapon – just as he had taught her. He slunk right, keeping his posture neutral, curious to see how she intended to bridge the gap between them without getting disarmed.

Then she surprised him again by charging straight at him, her sword stabbing forward, aiming for one of the more vulnerable spots he had informed her about in previous training sessions – the shoulder of the arm that wielded a weapon.

Effortlessly he lifted Kusanagi, parrying lightly – at nowhere near his full capacity. Perhaps he would toy with Sakura and indulge her with the opportunity to get close enough to at least reach for the bells, before he swiftly turned the tables.

Sakura pushed forward again, this time aiming at his left wrist. He fluidly side-stepped, the same infuriating, faint smirk playing on his lips.

"You're being reckless," he warned.

She did not respond and instantly followed up with another string of attacks, slashing incessantly at him. He met her attempts lazily, which only told her that she needed to work so much harder. She swiped at his legs, seeking to keep him busy as she inched ever closer.

Keep focusing, Sakura willed herself, her heart pumping. Keep looking at his hands and feet.

The death deity, of course, could see straight through her chosen – and utterly predictable – choice of strategy and evaded with little trouble. At her next slice, which she aimed at his right side, he met her blade with his own and held firm, locking their swords – and eyes - together.

"Sakura…" he uttered condescendingly. Without blinking, he applied a fraction more force, pushing down against her raised weapon. It caused the muscles in her arms to tremble under the strain – a stark reminder of the immeasurable difference in their power levels.

Her teeth sunk into her lower lip. She knew how to unlock the stance – but her follow up move would have to be quick. Taking a deep breath, she relaxed her arms marginally whilst simultaneously side-stepping to Sasuke's left. Metal contacted with metal as Kusanagi's sharp edge scraped against her weapon's length, just as she leapt out of the way of his deflecting counter-jab.

Moving reflexively, Sakura feigned a right hit but pulled back at the final moment and dashed left, grazing by his side. There! The twin bells jingled enticingly at his waist – she only needed to reach out and-!

Sasuke whirled and immediately eluded her, targeting a disabling strike at her ankles. Sakura's heart leapt. He had allowed her a series of starting attacks and was finally beginning to return in kind. She needed to be very vigilant.

She skittered back – only for the death deity to stab at her right elbow. Sakura jumped to avoid it, but Sasuke, keen to remind her of the kind of pace and agility he commanded, followed with an attack so fast that Sakura heard the hiss of cutting steel as it whistled through the air – directly toward her throat.

A killing blow. At the last micro-second, Sakura lifted her sword defensively before her neck. But the force of Sasuke's assault caused her to stumble awkwardly backwards.

It was at that precise moment that the death god chose to really begin. A succession of clean strikes forced Sakura on the defensive. She deflected blow after blow and blocked his attempts at jabbing at her legs.

"Hn," he scoffed, as their blades locked once again above her knees. "Not bad, Sakura." His eyes narrowed pointedly. "But not good enough," he added.

Then he yanked his sword back and slashed upwards, aiming for her neck once more. Sakura yelped and fell back, losing her footing and landing less than ceremoniously on her rear. Sasuke aimed for her right arm again, and Sakura barely managed to scramble away in time. Hopping back to her feet, she retreated and circled him, seeking an opening. He stood in place, watching her keenly with hawk eyes.

Slowly, she edged in again, directing a sequence of blows at his less dominant side. But Sasuke was swift to turn the tide as he went on the offensive once more. Sakura's eyes flew up and down, left and right as she strained to match the blinding speed of his movements. Trying to keep up with the clinical proficiency of his strikes was exhausting – both physically and mentally.

Then, with a suddenness that was startling, Sasuke jabbed at her left shoulder. Sakura flinched and defended at the final moment. He did not give her time to recuperate. In a heartbeat he had lunged forward, bridging the gap between them to rain a cutting slash down upon her head.

"Sasuke!" she exclaimed in alarm, raising her arm senselessly in a purely instinctive, protective gesture. But her attempt at parrying the blow was deterred as Sasuke's free hand shot out with rattle-snake reflexes and clamped around her wrist. Before she could even process what was happening, her blade had been flung out of her grasp and her right arm twisted painfully behind her back. Her startled gasp caught in her throat at the sensation of her feet being swept cleanly out from underneath her. Stars swarmed across her vision as the world briefly lurched on its axis – and the next thing she knew, she was lying flat on her back upon the sandy ground.

What the hell-? Her inner voice raged. How many more times was she going to let him catch her off-guard so easily?

Then she gulped as her eyes rose to find Sasuke leaning over her, his long, lean legs straddling her sides. One hand was locked around both of her wrists, keeping her arms firmly at bay above her head – safely away from the bells attached to his belt.

"You're not fair," she panted, and immediately regretted talking when Kusanagi slid beneath her chin, kissing the vulnerable skin of her throat.

"Making excuses again, Sakura…?" The death deity sounded oddly breathless, too – which she found strange, given that he hadn't so much as worked up a sweat up to that point.

"No," she denied fiercely. "You're not giving me a chance to-!" she broke off, alarmed, when Sasuke's face lowered, so close that she could feel the warmth of his breath fanning against her right cheek.

The manner in which she'd fallen had caused the hem of her top to ride upwards, exposing the softness and flatness of her stomach. The sensuous sight of bare flesh sang to his carnal side, pleaded for the ministrations of his fingertips. Without looking down, Sasuke deposited Kusanagi onto the ground and lifted his free hand.

Placing it upon her abdomen – which flinched down of its own will as if seeking to escape the coolness of the contact – he slid his palm slowly upwards, caressing her skin. It felt like liquid silk – how he hungered to feel more of it! His fingers lingered above the lower cage of her left rib, as he stared deeply into her wide eyes.

"Yield," he exhaled, and Sakura blanched when she felt his fingertips creep higher, as if in warning. Electricity seemed to surge through the ends of his digits, flowing directly into her nervous system, causing a strange tingle to settle in her lower belly. Her heart was thundering at the touch, so vigorously that she was positive he could feel it. Just a little further and his roving hand would infringe upon too intimate a territory…

Meeting his gaze full on, she bit back angrily, "Never."

Something flicked within his smoky irises. To Sakura's horror, his fingers continued to roam upwards, millimetre by millimetre. Mere centimetres separated them and the lower swell of her breasts, concealed only by the lacy fabric of the crimson bra she wore.

Trying to keep panic at bay was becoming increasingly difficult. Sakura squirmed, but to no avail. He had her prisoner beneath him.

"What are you doing?" she demanded, embarrassed and furious beyond measure. She could feel the inferno roaring to life in her cheeks, and was even more riled by it.

"Stop," she spoke the word through tensely ground teeth.

The look he gave her was positively devious.

"Make me," he mocked.

Bastard, her inner self raged. He was enjoying this. She could tell from the predatory glint in his eyes.

The fingers traced idle circles as they continued to swirl leisurely upwards. Sakura's mind raced. She had to get him off of her! But how, when both her arms were compromised? Her thoughts of escaping were side-tracked when the hand that had been tickling her ribcage diverted, slipping out from underneath her top. Her relief was short-lived, however, for it trailed upwards, trespassing on the valley between her breasts, where it came to rest – as if to feel the erratic drumming of her heart underneath.

"Give in," Sasuke pressed again.

"No," she refused defiantly. Then, with more boldness than she felt, she added in a burst, "I don't care what you do."

The corner of his lips twitched – as if he found her statement somewhat entertaining. Sakura swallowed, her bluffing act of bravado quavering, as he lowered his face so that the tips of their noses were touching.

"Don't you, Sakura…?" he drawled.

God. He was so close that she could see every minute detail in his striking irises. She stared into them, aghast to find herself distantly admiring the intricacy of their flecks in the midst of a physical struggle. But suddenly, she couldn't help herself; she couldn't look away. They were a deep, charcoal, stormy grey, off-set by brighter specks of lustrous anthracite that caught the surrounding light luminously. It was strange, how she had at first believed that Sasuke's eyes were a flat hue of onyx that consumed all illumination, like bottomless black holes. For they were decidedly not – theirs was a shade she had never even glimpsed on the surface. A colour that always seemed to vary, depending on the source of light…

Sasuke, too, had frozen, the wayward hand now resting upon her clavicle. As if he had seen something in her eyes that had caught his rapt attention, also.

Unbidden, her lips parted, allowing rapid, shallow puffs to escape from her mouth – and Sasuke felt it against his. A strange sensation was washing over her, one that caused something to flutter frantically in the pits of her gut. Her entire body was prickling.

What was happening?

"Sasuke," she whispered.

The sound of his name was like a catalyst, spurning an unstoppable reaction. The steely hold at her wrists loosened. The death deity appeared temporarily preoccupied, thoroughly ensnared by the mysterious power that held his concentration so absorbedly. When the fingers fell away altogether and his hand moved to brush the side of her face, Sakura sensed an unforeseen opening and told herself that she couldn't afford to waste the opportunity.

She had sworn to herself that she would avoid physical contact at all costs. That she would not touch him. But she now willed herself to act. It was necessary.

She reached up and laid a palm lightly upon his left forearm. Immediately the fingers that had been hovering below her chin clenched and she felt the ripple of muscles tautening beneath her touch.

His eyes moved to her hand – inspecting it as if it were something foreign and unknown to him. As if he was trying to make sense of it.

The air in Sakura's lungs stilled as a remarkable realisation hit her, as violently as a bolt of lightning hailing from a thunderous sky.

He had absolutely no qualms about touching her. But when she initiated contact on her own… when she reached out to him unexpectedly…

It clearly elicited some form of reaction.

The God of Death was still staring down at her hand. Sakura decided to stall no longer. She raised her left one, hesitantly, as if to touch his other arm – but diverted at the last moment, snatching at his waist.

Before her fingers had even closed on thin air, Sasuke had retreated and was standing at a carefully calculated distance from her. His head tilted back aloofly, and his eyes formed cold slits, glowering icicles down at her.

It was disorientating, how swiftly he swung from one extreme to another. The remnants of whatever peculiar madness had passed between them fizzled out of existence as Sakura gave herself a stern mental shake.

Breathing heavily, she sat up, noting the position of her sword to her far right. She had to get it. But Sasuke saved her the trouble. He walked over to it and nudged it nonchalantly towards her with his foot. Sakura grabbed at it, finding reassurance in its familiar weight as she straightened herself into a standing position again.

This time, Sasuke was the first to attack. They exchanged relentless strikes – with Sakura mostly on the defensive - circling and dodging at a pace that made her head whirl. She was caught in a dangerous dance of blades with Death himself – a dance that looked increasingly like it was on the verge of ending unfavourably for her. Still she did not give up, parrying as best as she could manage and scampering away whenever she got the chance to place even a sliver of breathing space between them before Sasuke closed in again.

But despite her valiant efforts, her mortal lungs soon began to burn. The muscles in her arms began to tremble and ache and her body began to tire. A fatigued lapse in her concentration allowed Sasuke to slip behind her and deliver a crumpling blow to the back of her knees with the hilt of his weapon. Sakura's legs buckled and before she knew it, Sasuke's fingers were laced in her hair and Kusanagi was ruthlessly at her throat again. She felt a firm tug and then her tresses were spilling around her shoulders, freed from the messy knot she had so hastily bound.

She wheezed, gulping hungrily to fill her starved cells with oxygen. For a long minute there was silence. Then the tip of Kusanagi slid to her chin, angling Sakura's head to look uncomfortably over her shoulder.

She met Sasuke's penetrating gaze.

"Give up," he censured for a third time.

She glared up at him in response. Swallowing through the dryness in her throat, she croaked, "You give up!"

He blinked down at her, internally baffled. She was the one in a most disadvantageous situation, at his mercy with a slicing sword hovering perilously above her jugular vein, and she was telling him to submit?

Was she really so utterly determined to know of his past? To poke her little button nose where it did not belong? He could scarcely comprehend it.

She was so stubborn and so completely annoying-

Sakura stabbed blindly backwards with her blade, aiming for his shins. He easily avoided it, and Sakura jumped up to her feet, pedalling away to restore space between them.

Sasuke adjusted his hold on the sword and began to move in once more. There was a look and air about him that screamed to Sakura that she was running out of time. The death deity was growing bored – and she could tell from his purposeful stride that he was eager to bring the session to an end.

She had to do something! But what? Sakura's thoughts ricocheted chaotically around her skull as the plummeting realisation that she was staring into the jaws of defeat loomed over her. She couldn't match his strength. Neither could she catch him off guard. She was just too slow-

Then it hit her - the only possible hope she had. One that was devious and unfair – but if it meant that there was a chance of her achieving victory, she had to take it.

Side-stepping right, she parried another blow, and as Sasuke continued to pound a fresh sequence of attacks at her, Sakura's posture sagged. Yet he was utterly unrelenting, hailing down strike after strike upon her. Sakura's heart hammered so dreadfully fast that it felt to her as though the life-sustaining organ had somehow managed to lodge itself in the base of her throat. Again she repelled his blade, and was grateful when she finally managed to place distance between them once more.

Sasuke could see that she was exhausted. Her stamina had all but been spent and her posture was slumping. He could hear the air escaping her lips in laboured gasps.

He was about to snap at her to submit for a fourth time – when she suddenly raised a hand to her forehead and squeezed her eyes shut – as if pained.

He forgot about speaking, then, and hesitated despite himself, watching her closely.

"Uh…" she whispered, and her right arm, which she had just lifted, fell limply to her side. She turned her back to him - and wobbled precariously on her feet. Her fingers loosened and her weapon slipped from her grasp to the dusty ground.

His irritation turned to immediate concern. In a heartbeat, he was behind her and reached out to steady her.

"Sakura-" he began.

But his hands closed around thin air as Sakura, without warning, swiftly threw her weight onto her left leg and simultaneously pivoted sinuously behind him. A second later he felt a firm yank at his waist – before the tinkling sound of jingling bells infiltrated his ears.

He turned rigidly – a part of him still struggling with denial and absolute disbelief - to find Sakura glaring up at him triumphantly, her apple-green eyes twinkling with victory.

She shook the bells mockingly again at him.

"I win," she exhaled breathlessly. The death deity blinked at her, and she couldn't keep the gleeful grin from plastering onto her face at the sight of his astounded expression. She could scarcely believe she had successfully pulled off her sensational plan – and revelled for a minute in her own ingenuity.

Meanwhile, Sasuke was having a terrible time accepting what had just happened. Sakura – sweet, innocent little Sakura – had actually managed to trick him. She had purposefully chosen to feign physical weakness - playing on the unanticipated losses of consciousness that had always caught him off guard before, as well as the instinctive and protective feelings they elicited – and used it to steal an unexpected win.

He did not know who he was more furious at – her for actually daring to resort to deception - or himself for allowing worry for her to briefly cloud his concentration and focus.

His incredulity, however, quickly turned to ire. The muscles in his jaw tightly clenched as he narrowed his gaze menacingly at her.

"You cheated," he snapped, his words loaded with accusation. Displeasure seemed to crackle around him like an electrically charged current.

Sakura wisely chose to retreat, taking careful steps backwards. To her relief, he remained in place, tracking her with blazing eyes.

"I didn't," she answered. "I am tired." And you're not smirking now are you, you arrogant jerk, she added to herself internally, a fresh, silly smile pulling insistently at the corners of her lips.

Sasuke glower was an interesting mix of disgust and derision. Unable to stop herself, Sakura giggled.

"You're a bad loser, aren't you?" she teased lightly.

As if in answer, he stabbed Kusanagi irately into the ground, with such force that Sakura's stomach somersaulted despite her sense of elation.

Then, with a suddenness that was unsettling, his expression walled off. Just like that. Completely and entirely, his face became a blank slate all over again – prompting Sakura's self-satisfaction to wither considerably.

"Hn," he scoffed contemptuously, closing his eyes briefly as he lifted his right hand and made as if to unwrap the bandaging around his forearm. Sakura couldn't help herself – the second his attention was diverted, her gaze involuntarily drifted lower, trailing over the defined ridges and planes of his sculpted torso.

Fresh warmth bloomed in her cheeks and she was appalled to catch her traitor brain thinking that the phrase 'physically attractive' just didn't seem to do enough justice for the tantalising sight of bare, masculine flesh before her.

She hurriedly lifted her wayward eyes when Sasuke opened his again and paused before adding shortly, emphatically, "I never lose."

And that was it. That was all the notice she got. She had scarcely blinked when a strange whizzing sound flew by her ears. Sakura gasped, her mind registering what was happening a split-second before her startled body could react. But it was too late. The same digging pressure wound around her arms and tightened, binding her wrists uselessly in front of her. She glimpsed the pale blue glowing chakra strings he had seemingly summoned out of nowhere – and then she was being hauled roughly forward, with such merciless force that her feet physically left the ground and her hair was sent flying behind her. The world breezed by in a dizzying blur.

When she blinked again, she found herself enclosed in the iron cage of Sasuke's arms. Her splayed fingers contacted against the solid wall of his chest and the touch was akin to blistering fire, sizzling against her skin.

The thread bound around her rubbed sorely against her exposed arms. Determined to show him that she was not intimidated - although she was inwardly freaking out at just how outrageously and unacceptably close their bodies were -Sakura lifted her chin rebelliously at him.

"You can't twist this one, Sasuke," she said, her voice wobbling despite her best efforts to keep calm. She could feel the scandalous redness in her face and hated herself for it. But what teenage girl wouldn't blush in her situation? Sasuke was shirtless and the feel of those strong pectoral muscles beneath her palms sent all kinds of forbidden ideas into her head…

Sakura swallowed thickly and forced herself to venture bravely, "You agreed to our terms. Now you have to tell me what happen-"

And that was the precise moment when his lips crashed angrily against hers.

Sakura blinked, astonished and stunned. He had struck with the callous swiftness of a death adder, catching its prey so unpredictably. Blinking was all she could do, as his mouth slashed dominantly over her own, engaging in an entirely different kind of battle. His touch was like an instantaneous, violent detonation, an igniting spark - and then her body was responding, coursing pure, liquid fire through her veins, a sweltering rush that left her senses reeling. She felt as though her heart had plummeted straight through her soles and buried itself a thousand feet into the ground. A smothered, protesting sound escaped her throat as Sasuke crushed her against him, his hold on her unbreakable, unyielding.

Inside the pandemonium of her mind, her inner self was gaping in abject mortification.

How had things spiralled so unexpectedly beyond her control?! It had happened so suddenly- there was no way she could have stopped or physically prevented it-!

She squeezed her eyes shut, her arms trapped against the solid wall and scorching heat of his chest. Trying to break free was futile. The combination of the chakra strings, along with the way he was clutching her, so intensely to him, made it impossible to shift even an inch. She could feel his heart pounding, as surely and rapidly as she could feel her own, and tried not to think about how his lips were causing such distressing, conflicting sensations to flood from the top of her scalp to the tips of her toes.

The blood in her ears was a deafening rush, synchronised with the wild drumming of her pulse. Apart from the fact that he had once more succeeded in catching her unawares, it was nothing like the first kiss he had stolen from her in his quarters. Perhaps that was what caused every muscle in her body to freeze, rendering her absolutely motionless in his grip.

There was nothing soft and hesitant and uncertain about it. Instead, all Sakura felt was raw hunger. Raw need. And she was staggered by it, by the full realisation of just how much Sasuke desired her.

She had never felt desirable before – to anybody. That a mighty, immortal deity, one who could have the most beautiful women begging at his feet, would want her, Sakura Haruno, a final year college student, so desperately…

Sasuke, meanwhile, was having trouble thinking straight. He had not exactly intended to kiss her. It had just sort of happened – a spur of the moment, impulsive reaction fuelled by his irritation at losing - and like her, he found that he could do nothing to stop it. Even as he told himself that he had to sever it, even as he willed himself to release her, he just couldn't. The feel and softness of her in his arms, the sweetness of her… it was as though he had been suffering for an eternity of terrible thirst, his lips parched for liquid coolness – and Sakura was the delicious, refreshing water he so profoundly needed.

She was like a destructive addiction – the more he tasted, the more intoxicating euphoria escalated. He didn't want to open his eyes. He didn't want to pull back, to give her the oxygen he knew her lungs so urgently needed.

The world was revolving, taking with it all sense of clarity. The kiss had surely only lasted a few seconds, but to Sakura, it seemed like endless hours. With the same abruptness that had set off the volatile reaction between them, Sasuke finally released her, shoving her back at arm's length - as if he required the physical space as much as she did - whilst simultaneously unbinding the chakra thread. Sakura dazedly watched them fade from sight.

Silence roared, amplifying the tension that crackled in the air between them. His eyes burned into her, smouldering sooty coals.

It wasn't only her inner self that was stupefied. Sakura felt her mouth sag uncouthly as she gawked at him in disbelief.

That was his stake, she told herself nonsensically. He didn't even win. He never won and he took it anyway-

His chest was heaving. He was looking at her as if he expected her to either run or pick up her sword and fling it directly at him. Sakura did neither – though she felt the need to do both at once. She merely continued to stare at him in a mixture of dismay and numbed shock. Her lips, still tingling from the bruising pressure of his kiss, floundered almost comically, like a flustered fish. But despite her best attempts, her tongue could not form any words.

And the more she thought about the fact that he had taken what she was absolutely certain would have been his request had he won, the more incensed she became. Always he manipulated situations for his own gain! He'd strung her along into a sparring session, something he knew she had not been comfortable with, on the premise that the winner would be granted a favour of their choice. Now he had turned her victory against her, rendered it utterly meaningless, and clearly had no intention of fulfilling his word.

Fury bubbled and brewed inside her like boiling hot magma, ready to overflow. She could feel her body shaking from the force of her aggravation. Livid frustration crested at his unparalleled arrogance, how he thought he had the right to take what he wanted from her, whenever he wanted it – to handle her in such a manner – to deceive her with false words and watch her work so hard to snatch an unlikely win, only to take it away from her at the very end!

Whether it was the bitter disappointment of her efforts being so disrespectfully disregarded or the crushing accumulation of everything about Sasuke that had frustrated and upset Sakura up to that point – or perhaps both – something was responsible for the near-audible snap of self-control splintering deep inside her.

Her rage exploded, spewing destructively like molten lava. Her right arm, which had lifted of its own accord, acted on a reckless, highly-charged impulse and her indignant brain's screaming commands to get even in any way possible, to salvage whatever was left of dignity in any way she could.

Her open palm connected viciously with his left cheek – hard. The blow clapped like thunder and resonated loudly in the air – and then all was still and deadly silent, save for the irregular huffing of her shuddering breaths.

Time seemed to suspend. When it finally resumed, everything felt like it was moving in slow motion. Sakura blinked, as the enraged haze that had clouded her vision seconds earlier rapidly dissipated to give way to horrifying, stark realisation. She had actually slapped Sasuke; Sasuke, the death deity, who had the power of terminating her existence with a mere glance. And this time, it hadn't been a sleep-induced accident.

He had frozen, too, as if he could not quite process what she had just done. The strength of her blow had forced his face to angle to his right, and left an angry red mark on his skin. The sensible part of her whispered that she was in for it – but maybe it was adrenaline that made Sakura's hands ball into tight fists and was temporarily kept the terror of her actions at bay. Suddenly, a slap wasn't good enough. She wanted to punch him all the way back up to his stupid, stupid throne room.

It was entirely his fault, she inwardly vented. If only he had upheld his end of the deal – if only he hadn't kissed her like that-! If he hadn't made her feel all the awful things that were still circulating crazily in her blood-stream-

Flustered and breathless and unable to take the crippling quiet any further, she finally exclaimed, "You can't just do that, Sasuke!"

He blinked, as if her voice had drawn him out of his own state of surprise. With pain-staking slowness, he turned his head to fix a withering stare at her. She was too preoccupied with her own distress to notice that his hands were clenched tightly, too. Yet still he said nothing.

Distraught by the furnace she could feel raging in her face, she ranted on, fully caught up in the heat of the moment, "You can't just kiss me whenever you feel like it!"

It felt satisfying – expelling her vehemence externally, rather than compressing it inside her as she had the first time he'd touched her lips with his. But Sasuke was looking expressionlessly at her like she was speaking a language he had never heard before - like he didn't even comprehend the concept of getting to know somebody before romantically engaging with them. It came as no wonder to Sakura. He did not exactly strike her as the sentimental, wooing sort.

She remembered Suigetsu's words; that Sasuke took whatever he wanted – with little regard for consequences and the feelings of others.

Her flush intensified. She could feel herself getting worked up – a stark contrast to the disciplined composure that had quickly settled over him again. He didn't understand. He didn't know how upsetting it was for her. Kisses were intimate and special between two people who were in a stable relationship, and taking them so casually and without permission was wrong.

But then, Sasuke was a god, and gods clearly did not conform to the same rules of courtship as humans did. The realisation only served to further augment her frustration.

"Aren't you going to say anything?" she demanded. There was a quiver in her voice now, an undertone of weakness that made her feel ashamed. After she had tried so hard to be bold and unflinching! However, she couldn't help it. His dragging silence was unnerving and she wasn't quite sure what that peculiar expression in his eyes was. Surely he had to be furious that she had hit him? Why wasn't he retaliating?

He tilted his head marginally to the right – looking her over intently as if he was debating something - and then he was advancing again. Desperate to maintain her courageous front, Sakura yelled at herself to stubbornly stand her ground, rooting her feet firmly in place, reasoning that the worst had already happened, and he couldn't possibly want to kiss her again after her fiery outburst.

He came to a stop, toe to toe with her.

"I won," Sakura felt tears prickling at her eyes – but they were tears of vexation. She battled them back, as she went on in a near whisper, "You agreed to my terms. You can't just change your mind and flip the stakes-"

She blinked, cutting off at the disconcerting sensation of fingertips trailing lightly along the right column of her throat. Sakura stiffened. Was he about to throttle her for daring to lay a hand on him? But his touch remained gentle and she registered with a startled jolt when she glanced up that something was happening to his irises.

They were changing.

"I," Sasuke hissed pointedly, "am not."

She watched with distance fascination as onyx bled to red. Black tomoes spun lazily as the Sharingan surfaced. She opened her mouth to voice her alarm, stumbling back, away from him.

"What are you doing?!" she gasped, but speaking suddenly felt like a tremendous chore, like her tongue had become heavy and could barely form even the simplest of words. Sakura told herself that she had to look away. She remembered what had happened the last time he had captivated her with those frightening, beautiful pin-wheels. But she couldn't. For something was decidedly different about his eyes. The shapes inside the irises were shifting, taking on more complex forms – that of intricate, six pointed stars.

They were breath-taking to behold – and devastating. Gazing into them, Sakura felt like she was standing at the edge of a yawning, infinite chasm.

He prowled forward leisurely, those eyes still fastened firmly onto her.

"It's too late," his voice was soft, like a velvet caress. It only served to beguile her further. "You are already trapped in the illusion."

Illusion? What was he talking about? Sakura continued to retreat senselessly. Her legs felt strangely like jelly, like they were on the verge of collapsing beneath her.

'You want to know,' a voice as dark as night rippled through her mind. Sasuke's. 'I warned you once about the price of forbidden knowledge.'

She frantically tried to decipher his telepathic statement. To derive some semblance of meaning. But Sasuke was speaking again.

Aloud, he uttered ominously, "Tsukuyomi."

And that single word was the beginning of her descent into the unknown. The world was spinning around her, whirling and disappearing, faster and faster until it became a warping distortion that propelled her into the waiting clutches of boundless shadow.

Sasuke had caught her before she could fall to the floor. His Mangekyō Sharingan spun wildly as he carefully controlled the visions he was projecting directly into her subconscious mind. A great part of him was restless. Agitated. He was allowing another to glimpse what he had kept so private and concealed from the world since his Clan's demise.

But he had made a decision. The second he had kissed her again, he had felt it and known it. It was undeniable; Sakura was a part of his existence now, a part he had made permanentthe instant he had coaxed her to take a bite from the Forbidden Fruit. No, he rectified. Their destinies had been tied the instant he had chosen to abduct her. He had let her see the Heavens, places in the Underworld that no mortal had ever been permitted to gaze upon. And she was starting, subtly, to change. Slowly but gradually, she was unfurling like a flower, showing him little snap-shots of the courage and feistiness he knew still slumbered deep inside her.

Little glimpses of the kind of woman he had always known she could become.

He had seen her frustration plainly. Felt it palpably in the physical hit she had connected with her palm. Her incessant want to know more, to learn of the past that had been kept from her. Not only because she was naturally curious. She genuinely wanted to know more about him.

He had finally come to terms with this, and all its implications. The time he had spent away from her had allowed things to fall into perspective with a resounding click in his mind.

The other deities all knew of the massacre. The difference was that he was allowing her to see it from his view point. Seeing what no other living immortal had seen.

How would she react? Would her opinion of him be swayed? He certainly did not desire her pity, and his pride outwardly rejected it. The truth was, he could not anticipate what she would do, had made no plans beyond the duration of the illusions. It was rather ironic, he thought bitterly to himself, that he had always mapped things out so painstakingly, so prudently before he had met Sakura. Now here he was, kneeling on the sandy ground with the girl sprawled in his arms and no clear idea of where it was they were both heading. What the Fates held in store for them both. He only knew that she was a definite part of his future – and could not envisage one without her.

His teeth clenched and the strain in his jawline was evident. Not everything. Still, he would not let her see it all, and some things he was not sure he would ever be prepared to tell. He would be sure to leave out the parts that would warrant particular explanations regarding the surface gods. There were some events and truths that she was not yet ready to know – not until he discovered exactly why Naruto and the others had kept her ignorant of their identities.

Tsukuyomi was an eye-technique exclusive to his Clan; a deadly illusionary state that allowed its user to control the victim's perception of time and space. He could show Sakura whatever he wished, could make her feel like she was actually experiencing real events and emotions. She could not awaken until he dispelled the illusion from her mind. He was the master, the spell-weaver. And so he bent the visions to his whim, and let her see what he willed.

Darkness. Everything was shadowy and still. She was drifting along the tides of an immense ocean of blackness, from which there was no discernible escape.

Where… am I…?

What happened to me…?

The cliché questions, the age-old catch-lines. But she really had no idea.

The first thing she became aware of was a cool caress against her face – the touch of a gentle, ruffling breeze. Then Sakura gradually began to feel the rest of her body again. She was lying on something bumpy and hard. She could sense her hands, her fingertips resting against something prickly and straw-like. She could feel the familiar weight of her motionless legs – and then, like a white hot blast, came the thunderous pounding of her head. It was like an incessant drum, thumping and thumping, compelling her eyes to open.

They did – to find a perfectly clear, twinkling night sky that spun merrily as she sat up unsteadily. Thankfully, the vertigo was short-lived and swift to resolve on its own. Sakura rubbed at her forehead, was relieved when the headache melted away just as quickly. Shaking off the remnants of grogginess, she looked around in bewilderment.

She had woken up in a vast field. The grassy earth beneath her hands was cracked with fissures, as if a recent quake had split through the crust. She rose to her feet, hugging herself despite the relative warmth of the air around her. She was still dressed in her sparring clothes – but where was Sasuke?

Sasuke. She tried to envisage his face in her mind, but any attempt to do so was met with a terrifying blank.

Why couldn't she see him?

"Sasuke?" She was suddenly afraid. What was this void into which she had awoken? Why was she alone? For next to death and decay, she had always feared darkness and solitude most of all.

"Sasuke!" she called again, spinning searchingly. She remembered his crimson eyes – the six pointed stars that had spun hypnotically at her. Was she dreaming? But it felt so very real. The wind, the scent of grass… she told herself that she couldn't possibly be asleep.

She blinked - and gasped in alarm when she found that her surroundings had abruptly changed. Now she was standing in a small cavern-like structure. She turned, and saw the soft flicker of candlelight to her far right, coming from an opening in the wall. As she drew closer, she heard the quiet murmur of an unfamiliar voice.

"It is done. Everything is in place. Tomorrow, at dawn, we ride against Zeus."

She inched to the opening, keeping concealed behind the right wall. Inside she saw four tall figures, assembled around a table bearing a large, scroll map. Burning torches were fixed onto the walls. Fur rugs lined the ground, and about the circular space were stationed a multitude of wooden barrels. In the left-hand corner was a gold stitched, thick curtain that led to what Sakura assumed was another room.

The people inside were all dressed identically in long black cloaks, but she could only see two faces. One belonged to a handsome, stern-looking, middle-aged man whom she immediately recognised from the portrait she had seen in the shrine room. He had the same dark brown hair, worn loose to his shoulders, and eyes that were dark and imposing. The same heavy, weary lines crinkled his brow.

The other visible man appeared more youthful in disposition, had a face half-concealed by an ornate silver mask. His wavy hair was unruly and jet-black, feathering in all sorts of wild angles, and she could discern the sharpness of crimson eyes peering through the slits of the mask even from the distance at which she stood. The other two had their backs to Sakura – both wore feather lined cloaks, although the taller of the two, who had flowing, silky black hair pulled into a high ponytail, wore a higher collar of feathers that was moulded more closely at the neck.

"Cronus will assemble us at the designated spot," the dark-brown haired man, who Sakura knew for certain had to be Sasuke's father, was going on. His voice was deep and level. Had Sasuke obtained his aloofness from this man?

He moved a pawn on the map with a gloved hand. "They will seek to use sunlight to drive out our forces. But Apollo will surely ride to the battlefield alongside his father, and your mother will use his distraction to cloak the sky to our advantage. Under the shroud of Nyx, we cannot be overcome."

He turned and placed a firm hand on the shoulder of the masked youth beside him.

"Hypnos. Take care. They will seek to incapacitate you because of your power. They will not risk you getting close to Zeus."

"I should not be concerned," the masked man, Hypnos, answered lazily. His voice was smooth, unhurried and soothing. Sakura's mind felt strangely lulled by it. "I shall target Hera instead. We take his woman, we take his army."

"Do not underestimate Zeus's Queen," Sasuke's father censured gruffly. "She has tamed the Nine Tails in the past, after all."

"Heh," Hypnos grinned simply.

Nine Tails? What was that? Sakura frowned to herself as she strained to hear more.

Hypnos was going on, "And what of Cronus and the Nine Tails? How do we know he is not leading us to our deaths? He has misused his family before-"

Sasuke's father replied quietly, "Our people call him King and draw strength from his cause. His desire is the same as ours. He seeks to restore us to glory – and I believe that it is his intention to do just that."

"But the Nine Tails…" Hypnos started again.

"His Mangekyo will not falter," the father said. "Of that we can be assured."

"He has never had any qualms about sacrificing for his own designs, though, has he?" Hypnos muttered with a sigh, running a hand leisurely through his boisterous locks.

"Father," someone else spoke up – and Sakura was struck with a jolt. She knew that voice. Sasuke.

"What happens after we acquire Olympus?" he was continuing. "Will he not seek to rule alone?"

"Come now, Hades," Hypnos clucked his tongue and tilted his head in mock sympathy. "Do you not see? With any luck, we shall all die in the fray and Cronus will ascend the throne alone. He may spare you, though, as his pet, since you are youngest."

"Enough, Hypnos," a quieter, silkier voice spoke up, and Hypnos immediately stopped talking. Sakura knew it belonged to the other individual standing beside Sasuke/Hades.

The father directed a displeased scowl at Hypnos. "You see the jest, as always, in a grave situation. We are on the eve of war, Hypnos. Your impertinent words border on treachery, and if Cronus hears of what you have spoken, even Thanatos cannot protect you from his wrath."

Instead of looking concerned, Hypnos appeared even more amused. "I believe it is I who has always protected him."

"We will follow Cronus into battle, and we will be victorious. He is our elder, our leader, and we must obey him," the elder man reminded him.

Hypnos rolled his eyes. "I merely try to lighten the mood."

"We are not of light," the elder deity stated flatly.

Hypnos was subdued by that. "Then forgive me."

The father shook his head and sighed, suddenly looking extremely tired as he gazed down at the map for a long moment. Then he looked up and squarely met the gaze of the individual standing on the other side of the table opposite him.

"Thanatos. My first born. My son. You will ride with me, by Cronus's side. It is the greatest of honours, to be selected from amongst the highest calibre of our warriors, to protect your King."

Thanatos said nothing to that. Sakura saw Hades look to his right, at who she now knew for certain was his older brother.

"As long as we remain steadfast, and together, there is nothing that can keep us from our victory." The father finished with a resolute nod. A silence passed then.

"And what will I do?" Hades demanded, breaking it impatiently.

His father glanced at the other two briefly, as if the answer to the question had already been decided beforehand.

Then he said matter-of-factly, "You will protect your mother when she veils the sky in our favour."

There was a tense pause. Finally, Hades exclaimed stiffly, "What?"

Hypnos shook his head. "Ah… I thought somebody had already informed him…"

Hades was glaring at his father. "You all ride out to battle, and I remain behind with mother?"

"There is no shame in that-" Hypnos began comfortingly.

Hades's rigid body language suggested he was on the verge of throttling Hypnos and his unhelpful remarks. "Father," he entreated, and Sakura could hear the barely restrained frustration in his voice. "I am amongst our Clan's greatest warriors, also. I would ride out with you and my brother-"

"We must ensure your mother's safety," his father answered shortly. "When she returns, she may be targeted by Zeus's forces. My mind will be easy, knowing my youngest son protects my wife."

"She needs no protection-!" Hades began to protest angrily.

His father slammed a palm onto the table, causing Sakura to flinch. A stunned silence ensued; even Hypnos seemed uneasy in the wake of the dispute.

"Do not argue with me, Hades! You will go with your mother and remain by her side until you are summoned back to us."

With that blunt command, his father stormed out of the cavern, heading directly towards Sakura, who panicked and hid herself behind a nearby boulder. She watched as Sasuke's father disappeared, followed closely by Hypnos, who strolled languidly after him.

Sakura counted to twenty in her head, her heart pounding. Seeing this side of Sasuke… a side she had never gotten to see, a side of him that interacted with his family and had arguments with a parent like any regular youth – suddenly made him seem so much more human to her. Cautiously, she crept back toward the opening and peered inside again. She didn't know why she felt the need to keep herself concealed, even when she knew that she could not be seen. This past did not belong to her; therefore she did not exist within it.

Hades was standing with his hands tightly clenched. His brother was looking at him, and Sakura could see that he, like Hypnos, also wore a mask that concealed the top half of his face. It did not matter; if anything, the mask served to make him appear all the more dangerously alluring.

"Calm yourself, little brother," murmured Thanatos, reaching out to place a pacifying hand upon his riled sibling's right shoulder. "Your time will come."

Hades snatched his arm back before Thanatos could touch him. "You're just like them," he hissed, and Sakura could see the rage and accusation kindling in his irises. "I am not first in line to the throne – if father should be protecting any of us, it should be you!You will be King someday, Thanatos. Not me!"

"You are upset," Thanatos replied, in that same steady, rational tone. "We will talk later."

"No," Hades snapped back at him, turning his back dismissively. "I have nothing to say to you."

A light sigh. Then a gentle, "As you wish."

Sakura watched as Thanatos seemed to linger for a long minute behind his brother. She saw him raise a hand, as if to try to touch him again – but drew back at the final moment. She shrunk to the shadows once more as Thanatos then took his leave and exited the cave. After he had vanished from sight, Sakura edged to the entrance of the opening and saw Hades staring down at the same map his father had been looking at.

"Do not be displeased, my love," a soft voice that sounded like liquid music suddenly spoke. The curtain in the corner of the room was drawn back – and out stepped a tall, slender yet shapely woman, so achingly lovely that Sakura felt unworthy of even standing in the same vicinity as her.

His mother, she realised instantly, and something ached oddly inside her at the sight of them together. Her straight tresses were long, flowing raven and cascaded down to her shapely waist like a river of black silk. She wore a rich gown of finely stitched silver, and there were pearls and silver crescents in her hair. Her skin was ivory white and her dark eyes glistened like midnight gems.

Hades looked away from her, but he did not move. She drew closer, reaching a hand out to him as his brother had. However, he did not shrug her away and did not try to stop her when her palm cupped his left cheek and turned his face toward hers.

"Who can assure my safety, if not you?"

Hades swallowed. "Do not patronise me, mother."

"Indeed, I do not," his mother replied. "You wish to serve your family, Hades, and you shall. My child," she reached out with her other hand to cup his other cheek tenderly. "Your father wishes to guarantee not only my safety, but yours also. You are precious to him, dearest one. More precious than you know."

Hades scowled. "He thinks me weak."

"No. No." His mother soothed. "He knows you are strong. As do I. As do we all. You have a gift, my love; a gift that not even your brother, with all his brilliance, can rival."

"And what is that?" Hades demanded. But his voice was now much quieter, and Sakura could see that the tension had slipped from his shoulders.

In response, his mother smiled, and it was like looking upon the glorious moon, bursting out from behind the concealment of obscuring clouds. So radiant and brilliant; Sakura's lips parted, so entranced was she by the haunting beauty of the goddess.

His mother said nothing more. She simply lowered her right hand, and placed it over her youngest son's heart.

Then before Sakura's very eyes, the vision began to disperse and howling wind closed in on her. The world warped and rippled – before joining together again to form an entirely different landscape. In contrast to the intimate scene she had just witnessed, she now found herself thrust into one that was laden with utter destruction.

Sakura turned, horrified to find scores upon scores of lifeless bodies strewn upon the battleground. Some were impaled with spears and blades and weapons she could not even recognise. Others had missing limbs and heads and crimson was spattered everywhere. Sakura placed a hand over her mouth and nose, trying hard not to gag at the crippling stench of blood and decay. She saw warriors in black and silver armour clashing ferociously with fighters clad in white and gold. Smoke and fire billowed from the earth up into the sky. When Sakura looked up, she froze at the awful sight that met her.

The sky looked like something out of an apocalypse. Part of it, to the farthest east, was midnight black – the rest, an acrimonious, acidic, hazy yellow.

The yells of the warriors mixed with the screams of the dying. It was the most unbearable thing Sakura had ever seen and heard. She cowered in place, watching with glazed eyes as the warriors annihilated one another, each believing their cause to be the righteous one.

Then her eyes fell to the earth, and she gasped. The grass was a charred black. Not a single flower was in sight. Smoke surrounded the horizon, so that she could make nothing out beyond what was directly before her. She stumbled forward, trying her best to step around the fallen, nearly retching on numerous occasions when her gaze happened to land upon gruesomely misshapen bodies.

Finally she came across two warriors locked in vicious battle. One of them had long, spiky raven hair and was dressed in red armour plates. Sakura was rattled with sudden recognition.

Cronus. Here was the very same leader she had seen in the Oracle.

The other was golden-haired and protected by polished silver and burnt gold armour. He had lost his helmet. A lightning bolt-like earring flashed in his left earlobe as he stabbed at Cronus with a slender spear. When Sakura caught sight of his face, she was awed by the hallowed light she saw within it – as well as his striking, clear blue eyes. They were intense and enthralling and shrewd and wise all at once. This devastatingly handsome deity… was this the mysterious Zeus who had caused the Uchiha Clan such great unrest?

"Is that your best, Zeus?!" Cronus taunted, and Sakura saw that he was beautiful, also. Something about his demeanour and aristocratic features reminded her fleetingly of Sasuke. "Perhaps if you surrender to me now, I will spare you the humiliation of begging for your pitiful existence!"

Sakura had only laid eyes on Zeus for a few minutes, and already she was certain that he could never be reduced to begging. He seemed far too proud and regal in bearing.

"You are blinded by your hate," Zeus responded. "What will such violent devastation accomplish? You will never own the throne of Olympus-!"

"You oppressed my people, banished us to the darkness while you revelled in the devotion of mortals! You stole the throne that was intended for ME!"

Zeus flash-stepped backwards, avoiding a deadly swipe from Cronus's blade. It dripped shadows, and where it touched the ground, the grass wilted. Zeus straightened and directed a measuring look at the darker-haired deity.

"This is not about your Clan," the golden-haired god said and his voice was chillingly calm. "It never has been. You would sacrifice them to achieve your own selfish goals-"

Cronus bellowed with laughter. "Hahahahahaha! And have we not all of us sacrificed for our own benefits? You," he jabbed an index finger toward Zeus, "know this better than anyone."

Zeus's sky-blue eyes narrowed. He held out his left hand and Sakura watched in amazement as a mighty, crackling lightning bolt took shape in his palm.

"I will stop you," he vowed with quiet confidence.

"You," Cronus sneered, "disgust me! Sprouting talk of righteousness – always believing yourself to be the saviour of humankind!"

He lunged with a deafening roar – and Zeus hurtled his thunderbolt. The vision exploded into blinding light and chaos erupted in Sakura's ears. She covered them and squeezed her eyes shut – and when she opened them again, she was in darkness and silence once more.

Before her was the familiar silhouette of Hades. He was standing, frozen – and Sakura quickly realised why. He was staring at two figures, slumped motionlessly on the ground before him. As Sakura moved behind him, she glimpsed a river of dark hair, a pale, slender, limp hand. A crown of stars and scattered pearls.

His mother was lying lifelessly on the floor. And sprawled on top of her, as if he had sought to desperately protect her from harm, was Hades's father.

A dark figure stood in front of them. Steel glinted as a blade was drawn portentously from a sheath. Crimson eyes glowed menacingly in the shadows.

"Brother…" Hades whispered. "What is this…?"

Sakura exhaled shakily, her mind echoing the very same question. What was happening?

The surroundings were whirling and merging again, transporting her elsewhere. Once more she was on the battlefield. The ground trembled and quaked, and a horrendous, blood-curdling roar shook her bones – a sound that was forged purely of nightmares. Sakura felt a massive shadow fall over her and turned – only for her lips to part in a horrified scream.

The creature was humungous - a feral beast of incredible beauty and unspeakable terror. It had the form of a ginormous, nine-tailed fox. Its tail-ends seemed to Sakura to be as sharp as slicing razors and swiped dangerously, smacking the ground and causing it to tremor. Its eyes were a wild, glazed crimson and its tawny coat was stained with smears of blood. She could see countless spears and swords impaled inside its body – but they did not slow its carnage down. It swiped with its gigantic, clawed paws, sending warriors from both sides flying. The agonised howls that filled the air were nauseating.

"CRONUS!" A voice screamed over the pandemonium hoarsely. Sakura turned and her heart leapt to her throat. Hades stood there amongst the litter of bodies, bloodied and near-hysterical. The sight of him stunned Sakura more than anything else. He looked so broken. "WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!?"

Cronus smirked callously. "Every great cause requires sacrifices, Hades. Your parents understood that."

With an enraged yell Hades charged at him, his blade drawn back. Sakura watched, her heart hammering, as they duelled at a speed that was blinding. But Hades was severely injured, and eventually Cronus got the upper hand, striking him on the head and knocking him unconscious.

"Let the shades take you, boy," Cronus hissed, kicking the younger deity's head for good measure. "I gave you enough chances."

Sakura wanted to run and claw Cronus's eyes out. But she could not move. She looked back to the nine-tailed demon fox, which was savagely attacking two figures. One was golden-haired - Zeus - and the other, a woman with scarlet tresses. His Queen. Cronus was perched atop the beast's colossal head and was firing dark energy in an attempt to ward Zeus and his Queen back.

Then she saw the Queen raise her hands and luminous, golden chains wound around the creature, strangling and suffocating. The beast struggled and roared, snarling and scratching and turning up great clumps of earth in a rabid attempt to escape. She glimpsed Cronus, also enchained, gazing down at the charred remains of his fallen army, screaming in rage. None of his kin remained to aid him.

None save for one.

She looked back to Hades. He had regained consciousness, and stumbled back up to his feet. She saw him gaze dazedly upon the scene of slaughter and massacre around him. His Clan, lying lifelessly in the dust. His family and ancestry lost. She saw it register on his face – a second before the ground beneath his feet rumbled.

Then, without warning, it split open, and she saw shadowy hands snatching and tearing cruelly at the ends of his cloak. A choked sound escaped his throat as he tried to get away, openly rejecting the chilling summon, but everywhere he turned, the spirit-like, skeletal fingers snagged at him, pulling and yanking incessantly, as if they sought to drag him into the darkness below. He kept tripping and losing balance, but each time he tried to get to his feet again, tried desperately to break free of their clutches despite his visible exhaustion.

She saw his face one final time, the dreadful face of someone who had lost everything. It reflected the horror of what the appearance of the shades had to mean as it dawned upon him with indisputable clarity; that the Dead of the Underworld were calling out for their new King, for the single remaining living heir – that everybody else that mattered to him had perished – and then the earth was falling away around him, and he was plummeting into the bottomless chasm below.


She heard a voice howl his name in pain, before the world around her began to cyclone into the shadows again and she was falling too, falling down into an abyss of nothingness once more.

With a shuddering gasp, Sakura's eyes flew open, her mind spinning from the visions she had seen. She felt dampness against her eyelashes and face, and reached up in bewilderment to touch her right cheek as she stared numbly up at the canopy of her bed above her.

Tears. She was crying.

Author's note

So, lots to take in here. Sakura has an idea of what has happened… Sasuke kissed her again… kukuku. Next chapter will focus more on the surface folk and the enemy.

I should stress that this is nowhere near all that happened in the past. These are just snippets from Sasuke's point of view. I'd love to know your thoughts about this chapter, people. Stay tuned for the next update!