Chapter Fourteen: Izanagi and Team Taka

AN: This is my take on Izanagi. I will explain this more in the coming chapters. I have modified it as Izanagi's canon "results' cancellation" ability would make Sasuke almost invincible and that is not something I want in this fiction.

I have also modified Susanoo and Amaterasu quite a bit and you will know more about them in the coming chapters as well. Eternal Mangekyou Sharingan Sasuke has been downgraded immensely to fit the local-logic of this fiction's universe. He is nowhere near as powerful as he should be in canon-manga.

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Whoever said that necessity was the mother of invention was quite off the mark … and a stillborn fool. It had always been desperation, looming behind it, tall and menacing like a woman was behind the ill-fated sequences of men's lives. They may deny it, they may hide behind veils of social ambiguity, but Sasuke knew; women proved to be nothing but necessary pieces to pass his boredom when it stung him hard.

The last thing he wanted as an added distraction was another woman hounding him by day and dogging him by night. The mess he seemed to be in was piling up into a large, clumsily cobbled up problem and he was only sinking deeper. That deep plunge within the chaos of sweet trouble was becoming only deeper. Yes, games were always sweet. There was always a certain zest in the muddle of confusion a new plan provided. The more it unraveled, the more excited he got; giddy as a child for his new found toy.

He had sunk his teeth into this new ambrosia, feeling the trickles from its new delightful tendrils fall drop by drop on his eager tongue; a tongue of a lover that adored the evanescent fragrances and tastes of so many flowers. And when the calm and serenity of thrill would enthrall him wholly, he would let it flood him with such eagerness that for a moment he would think he was no better than a madman, giving chase to the darkness that played hide and seek in the shadows. But then the lone thought would slink back into the undulating blackness like an unwelcomed nightmare, buried deep under those things he deemed not to be his necessities.

So it was … a ritual, a requiem of loss for that one lonely thought as he killed it himself, standing in the cool draft of autumn wind as it pushed his shirt against his cold skin dotted with sweat from the heat of his jacket; he was no madman. No, he was a thrill seeker. And he had come to cheerfully embrace this side of him a long time ago. Others may have hated, even loathed him for his sharp, silvery tongue that smoothed out the roughest of edges … and even women. But he shrugged off those sentiments. They weren't his to collect.

Last night, when the last drop of the cold rain had yet to secretly fall down and catch the side of his room's window, he slipped out of the futon and sent Kirin to Karin. She had been sending him messages. He didn't think her inclusion was necessary right now. But the way such a powerful seal couldn't prevent Naruto from leaving his manor … he had to admit it, he was being plagued by doubts. And these doubts were beginning to gnaw away at his plans.

Was he being played? Was someone beating him at his own game? A look of pure hatred flashed across his face. It was so quick like a sudden flash of lightning that leaves a bright cobweb floating in one's eye that no one's gaze would have navigated fast enough to see it. But only faster, like the coming of a heartbeat when you feel that a powerful pulse is about to throw the heart against the ribs… and then it is gone, suffusing the body with the slow crawl of life again.

Sasuke let out a breath of warm air and then sucked a lungful of it back in. He wrinkled his nose a bit when the cold air pushed the musk of grass and soggy ground up his nostrils. His gaze stopped for a second, meeting Naruto's clouded blue eyes. He looked tired, oblivious, with Sakura's arm in his. Since Hinata was not there, Sakura, somehow found it convenient to flaunt their arrangement out in the open. He found it repulsive.

He chose not to say anything. Naruto's forgetfulness was his advantage. He hung his head a little to the left, hiding that cunning smile breaking across his face. Yes, it was such an exquisite play … and the playtime had begun. He lifted his head suddenly, masking that fast-fading hint of glee perfectly behind that same old expression of duty that involved the dutiful raise of his brow and the shift of his facial muscles into a look of authority. It was truly a tired old ritual.

"I have called all of you here out in the cold to introduce a new member," he began, folding his arms more firmly than before, "I am sure you can all see her. Her name is Uzumaki Karin, and she'll be the sensor of the Team."

All of them were already looking at the young woman standing by Sasuke's side, looking quite overexcited. "Sasuke, I mean, Sasuke-Sama, do I have to introduce myself?" she asked, circling his waist.

Sasuke's jaw tightened and he spared her a sidelong hard gaze that bored into hers. She immediately backed away and collected her glasses swiftly to avoid the coming humiliation. "This isn't a Genin class," he rumbled, clenching his teeth, "you have already been introduced. Talk to Yuu and make yourself useful for the coming missions."

She giggled a little, but that died in her throat quite quickly when she saw Sasuke walk away from her. Her smile vanished and she wore that indifferent expression on her face. Her pink-ish, soft eyes turned left, trailing over to the lost lover staring at her with a boyish, innocent grin spreading across his face and a look of subtle apprehension Sakura's eyes just couldn't manage to hide in time.

Karin cast one last quick glance at Sakura, and then methodically wiped her glasses with a clean cloth she just fished out of her pocket. She lifted them, her breath fogging the glass and then repeated the same circular motions with her thumb again. When she got satisfied, she put the glasses back on, fingering them back to their usual perch. She leaned her head to one side and smiled a smile of delight that must have been assumed as happiness by everyone, even Sakura.

But she knew it was all just a game for her … for Sasuke. And she would stick around till he amused himself to death.

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Sasuke lay still under the thin trickle of rainwater leaking in from the crack in the roof. A puddle grew wider next to him as it caught the persistent droplets. Drip drip drip … the sound felt like hammers on his head. He stirred his head a little, pulling back his dry lips that were stuck to the cold floor caked with dirt.

He exhaled sharply and hazily saw a small cloud of dust blow up into the air. The place was dark, save for the single shaft of moonlight traveling down and breaking into thin white wisps as it struck the wisteria growing in through the crevices in the roof. His head was pounding and his vision was blurred, swaying like a boat heaving on the tides under the storm.

He mustered up the courage and propped himself up on his elbows, his head hanging in exhaustion. It took a while before his cloudy vision allowed him the luxury to survey his surrounds. It was muddy and soggy. The noise of the sky beyond the thick tree roots burrowing through the tiny cave grew angry. It was about to rain.

Sasuke whispered something to himself but his voice was lost. Slowly, he got to his feet and put his hand on the harsh rocks to his right. They glowed in the dark. His chakra was out and his Sharingan could not beat itself back to life. His own power had abandoned him. How helpless he felt as an Uchiha with his prop taken harshly away from him. It was a nightmare come alive.

The rustle of feet through the grass turned his vision. He couldn't see anyone save for a tall shadow. The kunai in its hand glimmered in the pallid light, shining like a specter of death at its sharp edge. His pride whipped the fear in him and he stood defiantly before it … ready to take on the brunt of its cruelty.

The figure lunged forward and it stabbed through his heart. It was a magnificent sight. The shower of blood landing on the dry Sakura flowers strewn about the cave, dappled red with the last signs of his life. It was amazing how he just saw them, as if death had lifted the last secret's gauzy veil and he could see it clearly now.

He tried to speak but the air left him, his dying unblinking eye catching the last drop of cool water … and he woke up, breathing heavily. He placed his hand on his sweaty forehead and wiped it across his face, collecting the sweat oozing from his every pore. The warm room felt like a welcoming gift from the spectacle of his own cold death even if it was in a dreadful dream.

Sasuke turned his head slightly, still not amused that Hinata had taken a refuge for the second night inside his room. But he let it slide. It was a sacrifice on his part, a hard compromise for the big prize he had planned for himself. He eased back down into the futon, relaxing the tense muscles in his back.

Breathing in, he realized; this was the third time he had this dream. His Sharingan was telling him something and he intended to solve this mystery …

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The premonition was set into motion. No, he couldn't really say that for sure, but he could hear the wheels of its chariot turning, ready to crush and crumble his life and everything he held dear. But that would have to wait. He knelt down, picking up the last fallen Sakura flower of the season. They would not bloom again this year. Their beauty was of short stay.

By his feet, countless tiny ripples disturbed the shallow marks in the muddy ground. The once stony road had been scoured away by merciless autumn rains. If the ninjas didn't know their paths right, they got lost in the vast forests, killed by spies or taken hostage. Konoha and Root always washed their hands clean of such petty matters. Lives didn't matter to them as long as that nexus of power, stained by the taint of corruption, remained undisturbed.

Sasuke breathed in the moist air and palmed his wet face, his lips pulling into a thin line. A frisson of disgust remained suppressed under his white skin, cradled deep within his heart blackened by the slaughter of his parents. When it beat, it sent trickles of hatred coursing through his whole body; a hatred he willingly embraced and cherished now, just as he relished the slow thumps of his hard heart.

He lifted his head and put his arm on his knee, looking beyond the red bangs flowing in the wind, breaking the last shafts of weak silver light. Karin had tied her hair back into a ponytail. Presently, two fingers of her right hand were pointed upwards. She was concentrating. Her glasses were foggy and dotted with countless raindrops slowly trailing down and falling on her lips and nose. It was cold at this time of the night.

"Anything?" he asked and stood up, clearing his throat. The abrupt change in weather had given him a bad throat.

Karin opened her eyes and lowered her hands. "When he merges with water, it's difficult to locate him," she said and blinked her right eye several times when a drop of rain water clung to her reddish lashes, touching the surface of her dilating pupils. She removed her glasses and rubbed her eye with her fingers. When she opened it, it was left red and teary.

"It has been a while," he said and turned on his Sharingan; that one tool that never lied to him. His ears were abuzz with the rustle of leaves quivering under the countless drops. The dissonance of the melody of the rainy forest didn't disturb his vision. He kept looking, disappointed when his red eyes failed to trace his chakra.

"Should we go and look for Jugo?" Karin asked and shook her wet hand. Her red hair clung to her face like paste, those smooth cheeks blushing under the assault of light rain. The thinning rain was not lasting long enough for this foray. The wind was ice cold, and both of them felt its cruel lash on their skins.

Sasuke turned his head around, not finding a soul out there at this hour of the night. The faint slivers of moonlight had vanished behind the dark clouds, devouring the full moon whole. The grey blanket cast darkness underneath it that only dispersed like frightened shadowy children when the sky lit up with a monstrous roar. His cunning couldn't have anticipated this poor weather.

"Let him sing with his birds," he said and cast a bored gaze at her when she burst into girly giggles, "he might get luckier than us."

"Should I sense again?" she asked and moved her hands up to form a seal again. He could barely see her beyond the mist between them, rising like a grey ghost in the weak blackness around them.

"No, no need," he said louder this time as the wind hissed and cut through the air, crying into their ears. "What is taking them so long?" He moved under the cover of branches that had gotten snarled up with the vines above them. Overhead, the leaves barely clinging onto the branches with last signs of life got severed by the wind.

"Sasuke, we won't find it in this weather. And even if we do, the rain would have cleaned up any leftover chakra. We should come back another day," she said, putting her hand on his shoulder. His Jounin shirt was completely soaked that she could feel his cold skin underneath.

"It is important that we find it today. The rains are not going to stop. I don't even know if I will get a day off in the coming weeks. Nii-Sama will be back in a day or two. He won't allow me to do as I please. You know how things are," he said in a throaty voice, peering into the gray mist at their feet. He could no longer see the grass underneath.

A look of curiosity came over her face and then a clever smile broke it suddenly. "Your little pink haired lover would make my job tough," she said with teeth in her smile. "Should I just kill her? Keeping an eye on Naruto would be easier that way."

"She is not my lover. I have never bedded that woman nor do I intend to," he gave a measured reply and drew in a cold breath, feeling it travel like ice in his lungs.

"Oh, poor her," Karin said in a playful, mocking voice and pressed her finger to her soft lips. "I still think she would be nothing but a problem. Don't worry, I'll make it look like an accident."

Sasuke gave a soft laugh at her odd sense of humour and leant back against the rough tree's bark. "Why smear your hands with her blood? She isn't worth much," he broke off and fixed her with a mischievous look that hovered over his eyes like a phantom. "I wouldn't worry about her. But you really are a bit cruel, Karin."

"Are you still hung up on that dead whore?" she asked, her soft voice getting lost midst the cacophony of so many sounds. "She was going to tell on us. If I hadn't done that, Root would have been onto you after what you did to Fuu. I didn't have much choice."

"You could have wiped her memory. Murder …" he stopped, letting out a heavy sigh, "… it makes things complicated. It's always better to keep things simple and clean. Sometimes, even the murder of a bystander can become a noose later. I would rather keep my neck free of that. You would do no such thing. Not unless I tell you to."

"You are so soft-hearted, Sasuke," she said and mashed herself against him, clasping her arms around his waist. "That is what I love about you. Such a romantic."

"There is a certain romance in keeping matters from getting messy," he said quickly and looked around, seeing the mist fall down on them through the wet boughs like a watery cascade. "You will do well to remember that." He walked out into the open as the rain eased up to a thin drizzle.

Karin walked behind him. Both of them stopped when they heard rustling in the wet bushes ahead. "It's okay, it's Jugo," Karin said, putting her kunai away.

Sasuke's grip slackened on the hilt of his katana. Not a second later a very tall man appeared from behind the bushes. He had quite a few birds perched on his wide shoulders. They chirped and sang in melodious voices, and for the life of him, Sasuke could never understand how he was able to talk to them.

"Sasuke," he said immediately as his gaze fell upon the young Uchiha, "I talked to the birds around the area. They don't seem to know much about the hidden trail. But they say that there is something up at the base of the small mountain up ahead." He pointed north and stood calmly.

"Where is Suigetsu?" he asked, pushing the hilt back into the sheath. "I hope he didn't get carried away by the currents, given his affinity. Wouldn't want him to get lost in the water."

"He should have made to it the entrance. He said he was too wet to walk around for now," Jugo said, feeding one of the birds with soggy breadcrumbs.

"Let the bastard die. Why did you ask him to come along?" Karin asked, looking irritated.

"Behave yourself, Karin," Sasuke said, turning his head to look at her features touched by a hint of mild anger. "I wouldn't have this here. You understand?"

Karin clucked her tongue irritably. "You will get along and you will do it without drawing suspicion," he continued as the Sharingan flared in his eyes and then disappeared, overtaken by the usual blackness his eyes were so familiar with. "Don't disappoint me. Otherwise, you know I won't keep you around."

"All right, all right," she said, raising her voice, "but he better not get on my nerves."

"Lead the way, Jugo," Sasuke said and ran behind the tall man followed by the reluctant Karin.

It took them a few minutes to reach a small clearing. Sasuke held out his palm and a flame came alive upon it, dancing and sizzling as it took the cool drizzle upon itself. He looked around. He had passed by this area a few times but never came upon this clearing. It was probably because of the pile of boulders before the area to the right. He never had any business to come here anyway.

He tread carefully, letting his Sharingan see through everything, even the clear chakra flowing within the watery surface of Suigetsu's odd body. "I thought you drowned," Sasuke said, eliciting a loud laugh out of Karin.

"Yeah, you would love that, huh, Karin? You just think I am this tiny stone in your path, don't you? Like hell I am, because I'll be this giant boulder between you and Sasuke. I am never going to move. You hear me?" He moved his saggy face, revealing those jagged, pointy teeth. It was hard to tell what kind of expression he was trying to make, as all Sasuke could see were tiny bubbles of water rising up to his bluish skin. "But seriously, Sasuke, I can't. You know why? Because, I am water, baby. I am here, there … I am everywhere." He lifted the large sword up into the air as some sort of victory gesture and pulled a smile that sagged the next second. It looked like he couldn't maintain any expression longer than two seconds.

"You shouldn't sit under the rain after being out in the water for so long. I don't want to come back and collect you in buckets," Sasuke said with poker-faced seriousness.

"Ah, good times," Suigetsu said aloud and snapped at the mist several times like an irritated dog as if it would dilute him more. "When was that again? Oh, yeah, that cloud village incident last year. The woman was about to flush me down the toilet. I still have nightmares."

Sasuke let out a subtle sound and moved his eyes around, looking at the thick line of trees standing all around them like an ominous, variegated curtain. It was hidden in plain sight. He had no reason to tread this far away from the main trail during his missions. How much more were they hiding from their own military?

"I think she should have. You are already so full of shit!" Karin said with a snap, creating a disgusted expression as if Sasuke really had pulled him out of the gutters.

"That's rich, coming from a whor …"

"Enough, both of you." Sasuke raised his hand and then turned a little to look at Suigetsu. "Where is it?"

"I'll take you, Sasuke. The birds are getting restless because of the negative Natural Energy here. They need harmony," Jugo said with infinite calm and started for the boulders in front.

"Now ain't that guy an original thinker!" Suigetsu exclaimed, pointing his sword at Jugo who disappeared behind the pile of large rocks worn thin by fungus and rain. "If only you were like that, Karin. But with all that anger and guttery thoughts about Sasuke, you'll just disturb his peace-lovin' parakeets."

"For the love of …" Sasuke mumbled and walked behind Jugo, not sticking around to listen to Karin's uncultured insults that involved Suigetsu, his watery penis and his willing dead mother.

When he turned the corner, he came across a shrine … or what was left of it. It was shattered to pieces. And from the looks of it, not long ago. He knelt down and brushed his fingers on the hard mud. He could see nothing. The chakra, the prints; it was all gone save for the fragmentary bits of bluish energy clinging to the rocks and it was not enough to pin down the wriggling worm. The rain took care of it, hiding the culprit's identity, otherwise, his Sharingan would have seen the colour of that snake's chakra.

"Not quite what ya were expectin'?" Suigetsu asked from behind him. "I thought it always looked like that and was wonderin' what you'd want with this dump."

"No," Sasuke sighed out, getting to his feet. His eyes turned and stopped on Suigetsu and Karin. "One of the Root members talked about coming in through the entrances in the south only three days ago. Someone destroyed this very recently. Karin, can you sense anything?"

Karin touched her glasses; it was a perfunctory habit for her. "There is residual chakra from someone here. But it's too small to sense anything. You are right. Someone did this quite recently," she said, moving a little to the left to look at the smashed entrance.

"Isn't there any way under it? I can slip inside," Suigetsu said, putting his sword against the tree.

Sasuke looked down at the entrance again, finding nothing but darkness. The entrance was destroyed from both ends. There was not even a gap the size of a bodkin to squeeze through. "Leave it. Whoever it was, they sensed danger and acted before us. Even if you do manage to slip in, you'll be caught," Sasuke said, a look of confusion scurrying madly across his face.

"Any ideas who?" Karin asked.

"Doesn't matter," Sasuke replied and brushed his fingers across his reddened cheek, "I'll find out soon enough." Then he smiled. This game was not so one-sided after all.

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