The Nonary Game
Warnings: Violence. Blood. Gory scenes. Murder scenes. Lemon scenes.
Disclaimer: Part of this story will have settings and events taken out from various anime like Get Backers and Jigoku Shoujo, but I do not own any of them, nor do I own Naruto or any characters in this story save for OC characters
Chapter Thirty Seven: The Nonary Game
Early dawn the next morning came too soon for Ragnarok's liking, and just perhaps, for the rest of the former ANBUs too, Haku mused to herself, having been on guard duty with Gaara throughout the night. It is for security purposes, as the ANBU is still after them after all, along with Roots and the Demon God himself.
It had been nearly a week ever since Shiki had told the ANBUs every single thing about the Bijuu Nine, their legends, the Demon God himself, the rise and fall of the era of the gods, as well as the tragedy surrounding the first nin-users of the world.
The ANBUs were all particularly subdued ever since, and half of them felt guilty. Shiki meanwhile, could barely be found ever since, as she is hardly around.
"Hey, it's time for a switch." Temari's voice entered Haku's senses just then, and she turned around only to see Temari and Tenten both approaching them, both looking wide awake, and doesn't look as if they have just woken up at all. "We'll take over."
Haku nodded, but Gaara frowned, and looked towards the eastern sky. It was still early dawn, and the sun hasn't broken out over the skies yet. Haku frowned to herself at seeing Gaara's uncharacteristic behaviour. "Something wrong?"
Gaara sighed. "Yeah," he said, turning towards the three girls. "I've been getting a bad feeling recently."
"About Shiki?" Tenten asked carefully, and Gaara nodded slowly. She sighed. "Yeah. Same here. All her plans and decisions lately… It kind of makes me feel like she's going somewhere far away after this ends." Tenten bit on her lower lip nervously. "I hope that I'm just thinking too much about things…" She mused.
"I hope that we're just thinking too much about this too, Tenten." Haku agreed with a frown. "Shiki has always been like this. She had always been full of secrets. Even from back then." She sighed. "I'm going to get some shut eye."
Having breakfast with Ragnarok and with one of Baled's leaders is a new experience entirely.
The Ragnarok boys have gathered all the firewood that they can find in the surrounding areas, whilst the former ANBUs are to prepare the campsite for cooking. The girls are then to prepare the food for breakfast. It is an entirely new experience for the ANBUs, not only because they are having breakfast together with the one organisation that the entire country has been on the lookout out for nearly nine years.
It is because most, if not all of the ANBUs present never had to lift a single finger in the kitchen for nearly their entire lives. ANBU had their own mess hall in the ANBU headquarters where the ANBU agents tend to have their meals, and even then, they tend to skip meals a lot. Being an ANBU means that you tend to have very irregular meal times and sleeping hours.
All of Ragnarok, sans for Temari and Tenten along with Shiki were present.
"Where's Shiki?" Itachi asked, looking around as Konan passed the plates of food around.
Hinata who was serving out the food glanced at him from her position by the campfire. "Back there," she said, gesturing towards the forest where the redhead could be seen, along with Sumaru, one of the two leaders of Baled. The two seemed to be having a rather intense conversation, yet was standing far away enough that their conversation could not be overheard.
Neji who was eyeing the two for some time sighed. "Someone better stop them before they argue until the next day," he muttered, knowing what it is like whenever Shiki gets into a heated dispute with some of her old comrades. He had to deal with Sai and Shiki once about five years ago. He knew what it is like. And if Sumaru is every bit as stubborn as Sai and Shiki…
Haku sighed, standing up and turning to face their initial direction. She then placed her forefinger and thumb into her mouth and whistled shrilly. Rendoku who wasn't expecting such a shrill and loud whistle literally jumped two feet into the air.
"Well, I can see that this woke you guys up properly all right." Sasuke stated sarcastically. He had quite given up on having his teammates be wide awake in the early morning. The raven haired teen knew that none of them are morning people, sans for perhaps Lee who had a habit of going jogging at five in the morning if they do not have a mission.
There were light footsteps heading their way just then, and everyone present looked up only to see Shiki walking towards them with a frustrated expression on her face, an equally angry and frustrated looking Sumaru close behind her.
"Wait a damn moment, Shiki! I'm not done talking with you yet!" Sumaru seethed.
The ANBUs were surprised, as they have never seen the leaders of Baled and Ragnarok that frustrated before. Ragnarok meanwhile, just carried on with their breakfast like this is common occurrence. And unknown to the ANBUs, this is a common occurrence ever since the ANBUs have 'joined up' with them, so as to speak. Just what they're arguing about however, no one knew.
"I don't care what the hell you think, Sumaru!" Shiki turned and glared at Sumaru with that glare; the glare that had sent many ANBU members running for the hills before, and the glare that all of Ragnarok knew equals bad news whenever Shiki had that look on her face. No one in Ragnarok is suicidal enough to argue with her whenever she had that look on. But apparently, Sumaru either didn't know or didn't care.
Both teens were taken aback as a gigantic sword struck the area in between them both just then, and both teens, along with everyone else present, turned only to see Kisame with his sword, sighing tiredly.
"Why don't the both of you have something to eat first before you continue with whatever that you're talking about?" The shark-like man suggested. "You'll only be in a bad temper on an empty stomach. I should know." He grinned, glancing at Itachi. "Itachi always was cranky whenever he is hungry or if he is staved of his usual batch of morning coffee."
Sumaru and Shiki glared at each other before both turned in the opposite direction and sat down on the logs around the campfire that served as seats, receiving their own serving of breakfast from Hinata.
Kisame sighed, shifting his grip on the hilt of that enormous sword of his, and Kiba who was glancing around whilst stuffing his face with his breakfast blinked as he can see a symbol of some sort engraved on the blade of the sword, just near the hilt.
"Hey Kisame, can I see your sword?" Kiba called out, frowning, as he could have sworn that he had seen that symbol somewhere before.
Kisame blinked, one hand clenched around the hilt of his enormous sword before he nodded. "Sure," he agreed absently. "Here, catch—"
Everyone near him nearly choked on their food as Kisame who is easily the strongest of the ANBU group made a movement to throw the sword to Kiba as he easily yanked his sword out of the ground. Thankfully, before he could do so, two people stopped him.
Neji and Shiki.
Neji sighed in relief. "Just in time," he muttered, both him and Shiki having been sitting the nearest to the tall shark-like man, and he had nearly upset his cup of coffee in his haste to stop Kisame from throwing his sword.
Yugito has no strength left to spare to heal someone else with life and death injuries with the power of the Forbidden Forest.
"What kind of idiot are you to throw a bloody SWORD at someone?" Shiki bellowed into Kisame's ear, not removing her hand from his wrist. Kisame winced at her anger, as he, along everyone else, knew that Shiki hasn't been in the correct mood lately after the story that she had told them about the Bijuu Nine and the nin-users. "Will you like it if I throw my sword at your head?"
Itachi blinked, eyeing the short sword in a holster attached at the back of Shiki's waist.
The redhead had undergone quite an attire change ever since the Demon God's revival. She is now wearing a white long-sleeved shirt with a black short-sleeved shirt worn over it, with a pair of black shorts with silver buckles on it, and black and white sneakers on her feet. A cameo-green jacket went with it which Shiki had left off for now. A black choker with a silver cross pendant hanging at the end of it could be seen around her throat, and Itachi could see several hidden weapons attached in holsters by her thighs and in belt holsters around her waist. Itachi recognised some of the weapons – it ranged from handguns to grenades to hand daggers, and to who knows what.
Shiki wasn't the only one carrying around weapons of all sorts. The rest of Ragnarok as well, along with Baled. That Tenten girl is the worst, seriously. She had to have been carrying around enough weapons to open a weapon shop herself, and Itachi has to stop himself from wondering several times if she has the same ability as that Yugito girl to open pocket dimensions. Where else would she have gotten enough space on her person to cart around all her weapons?
"Sorry! I wasn't thinking." Kisame nearly squeaked, trying to get away from Shiki's temper. Knowing the leader of Ragnarok like he does, he is pretty sure that if Shiki ever decided to make true on her threat, he would have at least lost a limb or his head entirely.
"Never mind." Kiba said hastily, standing up and making his way towards Kisame. "I think that it'll be much safer for everyone if I just come over and see for myself." He knelt down next to Kisame's gigantic sword, and examined the symbol that he saw earlier carefully. "What is this symbol, Kisame?" He asked at last, looking up at the tall man.
"This?" Kisame asked, glancing at the symbol. "That's Mist's symbol. All the weapons of the Seven Swordsmen of that group had that symbol."
Sasuke almost choked on his food. "M-Mist? You're one of the Seven Swordsmen? The elites of Mist's troops?"
"Former." Kisame corrected Sasuke. "I left them after the war. When Mei contacted me a few years ago, asking me to return to Mist, and that they're slowly rebuilding Mist to what it once was, by then, it was already too late, as I was already with the ANBU by then." He sighed.
"The symbol is kind of special though." Kiba frowned. "I've never seen anything like this before."
"Mei explained to me behind the meaning of their symbol once." Shiki spoke up, and everyone turned towards her. "The weighing scales represented justice itself. It represented Mist's role in the underworld and within the ANBU and the High Council. They defend the underworld, but kept justice close to their hearts. They're to the underworld what the ANBU is to the civilian populace. And the nine symbols around those weighing scales are the very symbols of the Bijuu Nine themselves. Each symbol represented one of each of them. That's why Mist is so knowledgeable about the legends of the Bijuu Nine."
"Come to think of it, didn't Sai say something about Mist, the Bijuu Nine legends and Ne once?" Hinata mused absently. "That's how we got a lock onto Danzo and Ne, didn't we? Five years ago."
All Ragnarok members stiffened at this.
"Hinata!" Gaara snapped.
Hinata blushed. "S-Sorry."
"Five years ago? Ne?" Konan echoed. "Is this 'Sai' person the reason why you guys have been able to pinpoint Danzo's movements and plans all along?"
Ragnarok fell silent, looking at each other uncomfortably. Sumaru and Shiki exchanged grim looks, and Itachi looked curiously at Shiki. If truth be told, until now, he still doesn't know much about Shiki's past, and her own connection with Ne. Come to think of it, Ragnarok does know Ne's plans a little too well.
Sumaru snorted. "Shiki, you'd better tell them," he said at last. He glanced at the ANBUs. "If they truly wish to stop the Demon God and Danzo himself, they wouldn't look at Sai any differently even if they knew the truth. If they do, well…" He shrugged. "You can just kick them out. Simple."
Shiki frowned as she studied the faces of the ANBUs surrounding her. "I guess so," she mused.
"I've heard of this 'Sai' person before." Shikamaru said slowly. "From what I could find out, he used to be one of Ne's top operatives before he betrayed them five years ago. Because he knew too much about them, and had something that they wanted, Danzo has been after him ever since."
"Well, not quite what you've said, but close enough." Sumaru coughed. He sighed, exchanging looks with Shiki. "It's true, part of what you've said. Sai indeed used to be part of Ne. He was one of their top operatives because he is a splendid spy, and an even better assassin. He was part of Blade with us after all. It is natural. The survivors of Blade are all that – survivors. We learned to survive in Hagako – during the chaotic era during the civil war. That's how we could survive until today."
"After Blade…disbanded, Sai disappeared." Shiki added in her input. "At that time, I didn't even know if any of the others survived. Sai thought that we were all dead. I don't fully know the reason why Sai joined Danzo, but apparently, it is because it is to find his brother. His brother used to be part of Blade, but he went missing after the attack. Sai didn't believe that Yamato is dead, as we'd never found a body, unlike the others."
"In Ne, they taught their assassins to kill their emotions. To be emotionless killing machines." Sumaru sighed. "But Sai stubbornly held onto his own emotions, as he held on hope. Hope that he might one day find Yamato. He is one of their top operatives after all. Danzo wanted Sai to join Ne because of his network in the underworld, and because he is a skilled fighter. All of Blade are." He exchanged looks with Shiki. "But Sai betrayed them. Later on, he found Shiki and gave her sensitive information about Danzo and his organisation. That's why Danzo went into hiding for nearly five years."
"Then this Sai is…" Sasori shook.
Shiki nodded. "A former member of Ne. One of the, if not the only, person who knew all the ins and outs of Danzo's doings and his organisation, and knew the exact way they work. He's done many horrible things during his time with them, but he didn't have a choice. Just like how none of us have." She gestured towards herself, Sumaru and Ragnarok. "We did what we did in order to survive. Nothing more and nothing less. I'm not making any excuses here. And I'm not asking you to forgive Sai for what he did in the past. I'm just asking you to understand his situation. We wanted to live. No matter what. We wanted to continue surviving. We survived the chaotic period of Hagako as Blade. That's why, we wanted to survive, to live, to see. That's all that it is. After Sai betrayed Ne, I got Sumaru and Arashi to hide him, and he had been on the run from Danzo ever since."
"And that's why Baled is formed?" Lee asked, not his usual boisterous self for once.
"Not quite." Sumaru said. "After I knew that Shiki survived, and learned about Ragnarok's existence from her, I then planned on helping her. It took me years of planning and organising, as I need an extensive spy network within the underground, and enough contacts with weapon merchants and the like. It is only when Sai left Ne, and Shiki left him with me that I managed to build Baled. At the time of it's formation, this country had long lost their trust in the ANBU and the High Council. It didn't take much effort for us to find members. More than half the country despises the ANBU and the High Council after all."
The ANBUs looked down, ashamed.
Shiki sighed, getting up from her seat, and picking up her jacket. "Well, I'm going to head out to the mainland for a bit. Just to get a better understanding of the current situation from Mei, and maybe to scout for a bit," she informed her group who nodded.
"Shall I go with you?" Neji asked.
Sumaru shook his head. "I'll be going with her, so don't worry. I need to drop in on Sai and on one of our bases at Shinjuku anyway."
"We'll be back by nightfall. Can you guys hold the fort here?" Shiki asked, and Haku nodded.
"Excellent," said Shiki. "Come on, Sumaru."
The surrounding teens then watched as the two teens vanished into the woods.
"So…" Deidara broke the silence. "How long did it take Ragnarok to establish itself?" He asked curiously.
Neji frowned as he exchanged looks with his comrades. "Well, not all that long, actually," he said. "Around…four to five years, I think," he mused. "It was only officially established after Shino joined us, and we only started to make a name for ourselves with Tenten's incident back then. Shiki got pissed off with the ANBU and the High Council." He chuckled darkly. "Be glad that you didn't see her back then. No one likes it when Shiki is angry. She can literally do anything when she is pissed."
"I know that Baled had some issues with their formation back then. Did Ragnarok have the same problem? You know, with the underworld and such?" Chouji asked curiously.
"Not really." Haku said. "Even before Ragnarok was formed, Shiki is kind of famous among the underworld in a way, because of Blade. And as a rule, we don't get into too many confrontations with the underworld gangs, sans for you ANBU." She grinned darkly. "No one is stupid enough to mess with us, particularly with Shiki. Even without her powers, she is not someone whom you would want to mess with, or to piss off." She added.
"Mist kept the underworld gangs in control. But make no mistake here, among the underworld, Ragnarok's word is law." Gaara added his input. The ANBUs were listening with interest, hearing a first hand account from the people who is responsible for what the underworld and the informants' circle is today. "Several of the gangs that actually did some…massacres here and there a couple years back went missing mysteriously. Shiki was actually behind it. She would never have allowed any killings of innocents. Sai told me what it was like in Hagako when Shiki was still there. She ruled Hagako there with an iron fist. No one dared to cross their path. Rule fear with fear. That is the law of the underworld back then."
"Is that how it always was?" Shikamaru wondered. "The underworld. Seems like a lot of the changes only took place a few years ago." He mused.
"Not always." Hinata glanced at her friends. "It wasn't always like that. The 'changes' only happened because Shiki was there." She turned towards the ANBUs. "You people probably weren't aware of this, but a few years ago, a riot nearly broke out in Japan that nearly resulted in civil war. The nin-users of the underworld were behind it."
The ANBUs felt their hearts go cold at that declaration.
"But…why?" Deidara choked.
"Because they were angry." Gaara said at last. "All of them. They were angry with you – the ANBU, the High Council, the country. Everyone. They were tired of their treatment and the ostracising that they went through each and every single time, and wanted some justice done. They decided that they had enough, and then they decided that since the country hates and fears them for seemingly no reason at all, they'll give Japan a reason to want to fear them."
"I've never heard of this happening before!" Kisame gasped in horror.
"You wouldn't. It was all kept very hush-hush." Haku sighed, propping her chin up by one hand. "It was about five years ago, just after Danzo and Ne staged their disappearances, along with Orochimaru and his Oto. Probably, the fact that Orochimaru got off is what triggered that action. The nin-users had enough of their treatment, and I don't blame them. If I hadn't met Shiki all those years ago, I would have probably done the same thing. Because it is an underworld problem, we were trying to curb it ourselves. Mist was busy trying to change their minds, as they knew that if another civil war was to break out when we've barely recovered from the last one, it'll be the end of Japan."
"And it didn't." Itachi noted.
"Because of Shiki." Neji added tiredly, and the ANBUs were taken aback. "Yeah, you heard me right." He stated irritably. "At that time, it was Shiki who stopped the underworld from waging war on the ANBU and the High Council. Like Mist, she knew that if another war were to break out at that time, it would be the end of Japan."
"Some of us didn't agree with Shiki at that time." Haku stated, glancing at Gaara and Neji who looked guilty. "At that time, they thought that it is about time that the country gives the nin-users what they rightfully deserve. Gaara, Neji and Temari disagreed with Shiki. Shino, Hinata and me supported her. The rest were neutral. Worst fight that we ever had at that time. Shiki is the type to always keep her reasoning for every plan that she had to herself, and it is the same back then. But at that time, we don't know her well enough yet, and Gaara, Neji and Temari got the wrong idea about her, and accused her to her face. Shiki plain lost it. Closest that I ever saw her being angry enough to use her powers. In the end however, they saw her reasoning, and it took us nearly a year to pacify the underworld, and to stop the war."
"Not that I don't understand why the nin-users felt that way at that time, but waging a war because of it? That's just crazy!" Deidara muttered.
Haku sighed. "Erm… Deidara-san? We don't use the c-word to describe the nin-users of the land," she muttered. And however 'crazy' Shiki's ideas and plans can get at times, she knows what she is doing. And make no mistake, her plans always works. How else can we up you guys one each and every single time?"
The ANBUs blushed at that statement, as they recalled just how Ragnarok somehow always manages to make them look like fools or even idiots.
"And your involvement in Kankuro's death didn't make things any easier for Shiki." Haku stated, glancing at Gaara warily. Gaara said nothing, and apart from the slight clenching of fists, Haku would have assumed that he hadn't heard her at all. "Worst fight that Shiki had with Gaara at that time. All of us thought that they might be using their powers to fight any minute. They argued for months. And then…" She sighed. "Sasame was killed." Deidara looked guilt stricken, and tried to ignore Neji's glare on his person. "Shiki snapped at that time. She was just this close to hunting down all of you and killing you. I know that she harboured the thought of killing Itachi-san too." Itachi winced. "We might accept you into our fold for now, but we hadn't forgiven you yet for our comrades' deaths. And if I know Shiki, she will never forgive you." She said bluntly. "She is our leader after all."
Itachi looked as if Haku had just stabbed him in the gut. "I…know that," he said weakly.
"Then the recent treatment of the nin-users, along with the outcome of the last High Council meeting only inflamed Shiki's temper." Hinata added. "She never uses her powers because it is too powerful. She is a direct descendant from Kyuubi for a reason. The last remaining one. Suffice to say, she is probably the most powerful nin-user that ever lived."
"Besides, I think that Shiki is probably suffering as well." Gaara frowned, curling his fingers together before his mouth. "She has been acting out of sorts ever since the Demon God's revival."
"Yeah, she's been trying to find his lair." Neji sighed. "Now that he has been awakened, it doesn't matter even if we seal the shrines away. I know that she is searching for his one weakness – the Death incantation of the Book of the Dead that the Bijuu Nine used ten thousand years ago to seal him away. Only this time, Shiki plans on using the full incantation and the power to kill him for good."
Itachi blanched. That's why Shiki had been returning late at night, and leaving early in the morning? Nearly none of them sans for perhaps Ragnarok themselves have seen Shiki of late. He had assumed at first that Shiki is avoiding him, but now that he knew this, maybe…
"That's what she's been doing for the last few days?" Konan questioned, shocked.
Gaara nodded silently. "Yeah." He admitted.
"But I've been getting a really bad vibe from her and Sumaru both lately." Haku admitted. "And with them both arguing frequently of late…" She trailed off. "It gives me the feeling…like Shiki…is going to a faraway place after this, or that she won't even be returning."
"So nothing thus far?" Shiki asked whilst on the phone later that night, even as Sumaru steered the speedboat in order for them to return to the Forbidden Forest.
It was another uneventful search that day. Nothing new had shown up, sans for the fact that the number of disappearances around the country had lessened, and this doesn't mean good news, as it probably meant that the Demon God had nearly attained his original strength.
"Sorry, no. I've been searching, and I hadn't found anything like the book that you were talking about. Are you sure that it's not just a legend?" The person on the other end of the line sighed.
"No. I'm pretty sure that it existed." Shiki frowned. "The name of the book is Per Vitam Mortem Et. It is Latin for 'Through Life and Death'. The legendary Book of Death. The death incantation for the Demon God is somewhere in there."
"And you also need the 'devil's fruit', whatever that is."
"Yeah well, that too." Shiki frowned. "We need two things in order to kill Madara. The Book of Death. And the devil's fruit. And I still have no idea what that is!"
There was a long pause.
"Might be a plant of some kind, Shiki. I've been reading up on the legends of the Bijuu Nine, and it is only mentioned very briefly that the Demon God's only weakness aside from the death incantation is the devil's fruit. It is said that the devil's fruit can make him mortal once more. He won't be immortal again. And you can then kill him with the incantation."
"I've been asking Arashi and Mei to look into it for me, but no news so far." Shiki admitted.
"I'll help too. We're running out of time. If we don't hurry, even our place here might be affected by the Demon God himself."
Shiki sighed. "Yeah. I'm counting on you, Riku."
"So nothing new today as well?" Hinata sighed as she passed out their dinner around the campfire. For once, no one is on guard duty that night, as even Temari and Tenten were ready to collapse after an entire day of guard duty, and no one else had the strength to last through the night. They don't trust the ANBU enough to do it either.
"Nope." Shiki shook her head, receiving her dinner portion from Hinata, ignoring the curious glances on her person from the ANBUs. "But the number of disappearances is lessening, and that doesn't mean good news." She sighed. "We have to hurry and find the book as well as this 'devil's fruit', whatever that is."
The ANBUs exchanged looks before Sasuke sighed and shrugged.
Currently, out of all the ANBUs, he is the only one whom Shiki wouldn't bite the head off. Even his brother had gotten the cold shoulder from the redhead, and she had acted as if he wasn't there. No one knew just why Shiki had been ignoring him as well. Probably, only Gaara and Haku knew. But if they knew, they aren't talking.
"Erm… Namikaze?" Sasuke spoke up, and Shiki raised an eyebrow. "We—" He gestured towards himself and his ANBU comrades. "—have been talking. Nii-san—" Itachi glared at his brother, and Sasuke glared back before clearing his throat. "I mean, I wanted to know what does Danzo and his Ne, along with the ANBU, have to do with this experimenting case that you were talking about when you attacked ANBU headquarters back then." He shifted uncomfortably, squirming beneath Shiki's glare. "The kidnapping-cum-experimenting case that you were talking about that had happened nearly ten to thirteen years ago."
Shikamaru's eyes widened in realisation.
"You…" Tsunade said slowly. "You're one of those kids from back then!" Her ANBU agents turned startled eyes towards their commander. "That kidnapping-cum-experimenting case from nearly ten to thirteen years ago!"
Shiki's lips curled into a sneer. "I'm glad to see that you remembered me," she said. "It's been over ten years. Long time no see, Senju Tsunade!"
"Impossible!" Tsunade shook her head. "It can't be! You're supposed to be dead!" That came out more like a denial than an insult.
Shiki was silent at that, her eyes darkening over.
Sumaru looked over at his old friend with concern. He knew just how much that experimenting case had affected her. Back then, when she had finally reappeared again after nine days, she was shaking so much, and had jumped at even the slightest thing, that she would probably have jumped even at her own shadow. Riku is the only one back then who could manage to calm her.
"Shiki, you don't have to say anything if you don't want to." Sumaru said with concern.
"No, I'll be fine." Shiki shook her head. She looked at the fire burning merrily in the middle. The redhead then looked at her comrades and friends, all who wore curious looks on their faces. "I think that it's about time that I tell you guys, you and Ragnarok both. About my past." She looked at Sumaru. "The past that only two other living people in this world now knew about." She turned her gaze back to the fire. Everyone was silent, staring at the redhead. They knew that whatever she is going to say now is going to be hard – both on her and on them. "It was more than ten years ago. Have you ANBUs heard of a mass kidnapping case that had happened more than ten years ago?"
Nagato blinked, but nodded. Shikamaru did too after awhile. The two were the 'researchers' of their individual teams after all.
"Yeah, I did. But the records said that the culprits were never found, and only four of the children were found back then." Shikamaru answered. "Their names were never released. It happened during the civil war after all. The ANBU records were all messed up then."
"It was a kidnapping cum experimenting case." Shiki stated. "Orochimaru had a hand in it." Everyone felt their hearts go cold at this. Anything that had to do with Orochimaru usually equals to bad news. "It was an experiment. Ten children were involved. And of those ten, five were nin-users."
Shiki ignored the interruption from Kiba, and continued as if there have been no interruptions whatsoever. "It was an experiment in the form of a game. They called it the Nonary Game."
"Nonary…" Nagato trailed off.
"…Game?" Konan muttered.
"I think that the term Nonary is something derived from the number nine or Base-9." Shikamaru mused, one finger poised at his chin. "It's derived from the Latin prefix 'nona', which actually means nine."
Shiki nodded. "There were ten of us back then," she muttered. "I…don't remember all the names of all those involved. Only a few. Two of your comrades, Haruno Sakura and Yamanaka Ino, were among those." She glanced at the shocked looks of the ANBUs. "I'll go more into detail about it later. The others whose names I remember were Miyuki, Suzuki, and a boy a few years my senior who went by the codename of 'Pein'. Later on, I found out that his real name is 'Ein'—"
"Ein?" Both Nagato and Konan bellowed at the same moment, identical shocked expressions on their faces. Everyone was taken aback by their outburst. Nagato was shocked. "D-Did you just say…'Ein'?"
Shiki frowned. "What's it to you?" she questioned bluntly. Her eyes then widened. "It couldn't be…" She muttered, narrowing her eyes at Nagato. "Nagato, is your last name…Amegashi?"
Nagato was pale, but nodded. "My full name is Amegashi Nagato," he said shakily. "Ein… Amegashi Ein is my younger brother! My twin brother!"
Everyone was silent, staring at Nagato in shock. Shiki was pale. "I thought that you reminded me of someone, and I thought it strange that you kept appearing at the hospital where I was after that case, but I didn't think…" Shiki mumbled something beneath her breath. "Are you serious? What are the odds? And? Where's Ein now?" Shiki asked breathlessly.
"I think that you know, Namikaze." Nagato said, a look of pain on his face. "He's…dead. But never mind that! Just tell me! What is this experiment?" He demanded. "What happened back then?"
Shiki stared at Nagato for a very long time without saying anything before she turned her gaze back to the fire. "The experiment back then was a large scale one," she said slowly. "Many people were involved in it – a top secret team. Orochimaru and Danzo were one of those involved in that team, along with five others. The seven of them made up that team. They began that project roughly ten or so years ago. I was about six or so when the project was commenced. And they named it…the Nonary Project."
"What is it?"
Shiki was silent for a long time. "Mind control," she answered. "The purpose of the experiment was to research the prospect of controlling a human mind through sheer will. Nin-users have stronger willpower as compared to normal humans, and that's why nin-users were among the ten children involved." She glanced at Nagato. "They were testing out the morphogenetic field of humans – both nin-users and non nin-users."
"What is that?" Lee asked, confused. "This…morphogenetic field."
Shiki was silent for a long time, merely staring into the fire, the reflection of the flames dancing in her eyes. Itachi was about to open his mouth when Shiki spoke once more.
"It is the term that we used to describe a situation. A situation where the more people who knew the answer to a question, the more people there were who could answer correctly without having seen the problem before." Shiki snapped her head up, and looked from face to face seriously. No one dared to interrupt her. "The answer is that the 'shape' of the answer has been stored in a field invisible to the naked eye. And through that field, the resonant event transmits information related to that answer. That's essentially the idea behind morphogenetic fields."
"That's crazy! And you say that Orochimaru and Danzo believed in something like this?" Temari asked, shocked.
Shiki laughed bitterly. "Sounds crazy to you now, isn't it?" she stated more than questioned, and she got silent nods. "But believe it or not, this morphogenetic field truly does exist." She looked from face to face. "Let me use an example. Let's just say that someone killed another person. And this killer said that he did it because the devil made them do it. Whether this 'devil' exists or not has no relevance to the murderer at all. All that matters is that they believed in the devil's existence. They believe that the devil exists. Whether or not he does is immaterial."
"That probably explains why we have so many nin-user hunts going on in the country after the war." Shino muttered, shocked. "Too many to count, in fact. And even we as Ragnarok could not stop all."
Hinata nodded, agreeing with Shino, pale in the face.
"So…you're saying that all that matters here in this experiment is that Danzo and Orochimaru believed in the morphogenetic field?" Sasuke said slowly, and Shiki nodded. "But what is that experiment?"
"It was set up in the form of a game – a game with real danger." Shiki's eyes darkened over. "A game where the stakes are your life, and if you lose, you die."
Itachi flinched. He knew from Shiki's tone that this experiment, whatever it is, isn't going to be anything good. And probably, Shiki herself doesn't want to remember it as well. If it has anything to do with both Orochimaru and Danzo, he doesn't blame her.
"I don't understand." Deidara frowned. "What's this got to do with anything? You said that they wanted to control people." Shiki nodded. "So how were they going to do that with a morphogenetic field?"
"I'll keep it simple." Shiki said with a sigh, though she knew that she is just trying to delay the inevitable. She doesn't want to relieve the memories of ten years back. "Let's suppose 10,000 people have solved a certain problem. The chance of you knowing that answer, even if no one has told you, will go up." She looked from face to face. "And let's have another example, shall we? Let's say that 1,000,000 people were to do a handstand right now. Tomorrow, the chances of you doing a handstand would be higher, even if you had heard nothing of this hypothetical mass hand-standing." She looked at the fire. "Mankind's thought process and actions are all part of a resonant event. All of the resonant events encoded in the fields are projected onto you. So of course, this assumes you believe in this theory. Do you follow me so far?"
"I think so." Sasori said slowly.
The faces of Lee and Kiba were another matter entirely.
Sumaru seemed as if he had heard this before, and then again, he probably had. Only a few members of Blade knew this entire story from Shiki back then. It had taken Riku nearly two weeks to coax Shiki to tell them everything that had happened when she had gone missing for nearly two weeks. And even then, only a few members of Blade knew what had happened – Riku, Sai and Sumaru himself.
"And also, let's say hypothetically, that there was a person who had the same effect as those millions of people. What do you think would happen then?" Shiki studied each face critically, her hands clenching into fists on her knees slowly, unnoticed by all. "If that one person were to do a handstand, other people would find themselves wanting to do handstands as well. Can you imagine what a person with powers like that would be able to do?"
Kiba chuckled nervously, though there is no humour in it. He shook his head repeatedly, feeling an unknown fear rising up in him. He knew, even without anyone telling him, that he won't like what Shiki is going to tell them. "Come on, there's no way—"
"Imagine another scenario." Shiki interrupted Kiba, continuing her story. "Imagine another person… Let's say that this is an ordinary person, a non nin-user." She looked from one to the other. "Let's say that he does a handstand. What if there was someone who could grab the resonant event that he created by doing that? And what if he used it to make other people do handstands? What do you think would happen then?"
No one spoke. Everyone was looking at Shiki intently, all hanging onto her every word.
"A person who has the power to write to the field, and someone who can read from the field…" Shiki trailed off. "I guess you could think of them as the Writer and the Reader, or the Transmitter and the Receiver. To put it in simpler terms, the experiment back then has the nin-users as the Writer or the Transmitter, and the non nin-users as the Reader or the Receiver. What do you think the world would be like if there were people with abilities like these? Even nin-users don't have an ability like that. Not that I know of, and trust me, I know lots of nin-users."
There was silence for several moments as everyone dawned on this thought.
"So…" said Nagato slowly, breaking the uneasy silence. "So this transmitter's resonant event can be transmitted through the field and sent to the receiver. And then the transmitter can control the receiver however they wished." He looked at Shiki uncomfortably. "That's what you're saying, right?"
Shiki sighed and nodded, pinching the bridge of her nose to ease her headache. "Yeah. Close enough, at least."
"Come on, that's just crazy—" Deidara protested.
"Well, if you want to prove that, then you'll have to test it first." Shiki interrupted Deidara. She frowned and fell silent for several moments before speaking again. "At least, that was how they thought back then. That was why they decided to do their experiment." Her gaze hardened. "And that was how the Nonary Project began."
Shiki suddenly looked very serious, and suddenly looked as if she had just aged years.
"Have you guys ever heard of the Ganzfeld experiment?" she questioned.
Konan nodded. "Yeah, I've heard of that," she said. "That was some experiment in telepathy, right? They put a pair of subjects in separate rooms. They'd then show one of them a picture, and ask the other one what they saw."
Shiki nodded. "That's the basis of the Nonary Project," she said. "The Ganzfeld experiment… It was used to screen subjects for the Nonary Project. Testing people, children, to see if they have the potential. A…certain hospital in a certain…town was affiliated with a pharmaceutical group." Shiki struggled with her words. "The pharmaceutical group was known as Cedar Pharmaceutical."
"Cedar Pharmaceutical?" Sasuke frowned. "I think I've heard of it somewhere."
Shiki sighed. "Do your research, for goodness sake!" she muttered irritably. "That was the company that Orochimaru was hiding behind five years ago when he was charged for the crimes of human experimentation back then. On the surface, it was a respectable pharmaceutical group. But in truth, it was actually all just a front. Danzo and Orochimaru used it to conduct experiments on visiting children in secret. Some of them had the potential. And then, Orochimaru began to gather children that showed promise… Children that seemed as though they might be able to access the morphogenetic field." Shiki sighed. "Of course, none of them were volunteers. They were…kidnapped."
Nagato took in a hiss of breath.
"I still don't know everything about that experiment." Shiki refused to look at any of them, but merely focused on the fire, as if seeing something fascinating there. "There were ten children taken at that time. Five nin-users. And five non nin-users. As such, five Transmitters and Five Receivers. And from the experiments that he had conducted so far, Orochimaru had learned the following: there are two things that can increase one's resonance with the fields. The first is epiphany."
"Epiphany?" Tenten questioned, her head cocked to one side.
"Have you ever been faced with an especially difficult problem and thought about it very long and hard, until an answer suddenly appeared in your mind?" Shiki questioned. "That is epiphany. It may seem obvious to say so, but that is what it is meant by 'epiphany'. The information obtained through that epiphany can be easily transmitted through the fields, where it can be easily interpreted. The second thing is danger." Shiki held up two fingers. "Adding danger to that equation allows for even easier field access. Therefore, Orochimaru set up a number of puzzles."
"The ten kidnapped children were taken aboard a large tank vessel in the middle of the sea. The puzzles were set up there. The participants had to solve each puzzle before they could move to the next room – closer to their escape point. Of course, he hadn't forgotten to include danger."
"Danger?" Sasuke dared to ask.
Shiki's lips formed a grim line. "The first one was the detonation of a bomb on the hull of the vessel that we were on."
Shikamaru took in a hiss of breath, realising what that had meant immediately. "But doing so would mean—!"
Shiki nodded. "The detonation blew a hole in the hull of the vessel, big enough and slow enough for the vessel to stay afloat for nine days. Thus, we were forced to play the Nonary Game as the ship sunk. From what I understand, by forcing us into a life and death situation, Orochimaru hoped to increase the likelihood of the taping into the fields. He separated the nin-users and the non nin-users by putting us on opposite ends of the ship. The same puzzles that we faced were duplicated on the side of the ship where the non nin-users – the Receivers were. The Transmitters – the nin-users, were forced to use the power of epiphany to solve the puzzles and transmit what we learned through the fields. On the other hand, the non nin-users had to learn to access the fields in order to learn how they might advance to the next stage. The puzzles that the two groups accessed are linked in a way. If one group can't advance, the other can't as well."
"My god…" Hinata almost had trouble breathing. "This…"
"This experiment is part of the reason why I killed Haruno Sakura and Yamanako Ino." Shiki looked straight into Sasuke's startled eyes. "They were one of the survivors from the Nonary Project. Like me and Ein, they were traumatised from what they saw and experienced ten years ago. And I'm not surprised that they chose to repress their own memories from back then. As they weren't nin-users, they woke to their own latent abilities to the field from the experiment – the Nonary Project. That ability stayed until now. In other words, the reason why Danzo and Orochimaru knew all of your plans prior to their deaths is because of the two of them. They are like walking walkie-talkies to them."
"You killed them knowing this?" Chouji gulped.
"Not the exact reason, but half of it." Shiki sighed. "I had my initial suspicions when I found out that they are two of the survivors from back then, but they don't remember me. I confirmed it after Danzo made his first attack."
"What…happened in the experiment?" Shikamaru asked, carefully steering the conversation away from less dangerous waters. "The Nonary Project. We understood the basis and reasoning behind the entire experiment, but what happened during it?"
Shiki said nothing for several moments, clenching her hands into fists. Her eyes seemed almost far away – almost like she is seeing something that the rest couldn't see.
"Don't look!" Ein snapped, immediately covering Shiki's eyes with his right hand, his left hand supporting her weight so that she doesn't fall. "Suzuki!" He called out to the only other guy left in their group of four now – Ein himself, Shiki, Suzuki and Miyuki. "Solve the puzzle. Now!"
"R-Right." A very pale-faced Suzuki nodded.
Shiki was jerked back to reality with Haku's concerned voice.
"You don't have to continue if you don't want to," said Haku.
Shiki shook her head. "I'll be fine."
"You sure?" Gaara frowned. "You looked as if you are about to faint."
"I'm fine." Shiki insisted. She took in a deep breath. "Now where was I? Oh right." She muttered. "The Nonary Project was mostly based off the Ganzfeld experiment. At least, that was how the Nonary Project was supposed to work. We were given nine days to escape from the ship. I don't know how it was designed, but the level where the water had entered the ship was probably airtight, not allowing any more water to enter until a certain time had passed. Nine straight days of Hell. That was what it felt like to me back then. The puzzles were really insane, with the danger reaching to a whole new level. Before our eyes, we saw how the others were entrapped in the puzzles and died. By the time that we reached the final puzzle – the ninth puzzle, the ninth door, four of us were left from the Transmitters, the nin-users. And from the other group, there were only two survivors."
"Sakura and Ino." Shikamaru realised, and Shiki nodded. His eyes then widened, realising something. "Wait a moment." He murmured, frowning. "Four nin-user survivors. Two non nin-user survivors. That equals to six. But you said only four managed to make it out." He turned towards Shiki. The brunette then paled when he realised what Shiki was trying to say. "D-Don't tell me…"
The rest paled instantly when they finally got what Shikamaru was saying.
Shiki smiled grimly. "That's right. The other two of the Transmitter group died in the last puzzle." She closed her eyes. "No, to be exact, they were ensnared in the trap built after we solved the last puzzle and made it through the ninth door, with two hours to spare before the entire ship sinks."
"Was…it that…bad?" Chouji finally found enough courage to ask, his voice quavering.
Shiki chuckled darkly. Everyone knew that as a bad sign immediately.
Nagato was pale as well, remembering just what his brother had looked like ten years ago when he had finally reappeared again. If Ein had looked like that after being rescued, then he could honestly say that he don't want to know what had happened.
"This is…the last door, right?" Shiki looked up at Ein who is somewhat like the 'big brother' of the group. And seeing as how he's the eldest, it is only reasonable.
"Yeah. We're going to make it out alive." Ein smiled. "I'll show you the sunrise, I promise."
"Well then." Suzuki grinned as he stepped forward. "The last door. Let's open it."
Miyuki smiled as she closed her hand around the lever just outside the large double steel doors that the group of six were currently outside of, and she pulled the lever down. With a loud grating and creaking sound, the doors slowly opened, revealing an overly large chamber with a ceiling that looked like an upside down funnel, with another exit beyond, and a flight of stairs leading upwards.
Sakura brightened up. "Stairs! There's the exit."
Breaking into a run, the six children immediately ran across the room, and towards the stairs. Ein was the one with the longest legs; thus, he was the first one to reach. Shiki could be fast when she wants to, and she arrived just after Ein. Sakura and Ino both arrived at the same time. And just as Miyuki and Suzuki were about to reach them, the double doors slammed shut suddenly.
"Miyuki? Suzuki?" Ino shouted, as she banged on the steel doors, trying to pry the doors apart, but to no avail. "Is there a lever somewhere on your side?" She asked frantically, looking in several directions at once for a lever of some sort.
"Nothing!" Miyuki's slightly muffled voice because of the door came through. "Help us! I don't want to die!"
"What should we do?" Suzuki called out, sounding absolutely terrified. "I-I think that we're trapped in here!"
"Let me through." Ein pushed his way through, and looked through the glass panel of the door that only he could reach because of his height. He could see Miyuki looking absolutely terrified, with a tear streaked face, and Suzuki looking extremely frightened. "Both of you, listen to me! There must be an exit out somewhere! Don't panic and look for one!"
Then, as if things had not gotten bad enough already…
Warning. Warning. Emergency incineration command has been acknowledged. Automatic incineration will take place in eight minutes. Please evacuate the incinerator immediately. Repeat. Emergency incineration command has been acknowledged.
Whatever little colour that is still left in Shiki's face drained away almost immediately. And if the three girls could see Miyuki and Suzuki through the glass panel like how Ein could, they would have seen that the two almost resembled a ghost of some kind.
Ein paled. "This doesn't sound good."
"Incinerate?" Kiba frowned.
"You know what that means, right?" Neji supplied helpfully. "'Incinerate' means 'to burn'—"
"What kind of an idiot do you think I am?" Kiba snapped back. "I know what 'incinerate' means!"
Both boys then fell silent as they turned their attention back towards Shiki. They waited. And waited. But all that they could hear was the cackling of the flames as well as the chirps of the night crickets.
But Shiki didn't continue.
Nagato was the first one to break the silence. "Uh… What happened next?" Even his voice came out shaky. He had a bad feeling about what is going to happen next.
Shiki shivered, wrapping her arms around herself. "Damn it…" She held back her own angry tears. "Do you really have to ask me? It didn't end well, obviously!" She snapped, pure anger in her tone. "What the hell do you think happened? You think that I want to remember that? I'm not surprised that Ino and Sakura suppressed their own memories of that from back then. Makes sense why they didn't even recognise me. I didn't want to remember it either." She whispered, closing her eyes briefly. "Damn it…"
"Then…" Yugito's voice came out shaky as well.
Shiki closed her eyes and nodded. "Yeah." She opened her eyes once more, keeping her gaze on the fire. "There…wasn't anything that we could do. We searched and searched. But there wasn't a lever or anything to pry the door open. Or even another exit. There was just…nothing. Nothing that we could do." A single tear dropped onto her hand, unseen by everyone, her voice shaking. "After a while, the countdown…just began." She whispered. "And when the countdown ended…" Shiki was starting to shake as well, as if remembering the horrific scene from back then. Sasuke was starting to feel guilty for having forced her to retell this from back then. "The incinerator…started up, and the burning…begun."
There were hisses of breaths.
"And then…" Shiki whispered. "We…heard something…smelt something…burning…"
"No!" Ino screamed as she banged onto the steel double doors repeatedly with her fists, ignoring the pain searing through her, trying to break down the doors with sheer strength alone. "No! Miyuki! Suzuki!"
Sakura was whimpering on the ground, her hands clamped shut over her ears, her eyes screwed shut, muttering, "It can't be true. It can't be true," over and over, shaking her head repeatedly.
"Stop it!" Shiki pounded on the doors with her fists. "Miyuki! Suzuki!"
Shiki had her hands clammed shut over her ears, as if she could still hear Miyuki and Suzuki screaming from back then, her eyes wide with fear. Slowly, she lowered her shaking hands. Tenten was looking on with shock. She now understood what Shiki had meant back then.
I hate fire.
Itachi was looking on with shock, almost forgetting to breath. But it didn't matter anyway, since his mouth was wide opened with shock. He now knew just how much courage it had taken for Shiki to jump through the fire just to stop him back then.
Now he understood why Shiki was so angry back then.
"W-When the fire finally ended, the doors can finally open." Shiki whispered, fear in her eyes. "But…"
The fire had finally stopped…ten minutes ago.
But even after the fire had stopped, even after the steel double doors of the incinerator had opened, inviting them in, they simply couldn't move from where they were. It was like something had glued their feet to the ground. They even found it difficult to continue breathing.
Ein and Shiki simply stood where they were, frozen in their spots, identical looks of fear and shock written all over their faces. Ino had crumpled to the ground like a sack of potatoes, or even like a puppet whose strings had just been cut, her eyes wide with fear as she stared at the opened doorway of the incinerator. Sakura was curled up in on herself like a foetus, whimpering and covering her mouth with both hands, trying but failing to prevent her sobs, shaking her head from side to side slowly in denial, tears spilling from her eyes.
A few more minutes passed, with not a sound to be heard but Sakura's sobs.
Finally, Shiki made a move, moving her right foot shakily forward, shaking so hard and so much that it looked as if she couldn't even support her own weight. Then another step. And another. Ein and Ino soon followed, both still too numb to speak. Sakura remained where she was.
The air in the incinerator was still hot. Every breath that they took made them feel like their lungs were on fire. The air almost shimmered with heat. And in the middle of the room, beneath the waves of heat…
"No… This…can't be…" Ino wept, tears spilling from her eyes as she collapsed to her knees on the ground, her hands clenched into fists on the ground. "Miyuki… Suzuki…!"
Ein closed his eyes briefly. "Miyuki… Suzuki…" he whispered. "Born for Him. Die for Him. If that is Fate, one cannot disobey. Travel the unseen road. For what lies there is the end of the life. This…is God's guidance."
Shiki walked towards the pile of ashes that they could all see shakily, her legs shaking so violently that it almost seemed like she would collapse at any moment. Neither Ein or Ino could see her face, but her body looked somehow empty.
Finally, she reached her destination.
There were several moments before Shiki collapsed to her knees, her legs no longer able to support her.
"No… No… No…" she whispered frantically, shaking her head in denial. "T-This can't be happening… It can't be true…! No…! AAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHH!"
At last, Shiki finished.
There was deadly silence. Nagato was the first one to break that silence, his face deadly pale.
"My god… This…is what happened back then?" he whispered. "Nearly ten years ago, Ein disappeared. I searched and searched, but I couldn't find him. It was the time of the civil war after all. People go missing all the time then. But then, nine days later, he turned up again, pale and shaking. I took him to the hospital immediately, but he clammed up completely and refused to tell me what had happened to him. He insisted that nothing had happened, but I know my brother. A few years later, his abilities and powers as a nin-user skyrocketed. He became extremely powerful. Maybe too powerful." He sighed. "Maybe that's why…Ein killed himself."
Shiki's eyes widened in horror.
"He killed himself when we were about thirteen or fourteen. But I couldn't forget that something did indeed happened to Ein ten years ago. I am his older brother after all. I investigated by myself after that. I wanted to find out what had happened during those nine days when he went missing! That's why I joined the ANBU. Before that, when I told the ANBU, they pretended to be concerned, but they didn't do anything! I heard that of the ten missing children, only four came back alive. It was my intention to find the other three, to learn from them what had happened, but I never could find them. Two of them, I heard, joined the ANBU, but I don't know who they are. Later on, I heard rumours that the third survivor went missing shortly after Ein died. And after awhile, the civil war ended, and then things were just…swept under the rug. Even the media didn't talk about what had happened. The political state of the country weren't at it's best then. So I figured someone must be either threatening them or paying them to keep their mouths shut."
"Orochimaru and Danzo…" Sasuke murmured, pale. "No." He frowned. "Probably something even bigger than that."
"Those two were just part of the top secret team that began the Nonary Project…" Shikamaru muttered. "Who were the other five involved?" He looked at Shiki.
Shiki said nothing for several moments. "I don't think that you guys are ready to know yet." She said at last.
"Question here, Shiki," said Gaara. "This experiment… Everything that has happened… Do you think that the ANBU is behind everything?"
Shiki said nothing. "Who knows?" she said mysteriously. Her cellphone rang just then. "Excuse me." She stood up on shaky legs and headed into the forest to pick up the call. "Hello?"
"Shiki? It's me."
Shiki's eyes widened when she recognised the voice. "Arashi? Is that you?"
"I've got some bad news. It's about Jiraiya-sama."
Shiki's eyes widened. "…Eh?"
Everyone – ANBU and Ragnarok watched as Shiki poked at the fire furiously, putting it out faster rather than actually lighting it.
They knew what Shiki is so pissed off about, since Sumaru had actually received a call from Sai half-an-hour prior, with the latter informing him that Fuuma Arashi had discovered Jiraiya's dead body. And by the looks of things, he was murdered by Danzo.
Itachi approached Shiki cautiously as she 'attempted' to start the fire, and she glared up at him. "What. Do. You. Want?" she growled, glaring at Itachi with fury. Itachi said nothing for several moments before Shiki huffed and just stood up, walking away.
In a corner, Kisame was watching this scene with Sumaru, Haku and Gaara. "Hey, do you think that those two will ever make up?"
Haku and Gaara exchanged looks whilst Sumaru just followed Itachi's movement with his eyes. "I don't know." Haku admitted. "If I know anything about our leader, it is that she rarely changes her mind once she'd made a decision." She glanced at her brother. "No matter how much it hurts for her. That's why everyone follows her."
"Besides, I think that things won't work out for them anymore, even if they can get back together." Gaara sighed. "And I'm not saying this just because of my brother. Too many things have changed since then. And I know Shiki. She won't forgive him for his involvement in Sasame and Kankuro's deaths. Honestly though, I have no idea what she feels towards him now. She is good at keeping her emotions hidden. And after hearing what she has to go through ten years ago, I understand why."
"Yeah well. She is the same back during our gang days." Sumaru snorted. "Even back then, I rarely see her express emotion freely. The only one whom she expresses emotion around freely is only Riku." He glanced at the three with him. "I think that probably…he loves Shiki. And probably, Shiki does too. Uchiha Itachi kind of reminds me of Riku in some ways. They have the same stubborn attitude. The same iron strong will. And the part of them that never gives up. He is a lot like Riku in ways."
Itachi was distressed, but he didn't show it.
"You're serious?" he asked.
"You know that we can't carry on like this." Shiki told him. "Not any longer. I can't deceive myself anymore. I tried, Itachi. I really tried. But I can't do it anymore! I…can't forgive you for Sasame. And even for Kankuro. I can't lie to myself anymore. I'm sorry, Itachi." She pushed Itachi away from her. "Forget about me. Forget about everything. Once this is all over…it'll be like I had never existed."
She walked away.
"'Forget about me'…" Itachi repeated to himself. "Who are you kidding, Shiki? I can't do that!" He punched the nearest tree with his left fist. "I…can't do that… Why? Why must this happen?"
Sasuke was leaning against a tree near the part of the Forbidden Forest where Yugito had healed his brother back then. He wasn't really seeing anything at all as he thought back on what Shiki had told him a few hours ago.
"Are you for real?" he muttered. "Sakura… Ino… Despite everything, you still chose to run away? Take the easier road out? You can't be serious…"
The sound of soft footsteps reaches his ears just then, and he turned only to see Namikaze Shiki standing behind him, a solemn look on her face. She sighed as she took a step closer to him.
"Can we have a word?" she asked.
A/N: And end! I think that this is about the longest chapter that I've ever done so far! So I hope that this clears up the mystery of Shiki's past to you. And kudos to the NDS game 999 for the most part of this chapter. As for Itachi and Shiki, I won't tell you what I had in mind for them, though I can tell you that it isn't going to be good. And cookies to anyone who could tell me that they had noticed the mystery person mentioned briefly in this chapter, and could identify who.
Anyway, I hope that you like this chapter, and please read and review!