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 Nine: Siren's Call
Forbidden ForestUnknown Location
"The realisation of a new world…" Nara Shikamaru mused, his fingers curled before his mouth, looking at the flickering flames of the fire in front of him. He then looked up, looking from face to face, particularly the remaining Ragnarok members, and the two survivors of the street gang Blade, and now the leaders of the resistance movement Baled. "Did anyone tell you that it might be a fruitless endeavour? That it might all come to naught? That this is just an idealistic dream? That this might just be nothing but a fool's hope?"
Itachi blinked and was jerked violently from his thoughts at Shikamaru's words. His words had rang a chord in his heart, causing him to recall a long time memory…
"An idealistic dream…" Itachi muttered. "One that might never bear fruit."
"Maybe it's just as you've said." Shiki agreed, much to Itachi's surprise. "Maybe this is just a fool's errand." She glanced at him, her cheeks having a slight flush to them because of the consummation of alcohol. "But better to be a fool than to live your life knowing nothing at all."
Sai smirked, and Temari chuckled darkly to herself. Tenten said nothing, but continued sharpening her daggers with the slab of stone that she has.
"More than one person had said that to us in the past." Temari stated. "In fact, we said the same thing to Shiki before too. And fools, huh?" She mused. "I suppose that in a way, you're right. But we have all been fools right from the beginning anyway… Fools chasing after an idealistic dream…" Her eyes darkened. "But it's better to be a fool, than to live your life knowing nothing at all."
Itachi's eyes widened.
We have been fools right from the start anyway. Fools chasing after an idealistic dream… One that might never bear fruit. But better to be a fool, than to live your life knowing nothing at all.
"Shiki…said something like this once." Itachi murmured, and every single person turned towards him. He looked tortured. "What does this mean?"
Sai and Sumaru exchanged quick looks between themselves. They looked towards Ragnarok briefly before Sumaru sighed. "We grew up together with Shiki in Hagako," he begun. "That was during the nightmarish era of the City of the Dead. And it is during the time of the civil war, so I imagine that you knew just how hard living can be." He received nods from all around. "Seriously, we still have no idea just how we've managed to make it through that nightmarish era, but we did. However that we've managed to do it is thanks to Shiki." He smiled a grim smile. "And Riku. Both of them never gave up. That's why we never did either."
"During Ragnarok's…inception, things weren't so easy and smooth for us either, especially during the time of the civil war." Temari commented. She looked around. "I have been one of the first members of Ragnarok even before it was founded, and I was there when Shiki created our group all the way to when we started gaining a name for ourselves. Things weren't always so easy and smooth for us. Our main problem at the time of our inception wasn't the ANBU or the country itself." Her eyes darkened. "It was the underworld."
Sasuke was confused. "Huh?"
Ragnarok's current strongest supporters formerly one of their biggest problems?
"At that time, the underworld was in a pretty bad state because of the war." Shino spoke up. "They were nearly on the verge of extinction, and the ANBU closing in on them isn't making things any easier either. As much as I hate to admit it, part of it has to do with us nin-users. Some of the members of the underworld even thought that if only we hadn't existed, then they wouldn't be in this sorry state that they are now in." Shino sighed, glancing at his comrades. "Similar to the current situation at hand, only ten times as worst. That's what things are like back then."
Nagato nodded slowly. He had never really been involved in the underworld circle; thus, he wouldn't know the situation with them back then. Among the former ANBUs, only Itachi, Kisame, Deidara and Kiba were formerly involved with the underworld circle. And they've always seemed reluctant to talk about it.
Temari smirked. "Yeah, some of them said as much to Shiki's face at that time when one of her friends called in a favour with her for some help," she explained. "Shiki plain lost it. She lost her temper."
Sai and Sumaru exchanged looks. They've only ever seen Shiki get mad just one time during their Blade days, and they never wanted to see her get angry again.
Fool, huh? You might just be right. After all, what the hell am I even doing, putting my neck on the line for a bunch of ingrates and fools like you? I'm sick and tired of everything. No one has ever treated us like we're humans right from the beginning anyway. The High Council didn't accept us. This country definitely didn't. And now…you people too. I'm tired of putting up with all this. You want to see a real demon; I'll show you one. I just about had it. I'm not going to put up with any shit from anyone any longer. I'll change the world. With any means necessary. You might call me a fool. And you might just be right. But we have all been fools right from the start anyway! Clinging onto a hopeless dream, chasing after an idealistic world. But it's better to be a fool, than to live your life knowing nothing at all! And I can promise you this now: when I make you a promise, I don't break it. We nin-users don't go back on our word.
"That's what she said at that time." Temari sighed, curling her fingers together, ignoring the gobsmacked expressions on the ANBUs' faces. "Maybe it is the way that she had phrased her words, or maybe it is her charisma… But whatever it is, there is just something about Shiki that makes us want to believe in her. The entire underworld was won over with just that one sentence. Maybe it's because no one had ever tried to help them before. Or maybe it's because she is the first one to want to do something about it. But whatever it is, she has the support of the underworld. And when Shiki says that she will do something, she will do it. That's just the kind of person she is. That's why everyone trusts her and follows her."
There was silence for several moments.
"She's a strange one too." Kisame snorted.
"Gaara!" Haku called out to the redhead as he walked and stumbled over the numerous broken planks and huge chunks of cement over the ground, searching for one person in particular. The once grand and huge ANBU headquarters is now nothing more than a heap of debris, courtesy of Yugito's bomb.
The four Ragnarok members have managed to make it out before the bomb had gone off, but they weren't able to find their leader anywhere, and this had made them worried, particularly Gaara who had always been a little protective over Shiki.
"Where are you?" Gaara growled, upturning another huge chunk of cement only to see a dead ANBU agent staring up at him, his glassy eyes staring at nothing in particular. "Shiki! You're not dead, aren't you? You promised! You promised to return with us!"
Yugito who is upturning several cement chunks and broken planks hissed to herself as she upturned a particularly large cement chunk, and whistled to her comrades. "Hey guys, come take a look."
"What? Did you find Shiki?" Neji asked hopefully, as the three of them made it over to Yugito.
The blonde girl shook her head and jerked her chin towards the body that she had found. The four Ragnarok members fell silent when they saw the glassy eyes of Senju Tsunade staring back at them, with her body apparently being broken in several different places, a large and long wooden stake going through her chest and out on the other end.
And Shiki was nowhere to be found.
"Well, Shiki is definitely alive then." Haku commented.
"You people are Ragnarok?" A low and calm voice spoke from behind them just then, causing all four Ragnarok members to take up defensive positions, turning around sharply. "Your leader is fine."
Someone wearing a black cloak that covers him – they were pretty sure that it's a he at least – was standing behind them, with an unconscious Namikaze Shiki being carried bridal style in his arms, apparently injured.
"Shiki!" Gaara ran towards the cloaked figure, with the other three close on his heels. Yugito was wary of the mysterious figure, as is Haku.
Apparently, the cloaked figure knew what they're thinking as well. "I'm a friend of Shiki's," he stated, pulling down his hood, revealing a handsome face framed with dark violet blue hair and beautiful azure blue eyes that spoke of wisdom and strength. "Come with me. You guys need to get out of here immediately. Any remaining survivors would soon be swarming around."
Without waiting for a reply, he immediately turned and walked towards the west side, still carrying Shiki in his arms. The Ragnarok members exchanged looks and shrugged, following the guy. They don't trust him, but he hasn't tried to harm them or Shiki thus far, so maybe they can trust him.
They've walked for about ten minutes before they came to the river where there is a speedboat parked by the dock. The mysterious figure got into the boat, placing Shiki down carefully in one of the seats near the middle, whilst the four Ragnarok members got in as well.
"Can you drive the boat?" The mysterious figure asked, directing this question to Neji who nodded. The keys were then tossed to the second-in-command of Ragnarok, who took the wheel. "Cut the engine once we're halfway to your destination. I need to pass you a message."
It took Neji about half-an-hour before he managed to find the route that will take them to the Forbidden Forest. There is quite a difference between steering a boat in the daytime and at night. Finally, Neji cut the engine of the boat, and turned around in his seat to face the mysterious figure.
"Right… Who are you?" Haku asked suspiciously.
The young man sighed. "I'm a friend of Shiki's," he explained. "For now, you can call me Ren. Of course, that isn't my real name. But it'll be safer for me and for Shiki if you do not know my real name."
"If you're a friend of Shiki's, then…" Yugito trailed off, and Ren nodded grimly.
"Yeah. I'm assisting her in the upcoming battle," he stated simply. "This battle will be the last. I believe in that."
"Where did you meet Shiki?" Gaara asked. "She's never mentioned you before, and I've never seen you before either."
Ren 'hmm'ed. "It's been about ten years since I've met her," he said. "I first met her at Hagako."
Haku's eyes widened, and the other three looked surprised. "Hagako?" All four echoed. Haku looked at Ren carefully. 'Hagako? That means…'
As if reading Haku's mind, Ren nodded. "I'm…a former member of Blade," he stated. "Hagako is where I'd first met Shiki and the others." He smiled a small smile. "Are you guys afraid? Of the upcoming war? This battle will be the last. Whether for the better or for the worse, this world will change."
There was silence.
"Well, of course I don't want to die." Yugito broke the silence. "But what will come will come. Besides, Death is just the beginning of another greater adventure." She grinned a feral grin. "I am the one that controls Death. I think I know and understand this better than anyone else."
"I see. What about you others?" Ren glanced at the other three.
"I'll follow Shiki to Death if I have to." Gaara shrugged.
Neji said nothing. Haku was silent for several moments before she spoke up, looking at Ren. "What about you, Ren? Aren't you afraid? If you are assisting Shiki, that means you know what she's planning, and the dangers involved. The opponent is one of the gods of legend. Going into a fight that you won't know if you can come out alive or not… We're prepared for this right from the start, but you—"
"How much did Shiki or the others tell you about our time in Hagako?" Ren interrupted Haku. He received blank looks for his question. "I see. Nothing much, I see. Not that I'm surprised. The time in Hagako isn't something that I remember fondly as well." His face darkened. "But I can tell you this now: all those that survived the nightmarish era in Hagako during the time of the civil war do not fear Death. It's pointless to us." His azure eyes seemed to bore into the depths of their souls as he looked from one face to another. "We've seen battle many times, and each one could have meant our death. It has long numbed us to danger and death by now. Of course, it's the same for Shiki too. Yet do you see her running away?"
"No…" Haku shook her head.
"I'm sure that all of you respect and adore Shiki," said Ren. "It's the same for Blade. There's not a soul in Blade that doesn't revere her. I do not regret following her, or even getting to know her. If there's one thing that I've done right, it is to trust her. I'm sure that it's the same for the others as well. Dying, in and of itself, does not frighten me. What I fear is losing sight of what I believe in."
Neji was confused.
But he can feel that he can trust this Ren fellow. He doesn't know why either, since as a rule, Ragnarok don't trust people too easily. Something about this Ren reminds him of Shiki. Maybe it's because both of them have the same strong nature, the will to never give up, and maybe it's because they have the same strong charisma that drew people to them.
"What do you mean?" Neji asked.
Ren smiled sadly. "I'm…no nin-user," he said. "But I was born for battle."
He drew out a dagger from within the folds of his robes with a beautiful crafted handle and blade, gleaming in the moonlight. The blade looks thin as well, probably sharpened more times than one could count. Just how many battles had this blade seen? And how many blades did Ren go through by now?
"I killed someone for the first time when I was five. My life after that was battle after battle. I learned the hard way to not trust someone just because they got a kind face. I learned the hard way that the one sure way to survive is to trust yourself, and to fend for yourself. I learned the hard way that in order to survive, you have to be the strongest out there. I learned all that during the era when the nin-users of the land were both revered and hated. I met several of them. When you are a…warrior during that era, you tend to run into nin-users everywhere you go." Ren sighed. "Some of them are good people. Others not so. I've faced several of them in battle. And because I'm not a nin-user, they said that I'm not their match, and that I should just die there. And yet, no nin-user that had ever told me that had ever defeated me. What is the true meaning of true strength then? I asked myself that repeatedly back in those days."
All four Ragnarok members listened intently. He had the same 'voice' that Shiki had whenever she is talking about her past. Both Ren and Shiki have a way of making people want to listen to them whenever they talk.
"Have you found your answer then?" Yugito asked carefully.
Ren was quiet. "Yeah, I did," he said. "It's easy. You fight in a battle to the death, and the one who wins is stronger. Simple. Easy." He spun the dagger in between the fingers of his hand. "I discovered quickly enough that I was alone in my opinions. In those days, one doesn't need a reason to kill someone." He received grim nods for that. "Thus, I could never find a place where I could truly belong. That is until I went to Hagako, and met Shiki and her friends. There, at last, I found a place where I could belong, and where others accepted me for who I am."
"Blade." Gaara stated, and Ren nodded.
"By now, they've established quite a reputation for themselves, despite being technically disbanded. Just the mere mention of them is enough to scare anyone shitless." Ren smiled. "Shiki established Blade. She didn't have a choice in what she did in those days. What she did, she did it to protect her friends. The members of Blade were willing to kill those who go against them. Shiki isn't afraid of dirtying her hands. She is willing to do anything necessary in order to protect her people, her friends." Cool eyes studied each face carefully. "In those days, I imagine that out of everyone in Blade, Shiki and myself are the ones who have the most blood on our hands. But no matter how many that we have killed, we see only fear and resentment on the faces of those we protected. Never once have we been shown gratitude."
Ren sounded sad as he said this. The four Ragnarok members couldn't help but hang onto his every word. The history of Blade is still quite a mystery, as Shiki, Sai and Sumaru never liked to talk about it. And even Iruka doesn't know much about the legendary street gang Blade.
"I imagine that that is part of the reason why Shiki had helped you guys out." Ren looked from face to face. "That's just the way she is. She just can't ignore someone in trouble. Even I can see that. This war will be the last. And it will be so bloody and so long that this country will quite possibly lose an entire generation of men and women. Yet, I imagine that this is something that all of you are prepared for."
He received silent nods for this. Ren said nothing for several moments, his cool azure eyes falling onto Shiki, and he ran his thin fingers through her hair. His skin seemed almost pale, translucent even, under the pale moonlight out in the middle of the sea.
"Shiki…has never talked much about her days with Blade, no matter how much we have asked. Sai and Sumaru never talked much about it as well." Haku murmured.
Ren glanced into Haku's direction. "They wouldn't," he stated. "Like I've said, our days with Blade aren't something that we remember fondly. Our days together are full of joy, definitely. But what we have to do during that era… It isn't something that I want to remember." He muttered, his tone dark. "I still get nightmares sometimes, whenever I remember what I had to do back then." He glanced at Ragnarok. "Blade keeps the peace in Hagako. We kept all the gangs there in line. But in order to do that, Shiki has to do several things that she would rather not do." He sounded sad as he said this, glancing over at the unconscious form of his once leader. "In order to keep all those gangs in line, several of them much older than us, she has to use fear. Rule fear with fear. It is the only thing that they understood."
Ragnarok exchanged looks. That is rather similar to how Shiki had made Ragnarok's name rather fearsome among dubious organisations like Roots and Oto, and even the ANBU.
"It's been years since then." Ren sighed, curling his fingers together. "All of us have split and led our own lives. But I can say this, not one of us who have ever served in Blade will forget the lessons that we have learned in there. Life really doesn't hurt until you think about just how much things have changed, who you've lost along the way, and just how much of it was your fault." Ren's voice took on a dark tone. Haku shivered at that. The dark haired teen glanced at the Ragnarok members. "But it's also because human lives are so fragile and tiny and insignificant that we work so hard to live them to the fullest with the time that we've got."
"We see many deaths happen in Hagako." Ren murmured. "Some of them we could save. Others we couldn't. As such, can you blame Shiki for thinking that this world is better off dead? We see more evil than good in this world. So much so that even I'm starting to think that it's better if we just let the Demon God wipe them all out. Can you blame Shiki, or me even, for thinking that way?"
Gaara shook his head. "No. I sometimes think that too," he muttered. "As nin-users, we faced the short end of the stick, no matter where we are. I…can understand."
"Ren, do you fear Death?" Yugito asked quietly.
Ren shook his head. "No. When you have lived as we did, you will cease to fear it. We spend each day wondering if we will get to see the next day back in our days with Blade. We knew that there is a chance that we will get hacked to pieces by some punk. Yet, we have never feared for our lives. Not once."
The four Ragnarok members exchanged looks, not knowing just what to say. Just what did Blade go through back in those days?
"If you have a chance to turn back time…to go back to those days…will you still make the same decisions that you did back then?" Neji asked, finally speaking up for the first time.
"Yes," said Ren immediately. "I have always made the best choices that I could under the circumstances. And I believe that Shiki had done so as well." He glanced at Shiki, and a small gentle smile spread over his face. "I do not regret my actions. And if I know Shiki, I know that she doesn't as well. I have always made the choices that were right for me. And I believe that I will continue to do so."
There was silence for several moments.
"You're a lot like Shiki." Haku said at last. "We barely knew you for more than an hour. But speaking with you… It makes me think of the time when I have first met Shiki." She smiled a soft smile. "That girl doesn't need words to express what she feels. Just one look at her, and it will make you feel…safe, I guess. And during my time with her, I have never known Shiki to make a single bad decision before."
"She gives and gives, and yet, asked for nothing in return." Yugito sighed. "That's just the kind of person she is. Sometimes, I feel so bad, for forcing her to do this. And I fear that one day, it will be too much for her to handle. Shiki is still human after all. There is only so much that she can take."
"That's why, take on some of her burdens for her." Ren stated simply. "Just like how Blade did for her back then. In the underworld, you can never survive alone. This is the truth, no matter how much one can deny it. And in Blade, we always had a rule there about watching each other's asses in a fight. Have any of you ever seen Sai or Sumaru or even Shiki fighting alone before?" He received shakes of the head for this. Even during Shiki's two week disappearance, she had taken Arashi with her. "In Blade, the one absolute rule is to never go up against someone one-on-one."
Ren eyed Shiki, and ran his fingers gently through her hair. "She will risk herself. But Shiki will never risk her friends or those that she cared for. That's just the kind of person she is." He turned his attention back towards Ragnarok. "That's why, even if she had never asked me, I would have willingly helped her with her plan. The same way that Sumaru and Sai did. I chased after a supposed myth for three years. I gained something out of it. But also lost something at the same time."
"Three…years…huh?" A croaked voice entered the conversation, and every single person turned towards Shiki who had her eyes cracked opened, looking barely conscious and just barely coherent of her surroundings. "You've…been doing this…for three years? Not even…knowing…if you can…make it back alive…"
Ren's lips twitched. "That's rich, coming from you. Especially from someone who has been playing around in some group for eight years," he said sarcastically.
Haku smiled. Even though their banter is sarcastic, she can tell that those two are close friends, maybe even more than that…
Shiki smiled. "Heh. I'll leave the rest to you." Her eyes slid shut once more.
Ren sighed. "We need to get her to a medic," he muttered.
Neji nodded. "I'm on it," he said, turning back to the wheel, and setting the boat into action once more.
"Ren…" Haku muttered at last, and the mentioned teen turned towards her. The ice maiden looked apprehensive and curious at the same time. "Do…you like Shiki?" She asked hesitantly.
Yugito turned sharply towards Ren, and Neji's foot almost slipped off the accelerator of the boat.
There was a long silence before Ren spoke again, looking straight into Haku's eyes. "Yeah, I do," he said. "I love her. I had for nearly eight years. Ever since the night when all of us have nearly died." He glanced at Shiki. "I'm no nin-user, but I'm more than enough of a match for her, or for any nin-user for that matter." His eyes flickered towards Shiki. "Like most of the others in Blade, I met her through a fight. In fact, I was the only one among all of Blade to actually draw in an actual fight with Shiki. And yet, despite the fact that Shiki was forced to call upon her powers, I was able to fight her on a standstill. For any normal nin-user, that is considered a disgrace. But Shiki doesn't feel that way. She found it interesting. Just one fight we had, and she grew a liking to me, and I to her." Ren shook his head in amusement. "Some irony."
The four Ragnarok members exchanged grins. They like this guy. He had Shiki's dry humour and wit, and her quick mind as well, it looks like. And despite the fact that he is no nin-user, he is actually good enough to fight her to a standstill. Silently, all of them decided then and there that they do not want to fight this guy.
"I don't know why, but I like you, even though we barely knew you." Gaara stated, trying to hide the twitch of his lips. The other three exchanged grins. Gaara rarely likes anyone, except for Shiki. Even the other members of Ragnarok, they only grew on him after spending years with them. "And personally, I think that you are a much better choice for Shiki than that ANBU bastard that is currently chasing after her." He scowled at the mere thought of said ANBU. "I've never liked him, even after he has left the ANBU. That guy is just bad news." He received nods of agreement from his friends. "And I've already long lost count of the number of times when he had made her sad."
Haku sighed. "I don't think that they'll ever get back together anyway, Gaara," she said sensibly. "Too many things have happened. Shiki will never forgive him for his hand in Sasame and Kankuro's deaths. And then the incident at the TV station. I know her. She'll sooner chop off her own arm than forgive him. Shiki isn't the type of person who can just forget about something like this."
Ren smiled a small bittersweet smile. "I…want to make her happy," he murmured, looking at Shiki. "But even I know that this is something that she must choose on her own. Affairs of the heart can't be forced. And with the current war… As much as I wish that she did not have to interfere in it, I know that she won't ignore it. This is something that she must do. And I don't want to force her to pick between me…or him. But if she does picks me though, I'll make her happy." Ren smiled. "I'll make her the happiest person in the world. She has been through enough. There has been so much unhappiness and suffering. Enough is enough. She doesn't need to suffer anymore."
Ragnarok exchanged looks. "That's why we said that you're a better choice for her." Yugito said quietly. "That Uchiha never seem to care that he's making Shiki suffer. All he cares about is that he wants to be with her. He doesn't know what true love is. Even now, even I can see that Shiki is merely tolerating him and his presence. He's only making Shiki sad. And I hate it." She clenched her hands into fists.
Ren was silent for several moments. "Trust Shiki," he said. "She knows what she's doing. I will trust her to make the best decision for herself. She has never made a bad decision before. And I believe that she will not do so. It's Shiki. She probably knew that there is no future for them as well. They belong to two different worlds. Their manner of thinking is too different."
There was silence for several moments.
"Neji-kun, drop me off at the nearest town," said Ren, pointing towards the distance where there are lights. "It's best if your…ANBU 'friends' don't see me." He coughed. Neji nodded silently before steering the boat towards the nearest town, and letting Ren off at the dock. Before he left however, he pulled out a black ebony book from under his cloak, and handed it to a confused Haku.
"This is…" Haku murmured, staring at the strange book that seemed to have several…locks on it, with nine glowing gems embedded in it, each of a different colour. And she could sense great power emanating from this strange book.
"This is what Shiki has been searching for." Ren answered. "Give this to her. And never let this book out of your sight. This is one of the keys to defeating the Demon God for good. Tell Shiki that I'll find the other key. I only know that it's somewhere in Japan. Also…" He glanced at Shiki's unconscious form before turning back towards the other three. "Take care of her. She's more fragile than she seems. And once more, this world is in danger. You must help her."
"Wait!" Gaara called to Ren as he turned around to leave. "I know that you said you mustn't give your real name. But can you at least tell us? Your real name."
Ren was silent for several moments before he turned on his foot. "I hadn't gone by that name for a long time now. I changed my name after I'd 'died' back then. My current name symbolises a new start for me. A new life." He smiled. "All right. I'll tell you my…old name." His eyes flashed something unrecognisable. "…it's Satochi Riku."
Forbidden ForestUnknown Location
"Just what happened on the mainland?" Hinata demanded, taking a cold and damp cloth from Haku, wiping off the sweat on Shiki's brow, with the Hyuuga trying to make the redhead as comfortable as possible, particularly with all her injuries.
Shiki had to have at least suffered from ten broken bones, coupled with multiple cracks in her bones, and possibly a head concussion. Any normal person would have died from injuries this serious. But as Shiki is a nin-user, she had a greater endurance and a greater healing rate than normal humans.
Haku and Gaara have rushed Shiki into the medic tent, with Gaara screaming for Hinata to come and help, as she is their main healer, even though Yugito and Haku are both pretty skilled medics in their own right. Neji and Gaara have both refused to allow anyone but Ragnarok and Sumaru and Sai to enter the tent, with the two boys standing at the entrance of the tent, looking so intimidating that not a single ANBU dared to venture near. Uchiha Itachi had tried entering, but Gaara had threatened to use his Desert Funeral attack on him, and the elder Uchiha had finally gotten the hint, and left.
"It's a long story, but we succeeded in our mission." Haku stated, passing another damp cloth to Hinata. "Will she be all right?"
"She's too stubborn to die even if someone killed her." Hinata remarked. "Don't worry, she'll be all right."
There was a loud rasping cough from Shiki just then, and both girls turned towards their leader. Shiki cracked her eyes opened, though they were half-glazed over with her fever because of her injuries.
"I'm fine," she rasped, coughing harshly. "Can you get the rest in here? And Sumaru and Sai too. I need to speak to them."
Haku nodded before heading out of the tent. Hinata sighed as she looked at her old friend. "Why are you pushing yourself like this?" she asked. "Haku said that you nearly died. Why are you always so reckless?"
"Because…I can be."
Hinata frowned. "What will the rest of us, even the underworld do without our leader?" she demanded, her voice louder than she had anticipated. "We can always try again even if we've failed, like what we've done so many times already. But if we lose our leader, it is all over! Please, Shiki… Take better care of yourself. You have so many people who care about you. We don't want a new world if it is one that you don't exist in."
Shiki smiled. "I'll…try to. But with this war…there is no guarantee that…I can come back alive…" she rasped.
The flap of the tent opened just then, and the rest of Ragnarok filed in, with Sumaru and Sai in their midst. Gaara stood nearest to the entrance of the tent to discourage any of the ANBUs from attempting to sneak in.
"Shouldn't you rest more first?" Tenten asked with concern. She had never seen their leader looking so…tired and beaten before.
Shiki coughed harshly. "I'll be fine," she rasped. "Besides, this can't wait." She breathed heavily, looking at her friends. "When I…disappeared for two weeks, I was investigating." That got her the attention of every single person present. All of them wanted to know just what the hell that she had been up to during those two weeks. "I first went to Mist. I found an old journal there, detailing back to several millennia ago. It was written in the Sacred Tongue."
Sai frowned. "The old language?" he enquired, and Shiki nodded.
"I found a way." Shiki managed to smile even with her weakened state. "A way to stop the Demon God for good." There was deadly silence, and Shiki took that as a sign to continue. "The Nine Keys." She rasped.
Temari frowned. "The Nine Keys?" she echoed.
Sumaru sighed and closed his eyes. "The old prophecy, huh?" he muttered. "So that's what you went looking for." Seeing several pairs of eyes on him, he sighed once more. "'Three blades for the Universe in the kingdoms of the sky. Seven shields for the Nomads that travels the world, forever alone. Nine keys for the immortal Gods on their ivory thrones. One book to rule the world, the one that can kill an immortal. The Book of the Dead.'"
"Ah." Realisation dawned on Sai. "Yamato-nii mentioned that to me once!" His face grew sad at the mention of his adoptive brother who is still missing. "The Nine Keys. The very symbols of the gods of creation."
"What do you mean?" Neji asked with a frown.
Shiki coughed harshly. "Exactly what they mean," she said. "The Nine Keys. Each key represents one of the Bijuu Nine. One for each of them. We need three things to stop the Demon God: the Nine Keys, the Book of the Dead, and the devil's fruit to stop his immortality, along with the Catalyst to read from the Book. All these must be done at the Shrine of Penitence where the Last Battle was fought."
"And as legend goes, this procedure can only be used if the world is on the brink of destruction." Sai stated. "When the Demon God is near full strength, and the balance of the world is in danger. The Catalyst is a nin-user – a direct descendant of the King of the Gods, one whose blood is left untainted. But with how long nin-users have been mingling with the humans, there are hardly any left whose blood hasn't been tainted. In fact, the only nin-user that we knew of whose blood hasn't been tainted is…" He glanced at Shiki, and the others followed suit.
Shiki coughed to take the attention off her. "Ren…gave you the Nine Keys. I got him searching for it years ago when I first started the search," she stated, and Haku's eyes widened. So that's what the book is! "All that we're missing now is the devil's fruit which Ren is currently searching for, and the Book of the Dead." She looked at Yugito. "Yugito, the Book of the Dead can only be found by a direct descendant of the Goddess of the Underworld, the Nibi." Yugito's eyes widened. "You must find the Book. Head to the Nibi's shrine and seek her faith. You must find the Book, or this world will…perish."
Yugito nodded, determination in her eyes. "Orders received, captain. I'm on it."
"And I will go with you." Neji interrupted. His eyes were cool. "We never fight someone one-on-one."
Shiki smiled. "Right."
In the middle of the night, Uchiha Itachi could be found sneaking into the medic tent.
He had been waiting all day for a chance to see Shiki, but Ragnarok never gave him a chance to do that, as there is always someone with the redhead. Either Gaara or Shino who stood guard at the entrance, or Haku and Hinata who is watching over her. But now, there is no one with her, as they were all taking a break just for a few minutes.
But a few minutes is all the time that Itachi needs.
Shiki had her back facing him, but Itachi knew full well that she's awake, and aware of her surroundings. He sighed. The redhead had barely spoken a word to him ever since the two ANBU teams have been brought to the Forbidden Forest.
"Can't you talk to me, Shiki?" Itachi asked. "You haven't told me yet. Why did you do such a thing? Why the ANBU? Just what did they ever do to you? You said that they deserved it for what they did to you and your friends. But you never explained why. Tell me." He waited, but he received no answer. Itachi then sighed, and was about to say something else, when Shiki spoke.
"Like what I've said before, this world isn't worth saving. Not any longer."
Itachi was shocked. "How can you say that?" he asked. There was no answer. "Shiki?"
Shiki turned her head to face Itachi, and the Uchiha was taken aback by those strong eyes. Those are the eyes that he remembered when he had first faced Shiki on the battlefield as ANBU and Ragnarok – in a fight to the death. Is there really no form of salvation for their relationship now?
"To live is to die. There's no other way around it." Shiki stated.
Itachi was confused. "What are you talking about?" he asked.
"That's just how life works," said Shiki mysteriously. "You still have a lot to learn, Itachi. After all, think about it. Who would want to live forever? I want to protect this world. I know what I'm doing. Even if what I'm doing might cause this world to burn, I do not regret it. I've always made the decisions that I believe were for the best, and I have no reason to doubt it. I'll accept the consequences after that." Her lips quirked. "I'm a Fool after all."
Shiki turned her back onto Itachi once more.
"And humans act so strange. Everything that we create is meant to destroy. I am human myself, yet sometimes, I almost feel ashamed to be one. Never have I seen a race so intent on their own destruction as us humans. This endless hatred… I want to stop that. I want to stop war. Even if I have to take on the hatred of the world in order to do that. I want this world to continue existing, but not like how it currently is. And at the same time, I feel that this world isn't worth saving. Not any longer."
"What do you mean?" Itachi was confused.
There was a sigh. "That's why I said that we aren't compatible," said Shiki. "Our manner of thinking is too different." There was silence. "You should leave. You don't want to be here once Haku and Gaara returns."
Itachi knew that she's right, but there is still one last question that he wanted the answer to.
"I still have to know one thing," he said. "Have you ever loved me, Shiki?"
But there was no answer.
Itachi sighed, turning to leave when he heard a soft voice in the darkness of the tent.
Itachi wonders if he had really heard that.