An Old Friend
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 Forty Four: An Old Friend
It was early morning in the base camp, and the morning mist was just starting to lift. Thus, apart from the few people on guard duty, there aren't many people awake at all. And at the lake not too far away from the base camp, one can find Namikaze Shiki sitting at the side of it, staring at nothing in particular.
"Thought that you'd be here," said a soft voice just then, and Shiki turned slightly only to see Ren approaching her. "Every single time when you're feeling down, you always disappear like this to someplace where no one would think of searching. Back in Hagako, it is that sakura tree that we can always see on the rooftop. You hadn't changed, Shiki."
Shiki said nothing.
"Are you bothered?" Ren asked. "About Sai, Yamato, and the Demon God."
Shiki let out a small sigh. "I would be lying if I said I wasn't," she said. "The week is coming to a close. The Demon God will be making an appearance soon." She buried her face into her knees as she brought her legs up to her chest. "Hey Ren. Do you remember what I'd said before about Death?"
We don't know what kind of people we truly are until the moment before our deaths. As death comes to embrace you, you will realise what you are. That's what death is, don't you think?
Ren sighed. "Of course I do," he said. He looked at Shiki. "What brings this on all of a sudden?"
"If I tell you that I'm afraid to die, will you believe me?" Shiki asked, looking at Ren. She buried her face into her knees. "The truth is, I do not want to die… I do not want to die…!" She whispered. "Is that cowardly of me?"
Ren said nothing. "As long as you're human, you will fear death. That is the way of all things living. Who isn't afraid of Death?" he asked. "The closest that I ever came to staring at Death in the face was on that night back in Hagako. I was afraid then too. I thought for a moment that I was going to die. But I didn't. I said before that I do not fear Death. But when I faced Death in the face, it was then that I realised…like every human…that I indeed fear Death."
Shiki was about to say something when alarms went off immediately back at the base camp – the siren ringing of a specific type of alarms that Sumaru had set to go off only when they detected a certain presence.
Ren and Shiki exchanged looks. "He's here," said Ren solemnly. "At last."
Shiki nodded. "…The Demon God."
"Shino! Situation!" Shiki ordered even as she walked into the tent that was mainly used as the 'operations room'. In other words, this tent is mainly used to survey the perimeters that had been set up prior to the start of the war.
Ren followed Shiki in, with the both of them ignoring the fact that nearly all of Ragnarok, along with the former ANBUs were also present, all crowding around Shino who was tapping away on his laptop, looking up every now and then to survey the pictures shown on the screens in front of him. Shikamaru was next to Shino, tapping away on his own laptop.
"How does 'very bad news' sounds?" Shino asked wryly, and Shiki raised a brow. The insect user pointed to one of the screens in front of him that is currently blank and showing nothing but static. "The moment the alarms went off, the perimeter that we've set up near Mount Terror went blank immediately."
"The perimeters were specially made to resist all nin-abilities." Neji remarked, leaning over Shino's shoulder to look at his laptop. "Then that means…"
Shino nodded grimly. "He's here," he said. "About time. I'd half-expected him to be here on the fourth day actually. And he's doing nothing but staying near Mount Terror though, for some reason."
"And his army isn't moving as well." Sumaru stated. He then frowned. "No, to be exact, it's more like they've spread over all the areas that are bountiful with earth power – or nin-abilities. The places blessed by the Bijuu Nine, to be exact." He looked from face to face.
Shiki sighed. "He's gathering power. Enough power to combat the power of the Bijuu Nine." She looked at her friends. "During the Last Battle, the Bijuu Nine left behind protective power to protect this world from the Demon God. That's what he's doing now – gathering enough power to destroy that protection. And once he had gained enough power to do that, he'll head to one place to end it all. The place where everything had begun. And where everything will end."
"Where is it?" Kisame asked curiously.
Shiki said nothing for a very long time before she sighed. "The Shrine of Penitence. Also known as the Lost Cave – the place where he had been originally enshrined. That is where the Bijuu Nine were created. And also the one place where he can regain his old powers and his immortality."
Everyone's faces paled instantly. If the Demon God ever gets there…
"We should go now!" Kiba said quickly.
"No. We have to make some preparations on our side too." Sumaru interrupted. "If we don't, we'll just be walking into a death trap. The enemy is a god."
"I'll get all the guys together. We'll be setting up the barriers. That can't stop him for long, but it will delay him." Neji stated, walking out of the tent, being followed by Hinata and Sumaru.
"Shino." Shiki sighed.
"Roger that. Perimeters at the Lost Cave, up and running." Shino responded immediately, his fingers flying over the keyboard of his laptop. "Level three containment spell and barrier. And coupled that with Neji's that he's going to set up, and we'll be able to repel most of the army. It can't stop those higher powered ones like the guy that Sai was fighting yesterday though." He added.
The tent fell silent at that.
Shiki sighed. "Tenten, can you put up a purifying fire barrier around the Lost Cave?" The redhead turned towards the weapons mistress who nodded and rushed out of the tent. "The rest of us will standby. Once we're ready, we're going."
"So it is really starting." Gaara sighed. "The boss is here."
Shiki glanced at the ANBUs. The Akatsuki looked fine – after all, all of them have been involved in high-risk missions before. The younger ANBUs on the other hand…
Shiki sighed. "I'm going to give you one very good piece of advice here," she said sternly, and everyone turned towards her. "The only people who should kill are those prepared to die themselves." Her eyes are like gimlets. "If you aren't prepared to die, stay the hell out of this."
"But this war…has been destroying our country." Lee mumbled. "It isn't right. People are dying. Even starving. Especially the little ones."
Ren gave out a short bark of scornful laughter, glaring at Lee with scornful dislike. "Well buddy, welcome to our world," he said, a tone of scorn and dislike in his voice. "This is what we have to face and experience for nearly ten years after the end of the last stupid war that you motherfuckers waged just for the fun of it! If there is a real Hell, this is it. And trust me, what you're seeing now isn't even close to what we have seen and done for the past decade." He hissed.
"Ren." Shiki interrupted Ren's tirade, and the dark haired teen snorted, looking at the ANBUs with scornful dislike.
The redhead knew that it is taking Ren a lot to just be civil to them. Like majority of the underworld, Ren isn't fond of the ANBU. She then turned towards the ANBU who flinched upon seeing her cold eyes, particularly Itachi. All of them knew that Shiki plain despises them – she made no effort to hide it from the very beginning. But this is the first time when they saw her true feelings being reflected in her eyes.
"We learned many things when we were in the underworld. Things that you would never learn when you're with the ANBU. How to survive. How to fight. How to kill." Shiki's eyes are like cold pieces of ice. "If you want to survive, you forget about sympathy. If you sympathise with your enemy, you won't live long. In the underworld…we learn to never show our backs to the enemy. If you let doubt take over you, despair will cripple you. And Ren might just be right about this being true Hell. But I think that Hell is something that you carry around with you. Not somewhere you go. You make it what you deem it. Doubt and suspicion, extreme anger and hatred. They bring seeds of catastrophe to this world. That is war. And soon, you will see the cold ugly truth of war."
"And for the better or for the good, this war will change the world." Ren stated. "The world cannot be changed by pretty words alone. If it were that simple, there wouldn't be any wars, and we wouldn't be in the state that we now are in."
"The Demon God…" Itachi murmured.
Ren and Shiki exchanged looks. "When Sai had just left Ne, he told us something once," said Shiki at last. "He is never one for long words. Thus, at that time, we were surprised at what he'd said…"
"Sometimes, fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction, but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over, you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn't something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it. Step right inside the storm."
"And that is what humans are." Shiki stated. "We can't run from it. I believe that our fate is what we make it. Not something that some higher power decides. If you're going to just blame your life on something else, then you're better off dead. You only live when you live for something…fight for something. If you can't live for something, at the very least, die for something."
Before anyone can say anything to that, Sumaru poked his head in through the flap of the tent, frowning slightly at the sudden tense atmosphere. He shook his head, and turned to face Shiki. "We're done here. We can move out once Neji and Tenten have done their parts. And Shino as well."
Shiki sighed. "Very well. We're moving under the cover of night."
Kisame panted as he cut down another undead. "Aren't they more aggressive than before?" he demanded, spinning around and cutting down another undead that is coming up behind him. "I don't remember them being this hard to kill or being this aggressive before!"
"Well, what do you expect? Their boss is back!" Temari, who wasn't too far away stated, annoyed, sending out wind blast after wind blast. "Damn it…" She panted, sweat pouring down her face. "I'm soon at my limit…"
Not too far away, Gaara scowled fiercely, enclosing about three undead in his Desert Coffin and tearing them apart easily. "Hey Sumaru, what is going on?" The redhead demanded, two fingers on the communicator in his ear. "The numbers are more than expected!" He tapped onto his communicator before turning towards his sister. "No good. The communications are down. Properly due to the high power and the barriers surrounding the areas. We can only depend on ourselves with no backup from this point."
"And what the hell is Namikaze doing?" Kiba demanded not too far away.
"Don't worry about her." Tenten snapped. "She knows the plan." She glanced upwards at the dark skies. "Looks like we're going to be fighting all night long, guys." She wiped the sweat from her brow. "I hope that you're ready."
At that time, none of us realised just what it truly meant to fight the Demon God. What it really meant to go up against a god. Come to think of it, isn't it ridiculous in the first place? Mere humans defying a god?
The fifth day… The day when the Demon God appeared at last marks the true start of the war. The enemies that appeared seemed more aggressive and difficult to kill, as compared to the previous days.
Many people died.
Too many, in fact.
To the point when even Shiki started to wonder if she's even doing the right thing. But still, this is war. Something that we've all been preparing for years. And it's not just a normal war. It's a battle. A battle for our world.
A battle that we've all been preparing for nearly eight years.
All of us lost many things during that battle. The scars were just too deep for us. I thought that I knew the reality of the world. I thought that I know how cruel that this world could be. But what I'd both seen and experienced during that war… It gives me a whole new definition of the word 'pain'.
I wonder… If Shiki went through that during her time in Hagako. She never said anything about her past, but we knew enough to know that it isn't an easy time for her. Even Sumaru had said as much. And Shiki isn't just a normal nin-user. She's one of the top class ones. And the only one who could manage to slip under the ANBU's radar like that for years.
She spent years surviving in the underworld, relying on no one but herself. And now, that survival instinct had been put to good use. She taught us all how to survive. No one said anything, but we all knew. We all knew that there is a price to pay for every war waged.
But none of us realised just how high that price is.
None of us realised just what it means to fight the Demon God himself…
Shiki could have sworn that she's hallucinating as she stared at the guy standing across her and Ren. It is night after all, and she had been pretty much fighting for an entire day. Perhaps she's too tired or something?
But the shocked look on Ren's face who is standing beside her told her that she's definitely not imagining it.
"Hey Ren, is that…?" Shiki trailed off slowly uneasily, not taking her eyes off of the emotionless looking orange haired guy standing across them.
Ren shook his head. "No…! No… It can't be!" he snarled in anger. "He's dead… He's dead…! He died ten years ago!" He balled his hands into fists by his sides. "Don't fuck around with me… How dare you use his face?" He snarled at the orange haired soldier of the Demon God's army. "How dare you use that face and show up in front of me? You're not him… You have his face, but you don't have his soul! That body is not yours to use! How dare you use Yahiko's body?"
Shiki closed her eyes briefly before opening them again, turning to face 'Yahiko'. The real Yahiko had been Blade's unofficial 'guardian' of sorts when they were growing up in Hagako. He had helped to protect them during a time when they're defenceless. The only reason why any of them are still alive today is because of him. But like most people back then during the chaotic period of the civil war, Shimizu Yahiko had died young – about ten years ago. On the same night when nearly half of Blade had perished.
Shiki clenched her hands into fists. "Yahiko…"
Meanwhile with Sumaru, he almost got a heart attack when he overheard the conversation over on Ren and Shiki's end. As it is, he almost dropped the daggers that he was using, and if it weren't for Nagato who happened to be standing near him, he would have been dead.
"Keep your eyes on the enemy!" Nagato snapped, annoyed. "Where are you looking anyway?"
Sumaru ignored him, pressing two fingers to the communicator in his ear. The area that he was at, along with just a few, happened to be one of the few areas where the communicators could work.
"Ren! Shiki! Can you hear me?" Sumaru asked urgently, pressing two fingers to the communicator in his ear, and kicking one of the undead away from him, kicking it towards Nagato's direction. "What did you just say? What is going on over there?"
There was no reply from either one of his friends, but from the sounds of things, there is a battle going on over on their side. And from the sounds of things, it seems to be a pretty heated one. And if Ren and Shiki are involved, and it's those two that are getting serious, then their opponent is not a normal guy.
Even back in their days with Blade, one rarely sees either Ren or Shiki gets serious. They're two of the best fighters that Sumaru had ever seen, even with Shiki fighting without her powers. In fact, that girl doesn't really need it in the first place. Like Ren, she had a head for tactics and battle plans, and mainly relies on her mind in battles. And like most of them, Shiki grew up on the streets, doing anything possible in order to survive this long. When you'd lived like that, you're bound to grow more street wary, and develop skills that are necessary for your survival.
"Ren! Your left!"
There was a clang of metal on metal, and a grunt of pain.
"I'm okay, Shiki! Keep focused! That's not Yahiko! You know that!"
Static filled the communicator just then.
But that short conversation was more than enough for Sumaru. His eyes went wide and he turned pale. "D-Did they just say 'Yahiko'?" he almost whispered. He didn't notice Nagato's eyes growing wide at his words. "It can't be…"
Sumaru immediately took off; with Nagato following close at his heels a split second later.
Sumaru actually has to grab Haku on the way, as she's the only one available with tracking abilities who can find Shiki and Ren right now, seeing as how Temari is now all the way on the other end of the battlefield, and Yugito is nowhere to be found.
The Baled leader had actually noticed Nagato following him right from the very beginning, but he said nothing about it, as it isn't like he had the time to bother with the guy. And not to mention that they're currently in the middle of a war right now. And like what both Ren and Shiki have said before – they'll call for a temporary cease-fire, and a temporary truce. They need to combine their forces to combat the Demon God and his army. If they don't find a way to force the Demon God's army back and to kill him, then they might as well just hand their world on a silver platter over to the Demon God.
Either way, if everything fails, then they'll just be going a few days earlier than the rest of the world.
"What the…?" Haku who was leading both Sumaru and Nagato both towards where she'd pinpointed Ren and Shiki's locations stopped in her tracks all of a sudden, two fingers on her communicator. "Communications are back up! Gaara? Temari? Can you hear me? Hinata? Shino?"
"Yeah, I hear you!" Gaara stated from his side. "What's going on?"
"What's the situation?" Sumaru asked.
"The Demon God's army is retreating." Hinata who is in charge of the 'Control Room' alongside Shino for the last two days of the war responded. She then muttered something. "We really need to find a better term to address them than 'the Demon God's army' or 'the undead army'." She then cleared her throat. "The battles are tough, but nothing that we can't handle. And for some reason, all the perimeters are back up."
All three present had a good reason to be confused. During the start of the battle that day, all the perimeters at the battlefields that they were at were down due to the Demon God's power. The Demon God's power is so vast that all electronics would be down, thus, even their communicators were down. If the perimeters were back up, then that means…
"The Demon God is retreating as well." Haku stated slowly. "Why?"
"I have no idea, but we have a major power reading near the northern side." Shino responded. "Power levels are peaking."
"Northern side?" Nagato asked, confused. "That's where we're heading towards, aren't we?"
Haku nodded. "We're heading towards there. From what I know, Shiki and Ren are over there. And they seemed to be in a pretty heated battle. By the looks of things, their opponent is no small fry, if it's the both of them getting serious."
"The others are heading there too." Hinata told her. "The Demon God's army is retreating. But the power levels at the northern side are rising. And I hadn't been able to get into contact with Ren and Shiki at all. You are the closest to them right now. Assist them."
"If I can." Haku told Hinata. "I'm not insane enough to interfere in a high paced battle between top class fighters like them. We have no place in a high paced battle once Ren and Shiki gets serious."
When top class fighters of Ren and Shiki's calibre get serious, anyone below their level has no place in their fight. They would only hinder them, rather than assist them. Thus, Ragnarok and Baled knew by now that whenever their leaders get involved in a serious fight, they have no place to interfere. Not unless they want to die.
"All right. We're going." Sumaru told Hinata and Shino, also informing the two others with him at the same time. "I'm getting worried. I have a bad feeling about this…" He bit on his lower lip. 'I'm sure that Shiki and Ren said 'Yahiko' at that time. But… Yahiko-san is dead. He died ten years ago!' Sumaru bit on his lower lip uneasily.
The death of their 'protector' or 'guardian' had been hard on all the members of Blade at that time, Shiki especially. Especially since Shimizu Yahiko had been her godfather's last living student. The orange haired man had been tasked by Jiraiya to watch over Shiki and her friends in Hagako. He had taught them how to hunt, how to fight, how to plan, how to survive. Really, does one really think that young kids of eight or even younger at that time can learn how to kill and how to fight by themselves, even if the majority of them have lived on the streets? No. It had been Yahiko who had taught them. He merely gave them the tools needed to help them to stay alive.
He had been…Blade's protector.
All of Blade were fond of the orange haired man, looking up to him as some sort of older brother. Thus, his death had been hard on all of them. It wasn't even a year later after his death when there had been an attack on the street gang Blade, and more than half of the gang perished. And even now, the survivors were reluctant to talk about their friends, even their guardian.
Sumaru was worried.
Is this like the time with Sai? Did the Demon God resurrect Yahiko? If so, it isn't good. Undead or not, the Demon God's soldier or not, that body is still the original's. And that means it knows all of the original's skills. Having the face is bad enough. If he possesses Yahiko's skills too, it's going to be psychologically hard on both Ren and Shiki who were the closest to Yahiko during their gang days.
But at this point of time, it is only the both of them who could even hope to beat Yahiko now.
Ten years is a long time. More than enough time for them both to polish their skills. They didn't survive this long by themselves for nothing. Ragnarok didn't gain the reputation that they have for nothing either.
But still, Ren and Shiki are both still only human. They have feelings too. And all humans have breaking points. Will fighting Yahiko be the breaking point for them both?
"Let's go." Sumaru ordered. "I got a bad feeling about this… We'd better get to where Ren and Shiki are as soon as possible…"
Sumaru, Nagato and Haku reached the place where Ren and Shiki are at the same time as Shikamaru, Sasuke, Itachi, Kisame, Konan, Kiba and Neji. The sun was actually just rising as the two groups arrived together. They exchanged looks with each other before turning their attention towards the fight currently going on in front of them.
Both Ren and Shiki have tears in their clothes, with blades being grasped in their hands. They looked tired as well, but their eyes were still determined as they glared at the orange haired man that they're fighting. A man that Sumaru felt a pang in his heart upon laying eyes on him.
The leader of Baled bit on his lower lip and turned his face away, his shoulders trembling slightly. It almost feels like their 'big brother' is back all over again. 'Yahiko-san…'
"Who is that man that they're fighting?" Kiba asked, confused.
Nagato's lips trembled, and Konan's eyes were full of emotion as well as they both stared at the orange haired man. "…Shimizu Yahiko." Konan answered. "He lived in the same village as us when we were little before the war had destroyed it, and he then vanished. I'd heard that he died about ten years ago, but…"
"He had also been the one to teach us how to fight." Sumaru stated. "He had been Blade's protector. To think that he'll be back as our enemy. Isn't this ironic? First Yamato. Now Yahiko-san. Members of this country's most feared and most dangerous street gang back as part of the Demon God's army. Is this some kind of joke?" He laughed bitterly.
The others exchanged looks silently. They're not part of Blade, thus, they could only be outsiders looking in. But to imagine that people who they'd once called friends, and maybe even family becoming their enemies, and becoming someone whom they must fight to the death, or die trying… It's not a pleasant feeling.
They can't understand Sumaru's feelings. Or even Shiki. Or even Ren. But they know that their days as Blade is something that can't be forgotten, as it is a part of them that is so deeply ingrained that it will forever be part of who they are.
And to have that past catching up to them now…
"Shouldn't we help them?" Sasuke asked at last. "That guy doesn't seem to be your normal guy."
"No. We will only be a hindrance to them right now," said Itachi, shaking his head.
"What? Uchiha, you can tell too?" Neji glanced at Itachi out of the corner of his eye, ignoring the fact that Itachi is giving him the evil eye for underestimating his skills. "And as much as it pains me to agree with him—" Itachi twitched. "—he's right. Ren and Shiki both are now fighting at a level that is way above what we're capable of. We would only hinder them if we interfere. Besides, this is their battle. Their fight. If that guy is part of Blade once upon a time, then it's their responsibility. They wouldn't want us to interfere. This…is how the street gangs works." He looked from face to face. "What happens within the street gangs…remains within the street gangs. Even though Blade is no more, their members are still alive. This is not our battle."
"What we could do now is to just believe in them." Sumaru added. "Back during our time with Blade, it had been Ren and Shiki who knew Yahiko-san the best and vice versa. After all, he had been Jiraiya-sama's last surviving student. He taught Sai everything he knew about espionage and hacking, and even information gathering. If it is anyone who could beat Yahiko-san…it'll be the two of them."
There was silence.
"Sumaru, in your opinion, who do you think can win?" Shikamaru asked after a long while.
Sumaru sighed. "Honestly, I'm not sure. Ren and Shiki are both strong in their own rights. And so is Yahiko-san from ten years ago. And when both Ren and Shiki tag team…" He trailed off slowly. "I hadn't seen anyone beat them yet when they work together." He admitted.
Itachi turned his attention towards Ren and Shiki who were both engaged in a battle with the Yahiko guy. Their movements reminds him more of a dance, as they're just so synchronised with each other. When Ren attacks, he will move out of the way immediately, thus creating an opening for Shiki. One favours power whilst the other favours speed. They're just so in tune together with each other. And this is really the first time when Itachi had seen two of Blade's best fight seriously.
And if this is them starting to get serious, he can see just why the ANBU back then made it a rule to never walk into Hagako, and if they absolutely have to, they never send less than three people in there. Most ANBUs who walk in there rarely returns alive, if at all.
"Incredible…" Kiba whispered, entranced by the battle in front of his eyes. "I can see why they're legends in the underworld."
"But they have to end this soon." Kisame noted. "They're getting tired. And considering the fact that they've been fighting since dawn…yesterday—" He added, glancing at the early morning sun. "—I'm not surprised. But in the case of that orange haired guy, he doesn't tire, as is the case of the Demon God's army."
The others exchanged grim looks. One advantage that the Demon God's soldiers have over them is the fact that they don't tire, and injuries don't bother them in the least. To 'kill' them, you have to aim for the head or the heart.
Over with Ren and Shiki, the redhead obviously has the same thought in mind too. She quickly leapt backwards, neatly stepping out of the way of Yahiko's sword wipe. No matter what she told herself, and no matter what logic is telling her, her instincts were instead screaming at her that it is indeed Yahiko.
"Ren!" Shiki called out to the dark haired teen.
Ren caught Shiki's eye before he nodded. The teen grasped the sword in his hand tightly before flinging it straight towards Yahiko even as he ran towards the man. Yahiko merely deflected the incoming blade with the back of his hand, ignoring the fact that the sword caused a wound on the back of his hand that healed instantly.
It caused just a moment of distraction. A moment that is all that Ren needed.
The dark haired teen moved quickly, twisting Yahiko's left wrist hard enough to twist the bones in his hand. A normal human would be screaming in pain by now, but as it is, Yahiko isn't exactly human right now. Ren quickly draw out a short blade from the back of his waist, bringing it up to parry Yahiko's blade before he could cut off his head.
Both males were locked in a stalemate as Ren met Yahiko's stone gaze with his own glare. The dark haired teen felt a pang in his heart as he met that empty gaze. This isn't right. Such a look shouldn't belong on Yahiko's face. Even right to the end of his life, Yahiko had always been expressive. He is always smiling that gentle smile of his, even right to the end when he'd lost his life defending them.
Even as he lay dying, he merely smiled that knowing smile of his, whispering to Ren to 'carry on for me. Because you are the proof that I'd ever existed'.
"You can't beat me." 'Yahiko' said emotionlessly.
"I know. I can't beat you by myself. I know that better than anyone else." Ren hissed. "How many times have I sparred with you back in Hagako? And how many times have you left me on my back on the ground? I can't beat you. Not alone, I can't. But I'm not alone this time. And this time, I can't afford to lose to you! I don't want to lose to you!"
Ren grasped another hidden blade out of the sleeve of his right arm, pushing both of Yahiko's arms backwards even as Shiki used Ren's back as a stepping stone to leap into the air, a blade grasped in her left hand, the early morning rays of the sun just bouncing off the steel of the weapon.
"Cooperation technique." Itachi murmured all of a sudden. "I've heard about it, but it's the first time I'm seeing it. It only works if two people knew each other so well that it is almost like they could read each other's minds, and if they trust each other one hundred percent."
"It's the end, Yahiko!" Ren proclaimed even as he propelled himself backwards, feet skidding backwards on the ground.
"Don't you dare use that face in front of me! You don't deserve his name!" Shiki shouted, raising the sword above her head, grasping the hilt with both hands even as she descended down to the ground, driving the blade deep into Yahiko's chest, with it protruding out on the other side of his body.
For a long moment, all was silent before Shiki stepped backwards, sliding the sword out of Yahiko's body, and the orange haired man stumbled on his feet before falling to the ground, motionless.
Sumaru sighed. "It's over," he stated, walking over to where Ren and Shiki were, hunched over on their knees, panting. The others followed him. "It's been awhile since I've seen you both tag team someone. It's as impressive as always. It's difficult to believe that it's been nearly ten years since you both fought together."
"Yeah." Ren panted. "We…won."
Nagato looked over at Yahiko's motionless body. "He was at Hagako, wasn't he? All those years when he went missing," he said softly. The three Blade survivors looked at him sharply. "Don't look like that. I knew Yahiko when I was a kid. So did Konan." Konan nodded. "We grew up in the same village before the war broke out. We…were childhood friends."
"Did Yahiko not tell you before?" Konan asked, and all three shook their heads.
"We have an unspoken rule there that we do not speak about our past, nor do we ask anyone about theirs." Ren answered. "Especially in a place like Hagako. Everyone has something that they wished to forget there."
"Ah. That explains it then." Nagato sighed. "I'd heard that he'd died about ten years ago. Yahiko, me, Konan and Ein… We grew up in the same village before the war. When the war broke out, our village was one of the first ones that were attacked. All of us were separated because of it. It wasn't until after Ein had passed away when I'd found Konan. And that is only because she was sent to recruit me for the ANBU."
"We tried to find Yahiko after we both entered the ANBU." Konan told the three Blade survivors. "It wasn't until a few years later when we found out that he'd died. An informant that had been helping us to locate him gave us a letter that was written by Yahiko." She closed her eyes briefly. "'Leaves from the vine, falling so slow. Like fragile tiny shells, drifting in the foam. Little soldier boy, come marching home. Brave soldier boy, comes marching home'." She whispered.
"Yahiko-san used to hum that line a lot." Sumaru muttered. "We never knew what it meant."
There was a harsh cough just then, and everyone turned their attention towards Yahiko. Shiki was the only one who noticed that Yahiko's eyes were clear and bright, if not a little glazed over. It was a look that she knew all too well.
"…Yahiko…" Shiki whispered, making her way towards Yahiko's side. Ren and Sumaru followed suit, being before followed by Nagato and Konan. The others respected their wish to be near their old friend by keeping a distance away.
Yahiko coughed harshly. "I…disappeared from this world…as if withering at long last…" he rasped.
"Have you awakened, Yahiko?" Ren asked.
Yahiko coughed. "…Yeah… It is…such a long time…" he whispered. "Feels like…I've been sleeping for a long time…" He coughed. "The last thing…that I remembered was of…that night. And when I'd woken up… I can't control my movements at all… It is like…I'm trapped in my own body, having to watch as my own body attack the ones I'd called friends…and maybe even family…"
"It's not your fault!" Sumaru insisted. "It's the Demon God!"
Yahiko smiled weakly at them, coughing. Shiki who was grasping his hand gasped as she felt his hand starting to turn grainy. "Y-Yahiko?"
"What is this?" Kiba demanded. "Is he…crumbling into dust?"
"I'm…not really alive right now…" Yahiko rasped. "I'm already dead… However long ago that is… The moment we break free of the mind control on us…we will disappear. But however short it is…I'm glad to be able to see you one more time… I'd always worried about you… But…I'm glad to see you looking well… You both…fought well…" Yahiko smiled at Ren and Shiki. "Looks like…I no longer have to worry about you both anymore…"
"This isn't fair! Why Yahiko?" Ren demanded.
"We…can't defy the laws of nature… Such is life…" Yahiko whispered. He coughed harshly. "I…committed the worst…possible sin that I could ever commit… I…raised my hand against…you…" He coughed. "Shiki… Please… Would you let me see your face a little better…?" Shiki moved closer to him. "Jiraiya-sama…left your care to me… But that isn't the whole reason why I looked over you and your friends… The other reason…is your mother…"
Shiki's eyes widened. "My mother?"
Yahiko coughed harshly, nodding. "I met her…and your father during the war… She was a kind woman… Even in my village…life isn't easy. She helped me… Taught me to believe… Taught me to love again… Probably…she's the only woman…whom I'd ever loved… That's why… When she died, I started looking for her daughter… And when Jiraiya-sama told me that he needs someone to look after you – after her daughter, I agreed immediately. It's the least that I could do…to look after the child of the only woman whom I'd ever loved…" He coughed harshly. "You are…her spitting image." He whispered, raising one shaking hand to cup Shiki's face. "If I could have had a child with her… Surely… It would have been…a child like you…" He smiled. "Carry on for me…" He whispered. "Because…you three are the proof…that I'd existed…"
His body then crumpled to dust.
"Yahiko!" Nagato shouted.
Our child… Mine…and that person's…
Shiki closed her eyes briefly, her shoulders trembling with emotion. Haku covered her mouth to prevent sobs from breaking out.
Leaves from the vine,Falling so slowLike fragile tiny shells,Drifting in the foam
Little soldier boyCome marching homeBrave soldier boyCome marching home
"Is fighting really the answer to end this?" Shiki asked Sumaru and Ren that night at the lake, with the full moon shining down on them, bathing them in its moonlight. "People live their lives bound by what they define as truth and fiction. That's how they define reality. I thought I knew that. And I thought that I understood what this war is going to cost me. But it's easier said than done…" She bit on her bottom lip. "Was the road that we chose the right one? I don't know."
Neither one of the two said anything for a long time. "We'd never regretted following you," said Sumaru at last. "And do you remember what Jiraiya-sama and even Yahiko-san had said once? 'Follow the road that you believe in. And once you'd picked that path, follow it to the end without looking back. Leave behind no regrets'. All of us are adults, Shiki. We knew what we're getting ourselves into. Whatever consequences there are with this choice, it's ours to bear, not yours."
"He's right," said Ren with a nod. "And it's only going to get worse from now on. Because tomorrow…" He trailed off.
Shiki sighed. "Yeah. Once the sun rises, it's going to be the last day of the battle – Day Seven. The Demon God will appear without fail tomorrow. And there is only one place where he will go to once he does."
All three exchanged looks. "The Lost Cave." They echoed as one.
Ren sighed. "Tomorrow," he stated. "Everything will be decided tomorrow."
Shiki nodded in agreement. "And for the better or for the worse, it will all end tomorrow," she stated. "Tomorrow… The Final Battle."