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a crown of shadows and scorched leaves

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Izuna was eleven, and her world changed.

Weeks after her mother’s departure, she had no courage glancing at the only mirror at home. She knew she wasn’t the same since that night. For example, she no longer needed a light to see through the darkness of the night. And at some moments, she could learn difficult taijutsu moves from her older relatives merely by watching them train.

Not learning—mimicking.

Without glancing at a mirror, she knew her sharingan had awakened.

The Ancestor had chosen her to shoulder this power.

It should’ve been a joyous moment, a proud one, instead of something she guarded so closely from her family—her remaining family’s knowledge. Their house felt too empty by the end of the day without echoes of a cry, running footsteps along the walkways, and soft serenade that used to lull her to sleep.

She still could see the vast grassy plain under innumerable stars in her mind. She still could clearly see a figure clad in yellow that became smaller and smaller as her father took her closer to home. But she couldn't see her mother’s whereabouts now… or whether she survived reaching her destination—

“Izuna-chan?”

The call abruptly cut her musings. A concerned Ayano, her friend who was on cooking duty for her family, was staring at her. Her hair framed her round, reddish cheeks. Ashamed, Izuna bowed her head. The bowls before her were filled with pickles and dried freshwater fish. They tasted plain, but she ate without complaining. Her father and brother ate in silence, their chopsticks made almost no sound when touching their earthenware bowl. Morning sunlight warmed her back as she ate. The weather was good for hunting.

“Otou-sama and Nii-san gonna hunt today?” she blurted out, full of hope.

“We have no choice,” said Tajima. “Our meat supply is dwindling. Facing the Senju has spent all of our resources, even our cured meats. We also need to check our traps too.”

She stole a glance at the other bowls. The fish cuts were so tiny. Pickles, just a pinch. They’d eaten all the cured meats days ago. It was hard to chew, but she never complained.

Madara protested, “why don’t we bring Izuna along?”

“Nanami will train the children in kenjutsu. She better attend it.”

Her shoulders slumped. Izuna clearly hid her disappointment, but her expression was readable by her brother.

“After dinner later,” Madara whispered to her before leaving, “we’ll train your kenjutsu outside. So you’ll master it quicker.”

Her mood was instantly uplifted. “Okay!”

Once Ayano finished cleaning the table, izuna went with her to the training field. Today was mostly girls because the boys accompanied the men hunting. Children stood in rows, the shortest at the front. Everyone held a wooden sword. Izuna took her spot in the middle of a row, and tidied her bangs nervously. She still trained with the kids who hadn’t awakened their sharingan.

Conversation and laughter died out when Uchiha Nanami appeared. Her hair was tied in a bun, with her bangs pulled back. A scar on her toned arm was visible every time she took a step. It’s hard to believe she’s Ayano’s mother, who had a kind face.

Nanami looked at the children with hands on her waist. “What are you waiting for?” she roared. “Begin!”

At once they swung the swords. Front, below, upwards, turning around and thrusting, deflecting and rolling… then back to the starting stance.

The wooden sword danced on her palms, its end cleaved the air as agile as an eagle grabbed a rabbit from the sky. Every time she rolled, her sword changed hand, following the same attack pattern without any doubts or pause. Her grin formed realizing jealous stares from the other children. They’re still struggling, while she did everything so easily.

Yet the training today was boring for her because they merely repeating the same movement already burned to her muscle memory. She only lacked strength. She held back her boredom, only putting more effort when Aunt Nanami approached to signal for another round.

“Mind your feet!” she barked—fortunately to another girl. Her voice was louder than everyone’s yell. “You put too much weight on your left foot!”

“She’s making me nervous,” Ayano complained when she turned around. “Uhhh—” she turned to the wrong direction to deflect, which she quickly corrected before she got scolded. Aunt Nanami’s sharp ears  could hear the smallest wrong movement.

Izuna tilted her head a bit to continue listening while training. Sweat flooded her eyebrows. “At home too?”

“What do you think? My brother now gets too happy to take patrol duties…”

Eagles were visible in the sky. Izuna’s attention departed from the conversation. Her face blanked in awe. Their dark wings swished in turns blocking the sunlight from the ground. One, two, three dark brown and grey eagles. Flying in circles over the field.

She waited until Nanami turned around, then ran from her row.

“Izuna!”

She ignored Ayano’s whispered warning. With wooden sword in hand, Izuna dashed off downward a small hill. She dashed past her neighbors’ vegetable patches, kicking ripe cabbages and carrots into the air.

The Uchiha settlement was located on a rocky area, with few grasses growing between them. Her bare feet stepped on sharp and jagged rocks. The inevitable scratches were ignored for the sake of seeing the hunting party returned.

Several people, most were men, passed the gate. Almost everyone wore a thick glove on their left hand. Some carried a bow and arrows. She gaped seeing so many games they brought back. A deer, several pheasants, and many hares.

Fresh meat!

Several people untied pheasants and hares—all wriggling to free themselves to no avail. The deer seemed to surrender to its fate, until Izuna spotted an arrow had left a deep mark on its body. Red marred its soft, golden brown fur.

She knelt and touched the deer’s neck. Still warm. Its life still lingered around. Its dark eyes stared blankly at her, reflecting the sunlight.

The deer blinked.

Its hind legs kicked the earth, sending dirt and grass at her. Izuna gasped, surprised. Her instincts kicked in—she jumped up after it.

The deer avoided a bunch of surprised hunters, now leaping far beyond the gate. The hunters screamed a warning to the others, but Izuna was far ahead. Her eyes were locked at the deer’s short white tail. Its thin legs were strong, carrying it meandering past the bushes and rocks. Izuna followed closely, unhindered by the terrain.

If the deer got free, then it’s her fault!

The world faded, blurred around her except for the prey she’s chasing. Its arrow wound didn’t seem to block its speed. The energy flows around its body were glowing. Her cheeks burned under the sun. Her ribs hurt. The only weapon she had was a wooden sword. The deer’s legs slowed down in her vision; every step was easily read…

Their distance shortened, as short as the throwing distance of a rock. Izuna gathered chakra on her foot, then she jumped off a flat rock. Her sword was raised overhead—

Then struck the prey’s neck. A loud chilling crack; both prey and hunter tumbled down. Izuna spat out dirt and blood, throwing herself over the deer. She gripped its neck tightly, hissing as the animal tried to kick itself free.

Black met red.

The chakra running through it faded, gone.

The deer’s eyes were blank.

Adrenaline was yet to ebb from her veins as the heavy footsteps soon surrounded her. Izuna recognized her father’s voice above everyone else’s.

“Why so reckless—” Tajima pulled his daughter’s arm, his words halted as they faced each other. His worry turned into a look of surprise. “Your sharingan has…?”

Izuna blinked in shock. She quickly lowered her face, losing courage to look at her father. Her sharingan must had appeared on its own as she chased the deer. After all her careful secret-keeping…

“Here, let me take a look…” A dark brown haired woman knelt and held Izuna’s cheek. She still had a quiver on her shoulder. “Yes… one tomoe sharingan! Tajima-san is so lucky,” she added to him with a beaming face.

“What, sharingan?”

“Izuna-chan already got sharingan?”

“What, let me look!”

Her other relatives overheard. Soon Izuna was surrounded closely by her uncles and cousins. Happy commotion enveloped her.

“Your sharingan is awakened because of chasing a deer?” a cousin asked. “How?”

“I’ve been chasing deer for seven years, my sharingan hasn’t manifested yet!”

How? All her relatives got their sharingan on the battlefield, instead of chasing an escaped prey. Her sharingan had been awakened for awhile, but it’s impossible to say so. Izuna didn’t know what answer she had to give, but another cousin answered for her.

“That depends on our Ancestor!”

“Yes but it’s so rare for a boy as strong as Madara not yet—”

Tajima called her to walk home together. She ran free from her cousins. Along the way home, Izuna had no chance to deactivate her sharingan. Everyone wanted to see, and showered her with praises.

“I got mine when I was fourteen. Your father at sixteen,” said the woman who checked her eyes. “Earning it so young… the Ancestor must have seen your potential. Would you like to train with me start tomorrow—?”

“Oi, Setsuna. Get in a queue,” Tajima scolded her, holding back a chuckle. “I’ll train her first.”

Izuna’s spirits soared. Sharingan training with her father! It’s been a long time since they last trained her goukakyu…

“I wanna train with Otou-sama!”

“Ah!” Setsuna pretended to sulk while Tajima cackled. Her attention shifted towards a figure standing by the gate.

“Wasn’t that your arrow on the deer?” The person she’s talking to was blocked by other people returning to the settlement. “You need to fix your aim.”

“Understood, Aunt Setsuna.”

Her aunt went away, and Izuna found her brother leaning at the gate. His eyebrows furrowed. His right hand was still holding a bow. Their eyes met, and his grin formed.

“I heard your eyes have awakened!” he shouted, approaching. “Congratulations, Izuna!”

“Nii—” Her response was cut short as Madara’s hand landed on her head, messing her hair.

“Don’t forget our training tonight!”

Before she could reply, Madara left. His back disappeared between people skinning their games.

Izuna tidied her bangs, her heart felt like being gripped by an unseen hand. Her adrenaline ebbed, replaced by an abnormal exhaustion.

Her chase wasn’t long, but she’s already this tired…

That night Tajima brought her to the temple, holding a ceremony to thank their Great Ancestor. Izuna followed the procession without fully paying attention. Madara was by her side, sitting a little behind with a stiff face. Tajima sat on the front, the closest to the altar, without sparing any space for the other parent. His voice was low and flat chanting the prayers.

She always imagined she’d attend her brother’s ceremony first, then hers followed later. A ceremony of mirth and laughter, instead of one where half of her family wasn’t present.

Her earlier happiness had evaporated.

“Izuna-chan is sooo lucky.” Ayano accompanied her returning home. Her eyes sparkled in admiration. “You could be placed on the front line against the Senju! Like my mother!”

Tajima and Madara were still at the temple, chanting more prayers without her. She chose to go home, her hunger lingered so she couldn’t sit too long at the temple.

“Yeah, you too Ayano…”

“In two or three years, my sharingan should be awakened too like my brother and mother.” Her hands linked at her back. “Not awakened is okay too, who knows maybe my child will get a stronger sharingan, right?”

She nodded, activating her sharingan to avoid jagged rocks in the dark. The chakra flow in her and her cousin’s body were visible so clearly. They were calmly flowing, like a small creek.

“Izuna-chan can do a lot more for the clan now!” Ayano hadn’t stopped blabbering. “Our Great Ancestor will be very very proud of you!”

Mentioning their Ancestor made her smile appear. “If Ayano keep training hard, the Ancestor will awaken your sharingan!”

Her mood was better when a more extravagant dinner was served. She earned an extra portion of deer meat, and during dinner she kept talking of new trainings with her father. Madara didn’t talk much, only answered when asked.

Tajima had gone to his room, and Ayano left after dinner. Izuna dragged her sword with heavy steps towards the edge of the village. Night insects sung accompanying the siblings in the dark. The stars above were more beautiful seen with her active sharingan, making her pause so often to observe the sky.

“Are we going to train or not?” Madara stood a few meters ahead, hands on his waist.

Izuna pouted. “We are.”

“You sure?” he replied, sceptical. “You already have sharingan, mastering kenjutsu techniques should be easy for you.”

Izuna’s nostrils flared, preparing a response, but Madara cut in.

“How long has it been since your sharingan awakened?”

The question hit her like a thrown rock. She gulped, tossing her wooden sword from one hand to another. “Since… Mother…”

“Why didn’t you say anything?” It sounded more like an accusation rather than a question. “It’s almost a season past…!”

“...Because Nii-san…” Her voice hitched. “Nii-san… is yet.”

The boy’s expression no longer stiff from holding back his anger. His sword fell onto the grass. In two long strides he cut the distance between them, then his hand patted Izuna’s head. Stroking her hair despite his obvious doubt.

“It’s okay.”

The same doubt made her too afraid to look, so she just glanced at him.

“Why your sharingan didn’t awaken too…?”

Madara shrugged. “It depends on the Ancestor, no?” A laugh shadowed his rhetorics. “Not all of us managed to awaken it.”

“But Nii-san is far stronger than me! You’ve killed an adult shinobi while I never have!” she shouted, pouring out her emotions. “Why do I get it first—!”

“The Ancestor said… it’s not yet my time to awaken my eyes,” Madara responded softly, his hair was scattered by the wind. “There’s still something I need to find.”

Izuna blinked. “What is it?”

Madara only laughed weakly. “I’ll know it when I found it.” He stepped back and took his wooden sword. “Let’s start before it’s too late.”

But their training changed as well. Izuna spent more time correcting his taijutsu, telling him openings she predicted with her sharingan. If they weren’t warring another clan, Izuna trained with her father, exploring the sharingan abilities and improved her stamina so she wouldn’t get tired so quickly. Sharingan used a lot of stamina, so she couldn’t use it too often without spending so much energy. Mornings were for physical training, afternoons for reading lessons, and nights for meditation. Reading was especially difficult for her, but she liked it. There were lots of knowledge outside of fighting arts she could learn. About strategies and tactics, about the geography around their village, about wild game and wild plants….

Within the following weeks, the girl realized her brother had changed. When they weren’t going to war or train, Madara spent a lot of time playing so far from home.

Alone.

Izuna didn’t think much of it until Madara showed a change in his taijutsu style whenever they trained together. When Izuna commented it, Madara responded nonchalantly.

“I thought of ways so you can’t beat me so easily!” he admitted at the night Izuna cracked the weaknesses of his signature taijutsu sets. Although Madara grew taller so quickly, Izuna always managed to throw him down.

Strange.

Strange because when they were told to do an ambush, Madara was nowhere to be found. For the first time he was absent from a battle. Tajima’s rage wasn’t exploded, he held it back until they reached the battlefield and ambushed the troops who were busy killing each other.

Izuna didn’t have time to think about her brother’s whereabouts. She was focused on the battle. To conserve energy, she only activated her sharingan for a few seconds. She hid it as best as she could from their opponents’ knowledge so they wouldn’t anticipate it.

Their opponents today were the Hagoromo clan troops and their archenemy, the Senju. From the hill, the Uchiha send down gigantic fireballs to run over the Hagoromo. Then they moved to break the Senju troops’ formation.

Her sharingan helped Izuna dodging swords and fists, mapping a path between towering bodies and leg gaps. A sword would just hinder her maneuver, so she only brought a handful of kunai. One she held on the left hand, slashing every veins and muscles within her reach.

Izuna rolled past a shinobi, passing through the frontline which hadn’t recovered after being ambushed by katon. It’s important in a battle to look for an equal opponent at least physically. Against the adults, she could only leave small, non-lethal attacks.

Her sharingan was too valuable to be perished here.

A kunai flew so close to her face, and managed to cut several strands of her hair. Izuna dodged in time. The little girl faced her attacker, with weapons ready on both hands.

A thin boy crashed forward, swinging a sword to her unprotected neck. Izuna parried it with kunai, and kicked his chest until he was pushed back.

“Tch!” he spat to the ground. His green armor seemed brand new, so was his face plate that was carved with the Senju crest. Their ages must be close.

“Aren’t you Butsuma’s firstborn?” Izuna readied another kunai. “I remember your face.”

His dark red eyes squinted as he nodded. “Izuna,” he greeted with a flat tone. “I’m Tobirama.”

Why does he introduce himself...?

“You’re weird and annoying,” she said without a doubt. Who cares about names when only one of them is going to survive here?

She ducked when Tobirama dashed at her, this time her left foot kicked his shin. Instead of falling, Tobirama managed to keep his balance using both of his hands—and did a sweeping kick to Izuna’s ribs. She was pushed back, her opponent had stood again. His face was emotionless.

Izuna huffed. Alright. Time to get serious.

Yet before her eyes turned red, a signal screamed tearing the air. Must be the other clan’s signal—the Senju’s because Tobirama quickly dashed away. Smoke and steam ebbed from the battleground, leaving the rancid smell of blood and dying whimpers from the Hagoromo shinobi.

She observed there was no Senju shinobi left behind. Izuna took several shuriken, kunai, and a discarded sword while she walked back. Tajim lashed out at everyone for the rest of the day. Concern grew in her heart.

Where did Madara go? Did an enemy spy capture him while he goes out alone?

No way… it’s impossible for Madara to be caught!

Izuna didn’t dare to voice her worry, afraid she would pour oil to her father’s burning rage. The dinner that night was tense. Izuna had to tell Ayano to go home immediately once she finished cooking. The emotional atmosphere scared her.

“Izuna.”

The girl nearly jumped hearing she was called. Tajima’s voice was low and hoarse, like a bear’s growl.

“Do you know where Madara been going to lately?”

She gulped, strengthening her resolve. “No, Otou-sama.”

Across the table, Tajima’s sharingan dug for truth. Izuna stared at him directly, showing that she didn’t hide anything.

“The patrolling group is looking for him. Go to bed.”

Izuna remained in her place. The candle had shortened, its flame grew longer, flickered by the wind that came from the shoji gaps. She controlled her breathing, listening to the whispers of the universe.

As if answering her hope, she heard approaching footsteps between the turnip patches. One. Two people.

In a blink of an eye, Tajima opened the door widely. Izuna followed him, finding Setsuna in the yard. Her aunt’s hand gripped a boy’s collar whose head was downcast.

“Nii-san—”

“Where have you been all this time!?”

Instead of answering Tajima, Madara slammed his forehead to the ground. “I apologize for being absent at war, Otou-sama.”

Izuna gaped. Her grip on the doorframe loosened. Did he want to runaway…? Deliberately avoiding the battle? Her eyes sought for wounds on Madara’s body. But she found nothing but dirt and wet marks on his legs.

“He said he found traces of a Hagoromo shinobi,” said Setsuna in a tired voice. “Downstream, we found said shinobi’s body.”

“Must be from the battle earlier. What were you thinking? Other shinobi could’ve been there!”

“I… I didn't think that.” Madara hadn’t raised his head.

“Clearly you didn’t!” Tajima stepped down from the walkway. His attention shifted to Setsuna. “How far did he go…?”

“Our patrol group found him towards the river.”

No Uchiha children ever played so far to the east. Other clans dwelled across the river, as far as Izuna knew. It’s dangerous if they encountered an enemy.

“Tonight I’ll go to the temple,” said Madara softly.

Izuna never heard anyone volunteered to stay there. She wasn’t afraid of the darkness in the temple, but that place always made her uncomfortable. Like there was an invisible figure watching them without falling asleep. The Ancestor, perhaps.

“Take him there, Setsuna,” Tajima commanded before returning to his bedroom.

The girl stayed behind long after everyone left and the light inside had been put out. Slowly she wore her sandals and tiptoed to the temple across the village. Darkness didn;t hinder her walk, swiftly avoiding large pillars until she reached its inner room. Here, the dust smelled sweet and stronger. Her feet barely felt the floor’s texture. She didn't bother to tiptoe anymore; the temple was always empty at night. Unless there was a naughty child being punished to sleep here.

The adults said in auspicious nights the Ancestor would descend to the temple to torture naughty children. Izuna had never been punished like this, but if it’s true she didn’t want Madara facing this alone. She had sharingan, she could help him face their Great Ancestor.

The stillness around her prompted her sharingan to appear. She pushed forward until she found a bundle of chakra leaning at the corner of the prayer space where she gave her gratitude of her awakened eyes a few days ago.

“...Nii-san?”

“Why are you here?” Madara’s voice came from her left.

“I want to ask.” Izuna’s fingertips touched the floor as she lowered herself.

A sigh. “Here.”

She approached until her foot stepped on a roughly woven mat. Madara opened his hemp blanket so his sister could sit.

“What were you doing so far from home?”

“Training.”

“Alone?”

Madara shrugged. He didn’t even look at her. His fingers fiddled with a loose thread on the blanket.

“How did you train if you’re alone?”

His hand landed on her head, messing her bangs. “I have my ways.”

“Don’t lie.” Izuna jabbed her finger to his ribs.

Madara dodged, hissing to hide his laughter.

“Were you jutsu-training?” she pressed further. “If yes then bring me along!”

“Alright someday, someday…”

Her sharingan turned dark. Izuna leaned at the wall, starting to doze off. She would be, had Madara didn’t break the silence.

“Do you think… you’d like to live like this?”

“Hng?”

“Living as a ninja. Going to war every couple weeks.” His foot touched Izuna’s heel under the blanket. It’s cold.

“What’s wrong with it? Isn’t it the way things are?”

“Have you ever thought what kind of life you’d have, had you born not as an Uchiha? Not as a ninja?”

“You mean, as a farmer?” Izuna furrowed her eyebrows. “What are you talking about, Nii-san? You’re so weird.” Being born an Uchiha was an honor. Getting the sharingan was a privilege.

Who would trade this amazing doujutsu to live a monotonous life, taking care of rice fields like regular peasants?


 

She was twenty two, and Izuna left her old life.

Hikaku’s back was damp and stinky. Sweat rolled down from his scalp. Izuna bit her lower lip, holding back her breath. She tried to breathe with her mouth despite drying its roof. The air smelled like fresh soil. It seems rain just passed this area some time ago. The sky must be clear now, because the back of her head was hot. Her arms ached due continuously bouncing off her cousin’s shoulders. The torn cloth tying her wrists dug into her skin.

“Izuna-san, would you like to rest for a while?”

She was too tired to answer. Her unintelligible mumble was taken as a confirmation by Hikaku, because he shouted for the others to stop. As soon as he stopped moving, Izuna untied the cloth and dropped herself to the solid ground. Its scent was thick. Not far around her, the rest of her family also stopped. A baby cried. Some children started asking for water.

“Here, drink—”

She declined his offer, and turned away from him. Grass tickled the sides of her feet. The sun was closer to the western horizon. Strong breeze and the absence of leaves rustling told her they were somewhere without many trees. They must be on an open plain—

Then her knees hit the ground, and Izuna couldn’t tell which way is up or down—

Her throat burned. Bitter. Her fingers dug into the damp soil, destroying several cold grass blades. Her jaw tightened to hold her stomach’s churning. Soft tremble on the ground told her that several people were approaching. Their bodies shielded her from the sun’s heat.

“I’m alright—” she panted aloud, beating their concerned voices. “Go… away...” She took off the cloth that covered the upper half of her face. It was drenched in sweat.

Madara’s command echoed. “We’ll take a rest here!”

Soon the heat poured over her again from the west—from the direction of the home she knew for two decades. She seated herself, controlling her breath. For the whole day she was tied on Hikaku’s back, only once their group stopped so the children could get a potty break. Her entire body was aching, and she could only think about a warm bath.

But she didn’t know how close they were to their destination. Not that she cared about it.

I'm supposed to be ashes.

Madara was supposed to built a wooden platform to burn her, then spread her ashes in the river. Madara was supposed to bring her death.

Because an Uchiha without sharingan was a miserable existence. Burdening, slowing the whole clan.

Her brother wasn’t supposed to let an enemy into their home.

Izuna remembered clearly all the details that night. She was asleep after drinking magnolia flower tea, but her hearing caught every conversation happened in that room. She knew her healer wasn’t the one-armed Grandpa Tatsu.

But it’s Senju Hashirama.

She heard tarps flapping as tents were erected here and there, complete with the sound of tent post being hammered into the ground. One two children cried.

“Izuna-san let’s get inside the tent,” Makoto asked her. He helped her moving inside. Izuna had slept in a tent several times when doing a mission far from home. This tent was larger and more comfortable than the ones she ever used. She could spread her arms to reach both walls from the inside.

But it felt so numb. Even food felt like boiled tree bark. The conversations around her turned meaningless. Izuna let Makoto took care of her needs, in turns with his grandmother, until she was ready for bed. A small divan and thin blanket had been prepared for her. Yet sleep never reigned since her mind was buzzing with thoughts.

If only the clan head’s command wasn’t absolute, Izuna would choose to stay behind with the stubborn Aunt Nanami. If only the clan head’s command wasn’t absolute, Izuna would finish her own death with or without anyone’s help.

If only the clan head’s command wasn’t absolute, Izuna would’ve cut her own wrist.

The tent door flapped open. Izuna recognized the soft steps upon the tent mats, and the noise of a wooden weapon being placed down. The smell of home spread as he approached, mixed with the body heat after a long and heavy activity.

“We’ll be there tomorrow,” Madara whispered. Her divan creaked, and her knee was brushed by something like rough hair ends. “Akio and the others have built temporary houses—”

“Shut up,” Izuna groaned while shifting to lie down facing the tent wall.

Madara quickly stood up, moving to a spot across her. Only his slow, relaxed breathing was heard next.

But she knew her brother couldn’t sleep soundly. Sometimes his breathing turned rapid, or a sharp hiss left his mouth throughout the night. It’s always like this since they departed three days ago.

Must be a mere dream. Who cares.

The next day she refused Hikaku’s offer to carry her on his back. Their journey wouldn’t be too far, so Madara let their group to walk. Makoto and his still nimble grandmother accompanied Izuna without being asked. The landscape was still flat without too many trees. She only needed to avoid rabbit holes and large rocks. Morning dew dampened her feet.

“The grass ahead is taller, Izuna-san,” Makoto informed her. “Pampas grass. Waist high.”

He’s right, it’s getting harder to find a rigid footing. The soil was softer, with more holes around. Moving her staff was harder due to the thicker grass. Her hand kept getting grazed by grass blades. Eventually Makoto walked ahead of her, parting the tall grass while informing terrain change. Sometimes they went uphill, sometimes downhill. Soft, warm breeze messed her hair, lulling her in late sleepiness.

Izuna no longer cared about her position in this plain.

Her staff fell soundlessly, followed by her back and head on the thick grass. The sounds of her companions’ footsteps faded, muted, gone. Leaving only the morning sun with her.

So strange.

The universe was so calm. Sleep came so easily. How relieved she’d be if she didn’t have to open her eyes again. The grass could hide her until it’s safe enough to slip away....

It wasn’t pampas grass that she held when she woke up, but the edge of a sun-scented futon. Her hand explored the nearest surfaces, from the futon to a tatami surface. Its weaving was broken at a certain spot.

The air was static, not hot or cold. Smell of wood reigned her surroundings. She kicked her blanket away. Izuna stood up carefully, searching for the nearest wall. The room was small, apparently without any furniture except the futon. Her foot stepped on earthenware—a bowl and a plate. She crouched down, seeing with her fingers. They were filled with something. It’s cold already. But her hunger wasn’t a priority. She left the dining utensils. A shoji door was nearby. She sharpened her hearing. Except for the night insects, there were no other sounds outside. Even the air was still.

Where were the others? Where’s Madara?

Wait. This deserted surrounding gave her a good chance to go. She didn’t care if Madara and the other Uchiha submitted themselves to the Senju. Izuna was too proud for that, let alone living alongside them! The Ancestor would be so embarrassed seeing this. What a waste of sharingan.

You’re right, absolutely right.

A wooden plank creaked behind the door. Footsteps. Heavy footsteps. Must be her brother!

Izuna slammed the door open. Her wrist was caught before she could walk past the doorway.

“Let me go!” She pushed the person using her full weight. Go—she needed to go!

“Izu—”

She hissed in response, “don’t stop me, Nii-san!” Izuna spun to free herself, but the grip tightened instead. She never failed to free herself using this movement before. “Nii—!”

“It’s me—Tobirama—silence!”

Tobirama—?

Her heart froze for a second. She found his shoulder. Her brother’s signature long coarse hair was absent.

She slammed her elbow into Tobirama’s inner arm. His painful groan was cut short, turning into a sharp hiss. She swung her fist backwards, towards the Senju’s cheekbone, but she only found empty air—

The world turned upside down and her cheek was slammed into the tatami. Her left arm was twisted on her back, the other was pressed under her body. Izuna inhaled deeply, ready to scream, but a rough large hand covered her mouth. Even struggling was difficult—the heavy weight on her back prevented her from moving even just a little.

“Please be silent,” Tobirama asked in a whisper. His voice was so close to her ear. “You’ll wake up the children.”

True to his words, a loud cry was heard. Soon it faded, leaving the world in silence once more. Her shoulder and elbow throbbed in pain. Izuna let go of her tension. Tobirama let her stand. Her hands were roaming the tatami.

“...What do you seek?”

What was she looking for? Her fingers stopped moving. Doubtful. Confused. Frantic.

Something wet rolled to her chin.

She just wanted to go. But it’s impossible to find her old home by herself. She’d die in the wilderness, eaten by a bear or wolf.

Isn’t it okay? It’s far better than submitting to be the enemy’s slave, no…?

“Madara is still at the feast,” said Tobirama suddenly, cutting her train of thought.

She was startled. Is that why her surrounding so silent?

“What feast…?”

“The signing of our clans’ peace treaty.”

Izuna expressed her disgust. It’s impossible for him to leave her alone while he mingled with the Senju! She stood up, crossing the room until the door. “What kind of trick you’re playing so my brother is willing—this must be Hashirama’s deceit—”

“My sister isn’t duping him, Izuna,” Tobirama’s answer came from her back. His voice approached quickly, and left the room ahead of her. “You owe her your life, did you forget that?”

“I didn’t ask for it!” she hissed as fiercely. “Rather than owing her my life and see the Uchiha enslaved by the Senju, I’d prefer being dead.”

“How about your brother?”

The question didn’t stop her. Izuna dashed out, correctly guessing the walkway’s width so she didn’t fall. Tobirama followed closely; his sandals hit pebbles noisily. Izuna’s bare feet got cuts here and there despite not yet walking far from the house where she woke up earlier. Even the cold air didn’t hinder her pushing forward.

“Careful,” Tobirama directed her steps. “It’s in our main house.”

He never strayed too far from Izuna, ready to pull her before she hit a large rock or slamming her face onto a pine tree—which happened often during their short journey. Soon the path they took became grassless. Occasionally she felt warm air brushed her sides. The torches must be lit. Sounds of conversation were carried even to her spot.

Imagining her entire clan eating and drinking sake, partying in a crowd, made her stomach churn. She let Tobirama entered the feast, but he returned too quickly. Alone.

“Madara wasn’t here,” he said. “Someone last saw him going towards the western forest—”

“Which way—?”

“Here.”

This time Izuna followed him. The pain on her feet was spreading.


 

“The best sharingan could see past all lies. Straight into the heart of truth.”

Izuna couldn’t forget her father’s words that day. She would’ve activated her sharingan had she wasn’t prohibited. Tajima’s eyes had been red since they spied hidden in the trees. She knew he was enraged.

Because after all this time, Madara had been sneaking out to meet the enemy.

A daughter of the enemy.

A girl who could use the mokuton.

Izuna never heard of the ninjutsu as rare as a kekkei genkai until the riverbank incident just now. Grandpa Tatsu said a long time ago a Senju blessed with mokuton managed to tame many-tailed chakra beasts.

The girl was Tobirama’s elder sister, and she never went to war. Her world view was so naive, thinking every problem could be solved if they stopped killing each other.

“What a fool!” Tajima snapped that night. “How could you forget our shinobi protocol? Don’t you know the Senju kunoichi use their charm to win the war?”

Half of the clan adults gathered in the temple’s basement to put Madara on trial. Usually children weren’t allowed there, with or without doujutsu, but Izuna was considered as a witness. Also usually, everyone with known connection to the enemy was killed at once. But Madara managed to awaken his eyes, so the adults agreed not to punish him. Every pair of eyes was priceless.

“She’s the daughter of Senju Butsuma,” Tatsu continued, the oldest among the adults and the only senior healer. “Nobody has ever seen her anywhere. Throughout this time she never left her home.”

Tajima hissed aloud, showing his canines and pulling the scar on the corner of his lips. “If you’re serious about ending the war, then the only solution is to eradicate whoever stands against us! A true Uchiha will never give up so easily!”

People voiced their agreement. Izuna nodded.

“War is inevitable,” Tajima continued. “Cowardly views like that will only make you die in vain! Would you like to die in vain!?”

Madara’s fists on his knees tightened. “No, Otou-sama.”

“Would you prefer to shame the gift from Our Ancestor!? Have you forgotten where we got our lives?”

“No!”

“Then act according to your words!”

“I promise!” Madara stared at the people seated across him. His determination was showing.

Izuna took a relieved breath. Lucky that Senju girl hadn’t poisoned his mind even further.

Aunt Nanami shifted forward. She caught Madara’s chin and observed his eyes. “You have a good sharingan. After your second tomoe appear, we need to find you a woman.”

Huh?

Madara glared at her. “We’re at war.”

“That’s exactly why,” Nanami pressed on. “More children means more shinobi. You and your sister got good eyes. Awakened so young to boot…”

Izuna exchanged a confused look with her brother. Her aunt’s words made no sense to her. Others spoke and responded, but the conversation was muted for her until her father spoke up.

“They’re too young, Nanami. It’s not their time yet. I want their partners to be as strong as them. Still, it’s too early.” Then he gestured to his children. “You two, go home.”

Halfway towards their home, Izuna found her courage to ask, “what was that…?”

“Duty,” Madara answered shortly, “aside of going to war, I mean.”

“...To preserve the sharingan bloodline?”

“Yeah.”

Their father said they were too young. Maybe if Izuna was older and stronger enough, she’d be allowed to contribute more to the clan.

The footpath they took meandered through tree groves. Moonlight and leaves’ shadows created strange silhouettes. Izuna avoided looking at them.

“That Senju girl… what did she say to you?”

Madara scoffed, demeaning. “Naive stuffs Father said. You saw her father and brother, no? They were ready to kill you. They don’t think war is stoppable.”

Tobirama was there too. That boy was hers to handle. On the next war, Izuna would be facing him again. What worried her now was Hashirama’s ability. “Have you think about ways to fight the mokuton…?”

“Just burn them.” The only lantern outside their home had shone at Madara’s teeth as he grinned. “Nobody can withstand Uchiha fire. No wood would survive against fire.”

He messed Izuna’s hair. He’s right—nobody could survive their fire.

Izuna was impatient to develop her sharingan together with him. On the following days, her brother trained harder and more frequently. Sometimes it made him nearly passing out at the end of the day. Tajima took this change as a positive sign.

Of course she was happy as well, even though she no longer earned attention as much as before from their father.


 

“So why did you agree for our clan to be the Senju’s slaves!?”

Tobirama found their siblings took a walk on the forest’s edge. Izuna quickly asked Madara to return with her. Anger and adrenaline numbing the wounds on her feet until they arrived. Her rage exploded even when Madara was busy cleaning her wounds.

“You understand the situation, Izuna. Our clan would’ve perished even without war—don’t move…” He sounded tired.

Cold cloth rubbed her feet, drenched in herbal concoction. Its familiar smell had been recorded in her memory. Her mother used to make this to treat her wounds after playing and training. She pushed the memory away.

“Losing like this means we don’t deserve to live,” she continued. “Traitors who moved here must be turned into servants—”

“They’re cultivating lands—”

“See!?”

“But they live in peace,” said Madara firmly. “We all need it.”

“How can we live in peace with the Senju!?” Izuna’s voice rose. “They’re enemies, Nii-san.”

“Not anymore. We no longer trying to kill each other.” Madara finished bandaging her feet.

Her fists opened and closed. “...Then what? Become farmers?”

“Stopping the war. Just self defense. That if someone was stupid enough to attack us.”

Her blood stirred, missing the atmosphere of a battle. In her mind she could see the familiar sight, the familiar roars, the echoes of gongs and trumpets…

“...The news of our peace treaty with the Senju will spread soon—”

Izuna cut him, “a treaty can be betrayed anytime!”

A muffled laugh was heard from his throat. The water bowl was pushed away.

“What’s so funny?”

“I know Hashirama won’t betray us,” he explained. His voice turned low, edging closer to dangerous. “I can hold her words.”

Izuna clicked her tongue in disapproval. “What if she tricked you?”

“Oh, no, she wouldn’t dare.” Madara shifted away from the futon, he sounded amused. “I can guarantee it.” The wooden floor creaked as he approached the door.

A kunoichi of Hashirama’s calibre… was subdued so easily? Just like that?

“Ugh…” Izuna sunk her face into her palms. Everything turned more complicated. “Are you drunk?”

Madara laughed at her. “I didn’t drink that much!”

The thought of him and their entire clan partying, eating and drinking without her returned. Her brother and Hashirama—

Her chest felt constricted. Izuna couldn’t hold it anymore. She threw her pillow towards Madara’s voice source, then she hid her head under the blanket.

“Izu—”

“I’d rather live with Aunt Nanami than staying here,” she hissed. “This is embarrassing our Ancestor.”

“Our God and Ancestor—”

“I don’t believe you really heard The Ancestor. Go away!”

The following silence felt like a stab in her heart.


 

“Izuna, about your eyes…” Madara spoke on the following morning, “would you like to use someone’s eyes…?” His voice was hoarse, and the sentence was ended with a big yawn. He stayed awake that night at the temple.

Izuna lifted her face from a warm water basin where she just washed her face. “Whose eyes?” she asked sharply.

“Whoever willing—”

“I don’t want it unless it has three tomoe,” she cut in. How could she look at the Senju without sharingan?

It silenced him. Madara never brought up that topic anymore.

Izuna’s days were filled with loneliness. Madara had his hands full with clan business. He was available only in the morning and late night, but Izuna never paid attention to him.

Her brother was… different. Must be because that Senju woman.

Grandpa Tatsu came occasionally to change her feet bandage. Makoto or his grandmother brought her food thrice a day. There was no salted fish or dried meat—everything is fresh. The meat was juicy. Even the rice was softer and sweeter. The vegetables were tastier. It’s hard to refuse eating when her stomach kept urging to it.

She could only give everyone a silent treatment and refuse to step outside the house. That despite the two elderlies often suggested her to sit outside and enjoy the weather. That regardless of how often they talked about their new village and the Senju clan, trying to make her talk.

The three people accompanied her often, usually during dinner. Their conversation gave her all the information circling in their new village. Not war information—but facts that their new neighbor was a beekeeper, or the finding of a swamp full of wild lotus whose roots they could harvest. How they didn’t need to hunt so often, how Grandpa Tatsu could replenish his medicine stock with fresh herbs, how Makoto heard about the gigantic trees in the Senju’s old village…

“...Senju-sama herself is said to train her mokuton there,” said Makoto after struggling to swallow slices of baked pheasant meat. “Too bad they lost their forest to fire.”

Burned?

Curiosity rose within Izuna, but she kept it hidden. Her focus was still on the bowl and spoon, while her hearing was ready to catch Makoto’s story. But she only heard unintelligible mumble from his grandmother, and the story was left hanging. Grandpa Tatsu spoke about dog howls that had been more frequent, and Izuna stopped listening.

On the next day, right when the first rooster crowed, Izuna left her bedroom. She arranged her hair to cover the upper half of her eyes. Her feet was healthy again. This time she had prepared a pair of sandals hidden under the walkway. She was only three steps away from the door when doubt attacked her.

Is it worth exploring with the risk of facing the Senju not as enemies? The same clan who had ended the lives of her younger siblings?

Wouldn’t that make her looked stupid out there, walking aimlessly, stumbling over the smallest pebbles?

But doing anything was just pathetic. The Ancestor had blessed her with an enormous power, the power that was Madara’s now.

A true Uchiha wouldn’t fall so easily before the enemy! Never! She always gave her best in every battle until—

Her left hand clenched over her right side.

An Uchiha without sharingan was just pathetic. Useless.

Weak.

You deserve to die.

Death was better than trapped living with their archenemies. Rather than shouldering wounds and burdening family, it’s better to die. Catching up to her father, brothers and relatives beside The Ancestor. There was no honor higher than this.

Madara had neglected his responsibility to bring her soul home. Just like when their father was dying. There was no other choice—Izuna had to do it herself.

She turned around, tracing her steps back. Madara wasn’t home—he hadn’t been in the last few days. All weapons were within his reach, even when he’s asleep.  There should be one or two left behind—

“Arf!”

Izuna stopped, her body was stiff as she sharpened her hearing.

“Arf! Arf!”

What animal was that? Her question was answered as something wet and cold brushed her fingertips. Sending warm air in each of its breath. Her hand moved, finding a surface covered in soft fur.

A dog.

Izuna had seen this animal only once from afar against the Inuzuka back then. Their barks and howls can be heard over the hills. Their bodies were huge, bigger than forest wolves. But this dog wasn’t that big.

But there’s no Uchiha who kept a dog. She never heard them being so close here. Is it a Senju’s…?

“Arf!”

Its bark wasn’t so loud, but anyone could’ve heard it. She let it walked to the direction she just left. Yet it kept nudging her palm. It wanted her to follow it.

At first it was hard to walk with such a large animal constantly switching sides from her left to right, but soon it matched its steps with hers. It‘d bark softly at an intersection, and nudge her leg to avoid obstacles. Its warm body was a contrast with the cold morning air. Its four paws stepped on the grass and soil so softly, almost soundlessly.

When the dog stopped, Izuna felt they arrived at a vast open area. Several people were hoeing. Her body froze. Did they see her? Would they talk to her? She regretted not ignoring the dog and return to Madara’s room—

“Izuna-san?”

She was startled. A man called her from behind. His voice was familiar, albeit deeper than the last they spoke to each other. She dug into her memories.

“...Akio?”

“It’s me.” A metal thing fell into loose soil. “Are you taking Pochi for a walk…?”

“Arf!”

Izuna could tell the dog bounced beside her. Its head rubbed her knees. Her lips pursed. “...So you see.”

Uchiha Akio she knew back home was a scrawny cousin who couldn’t throw a shuriken straight. His katon jutsu was weak. Her father and aunt always assigned him on the support division whose duty was to loot weapons and armor pieces from the battlefield. His sharingan was never awakened.

The Akio who talked to her right now sounded taller and could swing a hoe so easily. Healthier to boot.

“The patches here are for turnips,” he explained without being asked. “Eggplants and spinach on the east, then carrots and potatoes on the west. Rice fields are further south, we just planted the saplings.”

Izuna only hummed flatly. This information was useless.

“Barley is over there—ah, beside the carrots. It’s empty now because we just harvested it—”

She cut in, “how do you endure?”

“Hm?” Akio paused in silence. “Endure… what?”

Her eyebrows dipped as she continued, “endure living like this. Instead of warring like our Ancestor mandated!” Her voice rose at the end of the sentence.

Pochi whimpered. It lay down not far from her foot. Sounds of people digging faded.

“Would you like to sit first, Izuna-san?”

The offer confused her, but she let him led her to a wooden bench. The air was cooler, there must be a shade above their heads. Pochi followed them, sitting near her feet again.

Her cousin sat beside her. “Did you remember the night Hikaru-kun returned from the Senju village?” He didn’t wait for her confirmation before continuing, “he said, Hashirama-sama wanted to stop the war between us.”

“You believed—”

“What other choice did we have?” Akio sounded bitter. “Our numbers dwindled rapidly. We cremate people more often. Daimyo Taneyuki was getting stingy. Our farm was unattended due war. Even if we have money, we often couldn’t buy rice because the farmers only have enough for themselves.”

Izuna was silent.

“You and Madara-sama only think about the war. Tactics, weapon logistics… we’re the ones who think about food. But…” His words hung in the air.

“But what?” she pressed.

“We’d be perished for real if we didn’t stop going to war. Extinct.”

Her fingers dug into the bench. Her blood boiled. “So living as Senju servants is better, is that so?” she snapped. “No wonder our Ancestor didn’t give you sharingan!”

Akio’s next response was softer. “Does our Ancestor really want us to perish?”

“Aren’t the weak ones better dead!?” Izuna stood, upset. Her thin chest rose and fell rapidly. “Only the strongest shinobi survive…!”

“I don’t want to die, Izuna-san. So are the others.” The bench creaked. “Is there something wrong with that?”

“But—!”

“Having sharingan or not… we all just want to continue living. Instead of giving up to our situation.” He sighed. “A true Uchiha doesn’t surrender to circumstances.”

Izuna’s fist balled. Not surrendering means fighting until our last drop of blood! Not living like this!

Pochi whined again, but it was cut short as a long whistle echoed from the fields. The dog barked happily.

“Hi sweetieee! There you are… who are you playing with today?” A deep and hoarse voice of a woman approached the two Uchiha. Her footsteps grazed the ground noisily. “There’s Akio-kun, and…”

Akio introduced them both. The woman was the Inuzuka clan head, Tsubaki. Apparently her clan had been living here for a week.

“Permanently moving…?”

“Your brother’s and Hashi-san’s idea was so good! They accept us with open hands too,” Tsubaki explained. The women left Akio who continued digging. “One third of our troops perished in the fire, we couldn’t go through the famine alone.”

Izuna had to keep herself from gaping. “...What fire?” Pochi’s nose nuzzled her hand.

“The old Senju village was burned down, did you know? Totally to crisp. Not even a single blade of grass survived.”

“I heard that… but what happened?” As far as she knew, the Senju had a whole division of skilled suiton users, so why…?

“A monster burned it.” Tsubaki let out a long sigh. “Gigantic ape with four tails. We helped the Senju to shoo it away while the evacuation was ongoing, but still we were no match for it. Luckily Hashi-san managed to kick it away.”

“When…?”

“Barely a moon phase ago… oh, on the night after the last battle between Senju and Uchiha.”

Fire and water surfaced to her memory, followed with smoke and a sword swiftly slashing in the blink of an eye—

Izuna’s right side suddenly itchy.


 

The door was slammed behind Izuna. Thuds and clanks that followed was responded by a confused voice.

“Huh, Izuna—”

Her heart was still beating rapidly. When she heard Madara returned, she dashed looking for him despite the fact that it was so late already. Questions had been piling on her tongue, waiting to be poured out.

Just, where should she start?

“...So,” Izuna dampen her lips, “the Inuzuka move to live here?”

“Yes—”

“I met their clan head.” And everything Tsubaki told her was spilled without restriction. About what happened at night after the last battle between Uchiha and Senju. “That attack… did it happen before or after she came to our home?”

Madara took off his armor. Ropes and metal plates hit the wooden floor. “I think it’s after.”

“‘I think’?”

“The news of said attack came when Hashi was in our house.” The smell of burning wood was spreading. The fireplace was lit. “That time, everything was already burned to nothing.”

“How bad…?”

“It’s said several shinobi was dead there. Tsubaki-san’s canine partner too.”

A strange sensation hit her heart. Normally, Izuna would laugh at this revelation, saying that this is karma. But this time, she couldn’t. There was a snare binding her mind and tongue.

A snare that said she owed her life to her.

Her lips parted, ready to speak, but Madara did it first. “I need to patrol again tomorrow. Too many bandits roaming after three clans no longer active…”

“...Oh.” She swallowed her intent.

Akio’s words kept ringing for the next weeks. Izuna spent the morning with Pochi, exploring the edges of the settlement. There’s an advantage in being unable to see. Occasionally someone greeted her, or offered to walk with her. A brief response and refusal were enough to end the conversation. Rather than with humans, Izuna preferred spending her time with the animals she encountered. Especially cats. There are two who often accompanied her whenever she took a rest under a tree. They liked to curl close to her, and didn’t leave when she pet them.

Their old temple was disassembled and assembled here. Although Makoto had shown her its direction, she was reluctant to go. Facing The Ancestor at her current state was an embarrassment. There was nothing she could do.

Everyone quickly adapted to a warless life. Including her brother.

Pathetic.

Pathetic! But it’s forbidden for her to return to The Ancestor without paying her debt to the archenemy. She needed to sharpen her skills.

For what? You have no sharingan. Who in the right mind would send you to war—heh, that if we still have wars to fight…

Morning was yet to bloom, but Izuna was outside holding a blade. She had been following the sound of a creek, treading a path towards the lake alone because Pochi wasn’t with her. That place was always empty, so there’s enough privacy to train.

War is inevitable, she said to herself. I just need to prepare myself.

Would Madara send you to war? He never trains with you anymore.

Izuna sped up while going downhill.

You’re nothing for him, especially since he has that Senju woman who’s stronger than you.

Her feet stopped walking.

Am I right?

It’s true that her equal is only my brother. Everyone knows that.

The water rushed louder pass large rocks. She had arrived at its mouth. Izuna trode the path towards her usual resting spot, then she unsheathed her sword. She repeated a set of movements she had learned so often in her childhood.

Madara is away so often, the whisper returned. You’re his only sister, survived after nearly died. He should’ve been with you more often.

But he prefers spending his days with that Senju woman.

Her sword hit a tree. She pulled it free from the dent. Apparently she had moved too far into the tree grove. She followed the sounds of water back to the lake.

Why do you bother training again? It’s futile without sharingan.

Her arms were down. That’s right, why would she keep training?

Would you rather have your abilities used for the Senju?

Izuna was stunned as she gave those words some thought. She took slow steps forward.

Do you want to betray your Ancestor?

A step.

Do you want to further degrade your clan?

Another step.

Your brother has forsaken you. Death is more honorable.

Izuna took one last step and raised her sword—

So close behind her, a cat screamed. Hissing like it was ready to attack something. Izuna turned around too quickly. Her sword fell, her foot stepped on a slippery rock, and her body was thrown off balance—

“Oh no—Izuna!”

Then her back hit a hard surface. Something fell into the water. She touched the structure that prevented her from falling. It’s wood.

 A woman ran approaching, sounded panicking. “Are you alright!?”

Izuna could only shook her head, still recovering from her shock. Her heart was still pounding when she slowly stood.

A splash of water stole her attention. More noisy splashes followed for a while, then wet steps on the grass. “Here’s your sword. You were… walking too close to the lake. Lucky I managed…”

Izuna’s cheeks warmed. Embarrassment overwhelmed her. Her sheath was ice cold. Wet.

“Are you alone…?”

Her eyebrows furrowed as she nodded.

“Strange,” Hashirama mumbled. “I feel there was someone else here…”

“Just a cat.” Izuna tied her sword to her belt, ignoring its wet state. Her hips was hurt when she fell and hit the wood earlier.

“I’m sure it wasn’t a cat…”

The bushes rustled. Izuna recognized the running pattern of the cat who often accompanied her. Her trained hearing didn’t pick any presence of another entity.

Hashirama’s presence, on the other hand, was pulsing brimming full of living chakra—it’s hard to ignore her even though she wasn’t a skilled sensor—

Sensing. Tracking.

That’s it.

Izuna slapped her forehead hard. How come she’d been so stupid? That’s what she needed to learn first, instead of relearning kenjutsu—

“...Izuna?”

“When Nii-san will return?” she quickly cut in.

“...I don’t know, he patrols on his own—”

Izuna cursed aloud. Madara was the only good sensor shinobi she knew. How’s she going to learn sensing without him?

“Oh, I know someone!” said Hashirama enthusiastically. “I can ask that person to teach you sensing—if you want to.”

She grumbled at herself. Her thoughts must had manifested aloud unknowingly.

Damn. No use crying over spilled rice.

“I only want to if they can start tomorrow,” Izuna hissed. “Here in this spot, before sunrise.”

Hashirama clapped her hands. “No problem!”

Deep in her heart, Izuna hoped it’d be a problem for her.


 

“Did you know, Izuna?”

Izuna lifted her face from her bowl. “Huh?”

“Lots of men from other clans start to move here. Do you want me to introduce you? Just in case—”

“What are you talking about, Ayano?” She squeaked.

“I’m serious!” Ayano chuckled. “They’re quite handsome, you know.”

That night, Izuna ate dinner alone with her cousin, Ayano. She seemed to be more cheerful as she laughed more than before when they were still living in their old village. She had her daughter with her, who luckily had fallen asleep; unbothered by their talk.

“Ew. No need, thanks. Do you think I’d know if they’re handsome or not?”

“Izuna. You’re very much alike with your brother.” Ayano’s tone turned serious. Her voice approached closer; she should be leaning her body above the dining table. “You never looked at Uchiha men. Now there are plenty other men from other clans who will live next to us. No need to worry, Uchiha blood is always strong. Uchiha kids will always have black hair.”

“...What are you trying to tell me?”

“Convincing you to get married. What else?”

Izuna’s jaw felt like it’s almost detached from her skull.

“We’re not at war anymore,” Ayano calmly continued. “This is a great time to raise children, don’t you think? Reducing the risk of dying young, said Hikaru.”

Giving birth to many children with sharingan was a good plan to serve the clan. But, something was stuck in her heart.

Izuna still missed the war.

She quickly set the topic aside. “There’s no use. Everyone else would be weaker than my brother. I’m not interested.” Her spoon chopped the soft boiled egg, and the smell of runny egg yolk began to spread.

Ayano took a long sigh. “You never changed at all, huh. Still the same excuse…”

The next morning, Izuna intended not to repeat the same mistake as before. She carried a bamboo stick to help her walk until she reached the lake. The cold air that pierced her nose didn’t stop her from going alone. For quite a long time she stood in silence, listening to the sounds of nature until she heard approaching footsteps. There were two people.

Honestly, Izuna didn’t expect that Hashirama would pick her younger brother. She should have been too focused on her training prospect that she didn’t even think of that. He clearly wasn’t the first person she would come to, but if she decided to withdraw; she would lose.

And she hated to lose to Senju Tobirama.

That’s why she extended her hand first. Showing to them that she wouldn’t avoid him. Tobirama’s grip was as cold as the fog that surrounded them. Izuna strongly squeezed his hand on purpose.

“I’m going first, Nara clan has been waiting for me in their new residence.” Hashirama announced. Her steps quickly disappeared from the lakeside.

“So…” Tobirama cleared his throat. “How far can you sense?”

“Just the basics,” Izuna responded indifferently. “It’s automatically active in the war zone. You know… when someone comes to kill you. No need to use my chakra to sense that.”

Meanwhile to sense her surroundings and inanimate objects, she had to be more active in sensing using her chakra. Some of the shinobi were blessed by the gift since they were born, so the ones who weren’t born with it should rely on them or desperately try to learn the complex art. It might take them years of training, and most people tend to leave it and learn something else instead.

“Imagine your chakra spreads within a certain radius from your body. Like a web,” Tobirama explained. “You can arrange the shape, so are the width and thickness…”

Izuna’s forehead furrowed as she imagined it. “A web is too abstract.”

He moved to her right side. “Imagine other shape—”

“Susano’o?”

Tobirama did not answer.

Izuna’s lips formed a wide smirk. She remembered that she read once about susano’o from her father’s old scroll. Like an armor, made of pure chakra. Extension of an Uchiha’s body. Although it appeared from mangekyou sharingan, susano’o responded more to its master’s physical movements.

Even though her mangekyou sharingan had awaken in the past, Izuna never had the chance to form susano’o. She had lost her eyes, but perhaps…

The grass rustled once he approached closer. “Better not to start from the hardest.”

“Heh.” Izuna crossed her arms on her chest. She tilted her head to the side, facing towards the source of his voice. “Are you underestimating me?”

“...Go ahead, then.”

The fog had disappeared once Izuna couldn’t continue any longer. Her sweat streamed down to her ribs.

“Take a rest,” Tobirama said.

“I still can do it…” But her stomach growled. Izuna cussed in her mind.

“Don’t you bring lunch? Want to get some from the public kitchen?”

“Public… kitchen?”

“A kitchen we share with the other clans. Not far from here—”

“No need.” Izuna hurriedly stood up, looking for a way back to Uchiha residence. Public kitchen… if she guessed it right there would be too many people there. Not just Uchiha and Senju, but the other clans too…

“Izuna—your cane—!”

She snatched her cane from Tobirama’s hand. She almost never used it to help her walk home, she preferred to hit all the bushes and pebbles on the road.

In the late afternoon she reviewed the training with Tobirama. Her sensor web she created managed to spread inside her room. Little by little she thickened the layer until she could tell where were the positions of her furniture.

She had learned the basics. Great. She could practice by herself now.

But in the next day she still found Tobirama by the lakeside. Sitting on a tree stump, looking at the water.

“What are you doing—”    

“Monitoring your progress.”

Izuna didn’t know why but she imagined him smiling in satisfaction as he spoke.

“You know it’s me, don’t you?”

“I remember your chakra aura, of course I do.”

Without further talk, Izuna tried to walk around a narrow area without the help of her cane. Tobirama didn’t make any noise at all, unless when he shifted position. It didn’t take a long time before Izuna could locate all the stones and bushes around them.

“Madara didn’t teach you?”

Izuna turned her body really quick that her ponytail moved like a whip. “He has no time for that,” she answered grumpily. “He keeps going away.”

“My sister said he’s going on a patrol. Is that true?”

“I don’t know.” Ire caused her self control to lose. “By the way, how come there are other clans who live here too? I thought your sister only wants us to move to the Senju place.”

“Alliance—”

“This is crazy.” Izuna placed her hands on her waist. “You just lost your home, right?”

Her sensor web thickened automatically, forming a barrier to protect her from an invisible attack. Tobirama’s chakra spread a battle-ready aura, and Izuna’s hand reflexively reached for her sword—

But then it disappeared in a blink of an eye.

“We lost our home because of you.”

Izuna’s chest felt pierced. “What do you—”

“My sister left our home when she was supposed to protect us all,” Tobirama hissed, ready to erupt his chakra. “But she went to your place.”

“I didn’t ask her to come!” Izuna yelled back at him. “I was ready to die—it was your fault you didn’t kill me correctly!” Once she realized what she just said, she quickly covered her mouth.

Tobirama’s chakra appeased.

Izuna stepped back slowly before turning away. She didn’t practice later that night. Her focus was difficult to direct without a guide. Her mind kept wandering to the fact that Senju Hashirama left her clan and home in danger for her.

Her, who was a nobody.

She couldn’t eat her dinner. Her stomach felt uneasy.

In the next morning, she was alone by the lakeside. Once she found a root comfortable enough to sit on, Izuna began to train her web. Thickening, thinning, moving it around according to her own body movements and directions. But she still couldn’t focus. This skill was impossible for her to learn alone, especially when she wasn’t born with the gift.

She swallowed, accepting the bitter truth that she still needed a teacher. He must be reluctant to teach her again. Maybe it’s better for her to go home and wait for Madara…

Her web detected someone.

“Izuna.”

“Tobirama.”

Silence. Something jumped out and into the water. Maybe a frog. Then, they spoke in unison.

“I still want to teach you.”

“I still want to train with you.”

Silence once more. Izuna gushed her laugh. “I have a condition,” she said. “Don’t tell anyone about this training.”   

“Not a problem,” Tobirama accepted. “My condition is only one. Don’t talk about our siblings when we’re training.”

Her smile blossomed. “Deal.” Then, she added, “Next time, bring your sword.”

“Are you sure?”

Izuna stood up, patting the dust away from her lap. “I’ll make you regret it soon, Senju,” she threatened.

“Then try, Uchiha.”


 

She was twenty three.

Their training ran smoothly. Without any distraction, Izuna made quick improvements. Her chakra web had thickened and turned into a wall with the ability to detect more accurately. She began to have the courage of walking around the lakeside without her cane, although Tobirama or Makoto still assisted her from afar. The changing season didn’t stop them.

The only ones who knew about their training were Hashirama and Makoto—because he was tasked by his grandmother to accompany Izuna. That was why once she didn’t show up for breakfast, he would look for her everywhere. Izuna immediately told him to swear not to speak about the training to anyone, if not, he wouldn’t be allowed to be with her during the training. He didn’t come everyday, fortunately.

After three seasons had passed, Tobirama finally agreed to practice kenjutsu with her. Once their first session had finished, Izuna laughed out loud that she doubled over. Felt like it’s been centuries for her not to touch her sword, not to feel the sensation of battle she missed so badly.

“I feel like…” Izuna clutched the side of her belly that felt sore because of her laugh. “I want to try forming susano’o again.”

“Without sharingan? Is it possible?”

“Theoretically, yes.” She brushed the chin of a cat next to her. “I read it somewhere in an old scroll.. I don’t know where it is now.” As far as she remembered, all the clan literatures were brought with them once they moved. “I have to read it again.”

“In the library then. Do you want to go there?”

Izuna was silenced. Library… in the middle of the village?

“Take Makoto with you. I have to go there this afternoon as well.”

The cat in her lap snored loudly.

“Alright.”

It turned out that navigating the area around a crowded village was more difficult. But Izuna had no intention to back off. Her web thickened into a wall every time they had to go through groups of people. She made use of Makoto and Tobirama’s chakra aura as guides, taking steps on the routes they went through. The problem was there were dozens of other people who filled the space, and some of them greeted Tobirama. A short conversation they had always gave her new, weird information about the other clans.  

It felt like hours before they managed to arrive. The sun felt like burning her nape, causing a few of her hair strands stuck on her damp cheeks and neck. 

“Turn right,” Tobirama said once they entered a cooler room. “The second door. There are clerks working inside. Ask them where they are keeping the Uchiha literatures.” He didn’t come with them.

Makoto lead her into the library. Izuna found three people working with pens, ink, and papers inside the room. Once they had found the location of the shelf they were looking for, Izuna waited on a long bench while Makoto went to look for the scroll. He returned with three scrolls in his arms.

“That one,” Izuna said once Makoto read the titles. “Notes of Sharingan Legends: Beyond The Third Tomoe.” 

The familiar sound of rigid paper was heard once the scroll was opened. “Ow. So much dust.” He took a deep breath before he started reading. “‘According to my previous note, sharingan will manage to completely develop once the three tomoe already take form, but the more’— Izuna-san, the preface is too long!”

“Skip the unimportant ones,” she grumbled. “Skip to the next chapter.”

“There’s no chapter partition here,” Makoto complained.

“Ancestor’s name, just look for it.”

Makoto found the next chapter, then read the first part until Izuna told him to skip again. He read almost without drawing breath. Even by the end of the sentence, he didn’t stop.

“How can I learn if you read like that?” Izuna massaged her forehead. “Slow down a bit.”

“I’ve slowed it down…”

“Here, let me have the scroll.”

Izuna thinned her sensor chakra until they were focused on her fingertips. She touched the surface of the scroll, looking for familiar shapes formed by the ink. It had been a long time not to read and write. The letters she used to remember felt strange.

“Then what am I supposed to do?”

“Just read the other scrolls, duh.”

The bench creaked once Makoto sprung up to look around the other book shelves. Izuna almost didn’t make any improvement. She needed way too much time to recognize one letter.

“Where’s Makoto?”

Izuna lifted her head automatically. She recognized Tobirama’s voice really well. “Around the shelves,” she answered shortly, then returned to her scroll.

Three things were placed on the table. Izuna smelled something sweet.

“Drink.” Tobirama placed something near her right hand.

She reached for the clay cup and smelled the scent. “This is… orange?”

“Mm.”

One gulp. Two gulps. The cold orange drink slid inside her throat. “...Tasty.” Izuna reclined on the bench. Her shoulders felt stiff all along, and she finally could relax now.

The papers crumpled. Tobirama asked, “Do you want me to help?”

Izuna nodded and asked him to start from the first chapter. Once he read it aloud, she didn’t expect his voice to be flowing smoothly like wind. Tobirama didn’t crush all words in one tone like Makoto did, but giving it a flow that made the contents easier for her to understand.

“‘Awakening the chakra armor is the highest art an Uchiha can achieve. Some say the armor will be in the form of bones, or a demon according to the names they call for us. Personally, I suggest that the form will be the reflection of ourselves’...”

Her hand supported her chin, while her body leaned closer to the source of his voice…

“...Izuna?”

Her chin shifted from her palm, and Izuna was jolted awake. Her chakra automatically spread out to form a sensor wall. The clay cups and scrolls were still on the table. The transparent glass panel behind her wasn’t as hot as before.

But there was someone there, with quite familiar chakra.

Tobirama quickly assisted her to the exit, before returning to his own work. Makoto wasn’t there anymore, he went home this afternoon to help his mother. The air outside wasn’t as humid as before, although the heat was still there.

“...Since when have you walked without help?”

“It’s been so long, you know.” Izuna slipped her tongue out. “That’s why you shouldn’t leave so often, Nii-san.”

“Heh.” Madara held his laugh. The plates of his armor clanked against each other, causing a clear sound. They seemed new.

The crowd wasn’t as dense as before. The wind blew softly and freely. Izuna spread her arms more often, so the air might come through her sleeves. “I want to try to use susano’o,” she said suddenly.

“Are you—” Madara stopped his own words, clearing his throat. “Susano’o costs a lot of chakra. You have to be careful.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know.”

“If you need help—”

Izuna cut him mid way, “No need!” then she laughed by herself. In her heart she had a plan to take a stroll around the village the next day. There were new figures detected by her senses, and she wanted to know what kind of shinobi they were.

They had almost reached the turn towards Uchiha residence once Madara suddenly stopped her.

“I need to talk to you.”

“Hm?”

“Me and Hashirama… are going to get married.”

Her lips were agape, but no sound came out. “Wait… this is really you, right?”

“I’m serious. You didn’t misheard anything.”

Izuna reached her hand, taking a clump of long, coarse hair. She grabbed the strands like she was trying to deny her doubts. “Are you sick…?”

“Ancestor’s name—no,” Madara said in amusement. “I have proposed to her. Hashirama accepted it.”

If only her eyes were still there, Izuna must have glared widely. “She has accepted our kimono—?!”

“No, not yet. Once this village has finished constructing and all the clans have moved here.” His voice was so calm, but there was something raging behind. “It’s still a secret, so—”

“Don’t tell anyone?”

“Don’t tell anyone.”

“Oh,” she whispered. “Okay.”

His gloved hand stroke his sister’s hair, then they returned without much talk. Parted to take care of their own things.

In the silence of their house late at night, Izuna couldn’t fall asleep.

Why didn’t she feel anything unusual when she heard about Madara’s engagement? Why wasn’t she angry about it? Why didn’t she feel mad?

Embarrassing.


 

She was twenty four.

Sometimes Izuna accompanied Ayano when she had to barter the vegetables from her garden with rice or other goods. The barter was happened in an area they called a market. At first, Izuna was nervous because of how crowded the place was. The noises sounded like a swarm of bees in her ears. She wanted to refuse and go home, but Yuzuha always stopped her. Izuna didn’t want to look weak in front of her cousin’s daughter. After all, the market was a good place for her to practice her sensing. At first she hesitated to go, but her cousin kept including her in the conversations. The people they were talking to often delivered new information about various things, such as newest clans in the village, who recently got a new mokuton house, or the population of hunting prey counted by Inuzuka clan. Ayano did all the transactions by herself as she joked around. Very laid back. She was never on alert. Like she wasn’t an Uchiha shinobi.

The situation made her speechless. The life she had before didn’t have much difference with the life she used to have in the old Uchiha village. The only difference was they lived alongside many other clans. The role of each individual slowly formed a new routine that didn’t have much difference than in the past.   

How did her brother and Hashirama work to make this all happen?

However, Izuna didn’t deny that the village’s atmosphere was very comfortable. Accepting her like a mother’s embrace. A place where all shinobi who used to live in alert and danger could live safely and at ease. The quaver of life was intertwined in crowds, yet without the disruptive intention.

Almost united, although every clan was clearly different.

Ayano herself seemed to have fully adapted to their new life. “There are some mochi, a half of fresh pheasant, a little bit of barley and senbei,” her cousin said once they left the market. All the turnips in the basket had been replaced by other types of food. “Yuzu, do you want senbei?”

“I WANT!”

A cracking sound was heard, signifying that Yuzuha was currently enjoying her senbei. Izuna clutched Ayano’s shopping basket.

“Have you heard about the Ninja Academy?”

“Aca...demy?”

“A place to train all children from all shinobi clans,” Ayano explained. “They say none of our relatives has applied to be one of the teachers. Do you want to try?”

“How can I teach if—”

“You have a good sensor skill, you know!” she cut her off. “You can always find Yuzuha every time she hides underneath the houses. The children can learn how to sneak from you.”

In front of the two women, Yuzuha shrieked in joy as she found tweeting birds above their heads. 

“Yeah, you’re right,” Izuna said slowly.

“I have told Nara-sama that you would want to—”

“Aya!” Izuna reflexively pushed her gently.

“So you can practice if you’re going to have kids someday!” Her cousin only laughed, but not for long. Her laugh suddenly disappeared like it was being cut, and her steps weren’t heard anymore. “Ma, Madara-sama,” she chirped, “You have returned.”

The food basket had disappeared from Izuna’s arms, and Yuzuha’s babble had gradually disappeared. Meanwhile, his steps were heavy and slow. Izuna increased her alertness.

Madara’s mood had never been good since Hashirama was chosen as the Hokage. Sometimes she felt something was wrong with him, although she could never find out why.

“I want to leave again tomorrow,” Madara said without unnecessary chit-chat. “If there would be any inter clan meeting, you should go in my stead.”

Izuna nodded briefly. The order of the clan leader must not be denied. But still, something was stuck in her mind.

“Why not somebody else? Like Hikaku?”

“You are my vice in the clan. No one is more suitable than you.”

For daily responsibilities, Hikaku would be on duty. Permanently mapping the complex, dividing the houses, and food allocation. Small things that usually didn’t interest her.

“I will ask Hikaku about our clan’s internal affair,” she said as she walked home.

“One more thing.” Madara caught his sister’s arm. “Quit playing with Tobirama.”

Izuna turned her head, confused. Madara never talked about her training before, so why would he suddenly say that?

“I’m not playing. I’m practicing.”

“And what happens after that? Do you want to do missions? Endangering yourself?”

“I haven’t thought anything about it,” Izuna responded, pulling her arm away. “I still can fight.”

“Without sharingan?” Madara followed her steps. “It will never be possible, Izuna.”

Izuna gritted her teeth. “I can!” she shouted. “You’ll see!”    

Silence, and Madara’s laugh erupted. “You haven’t lost your spirit, good—ow!” He faked a groan once a punch was struck on his belly. 


 

Honestly speaking, Izuna didn’t know who was Shimura Hisao.

Felt like decades since the last time they were hired to prevent Shimura clan from invading Daimyo Taneyuki’s territory. Izuna remembered she killed a young Shimura man who was deemed quite talented. She never knew his name. Only lately when she had been going around the village, Hikaru kept mentioning Hisao’s name.

“Are you sure it’s alright?” he asked once he wrote Izuna’s personal data. His neat handwriting had caused him to be accepted as the Academy’s clerk.

“Why not?” she returned the question. “Hashi-san never allow conflict to happen in our village, right?”

“No, um,” Hikaru scratched his hair, “I heard he doesn’t like Izuna-san. You killed his son back in the past.”

“He only dislikes me, no big deal. Back then we were at war against each other. Everyone killed everyone’s family. If Senju can make peace with us, the others should too.” Izuna waved her hand. “Are you done? Shikana-san must be waiting for you.”

She had already forgotten about the small conversation until the post-council meeting incident. Her fight with Madara during that time caused her to practice kenjutsu more intensively with and without Tobirama.

“Don’t endanger yourself,” his brother scolded her as Grandpa Tatsu worked to stitch Izuna’s waist with his chakra after the fight against Hisao. “You could have died!”

“You don’t believe I can win against him, huh?” Izuna responded fiercely, although she was still lying down. Pain didn’t stop her from arguing.

“Still—”

“You keep leaving, that’s why!”

The healer cleared his throat loudly before Madara could respond. “Madara-sama, please get out for a while,” he asked. “I need to concentrate.”

“Don’t be reckless. Your opponent wasn’t born yesterday,” he said before he followed Grandpa Tatsu’s instruction.

But Tobirama was also almost on Madara’s side. A few days afterwards, he brought all information about Shimura Hisao once they were in the library.

“You killed his son, Masao,” he said suddenly. He lowered his voice because Makoto was nearby, busy with his own scrolls. “Hisao is not only an expert in kenjutsu, but also an expert in poison. He’s quite vengeful, Keita-san said—” 

“...Wait a minute, why are you telling me this?” Izuna just finished listening to his reading about a short story. “I’ve known everything.”

“You didn’t tell me.”

“If he does anything reckless I can face him again.”

“You’re lucky because Hashirama was there.”

Izuna almost sprung up from her seat. “Okay then next time I don’t need to get injured!”

Tobirama chose not to continue their argument. Or, at least that’s what she thought. Once they were outside, the argument returned, provoked by his demand to accompany her home.

“There won’t be a problem to let me go home by myself, right?” Izuna was tired and annoyed, she didn’t even care if anyone overheard her.

“The rule hasn’t been officiated yet,” Tobirama responded slowly and calmly, like he was trying to soothe her.

“You are as annoying as my brother. Why don’t you both believe in my capability?”

“The safety of all Konoha is my responsibility, Izuna. This is only a preventive measure.”

Izuna expanded her nostrils. “I thought you believe in me. You know how strong I am.”

An owl fled past them.

“Not only you. My sister too. There’s a small team with a task to monitor her all the time in the village.” 

Izuna tilted her head. A shinobi in Hashirama’s calibre must have known if she was being followed. It was clear she didn’t need a team of guards. She understood Tobirama as a pragmatic person, and the reason wasn’t only about safety.

“Do whatever you want,” she said, “as long as they don’t disturb me, I guess that’s fine.” She didn’t step aside or stop once Tobirama followed her. The path they took passed the mokuton houses. She sensed life pulsating out of all the buildings. Almost all of Konoha felt the same.

“...I heard you applied as a teacher at the Academy.”

Her chakra wall approached him. Was he going to talk about Hisao again? Izuna heard he was accepted to work in the Academy. Crazy if he dared to hurt her there. “Ayano my cousin suggested it to me,” she finally spoke.

“What if you get non-ninja students?”

“As long as they want to learn, I will teach them.” Then she remembered something. “Will you be in charge for arranging teacher position…?”

“Not me, but Shikana-san accepts other suggestions. For example, children from the other clans would find it hard to learn if the teacher is emotional.”

“Easy, I’m not grumpy,” she joked. They had almost reached the footpath that led them to the Uchiha residence. Izuna turned her body a little bit. “Um. I’m going first…”

“By the way, Izuna,” Tobirama called. “My sister is going to hand over the clan leader position to me.”

“...Congratulations.” Her chakra wall pat both of his shoulders. “You will be a lot busier.” Izuna thought for a while. Her sword skills had improved markedly. Practicing with someone else wouldn’t be a problem. “What if we end our training?”

“Don’t.”

“Why?” The answer didn’t show up as fast as she expected. Izuna leaned closer, thinking that the words were blown by the wind. “Why, Tobirama?” she repeated.

“I… need practice too.” Tobirama stepped back. His tone sounded strange.

“Just practicing?” Izuna couldn’t stop herself from teasing him.

He cleared his throat loudly. “It’s been late,” he said as he stroked Izuna’s shoulders. “You should go home.”

Once they walked separate ways, Izuna couldn’t hold her laughter along the way home.


 

Her ears were ringing. The warmth in her body disappeared.

“You’re joking.”

“I wish I am!” Madara growled like a wounded bear. His armor and gunbai hit the tatami. “Tobirama has known for years—known about who is Hashi’s betrothed. He never told her. His own sister!”

Izuna’s mouth was agape. Madara’s chakra exposed an emotion she thought he never had. Emotion that didn’t even flow out when they cremated their father. She reached for his hand, but he avoided her.

“...To the temple,” he whispered before he left.

Once Madara secluded himself in the temple as usual, she couldn’t sleep. Her anger boiled. Her brother could vent his wrath through going to the frontline against Tsuchinokuni, but she was bound to her duty as a teacher. Even Yuzuha who was entrusted to her by Ayano was afraid to talk to her. Her chakra shrunk. Scared.  

She couldn’t show up at the place they usually had their practice together. Her spirit to keep the daily routine had fallen to zero. People who didn’t know her boundary kept asking her regarding that information. It caused her to take a short leave from the Academy.

Tobirama. It was all his fault. How stupid! How could she trust him just because they often practiced together—

There was someone else.

Izuna was secluding herself by the upstream, avoiding the merciless whirlpool of gossips. The noise of the nature didn’t hinder her hearing. Slowly she walked down the hill towards the river. The remains of bijuu chakra who sent storm to Konoha in the past few weeks were no longer felt. Someone was diving.

Once Tobirama left the river and recognized her presence, Izuna didn’t waste any more time to erupt her emotion. Demanding answers for the mess he had caused. She might no longer had her eyes, but she knew Tobirama didn’t reveal all the truth he knew.

“You’re still hiding something, Senju.” Izuna continued with a calmer tone, although it felt like speaking with tongue as heavy as tin, “Think about it. What good will it be for Konoha to let the Hokage marries an outsider? My brother is a much better candidate than this Uzumaki man.”

“Without Uzumaki’s support, Konoha would never exist. They had given us countless money and copies of literature lost in the fire…” All the words Tobirama said felt like they didn’t make sense.

Uzumaki is Senju’s relative, right? Why would they ask for something in return?

Izuna could never accept such explanation. “If so then why don’t you marry an Uzumaki woman? You are the clan leader now.”

“I don’t have mokuton.”

Her lips were thinned. She stood inside the ribs of her susano’o. Her armor slowly faded. This conversation had no end. All to no avail.

“Which one do you think is more important, Hashi-san’s happiness or the unity of your relation with a clan that never show up in Konoha? Do you think you can marry someone you never knew, just to produce children with mighty fighting strength?”

“Yes!” he answered stiffly. “Of course I can for the greater good than for my personal whim.”

The answer hurt her more than she thought. Her heart felt like it was cut into pieces. “You lie,” Izuna hissed, clutching the left side of her belly. “Damn it. I thought you were different. I thought we were friends…” Her emotion stuck inside her throat, flowing out as a loud wail. “I trusted you, you know! But you… you really have no feelings at all, damn you—!”

Her words were interrupted by a touch on her elbows. Tobirama had cut the distance between them. Without her sensor chakra, she knew he was panting; his breath was racing and his head bowed closer. The fingers on her elbow trembled.

“...Forgive me, Izuna.”

Once Izuna tried to reach for him, her hand found nothing but empty air.


 

"Tobirama—? TOBIRAMA!"

He lost his grip. Izuna managed to catch him inside the susano'o, but now she was trapped. All the noises around her overflowed her hearing, forcing thousands of information into her brain. She couldn't process all of them at once. She needed her sensor. Her susano'o demanded most of her focus and energy. Even though she stayed still, her energy had been drained little by little…

"Damn it! Don't joke around—" Izuna slapped his cheek, but no reaction. His body was weak in her arms. She placed her head on Tobirama's chest. His heartbeat was there although weak.

Besides, his chakra had almost disappeared from her sensing. So dim, so weak in every draw of his breath.

The earth trembled. Cries and attacks of various jutsu were launched far behind her focus. Trees must have been pulled out from the earth, and the giant ape had echoed a mighty growl that disrupted her balance—

There was no time to think. Izuna intertwined her left hand fingers with Tobirama's limp hand. She took a deep breath and—

The center of her belly pulsed once she pulled all the chakra she had left. Her susano'o thickened, growing taller and bigger. The range of her sensing increased ten folds, following the size of her chakra armor. Her relatives were scattered in several points, holding the ape with the burst of suiton. The other shinobi were scattered somewhere else, attacking without a single command. Their chakra had been draining drastically. If this should continue…

“Hikaku!” A shout echoed in all corners of the battlefield. Once a figure of shinobi with the character of chakra she recognized was approaching, her susano’o’s hand pulled Hikaku inside.

“Why—”

“Take him,” Izuna nodded towards the unconscious Tobirama. “Quick!”

Without saying anything, Hikaku dashed to comply.

Izuna covered her face with her hands. The battlefield must already been on fire. Holding the fire from reaching the village was already difficult to do.

Madara’s voice echoed inside her mind, replaying a conversation they had the night before he left for Tsuchinokuni.

Maybe that night was the last time they saw each other.

The earth trembled in short intervals. Her susano’o turned towards the source, holding the bijuu attacks through holding its shoulders. Izuna screamed until her throat sore, kicking the ape on its belly until it was thrown away.

This time she moved forward. Her chakra target was a clump of massive heat. Easy to spot. The bijuu sprung its fur, showing off its lower fangs, and emerged. Its fist raised as high as its head—

Izuna’s nails pierced her palms. She won’t let this creature destroy Konoha!

“Go away from here!” she roared, exerting all the chakra she had left. “LEAVE! LEA—!”

The left fist of her susano’o launched against the ape’s attack, striking—

Then the world turned bright.

“—ve…”

Izuna saw it—she could see, she was standing in a bright room on the water, and—

There was a red ape stood on it, the appearance was similar to the figure she sensed using her susano’o. It had big yellow eyes that stared at her full of curiosity.

Izuna’s lips formed a word voicelessly.

Leave.

Just like that, and she returned to the darkness of battlefield. Her susano’o vaporized into puffs of smoke, and Izuna’s body fell from the height through fire—

This time, Madara wasn’t there to catch her.