...The giant fox raged and destroyed the houses around it, turning them into dust with just a swing of one of its mighty tails. Years and years of being sealed away made its ire so strong the ground beneath the village was shaking and crying. Crying for the beast, crying for the people, and crying for the changing world around it…

...and then the sacrifice came. But love would never be a sacrifice, it would always be a gift. Perhaps like a gift of freedom that the untamed beast had once again lost…

...but who are we, to play gods to the creatures that were here long before us, and will stay here long after us? To creatures that are not even of this earth?...

then came a magnificent flower blooming in its eternal beauty on top of the very same tree that took all the beauty away from the world. The ancient balance of life…

...the locals called it "the watcher" for there was a legend that said the island itself was alive and was watching over the people around it, either to bless them, or to curse them…

...days and days the journey went and finally he saw his goal, the great oasis - the giver of life. However the last of his strength left him and only his now free summons would live long enough to tell the tale of the great tree of life…

...the battle went on for days and days but both adversaries were too stubborn to stop. It was a fight to the death and no longer a fight to find reason. And truly, can reason be won by fighting?...

Sasuke decided to stop here for today.

Forcefully.

He was able to stay away from the red book for the entire day but now it was way past sunset and here he was, skimming through its stories with whatever light left from his dying fire.

So much for keeping away, he mused in bewilderment while putting the said book away in his bag.

This time for sure.

Sasuke's thoughts were scattered all over as he tried to get a general idea of what those stories were representing, at least in the short parts that he was able to glimpse through during his first evening back on the road.

The answers eluded him thought, much to his great disappointment but he figured that was normal since he hadn't read anything properly yet. Just short phrases.

However, there was something there. Something that nagged at his subconscious with a great force.

A shiver ran over his open ankles pulling him away from his thoughts, a second later the reddish light disappeared from his small camp only to reappear back again in a span of a moment, however, this time much weaker in strength. Sasuke looked away from his cold feet and his gaze fell onto the dying flames.

The wind is too strong…

And truly, the tree line near the Great river was simply not dense enough to keep the strong winds away, thus the fire was fairing no better than his open ankles.

Winter is close.

Good thing he was able to secure warmer clothes.

Bad thing - he was not wearing them.

Another gust of wind scattered the small sticks from the heart of the fire and it went off completely, leaving only bright red ashes behind, but even those cooled down very quickly.

"Great." The Uchiha let out, sounding tired.

The night was moonless and the only things that Sasuke could see were the far away fires of other travelers. For some reason though, those gave him some weird sense of comfort. Maybe it was just a thought of other people being close..., but this sounded weird, especially to his own mind. These were definitely not his own thoughts. The Uchiha deadpanned at this, closed his eyes and shook his head.

Bloody hell…

. . .

Sasuke was lucky to have his backpack right beside him so taking out his sleeping bag was easy even in the dark, thus in few seconds he was tucked in and warm. The Uchiha decided to leave the fire pit behind and moved closer to one of the thicker tree trucks. With his back against it, (and his ankles finally warm inside the sleeping bag) Sasuke made himself comfortable.

. . .

He decided to observe the fires he saw from the distance.

They looked pretty, he concluded with his eyes half closed, barely visible from the trees and the distance but most definitely looked after since they didn't go off from the wind yet, or maybe they were just further in and the wind didn't reach them... Sasuke allowed his guard to fall down a bit and his gaze became unfocused. The fires looked even more compelling like this, with tiny red dots flying high into the sky and with the smell of burned wood all around him. Most other travelers were probably asleep already as he did not hear a single whisper around him. Only the sound of the wind with the strong and steady sound of running water dared to disturb this quiet spell. Sometimes he would hear wood hitting wood but those were rare occurrences. Unintentionally he focused his mind on those sounds. They were like a lullaby to him. Thanks to all of this Sasuke slowly dozed off, his right hand on his sword in his, now natural, grip.

. . .

His breakfast consisted of some left over rice from yesterday's morning and some dried taste was questionable at best and Sasuke was afraid the food was already spoiled. After spending almost a full day shopping for provision the last Uchiha almost growled at the result of this mornings meal. His stomach for sure did.

He had more, he did, but Sasuke discovered quite a few things today, not really good things, the boy mused as he was leaving the camp. Angry.

Scratch that - really, really angry. And also still hungry.

A very bad combination to have.

Firstly, the small cooking pot that he acquired was just too much trouble. Sasuke wished he was joking around and not actually whining.

But he was whining. Like a spoiled kid.

He spent half an hour trying to warm up the damn cauldron thing (not even adding the time needed to put this whole construction together!) only to burn his beans (he had to throw them all out) utterly and completely.

Second, he had to wash the damn thing!

What can be a better picture: all mighty Sasuke Uchiha, an iron pot and a river with a really, bloody fast current. It took Sasuke five minutes to fish out this horrendous thing after it escaped his hand. He had to fish it out. Fish. It. Out. Sasuke felt his eye twitch. Stupid thing. Stupid current.

At least there was no one there to witness his, this, total humiliation. He cauldron was safely tucked away in his scroll but he felt like throwing the thing away, together with the scroll.

Fuck all of this.

. . .

It took Sasuke around two hours to finally calm down and think straight. By this time he was nearing one of the tea shops along the road. He fully intended to visit it. It was quite possible for them to have food. And god knows he needed some green tea, honestly. It was still few minutes ahead of him though so Sasuke Uchiha took his time and analysed himself. He had to.

He noticed it, of course.
His acting, thoughts...

His head was in a weird place, his thoughts scattered all over and just plain weird. He could barely focus on thinking straight and even his body was acting differently.

This morning and especially last night just proved that right.

Pretty fires, really?...

Was he poisoned somehow? But that was impossible, he was immune to almost all poisons, Ororchimaru made sure of this during their almost three years of gruesome training. Plus he felt all good now, at least better he confessed to himself. No, there was no point in being delusional, he was still angry.

But why? What was changing in him?

He hated this uncertainty. His whole being was protesting against it. But he didn't even know exactly what it is! What was he protesting against?

Change? That was stupid.

Sasuke felt anger coming out of his deeper inner parts even stronger now so he switched his thinking.

Actually he just tried not to think.

Empty mind.

He needed to have an empty mind.

Or to focus on something else.

The Uchiha was tempted to turn to the tree line, sit somewhere and just start meditating. This had helped him before.

The urge was strong but the tea shop he first spotted in the distance was already in front of him, the short curtains marking the entrance slowly swinging in the wind.

Fuck food.

He really wanted that green tea.

It should have a calming effect at least.

The tea won and the young man slowly pushed the curtains aside.

He can meditate later.

As Sasuke entered the shop he was surprised to find it almost empty. It was probably due to the hour of the day as most people kept on walking until a little past noon in order to cover enough ground before stopping for midday break. Currently it was around ten in the morning.

The quiet shop became even more quiet when Sasuke came inside. There were overall four people, three males all sitting separately and a female waitress. Sasuke concluded she was probably the owner as well by her facial expression.

Somehow the owners always stand out from the general crowd. He was correct, she quickly returned behind the counter and without uttering a word just looked at him.

The minute Sasuke took his first step to the lady the small room was filled with whispers.

"...is that him?..."

"...he's nothing but a mere boy!.."

"...the eye…"

The Uchiha wanted to facepalm. They were in a small room and the males were sitting enough distance away from each other that their whispers sounded like screams to his ears. At least they tried, he deadpanned.

"Green tea." Sasuke requested quietly but his voice never wavered. For few minutes nothing happened and the owner stared at him with open eyes. He was used to this, expected it even. So he waited, even wondered what was going on in her mind.
Nothing interesting probably.

However, still, nothing happened. Even the whispers had stopped.

Rolling his eyes Sasuke tried to push the lady a bit by putting the money on the counter.

"Just green tea." He repeated again.

A short nod was given to him but the lady still didn't move, still in shock probably. After releasing a short breath, Sasuke turned around and went to a small patio outside where he saw an empty place to sit. Without people from the room staring at him - he didn't want to choke on his drink.

The patio was on the backside of the teahouse and faced the river. It was separated by a thin bamboo door which was currently half open to let some sun in. At least it looked like this to him. The sun was not yet high in the sky and the river was shining with a golden hue illuminating everything it could reach. It was pretty.

Sasuke's mind brought up the fires again and he felt anger and confusion rise up.

Why?

Sasuke wanted to stop thinking again but something told him that he needed to pursue this bundle of feelings until they made sense. He would no longer allow himself to be guided by feelings and thoughts that were not made proper sense of. Everything had to have a reason and a purpose. His thoughts as well.

He was angry. Well actually, weirdly enough, Sasuke somehow managed to separate this feeling entirely from himself, so to phrase it better: there was anger inside of him. For a reason unknown to him.

Why?

This anger had risen when he noted the fires and the sunrays.

It was an observation as far as he could tell.

So why in the world did this make him angry?!

It did, because even right now he felt that feeling boiling inside of him, threatening to get out and destroy.

Sasuke took a few slow breaths and closed his eyes to block out the sun. He was left with just the sound of water and faint footsteps from inside the shop.

. . .

Wasting time.

Observations like this only wasted his time.

This thought came easily to him.

So easy.

He should have done something. Visited the warfields, trained, learned how to fucking cook - just do something. But here he was enjoying the views.

Anger washed over him again and he fisted his only hand.

But he had time for all of this!

For once Sasuke wanted to live in calm and peace and just slow down!

He needed to see the world through unclouded eyes.

And my damn mind won't let me!

More anger flared inside and he felt his face turn into a scowl.

The battle inside him almost felt physical and he felt like he was drowning in all of this.

Failure, failure, weakling, unworthy, why, why, why was he spared?...

Foolish little brother…

Sasuke snapped his his eyes open. His mind and body freezing in place.

For a second he felt nothing and saw nothing.

Why was he spared?

Naruto, Kakashi and Sakura aside… Why did everyone else spare him? The Raikage had absolutely no reason to spare him, none of them did.

Why did Itachi continue to live?

He had a goal… he had to protect the village.

To protect me.

Do I have a goal?

No.

Yes.

I don't know…

. . .

Sasuke shook his head.

Nothing made sense to him anymore.

Anger went away and left only empty confusion.

I don't have a goal.

He didn't feel like protecting the same village that was responsible for his clans suffering. And the only person he was affiliated with definitely did not need any protection from him. And Naruto can always protect Sakura as well...

Sasuke frowned again.

So what goal did he have?

None!

But he did!

His goal was to deal with this, with his thoughts and his emotions.

How can he help build the world Naruto wants if he couldn't even deal with himself.

. . .

The sound of metal hitting wood brought him out of his thoughts.

When Sasuke focused his gaze back to reality the person who served him the tea was back behind the bamboo door. It was most probably the owner.

He was really out of it if he didnt even registered someone approaching him with a metal tray.

The Uchiha let out a long sigh.

He had no answers.

Yet.

. . .

The tea was served in a thin porcelain kettle which had sunflowers painted on it. The work was fine and the details were very well done. The cup however was plain white with black liner around the rim. For some reason this made Sasuke stare at it for longer than he probably should have.

He wondered what happened to sunflower cups.

. . .

When Sasuke was back on the road his mind was blank and maybe only because of this he was able to notice the weird way the travelers avoided him.

When he came too close to someone (not his fault he walked fast) the people would either slow down and let him go ahead or stop completely.

Their looks were almost all the same.

Distrust and fear.

. . .

When noon came the young adult did not stop but continued onwards. Sasuke hoped that if he went on ahead he would be able to lose the main mass of people behind him. Those hopes were in vain, he realised later, as the amount of people traveling was simply too great and the road was constantly occupied.

Mostly by whole families or lonely elderly people. Sasuke didn't know if the Pass was a big village or not but judging by the amount of people going in that direction it was an important point for sure.

. . .

When the sun was on the other side of the sky and Sasuke could no longer control his hunger he decided to stop for his late, late lunch. However when he turned to the tree line to get some privacy he saw that almost all clear places were occupied by travelers.

Preparing dinner.

Without reacting in any way on how people stared at him the Uchiha went deeper into the tree line. Preferably away from prying eyes. Unfortunately though, the land turned into one huge swamp and there was definitely no way to secure any space there. Sasuke let out a sign, so much for a break. Without having any other choice he turned north once more and carried on parallel to the main road but still deep in the tree line in hopes of finding at least something.
After an hour he was awarded with an empty clearing and a big, sturdy oak to sit against. Another reason why he was quite lucky - the clearing still had quite a lot of dry wood scattered all over making the boys life much more easier. For a second Sasuke asked himself why such a good place was abandoned but decided against any further inquiries - he was too hungry.

After putting the dry wood in a proper pile and a quick flare of his chakra the sticks caught fire and Sasuke finally sat down. For some reason quite exhausted.

He did not feel like opening the scroll with the pot in it but he had to learn how to use it somehow. Eventually. And he felt he'd rather get it over with now rather than drag it onwards. He was not a child.

So he did unpack his current enemy albeit not without a good long stare at it.

The pot looked the same as this morning apart from few scratches it received from the rocks. His other, expensive, scroll had all of his food stored but Sasuke didn't feel for anything fancy at the moment and went only for rice and beans. Beans. He hoped those didn't burn again.

Stupid pot.

Without wasting time the Uchiha started the long process of setting up the construction for his lunch, dinner, his inner mind corrected. It was not very hard really, the most important thing was to secure the 3 rod core of the structure that would hold the weight of the iron pot, however doing it with just one hand proved far more difficult than Sasuke initially thought.

Following his early morning experience the young adult decided to fuck it all and just called for his susanoo hand. Somewhere deep in his mind he realised that such acting was far from that of a responsible adult but it was brushed aside with relative ease. He wanted to cook food and he was hungry, and damn everything else.

When the construction was finished (it held the pot filled to the brim with water) Sasuke slowly moved some of the fire wood below it.

Overall the setup looked better to him than it did this morning.

Satisfied with the outcome Sasuke poured some water back into his flask and filled the pot with rice making sure the correct water to rice ratio was intact. He was glad Kakashi taught this to the team way back when they just started. This was at least useful.

Now he just needed to wait and hope that the water didn't boil out prematurely as happened this morning.

Sasuke made himself comfortable and gave the territory around him a quick scan. His babysitters were nowhere to be found and apart from numerous civilians all around him everything looked fine. Even the strong wind that was constantly present calmed down and gave the young adult some quiet, and uninterrupted by whistling, time.

Sasuke stole a glance at the pot once again. It was slowly heating up and after some minutes the water started to boil together with the rice in it.

Deciding that it was a bit too intense for the rice to be properly cooked the Uchiha took out some sticks from the fire. The boiling went down after few seconds making Sasuke quite satisfied.

He was getting better at it.

Baby steps.

. . .

After the rice was done he started on his beans one more time.

I just need to warm them up. Not burn stuff up.

Should be easy.

To be most positively sure that his morning experience did not repeat itself Sasuke had let the fire die out almost completely before he had put the first serving of beans in the pot. The idea looked sound to him until, after around twenty minutes of pointless waiting (and his rice getting cold), he realised that his pot cooled down so much it no longer functioned properly, meaning - the beans were fucking cold. He added more dry wood to his firepit and flared his chakra one more time. Soon enough the desired effect took place and Sasuke could practically feel his beans being fried. Not wasting time he quickly added the already prepared rice to the pot and started to mix everything together. He did however took out some of the wood out again. No more burning stuff. Sasuke was most pleased to see that nothing stuck to the surface of the pot. With all those scratches he was positive that the quality of this thing went down to nothing, however, he was proved wrong and he was glad for it. Maybe the thing was worth the money after all.

The smell filled his nostrils and against his wishes his stomach made a loud sound that couldn't be mistaken for anything else in the world.

He was almost done.

. . .

The end result was wonderful.

Nothing burned!

And it even turned out pretty good. Taste wise. Sasuke was very happy for his decision to buy spices. However, the boy realised with dismay, he could have gone easier on salt.

Still, overall he was pleased.

Baby steps.

Just like with training.

He finished his first bowl in a span of few minutes completely ignoring the burning of his tongue. Sasuke was truly hungry and just couldn't be bothered. Somewhere in the background his mind whispered that he might regret this later. But it was the magical "later", the Uchiha was sure he'll be sleeping by that time. For now - he permitted himself a second serving.

Since winter was almost upon him the days were getting much shorter and Sasuke found himself quite surprised to realise it was already dusk.

Should I stay here or carry on?

His mind told him to carry on straight away as he didn't have time to waste.
Sasuke recognised this train of thoughts and immediately stopped.

Baby steps.

As a compromise the young adult decided to sit down and meditate. A notion from earlier today.

It was something to do and it was also something that allowed him to stay in the clearing for the rest of the night without the need to move and potentially sleep on the road itself.

But first he needed to clean his mess.

Getting up Sasuke went to his firepit and started to deconstruct his cooking kit. He laid open the sealing scroll for convenience beforehand to save him the trouble. Once the pot was loose and the metal rods were put side by side Sasuke took his flask and poured some water inside the iron pot. He secured the thing in between his feet and slowly began to wash it. Once satisfied he laid it close to the fire to let it dry. No matter how expensive the storage scrolls were wet things inside them always made a mess. That he knew from experience.

Maybe I can just buy a towel, he thought absentmindedly.

. . .

Getting comfortable under the tree the Uchiha did his standard breathing exercise.

Breath in while counting to four, hold it while counting to seven and then release slowly while counting to eight.

Sasuke didn't even remember who taught this to him, but whoever did, that person saved me.

Sasuke lost count of how many times he had used it to calm himself and keep a clear head.

On second thought though… A small frown had settled on his face as he contemplated on just how calm and peaceful he was during the last few years.

Huh...

But Sasuke still decided to carry on and do the breathing exercises.
It can't get any worse really.

He looked over the clearing one last time, his gaze falling on his drying pot, and then closed his eyes and made himself comfortable.

One… two… three… four... hold.

One… two… three…

Sasuke never got to four.

A strong explosion sounded to his right and a second later he even felt a shock wave hit his face making his eyes water.

What the?...

Jumping to his feet the boy looked around. Immediately his ears were assaulted with screams and he even saw some people run through his clearing with panicked faces. Neighbors probably. A second later another explosion sounded and once again it came from the main road. More screams followed, one of them was a child's shriek. Sasuke crossed his hands in front of his face to block the dust from his eyes as another shockwave reached his previously calm clearing. They better not blame it on me, the Uchiha thought as he ran to the epicentre of the commotion.

When he got to the main road the trees and even the ground were on fire. Debris was thrown all around, one big chunk of the wooden railing, it was put there to preserve the illusion of safety most probably, flew as far as to the other side of the river, granted, though, here it was exceptionally narrow. The fire was strong and even from such a notable distance Sasuke could feel the heat of the flames. They were definitely unusual. However the most noticeable aspect of it all was a huge crater right between the tree line and the river itself. It was so deep water already started to rush in it and partly putting out the fires.

He didn't know what to do to be honest. The ninja looked over all the people that were gathered around, both standing and lying, but none looked like someone who could cause such a ruckus. They were all in shock. Plus, no one present had the chakra capacity for such a powerful blast that was for sure.

The child scream he heard few minutes prior sounded one more time near the river bank. Sasuke came closer to see what was happening and saw how a young, at least that's what she looked like, mother was tending to a kid. Half of the boys body was burned and in her desperate need to do something she was using the rivers cold water to soothe the crying child.

It's wrong, it will get infected…

"It will get infected." Sasuke spoke evenly but loud enough for her to hear.

The effect was however not how he imagined it to be but probably something he should have expected. .

The young woman, when she finally saw him, let out such a terrified scream that the Uchiha had no choice but to back away.

"Monster! You did this!" her screams came out almost like that of an animal. The rage was so strong that Sasuke had no doubt she was prepared to fight to the death. To get revenge or to protect her son, it didn't matter at this point.

"I didn't do this." he didn't even want to speak to the enraged woman but the reply came almost automatically. She probably didn't even hear him anyways as she started to scream once again.

"Your fault! You are the cause of it! The war was not enough and now your targeting children?!" Her tears were so strong now he couldn't see her eyes anymore, Sasuke knew, though, what he would find there. Hate. Pure hate.

More people started to come closer to the injured child and his protector. Even though everyone was scared, the Uchiha could see it in their eyes, the feeling of injustice made them brave enough to come closer. For few even as close as standing between the young shinobi and the "mother".

"Leave from here you monster!"

"Yes, leave."

"You don't belong here!"

"Die!"

The last word thrown his way came at him with such ferocity that Sasuke had to close his eyes.

He deserved this.

I deserve this…

The threat was not backed by any action but the young adult still felt like he was hit.

The sudden weight that crashed down on him was so heavy Sasuke found it hard to stand.

The feeling didn't have time to sink in as the third blast sounded behind all of them.

From the direction of his clearing. Sasuke's eyes went wide for a second as a theory formed in his head. He hoped it was not his reality.

Deciding to fuck it Sasuke turned to the mob one more time, specifically to the mother of the crying kid, and said in his even voice:

"The wounds will get infected if you will continue like this. Go to the nearest tea shop, they will have medicine."

After this he turned away and sidestepped straight to his clearing.

It was on fire as well.

The crater was smaller than on the main road but the destruction was nonetheless extensive, as was visible by the trees that lost almost all of their branches. And those that were not blown away - were burning as bright as the setting sun.

Sasuke shook his head at this comparison.

He was relieved the in his rush from the clearing he took his traveling bag with him. Only this one habit had saved him the rest of his belongings.

The scroll that was laid out to seal the iron pot was gone, together with the pot itself. He spotted one of the rods embedded in the tree not far from him but it was bent beyond repair and Sasuke decided not to bother with its retrieval.

Walking around the clearing he was surprised that he couldn't feel even the slightest trace of any type of chakra left behind. There was always at least something. Chakra couldn't just disappear into nothingness. And yet here he could trace nothing.

How can it be, he wondered.

Subconsciously the Uchiha did understand though that the only reason why he was walking around like this and asking questions, was because, one, the culprit was probably still around and potentially dangerous to the rest of the people, and two, most importantly, he didn't want to allow his mind to take over.

He didn't want to see the burns on a white, porcelain skin.

After finishing his walk around the perimeter Sasuke closed in on the centre of the crater. His eyes went wide for the second time today.

There, laying right at the centre, was a small, barely noticeable, piece of black something. Upon a closer inspection the Uchiha saw more of these black things scattered around. Deciding to risk it Sasuke took one of the small particles in his gloved hand and examined it closely.

It was made from some weird silver metal but due to the explosion it was covered in a black layer of some chemicals. At least that's what he presumed.

Could it be his pot? But no, the pot was made out of iron. Different metal. He did not have anything made out of this specific metal for sure.

It doesn't smell like exploding powder though, he though while furrowing his eyes.

I need more proof.

Sasuke briskly ran to the bigger crater on the main road, hoping to catch at least something there that he could use in order to find clues.

But he was too late.

The crater was filled with water and whatever was left for sure was already washed away by the torrent.

He still made a circle around the enormous thing. Just to make sure.

The absence of any lights did not help him in any way and since it was night time the task of finding anything was almost impossible. And the fires were also already out.

But he was not Sasuke Uchiha for nothing. Because nothing escaped him. So he kept on searching.

And he did manage to find another blackened piece of silver metal. It was small, painstakingly so, but it was there and it joined his collection of proof.

Was the whole path tinkered with?

It couldn't be. Too many people were using the road and nothing was triggered before. It only happened when he came here.

He was the target.

Sasuke frowned again.

The clearing was set up before he came there. And he didn't know.

But how?

He for sure felt and saw nothing. And he checked.

The Uchiha scanned his surroundings one more time but the result stayed the same.

It was done by a civilian.

This revelation made him sour.

Sasuke sighed and went back to the mob of people he so abruptly left earlier.

They were already preparing an improvised carrier for the burned boy. But what's the point if you are willing to kill each other anyway?

Sasuke ignored this question and came closer.

Now, most of the people around the territory were present on the road and quite close to the main crowd.

He hoped he would be heard. For their own good.

Once his presence was known the mob gathered around the mother and the boy in a protective half circle hiding them from view completely.

"Leave you demon! Didn't you have enough?!" Someone screamed but he could not see who. He didn't care.

He looked over the crowd one more time, searching for a peculiar gaze.

He found it a second later.

An elderly woman. She was standing together with the mob but something in her eyes told Sasuke she would listen.

He came one step closer and then felt a stone hit his leg.

"Don't come any closer!" more screams came and more stones just to make sure.

The Uchiha tried his best not to show any emotions.

Endure.

This is the price.

"Listen," Sasuke begun and looked into the eyes of the woman he selected. While keeping the eye contact he bent down and put three pieces of the black/silver metal on the ground for everyone to see, at least in the morning, he concluded. "The explosions were caused by a device." This got some reaction out of the people but still the only thing that came out of their mouths was "get out of here" and "monster". On repeat. Fair enough, Sasuke concluded, if he could blame someone he would blame himself as well but he needed to get a message across. "I know whoever has planted the device is somewhere here in this crowd. Know this - you are only making it worse."

With this Sasuke had teleported out of the road and into the tree line. He hid his chakra completely and froze on the three branch that he had chosen.

He needed to observe.

The crowd had stayed in the same position for the first couple of minutes with just their heads going from side to side trying to find him. Good luck with that, the evil side of his mind shot back. He was sure it was his arrogance speaking.

. . .

When the crowd started to disperse that's when Sasuke sharpened his senses. His sharingan fared to life even, to help him see better.

First they broke into smaller groups, then individuals and families started to go on ahead. Some went to the crater and stared at it while shaking their heads and hands others went back to the tree line but not without looking terrified of everything that moved.

Sasuke scanned each person. All he needed was a glance. Just one short glance.

There.

A man was standing near the bank of the river, not far away from the burned boy, he was still looking around and too many times his eyes went to the same tree line that Sasuke teleported to. And the glint in his eyes, that was the look of a person who was conscious. Calculating even.

Either the person was paranoid or he knew something. Sasuke bet on the latter and kept on observing him.

Almost everyone went away now, leaving behind only three men who were finishing up with the improvised carrier. It looked like a slade but as far as it served its purpose, Sasuke thought.

And then he saw the "schemer", that's how he called him, make his move.

"What do you want I wonder."

The man stole one last look at the crater and then at the treeline and made a beeline to the mother and son. He bypassed the three man easily enough and then started to talk straight to the mother. At first she tried to shoo him away, waving her hands in a way that clearly said she didn't have time for any of this however the schemer said just one short sentence and the woman froze. Another short phrase from him and the woman's eyes went wide with fear. For a second her eyes darted to the general direction of the trees but she caught herself and instead her hand found that of her child. A terrified nod came from her and a victorious smile appeared on the mans face. To Sasuke it looked beyond evil. Talk about being subtle.

But at least now Sasuke knew the plan of the schemer.

I bet he asked for a fair price for his services.

He most probably did, judging by the look on the somber lady, however, one of the three men came closer to her and pointed in the direction of the slide. It as done. Her gaze cleared up, she nodded and then all together they've started to move the now unconscious boy onto the construction. A few seconds later the company set off and judging by their resolve they did not plan on sleeping that night.

The game was on.