Preview – Chapter 49

Sakura heard muffled voices in the darkness. For a moment, she was completely disoriented. She shook her head and realized she was on the ground. There was a dim light from beyond the edge of the cavern wall, and Sakura remembered the cave…the explosion…. 

“That was a little much, don’t you think, old woman?” 

She pushed herself up slowly. She was covered in dust. Her ears were still ringing, but that low, gravely voice sounded vaguely familiar…. 

“Don’t want you to leave too soon, not after I’ve gone to so much trouble to find you.” 

This time it was Chiyo’s voice that spoke. But her laughter sounded low and mean, nothing like the tipsy, girlish laughter outside. 

Sakura stepped slowly around the corner, just in time to see Chiyo holding a single match. It cast her face in the same eerie light as Kakashi’s pranks, but somehow it looked more sinister on the old woman. She stood grinning into the darkness, like a cat that had finally cornered its mouse.

In a great swoosh, she threw it at the ground. But instead of guttering out, the match ignited a glimmering line with its spark. More lines were strung like spider’s silk from lantern to lantern around the room. Suddenly Chiyo’s fingers were jumping, dancing, and the little flame was bouncing from torch to torch to torch, hundreds of them, lighting almost instantly around the room.

“What a nice party trick you learned in your retirement.”

The cavern was enormous. At the back was a huge carved demon, its enormous arms stretch out, either in offering, as before turning and pouncing. There was nothing reverential about it. 

Mounds surrounded the statue, platforms for either worshippers or possibly sacrifices. And on the largest, most center platform was a creature that haunted her nightmares. 

She knew the cruelty in that gravely voice. She knew the offset angle of the Akatsuki cloak, draped across him like the beast he was. 


The sight of him hit her like a punch. Sakura gasped softly, drawing his attention for a moment. She schooled her features and stood even with Chiyo, back straight, looking like she’d never been scared in her life. Panic might grip on her body, but her mind repeated a mantra from another buried memory. Fake it. Fake it.

If Sasori recognized her, then he didn’t acknowledge her. He addressed only Chiyo. 

“I see you’ve acquired a new pet.”

Chiyo was stony in her silence. 

It went on so long, Sakura began to think something might have happened to the woman beside her. She didn’t dare glance away— Finally Chiyo spoke.

“You have something I want—“ Her voice was a dangerous snarl. 

Sasori matched it. “Then come and get it—” 

He stepped back, moving his cloak to the side, and that’s when Sakura saw it. There was a body at his feet.

For a moment, Sakura had the grotesque image that Sasori was a spider feeding on the body. But the dust-covered body was intact.

He had pale hair and pale clothes. A coating of silt made him look almost blond—

Sasori flipped him over, the body flopping as lifeless as a rag doll.

His clothes were of the sand nation, his garb high ranking and…familiar….

Sasori kicked the body again, flopping the arm and torso over. The head rolled to the side facing them. His face showed signs of being beaten. His lips were dry, chapped and parted. His grey eyes, though open, held no life in them.

His hair was dark and clumped with dried blood, and where it parted there was a pale tattoo that scarred his forehead.

Sakura’s stomach twisted. She was looking at the dead body of the Kazekage.

She stepped forward immediately, anger coursing through her as if it were one of her own school mates’ bodies up there.

This was why Kakashi said it wasn’t their problem. Why it was so secretive. This was a coup. An assassination. It would most certainly lead to a power struggle and perhaps a full blown war—

She thought of his siblings, probably searching frantically for him. Surely there were others who were loyal to him. Perhaps even friends. He had changed so much since their first encounter, she wasn’t blind to it. 

No one deserved this kind of death.

“We need to get him back,” Sakura growled, surprising both Chiyo and Sasori.

Sasori laughed.

But Sakura knew something he didn’t. She was not the same girl he met in the forest that day.

Her fists were tight. She didn’t take her eyes off him.

“Lady Chiyo, your weapons were puppets, right?” 

Chiyo answered, “Yes, but—“

“Will I do?”

Sasori’s eyes narrowed on her, calculating just what she meant.

Sakura dropped into a defensive pose, watching him for any sudden movements.

Chiyo was astonished, but she found her voice. “Yes…. Yes, you will do quite nicely, I think.”