Prologue

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"I am no mere sheep." - anonymous 

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"Do you understand what you're doing, Ichirou?" His voice was calm, but I could see the rage in his eyes, lips curling up into a snarl as he stoically held himself back. 

The sound of metal trembling filled the near silent battlefield, my own grip tightening around the holt of my tanto, eyes narrowing as I pushed back. But he would not budge, merely digging his heels deeper into the sand and applying more pressure to his blade. We stood still for a few moments, swords locked and muscled shaking under the strain. 

"If you go through with this, that is it." He grits his teeth, anger beginning to seep into his expression. "I will have no choice but to declare you a traitor and act accordingly." 

He knew my response without even having to ask for it, but it came as a soft plea, almost as if he wished he was wrong. I tried not to let my surprise show at his concern, the short period of time that he and I had known each other, never once had he expressed any interest in my wellbeing.

In fact, he had gone out of his way to make my job harder, hoping I would finally give up and move on. But I hadn't, not until now at least.

"I understand," I didn't regret what I was doing, but I couldn't deny how hard it was to speak. My mouth was dry, throat throbbing as I licked my lips, forcing myself to remain eye contact even as his gaze hardened. "But this is something I must do."

I watched his fingers bury into the leather of his sword and tried not to let my nerves show. The outcome of a battle between him and I would be unknown. He was many years my senior and had served as a shinobi of our village longer than I had been alive. 

"I will not fight him," I frowned.

"Are you trying to convince me... or yourself?"

"I will not fight him," I repeated, gritting my teeth in frustration.

He sighed, gaze breaking for a moment to flicker back to the group of Iwa-nin behind him. The squad of Chunin looked out of place, a few exchanging looks of confusion, wondering what their next move should be.

"And your brother?"

I sneered, eyes darkening in rage. "Don't you mention him."

"You will abandon your own flesh and blood... for him?" He gestured to the dark-haired teen sitting behind him, an unreadable expression on his beaten face. 

I paused, choosing my words carefully. "I... will not fight for Iwa anymore. My brother no longer has any need for me, he can take care of himself. The Tsuchikage will make sure he lives, I know he will, that's the kind of man he is."

"Don't you dare talk about Tsuchikage-sama like you know him, traitor!" A Chunin spat from behind him, but no one paid him any mind. I glared briefly in his direction before looking back to the man before me, glaring him down.

"Is this your final answer?" 

I nodded, refusing to break eye contact with him. He sighed on final time, before he lurched forward, clashing his blade with my tanto, the pang of metal ringing through the forest as I leapt back in surprise.

Staring up at him, I watched him lift his sword again, bending his knees in preparation to charge at me. "Then so be it, Takahashi Ichirou. As a Jonin of Iwagakure and on behalf of the Tsuchikage, I hereby denounce you of all your ranks and name you a traitor to Iwagakure and the Land of Earth."

I lifted my tanto and smiled sadly. "I know."

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Small glimpse into a future chapter. Note: Shikaku will not appear immediately.

Slow updates - You have been warned.

For future reference, thank you for all your votes, comments, general feedback and for simply reading the book, it is much appreciated.

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UNIVERSE NOTE:

Till The End is apart of a shared universe (others books in such universe being 'Bounty Hunter' and 'Odyssey'). This universe acts differently to the Naruto CANON timeline and events, characters and entire plot lines have either been killed, not killed, changed or not changed.

They can be read in any order as stand-alone or as a series. Just a fair warning leads from all three appear books in all three books.

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