Second Bite at the Cherry @sakinthra
Chapter 70

Sakura woke with a start, her breathing uneven and her hand flying to the shuriken pouch at her hip. It was dark, still, but the skies were still clear enough to allow the moon to illuminate the fields around them.

"That dream, again?"

Gaara's voice rang through the silence. He didn't bother trying to keep quiet; she'd no doubt woken Sai as well with her movement, and Sakura could tell with a flare of her sensing jutsu that there was nobody with chakra near enough to bother them.

"Same one." She answered with a sigh. "The energy is...whatever they're fighting is too overpowering for me to get a read on them. All I can focus on is writing that stupid letter."

"Can you remember more of what it said?"

"Maybe." Sakura held out her hand just in time for Sai to put a notebook into it. "It's always the same, chakra is cursed, we'll never stop seeking violence. I tried to focus on the later words but it's fuzzy. The person is so distraught even they can't focus." She began to write, trying to piece out every word she'd seen written in her dream. This was the fifth time she'd seen it, and maybe it was difficult to hold onto, but every time she liked to think it was a little bit clearer.

"They think the Bijuu are...malicious? I think that was the word they used. And they keep mentioning a 'she', like the reader was supposed to know who they were referring to."

"I still think it's Kaguya." Sai offered. "They mentioned 'her betrayal', and the Sage. And you've seen a very clear picture of the Sage and his brother 'betraying' their mother."

"But is Kaguya really capable of cursing chakra? The way this person writes, it's like she put her intent into chakra, so that every shinobi ever born would try to destroy themselves in her honor."

"Maybe that's why Lee's so chipper." Gaara spoke up. "No murder chakra."

"Oh come off it, he's got some chakra, he just can't mold it like we can." Sakura countered with an eye roll. "And if Kaguya really cursed us to destroy ourselves, how is it that we built allied villages? How is it that I can think to try and align the villages at all? Whoever it is, they weren't right. We're not cursed. At least...we're not now."

"Maybe they fixed it. They seemed to think they could."

"Maybe."

Sometimes, Sakura thought to herself, Jashin's visions were more trouble than they were worth.

She rolled over on her pillow and attempted to shut her eyes again. She was in no mood to discuss an ominous letter, not when they were less than a day's walk away from Otogakure's borders.

When the morning came, they hit the road without much delay. Emi led the way, trotting in front of them in order to sniff out anything that Sakura missed with her sensing. Sakura was half-convinced they'd be attacked the instant they crossed the border, but a part of her hoped Orochimaru would at least be curious about her. And Orochimaru was not a stupid man. If he killed her party here, he'd have quite a few villages out for his head at this point. (Not to mention a rampaging Bijuu if he managed to kill Gaara.) No, it would be really stupid to kill her...if Orochimaru was just looking out for himself.

But there was Akatsuki, and maybe Orochimaru wasn't part of the organization any longer, but that didn't mean he wouldn't help them out for the right price. Sakura pleaded with Jashin every night to send her visions of Orochimaru, to give her an inkling of what the man was up to, and instead she got vague and infuriating letter writing. She didn't know how a stupid letter was more important than the immediate threat ahead of her, and unless she figured it out, she was absolutely certain that letter writing was all she was going to get.

Sakura sighed to herself and reflexively let off a wave of her sensing jutsu. This time, however, something hit her back.

There wasn't a better way to describe it than a reflection, like she'd sent out a pulse and someone else sent out a pulse in turn, someone who was also reaching out to try and catch wind of her own chakra. It had never happened before, and Sakura stopped dead in her tracks in order to see if she could replicate the sensation again. She sent out a wave, and then two seconds later a wave came back again. Another sensor? It had to be. Sakura sent out a third pulse, determined to figure out the location, and this time her sensing caught wave of at least a dozen signatures, all moving towards her at a rapid pace.

"Unknown entities ahead. At least twelve."

Emi let out a small hiss before running behind Gaara's legs. Sakura saw a familiar cloud of sand begin to make its way around them, and Sai had already pulled out the beautiful blade he'd been gifted with by the Hageshisai. Sakura did not move, but that in and of itself was strategic. She needed stillness, after all, to pull nature chakra into her body.

All at once, the twelve shinobi landed in front of them.

Most of them were wrapped in the black and grey uniform that Sakura remembered from her very first chuunin exam. Their faces were wrapped and their outfits were accented by black spotted scarves. There were a couple, however, that stood out from the rest.

The first was a very large boy whose chakra seemed to aggravate both Sakura and her companions. His face was calm, but something was roiling within him. At first Sakura thought of a Jinchuuriki, but she was becoming familiar with them now, and she knew with certainty that Oto did not have one. It took Sakura a little longer to realize that it was nature chakra that was circling within the boy, but it was bastardized somewhat, as if it was being drawn in when it shouldn't be. Orochimaru had probably experimented on him, if she had to guess, and of course Orochimaru would find interest in getting nature energy for himself. Though Sakura did know that the snake summons were capable of teaching sages...had Orochimaru been denied?

The other shinobi, one who stood at the head of the others, was a girl about her age. She had brilliant red hair and thick glasses, and unlike the others, she seemed quite relaxed. She put a hand on her hip and grinned at Sakura.

"You're a couple months late, you know that?"

Sakura blinked. "I...wasn't aware that I had been expected."

"Oh, don't act so modest. I've heard all about you. I was hoping we could be friends, ya know?" With that, the girl approached her, not even flinching at Gaara and Sai's hostile stares. She held out a hand to Sakura.

"Karin Uzumaki. I'm going to be the next Otokage once the snake kicks the bucket."

There was a confidence to the girl that Sakura appreciated, and while she was a bit curious about how she could talk so openly of Orochimaru's death, she couldn't deny that it was refreshing. "Sakura Haruno." She responded in turn, holding out her own hand before something suddenly came to her. "Wait...Uzumaki?"

"Yup. And yes, I'm probably related to 'that dope from Konoha', before you ask. Uzushio scattered when it fell. I ended up here, Naruto ended up over there. You know how it goes." Karin gave a small shrug. "But that's not the important thing. You're here now, which means things are going to start moving along. Juugo, be a dear and get the carts over here, will you? We're in the presence of an ambassador. If Orochimaru isn't going to give her an escort, we have to."

The larger boy simply nodded before leaping away, many of the other Oto shinobi following him.

"I...might be a little confused." Sakura admitted aloud. "So what exactly is going to be moving along?"

"Lots of things, I'll tell you all about them, but first we should get to know each other, shouldn't we?" In a smooth motion, Karin linked her arm around hers and began to walk her forward down the road, pointedly ignoring both Gaara and Sai's death glares. "Orochimaru's been keeping information about you on lockdown, so I want to hear everything about what you've been up to. You'll tell me all about your treaty, and I'll let you know all about the Oto rebellion. You'll keep it a secret, won't you? You want the old snake dead as much as any of us."

"Um." Sakura replied eloquently. "I...can't really show any preference towards such a thing, as an ambassador."

"Oh, naturally. I'm not asking you for help with it or anything like that, but you being here will definitely make things a little more fun. And I want to assure you that once I'm in charge, I'll be signing your treaty first thing. Oto can't thrive if it's constantly trying to one-up the villages around it, and that means I can't have a stable place to revive my clan. I'd thought certain things would be a long shot until you started running around and 'peacing' up the area. You're my little golden ticket to success, so you'll have my full support."

Sakura was still really confused, but it seemed as though, whatever Karin was planning, she wanted to be on Sakura's good side. She briefly looked back to the boys, who were stalking after them with weapons and sand still at the ready.

Eventually, in the distance, Sakura saw a pair of carts heading towards them. They didn't have horses at the head, however, and in fact...were they moving on their own? They let out an odd sort of hum as they approached, and though Juugo was indeed sitting at the front, he wasn't pulling the cart along...if anything, he seemed to simply be steering it.

"Fresh prototypes straight from Kumogakure." Karin explained as she saw Sakura's surprise. "There's a couple of countries that use steam locomotives for civilian transport. Some genius in Kumo wanted to try making smaller locomotives for personal use. Well, it's not steam powered, but they are Lightning Country, so I guess they used what they were more familiar with. They call them automobiles."

"Kumo made self-driving carts?"

"Well, no, you still gotta steer them. But they run off of an electric engine. You use lightning chakra to charge it and it goes for a couple hours, no problem. But they're not very good for long distance yet, and they're not as fast as a proper shinobi run, so it's mostly just civilians that use them. But you've been walking a long way, so you'll appreciate the break, yeah?"

"Y-yeah, but…how did you convince Kumo to give you these?"

"I did a trade. I let them have access to our radio technology and they gave us the design for the carts. Orochimaru was mad but the trade was worth it, so he can't give me shit for it."

"Radio tech?"

"Oh, we have so much to talk about, don't we?"

They climbed into the cart and the cart began to move them along the road. It was bumpy, but Sakura did appreciate the break from walking, and that allowed them to focus on listening to everything Karin had to tell them.

Which was a lot.

"If they've got a purple wristband, they're one of mine, so no talking about any of this unless we're all purple." Karin began, handing out wristbands to each of them. "I know you probably won't wear this in public, but if you need to convince one of mine you're safe, you'll need this. Things are a little bit tense on Oto right now. Sasuke's starting to get pretty strong, you see, so everyone's hedging their bets as to whether he or Orochimaru is going to come out on top. Sasuke's with me, of course, he's not stupid. He knows Orochimaru's going to be a turd to deal with, so I convinced him to let me tip the odds in his favor. I get to be Otokage, he gets help finding his brother. Win-win."

"...win-win." Sakura replied solemnly. Sasuke and Itachi...Sasuke clearly didn't know about what had happened at Konoha yet, and since Karin had mentioned Orochimaru trying to keep information locked down, Orochimaru clearly had a reason for it. So long as Sasuke was focused on defeating Itachi, he would stay in Oto to get stronger. If Sasuke learned about Danzo...what would happen then? Even Sakura didn't know. Despite all she had thought about Sasuke since her journey had begun, she wasn't sure if she knew Sasuke at all.

"We've actually been working with Kumo a little bit for this. They agreed to send me a little bit of manpower in exchange for some of Orochimaru's shit once he kicks it. Ever since Konoha sent them packing over the whole Hyuuga affair, they've been looking for other ways to strengthen their army. The radio tech is a big step in their favor, but Oto developed it first so we've got the best of the best. Short-range radio technology already exists in every country, but we finally figured out how to get instant long-range transmission. I can call someone on the other side of the country right now and get an update on their situation immediately. And, unlike those primitive little walkie-talkies, it's not one at a time, so you don't have to wait for the other person to finish before you say something."

"I guess it makes sense that the Sound Village has the best sound tech?"

"Duh." Karin answered with a smile. "And I know you are going to be plenty interested. An ambassador is going to need this kind of tech to manage a whole continent. Once I'm in charge and on the treaty, I'll share the tech with everyone."

"Won't that piss Kumo off?"

"Probably. Which is why you need to get them on the treaty first. I can hold off until then. But they're going to be tough nuts to crack. They hate Konoha, and they're sure as shit ain't fond of most other countries. But they've used nationalism to spur a lot of advancement. They've got technology most countries couldn't even dream up yet. If you can get them on your little peace train, everywhere is going to benefit."

"You don't have to convince me, they're obviously on my list." Sakura insisted. "But right now I'm here for Oto, and that means Orochimaru."

"Naturally. I'll be honest, you haven't got a chance. Orochimaru's a prick and we all know it. If you want my advice, you should use your time here to get the people on your side. Get all the civilians to see that you mean business, get some of the shinobi to realize Orochimaru's time is up."

"You want me to recruit people to your cause."

"Bingo. But, like, indirectly. I go around telling people that I'll sign in with you if I'm in charge. If you get them to like you, they'll like me too. Win-win for both of us. All you gotta do is be your pretty little self and Oto will be in your hands soon enough."

"Unless Orochimaru figures you out."

"Oh, he already knows. I told you he isn't an idiot. He just doesn't think I stand a chance. He doesn't know about my trump card. And that one gets to stay a secret." Karin put a finger to her lips deviously. "Enough about me, though. You need to tell me everything you've been up to. I want to know all about your treaty, alright?"

That, at least, was easy enough, and Sakura considered it practice for her future talk with Orochimaru. She had to be confident in the treaty, and then…

Into the snake's den, as it were.

In a strange way, Karin was a comfort. She talked just about as much as Naruto did, and even had a way of speaking that reminded Sakura of her old teammate. At some point, if the world was ever at peace, she'd have to introduce them. Though, if both became Kage, it would happen soon enough. Karin didn't seem enthused by the concept of long lost family, but Naruto would be ecstatic.

The automated cart rattled its way into the heart of Rice Country, and Sakura got her first glimpse of a place that she had only begrudgingly tried to picture before. It was uncharacteristically serene. Rice fields dominated the landscape, but peppered here and there were small little towns. Long electrical wires were stretched across the sky on tall poles, and Karin explained to her that these lines allowed the long distance communication she had spoken of earlier. Maybe this country didn't have half of the shinobi of one of the Elemental Countries, but it had technology, technology that Sakura was starting to become envious of. Maybe Karin was doing this for her own gain, but the concept of every country having these communication lines was starting to appeal more and more. Plus, the automated carts would make travel so much more convenient.

Eventually, Otogakure came into view.

The shinobi side of Oto, Karin explained, was entirely underground. But the daimyo's village dominated the aboveground, and it was there among the small cliffs and valleys that the civilians worked to provide for the shinobi that now protected them. The automated carts were parked on the outskirts of the village, and from there Sakura was given a tour.

"Obviously rice is our village's main export, but we're trying to patent sound technology as well. Once everything settles, we expect Oto to be the prime source of communicative technology on the continent. On top of that, I plan to revive Uzushio sealing technology where I can. Orochimaru's stolen a lot of it, so I can nab that from him once he's dead."

'Once Orochimaru is dead' seemed to be the theme, and Sakura was going to allow herself to hope. Maybe things would be simpler if Orochimaru was gone, but if the Third Hokage couldn't take him down, how could Sasuke? How could anyone?

Maybe it was the scared girl in her talking, but she remembered facing Orochimaru in the Forest of Death. Nothing short of the fear of losing her friends had ever scared her quite so badly. Danzo had been a man with powerful tools. Itachi was a man with powerful genetics. Orochimaru...he was just powerful. He was a monster.

And as they made their way into a steel-lined building, it finally truly weighed on Sakura that she would be speaking with him soon enough.

Even after all she'd been through, Sakura wanted nothing more than to turn around and not come back. She wanted to hold Emi for comfort, she wanted Gaara and Sai to take her hands, she wanted anything but talking to Orochimaru.

Just as nerve-wracking, she realized, was the prospect of seeing Sasuke again. It had been a long time since she'd felt the passion of her old crush, and her true feelings towards him seemed to oscillate with every passing day. Would she be relieved to see him? Angry? Concerned and upset?

Would she even feel anything for him at all?

"Orochimaru's down below. I'm sure his little snakes have warned him you're coming." Karin told her as they began to descend down a long flight of stairs. "So I'll skip the run around and just take you straight to him. I don't know what he's working on but be prepared to be sick to your stomach, 'cause it's probably gross."

Sakura took a deep breath and, for a moment, held it. The last thing she needed to see was Orochimaru doing his worst on a poor shinobi that had looked at him wrong.

Remember what Tsunade told you.

Orochimaru respected those who did not demand respect, but simply acted worthy of it. Those who naturally held strength, those who did not seek attention but earned it. He was drawn to clever minds and he was drawn to unique techniques, and Sakura, in a way, had both. The best way to ensure Orochimaru didn't kill you instantly was to intrigue him, but not too much, lest he decide you were worth taking as his own.

Sakura took another breath as they reached the bottom of the stairs. Showing fear would turn Orochimaru against her in a heartbeat. She reached up to touch her amulet, reciting a small prayer that Shiro had taught her. Jashin had chosen her for a reason. If the worst happened, Jashin would give her strength.

She'd faced down Akatsuki, she'd faced down Danzo, and this was...simply the next step.

She knew they'd reached Orochimaru when she smelled the blood. The smell was familiar to her now, having survived a civil war and having healed so many reckless Hageshisai in the enclave. But this...this was an unnatural amount. Excessive. Blood spilled for the sake of the spilling, for the sake of setting a scene. Even now, as she arrived, Orochimaru was trying to intimidate her.

The thought strangely made her want to laugh. Orochimaru was going all out to intimidate her, a fourteen year old girl who'd gotten lucky enough to be involved in something greater than herself. Orochimaru had decades on her. Orochimaru already terrified her. And yet he was going to extra lengths to make her feel uneasy.

Sakura knew that Orochimaru wasn't scared of her. But did he really think it worth his time to make a young girl even more scared than she already was? Maybe, in a way, she intimidated him in turn.

She remembered why Orochimaru had left Akatsuki, according to what Hidan had told her. He'd tried to take on Itachi and lost. Sakura had taken on Itachi and had survived.

Huh. Maybe Orochimaru was intimidated by her, even if only a little. And that was the spark of something within Sakura, something she'd needed. Orochimaru was a monster, that was irrefutable. But, deep down...he was human too. He could be defeated, and he could feel fear.

And Sakura could face him. Would face him.

They reached a set of double doors, and Karin knocked several times upon them. The knocks echoed through the tunnels around them. Sakura briefly wondered if the acoustics had been designed in such a way, so that any sound would travel to the stationed guards. It would certainly make it very difficult to sneak in.

The doors creaked open, and Sakura caught a glimpse of someone else she hadn't seen since the chuunin exams. Kabuto Yakushi, his eyes darkened behind his glasses, but his pleasant smile lit up under the lantern light.

"Ah, Sakura. We've been expecting you. Come in, why don't you? And you may bring your...escorts, of course."

Sakura glanced briefly to Gaara and Sai before nodding. "Of course." She echoed back. "So long as I am not intruding on anything important?"

"Nothing that cannot wait, I assure you."

Sakura followed Kabuto past the double doors, a bit saddened to see Karin staying behind. One less friendly face to help her keep her cool. There was another long hallway beyond the doors, and the smell of blood became much more severe. To her right, Sakura saw Gaara's nose wrinkle. She wouldn't have thought he'd be bothered, considering his rather bloody childhood, but perhaps now that he had changed it was a more troubling scent.

"I must admit, I never thought someone like you would become an ambassador." Kabuto commented as they walked. "You always seemed to shrink next to your teammates. Naruto seems more the type to want to yell at everyone to get along."

Sakura ignored the insult. "Naruto's not very good at being diplomatic. He's just very good at being sincere."

"A rarity in the shinobi world, that's true."

"You'd certainly be the one to know about the rarity of sincerity."

"Ah." Kabuto pushed up his glasses with a smirk. "Are you so hurt by my deception, Sakura? If it helps, it was never anything personal. I was just doing my job."

"You were." Sakura replied. "And I can hold nothing against you now." Not outwardly, anyway.

At the end of the hall was another set of doors, and it was through there that Sakura saw Orochimaru, undisguised, for the first time.

She'd only seen him disguised before. It was Naruto who had faced him and Kabuto down while retrieving Tsunade, and even during the chuunin exam invasion, she had been far from Orochimaru's influence facing down Gaara. Tsunade had shown her pictures, and Orochimaru was distinct enough to recognize on sight, but that was nothing like simply seeing him now.

He was cutting into a corpse, which was painfully stereotypical considering Sakura's impression of him. The shinobi was covered by a long coat and thick gloves, and the corpse in front of him was...grotesquely malformed. What looked like horns had grown from its skin, and its face was stretched into what could only be a scream. And from what she could see from the 'autopsy' Orochimaru was performing, something was...very wrong with the corpse's internal organs.

Orochimaru didn't even look up, perhaps not yet thinking her worth his time.

Intrigue him. Tsunade's voice echoed in her mind.

Well, she had just spent the past few months learning anatomy.

"I'm not entirely sure that kidneys are supposed to be growing in the thoracic cavity, but if that's what you're going for, you succeeded."

She heard a small snort from Sai, and she saw Orochimaru pause in his movement. A smile grew on his face, one that sent shivers down Sakura's spine.

"Yes, an unfortunate side effect. It impeded the subject's breathing quite substantially."

"It can't be typical cancer if its attempting to make functioning organs in unusual places. And the growths on the forehead...they're too symmetrical to be random cancerous growth. Is it bone or keratin?"

"Neither. It's possible it could be a brand new compound. Well...not brand new."

Sakura was briefly reminded of her visions of the Sage of Six Paths, of Kaguya...the horns were quite similar to what they had manifested. So that was what Orochimaru was up to, of course. Replicating the power of the progenitors of all shinobi...well, it was in line for what she'd expected of him.

"I think Kaguya's power might be a bit too much for the average shinobi to handle, by the look of things."

Orochimaru's smile deepened. "So you are smarter than you appear. I'd thought as much, considering the fun you let loose in Konoha. I was sad to have missed it."

With that, Orochimaru straightened up and finally looked at her for the first time. His eyes were the same striking gold that she remembered, slitted like a snake's, and it was accented by the purple markings that lined them. He seemed to want to draw attention to his eyes, and that made sense, considering he wanted to wield the Sharingan one day. If he ever did obtain them…

Sakura shivered.

"I'm afraid Konoha wasn't affected as poorly as you might have liked."

"No, but seeing Danzo defeated by a child? That sight would have been delicious to witness." Orochimaru licked his lips, his long tongue only accented by the motion. "And now you are here to try and convince me to sign a peace treaty. You must not know me very well."

"I'm aware my chances are slim. But it is still a greater chance than if I hadn't come at all."

"Ah, rational confidence. So different than the little mouse I met in the woods. Still not enough to take on the role of predator, but...the prey has grown some fangs."

"I'm not the girl I was back then."

"No...no, you are not."

Orochimaru carefully removed his gloves, tossing them expertly into a bin nearby. He removed his coat with a flourish and deposited it onto the back of a nearby chair. "I'll need to clean up." He informed Sakura. "Kabuto, you'll take her to her room. We'll have some fun later, I think."

"Of course, Lord Orochimaru."

There was nothing more to say, it seemed, as Kabuto hastened them out of the room. If the encounter had been a test, it appeared as though Sakura had passed. Either that, or Orochimaru had gotten what he'd wanted out of the exchange. Sakura hoped her mention of Kaguya would be enough to intrigue, and she admittedly did have knowledge of Kaguya that few others had. If Kaguya was what Orochimaru wanted…

Maybe she had a way to convince him to sign the treaty after all.


They were given access to a large chamber with three bedrooms. Surprisingly hospitable, all things considered, and Sakura had to wonder if it was Orochimaru's intent to house her from the beginning. She was told that Orochimaru would summon her when he was ready, and from there she and the boys were left to their own devices.

(As alone as they could be, of course, with several Oto guards standing outside the doors.)

"He's shorter than I thought he would be." Sai commented, already taking down notes of their brief encounter.

"You're just saying that because Jiraiya and Tsunade are tall."

"Well, he's got quite a reputation too. I guess you just expect villainous folk to be taller."

Gaara had been, and still was, silent. This was also to be expected. Orochimaru had killed Gaara's father and sent Suna into upheaval, but in a way, Orochimaru had pushed Gaara to where he was now. If not for the invasion, Gaara would never have faced Naruto. If not for the invasion, Sakura and Gaara might not ever have met. It was only natural he would have mixed feelings about the man.

Sakura, however, was now absolutely certain how she felt. The man was a creep, and she was going to loathe having to play nice with him. Maybe he could chat over an open corpse like it was any other day, but Sakura had needed to work hard to keep down her lunch. Even now she was still a bit nauseous, and maybe that was why she didn't notice the heavy aura of chakra approaching her until the door to their room flew open with a bang.

Standing there in the doorway, without any pomp or circumstance to his arrival other than the thrown open door, was Sasuke Uchiha.

He was breathing somewhat heavily, as though he had ran a great distance to get here, and he was wearing an open shirt and a large purple rope around his waist. His hair had grown out a bit, and his eyes were looking desperately around the room until they landed on her, and from there they narrowed into a determination that Sakura had only rarely seen on him before. There was a part of her that she'd nearly forgotten about that swooned at Sasuke's piercing eyes and bare chest. (Regardless of what she thought of him now, he was still very handsome.) There was another part of her relieved to simply see that he was alright, that he hadn't been warped by one of Orochimaru's experiments. He still looked like Sasuke, at the very least. But there was a new part of her that was furious now, not just because he'd barged in without warning, but because so many had worried about him and his future, and here he was having the audacity to look fine.

"Sakura." He stated.

"...Sasuke." She answered in turn.

"Fight me."

There was a moment of silence as each of them processed what Sasuke had demanded. Eventually, Sakura couldn't stop herself.

She burst into laughter.

1. Chapter 1 848 0 0 2. Chapter 2 3162 0 0 3. Chapter 3 2532 0 0 4. Chapter 4 2819 0 0 5. Chapter 5 2551 0 0 6. Chapter 6 2767 0 0 7. Chapter 7 2188 0 0 8. Chapter 8 1950 0 0 9. A Brief Intermission 949 0 0 10. Chapter 10 4053 0 0 11. Chapter 11 3692 0 0 12. Two Worlds Away (Intermission Part Two) 1320 0 0 13. Chapter 13 3836 0 0 14. Chapter 14 2739 0 0 15. Chapter 15 2390 0 0 16. Failures (Intermission Part Three) 2824 0 0 17. Chapter 17 3234 0 0 18. Chapter 18 6529 0 0 19. Chapter 19 4214 0 0 20. Three's a Drag (Intermission Part Four) 2630 0 0 21. Chapter 21 3341 0 0 22. Chapter 22 2924 0 0 23. Chapter 23 6969 0 0 24. Chapter 24 3801 0 0 25. Chapter 25 4158 0 0 26. Alliances (Intermission Part Five) 2667 0 0 27. Chapter 27 6918 0 0 28. Act One Epilogue 30 0 0 29. Act Two Prologue 1 0 0 30. Chapter 30 7214 0 0 31. Chapter 31 3687 0 0 32. Other Worlds, Other Minds (Int Part 6) 7031 0 0 33. Chapter 33 2703 0 0 34. Chapter 34 2734 0 0 35. Chapter 35 3454 0 0 36. Chapter 36 3502 0 0 37. Chapter 37 2836 0 0 38. Sparks (Intermission Part Seven) 3351 0 0 39. Chapter 39 3664 0 0 40. Chapter 40 4064 0 0 41. Chapter 41 4611 0 0 42. Chapter 42 3675 0 0 43. Chapter 43 3720 0 0 44. Alekhine (Intermission Part Eight) 1118 0 0 45. Chapter 45 6405 0 0 46. Chapter 46 6106 0 0 47. Chapter 47 4601 0 0 48. Chapter 48 4531 0 0 49. Chapter 49 3483 0 0 50. Coming Storm (Intermission Part Nine) 7177 0 0 51. Chapter 51 4480 0 0 52. Chapter 52 5763 0 0 53. Chapter 53 3722 0 0 54. Chapter 54 4708 0 0 55. Chapter 55 5271 0 0 56. Chapter 56 5280 0 0 57. Sounding Thunder (Intermission Part Ten) 2812 0 0 58. Chapter 58 9001 0 0 59. Chapter 59 4492 0 0 60. Chapter 60 5379 0 0 61. Chapter 61 9941 0 0 62. Chapter 62 8222 0 0 63. Chapter 63 4430 0 0 64. Chapter 64 4766 0 0 65. Chapter 65 7008 0 0 66. Chapter 66 5769 0 0 67. Act Two Epilogue 2816 0 0 68. The Months Between 9232 0 0 69. Act Three Prologue 96 0 0 70. Chapter 70 5300 0 0 71. Chapter 71 5013 0 0 72. Chapter 72 4580 0 0 73. Chapter 73 5123 0 0 74. Chapter 74 3585 0 0 75. Chapter 75 3963 0 0 76. Chapter 76 4747 0 0 77. Chapter 77 3671 0 0 78. Chapter 78 2347 0 0 79. Chapter 79 5030 0 0 80. Chapter 80 3135 0 0 81. Chapter 81 4371 0 0 82. Arbitrium (Intermission Part Twelve) 3793 0 0 83. Chapter 83 3219 0 0 84. Chapter 84 2189 0 0 85. Chapter 85 2827 0 0