Disclaimer : Naruto and all related characters belong to Masashi Kishimoto, I just play in his sandbox.
Author's Note : I should be working on RR, yet for some reason I can't. So I give this instead, with the added caveat that I am alive and well and still hammering my head against that particular bout of writer's block. Only here, AO3 is being... strangely retarded right now.
No, I loathe social media and therefore don't have much you all can contact me through. I also abhor phone calls and sometimes even warily eye text messages… so yeah.
This is… more or less a character study, of how and what made the initial/first generation of shinobi in the hidden villages so… hard. Or maybe ruthless. Uncompromising. Being said, this is also the growing years of the character I've selected to give that impression for your enjoyment. It's not truly difficult for her yet, as Tera's mostly underestimated and working around the expectations most of this age have for quietly demure women. I've also been told it's fairly confusing, and I apologize as the parts that will make that clear were pushed back for the next third of the story.
This is also a writing exercise, I'm trying to do this in three parts of 50,000 words only. I'm already two hundred words in debt to the next part…
The first part, and the next two, will have all chapters posted within minutes of each other. There are fifteen chapters in Part One.
Seikanji Terazawa (...my name is Erin Woods) only vaguely realized something being a small measure off at first.
First of all, her name wasn't Terazawa… or it hadn't been, until all those around her used that name with the occasional variation with cutesy little –chan tacked on to the end.
Then there was the whole being looked down upon issue. She was fully grown, thank you.
…or had been, the last time she took stock of herself.
The people (family? They all looked alike… sort of) she was with right now were an isolated clannish-people, mainly. Being tasked to follow one into 'town' just removed her from the compound they occupied before the sun even rose.
There was a startling lack of mirrors or reflective chrome around which also contributed to that nagging sensation of nothing being real. The glimpses caught in dark lacquered paint or the occasional puddle of mysterious liquids on the worn track road they eventually reached revealed (not) familiar features of impressive murky-ness.
Aside the strange-familiar name, the apparent giants, her very clothing that she was dressed in every day by another of those giants that insisted on chopping up her apparent name every time she used it, the fact murder or training to commit homicide was either a pastime or a way of life…
…oh, wait. No, that was what was off.
But if it was a dream, then what did it really matter?
Terazawa (temple noise? really?) blinked bemusedly and suddenly slid to the side in a not-possible manner to evade the sharp edge of something that glinted just within her field of view, striking out in return with the bladed edges of her small hand fans to remove the hand of the man attacking her. It was more instinct than deliberate, something her mind/body followed along because she had spent years (never?) being drilled in the movements.
The coppery, musty, stinking blood that splattered across her face was startling in how burning hot it was.
Her fan wasn't long enough to entirely remove the hand, all she scored was a deep wound on the gnarled wrist nearly thrust in her face. In spite of the injury her attacker wrenched his blade downward to at least strike her face, through pure muscle or desperation from the ugly sneer she was given, but she used her smaller stature to dive underneath the man's blade and snapped her fan (weapon, was that why it had red silk?) closed in order to drive it blade first into the back of his thigh.
Ripping open the femoral artery and dousing herself in even more stinking hot blood, forcing the man to pitch forward from both the blood loss and the severed muscles while trying to keep up with her movements.
This time the blood splattered onto the back of her neck, but she refrained from pulling a face at the feel of the viscous liquid seeping down the back of her odd robe. Two seconds later and the scruffy man bled out too much to be of any further threat, but she still pulled a blade (what?) from the sheath buckled to her bicep to drive into his heart as she had (not!) been drilled to do.
While she had been so distracted, the woman she had been accompanying had strangled one much more fit attacker and effortlessly loped the head off another slightly older desperate-looking type with heavier versions of the weaponized fans than she had. Sinuously, as if the rigid bones of the human body didn't mean anything in the face of her goals.
"Tera-chan," murmured the (cool water scented breezes, why she thought of that in reference to her was… not… …why?) woman with very interesting eye makeup simply, gazing at her levelly from those oddly copper colored eyes set in black, "what a mess you made. Perhaps lessons on evading the consequences of you actions is required?"
If anything, the giant-woman sounded amused as she gathered up the spilled shopping from the dirt lane they were attacked traveling down. A few dark earthenware jars had fallen to the ground, cushioned by a basked she (didn't) sort-of recalled making for the woman in remembrance for something (a death? No… a birth of death?). As if the reeking blood the other was now drenched in was nothing more than easily cleaned ink splatters, and that murder on the outer reaches of this little hovel of a village was nothing to be concerned over.
Terazawa blinked slowly back at the woman, fruitlessly trying to recall why her thoughts seemed a bit off as well as whatever this dream-thing was.
There was something disquiet building up in her stomach, a knot of unease, as her mind tried to work through the fog of whatever was wrong with her yet found nothing erroneous to correct so the sensation wasn't able to take root and become more than a absent concern. She knew (did know, should know?) the other, and yet didn't. Murdering another should prove alarming (yet was not somehow).
Not everything was adding up, the offset distance between a fully grown woman and herself (who should be) proved only one such stumbling block to finally making a conclusion.
Whatever it was, it was not yet alarming enough to make Terazawa unwilling to go along with whatever was going on. She might not understand at the moment, but she would.
Perhaps she'd wake up, back in a cramped apartment with her best friend, and wonder over the purpose of this mad dream with Becky over a pitifully tiny tub of ice cream. Even if that really wasn't an indulgence they could afford for something as vaguely terrifying as a nightmare. It would be unfortunate to not see where this demented creation of her mind was leading to, surely it had an ending, but all dreams came to an end eventually via the waking world.
It didn't stop there.
Step by step, the longer things stretched on, the less 'dream-hazy' things got. Trotting along at the heel of the same-other, the one that called her by a (not) familiar name and dressed her (when?) up in soft brown silks with a band of black to cinch things closed, gave her time to… process.
Lucidity was… interesting. She hadn't realized she was capable of lucid dreaming.
It was neat, kind of.
She could almost feel the heat beat down on her dark (wait… I was ginger) head, a tickle-itch of sweat irritating the blood-stiff silks that stuck to her neck (…when was I supposed to wake up? Maybe I'm sleeping in…), and (when was the last time I was in the countryside?) a rather refreshing breeze scented with dry earth and warm loam stirring up the papery blades of grass the other was wading through. There was a nice raspy sound to the wind to go with the occasional flap of cloth as it tugged clothing and hair playfully, as it's fingers stirred up and let lie the blades of grass in patterns no human could hide within, punctuated through with bird calls and the odd critter forging their own paths around them.
This wasn't the way they came, in the early hours of the false dawn. Which was obvious, really… why allow someone to ambush them if they had been watched since stepping into town?
Stealthily, a small short blade was drawn out of the sheath on her upper arms (was this a dress? I hate dresses) and her fingertip was pricked with the sharp point.
"…just checking." The sharp scent of fresh blood, even when she had the reek of long-dried on her clothing, was slight. Unnoticeable. She could barely pick it up on the wind buffeting her, and it hadn't yet drifted to the taller woman even accounting for the breeze's slight strength.
Yet somehow the other knew she harmed herself anyways.
Sensor whispered part of her mind, with another impression of cool pools on a mid-summer day cut through with a stiff breeze that the other woman felt like to her own senses. Impossible insisted another half, the more uncertain half of herself when disproven with that sixth sense she (somehow) knew.
The disharmony commanded a large part of her attention, even as another half kept a sharp eye out for yet more impossible things. Tracking the descent of the sun, listening to the pattern of the grass humming against itself, attributing the bird calls to their actions (wood grouse warning of a fox, sparrows calling territory, a faint woodpecker hammering in the distance near home) and the back of her 'guide'.
There was definitely something wrong. Terazawa's (wooden shoes? Why was she wearing… geta?) steps became less sure, the gap between her and the other widened enough that the woman paused and turned around, as the inconstancies finally started registering.
Genjutsu half of her screamed, with the feeling of this-is-not-right sharply snapping in place like a rubber band around her heart and mind.
Even through the budding panic, the twisting terror of nothing being right, half her attention remained on the world around her and yet the more she searched herself for what was obviously (not) wrong. Something (long lessons on why by a majestic willow tree) insisted that she keep aware, keep an eye open and warily watch for an ambush the illusionary sensation was for.
The other half of herself, which recalled the assignments she had procrastinated from finishing (English Literature was boring) and knew she would be late for her shift (waitress at IHOP, the best she could get right now), just simply recoiled from everything. Herself, not-right as it was, her mind, the ingrained suspicions she didn't recall ever having, the blood she was soaked in.
A palm slapped against her bare forehead, a truly nauseating spike of that liquid-breezy burning coolness spiking through her mind then trickling down her spine, and thin but strong arms wrapped around her as the world spun dizzily.
Terazawa's world refused to settle, rebelled against any sense of balance and muddying her sense of up from down. Which nicely matched the gut-wrenching panic of WHAT-THE-FUCK-IS-GOING-ON in her head.
The panic was stupid, training (that she never got yet, had memories of) had her breathing under control before any alarm could twist her features. Her aching head was ignored, attention rooting in on the dry grasslands they both were leaving behind in an alarming amount of haste from over (mother's?) the other woman's shoulder.
Fruitlessly, childishly (but… she was a-), insanely, ignoring the lack of a chest which would mean-
She hiccupped, near-silently, as that which once was her (former-past) life seemed to start drifting from her grasp again. (Again would mean she forgot once before- no. No. She'd wake up in a few moments, laugh a little at the weird nightmare with her roommate, then go to school to be chewed out for not doing her homework.)
Terazawa wasn't waking up. More specifically, she wasn't waking up from the dream-nightmare of being a midget murderess far from what she had once known.
In the courtyard of the (their, the Sekanji clan's) home was a truly impressive willow tree half bent over a rock-edged shallow pool of water. Which wasn't natural, Seikanji Katsutarō had made the water feature and planted the tree to accommodate Shimako's shinobi family while they visited for allowing her to marry into another through manipulating earth and then water chakra to demonstrate his competency.
Which… no. Nope. Not doing this.
Shimako (not-mother/giant-woman-other) was a severe beauty with razor sharp wire coiled in both kimono sleeves, sharp copper eyes set in a lightly tanned and angular face. Long, inky black hair (a whisper of 'you can grow out your own once you've proven you can overcome that obstacle' floating through her mind) that fell to the small of her back slicked down with an oily (weak, contact-based, made from a tincture of snakeroot) poison grown in the garden their incredibly backwater compound was built around.
Her (not) memories insisted the woman was originally from the Land of Rivers. As such, the dry plains of Grass where the Sekanji Clan resided, Kusa no Kuni, irritated her sensibilities with how parched it could be in summer. Vaguely, foggily, she could sort of (not) recall being told her visiting family had been worse in that respect.
Luckily, with where the group of wooden huts with sliding rice-paper clad walls was built, they had a natural source of underground water nearby. As they were in the north corner of Grass right next to Earth and Waterfall Country, they had a tiny touch of mountains against one edge of their land with a diverted stream nearby coming from somewhere that merely drained into the rivers that fed the lush Land of Fire to their southeast. There was still the razor-blade grass everywhere, stretching as far as the eye could see if you set your gaze south and west, and the odd tree here or there wasn't too odd as long as they were old enough or strands of wild bamboo.
She didn't have to draw the water from the well set smack dab in the middle of the compound (for a bath?) this time, her guide (not-mother) had another of the pale-skinned Sekanji slightly older than her do it as the concern of what genjutsu she was under meant she was contained under (her supposed father's) Katsutarō's eye instead.
Crusty, blood-splattered yukata and all.
"She became suspicious of it half-way back," offered Shimako demurely to her husband, sounding proud of her for some bewildering reason, as they sat side by side inspecting the (WHY?) girl's blood splattered appearance, "we were attacked, as you had suspected."
The half-suspected, half-remembered detail of eye makeup had proven right in time. The woman had caked some kind of matte black gloss around her eyes, only to remove it upon reaching this semi-decent hovel in a feudal Asian village using some kind of pre-treated cloth tucked away in her sleeves. Mark-free, she rang less of a bell in Terazawa's mind… at least the part not still wondering what the ever loving, fresh hell was going on.
"…Uchihas then. Could be a supply raid in the wings." Concluded the paper-pale man solidly, only to cock an eyebrow at the split-second hesitation of his wife's. "No?"
"I didn't see any of their eyes around." Admitted the woman slowly. "In town or otherwise."
"Think the rumors are true, then?"
"Which would leave who, husband? The Kuramas?"
There was a beat of oddly tense silence, before the (supposedly?) strong in battle woman lowered her striking gaze and inclined her head to the man obediently. "My apologies."
"Genjutsu of a level required to confuse her, young as she is, would not be uncommon." Dismissed the soberly dressed man shortly, turning back to his (apparent) daughter and looking extremely annoyed from how his light blue eyes highlighted with mauve-purple lines narrowed. "At least she caught it."
Terazawa stared back at him absently, half-waiting for this to end in an abrupt waking where she wasn't a flat-chested and murderous midget, before a twinge of wary unease in her (dream) half had her turning to Shimiko.
"Still remember nothing, Tera-chan?"
"A few scattered fragments." Even her voice was different, a delicate wisp of a sound pitched too childishly high for comfort. "Most of it is… hazy still."
"Yamanaka." Concluded Katsutarō sourly, a brief flicker of intense hate passing over his features almost faster than she could see.
Some unknown instinct had her tensing again, this time in concert with the other woman.
An uneasy conclusion was being drawn, if only because of historical precedents where women and girls or just anything female were less desirable (therefore scorned/killed/married off quickly) in less developed parts of the world matched with half-recalled (forgotten?) instinct.
Panic was held at bay through sheer reflex, and instead she focused on the woman who could murder two men in the space of a few seconds yet was so submissive to her husband. Who would then be, if not earning that reaction through fear, more skilled in the art of death than she was.
It was horrible to think of about two people she did not (really) know beyond this one meeting, but Terazawa would err on the side of caution before risking something she only half understood.
Instead of doing anything half-feared yet half-expected, Katsutarō smoothly yet abruptly rose from his kneeling position to storm out of the room. Banging the delicate wood and rice-paper wall/door that opened into the courtyard against the frame it was set in and nearly causing the almost-fragile seeming wood to slide shut again. There was a sliver of darkening sky visible through the new gap, meaning it was now more than six hours since she had consciously started keeping track.
...either again or for the first time, depending on how she viewed it. Terribly confusing when she couldn't even trust her own thoughts without other feelings twisting the meaning, so working out a way to ignore the twinges of unease and still survive here was her current aim.
In her (prior) experience, dreams lasted moments whereas nightmares only seemed as if they lasted hours. Having killed someone at the beginning of whatever this was supposed to be, she would gladly classify this as a nightmare.
Lucid dreaming/nightmares were new, she'd give it another day before really starting to become concerned.
(By the time she had finally been able to scrub down her skin to remove the last flaky scales of blood, and scrub the dark brown and now spotted yukata clean of the same, she had half a suspicion she wouldn't be waking up. Once her not-mother laid out their sleeping mats, after the communal dining in the courtyard as what was stewed up was served to all over a bed of rice, she had the theory that waking up would return her to her real world. Which one she really wanted warred with her sense of disbelief and the brutal logic she woke with.)