AN: Moi everybody! Peruna here. Hope you're all doing as swell as I am. And I certainly am doing well right now.
Did you know that someone actually made fanart for this fanfiction?! How cool is that?! Honest to god, that is probably the proudest I've ever been for a thing I have created. I love art and I love it when friends of mine make art for me as a gift, like the cover for this fanfiction which my good friend coooooookie77 drew for me. But to have a fan, a complete stranger but for our common interest in fanfiction, dedicate hours of their time and skill in order to celebrate my fanfiction? That's crazy and I am utterly baffled and honoured by it. So, please, everybody check out FaithfulMarionette's rendition of Hikari showing off her little rat friend Haruma-kun (from chapter six) over on deviant art!
The link is deviantart(dot)com (slash) faithfulmarionette/art/Young-Hikari-801675827
I love this picture of Hikari! It's my main bragging point right now and gives me endless amounts of joy. Just. Thank you FaithfulMarionette. Sincerely.
And thank everybody else who left a comment or who sent me a PM. It's wonderful to read of your thoughts and opinions, to see anybody invested enough to type a few words or even to leave several paragraphs of ranting. I enjoy that and if I feel especially down, I sometimes just scroll through and read 'em all again.Thank you all. Every reader, every reviewer, everyone who recommended this fanfiction. I've even seen one or two recommendations pop up on Reddit! That's crazy! Thank you for placing any amount of value in my work big enough to share it someone else. It does mean a lot to me.
So, you might be asking yourselves: Why on earth are they waffling on and on about being grateful? Which is a legitimate question, I will answer now. Not beating around the bush, heading straight to the point, right abouuut ... now.
First of all, I say that because it's true. I'm immensely grateful for all the love and, to be honest, attention you gave me in a time when I was certain I deserved neither of those things. And I still struggle with that, but I am in a much better place now, a much better state of mind.
And because of that, I have to take a break from this fanfiction. It's on Hiatus, oficially now. I know it's frustrating to all engaged readers, but I promise it's not the end. Before I share what I've already written for the next chapter, let me explain the reason for putting it on Hiatus.
Lizard Brain started as a mad desire to escape, to divorce myself from a situation I felt was suffocating me. After only reading Self-Insert fanfictions, which allowed me this escape, wasn't distracting enough anymore, I had to write one just to hold out longer. So I started and I couldn't stop for weeks, dedicating immense amounts of time to writing. Those very early readers might remember that as the time when I put out seven chapters in one month.
But it's more than just an escape. Lizard Brain started as an expression of the utter frustration, aimlessness and, especially, staggering self-hatred I felt. You see, I write my stories, and Lizard Brain in particular, by immersing myself in the character and the situation they are in. Sure, I plan most scenes at least roughly in advance, but the actual process is me diving right into it. You see how this works great for self-flagellation?
It helped me to be able to express my feelings. But it also helped a lot that people were actually caring and sympathetic to my characters. Liking and anticipating something that I made. Having a trait, a skill, that has to be worth something if so many people enjoy it.
So, yes, thank you all for all the good you've done to my ego. Thank you for the care you've shown in your reviews, especially when I shared my personal problems in the Author's Notes. I would love to continue writing Lizard Brain just because y'all seem to enjoy it so much.
But right now, with what I have planned for this next chapter, I just can't bring myself in the mood. Hikari and Benjiro and Kakashi and the rats and the summons have grown close to me and right now, I just can't pull off the diabolical laughter while I throw the next stone into their path. I have a lot planned, it's not for a lack of imagination or interest that I put this project on hold.
I just want to enjoy my current satisfaction and contentness before I can really get into writing something mean and letting my characters suffer like that.
Maybe that makes me a bad author, but that's how it is right now. I appreciate my own works, like to reread the stuff I put out, but there is something much more intense about writing a scene than reading it and I can't handle that right now.
Like I said, I love y'all, I love that you enjoy this fanfiction, I'd love to continue writing it, but every time I sit down to do this next chapter I just can't. Can't do it. I'll continue to write, because it is fun and I love to do it, always have. I'll just write something that isn't as heavy as Lizard Brain is.
For everyone that can't part with Hikari, I recommend the fan-fanfiction False Ebony, in which she is reborn after everything I've planned for Lizard Brain has went down. No need to say that there'll be massive endgame spoilers on that, though more of likes of how an epilogue would spoil the achievements of a character to those who haven't read the story.
Anyway, I do actually have a few thousand words written for the next chapter and I enjoy them quite a lot, so I felt it would be appropriate to share them before the break even if it means pausing the story on a rather annoying cliffhanger that sets up the next scene. So be warned.
And I'm sorry. To disappoint you. Hiatus is probably the most universally hated word on this site, right after "Discontinued". But I hope y'all won't be too cross with me for it.
I do not own Naruto.
Carefully I creep down the tree trunk, all four limbs stuck to the annoyingly smooth bark and head first I descend. In keeping my body close to the wood, I avoid the admittedly well hidden net of hair-fine wire triggers that criss-cross through the trees as if an especially large spider had decided to set up shop in this stretch of forest. There is no conceivable way I can move forward on the branches, so I decided to move along the forest floor instead of back-tracking and taking a detour to avoid this headache. How they could manage patrolling this area I have no idea, but coming through from this side is sure proving difficult to traverse these woods. More than likely that's the whole point of the setup, given that this is supposed to be a border between two unalligned nations.
Sure, Hot Springs has disbanded their Hidden Village some years back and with the incident that followed that announcement there weren't many of their shinobi left, but those that survived were snatched up by Kumo before Konoha could say "wait a minute".
"The team on the other side of the border has been there as long as we have. Even with their new allegiance, you'll be fine. They send their newbies over all the time."
Yeah right, I scoff and slide around the trunk to avoid yet another tricky wire placement. I'm not sure what will happen when they ineviteably catch me but my superior officer sent me out on an infiltration mission and there's nothing I can do but try my best. Koji-taichou was certain that I won't be in danger once I get caught, treating it as just another training exercise, but the thought of being at the mercy of Kumo nin makes me uneasy.
"And even if something happens, you can just send one of your companions back and we'll come fetch you."
Repeating the words in my head until my nerves settle back a bit, I make the awkward transition from the vertical tree trunk to the horizontal forest floor, silently thanking Gai for all those body control exercises he made me go through.
"We'll come fetch you."
He said it with an offhand certainty, like it was the obvious reaction to me messing up. I'm not sure how to feel about it, but it does help against the panic that wants to creep through my limbs each time the severity of the situation hits me. I'm in enemy territory. I'm in no-man's land. The connotation my mind keeps coming back to, of the death strip along the Berlin wall with auto-firing mounted guns, is not appreciated. Neither is the one that pops up whenever I forcibly shove that one away. Now is not the time to think on the Korean-Korean border either. Heavens, I'm going to die here.
"We'll come fetch you."
Konoha is supposed to be socially oriented. I haven't seen much of it, given how I didn't make the cut for a standard Genin team under a Jounin-sensei, but maybe this is what it's supposed to be. Having support at your back even when out alone.
Shaking my head of the thought, I halt and carefully survey my surroundings. I have a poor vantage point, given how my stomach is almost touching the ground in my spider-crawl, but it's enough to crane my neck this way and that to make sure I haven't been spotted yet. With deep breaths I take in the moist earthy smell of the air so close to the ground, only hints of odor giving away the rodents scurrying along under the web of wires. The sounds of wind gently rustling the tree-tops. This side of the border doesn't cater to the local wildlife, so there are no animals to listen for.
When I look ahead once again, I can just barely make out Nipsu's form against the dim of night, his sandy brown fur largely covered by the dark-blue vest I made for him.
"They have to have a mark of allegience when you plan to use them in the field. Otherwise your comrades might hurt them in the heat of battle."
It figures that neither Koji-taichou nor Haru or Saori had a problem with my supersized rat pets. They accepted the animal companions without the blink of an eye, merely lecturing me on the proper attire of nin-animals.
"Inuzuka dogs don't need it, it's more than obvious who they belong to."
Well, now Myy and Nipsu both sport little navy-blue vests with the Konoha leaf symbol embroidered on the back with grey thread. I took the fabric from one of my beat-up Uchiha-sourced shirts, figuring that they wouldn't mind the rough cut and worn state of the meterial.
Carefully reaching my hand forward, I let Nipsu brush against it affectionately. Scratching under the collar of his outfit and listening to his quiet sqeaking -and I will have to discourage that habit when on covert missions- I get a full view of the second reason the vests are a good idea. Where in one moment there is nothing, in the next a haze of dark colours not quite matching the surroundings is moving up my arm and towards my shoulder. I barely feel the brush of rough and foreign skin against my own soft throat. The lizard settles in the back of my neck, where my spiky tresses hide it.
"We found a way out. Might be a bit tight."
"Show me anyway." My voice is barely even a whisper in response to the near silent report delivered right to my ear. A moment later the shadowy blob is moving down my arm again to settle on my rat's back. Instantly the genjustu pulls on the solid colour and hides the summon perfectly. Red Spy and Blue Spy, or Reddo and Buruu as they've taken to call themselves, had struggled to adequately blend into the shifting motions of fur, but cloth gives them a better background to disappear from sight completely.
We've also tried if they could extend their genjutsu over the rats, but the results were less than satisfactory so I trained Myy and Nipsu to be conventionally stealthy. Rats are quite adaptable animals, claiming so very many environments for themselves, and the siblings have sure proven that to be truth. They sneak along the forest floor just as surely and silently as they do dirt roads and back alleys. No sound from displaced leafs or fabric against bark gives Nipsu away as he leads me in a winding path through the tricky wires. Unfortunately I make a little more noise, but nobody is around to hear it, so I should be in the clear.
In the next however many minutes, possibly half an hour, maybe even longer than that, I can spot Myy in my periphery just once. She and Reddo are supposed to keep watch and search for alternative routes forwards and backwards alike. Their time to shine comes when Nipsu leads me straight into a tight web of wires that I have absolutely no chance of getting through. The rat, however, can manage and slips into the slender spaces between the triggers with little problem.
"Nipsu, you idiot!" I hiss, glaring at the oversized rodent when he turns around, "There's no way I can fit through those!"
The rat squeaks, almost offended and returns through the trap as easily as before. Almost as if showing off how simple a task it is.
"Yeah, you dumbass, easy for you to do," I flick his forehead, "but I'm about ten times bigger than you, genius!"
"I thought it would fit," a tiny voice defends and I can see Buruu's iridiscent blue eyes staring up at me from Nipsu's back.
"Well, you'll have to work on your spacial awareness then!"
"I said it might me a tight-"
"Quit arguing!" My hissed command cuts through his excuse and he obligingly remains silent. Scanning the area around me, I notice that beyond the web before me, there seem to be no more wires spanning the distance between the trees. One last hurdle, it seems, before I can move a bit more freely again. There is no indication that the enemy patrol has spotted or heard me snap at my partners-in-state-sanctioned-crime.
"Alright," I decide, "You scout out ahead, keep an eye on what's next and possible routes to take. I'll figure out how to get around this thing with Myy and Reddo. Go!"
Without another protest, Nipsu turns and slinks away, Buruu's eyes disappearing into nothingness once again. While I wait for Myy to show up again, I slowly maneuvre my way out of the tight cluster of wire triggers and halfway up a tree trunk to survey the area. I can't move any further because this tree, like many others, houses an array of sealing tags hidden under thin strips of bark.
I have no idea what they do, if they are explosive tags or the klaxons that are used on the Fire side of the border, but all of them are connected to at least one wire trigger. Obviously not all the wires that span the trees are connected to tags, some are sharpened, others are merely the blunt, durable kind, but it's not clear which ones are and which aren't, which is why I avoid all of them on principle.
Some time later, after Myy has found and approached me again and Reddo has given his report, I'm following the rat down the tree and, curiously, up another. It seems Myy has been a little more creative, taking a page from my book and moving on the underside of a thick branch she guides me toward a small breach in the thicket of traps. The tree bough bends under my weight the further I get, but soon I can harmlessly drop from it straight to the ground.
"Good job, you two," I praise the preening duo, both of them snuggling up against my hand. Giving an affectionate pat, I send them off again. Then get my bearings and continue on.
"Well, well, well, look who we have here." The voice is deep and raspy, echoing through the forest and reverberating in my very bones like it's coming from the deepest depths of hell. Everything feels wrong, sludge pumping through my veins. My head feels swollen, throbbing with the beat of my heart. It's not painful exactly, more like I have a very bad cold.
Chakra flares. Out. Out! And the illusion dispells. Breathing hard, frantically look about. Sunrise, there, almost there. Then I can feel it settle over me again, dimming the world, sending mixed signals. "Ooh, a prodigy, huh?"
Flaring my chakra again, this time it's easier. Shake off the slick foreign chakra, disrupt the technique. See clearly again. Look around. Spot beady black eyes, hesitant approach. "Run, you fools!" My voice breaks, my throat dry. There is some kind of thought, a reference, a movie, from Before, but before I can finish it, the oily film is back, slipping through my skin, into my head.
"Kai!" My chakra rears once again, pulsing out of me with a crackle of displaced energy. Wisps of smoke hang in the air. The dim twilight, the shadows of the trees, the glare of the rising sun through the treetops, I can't see who is hiding in the slowly receding darkness.
"Feisty," echoes the voice, still menacing, still omnipresent, but I can't feel the intrusion of the hostile's chakra, can't feel the sickness spreading through my body, even though the shadows deepen once again and ominous clouds pull together to hide the sunshine. Twisting around, I try to locate the source, or even any flaw in the illusion. Because it has to be an illusion, genjutsu. Someone is hiding under the cover of the technique, but where?
"But it seems you don't have much experience in the field, do you?" A chuckle, grating my ears. There is the foul chakra again, encroaching on my space. I flare my chakra and it pulls back, the sky lightening for a moment before becoming gloomy once more.
It's an area of effect genjutsu! How do I disable an area of effect genjutsu?
"That's why you're here, right? To gain experience. Konoha nin are too trusting," the voice laughs, malicious intent creeping into the heavy air. Not killing intent, not yet, but it- it-
The woman standing over me, face twisted with wrath. Her hand reaches down, grabs, painfully pulls me toward the next slap.
Do you try to make me angry?! I try to help you and this is how you treat that goodwill?!"
"kai," I wheeze, "KAI!" My chakra bursts out of me, the desperate attempt to dispel the illusion ripping through my body and sending searing pain through my shredded, twisted, coils.
The cloud of chakra smoke is forcefully propelled away from my body. It leaves visible breaches in the genjutsu around me. In an instant I have a kunai in each hand, running headfirst into the tattered remains of the illusion. As soon as I can feel its touch upon my skin, I flare my chakra again, more controlled this time. That proves too much for the technique and it falls apart.
Right in front of me is the hostile, already mid-swing with his naginata. Just barely, I manage to block the blade with my own, moving forward into the shinobi's space, aiming to stick my kunai into his stomach. The sharpened tip is barely two inches from his flak jacket, when my head is jerked backward. My forehead explodes in dizzying pain and my vision blurs for a mere moment, but in that time, the man has disarmed and detained me on the ground. Still reeling, I struggle in vain against him. Within a minute, I'm trussed up and thrown over a shoulder.
"Let's see how good Konoha's rookies are."
"Let's ask again: What are the patrol schedules for your post?"
"I don't know."
"Wrong answer," he sings, clearly enjoying himself as he adds another cut to my forearm. Blood spills and it hurts, but that's it. Nothing worse than that. Half a dozen cuts or so, that's barely worth a mention. He'll have to try harder than that. And it seems he has come to a similar conclusion.
"Well, well, well, all tough, are you?" His voice is much higher and more irritating than frightening without his genjutsu. "Let's try something else."
My world is spinning out of control, dizzying spirals, gravity is on the fritz, air is optional, I'm suffocating! I'm gonna die!
With the flare of chakra, the illusion breaks, but it's not reality that emerges. It hasn't been reality for the last twenty times I did it.
The darkness stinks of blood, the coppery scent heavy in the air, heavy on my tongue when I gasp for breath. Static fizzles far off behind me, like a tv left on after the end of broadcast, in another room. The stench is suffocating. I want to move, but my muscles are all locked up. My chest feels tight, there's no escape! I'm completely helpless!
Nothing happens. No chakra of mine flares. I have no control of my chakra! I can't- I can't-
There are several ways to break a genjutsu. Flaring one's chakra manually is one of them. Pain is another. Pain leads to the body rejecting that which does not belong and that is the death of most techniques. Physical pain will pull one from the recesses of one's mind in order to deal with the immediate threat to life and limb.
Sudden clarity, the sunshine hurts my wide-open eyes, murmurs in the background replace the static, everything hurts. Before me sits the hostile, the enemy shinobi, intently focused on me. I surge forward, smash my forehead into his nose. It doesn't break, him having realized my lucidity half a heartbeat after I moved and pulling back. Still I manage to hit him, his nose gushing blood in a most satisfactory manner.
I grin and pull my chakra back into its proper routes, having regained the control necessary for that exercise.
"Not bad," my interrogator praises, wiping some of the blood from his face. He looks over my shoulder and I realize that the murmur of voices has stopped.
"She got you?" a voice behind me asks in disbelief. Another laughs, a surprisingly amiable sound. "I can't believe the kid tagged you!" it guffaws.
"Yeah, well," the man in front of me harrumphs and wipes at his face again. "Let's just call it a day, unless one of you guys want a go?"
"Nah, I'm good. Also, one of the babies said that the Konoha guys are on the move, so there's no time anyway."
Relief crashes through me and I can't help but slump a little against the chair I'm bound to. A second later I stiffen up again when a hand pats my head.
"You did well, kid."
I have no idea what to reply to that, so I remain silent, waiting for the rescue party.
"I thought you were on good terms with the other border outpost?"
Koji-taichou looks over his shoulder at me. Then he shrugs. "Sure, we are. Or did you get hurt?"
Furrowing my brow, I study his back as he leads the patrol back to the outpost. "Yes, I did. They used torture in their interrogation."
He merely snorts. "Did you get seriously hurt? Do we have to send you back to see a medic?"
"No!" I hastily refuse, not wanting to fail the mission, "I'll be fine."
"See? No harm done. Of course they roughed you up a bit, we do that with the rookies they send us as well. See what they can take before they cry for mercy." He looks back at me again, giving a nod of approval. "From what I heard you didn't give an inch."
I merely shrug in reply. I guess that makes sense with the little cuts and all the illusions...
"What's that about genjutsu I hear, though? You didn't tell me you had an affinity for them."
"I don't. At least as far as I know..." He raises a brow, waits for me to continue. "I'm just good at feeling other people's chakra when it enters my body."
"So you're chakra sensitive?" Now it's my turn to shrug. "Can you feel other people's chakra around you? When it doesn't touch you?"
"But you can feel it when it touches or enters your body."
"Is that why you ran away from the hospital when you broke your leg?"
When you broke my leg, you mean. Uncomfortable, I pull my shoulders up towards my ears. "Maybe. It was a little unnerving."
The immense red gates of Konoha's main entrance tower above, almost as high as the wall encircling the village and just as defensible. Moving past the row of civilians seeking entrance to the hidden village, we pass under the arch of the gateway and approach the gate-guard's desk which is at the front of the cue of people.
Two chuunin sit there, one wearing his hitai-ate as a bandana and with one eye covered by his bangs, the other wearing a single bandage over his face as if to hide a disfigurement and with black hair fainty resembling a sea urchin with how spiky it is. It's the second one that waves us over, his collegue busy with sorting through a merchant's paperwork.
Haruka-san, the kunoichi running the mission to collect reports from the border patrols along the Fire-Hot Springs border and the one to pick me up as arranged by Koji-taichou, silently hands over her mission scroll. The chuunin studies it almost boredly, before handing it back.
"Same as always, though maybe your little rookie should also write a report," the man grins, "Good practise and all that."
Haruka-san snorts, "Sure, practise. The suggestion has nothing to do with you wanting to get back at me, I'm sure."
With a gasp, the guy tries to look offended, which is somewhat ruined by his poor attempt at hiding a grin. "What?! By making you read a Genin's first sloppy mission report about an uneventful and boring mission? I would never." He turns to me and winks, "No offense."
"Uh, sure", I offer intelligently, not certain whether or not I should feel offended at all. Haruka is merely rolling her eyes at the guy when I glance over at her.
"Let's go. I could use a good night's rest", the kunoichi declares, moving further down the main road and into the village. Hastily, I follow.
"Should I actually write a report?"
She shrugs. "If you want to. Uneventful missions usually only require the leader to give a report, but it might be better if you turned one in. To get the mission on your record and all that." With that she waves me away, informing me that I can turn in any mission report at the general mission desk.
Somewhat uncertainly I trail to a stop at the side of the road, next to a closed pub. I look around. People are walking, going after their usual morning activities, not many are milling around. And why would they? The only ones not moving are the civilians in the cue. At the guard post, the same merchant is waiting for his paperwork to be approved so that he's allowed in. His ox-drawn cart is a little off to the side, another pair of shinobi searching it thoroughly for contraband.
Leaning against the wall, I decide to observe for a little bit. It's interesting how the merchant seems to flicker between annoyance at being held up and cowering whenever the gate guard with the bandana says something to him.
So he's that afraid of shinobi? Is he hiding something or is it just a natural predisposition against people that will kill you in a heartbeat?
On second thought, it's probably the latter. I'd expect it to always be the latter for any civilian with an ounce of common sense. I'm not even sure if I could stand being around hardened murderers if I were a civilian myself. Maybe it's a good thing I became a kunoichi then. At least I can defend myself from a threat.
A flicker at the side of the gate catches my attention. For a mere moment, I can spot a nondescript man just inside the gate. He gives a short series of hand signs that I can't identify, before vanishing into thin air again. Shortly thereafter, the merchant is allowed to retrieve his cart and head into the village proper.
Anbu. The covert operations within an army of ninja. Scary people, so scary that most civilians barely see them as shinobi, even less as human beings. They are the monsters in the night, they are the ghosts that will find and murder you when you step out of line. Not entirely untrue, but most shinobi look at them with a kind of fearful awe. At least most in the Genin Corps. They represent the highest skill, the most refined weapon the Hidden Village has to offer. None other than the great heroes stand above them, the Yellow Flash, the Sannin, the Hokage.
I sometimes wonder what Anbu is actually like. As far as I know, they take the dirty, underhanded missions that the Village isn't supposed to be associated with. But they are also the protectors of the village. Along with the Chuunin patrols, it's the Anbu that make sure nobody gets into the walls that isn't allowed.
Case in point being the one that stopped Haruka and me in the dimn twilight hours of the morning, long before we were to arrive at the gate. The white-masked shinobi had checked our identification, scrutinized Myy and Nipsu and Reddo and Buruu with a frightening intensity, initiated more than one security protocol in an attempt to trip us up, make us stumble and reveal ourselves to be enemy nin so that they could kill us and be done with it.
It had been terrifying, without the need for killing intent or genjutsu, just the uncertainty of the situation setting nerves on edge. Even Haruka, who no doubt went through this kind of treatment often enough, couldn't hide her discomfort. But nothing further had happened. The Anbu operative had simply vanished into thin air again with no sign of approval other than the fact that we were still alive.
A shudder works its way up my spine and I turn away from the gate, deciding to head to the alley before doing anything else. I need to check up on my little pet project, don't I? Who knows what they did without Myy and Nipsu there to keep them in line. Or me, for that matter, but I have the feeling that my two little rascals had more control over the other rats than I before I left.
Time to find out.