Callous.

That was the word which described her by that point in time. The word which rolled off the tongue when people went to describe her should they catch sight of her. Sakura supposed it was better than being called a foreigner or a desert dweller. Those words had been spat out with more hatred and vitriol, the eyes of others following her, waiting and watching for her to do something which would mark her out as such. Waiting for her to turn on them like the bloodthirsty sand-begotten monster she apparently was. Time had passed, opinions had changed ever so mildly as they had for a certain blonde in another time and another place, and then eventually she was seen as one of them. A small victory clawed from the jaws of misery and loneliness. She was less of an outsider than she should have rightly been, but still ostracised for her unfortunate heritage which showed in the odd tone of her skin and her facial features, angular and different from the folk there as they were. It hardly took much to notice the fact that she didn't in any way, shape, or form belong there amongst those folk. Even she herself knew that much, though she couldn't truly bring herself to care all that much. How could she when everything she had ever known and loved was dead? Her eyes narrowed at that, and she scowled as the needle skewed the fabric she had been embroidering.

A breath escaped her, low and long, and she continued with her stitching, marvelling at how fast her stitching had become after the many years of practice she had there. Years doing something other than picking up her blade or curling her hands into fists. She could still feel those instincts and skills embedded in her body as they were, forever to stay, forever to mark her as someone who had walked through a war and come out whole on the other side. Which was admittedly more than she could say for the rest of the Elemental Nations. But she didn't want to dwell on such thoughts. Her fingers kept moving, and Sakura focused the full force of her concentration on finishing the dress before her.

It was a thing made of white silks, silver threads, and little jewels which shone like stars when they caught the light. A fitting creation for the wedding dress for royalty, though it was but a prototype – an offer of a potential style. Sakura bowed her head, wondering what it would look like upon its wearer; the soon to be princess of the realm of Arnor. There wasn't a soul who did not know of the soulbound of their beloved prince. Gossip was a girl's best friend in that regards. Lady Ameth was everything a good woman aspired to be, or so the saying went. She was tall as was expected of a woman with Numenorean blood running thick in her veins, a stunning beauty with golden hair and bright blue eyes which sparkled like gemstones. Lapis Lazuli. Truly, Sakura could see why their prince Eärendur was so very taken with the one even fate had decreed him to be destined for. Love at first sight, or so the tales had went, and the ladies of the seamstress's workshop she worked alongside had all gushed about what it would be like to find their soulbound. The bearer of each of their respective soulmarks.

Most had their mark on their hand or wrist, though occasionally somewhere slightly more private which made it somewhat harder for those soulbonded couples to find themselves within their linked lifetimes. Sakura smiled wistfully at the thought of her own mark's placement. Billboard Brow. That had been a favourite name of her childhood bullies who had pointed at the soulmark displayed smack bang in the centre of her forehead and laughed. Never did she think she would miss those days, but they were long gone, along with everything else she had ever known.

Her mark was relatively simple in the scheme of things. Half of the Haruno Clan Ring and half of what appeared to be a golden rayed sun. Half of her clan symbol, and what she presumed to be half of her soulmate's clan or house – whatever they called it there. She hadn't thought much of it since her arrival there, what with the owner of which probably being dead along with the rest of her old world – her so-called fated happiness forever out of her reach. In truth, part of her was glad for it.

All she could feel was the bitterness, a terrible aftertaste in her throat which rose whenever anyone had attempted to get close to her, whether with pure motives or more nefarious ones. It hardly mattered. They would only die if they came too close. That was a fact Sakura knew better than anything, along with the bitter loneliness which came from living such a life. But it was better to be lonely than to risk feeling that terrible sensation of loss. It was better than giving another piece of her heart out to another and watching as it was inevitably torn to pieces as they died. Better the enemy she knew.

"Lothris."

The sound of her name in those lands made her stir from her work. Because of course she wasn't allowed to be called by her name 'Sakura' there. Not if she wanted to rise above her poor roots as she was expected to in order to better fit in amongst the folk of those lands. Her teeth clenched, but acceptance and a simple life there was what she craved and she ignored the stir of a familiar rage. Rage was useless when it all came down to it. Even to that day she could still remember the burning feeling of anger tinged with an agonising pain of loss as though someone had ripped her heart out and how her anger had done absolutely nothing to rectify that. It had blinded her, and she had defiled the corpses of the ones she loved. That was something simply not done, and Sakura found herself pained at the memories of those trees which had burst from blood-soaked ground all too eager to attack the one who had lain waste to her world and all too eager to ignore the scattered bodies of those she had once fought beside.

Sakura blinked placidly, ignoring the unnerved expression on the lady's face as she looked at her blankly. A creepy expression, she had heard it called behind her back many a times. One more suited to a dead-eyed doll than a human. "How can I help you, mistress?" she asked, tilting her head in a display of curiosity. Not than anyone took note of it. If anything, it made her seem that much creepier, if the emotions she could feel brushing against her chakra, the apparent heart of her so-called soul, were anything to go off.

They were like civilians in that manner, the emotions of their soul – the theorised source of chakra in her old lands – always overflowing, revealing so much about them in an instant. Shinobi didn't do such a thing. Rather they kept the feelings of their soul hidden, if only so a sensory-type enemy wouldn't be able to use such things against them. She kept hers buried deep down, stowed in a locked box made of chakra tightly compressed and curled in so it wouldn't brush against another's – like it was so tempted to do in that place. Those lands were different, from the stars to the very air surrounding herself. It was thicker, a tingle of power long forgotten on her tongue whenever she took a breath.

She didn't let herself succumb to the temptation to let her feelings out though, of letting herself bask in that whisper of power which always seemed to call to her. Nothing good had ever happened in that world or her last whenever she had done that. And Haruno Sakura always learnt from her mistakes. She would never have been allowed to become a shinobi if she wasn't capable of adaption. She had been civilian-born. She hadn't had the privileges clans did, and that fact had ever been made clear to her by the shinobi system and Ino's careless mentions of her life. But Ino was dead, and Sakura hadn't been strong enough or calm enough to stop such a thing. Sakura pushed the reminder away. She was getting better at doing just that, along with improving at ignoring the constant dislike pushed her way.

They didn't matter to her, and they never would. It was just how things were, and she was fine with that.

"Morwen has been taken ill, and it is unlikely she will recover in time," Faindis said, brown eyes boring into her green ones with a perturbed expression, brown hair falling in gentle waves, framing her heart-shaped face which was marred with a frown. "You will accompany me to the palace in her stead—"

"Surely you cannot be thinking of taking her to the palace?" Another seamstress who worked beneath the older lady cried out, chair pushed back as she rose to her feet so suddenly. "She is the scourge of Fornost Erain! A foul-tongued desert warmonger our noble city so graciously permitted to reside here… The blight on the honour of our crafthouse!"

Another lady snorted, narrowed eyes glancing between her and the other lady – a redhead she vaguely recalled to be named Anoreth. "Said blight is still a far more deft hand than you when it comes to our craft, Anoreth," Firieth said, tossing her blonde locks back behind her as she turned back to her workstation then, ignoring the subsequent outcry behind her at her words.

"Firieth is correct," Faindis said, expression promising that no arguments, no matter how persuasive, would dissuade her from changing her decision. "I will hear no arguments. The pride and status of our crafthouse depends on this." The mood in the room changed, each of them reminded that they were to be designing the bridal gown of their prince's soulbound. No mistakes would be tolerated, unless they wished to be financially ruined and never hired for another commission ever again what with a reputation in tatters. Morwen was highly skilled but ill. Sakura was the next best, and so she would go to the palace for the fitting in Morwen's stead. It was a simple thing, even if Sakura felt the stirrings of a long forgotten nervousness rise in the back of her head.

My, how long had it been since she had felt such a thing? Sakura smiled, unnoticed by her companions in the seamstress's crafthouse. Her expressions might as well have been carved from stone what with how unchanging they were. Dimly, she wondered when exactly she had become as bad at expressing emotions as her sensei had once been. A familiar ache pounded in her chest, and she turned her thoughts away from a grey-haired man with mismatched eyes, a fake smile, and a pack of dogs for company. Kakashi was dead, and she hadn't been able to stop it. She had torn his body apart in her rage, trees growing thick and strong, coated in the blood of the fallen. Sakura could still feel the splatter of blood drops on her face as they dripped down from reddened, soaked branches. She could still see the accusing look in those glazed, dead, mismatched eyes. She could still feel the way her mouth had fallen open, a howl of mournful loss and unquenchable rage escaping her lips.

She blinked, long and languid, prying herself from the memories of that time behind her, inclining her head as she did so. She was fully capable of multitasking. "As you say," she said, knowing all she would really need to do was keep her head down, keep her mouth shut, and then everything would be over and done with before she knew it. Truly, there was nothing to be scared of. Not least because she knew she was fully capable of razing the city to the ground in the blink of an eye. Not that she would ever do such a thing. She didn't want to see a scene of blood and dripping red trees ever again. "I will arrive earlier than usual tomorrow in preparation," she spoke, pushing those miserable memories away into a little box in the back of her mind.

Faindis nodded. "See that you do," she remarked. "I will tolerate nothing less."


Morning arrived bright and early, and Sakura woke up very early indeed, as she always did. Such was her routine in that place. It had been her routine even before she had woken up beneath stranger stars, but in those lands there was much to be done before she could set foot outside the door. For one, there was the dye which always needed to be touched up in her hair. Sakura wanted to blend in there, in a place where all things foreign and strange were feared and reviled. That meant her hair had to be dyed a boring black. Her eyes, green and poisonously intense as they were, were the only part of her she hadn't managed to dress up. Letting her chakra interact with that place was dangerous, because her emotions were felt throughout the land there, or so it seemed. Particularly within the trees, and they came alive at her anger. The three men who had attempted to assault her could attest to that in their gruesome deaths at the hands of nature.

Her skin was the next important thing. While she might have been pale there though not to the same extent as the locals, her skin had olive undertones and cooler colours compared to the jolly red and warm colours of the locals there. It might not have been as stark a difference as it was, had it not been for the fact that she was without blemish, skin clear and free of acne – the sort of face she had longed for as a child. A face she had only earned through becoming a shinobi, what with how chakra affected hormones, appearance, and healing rates. A face which looked entirely unnatural and out of place there. And so she had to use the mediocre artistry skills she had to make her skin look more akin to the standards of normal there.

She hardly wanted to be mistaken for one of the fae folk or so the three she had been found there first by had mistakenly classed her as, fresh-faced and pink-haired as she had been upon waking up beneath stranger stars. Beings who were clad in mystery, whispers about them being able to ensnare the mind and lure away beautiful young women and children for one nefarious purpose or another. Though that was more gossip amongst those of the lower town. Those of the upper town called them elves and praised them and their valour in days of old behind a paper-thin mask which barely concealed envy and jealousy and sometimes obsession. They visited Fornost Erain from time to time, bearing gifts of friendship for 'those of the line of Elros' which were said to be reciprocated. Not that she had ever witnessed such an event.

Sakura thought herself fortunate never to have encountered one. They weren't human, after all. Though Sakura supposed she might as well not be entirely human in the eyes of those who lingered in those lands. Still, they were strange, and Sakura didn't want to have to do anything more with all things strange and eerie. She just wanted a quiet life, even if it wasn't happy or joyful, and she was doing just that, working as a seamstress as she was. "You are to carry our work case," Faindis informed her upon arrival, handing off to her a large, hard briefcase which Sakura knew to contain the vital tools for their work within. "The footman will be aiding us with our other luggage," she continued, gesturing to the sharply-dressed man who sat at the front of the carriage next to the driver and the cases which Sakura knew contained the handpicked styles of dress which had been tirelessly put together over the last month or so. "Come along. Quickly!" Faindis ordered, and Sakura complied, ignoring the near constant irritation she felt with the people of those lands, what with how they were so very prejudiced. And how it lined every unthinking word and action.

Truthfully Sakura was glad of her anger. She wasn't a kind person, nor was she the kind of person who could bear so much hatred and still be so very cheerful. That kind of personality belonged to a boy with hair the colour of sunshine and eyes of the brightest blue sky. It didn't belong to a pink-haired woman with eyes of the poisonous green envy. Not that anyone knew of her pink locks. It didn't matter either way though. She was not Uzumaki Naruto, and she dared to not try to be.

"I expect you to be on your best behaviour," Faindis said, as though that were something she was not already on. "If you make a grievous error in front of the wrong person, then even I will not be able to save you." The brunette told her, and Sakura could only nod dully, much to the pleasure of her superior in front of her. "It would be best if you do not speak much. You are not trained in the ways of the court like Morwen is…"

"Understood," Sakura murmured quietly, receiving a sharp nod in response, even as they sat in the carriage which pulled them ever so closer to the looming structure of grey brick and mortar. "I will speak only when spoken to, and curtsey as you showed me earlier today if required."

Faindis only hummed under her breath, looking her up and down once more – as if finally seeing her. Perhaps, had she been any less jaded and any more cheerful, she might have rejoiced in being looked at appraisingly. Nobody had seen her as anything more than dirt and a waste of space in those first few months upon her arrival to that city, speaking nothing bar the language of the Elemental Nations. It was how she had been identified as a foreigner from the very beginning. Now she spoke Westron and Sindarin, the latter of which she had managed to glean off scholars in passing acquaintances. It was them who had been most receptive of her, what with the fact that some amongst their number were always so very hungry for more information. They had learnt her language and made a record of it, and had taught her the two key tongues of that land. Quenya, another language, was reserved for the court she would be having but a brush with that very day, and even then it was only used sparingly. Nothing more than an indicator of high status. And so obviously Sakura hadn't been allowed to learn such a tongue. A sigh escaped her, even as the windowless carriage pulled them closer and closer towards their destination. A destination part of her was reluctant to reach. Respect, Sakura had once learnt, was something to be earnt. The people of those lands hadn't earned a drop of her own. Probably because you haven't given them a chance, Sakura-chan, a voice which sounded vaguely reminiscent of Naruto echoed in her brain, and Sakura could only let out an inaudible huff.

She wasn't Uzumaki Naruto, and she had long since sworn she would never try to be. Her jealousy was enough of a block in the road to that path. One she would never overcome. She had always been jealous of others and how much better they were compared to her at certain things, and it had come out as anger at both others and herself. She had hated that much about herself, but change was hard and her anger and jealousy had stayed constant. Sakura didn't know what she was supposed to be jealous of anymore. Rather, she felt so terribly empty. As though something had been stolen from her – as though something within her had stopped working for some reason and she could only live her life a day at a time and wonder what exactly such a thing was.

Faindis' voice broke her away from her thoughts. "We have arrived. Smarten yourself up as much as you are capable," she ordered, stepping down from the carriage then, and Sakura followed suit gracefully, landing without a single sound as her training always ensured she did. She never made a single sound whilst walking, and that was probably yet another thing which unnerved people. Though fortunately enough that was merely covered up as her being quiet. Savage barbarians walked across sand, so of course they would be capable of moving silently over harder terrain. Savage barbaric warmongers cared not for the feelings and fears of others. Sakura only smiled bitterly, her face unchanged as ever aside from the minute downward curve of her lips. The work case in hand, Sakura followed the older woman through what had to be the workman's entrance, passing by the guards who stood to attention, eyes narrowing suspiciously upon her as she passed by. Though it was something she was so very used to by then, so she gave it little to no thought as she entered behind the more experienced seamstress, a silent shadow unlike Faindis before her.

They were led to the room they were to be working in, their luggage carried in behind them, and Sakura was swiftly put to work as the underling there. Mannequins were set up, each style of dress they had brought set out, ironed if needed and possible before being put up so the lady they were to be servicing could peruse the styles at leisure. Really, Sakura mused, there was so much work to be done for a royal wedding… and that was just for the dress of the bride. The windows in that particular room were made of stained glass – a gift from elven craftsmen, or so the woman who had led them to that place had informed them. Sakura supposed she must have thought it to be an honour for them to be able to use such a room, carefully crafted and decorated in heavy, vibrant fabrics. Deep purples and reds had seemingly been the themes of the decoration, an embroidered eight pointed star a key motif amongst it all – a design of the king, or so Faindis had informed her along with the fact that she was never to embroider such a design, for there were a precious few who were permitted to stitch the crest of the king's house. Part of her wondered exactly when she had become so very interested in the embroidery and tailoring she had decided to pursue.

After all, she just wanted a quiet simple life, and women did not tend to fight there unless they were mercenaries or bandits. Elleth did, but they weren't human and human was what she appeared to be. She had to blend in with the locals, even unable to use chakra as they apparently were, which had meant choosing something other than the war and violence she had both longed and dreaded for in the early days of her arrival there. Besides, engaging in the art of battle and war would have only cemented the idea of her being a desert bloodthirsty warmonger, and that had been a worse title than that merely of an outsider. At least as an outsider they weren't fearing of her snapping and murdering them all. Something which probably ought to have been more of a concern, given how she was very much capable of doing that much. Human bodies under those strange stars, or so she had learnt, were very much more breakable. They couldn't use chakra, couldn't reinforce skin and bone against even the most glancing of blows. It didn't happen naturally as it was meant to. Their medicine also wasn't that advanced, but only men could venture down such an alleyway as medicine, and so tailoring it was for her. That was a respectable enough career, and eventually she had clawed her way up to become one. Tenacity in that respect was a strong point of hers.

Hours of preparation passed, and Sakura had just finished her meagre snack when Faindis informed her their oh so important client was to be arriving. She only nodded, neatening herself up as much as possible and opting to linger in the corner of the room. Shadows were thick there, and her natural talents when it came to hiding and all things stealthy would only be a boon to her there and then. Faindis approved of such a course of action, a satisfied smile on her lips as she glanced around the room, happy that there wasn't a hair out of place as a clear knock came on the door and Lady Ameth walked inside in all her golden-haired glory. Faindis curtseyed and Sakura followed suit. Not that she thought anyone noticed her presence, quiet in the corner as she was, standing perfectly still like a statue. Like the emotionless doll people whispered her to be. It wasn't until a good few hours had passed that she was called upon by her superior.

"Lothris," Faindis barked, and, like the obedient dog she was at the very least pretending to be, she slunk from the shadows, acutely aware of the way Lady Ameth and her handmaids flinched at her sudden, likely unnatural to their eyes, appearance. "Mirdandil," she said, gesturing to the man who had arrived there, sharply dressed like all the others who worked in the palace. Sakura thought she might as well have looked like a smartly dressed street rat in comparison. Her clothes were as fine as she could make them, but they were a simple white and a dark brown for the skirt she wore. Dull and dreary. Just like you, came a voice so eerily reminiscent of Uchiha Sasuke and his biting comments which were there to keep everyone out like a fortress of barbed wire. She felt a hum of miserable amusement and loss at that, the ever present emptiness threating to consume her as she mused on the memories of each of her precious teammates. "He will show you where to collect the silks we will be using from," Faindis informed her, and Sakura inclined her head, ever remembering her promise to say as little as she could. She hardly wanted to start trouble and be forced to run away and start things over. Not when she was just about starting to get used to life there.

Mirdandil looked at her, grey eyed and brown haired, a sneer on his lips as he looked at her. "This way," he ordered, walking swiftly out of the room, and Sakura kept up with him despite the frantic pace he set. He probably wanted to be out of her company as soon as possible, Sakura mused wryly. "The envoy from Rivendell has arrived, bringing the silks you will be using for Lady Ameth's dress. I would advise you do not stare at the elves no matter how fascinating and unnerving they might appear, nor dally for too long, otherwise I doubt your superior will be very happy with you."

Sakura only nodded. Apparent meekness was key to not inciting anyone's tempers there, something of more importance when the ones around her were clearly of a higher status than she. Mirdandil's footsteps echoed down the corridor, her own as silent as a ghost's, her heart pounding in her chest because she was apparently going to be catching a glimpse of one of the other races who inhabited those lands. She wasn't entirely certain of how to react, least of all because she wasn't from those lands. A gentle sigh escaped her, and she pushed her fears down, trusting in the iron mask she might as well have been wearing.

"We have arrived," Mirdandil informed her, and Sakura could only blink at that, face calm and ever unchanged as Mirdandil knocked on the tall, hardwood door, announcing, "The seamstress' subordinate is here to collect the silks."

Her begrudging escort then opened the door for her and bade her entry inside, and Sakura entered hurriedly, relaxing somewhat as she saw nobody dressed particularly fancily besides the unearthly beings who lingered in one corner of the room, speaking with one of Mirdandil's colleagues – or otherwise. Sakura didn't quite understand how the rankings or the palace hierarchy worked, and she doubted she would need to, what with the fact she doubted she would be setting foot in there ever again. It was only because Morwen was unavailable that she was there in her stead. People despised her for one reason or another, meaning opportunities to see the world above her station came so very rarely.

"Are these the silks then?" she asked aloud, crouched before the finely crafted, yet exceptionally heavy wooden case. It was designed to be carried, but likely by two people – one on either side. Sakura risked a glance over at Mirdandil, wondering if he would help her there, but the man looked away pointedly, all but stating his answer to any pleas for help she might state. Though luckily for her she would be saved the humiliation by her chakra. Even if it meant people might call her a brute afterwards. That was hardly the worst thing she had been called to date, and she had long since mastered the art of not looking as though the insults bothered her.

"You would be correct," a soft, lilting voice rang out, and shivers rolled down her spine at that sound from a creature she had never come across before. "Though I would advise you to fetch another to help you carry that. It is beyond your strength alone."

Sakura stiffened at that, some part of her so very fed up with being derided and belittled. Turning her head, she locked eyes with the eerily inhuman face which so beautiful to look on that it almost hurt. It was practically symmetrical, brown eyebrows thin and carefully shaped above two grey eyes which were almost glowing from within alongside the rest of them, their skin having an luminescent tinge to it which went beyond mere paleness. She kept her green eyes locked on those eerie grey ones which made her want to flee for one reason or another. Her gut clenched, memories of Kaguya and her inhuman appearance flitting through her brain. So that was why she felt such fear, she mused. Her eyes narrowed, keeping that stare fixed on them even as she wrapped a hand around the handle, using chakra to bolster her strength then as she stood up, effortlessly lifting the case, raising an eyebrow at the elf, daring them to challenge her as she stood there.

The elf recoiled then all of a sudden, blinking at that, and Sakura could only pray she hadn't offended anyone as she backed away from the elven group, far too ready to return to the boredom of her work and the normalcy of her everyday life there. "You there," the elf spoke, a slight tremble to his words, and Sakura could only wonder what exactly it was about her lifting an exceptionally heavy case that had the elf sounding so unnerved. "Turn back around."

Her spine went rigid, and she snapped up to her full height, turning back around ever so slowly, confusion in her gaze as she stared at the elf and the elf stared at her… forehead? Sakura tilted her head, before she inclined her head in a bow of sorts, given she couldn't quite curtsey and the fact that the elves were not in the loosest sense of form 'her people' unlike those of the city she lived in. "Forgive me," she said, the words sounding hollow and empty on her tongue. "If I have offended you in any way, I apologise – but I am afraid I am needed elsewhere at this current moment in time," she continued, turning on her heel then, ignoring the stares which bore into her back as she all but bolted from that particular hall, all too eager to slink back into the shadows of the room where Faindis was busy working with barely an input needed from her.

And she did just that, eager to put unnerved elves and all things to do with the fair folk out of sight and out of mind. It wasn't like she would ever likely come across them again within her lifetime. Her soulmate was dead, and she was set out to live her life until its natural conclusion, never to have known them nor the happiness they could have supposedly given her.

The day came to a close with barely any interaction with Lady Ameth – something Faindis appeared to be quite relieved over, and silently, Sakura was too. Not that she ever said anything of it. After all, every woman was supposed to desire to meet the paragon of virtue they had seemingly built in their minds. Lady Ameth was as prejudiced as the rest of them. Though that was probably something desired amongst the natives of Fornost Erain.

No summons to the palace ever came for her, and Morwen was well enough recovered for the next appointment in the castle to go as she rightly should have the first time around.

Sakura resumed her quiet, scorned life there without a whisper or a word spoken to another soul. Not that anyone would have willingly spoken to her, strange and as much of an outsider as she was compared to the rest of the city-folk. She was fine with that. Perfectly fine. And so the world kept spinning on its axis, the moon and sun chased each other across the sky and beyond the horizon, and Sakura lived as quietly as she could amidst the chaos and familiarity of it all. It was a quiet life, or so she was discovering, but not one filled with happiness. Not that she had much faith that she would ever feel such a thing again under stranger stars and far from her dead, barren homeland as she undoubtedly was.


Winds blew through the city, strong and carrying with it the stench of city life as it swept up from the slummiest districts of the city and to the place where she worked, the open windows – nothing more than a hole in the wall with shutters for when the night-time came – letting the smell flood into the room. Her nose wrinkled, even as Anoreth and those particular close to her left for the short break they were permitted in the middle of the day. The sound of the door being locked from outside and laughter had her rolling her eyes once more.

Sakura drifted over towards the open window, listening as Anoreth prattled onto her friends about some form of stir in the city. Curious, she waited until Anoreth was out of sight and the street relatively clear before she jumped out of the window, landing silently on the road below, brushing off the dust before she set off in pursuit of where the gossip of the city was going. Very little noteworthy events occurred in Fornost Erain, and Sakura could safely say that her own arrival some years previous was one of them. The fact the city was riled up and swarming towards one location only meant another curious thing was happening, and she let herself be swept up in its wake.

She blinked at the crowds which had amassed near the main street, noting the odd expression of fear on faces here and there, awe splashed on others, emotions all but fizzling through the air telling her much the same, and Sakura could only frown at the mixed response. Almost everyone had despised her on sight, fear and disgust radiating from them which she had picked up thanks to her chakra sense back when she hadn't been able to understand a word from their mouths. In hindsight, Sakura supposed she ought to have been grateful, because there had only been slurs and curses directed her way for those first few months.

The answer to her questions soon appeared though, and Sakura could only blink as she spotted the short procession of horses and riders. They rode two abreast, clad in silky grey cloaks which seemed to shimmer beneath the light. Each horse was beautiful, rippling muscles, clean, freshly brushed coat, and undoubtedly bred for battle. But it was the front rider who caught her attention, like a moth to flame, and if the silent grace and hidden beauty hadn't given away what they were, then the foremost rider would have.

His grey hood had been cast back, revealing golden locks which all but shone in the sunlight as the breeze played with them almost lovingly. Sakura rather suspected those locks would glow even in pure darkness, but that wasn't what captured her attention so. The foremost rider was unearthly, like the other elves she had caught a glimpse of a matter of weeks ago, an alien beauty to him which was so far removed from that which she had grown used to, yet lovely nonetheless. His eyes were like the setting sun, golden and bright and just that side of not human and they remained. Elves, she had learnt after her brief encounter with them, were something to be looked on from afar. They were like stars, she had concluded. Beautiful and cold and undoubtedly not made for human hands to touch, no matter the tales scholars had told her of. But it wasn't to be – or so Sakura learned swiftly as she looked upon the lovely golden rider – for upon his forehead was a damning mark. One made of half of a rayed sun – the same standard that one rider carried. The standard-bearer. The other half made of a half a white ring. The exact same marking which was set upon her own brow in the exact same place.

Her soulmate.

Her stomach twisted viciously, and Sakura shrunk back into the shadows, mind racing, unable to think a single coherent thought even as the lead rider turned his head, those golden, terrifying eyes drifting over the alleyway in which she hid. That gaze drifted over her hiding place, shadows doing their job of hiding her away as she had silently begged of them, before returning to the road ahead.

Sakura abandoned any amount of subtlety remaining and bolted away, running back for her workplace and the vague sense of safety it promised, ignoring the sneers of Anoreth as she passed her on the way back. Part of her wondered if any of them had noticed the matching marks on their foreheads, but then again, she reminded herself, Anoreth barely paid attention to her beyond insulting her. Her heart rattled about in her chest, stomach feeling as though it were a snake as its contents became unsettled, because she had just seen her soulmate. The same soulmate she had been certain was dead. The same soulmate who was of that world. The same soulmate who apparently belonged to the first kindred, strange and foreign and terrifying as they were to the second kindred she had been living amongst. She didn't quite understand why that was so, only that it terrified her and made her heart ache that much more.

She returned to her work station then, staring at the needle and thread there, feeling as though a hole was opening up in her stomach as she near enough glared holes into her work space. There was a feeling of looming dread which was opening up in her stomach because the royal wedding had been over a week ago. The elves had already given their congratulations upon gifting them the silks and whatever other gifts they had brought. She had heard them. That should have been it for a while yet. They hardly measured time the same as them, what with the mentions of them being immortal and powerful in ways human minds couldn't quite comprehend. The gossips of the lower town were handy when it came to learning new things about that world. Though, as Sakura had well learned, not all of it was true or even remotely accurate. The rumours and tales about her which had flown from mouth to ear had drilled that lesson in well.

"Lothris!" Faindis' shout had her stiffening where she sat. The older woman sounded terrified, worried, and shocked. Worried for the reputation of her crafthouse, that was. Sakura knew she would be a fool to think otherwise. "Lothris, what have you done?" she demanded, hands coming to rest on her shoulders, brown eyes narrowed, spittle flying from her lips as she raged, fear in her eyes at the potential loss of face for her own prospects and career. "What did you do when you were in the palace?" she questioned, and Sakura could only blink, heart pounding in her chest as two men stepped through the door, clad in the armour of the king's soldiers. "Did you steal something? Offend someone?"

Sakura sighed, knowing not a word she said would be believed. That was just the way things were. She knew she had not stolen anything nor offended anyone. Sakura sucked in a shaky breath, dread and fear hitting her like a sledgehammer to the gut. She knew why she was no doubt being hauled off to the palace only a short while after the elves had appeared. After the elf with the same marking on his forehead as she had on her own appeared if she wanted to be specific. Because those other elves, she realised belatedly, had recognised the marking on her brow and had evidently informed the correct person. And they had come to find her. He had come to find her.

"Your name is Lothris, correct?" the man on the left spoke, not even waiting for her to nod of speak a word of confirmation before his hand closed around her arm. "You are hereby summoned to the palace on the orders of the king," he said, eyes narrowed, a familiar expression filled with distrust and wariness set on his face as he pulled her to her feet, hand never leaving her arm. Like he thought she might bolt if he let go. Sakura was half tempted to, even with that punishing grip on her arm. It wasn't like there was anyone in the city who could stop her if she so desired. Even Kaguya hadn't been able to kill her – only able to flash that red, ringed eye at her and then she had vanished through a tear in the fabric of the universe. An annoyance battered out of the way so she could complete the Moon Eye plan they and the rest of the allied forces had began to put a halt to. Her jaw tightened, teeth clenching and she pushed away those memories, wishing she could forget it all. But forgetting it would mean she would never remember the rest of the memories of that war and before.

Her shoulders sunk, even as she was all but frogmarched to the same place she had entered a month or two ago. Sakura would happily admit she wasn't all that good at keeping track of time by then, her days tending to blur into one.

But rather than the jail cell everyone seemed to think she was about to be put in, she was met with what could only be a room to receive guests. Important guests. Her stomach twisted, fear and nervousness rising within, because she had undoubtedly been called to the palace due to the matter of her soulmate. He was of elven kind, and there were very few humans who had ever shared such a fate. Not that she probably matched their exact definition of human.

A shaky breath escaped her, mixed feelings about meeting her soulmate rising after everything she had been through and the hope she had cast aside. She had thought him dead. She had thought him to be one of those of her homeland. She had believed the fact that fate was supposed to make soulmates meet was ultimately false for her as it had been for many others of her world. Though Sakura supposed they had at least died together.

The door clicked open, revealing yet another servant of the palace, and Sakura sat up as straight as she could, praying that an explanation as to what would be going on was coming. It did. "You are Lothris, yes?" the man asked, eyes zeroing in on her forehead and the mark emblazoned there for all to see, and Sakura only inclined her head. Billboard brow, the ghost of Ami whispered in her ear. Sakura wished she could smile at the familiarity of it. There was precious little of that in her life compared to her old one which would be better off forgotten and put behind her. "As of this day, you have been made a ward of the king with all the status that brings," he informed her tartly, and Sakura felt her stomach drop down to her toes. Because nobody made a random city-dweller a ward of the king, especially not a foreigner to boot, without a reason.

Her eyes narrowed on the grey ones, staring at the man with salt and pepper hair as he stood by the entranceway to the room. Ready to flee if she became violent like the barbaric savage she was rumoured to be. Sakura barely resisted the urge to snort and roll her eyes at that. No matter how frightened she herself was, others would always fear or despise her. Probably because she was well learned in concealing such weaknesses. Other shinobi would have eaten her alive otherwise, and Sakura was very much interested in continuing breathing. Not that such a thing was much of an issue anymore, what with her modified Yin Seal and her natural fast regeneration rate. "Why?" she asked, meeting that stare with a flat one of her own which bade him to give her the answers she sought.

"Because you are the soulmate of an elf," the man she was tentatively going to call a butler stated, looking oddly grim all of a sudden, grey eyes narrowed on her as she sat there, probably looking incredibly out of place amongst the finery and lavish decoration the room was awash with. "King Elendur desires to improve the relations between his house and that of the elves… and we can hardly present an elf lord with a street rat for a bride," he remarked, sneering then. "Attendants will be along shortly to help you… improve yourself as much as is possible, given the source material they have to work with."

Sakura turned away from him then, humming under her breath so quietly on her chakra-enhanced ears could pick up on the sound. Same old, same old. Nothing new to be excited about. No exciting new insults to laugh and cry over in the silence she was so very accustomed to by that point in time. Only a soulmate to be nervous over meeting because he was of the fair folk and so very removed from those lands in which she currently lived within.


Being bathed was not something she was used to. She was familiar and comfortable with bathing herself, yes, but by someone else… Sakura was readily debating the pros and cons of vanishing right then and there. She highly doubted she was what her soulmate expected or wanted. She had heard so few tales of elves, and she had been informed by many a scholars that they tended to stick to their own folk. They did not interfere with the affairs of men. Except where soulmates were involved, or so it seemed. Her shoulders slumped, and part of her wished she had access to the makeshift hair dye she had crafted and the dye to make her skin seem that much more splotchy and mortal. It was only fortunate they didn't both wash out after a single bath, what with how long she had used them both, no matter how itchy her skin sometimes felt and how dry her hair had become through their use – the latter of which her so-called attendants lamented over.

Though next came the clothes fitting, with a rushed job being completed right then and there because, as she was learning, time was of the essence for one reason or another. Probably because her soulmate was there. Her chest bindings were put back in place, whispers greeting her about her figure and how it was tawdry compared to that of lady Ameth who was tall with small curves which made her look so very graceful. Sakura supposed she had her Senju heritage to thank for that, though nothing near as how tawdry her cousin would have appeared to them there. Her fingers twitched at that, the siren's song of violence singing to her then and there as she stood in that room amidst ridicule and scorn she was so very used to and so very tired of by that point.

Part of her wondered if the elves would be any better, but a larger part of her doubted that much. Elves were eerie and strange to her. Sakura had no doubts they would see her as much the same. She wondered if they would call her tawdry too, what with how everyone seemed to prefer slimmer curves and softer, warmer skin than she had. She didn't seem to look like the stereotypical woman in those lands: soft, loving, warm, and in need of protection. She had walked on the battlefield, destroyed enemies and brought allies back to life with a touch of her healing hands. She had been respected and feared in that world before.

A world she could never go back to, just like she doubted she would ever return to that city once she was taken away from it by her soulmate. Elves did not interfere with the realms of men, and she was to be bound to an elf. Her stomach churned, fear at leaving the evil she had grown used to in that city for what might possibly be a worse one. At least the people there didn't look so cutting and cold – so foreign and strange to her eyes. And what an irony that was. She let out a soft chuckle which probably sounded more akin to a grunt to the ears of another. To think the foreigner of Fornost would soon be going off with those foreign, strange fair folk. They would probably rejoice that the blight on their honour was gone.

Sakura sighed, staring at the green dress she had been forced into, wondering why she felt as though she were playing dress-up. It didn't particularly help that the women around her evidently agreed with such a thought, and they were much more vocal about it than she was. Not that they seemed to think she could hear them as clearly as she could. Though Sakura supposed they had never been around a shinobi before, given how that designation and role didn't exist. No one would have dared to badmouth a shinobi in her world before. Not at least until people were certain they were out of earshot, or perhaps within the safety of their own homes. She sighed yet again, wondering when exactly it was planned for her to meet her soulmate and what exactly would happen soon after. There were flurries of movement wherever she looked when she was being taken from one room to another, and Sakura was curious as to what was happening and how much of it was related to her and her soulmate who had arrived there – likely with the intention of picking her up and returning to their hidden realm that they secluded themselves within.

She was left alone yet again soon after, in a room which had a window overseeing the courtyard below, and Sakura could only sit and watch – what with there being nothing else to do aside from lament over how the dress she was wearing didn't suit her so or pace the room otherwise and Sakura didn't see the point in exhausting herself whether physically or mentally. There were elves down there, mostly those with dark hair, varying shades of brown to black, meaning she could tell her soulmate wasn't amongst them, golden-haired and golden-eyed as he was. There was a carriage too now, and that was being loaded up with box after box, which the elves loaded up, and Sakura felt an odd weight settle in her stomach as she realised exactly what it was.

King Elendur wanted to build a better relationship with the elves. That was what she had been told. So of course she was getting a dowry, what with her being a ward of the king as of however many hours ago. She was all but being sold, a pawn of those who had more power in those lands, a piece sacrificed to gain a stronger foothold in the political game which rulers played whether they be daimyo or kings. Though she had been a pawn of a higher power before – a valued pawn albeit, but a piece to be played nonetheless.

Dimly, Sakura wondered how valuable of a piece she was in those foreign lands under strange stars which were slowly beginning to feel that much more familiar to her tired eyes. Those same stars came out that very night too, seen through the glass of that same room where she had been served dinner and otherwise left to her own devices. Kept away from the courtly drama no doubt going on in some section of the castle. She was to sleep in those rooms too, upon the sofa, or so she learnt as evening became night and she reclined on the sofa then, putting her feet up and wondering what the next few days would bring.

Something different to the usual daily routine she had established no doubt. Sakura could only lie her head down and sigh, all the while trying to ignore the nervousness which pulsed inside her at the thoughts of elves, soulmates, and the wide world outside of Fornost Erain she would soon undoubtedly be thrust into.

Silently, she longed for the Sakura of old, a stranger to her by then. The one before the war and shinobi life. The innocent one who had gushed alongside Ino at the thought of meeting their soulmates and getting together with them, finding that rumoured happiness which was supposedly granted to those who found their fated other half and fell blissfully in love with them. Sakura supposed Ino had a couple of years with Sai before their deaths, and maybe that made it slightly better for them. Maybe they were both happily in the pure lands, laughing at her predicament all the while. Fondness and grief pulled at her, and she shoved them back down into that ball in her stomach, not letting those intoxicating feelings mingle with her chakra. She would call the trees otherwise, what with how her emotions were forever tied to her mokuton. More so in that place. Sakura closed her eyes then, trying to ignore the hollowness and grief she always felt whenever she remembered a life before that place. A life where she had still smiled. A life before she had become an emotionless doll in the eyes of others. A life where she had actually had friends, and she had lost them all because she hadn't been able to save them.

She wondered then, how exactly she was supposed to open her heart to her soulmate, great and terrible as he was. She had felt it earlier, back when the day had been younger, the feeling of lightness, joy, disappointment, worry, and power which had shrouded him. The emotions of his soul able to be felt by her chakra sense, lain bare before her what with how he didn't conceal them. None of them, either elves or humans concealed their emotions like she did her own. It made her feel that much stranger in that place – the much more out of place compared to everyone else. Though the fact she had pink hair probably didn't help much in that respect in the first place.

Her soulmate had been feeling disappointed of all things and worried and after living life there in those lands for so long, Sakura had little hope they meant anything other than a worst case scenario.

Huffing softly, she rolled over, trying to get to sleep, knowing all the while that it would elude her a little longer as it always did. Grief and remembrance did little to help one to get off to sleep nicely or even easily.

Morning came down upon her with the force of a brick wall falling down, and Sakura could only groan, even as she stood up, her dress only marginally crinkled and her hair as much of a mess as it always was at the best of times. Still, breakfast was given even as she was kept out of the way for one reason or another. Prejudice or just the fact that no one wanted to see her face, or so she mused to herself as she continued to sit by herself in that room, a new, non-creased dress long having been foisted off onto her. She went back to people watching, all the while wondering when something would happen. No one there seemed to want to keep her informed of what was going on, and she debated on the merits of wandering out into the rest of the palace to investigate before reminding herself she was trying to live a quiet life then and there. Living a quiet life did not involve using chakra to stick to the walls and ceilings as no one could do there. Neither did it involve sleuthing about in the shadows to gain information. Perhaps it might have once in her life before her subsequent worldly translocation, but not anymore.

So staying in her rooms it was, and when the sun was a good distance into the sky, there was a curt knock on her door which was completely different to the way the staff bustled in to give her the meals prepared for her during what was undoubtedly going to be a short stay.

"Might you be Lothris?" came the soft voice which had her standing bolt upright, and her head snapped around to find an elf standing in the doorway then. Their hair was a dark brown, their eyes the colour of the sea, and Sakura had the vaguest impression that they were female.

Sakura blinked, inclining her head in a slight nod before she realised they were undoubtedly expecting a verbal answer. Unexpected, but Sakura supposed they weren't the same as the locals who had been around her for months and hated it whenever she spoke. She did have a habit of speaking right next to them and making them jump or gasp with fright. "That I am," she said finally, having dallied a bit too long in the puddle of her thoughts.

"Come," the elf lady bade, "Lord Glorfindel awaits you, and then we must be on our way back to Imladris – that is Rivendell, in the common tongue."

"Yes," she said. "I do know that – I am fluent in Sindarin, if you must know," she added, following behind the elf who was probably far older than her if the tales told were anything to go by. "Would Lord Glorfindel be…" Sakura trailed off, wondering how very stupid and slow she sounded to outside ears. Though that was probably a consequence of not speaking much.

"Lord Glorfindel would be your soulmate, yes," she said, not looking at her as she led her wherever they were set to go. "Has no one explained anything to you?" the elf asked, and Sakura wondered why confusion, disappointment, and happiness were the most prominent feelings seeping from the elf before her.

Disappointment. There was so much disappointment in the air. Sakura thought she might as well choke on it, what with how pervasive and cloying those feelings were. "No," Sakura remarked. "Nobody has as of yet, and I am beginning to think nobody will…"