1 - Shuriken
The last thing my mother told me was that my hair looked cute in buns. And then she was gone. Not on a mission, my mother was not shinobi. She was beautiful and free and no longer satisfied being married to a blacksmith who could only offer her a warm home and love.
My father tried to explain it to me many times but I didn't understand. He said he wasn't good enough for her, a woman of noble breeding. But to me, my father was the greatest person in existence. He was big, towering over me no matter how fast I grew. He was strong, despite the constant limp from an old injury. His laugh would echo in the rooms of our tiny house and he could twist metal into any shape he wanted.
He used to do this magic trick where he would produce a weapon out of nowhere. It mystified me every time and I spent hours alone trying to figure out how he did it. I never asked him to show me the trick because I wanted to figure it out myself. He always looked amused while watching me try.
I loved it when my father smiled. It had become a rare sight since my mother left. He would work at the fires long after I went to sleep. Sometimes in the morning, I would find him asleep in the corner of his workshop, surrounded by broken weapons that had not met his perfect requirements.
When I was five, he gave me a wooden box with two shuriken inside. They weren't wooden practice ones that all the other kids had but full sharpened ones. Most of my friends said their parents wouldn't allow them near to their weapons, but here was my father, giving me my own pair.
"You want to go to the academy next year, right?" he said. "You better start practicing for real."
So I did. I spent hours throwing the shuriken at the makeshift targets my father set up in the backyard. I didn't see my friends for months. Somehow the make believe games of ninja seemed childish now.
One day, when my friends teased me about not playing with them anymore, I blurted out how I was practicing to be a real ninja.
"Don't be stupid," one of them said. "Girls can be ninja."
I cried for hours afterward until my father found me. He took me home and gave me a bath, wiping away the dirt and tears. When I had finally calmed down, I told him what my friends had said.
"It's not true," he said. "I know of a great kunoichi. Her name is Tsunade and she is part of a legendary trio of ninja."
He spent the rest of the night telling me everything he knew of Tsunade-sama. My attention never wandered, even as the sun set and the night set in. He eventually sent me to bed but I couldn't sleep that night.
The next morning, I scoured the marketplace for anything I could find on Tsunade. I came home with scrolls and a poster that was promptly tacked to my wall. Armed with my new knowledge, I tracked down my friends to prove them wrong.
"Still trying to be a ninja?" they asked.
I held up the scroll. "Not trying. I will be a ninja, a great one, like Tsunade-sama."
Eventually they relented with their attacks and by the time academy enrollment came up, we no longer spoke. It didn't really matter, of all the kids I knew, I was the only one who went to the academy.
My first day there was terrifying. Everyone was so exotic. All the girls had strange colored hair or strange eyes and there I was with my plain brown set. All the boys looked so strong and were already challenging each other to see who was best.
My father left me there with a pat on the head and a packed lunch. I shuffled into the academy, no one noticing I was even there. I sat in the back, to avoid notice, sitting in the shadows and taking notes while the sensei lectured about taijutsu.
At lunch, I wandered outside and took a seat by myself. When I opened my lunch, I found my father had packed my favorites, including a picture of Tsunade-sama with a message on the back.
Remember your dreams
When I went back into the classroom, I moved to the front. The guy I sat next to eyed me warily, which was a bit unnerving considering the all white eyes.
"I'm Tenten." He looked at me for a moment. "Wanna see my shuriken?"
The mention of weapons seemed to interest him so he nodded. I pulled them out of their pouch and let him hold them.
"They're all beat up," he said.
I nodded proudly. "I practice everyday. I can hit a target from 50 yards away."
He handed them back to me. "Neji."
"My name is Neji."
"That's a nice name," I said and he smiled a bit.
"Hey, that's my seat!"
I looked up and found myself staring at the strangest boy I had ever seen. He had a mop of black hair on his head and two caterpillars for eyebrows.
"Sorry," I said. "I just couldn't see from the back."
He smiled suddenly. "That's okay! If you want it you can have it." His teeth sparkled a bit and he flashed me a thumbs up sign.
"But it's not fair for you," I said. "Wait! I know!"
I pulled my seat next to Neji who looked perplexed at my actions. "Shift over a bit," I told him. He paused for a beat before slowly moving towards the edge of his seat. I brought mine next to his. I sat down in the middle of and patted the edge of the remaining seat for the new boy.
He smiled and sat down. "Thanks! I'm Lee!"
"I'm Tenten, this is Neji."
"Nice to meet you!" Lee smiled. "Now I just have to meet two more people."
"What for?" I asked.
"I challenged myself to meet five new people today or else I'd have to run five hundred laps around the town."
"That's the stupidest thing I ever heard," Neji said.
Lee frowned. "Only because you couldn't do it."
"Not only could I do it," Neji replied, "but I would be done before you were half way through."
"Guys!" I cried, slowly being squished between the two of them.
Luckily the sensei walked in at that moment, took one look at our situation and quickly brought another chair so Lee could have his own.
As soon as that was settled he began to talk about genjutsu, the art of illusion that was important to ninja. It wasn't until he taught us the basics of how it works that I realized something very important.
I left my two new friends with the promise of seeing them tomorrow and ran straight home. My father was in the back as always, sweat pouring out and soaking his shirt. But I didn't care. I just grabbed him in a hug, my arms barely passing around his waist.
He laughed and told me to get dinner ready while he changed. I was used to doing some of the cooking and my father had already chopped everything up. By the time he emerged clean with sopping wet hair, I was still stirring the big pot from my spot on the step stool.
"Tell me about your day," he said.
So I did, about the way I was scared at first but then I saw his lunch and I moved to front of the class. About Neji and Lee and the senseis who lectured us.
"And then I realized something!" I cried. "Show me the trick again!"
He smiled and repeated the trick, producing a shuriken for me to see. I smiled and reached forward, poking it and watching as it disappeared in a puff of smoke. He smiled and shook his head.
"You finally figured out it was just an illusion."
"You were a ninja!" I said. "Why aren't you doing that anymore?"
His face saddened a bit. "There was a fight, one with all the ninja."
"The one with Kyuubi?" I asked, remembering what our senseis had taught.
He nodded. "Many people died so I was lucky to be one of the ones who only got hurt. But it was bad enough so that I could no longer be a ninja."
"Did that make you sad?"
He nodded slowly. "For a while. But then I had your mother and we had you and that helped. So it wasn't too long before I wasn't sad anymore."
"Because I had something that meant more to me then being injured, more then anything." He ruffled my hair.
"Hey! You'll make the buns fall out!" I cried but it was too late, my hair was tumbling out of its bindings and he was tickling me to the point that the soup almost burned while I was distracted.
After dinner, I went to my room and got ready for bed. I paused at the poster of Tsunade-sama and smiled. Picking up a brush, I dipped it in ink and slowly drew a small line at the bottom.
One step. One step closer to achieving my dream.