A/N: This chapter brought to you by the wonders of my insane dreams, Death is the Road to Awe (The Fountain OST), various songs from The Da Vinci Code OST (never actually read the book or seen the movie) and of course, characters from Naruto, graciously allowed to be used in fanfiction by the amazing Masashi Kishimoto. We all love you.
And I'm really sorry the plot seems to be progressing so slowly nowadays, (trust me, it's slow to write, too, because nothing's really happening) but the whole this is essential to the story itself. Look at this as... essential background. The rest of the story won't make sense without these bits.
If there are any mistakes, don't hesitate to say so in a review so I can fix it!
6 - Induction
"We are gathered here, the Akatsuki Organization, to pay our respects to our very own Lady Yuuhi Kurenai. An amazing woman who, I am sorry to say, will be leaving us for her family in the Twilight Level upon this day," Leader stood solemnly, still seemingly engulfed in shadow. It seemed to Sakura that he enjoyed keeping himself mysterious. Yet, he still looked like he was partially see-through, which made her mind gnash it's proverbial teeth in frustration. Why?
The entirety of Akatsuki – including the servants and minor members – was gathered in that great hall of stone and granite. To Leader's right stood seven full members of Akatsuki – their seniors – wearing full regalia. A woman with the black hair and red eyes that she had only associated with Itachi before stood to the left of Leader, with Sakura standing just to her left and slightly behind. Lined up a few feet from Sakura were the other ten Akatsuki entertainers, their red-cloud dresses shimmering under the torchlight. "For eleven years, she has been faithful, courageous and often the mastermind behind many of Akatsuki's recent progressions. However, after so much time, we must commend her for her service and bid her farewell."
He turned to Kurenai, holding out an Akatsuki cloak of the finest silk to her, she bowed her head and took it wordlessly.
"Lady Kurenai, if you will?"
She nodded, a thin smile on her face and stepped one or two steps forward. Looking over the crowd with an expression of dignity and grace, she spoke to the mass of humanity standing before her like only a Lady of a Great House could.
"Friends, colleagues. Today, not without some trepidation, I am fated to leave you and this House under which I have served for the past eleven years. Eleven years which I am sure I will never forget. Throughout my years here, people whom I shall remember forever have surrounded me; people who must possess the very heart and soul of the Builders themselves. Those saints who have given us this glorious City and housed us – their people and descendants. Don't think I'll ever forget any of you, I just ask that you will not forget me."
She smiled that thin, terse smile at the crowd for a moment while they applauded. Personally, Sakura found this kind of decorum rather dull and uninteresting, however, she was expected to play a part, and she would play that part well.
"However," Lady Kurenai continued, pleading silence from the crowd with a raise of her hand, "I leave in my wake a new light to shine through the darkness of the night – a new light that will strive to bring the people of Night into the sun once more! Lady Haruno Sakura, a girl who promises to have just as much talent as this House expects.. The daughter of Lady Haruno formerly of the House of Sabaku. Excellence truly does transcend generations."
Sakura felt herself flush red at the compliment, but suddenly also felt a pang of disappointment. She was in her mother's shadow and had only just realized it. In a sudden revelation, she realized that if she never outdid her mother, she would always be referred to as "Lady Haruno's daughter", not Lady Haruno of Akatsuki. However, she banished these thoughts and smiled gratefully, bowing her head in respect to the people before her. Raising her hand in a little wave, she uttered a high-pitched "Hi." People in the crowd smiled or chuckled lightly. She smiled sheepishly, stepping back as Leader said his closing comments and people hunkered down for food, which arrived in a spectacular flurry of silver platters and finery. They were all ushered to a long table – entertainers on one side and Akatsuki seniors on the other, with Leader at the head of the table, Lady Kurenai at the opposite end.
The food was better than Sakura had had in a very long time, and she wondered if it would always be this good – although something told her no. However, she had to restrain herself from devouring it on site, as that would be inappropriate and give a brash first impression. She glanced around her quickly, fingering the collar of her formal Akatsuki uniform she'd been given. It was a black silk dress piped in red along the hems. Embroidered red clouds popped against the black at irregular intervals. Around her waist was a red and black patterned scarf of the same fine silk. The other girls were demurely picking at their food, lifting forks to their mouths daintily and laughing behind their hands when one of the Akatsuki seniors made an amusing comment. They all looked so kind and accommodating.
Sakura yawned behind her hand, and daintily picked at her food, trying to emulate the girls. She wasn't concentrating on conversation around her, though, instead wondering yet again why she had bothered to get up. However, she nodded and smiled every so often to the Akatsuki members around her, trying to act like the pretty, graceful entertainer she was supposed to be. Every so often, she would flick her eyes over to two very unique – to put it politely – seniors who were obviously former Outcasts. Two very plant-like 'jaws', for lack of better term, surrounded one man on either side of his head. The other was, suffice to say, blue. He was blue and bore three 'gills' beneath each eye. When he opened his mouth to laugh raucously, Sakura spotted sharp, fang-like teeth much like Suigetsu's had been. The maority of the other Akatsuki members seemed normal enough, although the blue-haired woman and Leader both bore that shimmering, only half-there feel, and neither had a plate of food before them.
The feast was half-over without a snag, and the time for exhibition began. Namely, it was some after-dinner entertainment that was to be provided by Sakura. The crowd pulled back to make a large space before the dais where Lady Kurenai and Leader sat, staring down at her. She could feel their gaze under her skin and the gaze of the crowd around her. Butterflies built up in her stomach again, but she forced herself to take a deep breath, palming the tessen which had been tucked into the scarf at her waist until then. She performed before this audience mostly the same dance that she had performed for the Table of judges, but variations in the step every so often for Leader's sake, as he had already seen her performance. She was met by roaring rounds of applause afterwards, which nearly brought a wide smile to her face before she suppressed it in favour of a smaller, more demure smile, her eyelashes lowered as she curtsied her exit back to Lady Kurenai's side.
The rest of the ceremony was rather dull, as evidenced by even Kurenai's covered yawns. At long, long last, there was the ceremonial 'passing-of-the-torch' so to speak – which was literally just that – conducted on the steps of the Akatsuki building. A man removed Lady Kurenai's torch from a line of eleven dispersed on either side of the door, with the eleventh – the senior Entertainer's (or in this case, Kurenai's) – being a torch lit above the door itself – only reachable by a set of stairs behind the wall. Each entertainer moved theirs up one respective place, with the woman to be next in line for senior Entertainer was shown to the stairs and seen placing it in its appropriate bracket. As the torch ceremony had begun, Sakura had been given a torch of her own, tipped in a sticky golden substance she had never seen before. When Lady Kurenai came and lit Sakura's torch with her own, she would have dropped it in surprise had Lady Kurenai not warned under her breath, "Get ready."
A communal gasp of utter awe filled the room as light exploded from the end of her torch, the kind that no fire can make – white and pure and blinding. Within seconds, however, the light dimmed down, replaced by the common flames of Night Level's lifeline – the orange and red and yellow and blue of the fire. She was glad the ceremony involved Lady Kurenai's assistance in placing her torch in it's respective bracket, as she was shaking so hard she doubted she could have done it herself. She was brought to her new place at the end of the line of entertainers and Leader called out across the crowd.
"And thus, though the old fires must eventually die, they leave in their wake a new light to shine upon the people of Night and to forge the path for them into the Day!"
Monstrous cheers and applause echoed around from the hundreds and hundreds of people who had come to see the ceremony itself as they looked up at the apex of the building – it's highest point – where a man stood before a barrel of fire and tipped a jar of the golden substance into it's flames. The fire died for a moment , just as it had from Sakura's torch, the blinding white light, purer than the sun lit up the Night Level like a beacon. It reached to the top of the cavernous level and for miles around, everything was cast into relief as its white light made the little children scream in delight and dance around in circles with makeshift sparklers they had put together the day before. People in the crowd all burst into song and dance, enjoying the event as if it were a pagan festival to an ancient god. And it wasn't just the common people that danced and sang, even the senior Akatsuki members embraced the festivities. Sakura found herself pulled into several dances by senior members as well as several little boys who cheekily bowed like proper gentlemen, to which she smiled behind her hand and curtsied in return. Instruments were played and drums were tamped, tambourines shaken, voices raised.
However, as the light faded back into the crackling orange light of fire and the noise of the festivities died with the light, people's attention was caught by another oddity. A deep, humming chant of a thousand voices at once echoed around the level. As the noise died, more people started turning, turning, until the whole crowd was one giant wave turning in the opposite direction. What attracted their attention was a swirling, luminescent, misty, blue-white glow swirling around what Sakura could only assume was Orochimaru's building. It sent a chill down the spines of those that heard it. Over near the swirling mist a thousand torches swayed in rhythm to the tempo of the chant. The baritone chant slowly crescendoed until it rumbled around the Level, reverberating off all the walls and the ceiling, until the rumbling could be felt in their chests. The mist swirled faster and faster near the building, wrapping around a snake-like spire as the chant crescendoed and sped up. Some of the small children who had been singing and dancing earlier clung to their mothers and wept. All at once, the voices lingered on an impossibly high note that melted into screams and the blue mist swirled into a small tornado on the tip of the snake-spire before shooting up in a beam of light towards the roof of the Level itself.
All who heard were shaken and many merely hurried home rather than lingering to chat to friends and neighbors as they did every other year. Sakura frowned and only thought of Rin before being ushered inside by a very worried-looking Lady Kurenai.
Something like that hadn't been seen in a very long time.
Lady Kurenai stalked down the hallways, Sakura and the other entertainers in tow. They were mostly silent, Kurenai's silk coat flapping slightly behind her the only noise to be heard. The red clouds of the cloak and the dresses hovered in a seeming nothingness sometimes when the girls passed into shadow, the black silk slipping into liquid darkness. The pink-haired girl followed behind the group as she had been bidden do, clutching her bag again and feeling the press of her silver necklace against her chest.
She was immediately passed off to the youngest entertainer next to herself, whom collected her bags from outside the smallest of rooms in order to move into the next room up. Sakura was sure the girl would have said something about moving up ordinarily – she had that look on her face – but what had been witnessed outside seemed to have quieted the girl, casting a pallor on her face that couldn't be because of the darkness. She shooed Sakura inside her room and made sure to warn her to remember where it was before she herself left for her new room. It was a grand room, moreso than the temporary room she had had the night before, but she was too confused to really look around her. She simply sat down on her bed, her bag at her feet and fingered her necklace absently, staring into space before her.
Things certainly are different here on the Night level, she thought., with only a little sarcasm. Things were so radically different that she didn't know what to do. She had so many questions and no one to ask. She had no idea what she was supposed to do the next day, either. There was no manual they gave you for being an Entertainer, although she would have laughed and ignored it if they had. The siver tendrils of the necklace slid smoothly beneath her fingers as she twirled it absently.
The other women all seemed so sure of themselves, so comfortable. Sakura wondered if the new girl was always awkward and wary as she felt she was going to be. If she could see the future, she most definitely would have said that she was going to screw up sometime soon. However, she wasn't a Reader, and she most certainly wouldn't want to do some of the things they could do. She had seen one once and they could be downright scary. He had been an Uchiha Reader on visit to Twilight as an emissary to their allies, the Naras. Ino's family, having been affiliated with the Naras where Sakura's mother was affiliated with Sabaku had taken her to the parade as a treat. Of course, Ino had pushed their way to the front in order to see the Uchiha boys, as their father had found it prudent that they see the Twilight as well, and of course, Sakura had looked too, but what had scared her was the Reader, who had been walking beside the then young Itachi – the boy had looked to be only a few years Itachi's senior, but was laughing and joking as if they were brothers. Until something caught his attention, that was. His face had immediately fallen and his head had whipped in her direction. Dark, Uchiha eyes flicked over her face, his lips parting in what looked vaguely to be an expression of fear or concern – but not for her.
"Shisui?" she had been sure she'd heard Itachi ask that name, looking over to where she stood and raising his eyebrows. The 'Shisui' boy had torn his eyes away and shaken his head, but had scooted away from Itachi slightly, a flicker something akin to fear on his face – but only a flicker. She didn't know why it had concerned her so much – after all, she should have been fainting at the attention she had merited from an Uchiha. It had unsettled her, but of course, as usual with anything of that ilk, Sakura had waved it off as looking somewhere in her general direction and had continued to watch the parade.
She sad idly, twirling the necklace. No, she wasn't a Reader. She couldn't say for sure that she would screw up, but there was just something niggling at the back of her brain saying that something bad was going to happen, and that it involved her. Sighing, she rifled through her bag and removed her sleeping clothes, changing before settling down again to sleep. She leaned over to the table beside her bed, where a candle flickered next to where she had laid her tessen. With a short puff of air, the candle went out and she was engulfed in pitch-blackness. Her dreams that night were haunted by red-eyed men and the shrieks of children.
"Up! Uuuup!" a woman bellowed into Sakura's room. The pink-haired girl groaned and rolled over, bringing the sheets of her bed up over her face. She didn't want to wake up. After all, the room was still as pitch-black as it had been the night before, save for the flicker of the woman's lamp. It couldn't possibly be morning. She heard the woman give a harrumph of dissatisfaction before loud footsteps were heard barreling her way. There was a momentary pause as the woman lit the torches in the room before ripping the sheets unceremoniously off Sakura's bed. The girl yelped slightly as the cold air hit her skin, curling up into a little ball.
"Up!" the woman repeated, prodding her roughly in the side. Sakura groaned again, but sat up blearily. She gazed around the room as the woman frowned, but stood patiently. Sakura vaguely registered her as the new senior Entertainer. Her oddly purple hair – which made her think of her own odd pink hair – was gathered up messily at the back of her head. Rather than an Akatsuki uniform, she wore a tan (or what she guessed was tan in the firelight) coat over a fishnet shirt, a simple skirt over her thighs. She hardly looked the part of Akatsuki's senior Entertainer, but she no doubt knew her stuff.
"Is it still night out?" she asked stupidly, not realizing what she was saying. The woman sighed and shook her head.
"It's always night here, hon. Something you're gonna 'aveta get used to."
She had an accent she had heard at the celebration the night before – a slight stress on vowels and complete disregard for some consonants, especially 'H's – something she supposed was native to Night Level. But with her comment, only then did Sakura really wake up, eyes widening and a blush of embarrassment – invisible in the dark.
"I'm sorry," she said quietly, not even sure her senior had heard her. The woman waved her hand in dismissal.
"Don' be. You lived your life somewhere else, where you see the Sun every mornin'. I don' blame you. But keep in mind, there is no real mornin', evenin', or afternoon 'ere. Only night. Now up! Get dressed in your uniform and meet me outside. You'll find clean ones in one of the drawers over there." She waved her hand ambiguously over at what appeared to be a dresser by the door.
The woman was turning to leave before Sakura spoke.
"Thank you, Ms…" she trailed off, giving the woman a questioning look. The woman looked back over her shoulder with a grin.
"Anko. Mitarashi Anko."
Sakura emerged from her room with her hair still ruffled and stifling yawns with a hand, her tessen hanging from her free hand limply. Anko was leaned against the wall, her lamp set on the floor. She had her chin resting on her chest, eyes closed sleepily. Sakura, not feeling entirely comfortable around her senior merely cleared her throat in an attempt to get her attention. Anko looked up and took in a breath through her nose. Rubbing her eyes, she nodded and beckoned the younger girl to follow her.
"I s'pose what with all th' 'ustle an' bustle thatcha never really got a tour o' the place. Thass what this is for. That and you get t' start your trainin' after," she said matter-of-factly. Sakura frowned a bit and furrowed her eyebrows.
"Training? This is the first I've heard of that."
Anko stopped dead in her tracks, looking at the other girl with an eye of incredulity.
"You didn' expect t' be called one o' Akatsuki's elite guards withou' proper training, didja?"
Sakura grimaced slightly for her lack of foresight. Her mother had spoken of that task to her before, and taught her with the tessen accordingly, but she had nearly completely forgotten that particular facet of her newly-acquired occupation. She nodded, saying:
"Training it is, then."
The halls, were lighter now than they had been when she had been escorted to her room the day – night? What did she call it now? – before. This was probably due to the higher amount of torches that lined the halls. She assumed that they tried to create an illusion of night and day by shining more or less light in the hallways.
"Where do you get all the wood for the torches?" The question had been nagging for a while. Anko looked over at her, but did not answer. Sakura frowned but understood the 'I'm not allowed to say' look. She pursed her lips and directed her gaze forward again, mind scratching for an answer she was denied. Eventually, the long hallway opened up into an enormous, dark hall dotted by stone pillars. It was so tall that the light from torches hung from brackets on the pillars and candles lit in tall, iron candle stands faded into blackness. Servants scuttled to and fro under the firelight, some bearing large loads of laundry to be done, others trailing behind the odd higher-ranking Akatsuki members. Anko turned to Sakura and stretched out her arm to indicate the hall.
"This, m'dear is th' Hall o' the Dawn."
"Hall of the Dawn?"
Anko smiled and nodded, "Hall o' the Dawn, girlie! Didja not read yer hist'ry books when you were jus' a brat? You 'ave those up on Twilight, right? Hist'ry books?"
Sakura flushed, "Of course! I was best in my class!"
"Then you know what Akatsuki is!"
The pink-haired girl frowned, "I heard it was a rebel House, more organization than family, that has only been officially recognized by the House of Lords in the last four hundred years. It was what the book classified as a 'barbaric' house in that the title of Lord of the House is not hereditary, but rather passed down through appointment to the strongest member of the organization-house itself. Am I right?"
Anko had wrinkled her nose at the mention of the other Houses' view of them as 'barbaric', but nodded. "True, that's what it is, but do you know what we want?"
Sakura shook her head, "The books are merely speaking of that which we knew. To my knowledge, you – we – Akatsuki keep to your – well, ourselves, rather."
"Then prepare t' be ed-yoo-kated, girlie," Anko looked proud to be able to tutor a girl on a subject which she seemed to be versed on. Sakura had to try hard not to giggle at the older woman's pronunciation of 'educated', but understood that she was trying hard to show Sakura – a girl almost eleven years her junior – that even though she was raised in the Night Level, she was able to verse a better learned girl in the ways and methods of the Akatsuki. "Well, you know how as a sorta 'ultimate punishment' people get sent down a Level, an' once yer on a Level, ye can't move up unless ye git Chosen fer Entertainer by a Level higher than yer own, right?"
"An' because o' that, th' Levels are listed in descendin' order, right? Day, Twilight, Night. Right?"
She nodded again.
"Well, Akatsuki means dawn in some ancient language from before th' City was built. What we want to do is make it possible fer people on lower Levels t' be able t' move up, if ye know what I mean. Instead o' descendin' from Day to Night, we wanna make it ascendin'. Night, Dawn, Day. That way, it don't seem like impendin' doom if ye know what I mean. Make sense?"
Sakura nodded, but her lips pressed together a little tighter. Was Anko making Akatstuki out to be liberators? Saints of the Night Level? Messiahs bringing the Dawn? It all sounded very good, without a doubt.
"So, this is the Hall o' the Dawn. 'Cause this was where th' Akatsuki was officially recognized by th' 'ouse o' Lords. So, this is where th' Dawn will begin."
Anko looked ecstatic, as if she had converted Sakura to some up-and-coming religion with the flick of a finger. Carvings decorated the walls up past the dark in intricate frescoes that seemed to chronicle something as they spiraled up the walls. Given a nod from Anko, Sakura ran her fingers along the face of a man. Without turning back she asked yet another question. She supposed she was getting tiresome with all the inquiry, but nevertheless.
"What does it mean? Or does it mean anything at all?"
The stone was smooth despite its age – it had been respected by wherever former and current tenants had occupied the building. Her eyes followed the spiral up as it seemed to tell a story.
"We got a lot o' the bottom, but we're still workin' our way up. Lady Kurenai was tryin' to figure it out on her free time. If yer a hist'ry girl, that might be a ven-yoo fer ya. 'Parently, the bottom here talks 'bout some prosp'rous civilization way back b'fore the Builders made this pit," she said, spitting the word 'pit' as if it were the capital 'P' 'Pit'. The Pit. "An' all we can make out way up there is what we think is the City bein' built. An' if it's th' City up there, then it means that this's prolly 'bout why the City was built. We don' know the details, but that's what we're thinkin'. But anyways, let's keep goin', shall we?"
Sakura nodded and patted the man's face before going off behind Anko. She passed under a set of scaffolding that was slowly being taken down. Anko pointed it out that that was where Lady Kurenai had done her research. The younger girl's mouth made an 'o' sign and asked the her senior to wait a moment while she called up to the workers, asking them not to take it down. They raised their hands and conceded to the will of the House Entertainer, going down a ramp of scaffold that dropped with the spiral of fresco. When Anko sent her an odd look, Sakura mentioned that she was fascinated and would take up where Lady Kurenai had left off. More hallways opened up to her left and right, Anko pointing out that there were signs as to the direction of the main rooms hidden in the carvings. One only needed to know where to look.
The Library was grand, indeed, but a thick coat of dust rested on a few tables, leaving only one or two clean. A small smattering of people (three or four, maybe) wandered between shelves. The blue-haired Akatsuki woman Sakura had seen the night before sat reading a book vacantly, eyes scanning the page in a nonchalant manner. However, there were tall shelves of books raising up several levels, a staircase winding around in the same spiral-pattern as the frescoes in the Hall of the Dawn. The dining room was sparsely furnished – a long stone table and intricately carved stone chairs were all that graced the floor.
Apparently, they were to go to training next. She thought she spotted Shark-Man from the day before in a room off to the side, but Anko rushed it past her. They brushed past other hallways quickly and without pausing to explain where they led. Some of them had a notably darker feel. As if the dark itself were a tangible force poking at the edges of her brain. At one point, she had hesitated near one, peering down, but Anko had frowned, gripped her arm and pulled her away, their footfalls in the empty stone corridor muffling other noise.
But not before she thought she'd heard a scream.
A/N: Yes, I gave Anko an accent. She is supposed to be a character born and bred in Night, so I wanted to show the difference between the more middle-and-upper-class Twilight and Day and the lower-class-bordering-on-slummy Night level. No offense to anyone who DOES have an accent close to that, I just wanted to show a difference in culture (I had an accent like that myself once upon a time, so... meh).
I hope this chapter finds you all well!