After watching 300 for the third or so time and after playing Sly Cooper continuously I got the idea of another fanfiction, perhaps by some odd blend of the two. My first picture of it was of Sakura in some fighting ring, sitting down, her hands tied behind her back, with someone punching her repeatedly in the face while the crowds cheer. She spits blood from her mouth at her tormentor, and is punched some more before her hands spontaneously break free from the ropes; she grabs the tormentor's collar and hurls them into the far wall, where their body makes an unpleasant, wet thumping sound. This may or may not become a scene in this story later on.

This fanfiction was begun on a whim, I suppose (though a "whim" for me can last days or weeks; anything and everything stays in my mind a long, long time.) However, I still thought about it the least, and wrote it the fastest, than any story I have ever thus far. And for that reason I have few beginning comments about it.

At The Information Vault

In higher, cleaner circles the world is made of cream and silk, and small circles they are, as hardly anyone even knows what those things are. So much of the world is just the opposite. Life does not move with smooth fancies and art and silk. It moves with blood and bone and metal and power.

In my world, which I think is still like the majority of the whole world outside it, there are the supernaturally powerful folk called shinobi. We are supposed to fear them. We do. I like to think I am so different, so separate from others because of what I've done, but in this way, I'm not. I worry as much as anyone what a shinobi could do to me. You can never guess, because each one of them has some special, vicious power they can use to do whatever they wish. I would use mine to defend myself. Shinobi usually use theirs to howl aloud their dominance, to hurt others to do just that, and these things are always done under the eyes of their lord.

The lord is the one who decides who suffers and who does not. A lord rules over a land, and he rules with every inch, every boneless scrap of freedom possible. There is not the slightest challenge, and he has no duties to anyone, not even the shinobi, who are like a lord's wolves. It is not his job to make his land prosperous and peaceful or give out any niceties to people he comes by. Most often a lord makes it his job to choose families, or villages, to have the honor of making his own niceties, such as his clothes or food or favored entertainment. And them, he will protect. Perhaps their village will be moved to the foot of his castle so he does not have to travel far to take from them. They're directly under his eyes, and very lucky for it. They will be protected from attack and peril, and their crops and livestock will grow uninterrupted and fine. Indeed, nothing but the finest for the lord and his shinobi!

For everyone else, every other person in the world who is not so privileged, there is a saying, one that began in the Land of the Sand and spread on winged tongues to all places. "For everyone else, fire!"

When I was young, there were several spots of knowledge in which I was laughably ignorant, and I had to have this explained to me until I could explain it, too. Fire is all suffering, fire is death, starvation, the loss of everything. The rage, the dread. The way men live. A brother dead, a child diseased, a man , a woman defenseless, a limb rotting and a cellar empty, and hungry, rumbling beasts pushing down your door. Everyone has something. And all of it, all suffering, is done on barren land. I cannot attest to this myself, but it's said that only the land near a lord's castle has grass anymore...I have never seen grass.

I do wish I could. It's green, and I'm very fond of green things. I see green eyes sometimes, usually beasts' eyes or the skin of a long-dead or hurting man. I am probably too fascinated with green skin...or rather, I often wonder how a man changes, how things can make you sick, and why. I can't do any more than sit in my dark space and wonder, and have ideas. I like my ideas. I hardly need distractions anymore, but on that one day in a blue moon when I do, my thoughts are there.

But again, I hardly need them. I am used to the carnage. It is my life.

When I am not healing another's tears, or sweeping dirt from my dress, I think about the life of shinobi and what that must be like, also. Sometimes I see them in the stadium; they are not difficult to identify. Each of them has their unique power, and their spryness of body. Each shinobi comes into contact with a god that gives them strength and relative youth far longer than a body ought to have those things. And with all these advantages, a shinobi might become a lord himself one day. I think that is the ultimate goal of all of them, though until they achieve that rare, rare dream, they are at the lord's beck and call. They are not so much more free than the rest of us.

Nay, only the lords are free. They have triumph over everything, everyone, and similarly, they come up in my rambling thoughts more often than I like, despite how few in number they are. They are only five. Five in all the world, at any time, one for each of the great lands. My favorite, the favorite of all, is Lady Temari. The only female lord, thus her title is rewritten to "Lady;" she is the only one who deserves the grandeur of lordship. Lady Temari ruled over the Land of the Sand, with her two younger brothers, both shinobi, at her side. Her reign was not so long ago, and not nearly, not at all, so feared and submitted to as the other lords. Lady Temari was kind. She gave to citizens she came across. She did not rend the flesh or property of anyone she so pleased, nay, only those who threatened or challenged her, as any lord must to maintain their power and position. For a decade, she ruled. For a decade, unknowable ever before, the people were happy.

Lady Temari had been the greatest of all.

But all reigns end. A lord, like a shinobi, has a greater supply of energy and youth than any one average man. The lady was nearing forty years when she was deceived and killed by her trusted brothers. And they, foul, black-hearted hounds, were killed the following month. That killer was the most deceitful, the most cunning of all. That murderer is Sasori, and he is now the Lord of Sand, and has been for twenty-one years.

He is the same as the other four, as any lord before or after him: he has a few chosen villages to supply him with his pleasantries and passions, and a castle, to house and reinforce the blood-run power that he is. Like (almost) any lord before or after him: he was a shinobi before being a lord, and killed his superior to take his position. There exist shinobi who defected from their own lord to take the head of a different one. Asuma was one. But Kakashi cut off all his limbs and then his head, and he rules there now. It is ascension through murder. The very phrase makes me balk and grind my teeth.

I balk now at how I ramble. But what else am I supposed to do with my time?

I am not finished with my morose story. Apologies, but I only want to tell the truth to those who want to hear it. And if you are here, you are here for truth, aren't you? If you're here for pleasant lies, or easy paths, leave me, or I shall come round to where you are and drag you out by your hair. So listen to me. All I've spoken and thought of in this time is the whole world around me, lands wider than man could walk, men who destroy, people who are ripped apart and raped and killed. You have yet to hear about me, and my own world. Maybe it is even worse. My home is the Undergrounds. It is a system of caves, tunnels, and stone arenas. I stand in these arenas, and fight demons with my hands.

This is just a place to me, somewhere to exist and in my free time, think, whisper, and wish for baths. But I think my view on it is rather skewed. People come here to see a person, a person like me, a coward like Ebisu, any faced with a beast in a free space. Spectators watch from the stone seats and yell. That yelling is really familiar to me. It's probably familiar to all the shinobi, too, as the Undergrounds is where they train, learn to move and fight, and people have always known that they were "born" here. People have always known that chakra, the unearthly force that makes shinobi so great, is born in the Undergrounds with them, when a man is at his limit and still attempts to go on fighting.

The Undergrounds are the place where kidnapped children and young girls are taken to when their guardians lose them. They will be pinned and used and seduced here, or tossed into the ring. And people will watch as they try to run. It makes me shiver. It makes me want to grasp rocks and torched bones in my palm, and crush them to dust and spatters. Many people are silent at this, but I am certainly not the only one who cringes at this injustice. But it is true and practiced daily around the world no matter how I feel about it.

The Undergrounds are fierce places, and highly beloved places to those aboveground. The spectators are often shinobi, or healthy village men. Perhaps a lord occasionally even watching a match in the Undergrounds. Wouldn't it be their ultimate, most selfish pleasure? They can while away time here, watching fights, pleasuring themselves in every way, exulting in their jewels and glory and women while the common people above them, above ground, starve and kill and cry out. This is my world, this dark, bleeding place for the grand and the strong only.

Whatever it looks and seems like, it is earth and not hell, and there are good-hearted people here. People like me.

My name is "Sakura," and Sakura only. I have lived here so long I cannot remember my life before being here. I do not know how old I am, but the girls here who cling to me and cry tell me I must be seventeen, or perhaps sixteen, as thinness can look as though it takes age out of you. How old I am, and my age, are two different things, I think. After all, how is it that I may be seventeen, and feel so old and angry?

That might be a fault of the Undergrounds itself. It requires fighting and quick learning. No room for enjoyment, for the enjoyment of youth. Just violence. Whispering to cellmates in the dark. Standing up many times.

So long ago when I first had to stand up after being felled. How many years? I can't possibly know. How irksome. Irksome! Irksome was not what I thought then, as a child with such long hair, shivering and seeing a tiger for the first time. Or at least the thing looked like a tiger. It was there, the thousand lights and thousand torches of the spectators were there. People screeching at me and a layer of sand under my feet. I saw the tiger's teeth and the pinkish meat caught between his largest fangs. I felt sure it was human meat, and soon he would rip me open and I would be human meat, too. But that couldn't be. I wanted life so badly in that moment, I simply could not be human meat for a monster or for entertainment. The thing came at me, eager to change that. I remember its roar and its huge feet.

There must have been some admirable fight in me that night, that's for sure. I ran at the young tiger, too, and tackled it to the ground. We wrestled. I tried to dig my fingers into soft parts, under its "arms," on the belly, in its eyes and ears. The thing pierced me all over, ripped my clothes and pulled pieces of my hair out. Such pain there was...such pain I worked through, crying and screeching, dragging up the tiger's neck till I was curved round it, and snapped its spine. It was my first kill and I would have a thousand more.

I can fight beasts like tigers because I am strong. I am a bit small, but this does not stop me from lifting beasts my full weight and far larger, and hurling them into walls. I have worked hard, been brave too many times, and become strong. I can withstand any monster's assault. Some people tell me I can do this because I have chakra within me, like a shinobi does. I disagree, because I feel that I'd know if I had such a thing. All I knew at the time, all I know now, is that I killed a monster with my bare hands, and I can repeat the feat at any time. And at the time, when I had killed the tiger and the men of the Underground dragged me back to my cell with the other girls, I was proud, and shaking. Thirsty, too. None of that mattered, though, as once I was in the cell, I came to realize other girls here were crying, as I'd been deaf to them amidst my own fear when I had first come in not much earlier.

The girl nearest me was much older than me, and her hair very light. She shrunk away from my hand, and then came back to it desperately. She shoved into me and out of instinct and helplessness I tried to comfort her and patted her shoulder. She cried into my shoulder for a long time, darkening my bloody, old gown with tears, and it did not take me long to brush away these tears, and feel the warm, wet hole in the woman's head. She was lacking an eye, and the hole was jagged. It had been gouged out.

And then the door was opened, and a man with a torch came in, and took me through a maze of stone hallways to the arena where I fought another beast.

Almost every day of my life I've been taken out of that dark cell, escorted down a maze of halls and put into a ring where I fight another beast and another thousand people watch me from an arena. This is a place that is actually a huge room carved from some underground cave, someplace where true light doesn't exist. Then again, the outside world where true light shows itself isn't much better than the Undergrounds. I don't really know why I saw a difference in these places.

The only difference I really note is the different girls who appear in my cell. They come and go all the time, and when they are here, I speak to them. I help them. I must say something, as most of them will due the day or the week they are captured an taken here. Most of them are going to be killed by monsters and I want them all to die knowing they had a friend, someone to cling to and stay with in their last day.

Because it's always their last day. For all but me. I am the oldest, longest-living victim, or fighter, or survivor, ever to be seen here. Or at least, around this sector of the Undergrounds. Perhaps fifty miles from here no one has heard of me, and there are fifteen fantastic fighters like me.

But that possibility doesn't matter.

When a guard and some well-dressed man comes down to my dark cell and looks in at me through the bars, inspecting me, I shiver and look away,but I try to put on a brave act and not go and hide behind some other girl. Despite how I hate when people look at me, I am not that pathetic. The ring where I fight the beasts is not nearly so bad as when a single man comes down to look at me through the cell bars. I can't see those people as well way up in the stands and I can pretend that they're not looking at me. I can pretend that only I and the monster before me exist in the world.

Here is something that you may find strange, but I find crucial to my tale. When I am not fighting, when that half hour or so of my day is over and I am walked back to my cell with the cool, stone walls, near-complete darkness and crowd of whimpering girls of varying ages, I sit in some random place in the room and let my mind wander. I sit, awake, and dream.

I dream all kinds of things. I dream about myself having fantastic adventures or being the star of a dismal mystery. I see people I've never known but my mind has made up, doing sometimes insane things like flying with the birds in the sky or average, everyday things like boarding up their windows from vandals at night. I dream about medicine, salves and drinks that can bring man back from the brink of death.

But the greatest thing I dream about is just that: a dream. I dream of a world where lords care for their land and their people, where monsters and criminals don't wander the empty hills at all times, where people don't murder someone to become the most powerful person in the land and rule over a nation they don't care about.

This is the only reason I smile—well, sometimes I smile when I'm fighting and winning, but usually that's as natural and uneventful as breathing, so…you understand.

What, did you think I became a shell of a girl after eight or nine years of killing monsters under the watch of a thousand greedy people? You are wrong. I told you before I am strong. I can pick up a fully-grown lion and throw it across the arena. You think that if I have the strength to do that, to do that for years, I would break? That I would curl up in a weeping ball and lie awake to feel the breaking of my own heart?

You are wrong.

You have seen me crush rocks and quietly rage at the people who live in this world. You know how I feel about what exists out there.

If this world is nothing but a hellpit, then there's no harm in me trying to make it better. It can't get much worse than it is now. I have seen the worst of this world. I live in the worst of this world. I believe that if I keep fighting, if I keep winning, something will happen. I will win a battle against a beast and the guard who usually takes me back to the dark cell full of crying girls will take me someplace else. I will escape from that place, to the outside world that I haven't seen for close to a decade, and I will wait. Hardly ever does someone from the Undergrounds escape from the Undergrounds. Even the common, pathetic people above ground know that.

I will gain attention that way. I will kill the evil to make my way to one of the five lords. I will kill the bandits, the men who still daughters and wives, the beasts that assault and rape the innocent. And I will kill the first lord that I find.

I am faster than the cheetah. I am stronger than the bear. I am braver than the lioness. This life in the Undergrounds has made me perfect in any surviving art I will need in the outside world.

When I kill a lord, I will become a lord myself. I will become Lor—no. I will be Lady Sakura. Being a lord, being a lady, is the highest position of power anywhere. If you want to set your entire land on fire, your shinobi would have no choice but to do it for you, no matter how much they wanted you to rot in hell. With that power, with my own willpower, I will change what exists out there. I will change many villages, perhaps a whole land, given some years. I have proven myself more than any other person I've ever met. Perhaps I could change the world.

Even if the other four lords send all their shinobi after me, if they come after me themselves, I will fight to my last breath. I will be flung into the Godless One's mouth before I surrender to the demon-men who torture others. I will do something, anything! I will help, I will destroy any evil I find, I will...I will do good. That's all I've ever wanted: to do good.

If I can't become a lord, I can at least kill some shinobi. I can at least do something to help. My life's hardly worth anything. It's the lives of everyone else, the lives of the good people like the girl of one eye, from so long ago, that are worth something.

...How dark.

Well that's what this story is going to be about. The inspirational, maybe-just-if-you-believe possible story of one girl who may or may not end up changing the world, because almost everyone on Earth is suffering.

I don't think there will be any specific pairings in this story, but who can say? Soon you will be acquainted with all the lords, and Sakura's more specific plans for ruling her own kingdom. But there are challenges and depressing quests and sights aplenty before she gets that far, so the lords will wait a bit...or will they?

The lords include Sasori, Pain, Naruto, and...well, the other two I haven't decided yet. Give me another chapter. Just be aware that since they're lords, that implies that they're all total bastards who have no regard for the people of their kingdom. Implies.

Well...that's all I have to say. Till next update.