Notes: This is a new story, i know i have half a dozen popular unfinished ones but bear with me. My writing style has changed radically recently and this is a trial run to explore it. Any comments on the style, no purely the story, would be appreciated. SEEKING BETA READER
WARNING: I am dyslexic and lack a proof reader so expect errors such as wrong word usage and oddly structured phrases.
A trembled racked my body fuelled by a sting of emotion that drowned my mind and clouded my vision.
"Congratulations." the instructor said as he awarded another.
"Thank you." The student bowed low in gratitude.
Anger bubbled and boiled inside of me building into a rage that I knew would not last. It would flare and dance wildly but like a wildfire suffocate itself under its own heat and leave me with nothing but ash.
"Congratulations." The instruct spoke again stepping further down the line.
"Thank you." Another undeserving voice accepted.
It was not fair, none of this was fair. Why them, why not me? My hands that where already fists clenched tighter still. My fingers screamed in protest threatening to buckle under the stress but it fell on deaf ears.
"Congratulations, you did well." The instruction to my left now patted an especially gifted student on the shoulder.
"Thank you." The student bowed curt and deep accepting his reward.
My jaw strained and my teeth grit, eyes squinted in the effort to hold back a flood of tears. No! I would not cry, no matter what, I would not cry! I would endure like a leaf accepting the howling winds and find comfort that it could not harm me.
"I'm Sorry. Better luck next year." The instructor who now stood before me spoke hollow with a hint of distaste staring down his nose. His scorn and prejudice displayed for all to see and none would fault him.
"Thank you." So hard to say but I managed bowed with my face contorted in grotesque rage. My body felt on fire and a cold sweat trickled down my spine, I could no longer see. White pure blinding white filled my vision as dampness flooded my palms. Not sweat but blood, my nails gouging my skin demanding punishment for my passiveness.
They stole it from me, Took what I hard earned, what I had disserved. They had no right, they were in the wrong. Where was the justice, the fairness? My breath hitched as I nearly lost it for a moment, the instructor spared a violent assault from my will alone. He remained ever present. He wanted to enjoy it this, his triumph over me. To take his sick pleasure at my loss.
Endure... I must. Appease him, show him I am beaten. Don't let him see the fire, the hate. He will suffer for what he's done, but not today. Today was his day, let him have it. Endure! Endure!
An eternity passed and still he remained. The sun fell and rose, the stars twinkled and the moon sank. Eons passed, the world crumbled and he still remained.
Leave me! Have you not taken everything from me? My honour, my dignity? Do you intend to take my very soul next? My vision blazed in white began to fill with black voids. They where gateways sucking away my consciousness, my life. If he would not move then I would make him..
Breath exploded from my lungs I did not know I had kept. He had moved and I stood strait and proud even as my eyelid fluttered violently from the burning ache to cry. Do not cry, do not falter. I am strong, I will survive.
Again and again the phrases filled the air. To my ears they where no longer praise and gratitude but sneers and mocking, laughter. More laughter filled the air, over and over. Each and every one circling me with the arms outstretched pointing and staring. Stop it... stop it... Stop it!
"That is the end of the ceremonies. Everyone is dismissed." A mediator spoke and his words were like a blade cutting the strings that held my body up like a marionette. Around me laughter and excitement erupted as the thumps and echoes of feet carried their owners from the room.
Alone at last. My legs gave out as my knees fell hard to the unforgiving floor, the pain a comfort. Soon my fists tainted with my blood joined them along with my long flowing hair as I hung my head in true defeat. Despite all my attempts I could not stop them, not a single one. My tears trickled freely, silently, streaming down my cheeks and nose and falling to the floor with the softest of sounds.
I had thought myself prepared, thought myself strong enough. I had been wrong. This pain I felt, this pain was death itself. Had I hoped for a miracle? I must have because pain such as this could only have been born form such a whimsical dream.
I remained till my body stopped trembling, my tears stopped flowing, and I let out a hoarse shaky breath. I had not cried, a small victory. My tears where just a physical reaction nothing more. No cry of weakness or rage had left my lips, of anguish of betrayal. I had not cried.
Standing was difficult, my emotions weighting on my back like the Konaha mountains. One leg then the next, one step then another. I whipped my eyes and set my back straight, I was strong, proud. The hallway was sparse of students except friends congratulating one another. They stared and I ignored. The schoolyard empty, I felt relief. Only a few more steps and freedom would be mine.
At last. Passing the gate to the ninja academy it was like a barrier that sucked away all my emotions and pain, my foot meeting the street. It was done and I had survived. Home is where I longed to be but my pride would not allow it. No I would show them, show them all I was no little girl to run home and cry under her sheets.
I turned and began a familiar path I had walked many times. It would lead me to Ichiraku Ramen, a ramen stand I knew well and held fondness for. If not for the food then the proprietor who in this village of hated and distrust favoured me with a gentleness I had not found anywhere else.
"Welcome! What can I get you?" Teuchi smiled broad and happy turning from the cookers to greet me. immediately he saw though my tough act as always and his expression hardened. Without a word he forced a bowl before me, pork ramen, my favourite.
"Eat." he commanded in a sympathetic voice but left no room for argument and I gave none. Sliding onto a stool I sat before the steaming bowl, opened a pair of chopsticks, and ate. Before I had half finished he generously added another cup fob broth and two pork cutlets to the bowl. A rare gesture even from him.
"How'd it go?" He asked.
"I'll survive." I replied feeling much better now that my stomach was warmed.
"Well that's debatable." He frowned and turned to the cookers to tend the broth. He was always like this and it warmed me as much as the food. He never pushed, he never accused, he just accepted. No one else within the village treated me like he did and for a moment my eyes itched again with tears.
"I was the only one." I stated and him knowing the context gave a heavy nod not turning to meet my gaze.
"He said... better luck next year." My words where soft and tired but this time it was enough to make him look over his shoulder favouring me with one eye.
"Did he now?" He questioned rhetorically and looked back at the burners. "That makes the third time."
"Keeping count?" I scowled hatefully but immediately felt shame for my outburst towards him of all people. He gave a soft laugh and let it slide without comment. I continued to eat and soon finished.
"On the house." He commanded as I pulled money free, his back to me. I ignored him and left the proper sum, extra broth and cutlet included. He rubbed the back of his head and sighed heavy in exasperation but posed no argument. I left.
There, I was done. No one could say I ran home and hid now, I had put in my appearance. I had shown everyone I was strong enough to take the blow and continue to stand tall, no one could say otherwise. But now I truly longed for home and did not fight my feet as they carried me there.
My room mirrored my soul to a spade, worn and abused. Cracked walls and fading pain greeted me as I entered. To any other it would feel oppressive and confining but to me this was my home, my space. There was no other place in all of my world I did not cherish as much as this one. My sanctuary.
My stride took me from the tiny entranceway where a small cupboard and the beginnings of my kitchen sat. The rest of my home opened before me, a single large room that was a mess with tossed clothing and assort possessions of little note. To the far right of the room against the same wall the cupboard was set in was another tiny room, the bath unit.
I considered relaxing in there and washing away the cold sweat that had come over me from the days event but declined. No warmth was not what I desired only comfort. My room would have to bear with me as I cluttered it further.
My mask was the first thing I discarded, it had covered my neck up to the bridge of my nose with black durable elastic fabric. It was followed by the cloth wrappings that had been bound around each of my wrists and the lose sleeves of my orange gi top. The top met the floor as I moved onto the wrapping around my ankles and the matching lose orange gi bottoms. A cloth belt, black spandex one-piece body suit, sheathed sword and assorted concealed weapons, and my cloth chest wrapping later I flopped all but naked onto my bed, a traditional Japanese futon.
I lay in loincloth alone, not panties like would be suited to my gender but a twisted cloth wrapped between my thighs and over my hips with a generous portion untwisted and hanging like a cover down my front. The cool air from my wide open window caressed my burning back as my eyes looked distantly at nothing, obscured by wrinkles in my blanket.
This is what I needed, this right here. my eyes closed and my body relaxed, my hands fisting lightly in the protective threads of my blanket. I had no worries here, no fears. Even my open window posed me no alarm as all that would greet me though it was the dirty concrete wall that was within an arm's reach.
Sleep did not claim me and it would not for a time as it was still mid day. That thought as innocent as it was lead to less innocent questions. Sleep brought night, brought morning but was there a morning for me? Was there reason to wake, reason to test the darkness of sleep and return only to find my wakening world to be as empty as my dream one?
I turned, flipping onto my back and starred at my cobwebbed ceiling and the yellowed age-worn florescent bulb that had burnt out years ago never to be replaced. In my mind, me and it where one and the same. Burning brightly for so long with such determination, but in once instant blazed with glory and extinguished.
The bulb had suffered only once while I still lingered. Three times. Three. I had been extinguished three times. I wondered to myself if the bulb had thought would it pity me or feel sympathy for my pains? No, it was just a stupid light bulb stuck in my room with no knowledge of the world. If anything it would scorn me for not giving it a proper burial and letting its corpse hang for so long.
"Fine.. fine... I get it. Don't hate me any more Mr. Bulb." I sighed and rested an arm over my eyes, the other across my belly bellow my smallish breasts.
"I will change you tomorrow..." I promised but could feel the bulbs scornful glare still on me, I ignored it.
"Why?" The word surprised me filling the air. For the barest of moments I thought it was Mr. bulb morning my abandonment of it but no. It was my own voice mourning my own abandonment. I was abandoned, no perhaps that was not the word. I would have to have first belonged, been part of, to be abandoned. I had never been.
"Why am I hated." I asked aloud for the countless time and the answer returned as a bellowing silence. Since my earliest memories scorn and hostility was thrown upon me like confetti at a parade. The village the grand procession and me the only spectator. Each villager tossing a handful of color paper, their hatred, letting it bury me in a rising tide of abuse.
Stubborn as I am I wasn't content to simply be buried so I climbed. With each new handful of paper I climbed higher still standing above all, queen of the confetti pile. But I played by the rules because breaking them meant more confetti. The same was not true for the village however.
For so long I stood atop it all, the hate, the scorn but two years ago in great gust of wind knocked my feet out from under me casting me down into the pile to drown and be swallowed. But I persisted clawing my way back up.
The second time, a year ago. The wind returned but the pile had grown, doubled in size. I had choked and coughed suffocating under its weight but I endured and once more met daylight crawling above the mass proving to all I could take it and more.
This time... this time however. The pile could no longer be called a pile. Now a mountain existed and a great fissure had parted dropping me into an abyss I was not certain I could ever escape. This time the weight was too much, the pain to grand. I had no will left, no energy to dig my way out..
My fist slammed into my blanket as I grit my teeth, streams of water trickling down my cheeks. I trembled but I did not cry. I would not... I was proud, strong, I could survive this just like before. Just... I just needed a little time, a little time to catch my breath and gather my strength.
Crisis averted my breath shuddered from me, my fist unfurled, body relaxed and tears halted.
Spontaneously I stood and moved the short distance it was to the cupboard by the entrance way and retrieved a dusty new light bulb. I returned to Mr. Bulb and replaced him in silence pretending to hear his words of thanks and forgiveness. As if it were a symbolic gesture I did not simply toss Mr. bulb into the trash I gently guided him and set him on the bottom.
"Rest in peace." I spoke and felt a little better despite the ridiculousness of it all. A good deed done I felt energized despite the heavy burden I bore and decided to use it for good use. I sat at my small dining table and rested my chin in my hands as I closed my eyes to think.
How was it possible that I could be failed three years in a row from graduating the ninja academy when my ability were on par with many of the graduates. It was as clear now as it was the first time. They did not want me to advance, to graduate but why? It all came back to their unexplained hostility towards me.
Thousands of theory's had run though my mind over my eighteen years of life but none rung true or where impossible to prove. Paranoia aside there was a great secret no one talked about that involved her and it was the source of all her hardships. A secret so important that no one dare speak it... If only where was some record... wait.. what? A record?
I sat bolt upright in my seat as a cold sweat returned. How stupid could I be, just how blind and narrow was my vision. Of course, such a secret could not be kept without enforcement and enforcement was ordained by the annals and rules set by the council. If a law was passed forbidding speaking of the matter a record of it would exist with a one hundred present certainty.
"The hokage tower." the words passed my lips as the rage i thought burnt out returned from kindling and i greedily fed it. I felt dizzy as I stood, the room spinning but I felt no unbalance. I redressed and left in a daze, my destination set, my goal etched in stone.
I was no stranger to the tower nor it to me. Dozens of occasions I was dragged before the Hokage himself on complains and accusations from the village or instructors. They demanded punishments for crimes and acts I had no awareness or knowledge of but often they got their way. The Hokage was always lenient and I suspected he knew the validity of the charges against me. However that had never stopped him from punishing me and was the primary reason I held no love for him.
Records, fourth floor I remembered. It would be a risk, the record room was attached to the hokages office itself. If he was there or worse, looking thought he records himself, i had little chance of finding what i desired. He might not mind me reviewing law scrolls but he most certainly would if i peeked at the forbidden scrolls which is where such a unique law would be hidden.
Ninjas came and went regularly so no one cast me a second glance as I entered and scaled the tower. Some favoured me with distrust or amusement, perhaps at my failure to graduate, but none stopped me.
Fourth floor, record. I entered. Nothing jumped out at me and I could sense the room was vacant of all but me. Good, I needed some time to find what I needed. As an afterthought I collected a sturdy wooden chair and braced it under the handle of the door. If someone where to attempt entry from the hall they would assume the room locked or stuck. Either case would give me enough to conceal my activities. I did not dare do the same to the hokages door which remained solidly shut.
Records... records... authorized personnel only... forbidden to all but hokakge. There! if it existed it would be among those. Only three scrolls sat upon the shelf but each was like a great log cut from a tree. Techniques, treaties, forbidden. The first two scrolls didn't give me hope but the third sounded vague enough to risk punishment. Collecting it i hefted it from the shelf, heavy, but I had expected it.
"Oh Kino is that you in here, I have need of..." The hokages door swung upon smooth and easily as if oiled giving me no warning what so ever. The hokage himself stared at me inquisitively having expected someone else, the scroll wrapped in my arms.
"Naruko? What are you doing there?" He asked but his tone had an edge to it i had never heard. i panicked.
"Shadow clone!" I cried forming hand seals, in an instant four of me filled the room and we scattered for every exit. The scroll dropped and abandoned on the floor. As expected the old man underestimated me like everyone else and used a binding jutsu to capture two of my clones that fled thought the further exit from him. His next target was the one that had leapt though the open window. His poor choices in targets was perfect as he never expected me to bolt right past him through his office and out his window.
My escape was not complete just yet however as the hokage gave chase. Clear by the techniques he used he had no intention in harming me he only wanted to apprehend me. Most likely to get a full explanation of my crime.
I grinned as my clones did an excellent job, especially the one who lead the hokage away out his own window. I returned to my normal shape from the abandoned scroll which had been the real me the entire time. I promptly fled though the doors to the inner tower and found and escape route in the opposite direction.
The hokage would realize my ruse very quickly so I had to make distance, I knew I would be caught and this time the punishment would not be a slap on the wrist. If the scroll held the reason for my headships i would proudly walk naked down the street to my own execution.