Hey everyone! This is my entry for round two of the Edgar Allen Poe inspired contest! This week's theme is "dream within a dream." Every week more authors are eliminated until there is one winner. Anyone can vote, even if you don't have a live journal. If you want to see me make it to round 3 and write another installment, then head on over to kakasaku at live journal and vote for me!
This chapter is completely unrelated to the first one, meaning they have nothing to do with each other. Just keep that in mind.
This particular segment came out creepy and twisted and strange and above all sex free. I really think there might be something wrong with me.
Kakashi awoke with a start, body jerking as if he had just been submerged in a pool of frigid water. He was in a cave. The same cave where the battle had begun. It was dark and cold, illuminated only by the soft glow of what he assumed to be phosphorescent fungus growing plentifully on some of the rocks.
He got to his feet, body aching and mind spinning as he tried to get his bearings and remember how he had gotten here.
He had been sent on a mission to terminate a rouge ninja who had taken to terrorizing towns and collecting followers. Nobody knew for sure what he wanted after he took control of every settlement he passed, but he was already a powerful man and had to be stopped.
Kakashi had been assigned the job with Sakura as his personal medic and backup. He had hoped for a larger team, but nearly all of Konoha's shinobi were currently deployed, and the Hokage feared that the longer they waited to act, the greater this threat would become.
So she had sent Kakashi and his former student. The Copy nin was amazed at how adept the kunoichi had become. He was certain that together, they would be able to easily dispose of the troublemaker, but Kakashi had not counted on his foe being such a powerful genjutsu user.
Kakashi made his way through the cave, not knowing if he was getting closer to the entrance or deeper into endless tunnels that snaked from one cavern to the next. He was on guard. Something didn't feel right. Time was missing from his memories. He had been in mid fight with his opponent, the large but surprisingly agile man, charged at Sakura who had already suffered a broken arm. He had tried to intercept, but what had happened after that? Where was his partner?
The winding tunnel led to a cavern so large, Kakashi could not even see the stone ceiling above. Stalactites thrust out of the cavern floor, the product of thousands of years of slow, but steady rock formation. The strange glowing fungus was present in this room as well, but even the air around him seemed to shimmer with light. Upon activating his Sharingan, Kakashi realized he was looking at thousands, if not millions of tiny bugs. They were fireflies, or something close to them, flying about silently and lending their light to the dark room. It was by their illumination that Kakashi was able to see the figure laying in the circular clearing in the middle of the cave, a figure with pink hair and a familiar red shirt.
His voice echoed unnaturally in the vastness of the cave as he raced to her side. She was face down, motionless even as he knelt next to her and shook her gently. Icy dread wormed through his stomach like a malicious parasite as he gently rolled her over and cradled her body in his arms.
Her pretty face was unrecognizable, her skull smashed on one side, revealing inner workings of brain and bone. Her skin had been stripped away in places, leaving bloody tatters of muscle, now slack. White teeth grinned at him where she no longer had lips to cover them.
Kakashi could only gape in horror. How could this have happened? How could he be fighting one moment, and looking at his partner's corpse the next?
"Sakura," he whispered. "I'm sorry, so very sorry."
Eyelids that had covered emerald eyes suddenly flew open, their stare wild, manic.
Her voice was raspy, wheezy, probably do to the fact that the flesh on the side of her neck was gone, leaving a hole that let air escape from her throat. It was no longer the melodic tone of the girl he had known so long. She was a monster.
Pale fingers grasped at him and Kaksahi dropped her to the ground, scrambling away from the undead creature. His breath was high and thin and he struggled to take in panicked breaths. Sakura, or what was left on her, struggled onto her hands and knees and began to crawl after him at a pace that was far too fast to be natural.
Her voice rose to the scream of a banshee and Kakashi emitting a frightened scream of his own as he found himself pressed against the cave wall. He had nowhere to go and she was coming closer, closer. She was-
Kakashi awoke suddenly, heartbeat racing and palms sweating. He was instantly on his feet, trying to dispel the nightmarish visions from his head. It had been a dream. It was all just a dream. But then why was he still in a cave where the rocks were covered with the same eerie greenish glow?
Kakashi looked around, senses straining to pick up signs of life. There were none. Sakura's disfigured face was still crystal clear in his mind. His normally steady hands were shaking as he glanced around himself warily.
The only sound was the occasional drip of water seeping through fissures in the rock somewhere above as he began to make his way down the tunnel. Every curve and bend seemed to match up perfectly to the one he had just dreamt. He tried to tell himself that he was wrong, or that it was a coincidence, but when the tunnel opened up into the immense cavern, he knew there was no denying that this was the place he had recently inhabited in his dreams. The fireflies still hung thick in the air, cutting countless tiny trails in the darkness.
Kakashi's eyes immediately went to the center of the room, half expecting to see the gruesome remains of the kunoichi. But there was nothing. The Copy nin heaved a sigh of relief, but if she wasn't here, then where was she?
He cautiously and carefully began to search around the cave, working his way around the circular room. He checked every crevice but couldn't find so much as a drop of blood or a footprint to signify Sakura or anyone else had been here.
Just when he was considered climbing the steep walls to check for hidden openings, a familiar voice called his name. It was Sakura's, and it was coming from the tunnel from which he had entered. He turned and hurried towards the sound, but remained alert. He didn't know where the enemy had gone but he was certain he couldn't be far. The tunnel went on and on, twisting and turning until he emerged in another large cavern with a ceiling too high to see and filled with more fireflies than he could count. Sakura's voice seemed to echo off the walls, making it hard to determine her exact location.
He began to search the carve and came upon a set of footprint too large to be his partner's. In fact, they were a perfect match to his own sandal. He followed them, desperately hoping that there was an explanation, but as they followed the same circular path he had used when first inspecting the cave, he realized that he was indeed back in the same place.
"What the hell?" he growled. He had been absolutely sure that there had been only one entrance and exit at ground level. It should have been impossible for him to end up in the same place, and yet, here he was.
The shinobi whipped around to see Sakura walking towards him. She was uninjured, face intact without so much as a scratch. He was so relieved that his knees weakened and it was only by sheer will that he did not collapse to the ground.
She was on the far side of the cave and she was saying something but he couldn't hear. At first Kakashi didn't realize why. It had started so gradually he had barely noticed, but a soft buzzing thrummed all around him growing louder and louder until it drowned out Sakura's words. The source of the noise was a mystery until he noticed that all the light in the room was moving away from him and towards Sakura. Millions of agitated little wings created a hum that quickly became a cacophony.
Kakashi was suddenly filled with alarm. He didn't know what this meant, but he was sure it couldn't be good. Sakura continued to shout to him but he couldn't make out the words and the bright swarm clustered around her, leaving the rest of the room in darkness.
Her mouth opened wide as a look of surprise passed over her features and Kakashi could see why. The swarm of light-emitting insects was flying into her mouth as if they were a single being with one thought process. He began to sprint towards her, the cave suddenly seeming larger than ever as he tried to come to her aid.
As more bugs flew inside, a strange thing happened. Rays of light beamed from her mouth and she seemed to glow from within, making her transparent enough to see her skeleton through her skin. Her mouth was open as if the light itself had substance and was keeping it stretched open.
Kakashi ran as fast as he could but she still seemed the same distance away. He couldn't get to her, couldn't save her, as more and more bugs filled her and the light from within grew brighter and brighter until she was completely transparent, allowing him to see the silhouette of her beating heart, her expanding lungs. Light poured from empty eye sockets like search lights, and Kakashi still couldn't reach her, couldn't-
Kakashi awoke abruptly, hands clutched to his head. He was cold and stiff from laying on the cave floor. He was alone.
Another dream? It had to be, and the Copy nin tried harder than ever to clear his head of the nightmarish thoughts and remember where he had been before initially awaking. He was badly shaken, nerves shot from the strange and terrible images he had witnessed, but he forced himself to breath deeply as he sat on the cold cave floor.
He had entered this cave with Sakura after it had been revealed to them by some villagers that this was where there target was hiding. Exploring his hideout had been almost too easy. There were no hidden traps and they hadn't encountered anyone, just the strange moss or fungus that gave off a glow all its own.
And then they had encountered their enemy in one of the narrow tunnels. It was one of the worst places to have a fight but they had little choice. Their opponent had managed to pick up Sakura and throw her against the wall and then kick her hard enough to send her skittering down the tunnel on her side, breaking her arm in the process. He had charged her, intent on finishing the job and Kakashi had tried to intervene when the man turned on him and made a series of hand signs he hadn't recognized. Then Kakashi had woken up here.
A jutsu? Is that what had happened? Had he been teleported somewhere? Or was he currently caught in a genjutsu? It made sense, and would explain all the images that were too strange to be real.
Before he could think further on the subject, he heard heavy footsteps behind him. The Copy nin was instantly on his feet and turned towards the source, feet and fists ready in a defensive stance. He knew it wasn't Sakura. The footfalls were too heavy, too careless to come from his petite and agile partner. His suspicions were immediately confirmed as a large and hulking man came into view. He was broad shouldered, thick, but not as muscular and fit as one would expect a skilled shinobi to be. Eyes dark as tar met Kakashi's single, uncovered orb. His lips, which were framed by an unkempt beard, were twisted into a cruel grin as he walked forward purposefully, not at all intimidated by Konoha's famous assassin.
It was their target all right, known only as Dai, or more often, the Master of Illusion. Kakashi had scoffed at the title, though all he could do now was pray to the gods that this was all an illusion, because Dai held something in his right hand that made Kakashi ill despite all he had seen as a seasoned shinobi. He held a fistful or Sakura's pink tresses, and dangling from them was her head, severed cleanly from her body. Sightless green eyes rolled up at him as her head swung back and forth in time with Dai's walk.
Sakura was dead. She had been a brilliant and gifted kunoichi and medic. Untimely deaths were an occupational hazard, but Sakura's demise was one that Kakashi could not accept. It was because of him. He should have protected her and he had failed.
Rage bubbled inside the Copy nin as he shifted his attention from the kunoichi's remains to Dai's grinning face. He was going to make this man pay and he was going to do it in the most painful way possible.
Tugging his hitai-ate up to expose the spinning Sharingan, Kakashi rushed at his opponent, a lot growl of anger escaping him. A chidori was crackling in his right hand, bright blue energy flooding the tunnel with light, but just as he was about to deliver the blow, a terrible pain struck him in the chest. He looked down to see Dai's free hand lodged inside his left pectoral right up to the forearm. The pain was terrible as he watched in horror, chidori evaporating as he lost the concentration to maintain it. His strength left him as he saw Dai's hand emerge, holding something pink and fleshy...and beating.
He watched his own heart beating in Dai's bloodstained hand, and knew that his enemy meant to crush it right before his eyes. The fingers holding his heart squeezed tighter, tighter, and could swear he could still feel the pressure of his grip.
Then his hand abruptly closed into a fist, sending fleshy tissue oozing through his fingers and-
Kakashi awoke and realized he was screaming, the terrors of his nightmare enough to make him cry out in his sleep. He looked around, mentally cursing when he saw he was still in the cave and there still was no sign of Sakura. He couldn't take this anymore, waking up again and again. He didn't know what was real anymore. He didn't know what had happened to him but he had a feeling the moment Dai had made the hand signs held the key. His nickname, the Master of Illusion, had been earned by his reputation of being incredibly skilled in genjutsu. Despite his Sharingan and experience, Kaskashi must be caught in one right now. He wasn't trapped in a series of dreams, but illusions and he had no idea how to get out or what was happening to Sakura back in the real world.
Sakura had been injured, her arm broken and he knew she wouldn't be able to heal it before Dai tried to attack. He had to help her or at least distract the enemy long enough for her to repair the broken limb.
Not knowing what else to do, Kakashi drew a kunai from its holster. This method had worked for him before when trying to break free from an opponent's genjutsu. He only hoped it would work now. Gritting his teeth, he plunged the kunai into his thigh, wincing as the sharp blade cut cleanly through muscle-
Kakashi opened his eyes. He was still in the cave, but the sight was made much more appealing by the pair of emerald eyes peering at him with concern.
"Kakashi-sensei, are you ok?"
With some difficulty, the Copy nin pushed himself into a sitting position and looked around. Everything was the same as his dream, the stalactites, the glowing moss. The air was even filled with fireflies, but there were no zombie corpses and Sakura still had her head.
"Where's Dai?" he asked as he got to his feet, body tense as he waited for the bugs to attack or for his heart to suddenly be ripped from his chest.
"There," Sakura replied pointing to a dark figure that was face down in one of the cave's numerous puddles. Blood had seeped out of the body, turning the clear pools a dirty brownish-red. It appeared that Sakura had taken care of their target all by herself. It was also apparent she was favoring her injured arm greatly.
"How bad is it?" he asked, gesturing to the injury in question.
Sakura shrugged matter-of-factly. "I did a sloppy job healing it since I didn't have a lot of time," she said. "Once I get back to Konoha, I'll have to re-break it and heal it over again, but it was enough to win the fight."
Kakashi smiled beneath his mask, marveling at how much this once lovesick and weak girl had blossomed into a beautiful woman who was as tough as nails and ten times as deadly. He couldn't help ruffling her hair, although he knew it would annoy her. He wasn't the type to give compliments, but in this moment he was incredibly proud of her.
"I guess our work here is done," he said, grateful to be leaving this wretched place. "Let's go home."
Sakura grinned and nodded, falling into step with him as they began the long, winding journey back to the cave's entrance. He knew her arm must be bothering her, but she didn't utter a word of complaint, nor did she jibe him about getting caught in a genjutsu and leaving her to do all the fighting.
"How long was I out?" he asked conversationally, stepping around a particularly large puddle.
"Not long," she replied. "Only a minute or two. You were-"
Kakashi woke up, laying on the cold cave floor with nothing but the occasional drip of water to break the silence. Sakura and Dai were nowhere to be seen. He sat up, took his head in his hands, and screamed.