A flower that blossoms beautifully and strongly during the day…
A flower that wilts and dies during the night…
A flower that renews itself…
A flower that lives through an endless cycle…
One flower with many meanings mixed into it…
And with so many meanings…
A gorgeous and poisonous kunoichi experiences them…
For she is the very epitome of Morning Glory…
ஜ ~ ஜ
The night was dark and peaceful, gray clouds shrouded the moon's unearthly luminous glow from showering its light upon the Village Hidden in the Leaves. No stars were visible in the black sky, not a trace of human life could be heard or seen within the quiet darkness. The citizens of the Leaf Village were snuggled in their warm beds, their head filled with sweet dreams. All but for one, that is.
In her small apartment bedroom, a beautiful, yet tormented, kunoichi twisted and turned under the covers of her twin-sized bed, her lithe form, young and taut with her youth, was coated with cold sweat from head to toe. Anko Mitarashi awoken with a violent jolt, her ragged and broken gasps trying to force down oxygen into her lungs. She couldn't breathe; it hurt too much to do so. Her chest felt incredibly tight, her gut clenching at the pain that was resonating throughout her body, originating from a single spot on the left side of her neck. It was the very thing that kept reminding her of the agony and sorrow she had to face every day for the rest of her life. It was an indelible brand, like a scar that was burned deep within her soul.
Heavens' Curse Mark.
Anko brought up her right hand to claw at the mark, her fingernails making rivulets of blood that seeped down her neck and onto and under her mesh bodysuit she wore all the time. There were days when the Curse Mark would pulsate, as it would react to her nightmares and thoughts, but it was never as bad as what she was feeling know. The pain was more excruciating this time, almost like if he was actually near her.
Her spiky ponytail that held her violet hair together stuck to her forehead from the sweat, her bangs covering her tired pupil-less brown eyes. She grimaced at the waves of pain flowing through her each time the Curse Mark throbbed, her teeth biting down her bottom lip to prevent her from hollering out in pain.
Tears brimmed the corners of her eyes, but the snake kunoichi refused to let them fall down her heart-shaped face. Tears were a sign of weakness; a disgrace not only to the Shinobi Rules but also to herself, and that was why she couldn't bring herself to let it pour down her round cheeks. She would never allow anyone to see them—not even to herself. She was a strong and reliable kunoichi of the Hidden Leaf Village, who faced the world with a tough and confident aura without caving in to anyone or anything. She was not some small child who would break down over a nightmare.
And yet, here she was, weeping over the vivid nightmare that still haunted her every thought. It didn't matter whether she was awake or asleep, the memories of his twisted smirk, his demonic laughter, his captivating, spellbound eyes flooded back into her mind, along with the fear that had cut through her life like a razor-sharp blade and penetrated her to the hilt.
She masked her anguish with a happy façade, all of her true, melancholy emotions pent up inside her. Moisture from around her eyes threatened to spill out from her again, but Anko held them back, not wanting all the barriers she'd built over the years crumble over as something as unwelcome memories.
"Stop it, now…" she chastised herself in a vehement whisper into the lucid darkness, her voice rasped and strained. "Get a grip, Anko…"
Her hands journeyed up to her scalp, her nails clutching her wet purple strands. The nightmare was still repeating over and over in her head, the fear she felt even in her dreamland was as real as anything she could feel in reality…and that frightened her to no end. She hated it; she hated him for causing her so much overwhelming sorrow and anger stirring within her. She wondered when there would ever be a day when he didn't invade her every thought, regret and desire.
Will there ever be a day when she could forget about him and stop living in her shattered past that she barely possessed any recollection of? She wished she could forget everything. Forget him. Forget that she had cared, worshipped, loved and admired him because in the end, all she got in returned was his betrayal. He abandoned her, when he was the only thing she had left in the world. He cast her off when he deemed her useless, tossing her aside as if she was trash.
He would pay—one day.
Then maybe he will see just how 'useless' she was now. She would be there, a kunai in her fisted right hand, her eyes blazing with fire and bloodlust, and he would be dead. It was her duty, her atonement, her vendetta. It was that sole reason that kept her alive to this very day. She had struggled onto what was like a thin spider thread of life, clinging desperately onto it as a way to stop herself from dieing at anyone else's hands.
Her tears began to stream down her face and splattered down onto her bed sheets, creating dark marks on them. Her knees curled up into her chest and she wrapped her arms around them, her now red and puffy face buried in them. The silence was broken when her muffled sobs and wails echoed in her bedroom, her hot tears stinging her cold skin.
She couldn't shake off the nightmare; it brought back so many unwanted memories racing through her mind that she could never forget. In the dream, she was there within the vast darkness, bloody and broken. His golden eyes glowered down at her with a wicked smile plastered on his pale lips. She cried and screamed out in pain and torment, her body felt like wildfire was coursing in her veins.
"Ugh…" The violet-haired woman cursed under her breath, the Curse Mark pulsating in conjunction with her hatred and misery. She wished she'd never met him at all if she'd knew the cost of their relationship would have culminated to. Anko sniffled back her tears, her eyes flickering over to the photos she kept on the long desk that reached from behind her bed. She gripped the photo of the memory that was most precious to her, the picture of her and her sensei, a young Anko and Orochimaru.
Leaning back down on her bed, the snake kunoichi pulled the covers over her slender body, pressing her treasured photo passionately to her chest, directly above her heart. She needed to rest for the next day. The Chūnin Exams were tomorrow, and she needed to be her usual cheerful self to avoid any unnecessary concern or worry from the few people she actually counted as her friends.
She shook off the horrid images of her nightmare and breathed out a deep sigh before succumbing into slumber, droplets of tears tickling down her cheeks. She tried not to think of her former mentor, but rather thinking of the excitement she would feel to see this year's Chūnin Exams candidates. She looked forward to see how many would actually pass her test. She was, after all, the proctor for the second phase of the exams.
As she slept, she couldn't help but think what life would be like if she would to discard her tortured emotions from her scarred soul. How simple it would be for her to live if she'd forgotten Orochimaru, about their relationship, about the Curse Mark, about everything. How easy it would to throw away all of those uninvited memories that rushed through her head every day of her life into a bottomless sea, and just pretend that they never happened. She could be happy, maybe even normal.
However, whether the violet-haired woman knew or it or not, those emotions, her feelings and memories of the one she held—and will continue to hold—dear to her was better left in the depths of her wounded heart rather in the depths of the sea. The concept of just letting go of everything, erasing every single memory of him seemed better to her in her head, but in reality, it really wasn't. If she would to cast those feelings away, she would no longer be the person she was right now. She would only shatter into a million pieces from the inside of her tormented soul.
ஜ ~ ஜ
The first proctor for the Chūnin Exams, Ibiki Morino, stopped in the middle of his speech to the remaining Genin that was able to pass his test and swiveled his head towards the window, a flying giant brown clothed-ball heading to the classroom window. It smashed through the glass, broken pieces shattering across the tile floor of Room 301. His face held its usual stoic expression on his scarred face as the ball of cloth unraveled.
Two kunai shot out in opposite directions, embedding themselves in the ceiling in order to spread the sheet in front of the Genin in the room. A female with violet hair in a stylish ponytail wearing a khaki coat, a mesh bodysuit, a dark orange mini-skirt with one orange strap and one blue strap that connects to the appendage-like sash running horizontal across her stomach, shin guards, a snake-like pendent on a thick cord, and on her forehead was a Leaf Village headband—proof of her loyalty and status as a shinobi of the Village Hidden in the Leaves—unveiled from inside the cloth.
"Is this part of the test?" she heard a blond boy, Naruto Uzumaki, shouted in shocked.
Ahh… Jump the gun as usual… Ibiki mused, sighing inwardly as Anko stood up squarely in front of the class. Her banner fixed itself up, hanging up as proudly as the one who put it there with the words, 'Here comes the Second Test's Proctor: Anko Mitarashi.' in big, white words.
"Heads up, boys and girls, this is no time to be celebrating! I'll be your next proctor. Anko Mitarashi. You ready for the second test?" she exclaimed with loud enthusiasm, pumping a fist into the air as she bellowed, "Good! Then let's go, follow me!"
Everyone in the room was blurred, in a daze at her flamboyant entrance into the classroom, their eyes were wide and the silence was thick. Anko inwardly grinned, pleased with her energetic opening. She knew what most of the children were thinking about her from the confused and disbelief looks on their faces, but that didn't bother her in the least. Anko was proud with the way she presented herself; it was whom she was when not curled into a tight ball at night. She was vivacious and does things with a brisk intensity. It was whom she was, and no can take that away from her.
Stepping to the side of Anko's banner so only half of his face was shown, Ibiki stated in annoyed voice, "You're early…again."
Anko's face flushed bright pink in embarrassment at the sadist's comment. Her friend was always ruining her fun, but she shrugged it off shortly afterwards.
Great, screaming nutcase. She reminds me of Naruto. Sakura Haruno, one of Naruto's teammate, thought in annoyance. Gazing around the room with her brown eyes, Anko counted all the Genin left after the first phase of the exams.
"How many are there?" Anko inquired in surprise, amazed to see so many left after the first phase. She turned and looked at Ibiki with a slightly irritated expression, her pretty face scrunching up a little. "Ibiki, you let all these guys pass? Your test was too easy. You must be getting soft."
"Or it could be a stronger crop of candidates this year." he countered with a small smirk.
Anko scoffed, placing her hands over hips as she pivoted her head to look at the Genin with a smirk. "Hmm… They sure don't look it. Trust me, before I'm done with them, more than half will be eliminated."
"Huh? More than half, really?" Sakura inquired in surprised and slight fear.
"Hmph… This is gonna be fun." Anko's smirk widened in anticipation, savoring the scared looks that rose to the children's faces. A stern line replaced her smile as she switched into her more serious self. "All right, you maggots have had it easy so far, but things are gonna be different first thing in the morning. I'll let your squad leaders know where you're to meet me.' And with a little sass, she added, "Dismissed."
ஜ ~ ஜ
The next morning, bright and early, Anko stood at the entrance to the Forty-Fourth Battle Training Zone, her hands on her hips and a smirk stretched across her face. The wind blew breezily through her and all of the Genin in front of her, sending a thrill of shivers clawing up their spines.
The forest was dark and large with densely overgrown trees and enormous, man-eating creatures inhabited inside of it. All of the gates were locked with signs warning anyone of its dangers and at the side of the area was the scroll distributing shed, where three other proctors sat, observing the snake kunoichi and the candidates.
It was the perfect spot for the kiddies to undergo the second phase of the exam and move on to the third exam.
That is…if they survive it first.
"Whoa… Nice place. What is it?" Naruto inquired in a frightened tone.
"This is the location for the second phase of the exam. It's the Forty-Fourth Battle Training Zone…" she paused as the fear sank deeper into the kids, smiling. "But we call it the 'Forest of Death'."
The ominous name of the zone caused an uproar a group of fearful mutters and worried expressions among the Genin, each of them staring deeply into the vast forest.
"This whole place just completely creeps me out." Anko heard the scared pink-haired girl said.
Anko chuckled, smiling broadly. "It should, they called it the Forest of Death. And soon enough, you're gonna find out why."
The Nine-Tailed boy huffed in irritation at the snake kunoichi's attempts to scare him and everyone else. Sticking on his butt and his hands on her hips, Naruto spoke in a high-pitched, squeaky voice as he shook his butt stupidly while everyone stared, much to his teammates' embarrassment.
"It should, they called it the Forest of Death. And soon enough, you're gonna find out why." he mocked Anko before regaining his normal voice, pointing a confident finger at her. "Do your worst! You're not gonna scare me away! I can handle anything!"
Anko became irked when she noticed she was being made fun of, although she has to give the blond boy some credit. He has guts, if nothing else. But still, he was mocking her, and she will not tolerate it. It seemed to Anko that someone needs a lesson in manners…and fear.
The snake kunoichi forced a pleasant and cheerful (fake) smile upon her pretty face, titling her head to the side slightly. After all, there was an old saying that said that a smile of the face hides the dagger on the tongue. "So, looks like we've got ourselves a tough guy."
Her expression turned less friendly, her eyebrow furrowed as a kunai slipped from under her coat sleeve in her right hand. She flung the knife at the blond boy, slicing the his left cheek, while clipping off a strand of Grass ninja's hair in the process before it landed in the ground behind 'her'.
Before anyone could blink, Anko teleported behind the Nine-Tailed boy in a flash, her voice low and dangerous, like a predator advancing towards its prey in a slow, graceful move.
"You tough enough to handle this? You're not afraid, are you?" she whispered into his ear, her right hand cradling his right cheek as she brought her left hand to see the flow of the blood dripping off from the cut she made and let it fall down her index finger…sweet, glossy blood. "Tough guys like you usually leave their blood all over this forest."
Suddenly, Anko sensed someone behind her, and she narrowed her eyes as she left the blond boy's cheek to pull out another kunai from under her sleeve. She held it over her shoulder, ready to thrust it at the person who had snuck up from behind her. However, she stopped when she saw a long, forked-tongue rolled over her shoulder, displaying the kunai she had thrown earlier. The serpent-tongue belonged to the Grass ninja with long black hair and wearing a straw hat, which 'she' held slightly upwards with her left hand, and was standing uncomfortably close behind the snake kunoichi.
"I was…just returning your knife." 'she' hissed in a low tone.
"Why, thank you, Grass ninja." Anko replied with an amiable smile, but she didn't lower her weapon. Her grin became feral that matched the Grass ninja's expression that was sent at her. This Grass ninja had something strange about her, something mysterious and dark. In her eyes, there was the sign of bloodlust in them, something Anko could understand all too well. Eyes were glued at the scene as the other Genin stood frighteningly at the danger that emanated from between the violet-haired woman and the Grass shinobi.
"You know, I really only recommend you stand this close behind me…if you wish to reach premature end." Anko warned with a smile, taking her kunai back from the Grass ninja's tongue.
Retreating it back into her mouth, the mysterious shinobi smiled eerily, her eyes hidden beneath her straw hat. "My pardon. With the sight of blood and your blade slicing through my hair, I'm afraid I just became a little excited. I meant you no harm."
Anko watched the Grass ninja sauntered over back to her teammates. There was something about the kid the set her off, feeling the odd vibes she was getting as she stared at the Grass ninja, but she shrugged it off.
"Seems like everyone here today is quick tempered. There must be something in the air." Anko smirked in anticipation at the fun that was soon to come. "Hmm, this is gonna be fun."
Quick tempered? Sheesh! You're the one who threw the kunai at me! Naruto yelled inside his head in annoyance, his eyes tracking out Anko as she headed back to front to face all of the Genin.
"Now, before we begin this test, I've something to hand out to you all." The snake kunoichi reached in her coat and held out a pile of paper in her right hand to show to the Genin. "It's just a standard consent form. Before the test, all of you are going to have to read over this form, and then sign it."
"What for?" Naruto asked her.
"Some of you may not come back from this test, and I have to get your consent to that risk. Otherwise, it'll be my reasonability." Anko explained with a sheepish smile and laugh. Murmurs filled the crowd again, worried and scared looks surfacing on some of the kids' faces.
"Now, I'll explain what you'll be doing on this. Here, pass these out." The snake kunoichi gave the stack of forms to the Nine-Tailed boy to hand out to everyone else. "The first thing you need to know is that this test will tax every one of your survival skills."
Pulling out a scroll, she let the flap fall down to present it to the Genin, displaying the image of the Forest of Death. "First, I'll give you all a description of the terrain on the practice field. The Forty-Fourth Battle Training Zone has 44 locked entrance gates. There are rivers and a forest inside. In the center is a locked tower, located 10 kilometers from each gate. It's in this confined area that you'll undergo the survival test."
Anko rolled the scroll in swift movement, putting it inside her scroll and producing one blue scroll and one white scroll in her hand to the Genin, her eyes narrowing at them intensely. "The test consists of...anything-goes battle to get your hands on these scrolls."
"Both of them?" Sasuke Uchiha questioned, his hands in his white shorts pockets.
"Yes, you'll be fighting to get both a Heaven Scroll and an Earth Scroll." Anko glanced at the children as they stared at the scrolls in her hands. "Altogether, 26 teams will be taking part in this test. So half of those teams will be going after the Heaven Scroll, and the other half will be trying to get the Earth Scroll. I'll hand over one of kind scroll to each team, and that's what you'll be fighting for."
"Okay, so how do we pass the test?" the Uchiha kid inquired.
"Your entire squad must bring both a Heaven Scroll and an Earth Scroll to the tower."
"That means at the very best, half of us will fail. More if not every team is able to get both the scrolls." Sakura pointed out.
"No one ever said it would be easy. Oh, and one more thing: The test has a time limit. You must finish it within five days." Anko told them, tucking the scrolls back into her coat.
"Five days out there?" Ino Yamanaka shouted in disbelief.
Her chubby teammate, Chōji Akimichi, couldn't agree more. "What're we supposed to do for food?"
"Just look around. The forest's full of things to eat." Anko replied calmly. "There's plenty to feed all of you."
A new voice belonging to a silver-haired boy with circular glasses spoke up. "Yeah, but that's not all the forest has plenty of. There are man-eating beasts and poisonous plants in there."
"Aw, maaan…" the Akimichi boy whined in a loud groan.
"Quiet down! This is why they call it survival, you know." Ino reprimanded him.
"That means, with these circumstances, there's no way half the teams will pass the test." Neji Hyūga pointed out in a cool voice.
"The days getting longer, the nights are getting shorter, so we will have less time to sleep, and less time to recover. It is a challenge, indeed!" Rock Lee exclaimed in excitement, his white teeth glinted with a small sparkle.
"Completely surrounded by enemies… There won't be time to rest. We'll have to keep a constant watch." Sasuke added in, sounding like he was already prepared to take down anyone who will stand in his way.
Anko nodded with her hands back on her hips, pleased that Genin now understand the importance of this test. "Right. This test also measures endurance behind enemy lines. This is design to be a grueling test, and I'm sure some of you won't be up to the challenge."
Raising his hand as if he was asking permission to speak inside a classroom, Shikamaru piped up. "So, um, let's say in mid-exam, can we quit?"
Anko swiveled her to head to frown at the lazy boy. "Of course not! In a middle of a battle you can't say, 'Sorry, I quit.'" Smiling, she let out a couple of chuckles. "Well, I guess you can, but it will only get you killed!"
"Oh, just great… This is gonna a drag…" the Nara boy complained, arms folded across his chest as he received a annoyed look from his female teammate while his best friend was munching down on some chips.
Ignoring the boy, Anko turned her attention back to the rest of the Genin, holding out three fingers one by one as she explained the rules for the test. "There are also some ways you can get disqualified. The first is simple: If all three members of a team can't make it to the tower with both scrolls after five days. Number two: If a team loses a member or if a member becomes incapacitated and cannot continue. But most important, none of you, absolutely none of you, may look at the contents of the scrolls until you've reached the tower."
"What've if it just flaps open and you read it?" Naruto inquired, his curiosity spiked up.
Chuckling, Anko smiled and held up a finger. "Let me put it to you this way, young man: You. Don't. Want. To. Know."
The Nine-Tailed child moaned disappointedly.
"There are times when a ninja will asked to carry secret documents. The scroll rule is to test your integrity. Okay, we're done. Each team take your consent forms and exchange over their for your scrolls." Anko pointed the shed on her right. "After that, each time pick a gate, and you'll be lead inside." Sighing tiredly, Anko straightened herself up as she bellowed her last warning to the group of Genin. "Oh, and I have one more word of advice: JUST DON'T DIE!"
And with that said, all of the kids got into their teams and talked over their consent form, while some of them wandered off on their own to read it over. The air was heavy with anticipation, worried and eagerness. Meanwhile, the other proctors drew up a curtain at the scroll distribution shed, making sure no one else will know which team had which scroll.
Hmm… Looks like they're starting to understand what's really involved in this test. Anko observed the crowd of Genin with her hands in her coat pockets, pleased that some of them just realized how serious this test is. Her eyes lingered the most on the Uchiha boy, sitting against a large rock. She liked that determination in his onyx eyes, and something told her that kid had great potential to make it through this test. Once everyone was ready to hand in their forms, Anko watched as they headed to the shed to collect their scrolls, a slight breeze wafted through her violet hair and a smile gracing her lips. I wonder if any of them will survive this…
Staring down at her wristwatch on her on her right arm, reading it as it was close to two o'clock in the afternoon, Anko's loud voice carried among the Genin.
"Listen up! All of the teams had received their scrolls, so everybody go to your gate and wait there! When the gates open, the test is on!" When it was close to 2:30, the proctors started to unlock the gates, letting the chains slide off the handles. As the clock stroked precisely at 2:30, the snake kunoichi finally gave out her last announcement. "All right, heads up, you maggots! The second part of the test has begun!"
The gates opened with a whoosh as soon as she spoke those words, and in went the Genin. It wasn't long afterwards until Anko heard a couple of male fearful screams vibrating throughout the forest and to where Anko stood at the entrance.
Chuckling in delight, Anko smirked broadly. "Sounds like the fun has begun."
ஜ ~ ஜ
A few hours later, Anko sat on the flat roof of the shed, her legs hanging in the air as she snacked down on her favorite food, enjoying herself while she paid no mind to the carnage that was taking place within the Forest of Death.
"Mmm-mm… Nothing makes dumplings goes down like a little sweet red bean soup. Ahh… Nice." She happily sipped down the can of soup and then another bite off her stick of dumpling. "Guess it's about that time. Soon after I finish this little snack, I'll see how the kiddies are doing. The quicker ones will be finishing soon. I suppose I'll wait and go greet them at the tower."
She munched down the last dumpling on her stick and lazily threw to the trunk of a nearby tree with perfect accuracy without even looking, adding the last stick to complete an outline of a Leaf symbol that was made out of at least fifty dumpling sticks—a testament of how much she loved her village as much as her favorite food.
"There—a perfect Leaf Village symbol!" Anko smiled brightly at her completed design.
In a puff of smoke, a sentinel dressed in the standard Chūnin Exams proctor uniform appeared before the snake kunoichi, kneeling down on one knee. It was Mozuku, one of the other proctors for the exams. "Pardon, ma'am, there's a problem!"
"Hmm? What sort of problem?" Anko inquired calmly, swinging her legs from left to right.
"Corpses, ma'am! Three of them!" came the urgent reply.
However, Anko remained nonchalant about the news. Hearing about dead bodies wasn't anything new. People were killed in the Chūnin Exams all the time. Whatever they found was probably the remains of a bunch of kids that got themselves slaughtered in the exams. Mumbling, she continued to munched down her dumpling in her mouth as she replied in a slightly bored tone, "Come on. I'm trying to eat here."
"I think you'll want to see them. There is something strange about them." Mozuku told her. That caught Anko's interest as she swallowed the last of her food down in her throat, putting a finger to her chin. What could be so weird about corpses?
"Besides being dead?" she voiced her thoughts out loud.
ஜ ~ ஜ
When Anko arrived at the area, her stomach lurched at gruesome sight in front of her. She gazed down at the awkwardly twisted positions that bodies were laid facedown on the ground and against the Leaf Village's Buddha statues as fear sliced through her.
It wasn't the splattered blood across the Buddha statues that bothered her, nor was it the rancid smell of the three dead bodies radiating off them. What really frightened the brave and tough kunoichi the most was the fact that their faces were gone, as if something or someone ripped them off. The wind blew in the trees, sending chills down Anko's spine, giving the area an even more terrible aura to it.
"I went through their belongings, found their identification—Ninja from the Hidden Grass Village. All three of them were registered for the Chūnin Exams." Kotetsu Hagane, one of the other proctors for the exams, reported with his arms crossed over his chest. "They weren't just killed.
"All their faces…" Anko felt her fingers twitched at the nervousness she felt rising up inside her, almost curling into a fist. She felt disturbed, an uneasy feeling of remembrance was nagging at the back of her brain. It was something darkly familiar… "They're gone…"
"Yeah." Kotetsu frowned grimly at the dead bodies. "There's nothing where their faces used to be, like they melted or something."
Anko grasped at her Curse Mark, her right making its way almost unconsciously to where it was branded on her neck. She gazed down at one of the Genin, trying desperately to remember where she saw that clothing before.
No doubt about it. She thought gravely, clenching her teeth together so tightly that it would seem like they were going to break. She closed her fingers over the mark that she had loathed so much ever since he gave it to her. This is his jutsu. Why's he here? What's he doing at the Chūnin Exams?
She felt her body almost trembling at the terror swirling within her, sounds of shaking gasps escaping her lips. Snapping out of her own thoughts, she turned to the Chūnin behind her, pivoting around in a panicked state. "Okay, I need photos of what these three used to look like! Where're their IDs?"
"Right here, ma'am." Mozuku handed her the pictures. She gripped the photos in her hand, recognizing the first image of the Grass ninja immediately.
So this is the face he stole… The snake kunoichi's eyes widened at realization and she gasped in shock, remembering the incident that place between her and the Grass ninja earlier today. Had it already happened when…?
"Ugh… We've got big trouble!" She swiveled around to face Kotetsu and the other two Chūnin, all of them startled by her alarmed and urgent tone. "Okay, get moving! Tell Lord Hokage exactly what's happened here! And while you at it, tell the ANBU Black Ops they better get a couple of convoys to the Forest of Death!" She turned her back to them before she went on. "Meanwhile, I'm gonna head in after these guys! Now go!"
"Right!' The three men disappeared from her sight at once, knowing better to follow her orders and ask questions later.
He's come… He's here in the Hidden Leaf Village…Anko reached for her neck again, her face becoming dark and dangerously serious as a foul wind moved in the air. All of her bitter emotions of hate and fury boiled inside her gut, feeding off the longing to settle the score between her and the man who had cursed her life.
He was here.
It was time to end it.
ஜ ~ ஜ
Hours passed since the violet-haired woman journeyed into the densely overgrown Forest of Death, racing through the trees and all the while avoiding out the traps and ravenous beasts in the area. The sun was setting soon, its crimson glow shining beautifully over the Hidden Leaf Village. If it weren't for the dire situation she was in, Anko would've stopped and admired the sun's blood-like blaze.
She jumped from one tree to another, allowing herself to fall until her hands caught on a thick branch, using the momentum to swing herself up on it to halt her pursuit for her perpetrator, gazing as the sun was sinking further down in the sky.
Sun's going down… I gotta find him soon. My odds are bad enough as it; it'll get worse in the dark. But why now? What the devil could he be after? Anko shook off her musings, not caring what his motives are. The most important thing was to stop him from gaining it, at any cost. That was her goal, her fierce duty that she had pledged within her heart for so long. Hmm… No matter, he's here. Time to finish this."
ஜ ~ ஜ
When night had fallen upon the village like a blanket, it was only then Anko's senses were able to picked his presence up. She darted through the trees, galloping from one branch to another and over many other forest obstacles that stood in her way. Her violet bangs lashed at her eyes, but she ignored it as she increased her hasty pace in the Forest of Death.
I can feel him! He's somewhere close! Anko jumped down from one tree to land in a space between two enormous ones, her body running closer to he was, as if she was being drawn closer to him by a magnetic force. She wondered if the Curse Mark had something to do with it, but she forcefully shrugged off that thought as she used her amazing reflexes and smooth acrobat movements to leap through the trees until she came to her destination.
He was upside, his entire body embedded itself a tree, and half of his 'face' was peeled off and winkled, allowing his old student to see parts of his true features. His slit-pupil eye opened as she landed down in front of him. She approached him almost casually, without a single hint of fear in her eyes. There was no room for it, not now.
She wasn't afraid him…or maybe she was. She just didn't show it, not in front of him. She looked at him directly with bold eyes, although the aura radiating from his body could frighten any shinobi that came in contact with him. However, Anko was different, knowing there was always that darkness, that malice in his golden eyes, even when she was under his tutelage. She was so young back then, blinded by her admiration and love for him to see what he truly was. She was so stupid; she should've seen his true, dark intentions.
Orochimaru chuckled softly, amused to see his old student again. "Well, well, Anko. It's been a while..."
"This is no time to reminisce, you're an S-class criminal, top of the most wanted list. You've got to be taken down, and it's only fitting that I'm the one to do it." Anko replied back at him harshly as she slid senbon needles between her fingers in her right hand, not taking his bait. "'Cause after all, you're the one that taught me everything, right, Sensei?"
"Not quite." he answered, simply. Anko growled, preparing to throw the needles at him when his expandable, long tongue shot out from his mouth as it started to chase and lash at her. She leapt backward onto a side of a tree to dodge it, but his tongue followed and coiled itself around her wrist, forcing her to drop her weapons as he pulled her towards him.
She landed on the branch and she held out her free hand at her old sensei. "Striking Shadow Snake!"
Green snakes from her sleeve slithered and crashed into the bark the tree Orochimaru was embedded in, causing a large cloud dust.
"Come outta there!" Anko yelled, pulling the serpents to force Orochimaru towards her and slammed him the tree opposite of him. She retracted the vipers into her sleeve and quickly went over to him, pinning her left hand over his right hand against the tree, stabbing them both with a kunai to prevent him from escaping her.
Orochimaru was slightly surprised by her actions, observing her carefully with his exposed slit-eye. She winced, panted heavily and ignored the pain and blood flowing from the self-inflicted wound, its tangy smell invading her nostrils like a drug. "Hah… I gotcha'. Now then, lemme just borrow your left hand."
She entwined her right hand with his left hand, sticking up her index finger and her pinky. Orochimaru gasped slightly, his revealed eye widened in recognition and then drifted back to his old pupil. "That hand sign…"
"Right, it's over. You and I are going to die here." She gasped for air as she stared at him with tired eyes, a small fatigued smirk on her face. Taking in a deep breath, she closed her eyes and thought out the jutsu in her head. Ninja Art: Twin Snake Sacrifice Jutsu…!
Anko stopped midway when she heard an eerie laugh echoing in the air around her. "I'm afraid you will die alone, Anko…"
Her eyes snapped open in shock and she gasped, pivoting her head slowly to see him standing on the other side of the massive branch, peeling off the rest of his mask to show his true, pale features.
"That's right; Substitution." He indicated the duplicate she pinned to the tree. She whirled her head back to the copy; her eyes broadened even more as it melted into mud.
The moon shone down on them with its luminous light, giving Orochimaru a more oppressive aura to him. Anko heard him laughing at her near-death experience as she shut her eyes down in shame and agony, all of her confidence washing away from her. This was just too mortifying for her to endure, her gut clenching at her desperate attempt to stop him.
Sauntering to her with a haughty smile, he spoke to her in a taunting tone. "Of course, you're one of the elite now, a righteous warrior. How naughty of you to be using a Forbidden Jutsu I taught you."
His old pupil watched him from the corner of her eyes, grimacing in anguish as she took the kunai out of her left hand that was coated in her blood and threw at him. He caught the flying kunai between two fingers easily and let it fall to the ground. What pathetic move she made on her part, thinking that it would do any good. Ever less than a perfect student, after all, but…
"It won't work, Anko…" he smirked at her coldly, making a hand sign with index and middle fingers pointed up. Anko felt a sudden intense pain raging inside her body that radiated from her neck. He strolled towards her and then stopped in front of Anko, watching her struggled in agony.
"Wh—Why are you here?" she hissed in raw hatred, trying to deal with the pain that was coursing through her.
"I'm disappointed. I'd expected a friendlier reception after all this time." he mocked, eyeing her as she panted to catch her breath.
She glared at him with immense virulent in her gaze. "Don't tell me you've came here to assassinate Lord Hokage?"
"No, not yet... I still don't have quite enough followers to attempt that." he responded with a shake to his head, talking to her if she was just a child. "But, I've heard such good things about this village that I thought I want to make it mine."
Soon, the pain was too much for Anko to handle and she fell to her knees. She grasped her neck, exactly on the spot where she was burdened to bear his Curse Mark. It was the only thing that connected those two again.
"Aw, it's the mark, isn't it?" Orochimaru inquired with fake sympathy. "I'd put that same Curse Mark on a young man just a little while ago."
Anko didn't look at him, her eyes were shut tight, but she could feel him kneeling down to her.
"He's a very promising prospect," he continued, bragging about the boy that he had chosen for his next vessel. She finally looked at him; her eyes blazing with renew hatred.
"You haven't change, I see!" she growled at him, venom laced in her words. "He'll die before he serves you!"
"Very possibly." Orochimaru replied with a small chuckle. "I'd say that the odds are one and ten against him. But the kid may survive, as you did."
"Sounds like you want him badly, huh…?"Anko smirked bitterly at him. She gasped loudly when she saw his hand made its way to her face and caressed her face almost affectionately. Her eyes enlarged at his touch, his fingers were cold and smooth against her alabaster skin.
"Aw, jealous...? Is that it?" he purred at her, stroking her cheek amusedly. "You can't forgive me, can you, for using you and then tossing you aside?"
The purple-haired kunoichi snarled angrily at him as his hand left her cheek. Above anything else in the world, she hated being reminded of that time. He smirked at her, proceeding to talk about his chosen vessel.
"In some ways, the boy has even more potential than you had. You see, he's inherited the sublime abilities of the Uchiha clan, and his physical condition is excellent. Yes, he might very well be the heir I'm looking for. At the very least, he must things interesting." Orochimaru stood up, his smile spreading with a sadistic glee with every word he spoke. He held out his hands, a sign that he wouldn't hurt her anymore than he had already have as he started to walk away. "Whatever happens, make sure no one stops the exams early. Three of my followers are also candidates; I look forward on seeing how they fare."
Purple flames engulfed where he was, but even though he was gone, he voice continued to linger in the air. "Bare this in mind: If anything happens to deprive me of my fun...it means the end of the Leaf Village."
Anko listened to his warning, staring at the spot where he once stood and at the kunai that was covered in her blood, leaving her alone and enraged with raw abhorrence to the man she once—and secretly still do—loved with all her heart.
ஜ ~ ஜ
Anko sat on a rock in a grassy, rocky field, bandaging the laceration on her palm before she lose any more blood or it could become infected. The last thing she needed was something else slowing her down from performing her duty.
Anko sighed when she finished tying the knot on the bandages, her brown eyes gazing down at the ground beneath her feet. I've wasted enough time. Somebody's gotta tell Lord Hokage.
Her logic sense told her it was right thing to do at the moment, but her personal desire screamed at her to go back and chased after Orochimaru before the trail got any colder than it already it is. There was no way of telling when she would get another chance to kill him with own hands. She wanted nothing more than to carry out her revenge against her ex-mentor. She needed to find him, not only for herself but for the Leaf Village as well.
Adding in the Leaf Village's sake into her vendetta was probably just anther excuse she threw in as a reasonable decision to go after him rather than go inform Lord Hokage. It was indeed a selfish motive, but it was something Anko desperately needed to do in order to live her life peacefully. As long as he lived, he will continue to haunt her.
Anko felt numb and empty after encountering her former sensei again. So many emotions were twisting within her like an inferno, a feeling of dread consuming her. She couldn't stop thinking about his words, what he said about the Uchiha kid. He made it clear that he wanted the Uchiha's strength, but there was something also quite vague about his words that Anko couldn't put her finger on. There was something far more evil going behind his motives, but what in the world could it be?
Deciding it was no use worrying over while she was alone in the middle of a field, Anko stood up from her seat and began making her way towards to the tower. She halted her tracks when she eyed something golden from within in her trees.
"Huh…?" She frowned at her stroke of bad luck. Golden, cat-like eyes peered through the brushes, hungry growls breaking the silence that surrounded her only few seconds ago. A giant tiger emerged from its hiding place and started slowly advancing towards his chosen meal that was, unfortunately, Anko.
"Ugh… I don't have time for this." Brown optics darted to the side when she saw another tiger sliding down a slope and another came up from behind her. The snake kunoichi's back hit the huge rock behind her until she was trapped between her predators. They glowered down at her with yellow eyes, baring their fangs like she was a scrap of meat.
To make matters worse, waves of pain shot through her body again from the Curse Mark. Anko grunted, bringing her hand over to where the mark rested on her neck, her knees almost buckling. The tiger let out a voracious roar, but then it suddenly tumbled sideways, like some invisible force was hitting it. Puzzled, Anko glanced at the other two tigers that were being pitched down be the strong force and were unable to get back up.
"It's a Paralysis Jutsu!" she remarked in surprised.
"So there you are, Anko," stated a male's voice. The violet-haired woman turned her head to see the source of the voice. Two ANBU Black Ops members were perched on a tree branch, one wearing a bird-like mask with spiky brown hair and the other with a cat-like mask ANBU with black hair tied in a small ponytail. They jumped down from where they stood and landed to where Anko was, the bird-masked ANBU on the rock behind her and the cat-masked one standing a good two feet away from her side.
"Man, you ANBU goons took your time getting here, didn't you?" Anko commented in irritation.
"Well, there's no need to get snippy." the beaked ANBU man replied, and it was then Anko gasped and clutched at her Curse Mark, her knees giving out from under her as she fell to the ground, a flood of pain surging in her body again. The bird-masked ANBU leaped off the rock and knelt beside her.
"Anko! Are you all right? What is it—" he was interrupted when he noticed the three tomoe mark on her neck. When he spoke again, it was out of fear and alarm. "That Curse Mark has appeared! But that means… Orochimaru!"
"What, here? No!" the second ANBU shouted.
"Hurry, let's get you up. We'll carry you to Lord Hokage if we have to." the bird-masked ANBU insisted to Anko.
"No! No… Take me to the tower…" she refused, managing to force the words out from her agony.
"What're you talking about?" the cat-masked ANBU demanded. "You know we have to raise the alarm at the first sign of Orochimaru! That's more important than the Chūnin Exams."
"I know, but…" Anko closed her eyes, pausing for a moment until she glanced up at the ANBU looming over her with a pleading expression. "All right, then. Summon Lord Hokage to the tower, I'll explain everything there.'
ஜ ~ ஜ
"This is turning into a real mess. But there's no way we can cancel the test." Anko sat on a blue sofa inside the tower, the pain from the Curse Mark no longer causing any more misery…for now. The two ANBU stood in front of her, the beaked-mask ANBU with his are folded across his chest.
"What do you mean?" he inquired, but before she could answer, the door to the room they were in swung open, and at the doorway stood Iwashi Tatami, another proctor for the Chūnin Exams, with a cassette in his left hand.
"Sorry to interrupt," he apologized.
Anko's head shot up and she glared at him in annoyance at being disturbed. "Whaddaya want? We're talking about something important!"
The Chūnin proctor flinched, tensing at her angry and hostile tone, but he quickly regained his composure, showing the tape to Anko. "Uh, I-I'm sorry, but it's this tape… You have to see it."
"What is it?" the cat-masked ANBU questioned, impatiently.
Iwashi walked over to the DVR and knelt down, slipping the tape inside the machine as the screen became blurry until he produced an image of three Sand shinobi onto the monitor. "Okay now, when you watch this, pay special attention to the time."
At the upper right corner of the screen were white numbers, reading 16:07. Anko stared at the monitor for a long time until she realized what she was seeing.
"Wha…? But that means…" she trailed off her sentence.
"That's right, Anko. This was recorded from inside the tower. It's unbelievable." The male Chūnin's eyes shifted to her and then back at the television that projected the video of the three Sand ninja. "Those ninja finished only and hour and thirty-seven minutes after the test started. They completely destroyed the record for finishing the second test."
Anko bolted up her seat, shocked written all over her face. "Wha—That's impossible!"
"It took just 97 minutes… Nothing like this has ever happened before, no one's even come close." Iwashi pivoted his head at the snake kunoichi. "Those ninja from the Sand Village…are way above Genin level. They've beat the record by four hours."
"I'm afraid it's not just that." Anko added in.
"I don't get it. What do you mean?"
"It's 10 kilometers from the test entrance gates to the tower, and in between are ferocious animals and poisonous insects, not to mention the other ninja. Could they've really avoided all those things?" Anko pointed out, making her way to one of the windows in the room. "Especially the brown-haired kid in the front."
"What's so special about him?" Iwashi asked, bewildered.
"You mean you didn't see?"
The Chūnin proctor replayed the tape over, studying the screen closely.
"Interesting… That is quite a surprise." the beaked-masked ANBU remarked, clearly impressed.
Iwashi looked at the two ANBU behind him, still puzzled. "I still don't get it. What am I suppose to be seeing here?'
"It's what you're not seeing. Look closely at his body." Anko told him, watching him from the corner of her eye.
A moment passed until a firm line crossed Iwashi's face. "I see it now."
"Not one single scratch. And I haven't even been able to spot one little speck of dirt on his clothing." Anko mumbled as she stared out the night from the window, her face unreadable.
"He must have some special ability." the bird-masked ANBU suggested, a hand on his hip.
"It's been a long time since we had such a promising candidate," the cat-masked ANBU said, arms folded across his chest. "But his eyes are pure evil."
Anko agreed silently. That boy's aquamarine eyes were like gazing deep into the depths of a vast ocean and into an abyss of nothingness. It was the same thing as staring at an empty, bottomless pit of blackness…and that uncomfortably reminded Anko too much about the obsidian darkness in her very own soul.