I took a single, shaky breath before confessing.
"I think there might be a memory seal in my head."
So, this chapter was supposed to be waaay bigger, with some stuff about training thrown in there, but I decided that I had left you guys dangling for long enough—especially since the wait was never supposed to be this long. (Hence the terrible cliffhanger.) Many, many apologies for lateness, and thank you all for being patient with me.
Also, special thanks to QAE for the wonderful note of encouragement.
Anyway, onto the chapter.
Warnings: Weirdness ahead. There's a part that can seem abstract and mind-screwy. Also, a bit of harsh language is present in the first scene.
remembered beyond the tomb
Sarutobi Hiruzen lit his pipe. In his experience, the world often seemed less harsh when viewed through a nice, thick cloud of narcotic smoke. There was, he felt, a certain kind of peace to be found in it. A puff or two would do the trick most days, but today...well, today he was determined to smoke until his entire office was drowning in fumes. Carcinogens be damned.
He sat at his desk, going through a mental recounting of the week's events. First, there was that team he'd sent to gather information on Hoshigaki. They had returned a week ago, but with one less member than they'd started with.
Hyuuga Hoheto was dead.
Sarugaku Takeshi and Mitarashi Anko, both gravely injured, had dragged themselves and their teammate through the gates of Konoha, where they had promptly collapsed. The two tokubetsu jounin now resided within the Leaf Hospital, ensconced within webs of medical equipment, attended by frenzied doctors and bustling nurses.
When Hiruzen chanced a visit this morning, Anko had briefly awoken. She'd stabilized overnight, and was well enough for a quick exchange of information. Her words were still running through his mind.
"So out of our league...not even funny. Gonna give Intel...a piece of my mind. Nowhere mentioned—Uchiha—freaking—Itachi."
It had come as a bit of a shock. Whatever he'd anticipated, he hadn't been expecting Itachi. Then Anko laughed—well, more like a grim, wheezing cough—and continued her hoarse muttering.
"But we got it. Bastard let...a few things slip." And then she had grinned. "Akatsuki...we got it. Akatsuki."
Akatsuki. For Hiruzen, it was a familiar name—the name of the mysterious organization young Itachi had infiltrated years ago. And it seemed that Anko and her team had just become his unwitting messengers. If only blood hadn't needed to be spilt to pass it on...
(What a strange place Konoha had become, that her most loyal soldiers were viewed with hatred and fear, that helping comrades meant hurting them, that the ones fighting the most were so often the youngest...)
And then there was that Akadou incident.
A white-faced Yamashiro Aoba had burst in through his door four days ago, dragging along an equally pale student in hand. The man had refused to speak until all the secrecy seals had been activated, and once they had, he began muttering urgently about some sort of mind seal.
Hiruzen's first thought had been one of fear—memory seals were not unheard of, but were very complicated and delicate seals to place and the only times they were employed at all were usually in the most extreme cases of spies and sleeper agents. His second thought was one of confusion—for who on earth would choose a tiny blind girl as a sleeper agent? Then, at last, his mind turned to suspicion. Perhaps this was not a case of functionality, or even one of espionage.
It had been four years ago, when Miyo's mother stood in his office and asked him very plainly whether or not he was aware that Yakushi Nonou had been missing for years. He hadn't known. It wasn't hard to miss—Nonou's orphanage had been very out of the way, on Konoha's outskirts, and the woman herself had made it very clear she wanted to leave the shinobi lifestyle behind.
Then Akadou Ran had asked him about ANBU's ROOT division. Asked him if he knew what kind of missions they undertook, what their training entailed, where they obtained their recruits. Asked him with a steely glint in her eye that suggested that she'd done some snooping around, and that she knew exactly the answers to the questions she posed.
It was so easy, turning a blind eye. So easy to just look in the other direction while Danzou handled the more shadowy matters of the village. But Akadou Ran had said something, something that forced Hiruzen to face what he'd been trying to avoid for the longest time—that he couldn't keep ignoring his suspicious, that he couldn't keep protecting his friend, that he couldn't afford to be selfish.
He's been taking children, Hokage-sama. Children without homes or family. Brainwashing them.
And with that, he knew that turning a blind eye was no longer an option.
So he had confronted Danzou. Shut down the program. Disbanded the agents. ROOT was reduced to nothing more than a bad memory...
...or so he'd thought. Ran hadn't been so sure. Looking back, she'd been right to be dubious. After her death, he'd done a bit of snooping on his own, and he'd found that her mission had not been properly sanctioned. The client…didn't exist. There was no conclusive evidence but Hiruzen had a pretty good idea of who had been pulling the strings from behind the scenes. And Akadou Ran herself may have suspected something as well, because right before that mission, she had given him a last request.
If anything happens to me...please see to it that my children are safe?
And now this.
A mind seal, maybe Danzou's handiwork. But what could a child such as Miyo know that warranted something like that? And why? Maybe it was some twisted notion of revenge? Maybe fear of a perceived threat? But when? And how was it possible that nobody had noticed? There was just not enough information, too many maybe's, too many how's, too many why's…
Why was he so terrible at keeping promises?
He looked up, frowning around his pipe, at the man who had entered his office. Inoichi. When Yamashiro Aoba had proved unable to breach the seal, Hiruzen had asked the Yamanaka to take up the job.
"Inoichi-san," he greeted, his voice controlled and belying the tangle of emotions beneath. "Have you finished the Mind Reading?"
An odd expression crossed the man's face. "I have."
"It doesn't normally take you so long for a single reading," Hiruzen noted.
"Children don't normally have twice the amount of memory they're supposed to," Inoichi parried, unsmiling, "and memory seals aren't normally that complex. And, to be fair, I finished yesterday."
Hiruzen turned sharply, robes flapping at the sudden movement. "How—what did you find?"
At those words, Inoichi tilted his head back. His eyes grew somewhat unfocused.
"An entire world."
The two men were quiet for a while, Inoichi in reminiscence and Hiruzen in confusion.
"What does that mean?" Hiruzen finally asked. "Have you spoken to Akadou Miyo?"
"No," Inoichi said, eyes snapping back into focus. "That's the other thing I wanted to talk to you about, actually. You see, before the reading I had her go into a trance—a meditative state. It helps speed up the process. Normally there's no issue, but…"
"Well…she's not waking up."
For the first time in my life, I had managed to enter a deep, meditative trance.
Granted, I had had some help. When Yamanaka Inoichi put his hand over my head, a feeling of absolute peace wafted around my brain, and trancing suddenly became so much easier. But it was still a first for me, and if I wasn't so calm I'd be dead excited.
For a while I simply drifted around inside myself, reveling in the blankness, the tranquility...
Somewhere within the thick, ponderous marsh that was my consciousness, I felt a pull. Tiny but unmistakable, like strings fastened on tenterhooks...
Mildly curious, I followed the strings.
The first thing I noticed was that my vision had gone all weird.
It had been...dulled, almost. The intricate veins of chakra that normally flourished all around had been blunted and numbed and dampened into muted glows. It was flat. Oddly limited. And, at a profound level, it lacked a sense of depth.
Yet, at the same time...it was somehow sharper. Everything was outlined in steep relief, vivid, cluttered, possessed by some unknown quality that I couldn't quite grasp. Some unknown quality that danced just outside my comprehension, like a fourth dimension I was previously unaware of.
The second thing I noticed was the thing, flat and odd and sharp, outlined by blankness, possessing all the wrong proportions. The thing was also extremely large, vaguely ape-like, and weirdly familiar.
"Who are you?" barked the thing. Its voice boomed in a distinctly masculine way. His tails thrashed. He didn't seem very hospitable.
"Hello," I said, feeling oddly calm. Everything about this place felt wrong and alien, like I wasn't supposed to be here...and yet at the same time, some deep, intrinsic part of me whispered "home."
The thing seemed taken aback by my blasé greeting. "You can't be here," he blustered, but I was only half-listening at that point.
There it was again, along with that strange urge to follow.
"Hey, wait just one moment—"
"Goodbye," I called after him.
I followed the strings, and he vanished.
Chakra was even more muted than before. It was diluted, stretched thin, smeared, blurred...
But oddly enough, I could still observe my surroundings.
A field of flowers, arched by a yawning expanse of torrential sky. Wherever I was now, the landscape possessed the same unknown quality that the monkey did...
Pale green. Blue. White. Black.
And then I realized.
Color. It was color. Which meant—
I could see.
But how? Never mind recognizing and differentiating between color—I'd never been able to see.
(I'd always been able to see.)
Confused and scared and elated, I swung my head this way and that, drinking in the sight of everything like someone starved of water. It took me a while to grow accustomed to this strange new (familiar) method of sight, but the odd flat shapes soon rationalized themselves into a coherent picture. The meadow, pale and endless. The rocks, scattered here and there. The river, which dipped off into the horizon. The flowers, swaying amidst a sea of dull green—six pointed stars. Asphodel.
(Like the Asphodel Meadows.)
I had no idea where that thought came from or what it meant, but something about it sent a shiver running down my spine. As if a switch had been flipped, I suddenly noticed several very disconcerting details about my surroundings.
In the distance was a tangle of giant black spikes, like gnarled roots of an upturned tree. Below them was a crater of dead flowers; up above, a gaping hole ravaged the sky. What appeared to be silver rain streamed down from the rupture, vanishing over the horizon. It was as if the sky was crying.
Whatever these twisted spikes were, they had literally pierced the heavens.
That wasn't all. Now that I looked carefully, there were people. Tiny pinpricks of people everywhere, milling about the meadows, sitting among the rocks, lying in the fields, gazing at the sky. None of them seemed to notice I was there...
(This place is very, very familiar...)
Suddenly, I felt very lonely. I wanted to move; the urge was still there, strong and focused and magnetic, like the unerring needle of a compass. Once again, I began to follow it.
I did not know how long I walked. Time seemed to blur together here, and there was no sun to mark the hours. It could have been days, or mere minutes. Whatever it was, I did not know.
The voice came from behind me. I stood still, trying hard to see the speaker. Then I realized that I had to actually turn around for that to work. It seemed that this eyesight business was still going to need some getting used to.
The speaker turned out to be a man in ninja gear. He was crouched around a fire that flickered and danced but didn't seem to give off any heat. I wondered, briefly, where he managed to find the wood, but the line of thought died when I saw his forehead protector. The metal plate bore a symbol I was very familiar with, having traced the one on my own forehead protector countless times. The swirling symbol of the Leaf.
Something in me relaxed.
"It's not often I see people here," the man said.
"Really?" I cast a doubtful glance at the people scattered all across the fields. He followed my gaze curiously.
"Do you see anything?" he asked.
"How interesting. For me, it's nothing but darkness. The fire is my only light."
I stared at him, feeling odd. There was something very backwards about this entire situation.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
His only response was a tired smile.
The urge, again. It was increasing in strength. More than ever, I wanted to follow it; as if in a dream, my feet began to move.
The man's arm stopped me.
I looked up at him, frowning. He frowned back, gaze sharpening as if seeing me for the first time.
"I don't think you're supposed to be here," he said slowly. The firelight cast eerie shadows over his face. Perhaps it was the way he said it, but his words gave me pause. Then I shook off his arm.
"There's somewhere I need to go," I told him, somewhat distantly.
"Not now," he insisted. "Not yet."
"I have to follow the strings..."
Once again I moved to leave, and once again the man moved to stop me.
"Don't," he said. "Fight it. Move away from it. I don't know what you're doing here, but it's not yet your time."
"What do you mean?"
He motioned downwards. I looked down at myself, puzzled. It took me a while to realize what he was indicating, but then I saw it—unlike the man, unlike everyone else wandering the meadows, I wasn't quite all there. I was transparent, ghostlike.
"You're too real to be here," he said gently, and then gave me a little push. "Walk away. You can do it."
There was something distinctly fatherly about the way he said it. I had no idea who this man was, but I suddenly knew that I could trust him.
I took a deep breath. Then, against all my instincts, I began retreating from the pull.
"There you go," he murmured.
I was becoming more and more transparent. My surroundings were dissolving. The man was dissolving as well...
But there was still something I wanted to know.
"Who are you?" I asked him, right before I left.
He smiled at me. A fading smile on a fading face.
"You can call me Sakumo," he said.
And then everything turned to white.
I woke slowly.
Something made a thudding noise, as if a blunt object had fallen to the floor. My head hurt something awful.
"She's waking," someone said very rapidly.
There was a scurrying sound of movement.
I opened my eyes, confused—
Nothing but blackness.
My breath caught in my throat. Why couldn't I see? What was going on, why was it so dark so black it was like I was blind—
You are blind. You've always been blind.
My breathing quickened. The beeping noise accelerated. There were a few murmurs of alarm.
"Careful!" a voice said. "You're startling her—"
"What's going on?" I managed to say. I was immediately appalled at how horrible my voice sounded.
"Miyo, Miyo," the voice soothed. "Calm down, you're safe...deep breaths, Miyo, deep breaths—"
I'm not Miyo. Who's Miyo?
You're Miyo, you dolt.
I was confused. My brain was tired, my entire body radiated pain...I just wanted to sleep.
Voices—familiar—but not—drifted over my head.
"I think we're losing her..."
"Shh. Let her sleep..."
I dozed off to the sound of rhythmic beeping.
"He's been practically living here," a nurse confided to me in the quiet tones of a conspirator. "Your brother, that is. I've lost count of the times he's fallen asleep in that chair...he's been so worried..."
"I have not," Yoroi later denied. Blatantly lying.
I smiled at him from the hospital bed. "Thank you, nii-san."
Brother? Not him—
Memories of a different brother sprung to mind.
"Miyo? You alright?" His tone had shifted from gruff to worried within the span of a second.
"I don't know," I said. I wanted to roll over, or rub my forehead, or something...but movements were painful so I simply lay still. "I'm..."
"—making a good recovery."
"Oh, thank goodness," Shiho breathed.
My team huddled around me. I focused on the beeping of the heart monitor to distract myself from my jumbled thoughts.
"You're an idiot," said Yagura flatly.
I wasn't bothered; by now I knew that such a statement translated to "we were worried." So I simply smiled and poked a weak finger in Yagura's direction. "Surprised you came to visit." It was a feeble attempt at lightening the situation.
"Yeah, well. You tend to do things when you're held at knifepoint." An equally feeble reply.
Shiho didn't seem to appreciate our efforts. "Don't joke about that. Miyo, you could have..."
Her unspoken word hung in the air.
"That so?" I asked dazedly.
Death...the word itself triggered an onslaught of memories. I had died already, I was sure of it. I remembered it. The water. The rapids. The rocks.
And now, apparently I had nearly died again.
I remembered that, too. Everything had felt like a dream, but I remembered it all—the meadow, the sky, the gnarled roots...the man by the fire. And the weirdest thing was, I recognized his name.
He's Konoha's White Fang. He's a legend—renowned in life, disgraced in death. He's the father of Copy-Nin Kakashi.
...He's a character from a manga.
I closed my eyes, not wanting to think about it. My sanity was starting to appear doubtful.
Shiho might have sensed my weariness, because she grabbed Yagura by the sleeve and began dragging him out.
"We'll leave you to rest, then," she said quietly.
The door closed with a click behind them.
The heart monitor continued to beep.
"What happened?" I asked.
Aoba-sensei paused mid-step. "Awake, are you?"
"What happened?" I insisted. My family and friends were welcome visitors, but just this once I wanted to hear something from someone who actually knew what was going on.
He sighed and crossed his arms. "Right. Well, after I found that seal and handed the job over to Inoichi...you remember how he put you in a trance?"
I made a sound of confirmation.
His next words were very soft. "You didn't wake up for days. Your body started shutting down...they had to put you on life support."
After a pause, I spoke up hesitantly, "Do you know what Yamanaka-san found?"
"That, I'm unaware of."
I leaned back against the sheets. I had been taken off the heart monitor, and now there was nothing to listen to. In an attempt to distract myself, I studied the assortment of objects on the bedside table—mostly flowers, I found. The newly-picked ones were from Shiho; the others were dried herbs from my brother, who'd brought them to freshen the place up.
There was also a small, mysterious pendant—a tough, wiry thread from which hung a sliver of wood carved in the shape of a maneki-neko. The beckoning cat. A good-luck charm.
I had no idea who had put it there, but I was grateful for it all the same—
"But I'm sure the Hokage knows what happened," Aoba spoke up. His words were slow and measured, like he was choosing them carefully. "This might not be the appropriate time to bring this up, but he'd like to speak to you when you've recovered."
—especially since it appeared that luck was something I was really going to need.
I lived in a lovely town on the coast with loving parents and grandparents and a little brother who made me want to tear my hair out, a little brother whom I'd die to protect.
I lived in a lively village in mainland Fire Country, with no family save for an older brother whom I idolized like no other.
I was a simple girl, a quiet engineering student who liked reading books and drawing pictures.
I was a proud ninja of Konoha who liked to garden and hated reading and couldn't draw to save her life.
Among the books I'd read was a mind-numbingly long series about magical ninja. It was silly and ridiculous, yet also charming and poignant. It was set in a fictional village of Konoha—
No, no, no, no. Konoha was very real, and it was my home. It was real and fiery and beautiful and—
—dark and twisted and militant. Child soldiers and emotionless wrecks and secrets upon secrets upon secrets. Shiny exterior and rotten core.
And the single light in the darkness—the namesake of the entire series—was none other than him. Naruto.
No. Naruto was many things. Messiah was not one of them. It had to be a coincidence.
How could it? There were too many similarities. Konoha, the Hokage, the Elemental Countries, the entire ninja-system. And all the familiar names—Tenten, Lee, Neji, Sasuke, Sakura, Naruto…
But…could it? Could it possibly…and it would explain the odd flashes of memory, the headaches, the pervasive feeling burning down my neck that I didn't belong here at all…
The Kyuubi attack, the Uchiha massacre—
—Wave mission, Chuunin exams, invasion…Sand Siblings and Orochimaru and Kabuto and Misumi and—
Wait, no, that couldn't be true.
—and Akadou, Akadou Yoroi—
Couldn't be true, couldn't be true.
—some twisted alternate universe born from the mind of a lunatic—
—an enemy spy—
"No," I gasped, startling myself awake.
For a moment I simply stared into the darkness, chest heaving with erratic breaths and a pounding heartbeat. There was no way for me to discern the time, but something in me recognized that it was stupid o'clock and I really should be sleeping.
Slowly, I reached out an arm to the bedside table and closed a clammy fist around the maneki-neko pendant.
For good luck.
I descended back into a fitful sleep.
Full recovery took about two weeks.
Well, "full" according to the medics. Physically I was fine, but mentally, spiritually, I felt like I'd been torn to bits and was still struggling to find the pieces. Still struggling to put myself back together.
But of course, physical health is the only thing that matters in this village. I mean, there was an entire clan of people who were clinically insane and they just didn't care, did they? Just so long as we're able to fight...
With a tinge of fear, I clamped down on the bitter thought that was so very alien, so very unlike me. I couldn't afford to lose myself, not now, not when the Hokage himself would be watching…
I was checking out of the hospital when Aoba-sensei told me that it was time.
The Hokage would like to see you now.
Summoning a blank expression, I followed him. Whatever happened, I wouldn't let these strange memories interfere. I wouldn't forget who I was.
The room smelled heavily of smoke. My face wrinkled. I wondered if expressing a desire to claw my nose off would prompt any hair-trigger psych evaluations.
I decided not to risk it.
Thus, it was only after all the privacy seals had been activated, all the metaphorical shades drawn, all the people gathered, that the silence was broken.
"Hello, Miyo," said Sarutobi Hiruzen, Third Hokage of Konoha, a.k.a. The Professor, a.k.a. The God of Shinobi. "I am quite sorry you had to go through that. How are you feeling?"
I would have stared at him if I could. I'd been expecting something more along the lines of "what the hell are you doing in my village" or "reveal your secrets, abomination" or "Ibiki, take her away."
Caught off guard, my reply was embarrassingly dim.
"Oh…uh, er, I don't know, I—what happened, exactly? Er—I mean, Hokage-sama…! Um."
Immediately, I wished I could turn back time so I could formulate a less mortifying answer to the strongest shinobi in the village. Or, at the very least, remove the altogether unnecessary "um" I'd tacked on at the end.
"We were hoping you could shed some light on that," the Hokage said mildly, while I fantasized about beating myself unconscious with a wrench. "Inoichi?"
The Yamanaka launched into a speech that sounded as if it'd been rehearsed several times.
"This is a highly abnormal case, you see—the memories that had been locked away are far too elaborate to be falsely engineered, and far too alien to fit in our world. Furthermore, they are completely incongruous to your life here in Konoha. Nothing matched, not even your blindness…which should be impossible since you've been blind from birth."
"We believe," the Hokage said, "that these memories originate from…before your birth."
There was an expectant pause, as if both were waiting for validation. My head swam. There was something fundamentally wrong about a Hokage looking to a blind genin for validation.
"Before her birth?" Aoba-sensei said, incredulous. "You don't mean…reincarnation?"
"Quite extraordinary, is it not?" the Hokage said, as mild as ever. "If the theory stands, it will have been the first reincarnation in a very long time."
It took a few seconds for the meaning of that to sink in.
"First reincarnation in…wait, so reincarnation is a—is a thing?" I tried to pretend my voice didn't squeak. "I mean, it's happened before? It exists? You don't think it's crazy?"
"Well," Aoba-sensei said, still sounding dubious, "regarding the kind of reincarnation that is being suggested, the last documented case was during the eve of the Warring States period. Not everyone believes in its authenticity, of course, but it isn't unheard of."
"Indeed," came the Hokage's mild, mild voice.
It was a bit alarming, his calmness; no one was that controlled. I wished I could tell what he was thinking, but his chakra was shaded from my sight. Not even the most basic of emotions were discernible.
"But why don't you think I'm a…a spy, or something?" I asked, still perplexed at the lack of suspicion. Aoba's hand gravitated to my shoulder, all rigid and tense, and I realized that perhaps I was being too forward.
It was Inoichi who answered me. "We probably would, if it weren't for two reasons. First, the chakra composition of the memory seal was odd. You felt it as well, didn't you, Aoba?"
The hand on my shoulder faltered. "…Odd? Well, no less odd than Miyo's own chakra, but I had assumed…"
"It wasn't human," came Inoichi's blunt interruption. "It was powerful, otherworldly—and most of all—inhuman. Whatever the seal was, it had not been dealt by a shinobi's hand."
I blinked. "So, like an animal summons?"
"…I was thinking more along the lines of 'Death God', actually."
I blinked again. "Oh." Then: "What's the second reason?"
A shade of discomfort passed over his chakra. "Of the scenes that I witnessed…one of them was your death. And what followed."
"Oh," I said again, numbly. The heaviness of the smoky air seemed to intensify. I floundered for something to say. "So—then—if you're so sure, then why—?"
Why are you telling me this? Why am I here? What could you possibly need me for?
Inoichi understood me perfectly. As expected from a mind-reader. "Your memories were, for the most part, of little interest. But I did find something intriguing. A…a manga series, of all things, with eerily similar parallels."
My mouth set. Here we go.
"Naturally, I could not afford to spend too much time immersed in the Mind Reading technique—it would be dangerous for both parties. As a result, I had gleaned very little from the reading. That is where you come in—we need you to use your newfound memories to relay any relevant information."
For a while I was silent. Not out of any recalcitrance or stubbornness—I was just…hesitant. But goodness knew it was an order and I would have to answer whether I liked it or not. And I didn't much like it.
"Um…I'm not sure if it…if it accurately captures the situation," I hedged.
"Let us be the judge of that," the Hokage said simply, and I knew I could stall no longer.
My teacher's hand was still on my shoulder. I focused on it, drew strength from its reassuring warmth, and began to talk.
I talked about everything. Not only about the events of Naruto, but also about what happened while Inoichi had scanned my mind. About the ape-like creature whom I was now sure was the Four-Tailed Beast. About the Asphodel Meadows, and its ravaged plains and torn sky. About Hatake Sakumo.
My oration was long and rambling, often doubling back on itself in twists and turns. Nervousness did not help my coherency. It was a wonder they understood what I was saying at all.
Throughout it all, the Hokage remained unmoved. Even when I hesitantly described his death—which sent a jolt of shock rippling through Inoichi and Aoba—he maintained composure. He would pause me at parts, asking for a clarification here, an explanation there, but for the most part he could have been a statue. It was uncanny, and oddly terrifying. I was used to some sort of indication of people's thoughts and feelings, not this…blankness. It was like fighting blind all over again.
I was tempted to simply bolt out the office. I did not because I'd long decided to stop running away.
I was also tempted to throw a tantrum and start yelling. I did not because I had a brain and didn't harbor a death wish.
"Thank you, Miyo, that will be all," the Hokage said when we had finished. My throat was hoarse from talking and my palms had begun to bleed from where my fingernails dug into them. Suddenly, I couldn't take it anymore.
"You can't possibly think any of this is true," I blurted.
Shockingly, the Hokage didn't incinerate me on the spot for my rudeness. "As you've just rattled off a list of highly sensitive information with startling accuracy—information, I might add, that you should have no way of knowing—I'd say there's a strong case supporting the accompanying details."
"But there are discrepancies," I argued, against my better judgement. "I didn't exist in that universe, and Naruto was never in my class, and…and my brother never made chuunin!"
The Hokage didn't answer right away. "True. But that's not what this is about, is it?"
I stiffened. He'd seen straight through me.
"Tell me, what is it that's bothering you?"
My back felt like an iron rod. If I straightened any further, I'd be bending over backwards.
"I…" I swallowed. My chin was dangerously close to wobbling. "My brother is not a criminal."
And that was all he said.
"He can't be," I went on heatedly. "He would never, ever—he's a loyal ninja of Konoha, there's no way he'd betray—the idea is just insane—"
"Whether your information is true or not remains to be seen," the Hokage interrupted mildly, cutting me off with a mild wave of his hand. "And until further proof of its validity is obtained, we will of course proceed with caution. But I do ask you to consider this: given the time interval in which these 'discrepancies' occur, do you not think there could be another factor at play?"
I wish I could say I offered something more intelligent than, "Huh?"
"Everything that deviates from your known 'storyline' takes place following a single event—your birth." He paused, giving me time for his statement to sink in. "Now, this is just a theory, but from what I can understand…this universe is a reflection of the one you just described to me—identical mirror images save for a few deviations. You yourself have asserted that you do not exist in the other universe, and yet here you are. Would it be so strange to assume that you are the stone cast in the reflection, and all these ripples following your wake rise from your presence?"
I blinked once. Then twice. Then it dawned.
Slowly, my fingers unclenched.
Slowly, I bent into a bow. "I…I'm sorry, Hokage-sama. Thank you."
"No," he said, "it is good to see that the Will of Fire lives on, regardless of origin. Thank you for your time, Miyo."
I left the office with a confused muddle of emotions. Newfound awe and respect, intense shame for all my doubts and darker thoughts, exhaustion from the entire ordeal…
But most prevalent was a beautiful, profound sense of relief.
The cool glow of moonlight filtered through my window. I had never given it much thought before, but tonight I found myself wondering. Wondering what the view looked like painted in the soft shades of night, wondering what the moon looked like, wondering what the stars looked like. Would it be the same constellations as the ones in my past life? Would I even be able to tell? I hadn't paid much attention to the astronomy unit back at the Academy, and it'd been so long since I'd last seen stars…
No, that line of thinking was useless. It was all in the past; my blindness was a part of me now. As far as I was concerned, nothing had changed. I was Me—I would always be Me—and I would never forget what made me "Me."
I already had hundreds of questions gnawing at my mind. Who performed the memory seal? What was the deal with the Asphodel Meadows, and how was it that I could access it? Even more so—what on earth was the Four-Tailed Beast doing in my head? And why had my body started shutting down when Inoichi put me in a trance? If I had already caused things to start changing, then what else had I changed? And who sent that maneki-neko pendant?
Everything was already confusing enough without the impending identity crisis. So I decided I would treat the memories as they should be treated—irrelevant distraction at worst, useful intelligence at best. And what was I if not an agent of intelligence?
I rummaged through my things, gathering paper and pencils. The information would be documented, of course—I couldn't trust myself to remember every detail forever. Better to record it now, when my memory was still fresh from the seal, than to wait for it to fade with the years. Of course, I would need a code. The Hokage had urged me to be discreet, and discreet I would be.
My hand rested on the neck of my flute, and my mouth thinned. I already knew what my code would be.
Music in the Elemental Nations was very freeform. Songs would be passed down from master to apprentice, learned by ear, or devised through improvisation. Sheet music was very rare; in some countries, the very idea of musical notation was unheard of—akin to ascribing a written language for dancing.
The Other Me had been familiar with music theory, which formed the basis of my code: all my information would be in English (a language that did not exist here), and the English would be in turn be encrypted into standard musical notation. I would stash it along with my (yet to be created) flute music, where it would hopefully remain undisturbed.
If my memories were to be believed, I would need every advantage against the coming storm. Getting all the information down for future perusal would be the first step. With luck, all those encryptions would be enough to hold.
Closing my eyes, I raised my pencil and got to work.
Contrary to Miyo's beliefs, there actually is a written language for dance. It's called "Benesh Movement Notation" and was developed in the late 1940s.