The Truth That Binds You

Sleep. It is a black, foul thing. And between the sound of cracking thunder, she is in the shadow of a dark storm, black rain falling over head. Black Rain- and she is standing in the shadow of-

With daybreak brings the return of her strength, as well as her caretakers. She opens her eyes to find Ichi and Ni already by her bedside, awaiting her orders for the day.

"Good morning My Lady. Have you slept well?" They inquired as she nodded mechanically in reply, shifting herself free of the confines of the silken sheets. She is aware that her limbs are still transfixed by a noted stiffness she cannot explain. Nonetheless she notices how the last portion of their greeting lilts in a question, and one she knows well the answer to. She is certain she makes a sight- unkempt hair, dark shadows beneath her eyes, startling against her skin.

"Y-Yes..." She lied with some degree of difficulty, not matching their inquisitive gazes as she used her hands to delicately probe beneath the cover for the cold metal of the amulet. It seems...heavier than yesterday she thinks, as she carefully hid the small charm in her palm as she rose.

"We also trust that dinner with our Master went well?" Ichi stated casually as she began to make the bed, Ni coming around to place the kimono for the day on top of the spread. It is blue, the color of the ocean, the color of- cold ice eyes. Everything- the frightening moment they had shared, the threat of his words- the strange events- swirl in her mind. There are so many things that she wants to ask that she falters, uncertain of how to proceed.

"A-A m-man c-came..." She began with some hesitation, her stomach tightening as she remembered the look in his eyes. "L-Lord K-Kyuubi c-called h-him...Lord R-Raiku..." She murmured carefully, eyes watching them for any sign of surprise or slight.

"Yes." Ichi began, tucking the silk sheets with quick, practiced hands. "Master has been expecting his arrival for...quite some time. His only concern was that it had taken so long." She added, smoothing the numerous pillows and placing them appealingly against the headboard. 'So he had known...' she thought carefully, the weight of the charm still cold in her palm. He had known all along...what had given his 'gift' its importance, was that it had hidden her from the sight of another being such as he...and yet...'Why did the charm fail? And why...did he want to conceal me?' Also with this though come the realization that although the charm was cold in her palm, both Ichi and Ni are still able to see her- and so had the other servant from yesterday. She finds this quite curious, uncertain then of how exactly the mystical charm worked. 'Are they...'immune' then? Will the charm not work on them? Perhaps it is because...they were not the intended target?'For now she would abandon the thought, focusing on one far more pressing.

"W-Why did he c-come? W-Why d-did L-Lord R-Raiku want t-to see m-me?" She asked, taking a small step backwards so as not to get in the way of Ichi's deft hands. She could clearly recall Lord Raiku's pointed remarks, the cold line of hate echoing in his eyes as he had disregarded her. And- the abrupt distaste with which he had greeted her Master. His words...had echoed with the force of his hatred.

"My Lady's history and origin is of...particular interest to the other beasts in this realm." Ni stated for her, with a solemn black gaze."Traditionally...it is forbidden for common mortal's to ascend. However...a...exception was made for My Lady's sake."

She absorbed this information carefully, as many aspects of the earlier confrontation began to clarify. That nail biting tension between them and their callous display of power...her Master's arrogant goading and Lord Raiku's firm dismissal. The hatred, the loathing in his eyes had been blatantly obvious. And if there were more like him...who felt as he did of her bearing...perhaps it was no wonder her Lord had hidden her from the world.

"T-Then why...why w-would they e-even a-allow such a thing?" She asked honestly. Lord Raiku had spoken of her as if she had been beneath him, as if he could not even spare a moment to hear her speak for herself, dismissing her as if she had been...worthless. If all felt as firmly as he did about her presence...she wondered for the briefest of moments how her Lord could possibly bear it. To go through such trouble...to put himself on the end of such scrutiny, to be the object of such distaste, and for her to be little more than a shameful secret. 'Yes.' She thought, feeling her throat tighten again, something solemn and discomforting making it burn. 'Perhaps...a secret so shameful that he tried to bury it for ten years...'

"This is a realm ruled by power My Lady." Ichi stated, interrupting the bleak realization that had come with her own thoughts. "Lord Kyuubi is the strongest. By the nature of our laws the strongest make the rules. Therefore my lady was permitted."

'Yes...' That power- and with something that could have been pity she remembered Lord Raiku's sleeve, empty at his side. It was a battle to which she had not borne witness, but the proof of it's outcome had been right there before her very eyes, victory evident in the laughter in her Master's voice. Such powerful beings they were- so that she did not doubt Lord Raiku's contempt, not just at her Master, but towards her. To be so weak before them, it was no wonder he felt as if his...loss had been in vain. Her very presence surely...was an affront to all that he had lost, a grim reminder that a god had fallen so that a mortal such as her could live. It was more than enough...to gain his hatred. It was more than enough...to gain his contempt and disgust. If she had asked for this- if she had begged for this- then... 'I am as much at fault...as the man who made him that way...' And the thought echoed painfully in her mind, the burden of consequence. Because in some way perhaps...she had done this. If it had been her decision, if it had been her desire then...how could one not feel guilty?

Was that why Lord Raiku had come? No, surely not- it was selfish of her to even entertain the notion that her presence was of such importance to such a godly being. His dismissal of her had solidified that fact. She...was worth less than nothing to him. She had been the excuse perhaps? But not...the reason...but there was no way to verbalize to Ichi and Ni that one moment, to speak of the intensity of his gaze, sharp as steel.

"Lord R-Raiku...d-did not s-seem to a-approve of me...nor L-Lord K-Kyuubi. H-He...I-It w-was obvious that h-he...h-hated us b-both." She finished with a sigh, failing in her attempt to convey Lord Raiku's aura, and the sharp bite of it. But more than that now, was the reminder of...her weakness. Her Lord had treated Lord Raiku as if his threats had been laughable. As if the threat of violence echoing on that cold wind...had been of no concern. And yet in the end...even she could clearly remember the last murmur of his words, hurled harshly at Lord Raiku's back.

Despite all of her Lord's goading, and his treatment of their meeting as little more than an intermission for his amusement, in the end she...had embarrassed him. By cowering so before his adversary, she had once again proven the depths of her own weakness. It was...not a comforting thought, so that her fist grows tight around the amulet. At this moment Ichi stepped in behind her, interrupting her thoughts as she motioned for her to begin to take off the beautiful kimono she had wrinkled in her sleep.

"Our Lord Kyuubi ascended by...unconventional means and circumstances, both whose mentions are forbidden. Because of that the other elder beasts...question his reign and ability. Nonetheless, the fact remains that Lord Kyuubi is not a being to be defied." Ichi stated, delicately tugging a sleeve from her shoulder. She was quick to nod in agreement. The might of his power was not one to be ignored.

"Lord Raiku was merely the first." Ni added, cold hands untying the obi at her waist. "The others...will surely come."

'They will come.' She gulped harshly, swallowing the lump in her throat. There is a tight feeling of anxiety building in her chest. More like him would come- to see her. More of...'their' kind. For judgement? For mockery? Or idle curiosity? Such powerful beings- would they look at her with contempt? Or pity? Frail mortal quivering before their power? 'Little bird,' she thought, remembering the dark in his voice. 'How...accurate.' She could hear it again now, a strange feeling sitting heavy in her chest. This was...disappointment. She was disappointed...in herself. For not being stronger. Even though there had been...nothing she could have done. She had long since accepted her own weakness, had understood it as a part of herself from before that had not changed. But somehow, remembering that moment...she felt sick with disgust. 'No...what I cannot bear is the thought that...Lord Raiku had been right. If Lord Kyuubi sacrificed so much for me...how could I let such sacrifice be in vain?'

Regardless of how she felt about the man- if he had really done so much for her...she shook her head to clear her mind, her thoughts growing convoluted from the intensity of her emotions. She was not sure...how to feel about all of this, or how this would affect the way she looked at the man they called Master.

"He was-" She began with some degree of clarity as she remembered the legends, etched into the walls. And the sound of her Master's taunting. 'His wings...' "W-What is...L-Lord R-Raiku?"

Ni finishes untying the sash at her waist without pause, allowing the kimono to fall with a whisper to the floor and pool at her feet. "Lord Raiku was...the eight winged dragon."

She gulped hastily, harshly. 'Was.' One of the creatures of legend...the winged dragon, racing across the skies."And L-Lord Kyuubi, h-h-he-" She could not finish the words, the thought aloud. But she knows it, had heard it for herself, as if in a dream. 'For me...he had-'

Ichi instinctively seemed to sense the question on her lips before it had left her. And she chooses this moment to avert her eyes from her naked form as she replies. "Tore his wings from him."

There is...nothing to say. The hate in those cold eyes like winter, the contempt and disgust with which he had spoke, the mockery of respect in his words- says it all for her. Her Lord's callous dismissal among the flash of lightening- and the way those eyes had looked at her. She had been weak and powerless in those eyes...worth less than nothing.

"Our Lord...can be merciful." Ni stated quietly, solemnly as she began to run a comb through the long tangled ends of her hair. "But he can also be merciless."

She reflects quietly to herself, all of the truths that she has come to know. She is Hinata. She is mortal, in a land of gods...of beings with frightful power. She is from the world below. And she has...been sleeping for a very long time. She does not know...why she has been sleeping. And somehow in the echoes of the past, from the world below- she was taken. No...she had...chosen this. To be kept woman to a demon god. And Lord Kyuubi-

She paused, struggling to wrap her mind around it, to understand. The only signs of his favor had revealed itself in his 'gifts'. Every day there was a new kimono, as beautiful and priceless as if it had been woven for a goddess. Well fed, pampered, servants at her side every moment to adhere to her desires. And the strange amulet, tucked close to her breast. Meant to protect her? To hide her? But why, if there was no danger? Why go to such effort if there was no threat to her safety? Beyond that- 'What is it you want?' - she wanted nothing but...the truth...but even that seemed beyond her grasp. 'Don't damage your beautiful skin,' and yet there was the black ringing her ankle, and that frightening echo of power, of strength, and the sound of his laughter. The words...'no gift comes without its price.' And what had she paid for such peace? What had she paid for such finery? What had she paid for this solitude? This life of contemplation and reflection on all that she did not know?

But more important than those- Lord Kyuubi had fought them-creatures as powerful as gods- to allow her admittance into this realm. He had fought them for her right to 'ascend'. After her bath, clean and clothed she wandered the halls, pale eyes keenly scouring the walls to find them. It takes time she is not certain passes, concentration and vigilance to pick the legends from the men, and to find their places in the history of the world below.

There is the one winged angel, peering curiously down through the clouds onto the world below. The two winged horse, dashing through a ephemeral forest, racing toward the stars. The four winged serpent, devouring its own tail. The six winged phoenix, blazing a trail of fire and smoke across the night. The eight winged dragon winding up the base of the tree of the world, peering down at her with cold stone eyes.

"S-Some...are m-missing." She murmured aloud, still carefully examining the figures carved in stone. Despite all of the time she had spent searching, she had yet to find the slightest trace of the other winged beasts. Ichi stands with endless patience by her side, watching blankly as she counted carefully in her head. 'Three...Five...Seven and Nine...they're not here...' "In order to ascend with you, Lord Kyuubi fought a horrific battle in order to gain your admittance." Ichi stated, dark eyes following the path of her pale hands, stark against the stone. "That battle...was how our Lord earned his title as the strongest."

"A night of black skies and red moon." Ichi continued carefully, black eyes darker still with remembrance. And at the words, somewhere deep inside of her heart- there is a strange pulse, a quiver. 'Red.' She thought again with a shudder, the only constant horror that seemed to plague her thoughts. There is some...terrible memory, called to mind by the mere thought of red- the color of blood and nightmare- of sin. Sick- she feels sick again, the lulling of Ichi's somber voice doing nothing to restore her calm. Instead...there is a strange anxiety building.

"For ten days and nights he fought them. Before his might, the three winged and five winged beast fled into the skies, never to be seen again. The seven winged serpent was slain. Lord Raiku, the eight winged dragon, fought ferociously and lost his arm and wings. The other winged beasts...quickly admitted their defeat."

Black skies, red moon- her head, her temples begin to pound, vision wavering. There is a crash of lightening, sharp in her ears. The heat of flame, singing the ends of her hair. The sharp bite of the wind against her bare skin. Cheeks, wet with tears. Enough sorrow in her heart to drown the whole world. And the black- of being in that shadow. The shadow of-

"And on the tenth day..." Ni murmured, those black eyes still gazing down the length of the hall, into the shadows lurking there. And she is caught between worlds, between the edge of a faded memory and the beginnings of a nightmare. 'Let it go.' Echoes powerfully, harshly, in her head. To forget- but it has begun- she is spiraling down some rabbit hole, into some black pit without end."...he fought the nine winged beast..." Ichi's eyes drifted to her visage for a moment, solitary and forlorn, still staring blankly into the depths of space- before they turned back to her mistress. "...Lord Kyuubi was once more powerful than he was now."

"M-More...powerful?" She thought with abrupt horror, not even daring to imagine it, murmured with some strange lingering air of shadow looming in her voice. She is speaking- and yet she does not feel it. She feels- scorching flames- there is the crack of lightening, illuminating the hall- and she is caught- drowning in a vision with her eyes wide open.

'"The Kyuubi is one of the most powerful legendary beasts, with an unrivaled wealth of chakra at his disposal."

Her head- what is this, echoing within the confines of her mind? What is this strange feeling, crippling her? But beyond all that- is the dark, growling in her ear, making her wince as she clutched at her temples, brows furrowing in pain. 'Let it go.' 'No- n-not yet-' she thought almost feverishly, fighting the tide, the black threatening to sweep the memories back into the dark of her mind, to smother what remained of her strength, her will. Coaxing her into unconsciousness, into sleep.

"To ascend is to be reborn anew- so then he was at his strongest. But in this battle...our Lord Kyuubi lost his ninth and most coveted tail, the tail of immortality. And the nine winged beast- he banished from the skies back to the earth, to never ascend again."

'The Tail Of Immortality...' Fighting to resurface, to focus through the echo of memory, the reminder of some pain beyond her ability to bear. Those words- fighting to focus through the black, muddling the flow of her thoughts and disassembling her from the inside. Focus- those words- the black- at her ear- What...did they mean? Lord Kyuubi...was he...mortal like her now? The sound- the snap of bone, the flash of fangs- makes her head ring- she can see a comet, racing across a black sky to the earth, the reminder- of a lonely fate. To have wings but be unable to fly- to be forever kept from the skies you loved, the wind in your wings. It was a cruel fate for a creature of flight. A fate...cruel enough for vengeance. For 'Let it go Hanahime.' echoing so intensely in her head that it seems to ring, to make the very air she breathes tremble in her lungs. Gritting her teeth- their black eyes did not seem to notice her pain, the sweat on her brow, the tightening of her fists- the tremble of the fingertips against the wound, throbbing beneath her skin. 'Fight it,' something whispered, cutting through the black. 'Fight him.'

"W-What b-became of the n-nine w-w-winged b-beast?" Murmured with strength she did not feel, hiding the gasp of her breath beneath her words. Ni- is watching her now, carefully assessing the rapid paling of her skin, the increasing prominence of the shadows darkening beneath her eyes. But Ichi has turned her eyes- and is somewhere far away.

"We do not know his fate- but we have heard the other fox servants speak of the others. There are...rumors that the tailed beasts were sealed by mortals into the bodies of men. But we...do not know this for certain. While it is true that mortals have grown more powerful as their knowledge of chakra has expanded, to be able to contain such a powerful being without consequence is...doubtful. And the nine winged beast is...beyond such containment."

Consequence- a reminder echoing once more in her head- and still- still she feels as if she is floundering in open water, as if-

"Surely you understand my lady- the price of sealing such a being, infinite in power and wisdom- in a vessel that cannot possibly contain it. A river... cannot fit into a broken earthen pot."

"Was such a thing..." Another sharp pain, cutting through the haze, the sound- of children- screaming- so that she gasps aloud, smothering the sound in a sharp intake of breath- "d-done?"

"Yes My Lady." Ichi speaks, but it is Ni who is still watching her, black eyes deep like pits. "Below the mortals divide themselves and fight for territory, honor and prestige on behalf of their homelands- peace is fleeting, and a time of great turbulence and war is brewing. There is...a darkness, threatening to consume the land. The world of mortals- has fallen off the course of fate."

She pondered over the words through the exhausting haze carefully, as any news, any tales of the world below could not be ignored. She had thought long and hard about the world beneath her feet, had slept and dreamed of the villages hidden and scattered across the land. The land from which she had been taken, the world she had left behind. But this news...was unsettling, making her swallow harshly in her throat. Still that feeling- that strange feeling-of an echo of memory- 'A time of...great turbulence...and war.' She thought sadly, not remembering the like but somehow feeling as if- she could taste something in her mouth again, poignant and bitter. Sadness? Regret? Pity?- although she know not from whence it has come or why it persisted. The black is silent and sullen in her mind, the black of its power still echoing in her thoughts. 'Hanahime.' The harsh reminder, the threat- "Do you remember?" she thinks, of his words murmured coldly in the dark of her room. And the black in her mind is waiting to drag her back under, to make her forget.

And her heart- feels as if it is sinking in her chest, as if it is made of stone. 'Many will die.' She thinks, remembering the history of war etched into the wall before her, remembering the piles of the slain etched in stone. Remembering-

"And now-" Ni added, drawing her back from the black of her thoughts, from the strange waking nightmare of her thoughts. There is something strange echoing in those deep black pits, something undefinable as she speaks. "Who is to say how this world shall end?"

She does not like how the words echo in the empty hall, amplified in the silence. She does not like how they echo in her mind. Breathe- she tells herself- but she finds she is thinking of that village, hidden in the leaves- and how it would look overtaken by flames. "Y-You said...t-taken off the c-course of f-fate?" She repeats, not liking the ominous foreboding alluded in the words, the hopelessness she feels as she says them aloud, and the black in her mind-

"Yes My Lady." Ichi states, motioning for her to turn her gaze back down the hall. To the man- standing in the shadow of the great beast. But she does not see the shadow, does not see the figure of the hero before it. She sees-

"Fate has been kind to mortals My Lady...and like the hero in the shadow of the ten tailed beast, a new savior is born to protect the course of fate and assure the continuation of this world." She states quietly, allowing her to once more analyze the image there. The beast is massive, formless- it towers as large as a mountain, blocking out the grinning moon, the skies black and turbulent. But the man- stands before it, his back straight, his feet firmly planted in the earth. 'And he...is not afraid...' she thinks, remembering the echoes of a dream.

"But soon..."-and here...Ichi's eyes grew cold-"-mortals grew to spite fate-"

["They...blamed it for their misfortune."] He murmured solemnly to her. ["They wanted to reclaim their destiny, they wanted...to reclaim the control they had lost. In the end...all they wanted was to grab the future with their own hands. They-" ]-her head whips around violently, pale eyes searching the depths of the hall- 'Who?'- but no one is there, the only voice still murmuring aloud that of Ni as she joined in the telling of a truth she did not want to know. Her skin is clammy, her teeth aching from the urge to chatter, as if chilled by a cold winter wind.

"...In their arrogance...they committed a great sin. And they...have not been forgiven. They have...chosen their own destiny, and it will lead to their ruin." 'Red.' She thinks, feeling faint, her head muffled by black so that she reaches out a hand to lean heavily against the wall, feeling her head begin to ring painfully. It is growing, doubling- a headache- black- the sound- but she wills it away into nothing, pushes it away with more strength then she knows she has.

"H-How..." There are the words again, the pale eyed ghost again, lingering in her thoughts, haunting her shadow-"-H-How d-did they s-spite fate?"

Ichi and Ni stare at each other for a moment and something flickers between them- an understanding that transcends words or feelings. And together they turn to her, and speak.

"They killed the savior that had been born to protect them."

The sound- is there a child crying, echoing in her head? Or is that the sound of her, breaking into pieces?

"And without him...there is no one to right the path of fate, to thwart the onslaught of evil that approaches and lead them once more into an era of peace. He-"

And she is swept away beneath some black tide she cannot place, overcome again by a feeling so indescribable that she is frozen to the spot, pale eyes staring blankly into nothing. Faint- weak- she can't breathe- but still the sound of the child, the crying child, won't stop, it won't- They are speaking but she can no longer hear them, all she hears in her head is- His smile, gentle in its agony. ["And this is the world you left behind."] But she cannot look- even though she knows it is him, cannot turn her head even though she can feel the warmth wafting from his body, the scent of wind and sea- and the ghost of his smile, as he passes through her shadow. And he carries with him a sorrow she has always known- because it is her own-

"My Lady-!" She blinks harshly as she abruptly comes back to herself, surprised to find her gaze staring up into the high expanses of the arched ceiling, their cold arms encircling her back. Twin pairs of black- and two pale faces framed by dark hair the color of ink.

"I-I-" she flounders, confused and disoriented.

"My Lady you nearly fainted." Ichi tells her carefully, as they help her rise. She staggers upright with their assistance, their cold hands doing much to startle her back to her senses, as she placed another hand on her damp forehead, feeling her temples throb in response beneath her fingertips.

"My Lady?" Ichi questions her again, concerned. But she gives her a weak smile, still feeling faint. "I-I'm f-fine...I-It was n-nothing..." And it is gone- that strange feeling, the murmur of the dark in her head- the black of memory, of nightmare robbing her of strength. There is only the silence and comfort of her own thoughts, unfettered and clear.

But Ni is the one who watches her with keen black eyes as Ichi leads her back to her chamber, her pale arm thrown around her cold shoulders, a cold hand encircling her waist. And there is an echo of a question there, that does not leave her lips. 'What did you see My Lady? Who...did you see?' But she cannot answer, although she can feel the reply on her tongue. Many things- and nothing. But beyond all that- 'I saw...Him. But this time-' There had been someone else with him. There had been...a pale eyed ghost with him. But she says nothing, a timid smile on her lips as she tells them she is fine- but this time she is certain that Ni knows she is lying.

That night she wakes with the stars, long after the moon has risen. It is a grinning moon overhead, pale and forlorn in the black expanse of the sky. Ichi and Ni have long since bid her farewell and goodnight, departed to their other strange nightly duties. She slowly frees herself from the sheets, placing her bare feet on the cold floor with a marked shiver. There is a chill lingering in her room, a grim reminder that this...is dangerous. Carefully she creeps towards the door, crossing the expanse of the wide chamber with her heart thrumming in her chest. Breathe, she tells herself. Breathe. And the amulet is there, tight in her palm. She does not know why she clutches it to her chest as if it would protect her, only that the knuckles that grasp it are white as snow and cold as ice.

She cracks open the wide doors of the chamber a hairs breath, and they smoothly part without sound or creak. For a moment more she lingers there, hesitant and anxious- but white hands do not pry it further apart with questions, and black eyes are not there as she peers into the dark of the hall. It is as silent and cold as an enclosed tomb, ruptured only by her hastily drawn breath. She takes a breath for a moment as she steps into the hall, calming her thoughts as she slowly closed the door behind her. She breathes in, and releases. The Blue Eyed Man- she thinks, remembering how she had reached for his open hand. And like a shadow, she disappears into the gloom of the night.

She is not certain how long she wanders, walking on silent and wary footsteps, smothering her breath in her throat. She is not certain where she is going as she does not know the path she treads. But without the steadfast tread of her caretakers to guide her, her path is undeterred. At night, the beauty of the garden seems more sublime, the wind whispering like a lover along the flower petals, their shadows dancing on the path beneath the light of the moon. Silken petals seem to glow from within, and for a moment again- she almost imagines she can hear the sweet lilt of a tune. She skulks in their shadows, picking her way delicately through the foliage, mindful of her bare feet. She does not think of his wrath should he discover her here- she does not think of that black hand, holding her back- she thinks only of the path she had torn through the undergrowth, reaching for his hand.

'There...he was taking me there...' She thought carefully to herself, the dark and gloom of the overgrown path filled, it seemed, with warning. She does not think of the anxiety that makes her heart tremble, nor does she think of the fear she feels of capture...and the punishment. All she thinks of is Blue Eyes...and what it was he had been trying to show her. She treads slowly through the night, her feeble eyesight of little assistance to her in the dark. Somehow she finds herself thinking that once such a thing...would have been of no consequence. There is a strange feeling that hits her as she tries to see into the gloom, a strange feeling of frustration, of 'this...used to be e-easy...'- but she does not understand it.

As she stumbles out of the reach of the over-sized garden, in the dark she comes face to face with a looming structure, hard to distinguish in the night. She sees the dull glow of stone, of columns reaching overhead, and the dark of a wide open hall behind them. It looks like...some kind of amphitheater? Some strange meeting ground? She is not certain where this path will take her, but she struggles to gather her wits as she slowly approached, cautious and anxious.

As she draws nearer she finds that it is a wide open space ringed by towering white columns, the center bathed in the glow of night, directly illuminated by the moon's rays directly over head. The columns ringing the circle are marked like the walls-telling a story that she has no time to decipher. She approaches the ring of moonlight illuminating the center, to find with surprise that even below her feet the story continues, eyes carefully tracing over the strange symbols below.

'W-What...are these?' She thinks, searching the low reservoir that is her memory for any passing sign of recognition, but as always she comes up short. She studies the symbols carefully etched into the white stone beneath her- there is a stone ring, inlaid with interconnected lines that form a ten pointed star. Within the star are more circles, inlaid with symbols all the way to the center. It is a convoluted assortment of shapes and swirls, lines and dashes and otherwise serves as nothing more than to deepen her confusion. She can make neither hide nor tail of them as she surveys the markings, uncertain of how to begin to interpret the strange tongue written out before her. 'What...do t-these mean?'

["It is the curse that binds him. The reminder...of his 'fate.' Of the price he paid..."]

She feels her heart lurch in her chest, before it began to sputter, pounding erratically so that for a moment her vision swims, rooted to the symbols at her feet. She can't breathe-everything within her rolls and heaves so that she feels as if she is sinking, drowning in a moment so sublime that everything and nothing dies on her lips. For a moment she is rendered immobile, frozen- until she slowly raises her eyes.

And at the center of the circle, illuminated by the glow of the moon, is a vision in white. It is...him. The Blue Eyed Man. Hair the gold of kings, eyes the blue of sky, lit from within with child-like exuberance. The rugged skin reflects a life filled with warmth beneath the glow of a midday sun. The face that seems as if it wants to burst into laughter, the lips as if they want to break out into a grin. But on them now is a smile both fleeting and forlorn. Her words choke in her throat. She is torn from the desire to run towards him, to hurl herself in his arms and weep at his feet. Her head swims from the feeling of blood rushing to her cheeks, and yet seems to grow cold in her veins. Her vision darkens, brightens- clears and clouds. Black-she is going to faint- but in the dark of her rapidly diminishing confidence springs a will she has not yet been able to acknowledge. It is silent and comforting as it takes her hand, a small voice murmuring in her ear. 'Not yet.' The voice murmurs, as the black curtain of unconsciousness fades, 'You must not give in.'

"W-W-Who a-a-a-are y-you?" She whispers breathlessly, still feeling as if she is choking on her own sorrow, as the reminder of how those words had broken him rise again to the surface. "Do you remember me?" He had asked of her then, as if his very survival had depended on the words...and how the spark in those eyes had faded, when she had murmured that she did not. But now blue eyes neither wavered nor crumbled, clear as a cloudless sky. He watches her for an impossibly long moment in silence- before his face stretched into a smile as bright as the sun, banishing the sorrow ghosting along the lines of it. Something seems to pulse within her, to burst to light, to warmth- she wants to reach for his hand again, to feel it in her own. She wants-

["Hey Hinata,"] he calls, his voice as boisterous as a child's. ["You never did manage to catch me."] And as suddenly as the words leave his lips he turns, and quick as lightening, like a white specter he vanishes into the gloom of the abyss.

She feels sick, sick with a feeling so deeply rooted in agony that for a moment she nearly falls to her knees. For a moment the black comes so close to taking her that she nearly succumbs. But all of that she pushes away, she holds away- as suddenly every fiber of her being began to call his name.

"N-N-Naruto!" She nearly screams, nearly falling on her feet, adrenaline and a sense of urgency propelling her forward. "Naruto!" She screams again, louder, her heart throbbing in her chest, drawing ragged breaths just so she could hurl his name again into the dark of the empty. She is crying as she dashes after him, the echo of his laughter ringing in the empty halls that she finds beyond the circle, the sound of her bare feet slapping against the porcelain floor beneath her. 'Don't leave me again!' she is thinking, as she throws the words after his white form, vanishing into the dark, 'Please don't leave me again!', chasing the sight of that golden head, listening for the echo of his laughter. She does not know how long she blindly chases his shadow, her vision clouded with tears. It is a long winding path they make, through the stone cold halls, filled with sharp turns and breathless sprints down long halls. There are moments when she feels as if her lungs will burst in her chest, her legs trembling from such intensive use, but she grits her teeth and uses all of her strength to follow him.

She is certain- she is certain- that if she does not catch him- that some horrible fate would befall them both. She does not know how she knows it, how the feeling finds her through the gasp of her breath and the sweat on her brow, but dread sits heavy in her throat, fear echoing in every beat of her footsteps. 'Don't lose him.' The pale eyed ghost seems to murmur solemnly in her ears, 'You cannot lose him again...'

His white shadow has darted through a door on the hall before she has time to notice it, and she hurriedly pulls up short, her momentum nearly sending her reeling to the floor. She pauses before the black doors to catch her breath, breathing heavily as her entire body tenses with adrenaline. She can hear her heart pounding with such exertion in her chest it feels as if it is about to break through the fragile bones encircling it, her blood roaring painfully in her ears.

'His name. I-I remembered his name. I...knew him, had known him. He had been...' But she cannot finish the thought as she cautiously pushes open the door, searching the room within with pale haggard eyes. She is surprised by the darkness she finds, struggling to calm her breathing as she enters the chamber in an attempt to steel her nerves.

"N-Naruto..." 'His name.' She wants to say everything, she wants to say nothing as she stumbles through the black of the chamber. So much comes to her lips that it falters there, on the cusp of her subconscious. She remembers- the warmth of his hand, the gentle brush of the kiss against her hand. And even though he had smiled, even though he was laughing- the cold edge of sorrow hidden in the sound, lurking beneath the smile.

"Y-Y-You...know m-me." She nearly whispers, the truth seeming to choke in the air around her, to hover their on her lips. Like the man who hid his face from her, the lord who kept the truth from her- she had felt it from the very moment she had awoken. The Blue Eyed Man...had said it himself. "Y-You s-said...t-that I-I-" ['I am the one who loves you more than life itself, in this world or the next.'] "W-Who...a-am I?" She asks, but the dark seems to swallow her words. She can not make out distinct shapes in the dark, but this room seemed to house strange shadows and visions, as if that alone had been enough to call forth the man from her past.

"P-P-Please...N-Naruto." Laughter- she could remember the sound of his laughter, clear as a bell across a flower filled field. 'Smile for me,' she thinks again, nearly choking on tears she does not know linger there on her cheeks. 'You always smiled for me.' "N-Naruto..."

She whispered quietly, uneasy at the silence, the gloom. He- does not answer her- or maybe- he cannot answer her. Was she- dreaming again? Again- had he been just a ghost, a vision? No, that cannot be- she doesn't not want to believe it, she can't believe it- again, she calls his name with desperation, with longing. "Naruto..." She begins again, her throat tight, raw- the name catches on her tongue- because she wants to sob, to weep. And still something permeates the air within the room, a warning lingering around her, so even the black of the shadows around her seem to taunt her in her confusion. But she cannot leave without finishing this, without knowing, without something.

In this moment she feels it, on the edge of something important- balancing on a moment so poignant that no matter what transpired here- she knew she would be changed forever. The Blue Eyed Man- her Lord- both held a key to her past, and her very future was in the palms of their hands.

It is during this time that a cloud passes from over the moon, the bright of the moon's rays illuminating a shadow before a glass window. There- in a glass case- is a flower blooming. She pauses abruptly, struck with wonder at the visage before her. It does not possess the serene beauty of the garden flowers, but is a series of wicked black stalks, hooked with ragged thorns. The blooming petals so massive that the flower seems to sag beneath its own weight- petals and stalks black as pitch- but it is the center that startles her- a blood red center hinged with gold. She stares transfixed, at the surreal flower, and again there is a feeling. A feeling of dread, of horror- a murmur of a nightmare. 'Red.' And the feeling- of the pale eyed ghost, skulking away into the dark of her mind. 'You must not...' But as if she has been caught in a web, a spell, transfixed- and there is something black, a foul whisper- and the sharp bite of the dark that had followed in the shadow of her lord. And before she can stop herself, before the pale eyed ghost can stop her- she is walking towards the flower-

She has not taken a full step before something cold and sharp is against her neck. Immediately she freezes in her place, falling back to herself with a swift intake of breath. Her entire body seems to tense, growing as cold as the steel against her pulse, biting into the delicate skin of her throat. Immediately her heart leaps in her chest, pounding so violently within her that she feels as if she is going to faint dead away. Disoriented, she struggled to regain her bearings, and to understand the strange sequence of events that had just transpired. And with a sinking feeling of despair she realizes that it is a knife at her throat.

And there is a cold hand, holding her still. "Those who trespass here..." the voice murmurs, as cold and unforgiving as stone, "Will not be forgiven."

AN: I apologize for the delay, so here is a extra long chapter as a thanks for waiting, hope you enjoyed it. I will hopefully be returning to biweekly updates soon. Some more mysteries here- mentions of a curse, a flower, and a ghost. I apologize for any mistakes, when I'm proofing sometimes I overlook a whole lot of stuff. Please read and review to let me know what you think, reviews keep my bed warm at night.