As I Wake

Jolly Rancher Is My Favorite, Too

“Alright, it is time to choose our candidates for the Chunin Examinations,” the Third Hokage announced to a full room of sensei. “To begin, those who are in charge of the rookie genin step forward.”

Three sensei replied and stepped forward.

“Kakashi, Kurenai, Asuma. What do you say? Are there any in your squad you recommend are ready for the exams despise their experience? It’s up to you to decide whether they are too inexperienced to attempt such an exam.”

The three sensei nodded agreeably.

“Kakashi, begin.”

“I lead Squad Seven. Sasuke Uchiha, Sakura Haruno, Naruto Uzumaki. I, Kakashi Hatake, recommend all three of these genin for the chunin selection exams.”

The others sensei exchanged glances, but no one said anything. Certainly it was just a fluke that all three were nominated.

“My squad is number eight,” Kurenai began. “Hinata Hyuuga, Kiba Inuzuka, Shino Aburame. And I, Kurenai Yuuki, recommend all three.”

“And my squad is number ten. Ino Yamanaka, Shikamaru Nara, Choji Akimichi. And now I, Asuma Saratobi, recommend all three.”

Whispers erupted in the room, sensei shocked and bewildered by the overwhelming nominations. This had never been done before— to have this many eligible rookies who were recent graduates. The Hokage wore a look of curiosity.

“Hold on! Just a minute,” Iruka interrupted.

“Yes. What is it, Iruka?” The Third asked.

The three jonin faced Iruka as he spoke, not shocked by his interruption. “Lord Hokage, with all respect, the nine names that were just given were all my students at the Academy. I know all their skills and abilities. Every one of them has great promise, but it’s too soon. They need more experience before they are tested. If they try now, they will for sure fail the exam.”

“When I became a chunin, I was six years younger than Naruto is now,” Kakashi interjected.

“Naruto isn’t anything like you, Kakashi!”

Kakashi said the last thing that was on anyone’s mind, out of the blue. “I would also like to nominate Quorra to compete in the Chunin Exams.”

An eruption of whispers broke out, growing steadily louder. It was causing an uproar.

“Isn’t that the girl Kakashi found a few months ago?” Someone whispered to a fellow Sensei.

“Yeah, she’s the girl who lost her memory and hasn’t gotten it back.”

“How can she compete!?” Someone yelled.

“Yeah!” joined another. “She’s been here for some time, but how could she be trusted?”

“Was Kakashi doing this to piss off Iruka? It seems to be working.”

Iruka grew furious, furious even for him. “Quorra can’t compete! She didn’t even graduate from the Academy. What are you thinking, Kakashi?”

“She left the Academy for personal reasons.” Kakashi was boiling. He never lost his temper. “Doesn’t mean she still can’t graduate. She attended and completed all the work and didn’t miss enough classes to technically fail.”

“That’s exactly what means. She can’t graduate. It’s too late for her! Besides, she’s too immature. She got into a fight and detention after the first week. This village needs leaders not more people to cause a mess!” Iruka was livid. He didn’t understand how Kakashi could be this clueless nor understand why he was so committed to this preposterous idea.

Fellow sensei nodded and spoke whispers of agreement. It seemed that Iruka had made a valid point and a decision was already made.

“That fight was to protect my grandson,” the Third interrupted. His leadership voice boomed, carrying it throughout the room. “Now he can’t stop parading around calling her his hero.”

“Exactly.” Kakashi said. “As the Great Hokage said, she may be rough around the edges, but she has impacted the lives of others and been called a hero by many. Sure, she doesn’t have memory of her past but she has defended this village and treated it as her home. Who would we be if we didn’t at least give her the chance she properly deserves?”

A lot was spoken from Kakashi, a guy who usually hung back in the side-lines. Sensei all around seemed to be rattled by Kakashi’s words. Some were not as sure as they were before. Kurenai gave Kakashi a supportive pat on the shoulder.

“I agree,” Asuma said. “She protected my nephew. She deserves a chance.”

“But these exams can destroy them and will destroy Quorra,” Iruka argued.

“Iruka, you have made your point. I understand,” the Third said. “Accordingly, I have made a decision about what to do with the rookies and what to do about Quorra.”

Today was a perfect day as I walked back from the marketplace, where I grabbed a few things for the apartment. It was a comfortable temperature, mid-70s with the wind gently blowing— a cloudless, sunshine day. The type of day to get lost in a book while laying in the field for hours. It was blissful; too bad my mood didn’t mimic it.

I never went back to class after that disastrous scene with Shiri-Sensei, weeks ago. The whole situation, starting with the ‘evaluation’, went out of control. The others only made it worse. Kiba screaming, threatening. Kakashi destroying plants, threatening. Me running out of the classroom, ashamed.

How could I turn something like that around? Prove that I was a good student who only wished to become a shinobi. Shiri-Sensei already gave me a bad evaluation and with my friends attacking, biting and revealing that he really was a pervert, I would fail for sure.

It was too late anyway. The class already went through with graduation. Mae graduated at the top of the class with an almost perfect score. It wasn’t surprising. She was a genius— despite how clueless she could be at times. Books and hard cold facts were her ally. Leda even managed to squeeze her way through to graduation. I suspected Shiri-Sensei didn’t want to deal with the girl one second longer than he had to.

I was happy for them— proud that they got to wear their head protectors with pride, but it did sting. I wished I could have joined them, wished I got the chance to prove myself. As disappointing as the circumstances were and how disappointed I was in myself, it wasn’t stopping me from trying again next year.

Their graduation was a nice ceremony; watching family and friends smile for the new shinobi was touching. Everyone was eager to learn who will be assigned as their teammates. It was announced that teams were to be formed shortly after graduation which was any day now.

I knew this because I did attend graduation, hidden in the back, blending into the crowd. I wouldn’t miss this important milestone for them, but I have been distant and not just at graduation. These past few weeks, I’ve been pushing everyone away. No Leda nor Mae, no Kiba and no Team Seven. Leda stopped living in my apartment and moved in with Mae. Probably because she couldn’t stand my pointless stare into nothingness anymore. The routine training with Sasuke has been put on halt as well as ramen munching with Naruto and shopping with Sakura.

They have tried to cheer me up, everyone. Even with their sweetest gestures, they weren’t the blame for my funk and, therefore, couldn’t be the ones to fix it. It was my own fault meaning it was something I had to sort out on my own. Feeling like a failure with school was a big part of it, but it was more than that.

It had been almost eight months since awakening and I still don’t know anything. The doctors said my memory should come back in chucks over time, but I was just as clueless as day one. Constantly, I thought of different scenarios about where I came from; who I was. Who was my family? Did I even have a family? Where were they? Were they worried about me? I told myself to stop hoping as it would only lead to more disappointment.

I haven’t gone to the doctors as frequent ever since the Hokage allowed me to stay. It has been too much frustration— doing the same routine. Doctors ask how I was doing, if I got any memory back, do the same blood tests, etc. They still didn’t understand why my blood was black, the unidentified enzyme was still that, unknown.

I haven’t abandoned my training. Like I said, I was still determined to succeed next year. I’ve been training on my own in taijutsu and cloning. Shadow clones had become a breeze for me now. It finally seemed to click, tapping into my chakra, or lack of.

I thanked meditation. Since being a loner, I’ve had a lot of time to think. The mediation every morning in the fields hidden from view were where I stopped saying ‘I don’t know’ and more ‘I do know’. I’ve learned a lot about myself through the silence, and I was thankful.

Training also included working on that jutsu. The justu that I considered forbidden. My fire jutsu I developed while fighting James. The pain of first using it still haunted me. Burning in my veins, engraved into my mind. I didn’t know what it was or how I survived and was frightened of it. Slowly, I was able to accept it and thanks to mediation again, able to mold it into a technique. Even if it was resourceful, it was only to be used as a last resort. I couldn’t ignore another way to protect myself, to protect others.

At nights, my nightmares were still that— nightmares. The correlation with green pupil-less eyes and the color red was apparent. Different, but had a common theme. The awakening screams still occur despite how used to the routine I was. Kakashi always stumbled in to check on me, even though he knew he didn’t have to.

And every night I thought about that boy. The one who hung upside on the tree, telling his teammates to stop bothering the Konoha shinobi— Gaara. The way he said it was threatening, menacing, like he would kill them. He even said he would and it didn’t sound like an open-ended bluff. He was intimating for sure. How much more was still unknown about him? He must be, without a doubt, strong. His own teammates wouldn’t be scared of him if he wasn’t.

But it would be stupid of me not to think there was a correlation, right? The months I’ve been here, his eyes were the only ones that seemed to be the same as my dreams’. His pupil-less eyes trimmed with black, making them even more menacing. He was frightening and that was only the first encounter, but there was something else. Gaara’s eyes were almost hypnotizing, begging me to yearn for more.

Even so, I couldn’t back away from a possible lead. Even if it killed me, I had to at least try and talk to him. Maybe he knew who I was, but I haven’t seen him, nor his teammates since. I haven’t seen anyone.

Until Konohamaru popped up in front of me, disrupting my train of thought. “There you are Quorra! I was looking everywhere for you!” The boy said with a toothy grin.

“Oh, hey there, Konohamaru. What’s up?”

“Here,” Konohamaru said, handing me a slip of paper. “Someone wanted you to read it.”

For me? I opened it to read:

I want the Leader’s grandson

It struck a horrid chord in me. “Konohamaru, did you read this?” I asked. Chills ran down my spine.

“Nope! He gave me extra candy if I didn’t read it. I don’t mind though. It’s probably just a sappy love letter.” He proceeded to unwrap a lollipop and stuck it in his mouth.

“Let me get this straight. A stranger bribed you with candy and you took it?” My mouth hung open, disturbed by the thought. I wanted to shake whatever part of his brain that thought that was a smart idea.

“But its Jolly Rancher flavored, my favorite.” Konohamaru repeatedly pulled the lollipop out of his mouth, satisfied by the pop sound. “He also wanted you to read this.” Konohamaru handed another slip over.

Hesitant, I opened the letter:

Behind you

Suddenly, I felt a presence behind me. “Konohamar-”

I grabbed the boy and ran as there was an explosion. We were far enough to not be killed, but not far enough as the blast sent us flying. We soared towards a ditch and tumbled to the bottom. The bumpy ride left me seeing stars. Konohamaru lied still feet away from me.

I scrabbled to the boy. “Konohamaru!”

He was unconscious. His lollipop hung from his open mouth.

A man approached us. He had dark features, Mediterranean skin with dark blue eyes and wavy shoulder-length hair. Scruff covered his angular jaw. He was handsome, but a wolf.

“What do you want? Who are you?” I demanded, caressing the boy in my arms.

The Mediterranean chuckled, even that was handsome. Light, yet masculine. “Isn’t it obvious? I’m here for the boy.” His smile was alluring. White pearly teeth shined against his golden skin. “To blackmail the Hokage into giving me what I want.”

“But why now when Konohamaru was practically in your grasps before? I’m not stupid. Why wait?”

The intruder smiled and in a flash was gone. I rose quickly with Konohamaru in my arms but it was too late. He was behind us. His chest was practically again my back.

“You got me. I was looking for you, my dear,” he whispered practically on my ear. His warm breath made the hair on my body stick on end.

He rose his knuckle blades and sliced Konohamaru and I in two as the image of us warped into a log. Split timber fell to the ground. I was able to substitute us a few hundred yards away. The woods were just in reach and dashed for cover, Konohamaru gosling in my arms. There was an old tree that showed signs of slow rot. There was a hole large enough to hide Konohamaru in.

Gently resting him, his eyes scrunched. “Q-Quorra?” He choked out. “What’s happening?”

“Shh. It’s okay, everything is fine,” I reassured with a pat on the head. “Just stay here and stay hidden.”

He had a look of freight in his eyes, before he had a chance to refuse, I ran off.

I needed to gain as much distance as I could. Primal instinct prevented me from thinking clearly—didn’t even have a chance to think why the invader was looking for me, nor if he was from my forgotten past.

Because he had already found me.

“Impressive,” he said. “Not many genin can perform a double substitution.”

“I’m not a genin,” I replied, disappointed. Saying it aloud stung. “I learned to substitute at the Academy.” I failed to mention that that completely drained me. Light-headedness was intruding my conscious— running solely on adrenaline.

“And the boy managed to escape. No need, you were the one I was after anyway.” He pulled out his knuckle blades and attacked. The deep ragged grooves could easily cut through me if I wasn’t careful.

All I carried in my weapons pouch was a single kunai knife. He swung his blades as I ducked to dodge them. A knee dug into my chest, as a counter measure, knocking the breath out of me.

I slumped to the ground as he took both knives and thrust them downwards. It would have been an instant kill if I didn’t roll out of the way in time. My arms were thrown above my head and with my legs, sprung up onto my feet once more.

We continued to spar and tried to defend myself but the odds were against me. He had two blades compared to my one. It was now a mental note to pack more damn knives. With only one weapon, there were only so many options. If I used another substitution technique, I knew I was done for. But, I won’t refer to my fire technique, not yet.

We sparred as I slowly backed myself away from him. Soon enough he had me barricaded against a tree. A wave a panic set in. But in my weapons pouch, I had something else that could help me. I’ve had this on me ever since attacking the guard who watched the amphitheater during my mission months before when all I had was my burgundy leather jacket. I had a plan.

“The road has ended for you, my dear.” He was about to swing as I kneed him in the groan and crawled between his legs.

Too preoccupied with his manhood issues, I pushed him square in the back with my feet. His head hit against the tree, dizzying him. In my pouch, I pulled a hefty nylon cord and ran wildly around the tree, trapping him. I tied it off and stood in front of him.

“I didn’t do such a bad job, if I do say so myself,” patting myself on the back.

He smiled at me, even with his misfortunes. “Yeah, not bad… for an Academy student,” he spoke. My face twisted but didn’t correct him.

He pulled on the thin, but strong rope as it dug into his arms. “But that kick was a low blow.”

I shrugged. “It’s become my signature move,” thinking back to when the giant, Caesar, got the same treatment. Jiraiya did as well, at the springs, even if that was an accident.

“Let’s try this again,” I began, resting my kunai again the base of his throat. “Who are you? And what do you want with me?”

There was no look of concern on his face as his blue gems stared at me. “I wouldn’t be too worried about me,” he gestured.

I frowned, “And, why not?”

He smirked. “Behind you.”

My neurons were on high alert again. There was another presence. The distraction was all the fighter needed. His arms were pinned tight, but his legs had some leeway. He dropped one of his blades to his foot. His chakra control was strong enough to concentrate to his foot, holding the blade there. With a mighty kick, the weapon was released and torpedoed towards me.

I noticed at the last second as the realization reached my face. But, my guard was dropped, it was too late.

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