As I Wake


“Woah, nice place. What is it?” Naruto asked as the rest of us wondered the same question.

“This is the location of the second phase of the exam. It’s the 44th battle training zone, but we call it…” Anko smirked once more. “…The Forest of Death.”

“Forest of Death, huh? How welcoming,” Leda said, sarcastically.

The Forest of Death was indeed that, a forest. Behind the massive chain gates stood trees that stretched even taller. The monstrosity was so dark, there was no way to see beyond the first set of trees. Its presence alone felt like it could eat me whole.

“This whole place completely creeps me out,” Sakura stared wide-eyed.

“That’s an understatement,” I murmured.

“It should. It is called the Forest of Death, after all. Soon you’re going to find out why,” Anko spoke fondly of the dreadful place.

“It’s the Forest of Death. Soon you will find out why. Nah nah nah.” Naruto mimicked in a nagging tone, shaking his hips. “Do your worse. You’re not going to scare us away. Am I right?” he asked his partner in crime, Leda.

Leda, who was usually gung-ho at any opportunity to be cocky and prove she’s the best, remained quiet. She stared down the forest seriously.

Anko performed a sly smile. “So… it looks like we got ourselves a tough guy.”

“I can handle anything,” Naruto reassured.

A knife whipped quickly into view and Naruto jumped back, startled, as the kunai grazed his cheek. Blood seeped out of the wound quicker than it could coagulate.

Anko flashed behind the bugged-out shinobi. “You’re not afraid, are you? Guys like you usually leave their blood all over this forest.” She caressed Naruto’s bleeding cheek. Admiring the beauty and fragility of the human body. We were all just pieces of meat.

Another ninja approached behind Anko. "Just returning your knife." Her long, snake-like tongue wrapped around the weapon. She was a grass ninja with long, straight black hair and a dead look in her eyes.

“Thank you, grass ninja.” Anko’s smile segued into a sharp look. “But, I would only recommend you stand this close behind me if you wish to reach a premature end.”

“My pardon. With the sight of blood on your blade slicing through my hair, I’m afraid I just got a little excited. I meant you no harm." The Grass ninja's blood lust drove shivers to my core. Being near this creepy forest and these creepy people was bad enough, but to have to compete against them seemed impossible. I was being thrown into a pit filled with vultures.

“Likewise,” Anko replied. “Seems like everyone today is quick tempered. Must be something in the air.” She laughed at her not-so-funny joke and walked back to the front of the group leaving Naruto a fish out of water. “Alright you maggots, before we start the exam, I have something to hand out.” She waved a bundle of papers in the air. “It’s just a standard consent form. In order to take the test, all of you are going to have to read it over and sign it.”

“What for?” Sasuke asked.

“Some of you might not come back from this and I have to get a consent to that risk. Don’t want to be held responsible now!” she laughed as if she made the punchline. No one else found it as hilarious.

“I’ll explain what you’re doing on this test,” Anko said as she handed Shikamaru the pile of papers to pass around. “The first thing you need to know is that it will test every one of your survival skills.”

“Survival skills… what a drag,” Shikamaru mumbled, passing the forms to me.

“The 44th battle field is a forest with 44 locked gates with rivers and other geological features inside. The test consists of an anything goes battle to get your hands on these scrolls.” Anko held up two scrolls in her hand; one black, one white.

“Both of them?” Sasuke asked.

“Yes. You will be fighting to get both a Heaven scroll and an Earth scroll. Altogether, 26 teams will take part of this test. Half of those teams will be going after the Heaven scroll and the other half will be trying to get the Earth scroll. I’ll randomly hand over one kind of scroll to each team.”

“How do you pass the test?” Mae asked.

“You’re entire squad must bring back both a Heaven and Earth scroll to the tower at the very center of the practice ground— 10km away from each gate.”

“That means at the very best, half of us will fail. More if not every team isn’t able to get both scrolls,” Sakura calculated.

“No one ever said it would be easy, Pinkie. Oh, and one more thing. The test has a time limit. You must finish it within five days.”

“Five days out there!” Ino bugged.

“What are we supposed to do for food?!” Choji hugged a bag of potato chips he was currently eating.

“Just look around.” Anko simply answered. “The forest is full of things. There’s plenty to feed all of you.”

“Yeah, but that’s not all that the forest has plenty of,” Kabuto countered with a grim look. “There are man-eating beasts and poisonous plants in there.”

“Oh, man!” Choji whined.

“Quiet down,” Kiba said, crassly. “This is why they call it survival.”

“That means, with these circumstances, there’s no way half the teams will pass the test,” I added.

“With the days getting longer and the nights shorter, we will have less time to sleep… and less time to recover. It is a challenge, indeed,” Lee spoke with intrigue.

“You will be completely surrounded by enemies. There won’t be time to rest. We will have to keep a constant watch,” Sasuke added.

“Right. This test also measures endurance behind enemy lines. This is designed to be a grueling test and I’m sure some of you won’t be up to the challenge,” Anko said.

“So let’s say mid-exam, can we quit?” Shikamaru asked.

“Of course not,” Anko looked at the lazy boy absurdly. “You can’t say ‘sorry, I quit’ in the middle of a battle. Well… I guess you could, but it’s probably going to get you killed.”

“Great…” Shikamaru rolled his eyes. “This is going to be a drag.”

“There are also some ways you can get disqualified. First,” Anko held up her finger. “If all three members of the team can’t make it to the tower. Number two, if the team doesn’t have both scrolls after five days. And the third and most important… under no circumstance can you look at the contents within the scrolls.”

“What if it flops open and you happen to read it?” Naruto asked.

“Let me put it to you this way… you don’t want to know.” She wagged her finger. Naruto sighed disappointedly.

“The scroll rule is to test whether you can carry secret documents and test your integrity. Any questions? Good, each team take your consent forms to the hut over there. They will hand a scroll over in return. After that, each team pick a gate and you will be let inside.”

The group was about to break up to review and sign their forms when Anko added, “And a word of advice… just don’t die!

Groups huddled in soft spoken voices while some individuals lingered on their own. Signing your life away was easier said than done. As for me, I fell in the middle – walking aimlessly, staring helpless at the wrinkled mess that was my consent form. Sasuke was hidden alongside a boulder and I decided to join him.

“I like your way of thinking,” I told Sasuke, referring to his spot.

“I need some time to think,” the Uchiha replied.

I nodded with grievance. “I think everyone does.”

Leaning against the cold rock cooled my flared skin. I concentrated on the sensation as I finally got the courage to read over the form. Sasuke did the same, in a calm manner.

I understand that this exam is to simulate a typical life of a shinobi. I understand the risk of performing in this exam could lead to fatal injury or death. If I do so die, I understand that it is in pride of my village.

“So enticing,” I mumbled.

The jonin working the hut were setting up. A red curtain was drawn in front.

“We won’t see which scroll a team is carrying or which team member has it,” Sasuke observed.

“Stealing information is really a matter of life or death,” I said, morbidly. “It makes me not want to sign that much more.”

“You will be fine,” Sasuke protested. “Everyone is going to be fine,” referring to the six of us who have yet to come up with a proper group name for ourselves.

I peered over the rock to see my teammates. Leda was chatting with Naruto while Mae was talking to Kiba. “You can’t really say that for sure,” I countered. “You think that but you can’t predict the future. Your eyes can’t penetrate into that Death Pit.”

“It’s a Forest of Death,” Sasuke corrected.

“Same difference. We still can get killed.”

“We have to succeed. We have no other option.” His brows furrowed.

“So you can have your revenge,” I said, condescending.

“I need to get stronger. I must not lose. I can’t.”

“Revenge on who?” I tested him, hoping to finally get an answer.

“Look at all these people. All these ninjas we have to compete against. Every single one is my enemy.”

A commotion withdrew us from our intimate conservation. Not too far away were Ino and her team, along with Sakura. Loud words were being exchanged by the long-haired kunoichi.

“You think they are giving some sweet words of encouragement?” I asked, hopelessly.

Sasuke chuckled. “Doubt it.”

I breathed a heavy sigh, knowing I wasn’t going to get any answers. With that, I haphazardly signed the form and got up. “Well, gotta go smash some skulls.” I brushed the soot off.

“Later,” he replied.

Before I left I added, “Oh, and be careful in there, will you? Don’t fall for an ambush or get bitten by a poisonous snake or something, alright? I worry enough, but I believe in you so don’t go fuckin’ that up.” I winked, hoping to make the topic more light-hearted than doom-and-gloom.

He smirked. “I’ll try not to.”

I joined Shikamaru and Choji to witness what exact shit show was going on.

“Well, well, well. Isn’t it the little future failure,” Ino spat. “What’s up, Billboard Brow? I thought you would have washed out of the program by now. Your big forehead alone should have gotten you tossed.”

Sakura had a talent of brushing off the blonde’s harsh comments and bouncing back with some of her own insults, if you call that a talent. “So sad. You’re jealous I get to spend five days with Sasuke and it’s turning you into someone very petty and ugly. And you were already ugly. Ha.”

“Enough! Give it up, Sakura. We both know you are too weak to pass this test.”

“Yeah, right. You’re the one who’s going down!” She stroked her luscious pink locks.

They glared at each other with evil. If lightening could shoot out of their eyes, the electricity would be enough to power a village. Shikamaru and Choji cowered besides me, freaked out by the women’s estrogen.

I rolled my eyes at the sight. Will they ever stop obsessing over Sasuke and insulting each other, I thought. I was afraid I already knew the answer.

Since Shikamaru and Choji weren’t stepping up to the plate, I did. “Alright, girls. Come on now. Save your energy for the exam.”

They eyes both glared at me like daggers. I would be lying if I said it didn’t freak me out some. After the initial shock; however, Sakura’s expression calmed.

“Yeah, you’re right,” Sakura said. “Sorry about that, Quorra.”

Ino wasn’t as thankful. “Mmph. Some are sorrier than others. Sakura giving up so easily just proves my point that she isn’t cut out for this exam.” She crossed her arms with attitude.

My patience for ‘Blonde Bimbos’, as Leda puts it, was on a shorter lease than usual today. Let’s just blame it on pre-examination jitters. “Maybe you should be focusing all that spunk of yours on forming strategic plans with your teammates. This is the Forest of Death, not ‘Who’s the prettiest and can spend the most time with Sasuke test’.”

Ino bite her tongue as I gently hooked my arm with Sakura and escorted her away.

“I wish that bitch would lose her voice again,” Ino grumbled.

I didn’t reply to her petty comment. Showing her my good friend the middle finger as I walked away sufficed plenty.

As I guided the hot-headed Sakura away from Ino, a blur rocketed towards me. If I didn’t catch him at the last moment, Akamaru would have knocked me down.

I laughed as Akamaru slobbered my face. “Okay, I get it. I surrender! Uncle, uncle!”

Kiba came trotting over. Mae was close behind. “That’s enough, boy. I think she gets it.”

The pup wagged his tail with glee and returned to his owner. “That was your punishment for sending him to slobber all over me during the written.”

“Oh shucks, you got me.” I laughed, jokingly. “I just asked Akamaru to give you the biggest, wettest kiss in thanks for helping me. I own you big time.”

Kiba’s face turned red instantly as he laughed, rather uncomfortably. I couldn’t see why this was weird to him. His dog drooled and slobbered over him all the time. No matter the reason, he was starting to make me uncomfortable. Mae even looked uncomfortable— though I couldn’t fathom why.

The dog-lover scratched the back of his head. “It was nothing, really. I mean, that’s what friends are for. You were choking out there.”

“I wouldn’t say I was choking,” I gave him a dirty look. “I would have eventually found a way to cheat and kick your ass while doing it.” The bluff fell short, losing its spark and punch. It was less convincing than I hoped for.

If Kiba didn’t buy it, he didn’t say. “But, you really shouldn’t thank me. Mae was the one who gave me the answers.” His thumb gestured to the blue-eyed girl standing next to him. Akamaru barked agreeably.

“Mae did?” I couldn’t hold back my shock.

“How’d you do that?” Sakura asked.

Mae stuttered with embarrassment. “Dogs can hear higher frequencies. I was able to whistle at a high enough frequency that only Kiba and Akamaru could hear. I wrote the answers on a scrap of paper, whistled for Akamaru, slipped it under his collar and… yeah.”

“The rest was history! She’s a genius!” Kiba smiled broadly. Mae’s cheeks turned shades of pink, easily matching the color of Sakura’s hair.

That explained the OCD neat handwriting, I realized. As happy as I was that Mae was being complimented by her long-time crush, I couldn’t knock off the feeling of abandonment. Kiba wasn’t her team members, I was. She was supposed make sure that Leda and myself had the answers. We’re supposed to have each other’s back. We were to come first, not some boy you have obsessively strong feelings for.

What I did next was completely impulsive. Maybe I did it because I wanted to say thanks to a close friend. Maybe I wanted to punish Mae for not helping me. I had no clue what I was doing it until my arms and body meet with Kiba’s for an embrace.

“Thank you anyway, Kiba. You didn’t have to do it, but you did it anyway,” I said in the crook of his neck, followed by a kiss on the cheek.

Kiba stood rigid at first, like he was a sergeant at military camp. But soon, he snapped out of his sudden shock and wrapped his rubberized arms around my waist. Needless to say, it was a beyond awkward, pre-teen, opposite sex hug. I didn’t pay much mind. Mae stared with shock, but again, I wasn’t bothered. My head was too into the exam. I was officially in fight-or-flight mode.

“I hope you and your team luck,” I told Kiba. “Watch out for us. We tend to kick major ass.”

He stumbled to say proper words, but I didn’t give him a chance to spill them. “Let’s get our scroll already,” I commanded Mae sharply. “Get Leda.”

“Oh, oh.” Mae said, flustered. “R-right.”

Mae gathered Leda and we headed towards the hut. We decided as a team that Mae was the proper person to hold the scroll. Leda’s reasoning was that she “didn’t want to be the blame when she loses it.” Leda and I both agreed that Mae, being the all-knowing one, would have a few tricks up her sleeve if something went down. Mae took the Heaven scroll and hid it accordingly.

We were assigned to pick a gate and wait for the call to begin. Team 7 stood by gate 12 and Team 13 thought it was only appropriate to stand at gate 13.

“Who says 13 isn’t a lucky number?” Leda said.

“All the people in the world who are superstitious,” Mae answered.

“I know… I was joking. It’s called being sarcastic.”

“It may be an unlucky number for some, but it will be good luck for us,” I reassured.

Leda rolled her eyes. “Whatever floats your boat, Q.”

The two teams huddled one last time before the exam started. Both stood with mixed feelings.

“Well, this is it,” Sakura said, nervously. “Good luck in there… with all the shinobi… and prey.”

“Luck? I don’t need luck!” Naruto exclaimed.

“It’s alright to be a bit nervous… right?” Mae said, almost ashamed to admit it.

“A nice ass and big tits won’t save you in this place,” Leda confirmed.

“Yeah, like Leda said. Who wouldn’t be?” Sakura reassured Mae. “We are just rookies after all.”

“Rookies, mookies. I’m gonna get the Earth scroll, race to the tower, and cream everyone in record time, believe it!” Naruto yelled.

“Shut up, you idiot. Just announce it to the whole world, why don’t cha?” Sakura hissed, shutting the boy up with knuckle to his blonde head.

“What? All I said was to get the Earth—”

“Keep quiet, you loser,” Sasuke snapped, giving a dirty sideways glance.

“Sasuke,” Naruto growled. “You just want me to keep quiet so you can take all the glory!" Their feud was fuel to the fire that ignited the rest of the group. Each and every one of them blew up with words of frustration and distaste. I told them to stop, but my voice got lost to the sea of hate.

“Cut it out!” I screamed. “Why is everyone arguing?”

“Cause we’re fucked worse than the Kylie Jenner lip challenge,” Leda answered.

“We are not fucked more than whoever you mentioned.”

“How are we supposed to do this?” Mae asked with dismay. “How are we supposed to compete with all of this?”

I understood Leda and Mae’s concern. Up to this very moment, I was hesitant and self-doubting. But I was tired of going back and forth about being confident in myself. I was ready, once and for all. “True, but we wouldn’t be here now if we weren’t worthy of it,” I announced. “We are worthy,” I reassured to everyone, but more importantly, to myself. “I believe in each of you…in our team… in myself.”

The five were silent as they waited for me to continue. The spotlight made me uncomfortable, wishing I could slip out of the limelight, but I couldn't do that. This needed to be done. This needed to be said. “We have worked too hard for this to start bickering now.” Mae gave me a disagreeing look. Her brow scrunched, her mouth twisted.

“We made it to the second part of the Chunin exams; an exam that few have passed and even fewer that will stay. All the rookies have made it this far. People looked down at us, stared as they judged us for making a scene in the waiting room.”

Sakura cleared her throat, disapprovingly.

“Okay… they judged us after I made a scene, but we are still here. And do you know why?”

“Because we’re good cheaters?” Sakura asked.

“Because Naruto was stupid enough not to raise his hand without ever realizing the whole point of the test was to cheat?” Sasuke answered.

“Hey! I should—” Naruto growled.

“Quiet!” I interrupted the impulsive boy. “It was because we stuck together as a team. We had faith in each other even when we didn’t necessarily know what to do.” I stared at Leda and Naruto. Naruto puffed out smoke. Leda crossed her arms and pretended not to care.

I didn’t stop there. “Sakura, you knew Naruto was choking, didn’t you? Yet, you didn’t raise your hand when Ibiki asked who was ready to leave.”

“That’s true, but –”

“But, why? Why didn’t you? It was because you believed in Naruto, as oblivious as he may be.”

“Hey!” Naruto opposed. Sakura’s lip pressed in a firm line.

“And Leda, you were drawing penises for fuck’s sakes on your paper. You clearly didn’t know what to do, why didn’t you raise your hand?”

Leda shrugged, avoiding eye contact. “But, come on, you got to admit those drawings were pretty rad.”

I ignored Leda with an eye roll. “Because you believed Mae and I would save your ass and we didn’t raise our hand because we believed in you and your phallic drawings.”

That last statement caught Leda’s attention. Her eyes were fire as she stared deeply at me. Like she was ready to take over the world. Everyone slowly looked that way as well. Naruto was an inferno; he was unstoppable.

Within minutes, we went from chaotic mess to a mess that was ready to fight. I couldn’t help but smile when a thought suddenly came to me. “We’re in this together. We are the Asanoha after all.”

“Asa-who-a?” Naruto questioned, clearly confused.

“It’s a popular hemp leaf design used on kimonos,” Mae said.

“Hemp leaf? What does that got to do with us?” Naruto asked.

“The asanoha is a six pointed leaf shape pattern,” I explained. “Each point represents the six of us and the separate paths we will take in life. Sometimes we will be apart, others times our paths will cross only to go our separate ways once more. But all six of us and our paths make the beauty of the pattern. We solidify each other.”

“The Asanoha, huh?” Sasuke said.

“It does have a nice ring to it,” Sakura admitted.

“I still like The Six Skullcrushers… but Asanoha is ‘ight too,” Leda smirked.

“To The Asanohas!” Naruto yelled, playing his hand into the center of the circle.

One by one, five more hands entered the circle. “To the Asanohas!”

“Let’s fuck shit up,” Leda yelled.

“Believe it!” I yelled.

“Alright heads up, you maggots. The second part of the test is about to begin,” Anko barked. We nodded affirmatively and head to our separate gates.

Anko was happily eating a skewer of dumplings. A huge smile reached her face as she took another bite. “Mmm, these are so good.” She was so mesmerized with her treat, she forgot she had a job to do. “Oh, right. Yeah, begin!” She waved off as she chowed down at her food addiction.

The gates opened and all 26 team simultaneously dashed inside. Well, almost everyone as I trip over the first visible branch and face planted into the soil.

“Smooth,” Leda laughed.

“I tripped over my shoelace,” I countered.

“Shinobi shoes don’t have shoelaces,” Mae rolled her eyes.

“Fuck me,” I spoke into the dirt.

What a great start.

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