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LIFE AND NO ESCAPE

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“And did you know, my love? The moon wept,” his mother says to him. She speaks in soft tones, chimes clattering in the wind. Like the way her deft hands braid strings, frames, pins, and combs through the women of the Main family’s hair, her voice braids stories. Tonight she tells him The Tale of Kaguya-Hime again; she knows it's his favorite. A piece of history carried so far away by the winds of time until it seems like fantasy. 


Neji is tucked into his duvet while his mother, sitting on the tatami next to him with both her legs off to one side, tucks his hair behind his ear, gingerly enough to not shift the bandages that cover his forehead. They’re right at the part where Kaguya-Hime gazes at the Moon and knows she must return. She was never meant to stay on Earth forever.


Right as she begins to pick up where she left off, a paper door slides open. 


“HIzashi?” Neji’s mother says instead of continuing the story.


“I am going to Kumo in place of my brother,” His father’s voice comes out the same way the yolk of a sunny side up egg does when poked; it’s too runny. Where is the rigid, bitter man Neji knows?

 

 



When Hinata Hyūga’s younger sister is born, the baby is given a milk name as per tradition. There are a hundred days until she is given the name she will be called until she is forgotten to time. During these one hundred days, their mother passes away from birthing complications. It feels like the end of the world for Hinata and, unbeknownst to her, it will cause something that feels so much worse. The grief awakens something two years brewing in Hiashi.


Hanabi survives the one hundred days and Hiashi is too blind with guilt to know that two negatives don't always make a positive. This child, who his beloved wife died for, will not be sent off to die in the main house. His firstborn will carry that burden; a skewed offering to the dead, Hizashi. When Hanabi turns three, Hinata will be caged forever.


Hinata is disinherited and sent off to the branch house. Their normal way of looking at her, bitter like an unripe orange, is gone after whispers glide down halls and across paper screen doors. Then on, the looks they give her are mostly those of pity. She returns all of them with confusion, retreating into herself to hide from her radically changing life. It's all too much at once.


Neji wants to laugh with the other branch members at the ex-heiress's fall from glory until he remembers his own father. Same thing, just delayed by five years. The main house keeps perpetuating this cycle of suffering.

 

 



“And their barbarism was our downfall,” Mebuki tells her daughter, stroking her cheek. Another tale from her life, a chapter so different than the one she lives now (a chapter with lots of family, thick with kinship, belonging).


She is a melancholy woman. 


Some nights, she spends hours on end by the window, responsive only to the Moon. 


Her face is framed by long, unbound black hair, parted down the center in zig-zags. Above her each of her eyebrows are red dots that were sown into her skin -- like seeds that will never grow -- by a needle so many years ago now. Sakura has seen her holding blades to her front locks of hair many times before. The marks stand out in the village, the topic of gossip whenever Mebuki turns her back. Yet still, she never goes through with it, never actually cuts herself bangs to hide the markings.


Sakura thinks her mother is beautiful: the way her hair dissolves into the night sky and her face becomes a reflection of the moon. Watching it makes Sakura feel like an intruder. Sakura’s father always says how he too thinks Mebuki is beautiful -- how he’s thought she was beautiful since the day they met as he was fleeing Uzushio -- and also says not to go into the room when she’s like that because it seems too personal to disturb. But Sakura doesn’t want to think like her father. She doesn’t want to look like her father: forgo the bright pink hair ( well, his is red, but that’s where she thinks the hue traces back to)  and bright green eyes. There is no elegance in her father, in her.


Sakura wants to know what is so elusive about the view beyond the window. Each day and each night, she pulls the hair away from her face and begs her mother to give her the Kaguya clan tattoo too. And, everytime she does, Mebuki chuckles with a gaze that is so far away. 


“These,” she says, tapping her forehead, “are something you are given whether you want them or not. Eye markings are a sign you chose this identity, choose to keep this identity. I stopped applying it to myself before I even arrived in the Land of Fire.” The red paint is cold and tickles and Sakura always tries her hardest to stay still while her mother applies it along her lower eyelid with a thin brush.

 

 



“And why did you do it?” Sakura asks her mother the day she turns twelve because that's the age her mother was when she ran away, and maybe that will help her empathize, understand.


“Because,” Mebuki replies while scooping red bean rice into a bowl, ”I thought, ‘I could just run away now. I could run away and never go back.’ I loved my family, yes, but I wanted to see what would happen if I just let go.”


Sakura thinks she knows what feeling her mother is talking about this time.

 

 



“A genin now, huh,” Sakura says to no one in particular as she stares at the sky, just outside the Academy, “It’s official.” Her parents will definitely celebrate her accomplishment, but it really just feels like a milestone. It was inevitable. The only real toss up once she made it to her final year at the Academy was her teammates. Both she and Ino wanted to be on the same team as Sasuke -- best case scenario was the three of them on the same team. Of course, everytime they talked about that , Ino got into this sulky mood. Only later, would Sakura finally find out that Ino would have to be on a team with Shikamaru Nara and Choji Akimichi as per clan traditions. Was it better to have an inevitable clan tradition or leave it all to fate? Sakura isn’t sure, but having a clan and a true sense of belonging would be nice.


In the end, neither of them got to team with Sasuke; He was saddled with the class idiot and some other girl she hadn’t noticed before. Sakura herself was assigned to Team 8 with Shino Aburame and Kiba Inuzuka. Even though she and Ino shared disgusted faces when “Aburame” was called out, she thought the whole one-with-the-bugs thing was kinda cool. The kid was still strange though. Kiba, on the other hand, was always someone she would roll her eyes at when he got rowdy. Unfortunately, he was always rowdy. “Look on the bright side! The bright side!” At least Akamaru was a pretty cute puppy.


Clan bugs. Clan dogs. Sakura felt… frustrated. 


She only had one outstanding ability as a shinobi: studying. 


Studying…


Studying…


Ah! A whole new section was accessible to her at the library! As soon as team introductions with Kurenai were over (she seemed like a nice, maybe the best, jounin instructor), Sakura sprinted off, or at least, ran as fast as she could.


“No running in the library,” a flak jacket-adorned ninja calls out in a monotone drawl from behind the front desk, nose buried in a book.


“Sorry!” she catches herself, and whispers, “sorry” this time for shouting.  After slowing down to a good speed walk, Sakura dives headfirst into the genin-and-above shelves of the library. It’s rank with biblichor; the smell of books’ cellulose decay is stronger here likely because the materials are far older the deeper she goes. 


People often tell her not to judge a book by its cover, and Sakura disregards their advice every time. Things with weird names and unusual covers usually end being her favorite reads. And so, through these calculative criteria of “whatever catches my eye first”, Sakura plucks from a shelf above her head something shiny. It's a hefty scroll with circles of mother-of-pearl inlaid at each end of the white wood roller. The title on the outside reads “The Tale of Kaguya Hime”. It can’t be a coincidence that the princess’s name matches her mother’s clan name, can it?


Instead of making the trek to a reading table, she plops down where she stood and opens up the scroll. The paper is impossibly thin, fibers intricately interlocking like lace. It is near-transparent, though Sakura can tell it was intended to be so and not a product of time. At the cost of the delicate-ness, it is almost torn up completely along both of the edges. 


The ink has a shimmer to it. When she turns it this way and that under the light, each character looks like its own night sky. 

 

Once upon a time a long long time ago in the Land of Ancestors,

there was a good emperor named Tenji, and his people loved him.

 

One night, Tenji saw a shining light fall from the sky onto the land.

When he went to investigate, he found for the first time a gigantic

tree taller than any mountain he had ever seen, and below it was 

a woman more beautiful than anyone he had ever seen. She was

alabaster-skinned with moonstone hair and eyes like pearls and a 

stony demeanor to match. 

 

“I am the guardian of this tree, the God tree,” she said to him.

 

“You shine so beautifully,” he replied, thus dubbing her Kaguya

-hime (moonlight princess), and Tenji brought her to his castle.

 

Tenji and Kaguya fell in love;  however, when he asked her to

marry him, she refused saying that she was not of this world

and would not be able to stay with him forever. He would ask

many more times, but at the same time, the Land of Ancestors

was teetering on the blade-edge of war with the Land of That.

To prevent war, Tenji declared that attacking the Land of That

or its people was to be punished by execution.

 

The Land of That had no such laws for its own people. They also

feared and envied the Land of Ancestors for the strange Kaguya

whose beauty was sung of across the land. So, the people of the

Land of That tried to steal her and her lady-in-waiting Aino away

in the night.

 

Aino and Kaguya ran from them to the God tree. As they went, 

Kaguya protected Aino, who was her closest friend in this world.

When the People of That closed in, Aino realized that Kaguya was

pregnant. Instead of letting Kaguya protect her at the risk of the 

unborn child, Aino sacrificed herself.

 

Kaguya was surrounded by the People of That on all sides with only

the God tree to protect her. She looked to the moon on that cruel

night and among her gaze was the single fruit the tree had borne in

a millennium. Plucking the fruit from the tree, she wished for peace.

She wished for the ability to stop wars, for power to protect, to save.

The fruit was bitter, for she had swallowed it whole

The fruit was bitter, for she had not tasted its flesh

The fruit was bitter, for she had choked on her grief

The God tree’s fruit bloomed in her stomach, activating her tenketsu.

From her head, branch-like horns sprouted and her nails became talons.

A red third eye awoke, severe with nine black rings and nine black tomoe.

 

She became all seeing and all powerful, the rabbit goddess. After stopping

this war and all others, she returned to the Palace of the Ancestors only to

find that Tenji too had been killed. He was killed by his brother who sided 

with the Land of That to gain the throne. Enraged, Kaguya placed him in a 

never ending dream with her red eye.

 

Under the God tree, Kaguya gave birth to twin sons, Hagoromo and Hamura.

They joined her to become the only people in the world to possess chakra.

 

Kaguya was beloved by the people and the people thrived, yet many would 

leave for a Ritual of the God tree and never return.

 

“Do not go beyond the mountain’s peak,” she told them though she ruled the 

land. And, as filial sons, they obeyed their mother’s word.

 

One day, a wise toad told the boys that beyond the mountain's peak was the

truth. Neither cared until a girl Hagoromo favored left to partake in the Ritual.

Hagoromo chased her and Hamura followed. When they reached the other side
of the mountain’s peak, the twins watched as all-white not-quite men cut down

lines and lines of people, townspeople, to feed the God tree.

 

“A demon,” the townspeople called her.

 

“It is so we can leave this vile land,” Kaguya told hers sons, “to go home.”

 

“She came from another world to harvest the God tree’s fruit for her clan,” the

wise toad told the twins, “But she ate it for herself.”

 

Hagoromo trained under the wise toad before confronting Kaguya, yet she 

already knew of this and commanded a dreaming Hamura to attack his brother.

Hagoromo slew his brother. His eyes turned purple, and like his mother, he awoke

a red third eye. He used a slip of paper from the wise toad to awake his brother,

from death, from dreaming.

 

Kaguya shook the God tree into a beast with ten tails to stop her sons. After

nine days and nine nights, Hagoromo broke the beast into nine, and Hamura

trapped his moonlight mother inside the moon itself.

 

Hagaromo stayed to tend to the wounds Kaguya left on the world, and from him

 came the compassionate Senju --who inherited the mokuton-- and hateful Uchiha --

 who inherited the Sharingan. Hamura left for the moon to guard his mother’s seal,

but on his ascent, some of his children fell from the celestial road and would become 

the strict Hyuuga -- who inherited the byakugan -- and the savage Kaguya -- who

inherited the shikotsumyaku .

 

“How awful,” Sakura weeps to herself, careful not to damage the old text with her tears, “how awful. She wanted to take them to their clan and they killed her. And why did only Hagoromo train with the toad? T-that’s unfair.”

 

A hand reaches down to her with a handkerchief, “fairytale that sad, huh?”

 

She looks up, tracing the arm to a shoulder to a neck to a face with a nasty smile, more worms and bugs in it than Shino’s whole body. How do so many teeth fit in his mouth? 

 

“It’s not a fairy tale. My mom’s clan was named after her,” she sniffles. 

 

“That’s funny, I have a friend from that clan too. He’s got these red dots above his eyebrows and puts red pigment under his eyes… just like you.”

 

“R-really? Can I meet him one day? What's your name” 

 

“I’ll see if I can make that happen,” the way the light hits his glasses obscures his eyes, “I’m Kabuto.”




“Team seven,” Hinata hears someone whisper, “is made up entirely of orphans.”


It's true, she thinks as she weaves her fingers together underneath her desk. Naruto is probably the most infamous orphan in Konoha. Sasuke is the most famous. And she… she is the one no one talks about. Functionally orphaned. The product of an archaic system they can't change. No one in Konoha wants to think about her story like they do the boys. The demon fox and the lone survivor. She's thankful that they take up the spotlight.

 



“Well, let’s begin with introducing yourselves.”


“What do you want to know?”


“How about your likes, dislikes… your dreams for the future, hobbies, and things like that.”


“Hey, hey, why don’t you introduce yourself to us first?”


“Oh… me? Well, my name is Kakashi Hatake… I have no desire to tell you my likes and dislikes… dreams for the future… Hmmm. And I have lots of hobbies. Now it’s your turn. Let’s start on the right.”


“Yosh! The name’s Naruto Uzumaki. What I like is cup ramen. What I like even more is when Iruka-sensei pays for my ramen. What I dislike is waiting the three minutes for the ramen to cook. And my dream… Is to surpass the Hokage and then have the people of this village acknowledge my existence,” he says as he tightens his hitai-ate, then continues, “hobbies… Pranks, I guess.”


“Next.”


“My name is Sasuke Uchiha. There are lots of things I dislike and I don’t really like anything. And, I can’t call it a dream, but I have an ambition. The resurrection of my clan and to kill a certain man.”


“... Okay. And lastly, the girl.”


“My name is Hinata Hyuuga,” she mumbles through her likes and dislikes, but straightens her back at the last part, “I want to fight Hiashi Hyūga. A-and my hobbies are training with Neji-nii.”

 



“Hinata!” someone shouts as Hinata walks home. She flinches instinctively and by her side, Neji stops to look for the source of the shout. 


It’s Sakura, which is surprising because they’ve never really spoken before. She runs up to the cousins and rests her hands on her knees, catching her breath before continuing, “Are you familiar with the Tale of Kaguya-Hime? Oh, hello Neji.” Sakura gives the boy a polite head bob in lieu of a bow. Neji narrows his eyes.


“U-uh,” Hinata splutters out because what an odd thing to ask someone .


Thankfully, Neji answers coherently, “Yes. Why do you want to know?” The tone he says it in doesn’t come out as a question as much as a deterrent, hopeful for a quick “oh, never mind” .


“Because!” Sakura looks deeply into Hinata’s milky eyes (they really are like pearls), “I wanted to know more about the origins of the Hyuga clan.” (Hamura’s other children).


Hinata looks to Neji, and Neji looks contemplative before he finally beckons for Sakura to join them on the walk back to the Branch house.