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Spirit-Touched

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Once upon a time, the Haruno clan were priests. They wandered the world, gained the favor of wondrous beasts and were touched by the spirit realm. They walked among the downtrodden and the poor, and did not bow to royalty. They were akin to the gods and they were revered.

Sakura’s parents call her spirit touched. It is in the springtime color of her hair, in the emerald hue of her eyes. She’s sweet as the cherry blossoms, sturdy as the trunk of the sakura trees. Against the breast of her mother and her father’s palm smoothing her head, her parents thank the twin gods of dusk and dawn as they wept.

Sakura is three years old when she sees the dragon of the Uchiha. It’s a fierce spirit, bigger than anything she’s seen in the whole of her short life. It flies high in the clouds, dancing in the winds, its dark hide stark against the white cumulus. It roars and it’s like the crack of thunder, booming and fierce. Its serpentine, wingless body curves through the air like a water snake in the lake. It shines in the sun, the black scales glittering like stars in the daylight.

She’s eight when she meets it, moaning in the mud of the river. Its glorious mane is limp and waterlogged, its scales lackluster and pale. It’s a sickly thing, dying like the rest of its clan. She brings it gifts to rouse it, plates of meats and fruit that her mama helped her to make. The dragon won’t eat these gifts, so she comes back with childish offerings such as her cutest toy and her softest blanket. She tucks the toy under its chilly jaw and drapes the blanket over the sallow crown of its horns, curls herself on its other side, flush to the underside of its jaw. She sleeps, listening to breaths that rasp and rattle, and dreams of an alabaster stag, glowing in the light of the full moon. It is suspended in moonbeams, and its great antlers cast shadows across the earth, from which trees grow and forest animals roam. She dreams that she is a dragon made of stars, and that she hunts the stag. When she begins eating, blood thick in her throat and fresh on her nebulous tongue, she wakes up crying.

When she returns to her home in tears, her mama tells her that it is a spirit quest, and congratulates her.

“I don’t know of any white stags, though,” she says thoughtfully. “And the full moon is four days away.”

“Mama, I don’t know how to hunt,” the girl wails.

“Nonsense,” says her father, wiping her tears. “I remember signing your permission papers when you went on your first school-sponsored training expedition. Honey, didn’t it mention something about learning how to fend for oneself in the wilderness?”

It was true; she and her classmates participate in survival training every season. It’s a whole field trip, where they all camp in the woods and practice setting up traps. They’re chaperoned by shinobi, experienced men and women that teach them in an outdoors environment. Sakura always loved the survival training, even if she had to learn how to skin prey animals and cook them over the fire that she had to make herself. Still, those kills had been small rodents, or rabbits, or birds. Bigger animals, like deer, were too advanced for the class.

“But I can’t wait that long,” Sakura worries. “What if Sharingon-sama dies of starvation before I’m able to make sense of my dream?”

“Well, baby,” says Mama. “Maybe the spirits will visit you in your dreams tonight, too? They might give you more information.”

That night, she dreams she is a doe in the Nara forest. She’s grazing sweet grass under the light of the stars, and she’s watched over by a huge white stag made of moonlight.