Volume 1. Slide to the Left!
Chapter 1. This Is Something New
The first thing I noticed upon waking was that I was not in bed. Second: I was on the ground, outside. The third: I felt well-rested.
I had never felt well-rested in my entire life.
The fourth thing I noticed was
As much as it burned to disturb my rare inner peace, I opened my eyes to confront the external lack of it. It was a beautiful spring day, the sun was shining, a gentle breeze was blowing, and I was… surrounded by Naruto cosplayers.
The source of the call was a boy tied to a large wooden pole planted in the ground, in full Naruto cosplay. I raised my eyebrows; the costume was surprisingly good. The clothes looked incredibly professional and his hair looked natural.
"Hey, um, did your friends pull a prank on you? Do you need-" I stopped. The words had come out in Japanese. As though it were the most natural thing in the world. "Do you need-" I tried again, but it came out the same way.
"Sakura-chan! You just collapsed! Are you okay?!" He'd said it in Japanese. Which I understood.
We were then joined by two others, arriving so quickly and quietly they seemed to appear between one blink and the next.
"Maa," a silver-haired man– a Kakashi cosplayer– said. "Is my cute little student already injured before the first mission?"
I opened my mouth. Closed it. Opened it again. Closed it again. Am I getting hit on by a random cosplayer? And, "You guys are like, WAY too in-character right now."
It was hardly the most important thing, but it was what came out of my mouth anyway. That's what people tend to do in stressful situations, isn't it? When you face something this disconcerting, you grasp at the first confusing thing you can get your hands on and poke at it.
"Did you hit your head or something?" a dark-haired cosplayer asked. He looked overwhelmingly annoyed at the whole situation.
"No– well, I mean, my head doesn't hurt, at least. Um," I took a deep breath. Okay. Waking up in a strange place, surrounded by people I don't know, no memory of how I got here, dissociation between what I'm saying and what I think I'm saying… "I'm sorry to bother you, but could you direct me to the nearest hospital? I think I'm having some sort of... dissociative amnesia? I have a few mental illnesses so..."
The Kakashi-cosplayer's one visible eye widened, even as the Naruto one started hollering, "What?! You're sick? That sounds awful! We need to help her right away–"
The next thing I knew, the Kakashi-cosplayer sprang into action to jab a piece of paper on my forehead.
I had no time to be confused about this because I promptly became unconscious.
When I awoke, it wasn't in any place I recognised. I sat up, still feeling oddly magnificent, and rubbed at my arms. It felt like my body was covered in static electricity, but not anything like that at all. Curious and curiouser.
I was on a hard white bunk built into the floor. The room was featureless, save a chair, a tinted window, and a tinted glass door.
Memory began to flood back in. I wondered if they skipped a normal hospital room and went straight for a psych ward. The bed had straps on it. Maybe they thought I was dangerously unwell. Was I? Did I sleepwalk? Is that how I ended up in that field?
I curled my knees up to myself, noting in bemusement that I was wearing a red dress with shorts. I didn't recognise the outfit at all. The shorts were shorter and tighter than I would normally go for. Also my legs were perfectly smooth? And I was wearing sandals. I never wore sandals.
With the motion of leaning forward, I also noticed I had pink hair. My hair was not supposed to be pink. And the hair was too long.
"Hello?" I called out. My heart thudded in my chest and I broke out in a sweat, but panic didn't seem to set in quite yet. My hands weren't even shaking.
Thankfully, the door opened.
A man with long blond hair and a padded army vest came in. This seemed weird until I noticed the Konoha forehead protector he wore; it was another cosplayer. Actually no, scratch that: still weird.
"Hello, Sakura. Sorry to keep you waiting. I meant to be here when you awoke, but it seems you caused quite a stir. It was difficult to find who should speak with you first. We decided a familiar face may be best, and it's within my area of expertise, after all." He smiled kindly and sat himself down in the chair.
"I'm– uh, I'm not Sakura?" I hadn't meant for it to come out as a question.
"No?" he asked, raising his eyebrows.
"No, and I don't actually know you. I'm sorry. I'm very confused right now. Why are you wearing that? Were you also at the convention?" I made a conscious effort to make my breaths even and steady. I hadn't started panicking yet, and I didn't want to start.
"I apologise for confusing you. How about you start by telling me the last thing you remember?"
Deep breath in. Slow breath out. "The last thing I remember was getting out of the shower… after that, I sat down in bed and was reading for a little bit, and I think I might have fallen asleep?"
"And then when I woke up again, I was in a field? With some cosplayers? And I was speaking Japanese, and I'm still doing it and I don't know how, and then this guy put a piece of paper on my head and I woke up here, and I'm not wearing my own clothes and my hair doesn't look right and my body–" I gulped in a deep breath.
"Easy now. We're not in a rush. You're doing just fine. Why don't you tell me how you feel right now?"
I swallowed. "Actually, pretty good? I don't know if I'm just in shock, but I've got anxiety and depression. So, um, not being a complete mess right now is way better than I would expect. I actually feel better than I usually do."
"How do you feel physically?"
I rubbed at my arms. "Also pretty great. I usually feel more fatigued. I do feel kinda static-y, though, or like," I frowned, trying to pinpoint the sensation. "Like my body is filled with adrenaline, except not. Or like..." I had a flash of inspiration from a childhood memory. "Or like I'm doing reiki, all over myself, except actually believing in it."
He raised his eyebrows. "Reiki?"
"Yeah, like, it's a healing thing. You're supposed to take in energy, I guess, and you can use it to heal through your hands. I don't seriously believe in it anymore, but like, the sensation I'm feeling now is similar to the… the psychosomatic response I got from that."
He nodded thoughtfully. "Show me."
I stared. "It's not real."
"I understand, but I believe it may be important. Could you please show me how you would make healing energy in your hands?"
Deep breath in, slow breath out. I rubbed my palms together and slowly pulled them apart by a few inches, concentrating on the feel of body heat between them to centre me. I didn't need to visualise the energy as my eyes unfocused; I could feel it running through me, the way I always used to.
Between my palms, a soft blue-green glow took form.
I didn't faint. I didn't scramble backwards. I didn't even start cussing up a storm. I just jolted and the light disappeared.
The blond man smiled and said, "Mystical Palm Technique. It appears you are a natural. Why didn't you think it would be real?"
Yeah; my hands were trembling. "I don't understand anything right now."
He nodded, took down a note, and flipped to another page, passing me his clipboard. "I have ideas about what could be causing this, but we'll need to perform a few procedures to be sure. This is a consent form."
I accepted the clipboard and immediately signed on the line at the bottom marked for a name. The name I remembered having, anyway.
"You should read it carefully." He scratched the back of his head, a line between his brows.
"You could literally punch me in the face right now if you think it'll help with whatever's going on with me." I thrust the clipboard back at him.
"Very well. A procedure we have in mind may be intrusive." He flipped to another page and held out the clipboard. "If you'd prefer to be asleep for that part–"
I reached over and signed my name upside down.
"… Very well. Please wait here for a moment and we will proceed shortly." He put the pen in a jacket pocket and was out the door.
The room was silent.
"Frick," I said. And this time, at least, it came out in English.
The wait wasn't long; whatever hospital I was at, it was efficient. Long before I expected, the man reappeared with another; this one wearing something a little closer to the hospital scrubs I had initially expected. He was wheeling a cart with random supplies on it; nothing that looked sharp, thankfully.
The blond man spoke first. "Since I did not introduce myself before: I am Inoichi, and this is Migaki." The dark-haired man in scrubs inclined his head. Inoichi continued, "First, we'll give you full anaesthesia, and then we're going to perform a medical jutsu that will allow us to search for the source of the inconsistency in your memories. If this does not work or we come across a block, we'll upgrade the severity of your case and transfer you somewhere we can more effectively apply the technique. Do you have any questions?"
...That all sounded incredibly sketchy, but, "Punching. Literally. Don't care."
He nodded. "Very well." He placed a palm over my forehead and I was unconscious. Again.
When I awoke, I was in yet another place. In a bed, at least, and a million times more comfortable. I yawned, stretching my arms, taking in my surroundings. This was a much more normal-looking hospital room.
"Hello, Sakura." It was Inoichi again, this time dressed a little more casually. The forehead-thing was gone, at least. He held out a glass of water.
I accepted it wordlessly and drained half of it. I scooted back in the bed and set the glass down on a table that was teeming with flowers. "My name isn't Sakura, it's–" He shook his head minutely and I cut myself off.
"Sakura-chan," he said gently, and something about the diminutive made me feel small. "I'm afraid I have unpleasant news."
My stomach lurched and the water I'd just chugged down threatened to come back up. "Bad?"
He nodded. "I'm sorry, but we have reason to believe you have been the victim of an invasive genjutsu. This technique seems to have either erased or masked most of your true memories while layering a false identity overtop."
"What?" Somehow, my throat felt dry again. "What does that mean? Do I have amnesia?"
"It may be a little more severe than that." He paused, taking a deep breath. The show of emotion unsettled me. "Sakura, I couldn't find any genjutsu blocks in your mind. The only traces of your true memories included only the most basic information, and even these were separated from yourself to make it seem like they weren't real."
I didn't want to realise what he was saying. I would have loved nothing more than for it to have not sunken in. But it had, even before he spoke again.
"Your only true memories were enclosed in a cartoon, on the edge of your periphery; something the caster intended you to believe was not particularly interesting to you. Potentially with the hope that you would never recover them."
"You're telling me Naruto is real."
He smiled. "He is very real. He is your teammate."
Another voice cut in, "Maa, he's been pacing around the hospital lobby for almost six hours now, pestering everyone with questions."