@thefreckledone Days later and Sakura was still reeling from the generosity of her friends. Gifts were one thing, but it was hard to shake the feeling that there was something more to her first birthday in Pompeii based on how they blessed her. There were flowers for her almost daily when she came down for work. Every other day someone came in during her lunch break to bring her food and sit and eat with her. Days before she had felt a lacking in the town as more and more people went ‘off’ on business she didn’t understand, but suspected to be tied to Orochimaru’s recent activity. She had mentioned it once and now it seemed all her friends in Pompeii were attempting to compensate for the few weeks she wasn’t bathed in affection.
Sakura loved her friends, and loved the validation from their gifts and visits…but…
“It’s too much.”
Shizune nodded in agreement. “Well, the Senju dropped off flowers yesterday. It’s no surprise the Uchiha would want to outshine their good neighbors.”
Sakura grimaced at the gaudy floral display left on her desk. It was even more lush with flora than the one yesterday, left by sweet Kawarama Senju on behalf of him and his brothers. Sakura had forgotten the blackbirds who saw and heard everything when she took the flowers from the youngest Senju, and gushed to him about how happy she was and how much she loved them.
“The smell is overpowering,” Shizune admitted with a shy shrug. “But it’s still lovely.”
“Yeah, it’s gorgeous,” Sakura agreed, looking over the swelling display of a dozen different flowers artfully arranged. “It’s just too much. Even for a birthday present, I’ve never been so…spoiled. Is this normal? I mean, it’s been over a week already.”
“Yes, but it’s your first birthday here. Sometimes special celebrations can continue on for weeks. Weddings typically last a whole month when they happen here. It all depends on how important or valued that person is to the community. You have a lot of people in Pompeii who see you as a member who is treasured.” Shizune nodded, eyes rolling towards the window. “Plus, people would much rather celebrate you than the spring equinox celebration that’s coming.”
“What? Why is that not a good thing? I thought the spring celebration was for like…rebirth and new life.”
“Oh it is, but this is just the quadrennial spring celebration. Every four years the spring celebration is a little different and people just don’t like the traditions as much as the others.”
“Is there a reason for that?” Sakura asked.
“It’s important to preserve our history and remember the mistakes we and our ancestors made in the past. So, instead of every year we decided that every four years we would add an additional ritual of appeasement into our spring celebration. It’s no terrible thing and we enjoy ourselves well enough because it is a celebration, but it’s not as fun compared to celebrating the life of a person important to you. We would much rather just celebrate you, Sakura.”
“What’s the ritual of appeasement for?” Sakura asked, noticing how the crows outside her windows were gone and the room felt much larger than it should. The windows were far away and the doors even farther. If someone had been listening in on them there would be nothing for them to hear. This was Shizune’s doing.
“It’s better you not know that much,” Shizune whispered sweetly, something sad in her eyes. She reached out and pat Sakura’s cheek fondly. “There’s no need for you to share in our penance. Forget I said all that I did.”
Sakura wanted to ask what the penance was for and what she would do if she didn’t have to share in it, but another part of her wanted to ask about the woods and if what happened to her last autumn was tied to the spring celebrations. She had been back to the woods only once since that last incident, but there had been no more stairs to nowhere or evil fires stalking her through the night.
But that had been before…
“Shizune, we don’t have anyone else for the next hour, I want to check on something in my room real quick. Holler for me if we get a walk in?” Sakura asked.
With a grateful wave Sakura skipped back and doubled up the stairs to her room on the second floor. Inside, the book had been left on her bed and that’s where she found it once more.
“Heeeey, old friend,” Sakura chuckled, picking it up nervously. Sometimes it didn’t want to talk to her and sometimes it did. She hoped she could get something out of it today.
“What is it now?” the book groused, sounding tired.
“It’s not about Orochimaru this time, I have a different sort of question for you. Do you know what happened to me last fall in the woods? Do you know what that was?”
The book warmed in her hands, she knew it was awake, but it didn’t reply. Sakura held her breath and waited, knowing it could be temperamental with her if it wanted to be. She could feel it still awake, it hadn’t gone to sleep on her, she could tell that much by now. Finally, it shifted in her hands.
“I know what it was.” The book then went silent.
“What was it?” Sakura asked.
The next silence was even longer and Sakura grew afraid that was all she would get out of the book before it shifted and turned open it’s pages. Sakura saw one bleed with a sloppy hand of ink. The ink ran into words and Sakura mutely read.
‘The truth is in the forest. The trees know!’
“The trees know what?” Sakura asked, feeling the book grow cooler under her fingers.
“You’ll have to ask them that yourself, won’t you?” the book chirped before turning on itself and falling out of her hands onto her bed, closed once more.
When Sakura reached for it she could feel how cold it was and knew it was sleeping. There would be nothing more to glean from it after this. This time the book hadn’t answered her on its own, but showed her the answer someone else had discovered.
“I have to go back into the woods again to find the answer,” Sakura said out loud. “Why does that sound like a bad idea?”
Sakura blinked, setting her empty lunch container down and looking over at Shizune. “Where did these come from?”
“Seems that you have an admirer,” Shizune said, taking the box Sakura offered her with a word of thanks. “A delivery man brought it by.”
“Huh,” Sakura said, going around to the front of her desk.
She touched the petals of the sunflowers, frowning at the texture. They weren’t real. She lifted the note that accompanied it.
Thank you for your help! Bang! ~Deidara
“What?” Sakura said, examining the flowers more closely. They were made of clay and painted. Honestly, the level of detail was quite astounding. “What did he mean by bang?”
There was a sizzling sound. Sakura glanced down at the stems of flowers which were burning away, like a wick.
“Sakura!” Shizune exclaimed, leaping over her desk and knocking Sakura to the ground.
Sakura watched, breathless beneath Shizune’s protective stance, as the flowers ignited in a small shower of fireworks and sparks.
It was gorgeous and fleeting.
It had also been seconds away from burning her face.
“What was that?” Sakura demanded, brushing her hair out of her face.
“I had forgotten that Deidara has a reputation as a pyromancer,” Shizune said, frown severe. It is an intimidating look on her. She surveys the mess left behind, singed papers and black marks all over Sakura’s desk. “And he is something of a prankster. I will need to remind him that such acts are incredibly inappropriate. He could have burnt your face!”
Sakura stood, assisting Shizune to her feet. “Well you have my thanks for the quick acting,” Sakura said.
“I’ll be having words with Deidara,” Shizune said, eyes an unearthly green.
Sakura was extraordinarily relieved that she was not on the end of Shizune’s wrath.
Shizune gave her a brisk hug before turning to the mess with a sigh. “Go ahead and head out early,” she said, “I’ll call the janitor and track down Deidara.”
Sakura did not envy Deidara his position. “Alright,” she said, shutting down her computer and filing away whatever readable papers are left behind. “How are we going to fix these documents? We need them.”
“Don’t you worry about that,” Shizune said. “Our janitor possesses some lovely restoration abilities. I’ll put everything away after she comes by.”
“You’re the best Shizune!” Sakura exclaimed, bussing a kiss against her cheek and heading out the front door.
It was time for dinner.
“Here are your sunglasses,” Ino said, pressing a pair of aviators into Sakura’s hands. “Make sure you keep them on at all times, even when you’re in the bathroom or if you step outside.”
“Okay, okay,” Sakura replied, pressing a hand to Ino’s shoulder to show her appreciation. She put the blue reflective lenses on. “How do I look?”
“Absolutely lovely,” Ino said as she perched the cat eye sunglasses on the bridge of her nose. She hooked her hand through the crook of Sakura’s arm and strode down the street. “We’re fabulous.”
Sakura laughed, shaking her head but keeping pace gamely. Being with Ino was always an adventure.
They stopped outside a storefront with the name Mamushi in tasteful, if plain lettering at its front. The windows were wide and showcase a scene of long tables, plush seating and warm lighting. There was an open counter where the chefs’ work with the fish was clearly visible. Against the far wall was a bold mural of two women eating sushi in a traditional Azuchi-Momoyama period Japanese art style.
Sakura whistled, impressed. “Nice place.”
“Yeah, it’s pretty wonderful. Patrons just have to be a bit careful. Better safe than sorry,” Ino said, pressing through the door.
“Sakura, Ino!” Naruto called out, waving them down. The group was seated in a corner. “C’mon over!”
Sakura took a seat between Hinata and Menma, ignorant to Ino’s pout.
“Here,” Hinata said softly, passing her a menu.
“Thanks,” Sakura said, taking a moment to appreciate everyone’s eyewear. “What’s good here?”
Sakura jumped, turning around in her chair.
A woman stood firmly planted in front of her. Her smile was wide and manic, eyes shaded by dark sunglasses.
Her hair was also made a hundreds of snakes.
The snakes were purple and writhing, hissing and turning to look at their surroundings.
“Anko Mitarashi,” she said, sticking out her hand to shake Sakura’s firmly. “I own this place.” She leaned in, scrutinizing Sakura intently. Then she plucked the menu out of Sakura’s hands. “Don’t worry your pretty little head about choosing! I’ll pick your sushi out for you tonight. You seem like an unagi, girl…”
Sakura watched, dumbfounded, as Anko walked away, whistling cheerily.
“Looks like you’re getting the eel,” Menma crowed, nudging her in the ribcage.
“I like eel,” Sakura said, smiling slightly. “I was just a bit surprised that she figured it out just like that.”
“Anko’s good at her job,” Naruto said. “A bit out there but she makes the best damn sushi around.”
“Maybe because she was around when sushi was invented,” Sasuke muttered, arms crossed.
“Oh hush,” Karin said, pouring herself a cup of sake. “You just don’t like the fact that she tried to feed you like a bird the first time we came here.”
“Karin!” Sasuke exclaimed, cheeks red. “Don’t talk about that!”
Sakura laughed, relaxing as conversations started up around her. She enjoyed this, simply being together and talking and enjoying each other’s company. She didn’t have the benefit of a shared history with those at the table, but sitting with them had started to feel like home almost as much as the actual town of Pompeii. There was a place for her here, and it was warm and welcoming. Maybe she was the newest in town, but she still felt like this was the home she was always meant to make and Sakura loved the feeling.
“Tayuya, have you heard anything about this whole fiasco that Kiri is starting up?” Menma asked in a low tone.
Tayuya frowned, thinking. “Not sure what fiasco you’re talking about. Kiri has fingers in just about every pie in town. You need to be a bit more specific.”
“The…recent incident,” Menma said, skirting around the issue.
“He’s talking about that Orochimaru thing,” Naruto said, breaking into the conversation. He was oblivious to the way Sakura flinched. “Dad’s gotten all up in arms about it but he’s keeping it very hush-hush.”
“Tsunade hasn’t mentioned anything to the coven but I know she’s only recently started to attend some city council meetings,” Tayuya said. “You think that’s what it’s about?”
“The clan heads have been to the meetings too,” Shikamaru said. “Dad is being pretty tight-lipped over the whole thing.”
“Mito-sama is involved too,” Karin said. “Whatever’s happening, it’s pretty serious.”
“Nah,” Naruto said cavalierly. “I think it’s Yagura just blowing hot air. He’s always been a paranoid bastard, especially since Akatsuki came around. Orochimaru died centuries ago; we all know it. Hell, Tsunade said-”
Something cracked behind them.
Everyone turned, taking in the sight of Anko bending over a broken tray. Sushi lay in disarray on the ground, ruined.
“Apologies,” she said, smile bland. “I just thought of something funny and I forgot my strength. I will be back shortly with your sushi. I apologize for the inconvenience.”
Most of table’s occupants turned back to their conversation, albeit in quieter tones. Sakura, however, continued to watch Anko, catching the fine tremors in her shoulders and the drooping of her snakes.
The sake in her mouth turned to ash.
“I do not feel well,” Sakura said, standing up abruptly. “I’m going to head home and sleep it off.”
She heard the protestations but she bowed out regardless, offering platitudes before heading for the door.
A hand on her shoulder stopped her.
“Don’t approach Anko, not now,” Shikamaru said, gaze steady as he stares her down. “She doesn’t possess the best control.” He looked at her drawn face and tightly pressed lips and sighed. “Troublesome. Look, Naruto may espouse his opinion the loudest but it doesn’t make it true. Talk to Anko another day. Ino and I will come by later with your sushi.”
Sakura nodded, squeezing the hand on her shoulder. “Thank you, Shikamaru.”
“Don’t mention it,” he said, waving her off lazily.
Sakura stepped out onto the street, buoyed by the cool night air. She patted her flushed cheeks, trying to let go of her anger. She didn’t understand the politics of Pompeii, not in full. How could she? She’d been here for a few months while some of the denizens had been here for centuries.
She began to walk, allowing her boiling emotions to fuel her brisk pace.
It wasn’t Naruto’s fault that he didn’t know, that he spoke out so carelessly on issues that he knew nothing of. Sakura had seen the terror in Yagura’s face, the lingering, stifling fear felt through the older residents when the name Orochimaru was invoked. She doubted that Yagura would dare to resurrect the horror of a seemingly forgotten nightmare without good reason.
Sakura huffed and stared down at the pavement, wishing for a way to understand the tenuous climate of Pompeii. She needed knowledge…
Sakura blinked as the concrete beneath her feet turned to pink brick. She looked up, gaping at the building that was in front of her.
It was a building.
In the middle of the street.
Sakura shook her head, unable to understand what she was seeing. She had walked down this street only half an hour ago. What the hell was this building? Sakura scrutinized the sign, which read Sarutobi Library.
Honestly, she wasn’t sure why she was surprised. This was Pompeii after all.
Still a library, right when she needed one.
Sakura walked up the steps, anger dampening as curiosity took over. She pulled out her phone, turning on its flashlight. She pressed her hand against the oak door, feeling the fine grains of wood beneath her shifting fingertips.
The door swung open beneath her weight.
“Hello?” Sakura called, peeking inside the darkened room. “Anyone there?”
Silence greeted her.
Sakura paused, warring with herself for a moment before valor got the better part of discretion and she stepped inside.
Her footsteps echoed against the marble flooring as she began to explore. She couldn’t quite make out the details of the walls, but it looked intricate, gilt murals and swirling images of legends she knew nothing of. Heavy drapes hung in the path before her. Sakura pulled them away, grinning at the sight.
Books lined every wall as far as the eye could see. Sakura glanced up, turning her flashlight toward the ceiling. She couldn’t even see it, it was so far away.
Sakura stepped further into the library, slightly overwhelmed with all the possibilities. Where should she start?
She shook her head, squaring her shoulders.
She’d just start somewhere.
The starting was the important thing.
She looked around and finally found the light switch. She flipped it on, gasping as the light allowed her to fully appreciate the beauty of the library. The books were gilded in silver and gold and shimmery colors of all sorts, bright and inviting. In the center of the room was plush sofas and plump ottomans and pillows, ready for any reading position. There were innumerable ladders along the walls, positioned in such ways that seemed almost impossible as one ladder connected to another and then another. There were moving staircases alongside the walls, allowing for easy access to the books. The lighting was nouveau in style, thousands of colorful glass shards making up mosaics of pure light.
It was strange and beautiful.
Sakura pulled back her hair, grabbed a conveniently placed basket, and strode toward the closest ladder.
It was time to get to work.
Sakura dodged the flailing tentacle, wobbling precariously on the high ladder as she fought to shut the book. Her shirt was soaked and she smelled of brine, peppermint, and honey, an odd combination to be sure. Sap clung to different portions of her hair, making it stand on end.
She couldn’t remember the last time she’d had this much fun.
Sakura reshelved 1001 Tomato-Based Remedies for the Apothecary. She wasn’t sure why there was a giant squid inhabiting this particular book, but she decided not to question its culinary tastes.
Instead she pushed against the handy brass rails on the wall, grinning as the ladder swung around the walls smoothly. She paused as a glint of silver caught her eyes, examining the title:
A Brief History of Preternaturally Inclined Villages.
Sakura couldn’t help a sound of victory as she carefully lifted her evil eye medallion, brushing it against the binding on the side.
There was no reaction.
Just to be safe, Sakura pulled out the ankh given her by a client and tapped the top and bottom of the book. (She had quickly learned to be cautious with books that often had a mind of their own.)
Again, nothing happened.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Sakura tucked her talismen away and gingerly lifted the book. She added it to the basket that hung from one of the rungs of the ladder, appreciating once more just how wonderful this library was. Sakura glanced at her ladened basket, counting fifteen or so books.
With a satisfied nod, Sakura clambered down the ladder with an ease that belied her enthusiasm. She startled and nearly missed a rung when someone began to clap.
Sakura turned, clinging tightly to the ladder as she surveyed her surroundings. Below her stood an older man, hunched and stooped with age.
Perhaps the librarian?
She swallowed, making her way down the ladder to meet the interloper. As she got closer to him, Sakura could make out his facial features: the craggy planes of his face and his warm, kind eyes.
“That was quite impressive child,” he said as she reached the same level as him. “I’ve never seen a newcomer handle herself so well with the more…rambunctious books. Especially considering that you did not use any magic.”
Sakura smiled wryly. “Well, Pompeii offers a steep learning curve.”
“Indeed it does!” the man said, seeming delighted as he laughed. “I am Hiruzen Sarutobi, librarian.”
“I am Sakura Haruno, new doctor here in Pompeii,” Sakura replied, taking his hand and shaking it firmly. “I apologize for barging in here unannounced.”
“No apologies are necessary!” Hiruzen said. “Truly, I am glad that the library chose to appear to you; it almost never comes to newcomers. Whenever you see the library, know it is open to you at any hour of the day.” He peered into her basket, a frown gracing his face. “What exactly were you looking for?”
“I want to understand the town better,” Sakura said, meeting his troubled gaze easily. “Things are brewing just beneath the calm surface and I am behind many other citizens by centuries. I need to arm myself with knowledge.”
“A wise method,” Hiruzen said. “And what is it specifically you seek knowledge in today?”
Sakura swallowed, remembering the reactions of the younger generation. Would this man brush off her concerns so easily too? She breathed deeply and said, “I want to know who Orochimaru was and his significance to this town.”
“Orochimaru?” Hiruzen said, voice high as he staggered back a step. “Yes…I suppose with the current unrest it would make sense to look into the underbelly of Pompeii. And Orochimaru certainly thrived in the darkness.” He sighed, drawing a shaking hand across his face. “Well, A Brief History of Preternaturally Inclined Villages is a good choice to learn about the significance of Pompeii itself but for Orochimaru…” He trailed off.
“Are there truly no books on the events in Pompeii?” Sakura asked.
“Actually, I might have something. Wait here.”
Sakura watched as Hiruzen doddered away, feeling a bit accomplished. It was good to be taken seriously in her concerns.
“Here,” Hiruzen said triumphantly, waving a book above his head. “I found it!”
He pressed a plain book into her hands, looking at her expectantly. She examined the blank cover, looking over the dark stains within the leather. She carefully opened the book, ready to find the title.
It was blank.
Sakura scowled, flipping through the pages. All were blank.
“What is this?” Sakura asked.
“It will reveal itself to you as time goes on,” Hiruzen said. “This should provide you answers on who Orochimaru is and what he has done within this town.”
Hiruzen shook his head. “It is late. You should head home.”
Sakura raised her hands in protest but Hiruzen faded away before her very eyes. She frowned at the spot he once was, not appreciating his cryptic advice. She wanted straightforward answers.
She glanced down at the blank book.
Perhaps answers were within it.
“I’m taking this basket of books with me,” Sakura called, guessing that Hiruzen was listening. “Next time I’m here I’ll get a library card, if that is something you have here.”
When she was met with silence, Sakura took it as permission and headed for the door.
She stepped outside, blinking at her surroundings which had changed.
She was in front of the clinic.
Sakura grinned, looking up at the library. She wasn’t sure how sentient a building could be, but this was Pompeii. She patted the library sign. “Thank you,” she murmured, before moving forward and pressing a key into her lock.
She frowned as something tugged at the space behind her bellybutton.
Sakura placed the basket of books inside the clinic before locking the door, responding to the call of the seal.
She sucked in a heavy breath as she landed in the town square, trying to reorient herself quickly. Blue hands landed on her shoulders, steadying her.
“Sakura,” Kisame said, gazing past her with concern.
“Sakura!” Zabuza was suddenly in her face, pushing Kisame out of the way. He paced in front of her, full of energy. “I…he was alone for just a minute… I can’t believe…it’s my fault!”
“Zabuza, what happened?” Sakura demanded, grabbing his face and making him stand still. “I need you to breathe and explain.”
“It’s Haku,” he said, eyes full of tears. Sakura brushed the saline away, listening attentively. “He…he was attacked.”
“Where is he?” Sakura asked tersely.
“Here,” Kisame said, carrying a slight body over to Sakura.
It was Haku, but he was in very poor shape, tensed in agony.
“Here, hold onto me,” Sakura said, offering her arms to Zabuza, Kisame, and Yagura. “I’ll take us back to the clinic.”
“I’ll do it,” Yagura said darkly, eyes glowing.
They landed in the middle of the clinic and Sakura immediately set to work, pulling on gloves as she gave orders. “Yagura, I need you to call Shizune; let her know it’s an emergency. Kisame, place Haku on the examination table. Zabuza, grab a glass of water and sit down!
“Now,” Sakura took a deep breath to center herself, “what happened?” Sakura asked, brushing Haku’s hair away from his face.
“We were going out to the lake,” Zabuza said, gaze unfocused and voice unnaturally calm. He was in shock. “Haku ran up ahead since I had to stop by Hidan’s for some hardware. It couldn’t have been more than ten minutes…I came across him screaming, all contorted…He’s out of it now but he said something bit him.”
Sakura frowned, leaning in to examine Haku’s neck. There were two puncture holes, reminiscent of fangs. The veins around the entry wound were darkened and inflamed.
She frowned. “Kisame, I’m going to need you to call Chiyo and inform her that I will need her assistance. Kankuro’s too. Haku is poisoned.” Zabuza released a wet sounding noise. “Zabuza, you did the right thing. We are getting him treated.” Sakura wrapped a sterile bandage loosely around the wound. “What venomous animals are native to the area?”
“It was Orochimaru,” Yagura said, stepping up beside her.
“Have you seen this sort of attack before?” Sakura asked.
Yagura nodded. “Chiyo has dealt with it in the past.”
“Kisame, please let her know what we are dealing with,” Sakura said. She frowned as Haku began to scream. “We’ll need her expertise to handle this.”
Yagura stood beside Zabuza, hand on his shoulder. “Orochimaru will pay for this, in blood.”
everyone in pompeii is illiterate because the library is an asshole that acts like the room of requirement.
There was no way she couldn’t feel the magic of the marks on his neck. There was energy there, crackling and alive. Veins of black were growing out of the puncture wounds and spreading away from the site like spider webs. Sakura watched it move and the rate at which it spread was frightening.
She turned her watch over, feeling the tic of every second and measured the spread. She put her brain to work and did the math faster than she ever had in internship. She didn’t know how to counter to toxins but if Chiyo took more than 530 seconds the black lines would be at Haku’s heart. Would she make it in time? How many minutes…?
She had to buy him time, she had to slow down the spread or halt it until Chiyo showed up. What was driving the venom was more than just natural flow. Haku was a merkin, one of the mermaid creatures, his blood didn’t filter so fast. This spread was driven by the curse.
Sakura reached for the magic at his neck, sensing it like a cloud of gas almost. She touched the bite and it was like falling, going into the curse. She stumbled, grappling for purchase in the darkness before it bled away and she was back in the room again. The room was the same but the color was faded to the point of barely being even there and darkness still ate at the edges of her vision.
Sakura saw Zabuza frozen in his seat and then there was Shizune moving in slow motion to where the older man was non responsive. She was moving so slow, like she was caught in a time stream twice removed from hers. Shizune hadn’t see Sakura yet, but Sakura wondered what the woman would have seen if she turned and looked.
Sakura looked back to Haku and saw the darkness around his body. There was a black coil there, wound loosely around his body. It was growing around him, swelling and twisting to wrap itself more securely around Haku’s form. Sakura watched it move, becoming thicker and longer.
Sakura stared at the near catatonic man on her couch. Since showing her his tongue, as if that explained everything, he’d remained silent, gazing off into the distance with unfocused, glassy eyes. She’d left him there, giving him space, but the hour was drawing to a close and Sakura was starting to feel concerned.
“Sai,” she said, trying to bring him out of his daze.
He didn’t even blink.
“Sai!” she said a bit more forcefully.
He shivered, distant but miserable in the cold.
That was what decided it for Sakura as she gently took his hands in her own. He didn’t respond and Sakura could almost feel the ice running in his veins. She’d no idea how long he was outside, but it had been far too long.
“Sai,” she said in a firm tone. It was the voice she used to control unruly patients or speak with those who looked down upon her. It wasn’t exactly a kind tone, but it was effective. “Sai, stand up.”
Sai stood as she pulled him, following her lead of gentle touches and strong voice. She pressed him into the bathroom, turning on the shower. Sakura tested the water, waiting until it was lukewarm before turning and assessing Sai’s state.
He was still completely unresponsive and she worried to leave him alone.
Not scary per se, but definitely unsettling, these images screw with the brain, specifically the fusiform gyrus, the part that recognizes faces. As always, when the brain perceives something as foreign or abnormal, the natural response is to view the subject with hesitance and wariness. From there, it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump away from fear.
Sakura’s arms ached as she lifted the ragged book between her hands, brushing fingers over the stained cover. She hadn’t a chance to read any of it in all of the excitement, but she knew this was the book Hiruzen specifically chose for her.
Sakura flipped it open, expectant.
There was nothing at all on the first page.
Sakura frowned slightly, rifling through the pages.
All were blank.
Sakura blinked down at the pristine pages, fresh and crisp in comparison to its exterior.
There is a silent epidemic of abandoned amusement parks spreading the globe. Symptoms include eerily creaking metal, overgrown and twisted foliage, and some of the creepiest rusting, chipping, decaying faces you will ever see in your life. This kiddie coaster was probably already pretty messed up in it’s heyday. Now, it’s a champion in the. “What the hell?” Olympics.
Take inspiration from the real world when crafting your fear project:
winter wears me down. daylight hours get shorter and I shrink along with them. December carries fatigue in its teeth, leaves it on my doorstep. hibernation is the only way I know how to cope.
it catches me unawares every time. it’s an ugly lesson to keep learning and I promise myself that I’ll fashion a warning sign to hang on the equinox for next year, but I never seem to have time before the frostbite begins to set in.
so I lie comatose until winter’s pall starts to lift. spring creeps in underneath the frost, damp and green and unsure of its timing, but always holding promise in its teeth — the assurance that with the sun comes the thaw. I work the season’s stiffness from my bones and learn to walk again.
I switch to iced coffee too early, at the first sign of warmth. I’m always getting ahead of myself: tripping over my own feet, rushing without seeing what I’m headed for. I have one eye toward the horizon and a ticking clock where my heart should be. just get through the day, the week, the year, just make it through to springtime, and then — just get through another day, week, year, just make it through to another springtime.
if there’s anything I know well, it’s repetition: forcing order into places that stubbornly resist it, mining habits out of a cliffside. grinding all of my rough edges down day after day is thankless work, bloody and tedious, and it’s undone every night while I dream. anything I might have to show for my labors carried away in the moonlight. I sleep with a reset button under my pillow. when morning light begins to break I stumble upright and start over.
if there’s anything I know well, it’s repetition: just make it through to springtime, just make it through the day, mantras timed to the ticking clock where my heart should be. every year I switch to iced coffee too early in the hope that I can trick the green and damp into arriving ahead of schedule, ward off the chill and keep me from slipping into coma because I forgot to keep track, again. forgot to hang the warning sign, didn’t mark the calendar. this ruse hasn’t succeeded yet, and a perpetual spring is a vain hope. but I carry it in my teeth anyway, and I’m always surprised when December comes knocking again, when the frostbite begins to set in.