Hearts and Hopes
"You know, there times when it almost seems worth it. There are times when the struggle for life, the fight to live, seems to have more than the obvious reward; more struggles to come. Sometimes, it all seems worth my while to keep on going. You know...but you don't, do you. You don't know a damn thing anymore."
It was a hard life, but that statement in itself meant nothing; how can life be easy? Hard or easy, it is. He is. Even now, with what little power left in his brain, he, or as much of a he as there can be, is.
It is sad to see a giant fall, but far more sorrow comes when you are crushed underneath. Fear is the primary emotion given to those with power. It is a lonely life.
He sat there, on the side of the bed, shaking his head slowly. This once-proud man, once a ninja, once a hero, once a man...reduced to this shriveled husk? It was unthinkable, intolerable. It was a perversion of all that the fighting was for; what was the point of fighting, if he would end up like this?
He shook his head, displacing the buds of tears of sympathy, pity, and disgust. He hated himself for hating this fragile, inhuman, thing. It filled him with rage. It filled him with sorrow for the fallibility of the human soul.
He raised his hand to his eyes, wiping the tears away that he had never thought would come.
"Not a damn thing..."
He shook his head again, as if to force the treacherous thoughts out of his skull. His fists clenched. He wanted to kill this man, this thing, for even existing. It didn't feel, it didn't think, it just sat there. It sat and it died, bit by bit.
His stomach clenched; it was inhuman, keeping this thing alive. A man isn't judged a man by his body, by his hair or eyes or strength. He is judged by his mind, his hopes, dreams, and failures. This thing...was not a man.
Dreams and Failures
He awoke, arms stretching to welcome the rising sun. There was no melancholy feeling, no playfully opaque ANBU mask in front of his face...all was well, so far. He had enjoyed a restful, dreamless, sleep. He got up, pulled on fresh, clean clothes, and his faithful battered sweatshirt that was really fit for no more than rags. The right sleeve was entirely gone, and, though it once was black, it was now a faded grey.
He reached over to the windowsill beside his bed, for a possession that he treasured, or believed he did; the headband that marked him as a ninja of Konoha. It was a mark of power, and independence, but also a mark of fealty to the Hokage, to the village. He had gained, but lost something else in doing so.
Like all things, this headband came with its own price. It came with a history and a destiny of battle, and a will of fire, burning brightly among the leaves. It came with expectations and responsibilities...and duties. Today, he would carry out such a duty; a mission, for the Hokage. He had examined the envelope last night. It required no urgent speed. It could wait, but not for long.
He stretched, not entirely welcoming the task ahead. His head now cleared from the apathy sleep leaves, he set off.
The words from the Hokage echoed in his mind; "There are many more hazards to the life of a ninja than death. There are worse things we can do to a man than kill. It is said that you cannot conquer a free man, only kill him; unfortunately this is far from the truth. As Ninja, we can break a man's mind. Attack his spirit, attack his freedom...attack his soul..."
He shivered. Though the day was warm, his blood ran cold. He had thought he understood the harshness of the world, and, indeed, perhaps that was why he was given this unsightly task...but he was not prepared for this.
He was unprepared for the horrors that life can bring.
Joy and Loneliness
There is a building on the edge of Konoha that houses those who are not fit to fight. They have been injured, in body and mind, or have simply broken under the strain. Some cackle with manic glee, others sit and stare at nothing at all. Some are dangerous to themselves and everyone around them, and a few do nothing but lie in bed, and exist despite themselves.
It is a terrible place, full of those who should not be alive. Full of those who are no longer human, or who cannot bear to be, or who simply do not care. Yet, it is Janos's destination. See him tremble, see him shiver. This place scares him. He fears he end up there rather than die. That would be his ultimate torture, his worst nightmare come real, to be in that place and not allowed to die...
Yet, this place was his destination. He had to enter that dark place (as a guest, not a 'patient'
, he reminded himself, but it did no good) and he had a job to do. There was a man (he was told) that knew something that needed to be known by the heads of the village immediately. It concerned his present fate. The fact that, while there was a man, there is one no longer...
Janos gulped audibly, and stepped across the threshold, into the asylum.
His first impression was how sanitary it was. Everything was clean and sterile. The floor shone, as if to deny the presence of those who worked here and those who were treated here (they did not live any longer, in Janos's eyes, they merely carried out biological functions).
He walked, leaving imprints on the freshly-mopped floors, to his destination. The sparkle continued unmolested where his feet had touched; it was as if the floor was determined to gleam regardless of what sort of dirt touched its surface. Its patina of radiance outshone the darkest of hearts, flayed away that which did not suit its glory.
He shook his head. He was started to lose his concentration, his focus...his lunch... No. He bore down on his rebelling stomach and continued on, knocking at the room he hoped he had been instructed to enter. The door opened slowly...
Despair and Ecstacy
It was depraved. Its eyes swung crazily around the room, it jabbered obscenities, its head lolled. It was inhuman and inhumane; the nurse bustled, oblivious to Janos's plight. He coughed, clutching at his heart, and the nurse turned. It motioned to him; his eyes widened in shock. He edged foreward slowly, as if being drawn by some dire compulsion.
It begin to speak, writhing tongue parting chapped lips, sounds sibilant and slurred. "I was more than this," he said frantically, "This isn't, I wasn't..." He fell silent, eyes looked away. "The pain," he intoned, his voice growing calmer and more serious, "I remember the pain. It was like nothing of this world."
He clenched his teeth (For he was a he once more, if even for a few brief fleeting moments) as Janos looked on in a sort of awestruck terror. "It hurt...like nothing of this world," he forced the words out between pursed lips, as if living some psychosomatic memory of terror. It was as if his pain has a physical thing, even though it never was.
He remembered, once again, what the Hokage had told him. "Genjutsu, illusionary techniques that affect the mind, can be far more terrible than Ninjutsu or Taijutsu. They can break a man's mind, destroy his will, while the others can do nothing more than break his bones and body." He remembered thinking, at the time, that his bones could never be broken; thus, this, he would fear even more.
He looked at the former Chuunin once again, knowledgeable eyes staring out, just for a moment, from beyond a world of pain; more than his mind could take, apparently. "It...felt as if my body was on fire...every square inch, burning, forever..." He trailed off, breathing fast. Janos looked away; he screamed incoherently, beating at his bonds with rage, and sobbing.
It was a terrible thing, what they had done.
The nurse, appearing beside the man without the notice of the Kaguya child, had injected him with something. He seemed to fold in on himself, calming down at once. But...his irregular breathing seemed to form words. "Ik...Ika...Ikasama..." he croaked, before lapsing into unconsciousness.
There. The deed was done. He had heard of them before; a rogue clan of Genjutsu users, now, apparently, acting outside of the bounds of Konoha. He shook his head in disbelief; a new enemy. Wonderful. Just when it had all been almost worthwhile to keep going...
Relief and Resentment
His hands were clenched as if forming claws, his rage grew. Bone pushed through skin, as it had done countless times before. He didn't even feel the physical pain; he was far too preoccupied with the other sort. He raised his hand above the sleeping once-a-man, prepared to strike.
The nurse saw, somehow, out of the corner of her eyes, and moved to stop him. She blocked his claws with a dagger he never knew she had; her eyes agape with fury. He slumped, and began to sob. He couldn't take it. The fact that this man, this monster, existed, trying desperately to cling to whatever small bits of humanity he (it?) still possessed. It (He.) desired death, Janos was sure.
"Why did you stop me, damn it? Look at him! LOOK AT HIM! He's trapped, like this. Death would come as a gift to him, no matter what he has done. I know what I need to know," Janos said as he lowered his eyes, "He is no longer needed."
She lowered her head slightly as well, knowingly, saying nothing but not removing her weapon. She was a trained med-nin, he supposed; surely she would know he (it!) could not be saved. Surely, she would do the merciful thing herself, if an opportunity arose.
He walked out of the building, his mouth slick with bile. In the back of his mind, he knew that man would lay there and rot. It could not be called living, what it was doing, but it would do so until it died.Ikasama
, he thought, What power they must have to turn a man into such a thing. To destroy his dreams, make naught his failures, demolish his heart...leave him no hope...
He hurried, for once, back to the Hokage's office.
Such creatures must not be left alive.