Chapter 43 – Notes and Spoilers

Author’s Note: I hope everyone is doing okay and staying safe. These are stressful, scary times, and I wanted to write an escape hatch. What better place to go than an ancient forest? I hope it takes you away for a while. Be kind to yourself during all this. You are enough. I’ll be posting a lot more frequently — it’s my way of sending love in our upside-down world. 

Author’s Notes

Though they were originally supposed to be only two chapters, “Two Worlds” seemed to very much encompass a Sakura-centric arc. It features Konoha and many of the other familiar cast of characters, but specifically through her eyes. Which relationships are important to her, what her fears are, how she sees herself and how she wants to be seen. She is also trying to strike a balance between being respectful of elders while also shrugging off the hierarchical system that she has come up in. Sakura has a very healthy disrespect for the rules, when they don’t work for her, and the people she puts the most value in do too (Kakashi and Shikamaru, for example). 🙂 There will be two more chapters in this arc: The Red Thread, and Those Left Behind.

Chapter Notes

• Two Worlds theme — there are a lot of things that fall into this theme. Of seen and unseen. Good and bad.  Spirit and real. Conscious and subconscious. Even Sakura’s abilities fall into the known and the as-of-yet unknown.

• “Go west, beyond the F of D, to the old Senju shrine. Wait at the stone lantern for a delivery.” — This chapter answers one of my questions in the original. If the Senju were so important, where was their compound? Same with Namikaze. So I’m delving into the background of some of the ancient clans that loom large over the story but are never shown.

• The Forest of Death was, in fact, two forests, one outside the wall and one inside.  — I’m exploring the idea of a spirit world that coexists beside the “normal” world of Konoha that most never bother to look beyond. And so I’m treating the Forest of Death as a prehistoric creature, a wild, unruly thing that only moderately tolerates its most recent tenant, the Village of Konoha.

• The forest left inside the wall huddled outside the rows of houses, skirted clan lands and loomed at the edge of the training pitches. — The forest left inside the wall is described like a trapped, wary animal (like a coyote at the edge of a city). The forest is dangerous but not exactly deadly. It never comes too close and plays (mostly) harmless tricks on the humans. 

• Like an ancient dragon coiled around the village, the forest occasionally shifted, stretched out and reordered itself. — The forest outside is compared to something vast and mythic: a dragon. It goes where it wants, doesn’t care about the humans and will absolutely kill them. In fact, it does. Regularly. 

But as she got older, she realized she didn’t need to read the signs like everyone else. She could just feel it…. She didn’t know why. — Throughout these chapters, I am filling in the backstory of what makes Sakura such a good medic, without talking at all about her training as a medic history. Instead, in all situations, there are things Sakura does, things that she’s good at and she doesn’t know why, that make her a first-rate medic nin. One of these skills is being able to detect the presence of things she cannot see. It is absolutely required of a medic, who has to close their eyes and ‘feel’ where the injury is. So Sakura is naturally good at this in other areas of her life. She’s practicing for chakra healing without even realizing it. 

• In that brief moment of soft focus, when her concentration relaxed from a single point to encompass the whole environment surrounding her, without any thought or effort…something shifted. — Like yoga or meditation, or even when you just are looking too hard and can’t see what’s right in front of you. This is a ‘two worlds’ theme: Sakura is letting go of the conscious and letting her subconscious reach out. She’s not seeing with her eyes, she’s unwittingly letting her subconscious powers ‘feel’ it out. More on this down in the notes….

• Sakura knew she was alone. But these quiet woods weren’t empty. She felt it on her skin, on the prickling of hairs on her neck. As if just her presence there was vibrating a giant spider’s web of entangled living connections…. But perhaps this was just another trick…. — Sakura can feel her part in a giant unseen network of living things. She doesn’t realize it yet. But someone who’s as sensitive as her, who can isolate human cells with her eyes closed in a sterile, lifeless hospital room, would be overwhelmed in a forest where literally every inch above and below her was alive. She doesn’t see it like that, yet. Not really. She sees the forest on the surface, and objectively understands there is life all around her. But she shrugs off the fact that she’s “feeling” it too. Much later, someone else who is connected to the spirit world will notice the same things…. 😉 

• Concentrating hard, listening past the drumbeat of rain for a melody of birdsong, she let her hand come to rest on the deeply grooved bark— The tree suddenly hummed beneath her fingers. — Another time when Sakura is unknowingly letting her chakra slip out from the bounds of her skin. And the life-force that’s around her responds. But it doesn’t do it again when she tries to make, only when she doesn’t force it. Again, she’s connecting to the unseen around her without realizing it.

• The lantern still managed to glow slightly as the pale grey stone gave off the only reflected light in the cavernous darkness of the forest floor. — I wanted the idea of a lantern in the forest to be both beautiful and creepy. The two worlds idea. She goes to it, and it’s kind of enchanting. It’s very peaceful. But the more she panics, the more it changes. 

• This place…the darkness, the isolation…. The utter abandonment of a lightless lamp in the middle of a graveyard of bodies…. — So, in this view, it becomes super creepy. The light itself could even be a representation of what was lost, completely forgotten, never to be lit or brought to life again. 

• She decided if there was a shrine out here, perhaps she should go to it instead of waiting here. Alone. — Sakura totally cannot follow directions. Jus’ sayin’.

• The woman looked old, older than the building. Her skin was translucent, fine veins spiderwebbing beneath the surface, her eyes milky with age. Her hair, which was the same color as her impossibly pale skin, was swept up into two girlish top knots. They drifted back and forth on her head as she moved. … Her trailing kimono left a shining streak through the water drops on the stones. — The old woman is not what she seems. Just like the divide between the spirit world and the real, this woman may not come from the world as Sakura knows it.

• After her other-worldly journey — capping a day of equally peculiar errands — Sakura was glad to be back to where things made sense. Her village of order and rules and deadlines, where her expedition to the Forest of Death could be filed away as just another mission completed. — Another theme of the ’two worlds.’ Sakura believes that her village is the safe place, and that she has left the world where the scary unknowns exist far behind her. She’s not thinking like a shinobi all the time though. And she’s not looking at the village, the people in it, and especially the ones she believes she’s closest too, as perhaps having an unknown side as well.

• It was the final hurdle for med-nins. Mastery of the seal proved you were adept enough to reverse death itself. For a medic, there was no higher mark of chakra control. — It always bothered me that Sakura’s training basically stopped early on. There will be more for her to come. But it may not be what she hoped she would learn….

• She looked up at Tsunade. “Has this…Has this book been cut in two…?” — So Tsunade has a book with weird potions written into it that has been chopped in half at some point. And she seems a little cagey about it? Never a good sign. 

Spoiler Notes

• The festival — though it’s unnamed, it’s a festival and subsequent parade to honor the dead. It’s a positive day, even with the negative connotation. It is not, however, the day of the kyuubi attack. I thought about making it that, but I don’t think it would be positive. Just a sad somber day. So this festival/parade in very late summer ties in with many cultures having late summer, early fall day to remember ancestors. (It’s different from the one earlier in the fic too, even though it’s a summer one).

• Timeline note — I have made the history of Konoha much, much longer than in the original. There have been five Kages, in their “modern” history, but many more leaders, jinchurikis, etc., in their centuries of existence. The generational history goes back so far that the origin is murky and mostly recorded by the victors of political struggles. More on that to come. 

“Go west, beyond the F of D, to the old Senju shrine. Wait at the stone lantern for a delivery.” — So, the language here, that the shrine is beyond the border of the Forest of Death, which Sakura has never heard of, is kind of like directing someone to a fairy land. It is at the edge of something real and spirit based. It’s a kind of in-between area. And Sakura, saying it must have something to do with the festival, reinforces that this place on the edge of the known and unknown, must not have value except for certain times of year. So the place is like a mythical stone circle on Halloween, when the veil is thinnest. And you can get favors from those who can cross over during this time. 

• She trusted Tsunade, and if Tsunade thought she was capable of fulfilling this task, then she would do it. — Sakura makes a point of going against her own judgement to trust Tsunade. This is foreshadowing for her next mission, when she goes to the Sand, and takes it at face value when someone says they know Tsunade. Sakura thinks it can’t turn out bad. (She’s not acting like a shinobi and being skeptical of everyone.)

• The safety of the path through to the village was the anomaly, not the other way around. — I’ve used the word anomaly here to reinforce that Sakura sees both sides. And she sees the reality: That the dark Forest of Death is the real world, and the green safe passage is not. She sees the anomaly…because she is an anomaly as well. More on this term further down in the notes….

• She thought of the path as a grey line, like a thread. She held the picture in her mind, focused in on it. All she needed to do was grasp hold of the one way in…. — Foreshadowing for an event to come a few chapters from now. Grasping hold of something to pull you out of the darkness….

• The history of all the years before the village of Konoha came into existence was summed up into a few tidy paragraphs on the first page of their academy history book. — There is some tension between the Senju (forest clan) and Uchiha (farmlands clan). It will be revisited in a couple chapters. One of the ways this is different from the original is that I think the Uchiha should have had a bigger stake in the village. Not just content to be a police guard, they were the most powerful. And they were about to topple an generations-old tug-of-war with the Senju. That would make Sasuke’s blind drive to resurrect his clan that much more meaningful. So this backstory reflects that. Konoha reveres the Senju, but maybe there’s another side to that story….

• At the edge of her vision, something flitted through the limbs below. Sakura watched the space for movement and listened for birdsong. … She glanced down again, looking for the bird. However, something entirely different caught her eye. — The forest is playing tricks on her, even though she doesn’t realize it. There was no bird. 

• There, standing as perfectly in the center of a patch of ground as if the trees had eased back to make room, was a very old stone lantern.  — Background theme to the spirit world. Lanterns are how humans communicate with spirit animals. When you want them, you put a light in the lantern and then you wait. This is the first clue that the old woman is not what she seems…. (Also a bit like The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, with the light in the forest.) There are also lanterns sprinkled throughout these chapters, at Shikamaru’s and at the Uchiha clan to come. The rookies don’t realize it either. Shikamaru doesn’t care, so his parents haven’t told him. And there is no one left of the Uchihas to tell Sasuke. But they are part of the landscape that will be important later on.

• This place…the darkness, the isolation…. The utter abandonment of a lightless lamp in the middle of a graveyard of bodies…. — The feeling of this place is foreshadowing of a future event for Sakura, when she feels completely trapped and is terrified of being left behind. Particularly, at the bottom of a dark, cavernous, foreign “land.”

• The canopy was so far away that no direct sunlight shone down. It was just deepening layers of shadow. Sakura was confronted with a suffocating feeling of being lost too far from the light, of being abandoned in the darkness, like one of those poor hapless nins. Left behind to rot in a land that was utterly unfamiliar. — This is foreshadowing of a future even with Sakura. Where the fear here is just her imagination, the reality will become so much worse.

• Sakura was never so happy to see sunlight. She was certain it looked very much like an opening in the woods. Maybe big enough for a building. Possibly even a shrine. — So the Forest of Death, detecting her fear, is playing a much more deadly game of misleading the young shinobi than the forest within the village did. But Sakura, to her peril, falls for it simply out of panic. This is what makes the Forest so deadly. It preys on your fears and lures you away.

• Only when she came slowly around again did she see something. An anomaly. Several paces ahead of her was a single flat stone, half-buried by roots. — Sakura has been led away by a mirage, and she knows it. But as she turns, something reveals itself in the dirt. But Sakura didn’t discover it on her own…the Forest was leading her away to show her something. So here we see the Forest of Death has a duality as well, more than just as death-turning-to-life ecosystem. It can kill, but it can also lead you to safety, if it chooses. And the term ‘anomaly’ here is a clue as to why it chose to save Sakura instead of leading her to her doom. More to come….

• A soft clank rattled through the woods — a single forlorn tone of metal knocking against metal — even though there was never a breeze this far down. It rang out again, sounding faintly like a bell…or a door swinging loose on its hinges. — Oh, a temple bell, that’s all I can think of here! But with the duality, it could either be a high sweet sound of place of significance, or the haunted hollowed out sound of something abandoned. 

Sakura stood on the last paver, a giant fieldstone at the threshold of the grounds, then stepped down onto a disintegrating cobblestone walkway that led to the heap of a building. — Reinforcing the idea that it is a place out of time and space. Sakura crosses a threshold to this place. You get the idea that if she came back in a few months time, if she were to ever find it again, it would look like no one had been there for centuries. Just want there to be a feeling that this place is different from the surroundings. It had light and wind, and green on the ground, insects and birds. That’s why it’s beyond the edge. The Forest of Death will not creep over the old building, as if it has respect for its tenants for some reason. 😉

• The soft clanging sounded again. Sakura saw that in fact there was a bell, suspended from one of the giant splinters of wood that shot out the front like a bow. A twisted scrap of metal was wired inside, a repair that gave it a ghost of its former sound. — Sadly, it’s not the bell Katsuro repaired. The one he fixed gaze a lovely beautiful clear ring. This one is only a ghost of that one, and rings accordingly.

• The woman looked old, older than the building. Her skin was translucent, fine veins spiderwebbing beneath the surface, her eyes milky with age. Her hair, which was the same color as her impossibly pale skin, was swept up into two girlish top knots. They drifted back and forth on her head as she moved. … Her trailing kimono left a shining streak through the water drops on the stones. — The old woman is a human form of the the Slug, Katsuyu, that is Tsunade’s contract summons. Just like Ma and Paw frog in the village. Sakura can’t see them or summon them, because she doesn’t have a contract with the spirit world. But they can come to humans in human form and be seen for a while, but usually on certain days of the year. So again, the two worlds theme. The little old woman is not what she seems.

• Sakura smiled gently. Maybe the little woman didn’t realize how important Tsunade was now. She couldn’t just leave her office to traipse out to the Forest of Death whenever she felt like it. — Sakura thinks kindly of her. She just seems like a crazy little grandmother. And she is trusting Tsunade’s instructions. It is fine this time. But with other crazy old ladies, they might not have the Leaf’s best interests at heart. Sakura is definitely not using her shinobi skills when she just assumes the ‘crazy old lady’ routine isn’t an act. 

• Where the light streamed through some obvious holes in the roof, plants were pinned to the angled roof beams for drying. Little jars with peeling labels were stacked several deep on crooked shelves that might have once been for holding scrolls. — Much more about the spirit world to come, but right now, the Slugs are basically the record keepers. And Katsuyu is the master record keeper for medics. She holds all the knowledge. And she works with Tsunade whenever she needs her. Of course, Tsunade doesn’t need to see her in human form, and Tsunade can summon her whenever she wants. But she wanted Sakura to go, to see if she ‘felt’ anything. Anyway, I made Katsuyu a medic that doesn’t work in hospitals, but ‘keeps to the old ways’ as Tsunade put it. It’s very much based in nature, and besides picking leaves, that’s a side of healing that Sakura knows very little about. She’s very much about using her skills in a modern hospital type setting. Even on the battlefield. So she’s curious about it, but also doubts it. Tsunade was hoping it would make her more curious. 

• Sakura inched forward to see around the painted panel that doubled as a door. — In my head, the image behind the door is either a smaller painting from the temple, or the Sage engaged with the kyuubi in battle. And that as Sakura’s leaning forward, the image of the kyuubi becomes clear. It’s too hard to write without disrupting the story. But that’s the way I see it.

• Grip hard and flood the body with chakra. Gauge the expressions of pain: pupil dilation, intake of breath, spike of fever, rise in pulse. Repeat if necessary. The anomaly will always reveal itself. — Sakura thinks the woman is reading her chakra, and she is…in way. Sakura just doesn’t understand yet that she is the anomaly. She’s not like the others, the old woman sees it, as she knows Tsunade must have as well, and the woman is checking to be sure. This little exchange is foreshadowing so much more to come.

• The bag lurched suddenly in her hand. — Sakura gets panicked, hears a loud noise from all around, and then the bag jumps. She is interacting with the world around her, and it is interacting back with her. She has a mystery power that has worked for her so far. But it’s never really been test outside of just a few areas: adding power to kicks and punches, and in healing. So even though she can manage her power, she doesn’t know the extent of it.

• The woman just smiled blithely. She seemed far too old to be that crafty. – Sakura is beginning to wonder if this woman is good or bad, but again, the woman’s extreme age and Sakura’s respectful nature make it hard for her to think bad of her. But this is not a good habit for a shinobi….

• “Yes, you certainly are Tsunade’s student. I can see it now.” Her gaze had lost its scrutiny. Her opaque eyes moved over Sakura’s whole face as if she couldn’t really see it, making Sakura wonder if the only thing she saw was pink hair. Unique, yes, but not really anything special. Except that it would be the only thing even a half-blind woman could see. — This is straight-up misdirection. Sakura’s hair is not what makes her unique. 🙂 More on this in coming chapters!

• A rosy glow had spread over the little woman’s pale cheeks. She was humming when she turned to glide slowly back down the path. “Only a skilled healer can use those,” she said over her shoulder before stopping suddenly. “Or a poison master!” Her shoulders bounced as she laughed at her own joke. — Foreshadowing. Part of the ‘two worlds’ theme. Tsunade represents the positive side of medical/healing chakra. But there is a negative side, the side that cultivates poisons and holds life for ransom through their poison making. This is the first time Sakura hears of a ‘poison master,’ but it won’t be the last. This also shows that Sakura very much lives in the positive side of the spectrum. She’s never encountered the negative, but she will.

• Scribbled kunai in old styles, with notations at the grip, and blade-tips that looked like they’d been dipped in grape jam. — The remedy on this page is for poisons that you dip the blades in. Tsunade knows it’s not all healing remedies, but Sakura does not. She is still taking things at face value, not thinking like a shinobi in all situations. 

• Tsunade had encouraged her to give it a try, even as the rest of med-nin class was still fine-tuning their chakra control on minor scrapes in the civilian wing of the hospital. She gave Sakura a scroll, a demonstration and some rudimentary instructions — “Close your eyes. Use your instinct. Feel it out.” — and then left her alone with a dead fish. — Tsunade also sees something else in Sakura. Something unique about her chakra. She encourages her to ‘feel it out.’ And Tsunade was right. Just as the old woman saw, Sakura was indeed an anomaly. Her natural ability is better than even Tsunade’s.