Kakashi goes on a solo mission to investigate a mysterious scroll. Is it a ghost, genjutsu, ninjutsu, or something even darker?
The following story takes place some time after Kakashi wakes from his Tsukuyomi induced coma, when he's assigned missions without his genin team.
THE RESURRECTING SCROLL
The woman in the painting was coming alive.
He was sure of it no matter how crazy it sounded. She had started out as a simple scroll painting in sepia ink. But as the weeks passed, parts of her became color, ironically and decisively living color. It could be inferior ink, which diffused into multiple colors via chromatography, he tried to rationalize, but that made even less sense.
It started with the eyes, almond shaped mysterious yellow eyes, which seemed to blink thoughtfully. Or was it just a flicker of light escaping from behind the window shades?
Then the hair darkened from its brown sepia tones to midnight black, flowing over her shoulders and down to her back, stopping just above her thin waist, bound and accentuated by an elaborately tied obi. Her hair seemed to move as if a breeze just passed. Or was it a real wind that blew through the cracks of the room, fluttering the silk scroll?
Then the lips lightened in hue from brown to a blood red. Her lips seemed to turn up and down at the corners as if she were testing her smile to form an expression that would be most flattering. Or was it just a crease in the silk that undulated and smoothened?
He could not keep his eyes off the painting and there were nights when he tried to stay awake in the room where it hung, waiting for further colors to materialize.
Of course, at first, he thought he was sleep-painting, in a state of somnambulation, but then he left town for a week, to return only to find the face in full color, even with subtle shading and highlights. The skin was now a lovely translucent shade of peach.
But no matter how beautiful she was, the colorized head was a disturbing sight when paired with the colorless body. It was in essence disembodied, decapitated. He should have left the house immediately and checked into an inn, but so fascinated and spellbound was he, that he continued to stay, and to stare.
As each part was colorized, it would appear in his dreams. First it was the eyes that haunted him. Golden eyes like a cat's that widened and narrowed and stared and blinked, watching him throughout the night.
Then the hair appeared, flowing around the eyes. The hair lengthened and shortened as if it had life of its own, acting like tentacles that reached for him in the abyss of his nightmares.
Then the bloody lips appeared. They smiled and sneered and frowned for no apparent reason. Sometimes they parted to reveal blackened teeth; sometimes they moved silently to form speechless words. But the message was lost on him.
The entire experience was disturbing but also fascinating. Those nightmares he could live with so he did nothing. Who could he tell and who would believe him anyway? They'd think he was crazy or perpetrating a clever hoax. He would rather live with it.until.
The complete disembodied head began to appear in his dreams, nodding enthusiastically or shaking in fury as if responding to some unspoken question. He wanted to communicate with it and found himself talking to the painting for hours on end. Sometimes it seemed the head would turn to look at him, but then turned back as if deciding he wasn't worth the attention. Yes, he should have done something when it first started, but the artist in him was captivated by the progress.
But now the nightmares were getting worse.and yesterday the disembodied head drawn on silk became physical.
"Here's your latest mission," Hokage Tsunade slurred as she handed Kakashi a scroll without bothering to look up from her sake cup. It was just after breakfast time for most other people.
Kakashi unfurled the scroll and scanned its contents. "Is this for real? We're shinobi not ghost busters! There may be demons in this world, but not ghosts."
"Ghosts, demons, genjutsu, ninjutsu, whatever, it's your job to find out," ordered Tsunade annoyed that Kakashi had not yet left.
Kakashi tucked the scroll in his vest's front left pocket. "They classified this as an A mission?"
Tsunade shrugged, "Normally it would be classified as a D or C mission, but the client insisted he wanted the best and was willing to pay for it. I would send him the best, but you're the only one around right now." She added the last part pointedly.
Kakashi ignored the slight, he was used to it from her, and thought, 'Laughable. Guess Konoha is in dire straits and accepting any mission, no matter how preposterous. My genin team should be investigating this, not me. Or maybe someone like Gai...no he would actually fall for a hoax like this.' Despite his lack of enthusiasm, Kakashi concentrated chakra to his feet to race home to pack.
As the setting sun caressed the landscape with its pink and orange hued fingers, Kakashi arrived at an old sprawling mansion, bi-level in the customary pagoda style. It was located in Fire Country, but out near the borders of the Sound and Waterfall Villages. He was greeted enthusiastically and impatiently by a middle age man waiting at the main entrance. The man looked in his mid to late forties, possibly older, but that haggard look was probably not natural. Kakashi observed he had lost much weight recently, made apparent by the loose folds of skin from his jaw line, which flapped as he walked. There was no one else. 'No servants for a large place like this?' Kakashi pondered.
"Are you the shinobi I sent for?" the man asked hopefully. He was, or rather had been, a large man, both in height and girth. Yet despite the lost of weight, his shoulders were stooped, as if he took on another, heavier, burden.
"Yes, my name is Hatake Kakashi from Hidden Leaf Village." Kakashi presented the mission scroll to prove his presence was warranted. "Are you Shishido Mamoru-san?" Kakashi assumed he was the author of the request.
The man nodded and escorted him in.
"The details of the mission are rather sketchy. I need some more background of your problem. If you'll start at the beginning."
But instead Shishido got right to the crux of his problem. "See here?" he pointed to his forearm and then the back of his neck. There were clear impressions, indentations of what appeared to be from human teeth. The skin was not broken but the bruising looked quite painful. "A ghost did this!"
Kakashi looked at his latest client appraisingly. What he saw was a man on the brink of a nervous breakdown. His brown eyes were bloodshot with dark bags underneath. His client's uncombed and matted black hair stuck out more than his own.
"Let me see the painting," Kakashi said wearily, not expecting much of anything. He had already done some research on his client, a second-rate artist, who could afford to be, as he already had a fortune. 'He's probably looking for publicity.'
But the painting was not second-rate. The pretty young woman with a high noble forehead and cherubic cheeks was looking up at a flowering cherry tree with branches cascading overhead.
'It must have been early spring when this was drawn,' Kakashi observed.
The tree was just beginning to bloom and there were a mix of buds and half opened blossoms, all carefully rendered by the artist's skilled hands. She was staring up wistfully, so it seemed, with her arms outstretched as if she were trying to embrace the intangible fragrance. The sepia tone lines were expertly drawn; the brush thickened and thinned in a single stroke. The colors of the face were realistically matched and looked more like a portrait photograph than the usual linear work characteristic of a scroll painting. But oddly, only the head was colored in. Her embroidered furisode kimono and the cherry blossoms remained a monotone brown.
'I see what he means about this woman coming to life. This painting does give you that vibrant feeling of activity. The lines have movement. Even the trunk of the tree and the branches feel like they're swaying. Spring, new life, a new beginning represented by the cherry blossoms. A young woman possibly thinking about her future. But that's all it is, just an expertly drawn painting. I don't sense any genjustu or ghostly presence. No signs of oufuda either. There just doesn't appear to be anything out of the ordinary.' Kakashi then exposed his sharingan, just in case he missed something.
The mysterious painting was one of many silk scrolls that hung in Shishido's study above low shelves of books on poetry, art history and painting techniques. But it was obviously the prize one and it greedily owned a wall to itself. The painting was drawn on a piece of silk about 2.5 feet wide by five feet high, quite large for a scroll painting. It appeared to be at half scale. The silk was held in place at each end by two dark reddish brown posts.
'Is that rosewood or cherrywood?' Kakashi wondered about the wooden posts, as he was not an arborist. He was not an artist either, but as they say, he knew what he liked (and what he liked was usually inappropriate to display in public).
His sharingan detected the fine lines of the individual brush hairs, the subtle changes in shading as color boundaries were crossed. And there was something else.a greenish glow pulsated around the head. Kakashi stepped in for a closer look.
The head suddenly jerked to look directly at Kakashi and the figure lurched out of the painting, with such ferocity that he had to step back and throw up his arms in defense. The colorized disembodied head flew at him and he felt a bone penetrating chill pass through his body. 'Is this genjutsu, ninjustu or a real ghost?' He looked back at the painting and it appeared as it was before, a seeming unfinished painting of a pretty young woman beneath a cherry tree.
"Did you see that?" Kakashi calmly asked his client.
"See what?" he responded, wondering whether the money he used to hire a shinobi was going to waste. This guy did not look very responsible. His lackadaisical attitude inspired no confidence. He did not see what Kakashi saw as his head was turned away at that moment. His attention was distracted by a shadow at the window. It was only a swallow, but his nerves were on edge.
Kakashi decided to re-pursue the origin of the scroll. "Did you paint this?" Kakashi asked knowing full well that he did not.
"I purchased it a couple of months ago from a street vendor," his client responded.
"Do you know where he got it? Or who's the artist? It's not stamped with the artist's seal like other professional paintings. I see no signature at all," frowned Kakashi suspiciously.
"I think the man was a wandering peddler, he's probably been all over," Shishido shrugged.
"Was the scroll sealed with wax or oufuda or in a special case?"
"Well.it did come with a paper sheath. It was pretty old and yellow. I just threw it out when I hung the painting. I didn't get a good look at it. It might have been an oufuda," the man said nervously. "Do you think this painting is cursed? If we just get another oufuda sheath, do you think it would work?"
"Why don't you just throw it out?"
"I.I.I.tried that," Shishido stammered and started to shake from fear, "but every morning it returned to that spot. I also tried burning it and cutting it, but nothing works. It's like it's indestructible. It comes back the next day. I can live with it, you know, even with the nightmares I'm having but.this is too much," he again pointed to his bruises.
"Have you tried staying awake to see what really happens?"
"Of course, but I've never been able to stay awake. In fact, I think I've been sleeping more than usual lately." The haggard man yawned as if to punctuate that statement.
Kakashi took out his kunai and sliced the painting horizontally across at the bottom, releasing it from the bottom post, and then at the top. The bottom post fell to the floor with a clatter while the top post remained suspended on the wall. He then cut the painting itself into pieces. He lit a match (he didn't want to remove his mask for a fire jutsu) that he retrieved from his back pouch and burned the silken swatches. The ashes were then scattered outside the window.
"We'll see what happens tonight," Kakashi announced with a confidence and nonchalance he did not feel. "Where is your staff?" He had almost forgotten to ask.
"Well. they all quit."
"Did they have the same experiences as you?"
"They had the nightmares, but they all left before.it manifested."
'It was just my imagination, mass hysteria brought on from fatigue, hunger and a convincingly brooding client,' Kakashi thought analytically.
The wall where the scroll was hung remained empty. Kakashi took out his book, Make Out Violence Volume 3, and settled down on the straw mat which the client had generously provided. The overhead lights had been left on. He had his dinner alone in the study, but without a staff, the fare was simple: pickled vegetables, nori, and sticky rice. The hours ticked away. Midnight came and went. Nothing. Nothing at all.
Kakashi yawned and stretched his arms and legs. The clock now read 3AM. He had read his book all the way through, twice. He was tired, bone weary tired after traveling to this out of the way estate on a silly wild goose chase. He was now quite sleepy. He had pulled all-nighters during other missions, but then he always felt a true sense of danger. Despite his previous experience just hours ago, Kakashi was lulled into a state of complacency. Bored, and trying to stay awake, Kakashi stood and walked up to the spot where the scroll had hung. He felt an impulse to reach out. He touched the spot gingerly with his fingertips.
He suddenly felt a shock to his system and a force grabbing his arm. He was paralyzed, not with fear, but by a great crushing presence. It was like a sucking vortex pulling at him, weighing him down, rooting him to the floor. His chakra was being drained.
The white and blue of his chakra was being pulled out like streaming entrails in all directions. He couldn't break away or yell for help. Not that he would, after all, he was the elite shinobi and there was no one else around except for his client, who for all intended purposes was quite useless.
There was a fluttering in the air and the ashes from the burnt scroll began to fly in from the mansion's invisible cracks, swirling together, aggregating then reconstituting. Within seconds the scroll was back as it was before, resurrected. But now the arms were being filled in. Pale pink flesh arms emerged from the colorless kimono, the arms that had been held out as if to catch falling petals brought down by a sudden breeze. Now the arms and head turned to him and reached out for him. The arms grew and emerged from the two dimensional plane to circled his head. The long elegant fingers entwined themselves into his gray-white hair. Kakashi felt himself being pulled headfirst into the scroll as his chakra was used to feed and resurrect the woman in the painting.
There was something familiar about her. He hadn't noticed it before, but now as the head was inches from his face he looked into the yellow eyes. Golden eyes like a cat's.no, not like a cat's, it was more like a snake's. Snake eyes with vertical slits. This woman gave him the same overwhelming, paralyzing feeling that he had during his encounter with Orochimaru months ago. But she was not Orochimaru. The black sheep sannin was somewhere in Sound Village recuperating from Sandaime's curse. Who was this woman?
The head smiled at him as if she read his thoughts. The lips parted, revealing a black void from whence issued a cold mirthless laugh Kukukukukukukukukukuku.
DeathIt was time for her to die.
Or rather it was time for him to live. She was his slave, body and soul.
No, not her soul. He could have her body, but not her soul, not all of it. Part of her soul she would seal with a jutsu even he could not perform.
She cut her left wrist with her kunai and let the blood drip into the sepia ink powder. After all, he was no artist. He could not perform jutsu that required accurately rendered drawings. She ground the powdered ink with the blood, turning the pigment a reddish brown, then added just enough water to thin it to the right consistency. She wet her brush with water and blotted it on a piece of scrap fabric, then dipped the tip lightly in the pot of ink. She held her right wrist bent at an angle, steady over the silk. The brush lightly traversed the surface.
She drew herself as she was now, before.before he could enter and taint her body. She gave the kimono extra attention, carefully adding in the embroidered flowers. She was wearing her formal ceremonial robes for this all important occasion.
The artist in her rebelled at the plain portrait so she added in the cherry tree and its blossoms that she saw just outside her window. Such beauty she would never see again. Her physical life would end in the next hour. Everything had been prepared. He promised her a final wish. Her last wish was to create this portrait of herself to be sealed away until a time came that she could return....
"I'm sorry Hatake-san, she was my only child. Her mother and I were shinobi from Hidden Stone Village. Her mother died when Haruko was still a child. I retired from the relentless violence, but I had nothing, could do nothing else. At heart I was nothing but a mediocre artist with desires beyond my means. Orochimaru was recruiting ten years ago. My daughter and I entered his service before we realized what kind of man he truly was. We wanted to leave but of course we couldn't. Then he made me a deal a few years ago and to my shame I agreed. Freedom and wealth in exchange for my daughter. She was a talented shinobi, smart, beautiful and powerful. I thought he wanted her as.a bride.I didn't realize.then it was too late. This was her last painting, of herself. I only recently figured out its secrets. Haruko had learned many things from Orochimaru.'She must have developed this technique based on Orichmaru's research,' Kakashi thought. He was still paralyzed and could not speak.
"I needed someone with a lot of chakra. My servants were sacrificed, but civilians just don't have enough chakra. I've given her some myself, but it's only been enough for her head to materialize. I needed a high level shinobi with a plentiful supply of chakra. A jounin fits the bill and Konoha's contracts are available at a bargain rate nowadays. I'm sorry it has to be you. But then again, I'm not too sorry. After all, you did kill many of my comrades during the last great war."
Shishido stepped closer to Kakashi and the spirit of his daughter in order to observe the resurrection progress. Her upper body now had color and substance. She was to return to him, finally after all these years. What luck to have gotten the Konoha copy-nin! He should have plenty of chakra, enough to bring her back in her complete physical form.
It took a while for him to understand the innate cleverness of this resurrection jutsu. As soon as he received the scroll, delivered by one of Orochimaru's henchman (the one with a gray ponytail), he knew she was dead, or rather Orochimaru had taken her body. In his grief, and guilt, he hid the scroll away for years.
Then just a few months ago, he had learned how Orochimaru tried to destroy Konoha, but was defeated by the Hokage who had sacrificed his own life. The news brought back the memories of his child and he took out the scroll again. He was able to bear the pain and guilt from looking at her visage, now after so many years. Haruko, named so because she was born in the spring. Cherry blossoms were her favorite flowers and she drew them incessantly, since she was able to wield a brush. He hung the scroll in his study, superior to anything he could draw. But then strange things started to happen.
The entire household fell into a languid state. His usually obedient and industrious servants became lazy, continually complaining of fatigue despite not performing their regular duties. He had felt it too, but dismissed it as a change in the seasons. But then one by one each servant fell ill. Once they took to their beds, they did not rise again. When he returned from his trip, he returned to a tomb.
All the while he was haunted by her in his dreams. He finally realized that the color appearing in the painting was connected to the mysterious illness. The painting was taking their life force, their chakra, and the only reason he hadn't succumbed was because he had been a shinobi with much more chakra than the average civilian. But what was going on? Why was the painting absorbing chakra and becoming color? What if she were fully colorized? What would happen next?
Orochimaru had finished developing his resurrection techniques. He and his daughter had assisted him and had been witnesses to the first body change. What if she had developed her own resurrection technique? The only way to find out was to feed her more chakra.
Just a little more.
"My daughter," Shishido whispered.
The half solid apparition suddenly turned to him who was her father in a former life. Her yellow eyes narrowed with recognition. She stepped out of the painting. Not quite solid yet, Shishido could still see through the lower part of the body. But she could now move freely.
.sealed away until a time came that she could return.......return to take her revenge.
She hurled herself at him, clutching him in a tight embrace.
But then her hands, which were not quite flesh yet, merged into his body. He felt ice cold knives penetrate his back - her fingers acted like miniature tubular vacuums sucking his chakra. Her father gasped from the bone chilling cold and the tight constriction in his chest.
"Haruko-chan, let me go. I brought you another source of chakra. Use him, then return to me in flesh and blood," he managed to say while his life force was being absorbed.
She laughed again, 'Kukukukukukukukukukuku,' an echoing laugh of hollow satisfaction.
"You.you were the one who betrayed me. You left me, cast me off, sold me." The words were devoid of emotion, delivered in a cold whisper. Her embrace grew tighter and he started to scream as he realized the scroll's true intent - revenge not resurrection.
Released from the spirit's embrace, Kakashi fell to his knees, gasping for breath. He was tempted to pull down his mask but he knew it was not a lack of air in his lungs that affected him - it was the chilling effects of the chakra drain. As he calmed himself from the terrifying experience, he heard the blood curdling scream.
'Damn it, despite that bastard's betrayal, I have to help him,' Kakashi thought desperately. 'A jutsu based on drawings. There must be something special about that scroll, not just the accurate rendering. Scroll based jutsus are normally activated by chakra or blood or a combination of both. The original lines were in brown ink, unusual since black's common and preferred, unless it was used to mask the presence of blood. A portrait drawn with blood would have powerful properties. And it was able to reconstruct itself after burning. Even with blood, if the scroll's destroyed so is the jutsu. So how.'
Kakashi could now move, albeit stiffly and slowly. He was low on chakra and how would one defeat something with no true substance but formed from evil intent? He looked over at the scroll painting where only the tree remained. 'The scroll.I destroyed the silk, but not the posts. Is there something special about them?'
He reached out and ripped the scroll from the wall. He grabbed the top post and snapped it in half, releasing the silk. He saw an inscription written in blood. Then he grabbed the bottom post and broke it as well. There they were, the words of the spell and the artist's seal at the very top and bottom edges of the silk.
The room had become deathly quiet. Kakashi quickly looked over at his client. Despite the chill in the room, smoke was rising from his orifices as if his internal organs had been cooked by the extraction of chakra. Pools of liquid fat ran down to the ground. The skin was burned taut. The face, or rather what remained of it, was frozen in a silent scream.
Then she turned to him. No longer transparent. But not human, not yet, not ever. It was just a shell to house her hatred. All he could see of her face were her yellow eyes and bloody lips. Even those were obscured by the long black hair flowing around her and over her face. She moved toward him in jerky marionette-like movements, as if her limbs were stiff from disuse. Her fine kimono in a rainbow of colors and its elaborately tied obi trailed after her.
Kakashi realized he had to act fast. There were no witnesses around, so he quickly pulled down his mask and released a fireball, using the last of his chakra to engulf the scroll and the wooden posts in flames.
The fire also enveloped the resurrected woman. Yet the heat did not seem to bother her, or deter her, as she continued to advance.
There was nowhere to run. Kakashi had his back against the wall and he was out of chakra. 'Could this be it? After all these years, am I to be brought down by a ghost? I've killed so many and not one of them has haunted me. They were mostly nameless, faceless enemies. How ironic that I am not responsible for this one...'
But the wooden posts and the silk were soon reduced to ashes. As the ashes flew apart, the figure also dispersed into nothingness. This time the scroll would not be able to resurrect itself or her. The power of the inscriptions was gone.
"So was it a ghost after all?" asked Hokage Tsunade curiously.
Kakashi shrugged, "Not exactly. It was more like a resurrection jutsu gone wrong."
"Same difference," muttered Tsunade, who was now distracted and disturbed by the thought that they would not be able to collect what was owed for this mission. 'Damn it, liens against estates take forever to resolve.'
"Not really. Ghosts are supposed to be the spirits of those who cannot reconcile their deaths. They either don't know they're dead or they choose to be earthbound because of some wrong they need to address. A resurrection is pre-planned, either by the person in advance, or by a loved one, or by someone else with less than good intentions. Here's my full report." He handed her a folder.
Tsunade yawned at the lesson on the preternatural. She took his report in one hand while refilling her sake cup with the other.
"There's no such thing as ghosts," Kakashi insisted before he left.
'If there were truly ghosts in this world, I should be haunted for all my past sins. Wouldn't I deserve it as much as anyone else?' Kakashi thought of how so many lives were wasted each day. 'Such a pity that Shishido Haruko was a shinobi, she could have been a great artist who could have lived out her life producing masterpieces, bringing beauty to others instead of death. To have the springtime of her youth so abruptly cut short and taken over by the likes of Orochimaru, it's just too sad.'
Kakashi sighed as he headed home to his empty apartment - with narely a ghost for company.
.The End.or is it?
There is no information on the woman whose face was shown to Sandaime, so all name and circumstances pertaining to her are original and not part of the Naruto canon.
Haruko = spring child (first name)
Mamoru = earth (first name)
Shishido = flesh (last name)
Furisode = ceremonial kimono for unmarried women
Obi = long sash for a kimono, normally tied in elaborate ways
I could have used "sakura" in place of cherry blossoms, but I also wanted to write about the tree and it's branches, which are not called sakura, and I did not want to mix languages or terminology.