The Tale of the Gallant Dandelion

The Tale of the Gallant Dandelion is my attempted reworking and indeed completion of the incomplete Japanese folktale "Jiraiya Gōketsu Monogatari". Many people are familiar with some of the titular characters in that folktale due to the Naruto and Naruto Shipuuden Manga and Anime, where Jiraiya, Orochimaru and Tsunade each featured very prominently in the story. However, this is a different world and the main character is a girl called Senpai and through this story there will finally be an ending to that Japanese folktale.

Let us begin. Enter the Senpai!


1. Enter the Senpai!

It was a moist, humid and decidedly debauched night in a bathhouse in the Land of Mist when Senpai’s mother conceived her. The union between her parents was not one built upon years of love and companionship, but more, a chance meeting of two like-minded and perverse people that was embellished by the raw and hot fury of pure anonymity.

That weekend of blinding passion developed into a torrid pregnancy. Senpai’s mother worked extra hours and saw more customers; sacrificing holy days, she slogged through gruesome graveyard shifts. Supported later – when her condition was not so easily concealed – by the grace, kindness and charity of others. Senpai’s mother delivered her upon a marble stone floor of a bathhouse, north of the Land of Fire. Of course she hadn’t named her child Senpai; however it was the only name that came to matter in the scope of the girl’s life that is now the traffic of our stage.

Senpai was a wiry, long-limbed, blue-eyed child, whom at birth “weighed little more than a sake flask”, her mother recounted in later years. Even in those first moments of life, her head was already shrouded in a short white crop of hair, a spectacle that interested and attracted people. Soon, her father was little more than a distant blip on the time-line of her mother’s promiscuity. The pair moved regularly as her mother pursued any employment opportunities in the towns and hot springs along the eastern seaboard. They lived their lives in days and weeks and not by the years and decades that governed the lives of the permanent residents of these places.

The early years were the happiest of Senpai’s entire life as there were many things that needed to be discovered: smiling, laughing, crying, craving sustenance and receiving milk, sleeping, excreting, bathing, feeling poorly, discerning faces, recognizing patterns and experimenting with sound, teething, more excreting, putting everything in your mouth, rolling, crawling, walking and falling, a birthday, being reprimanded, being rewarded, playing with food, pulling hair, sticking fingers in orifices, forming a word, saying the word “no”, saying the word “yes”, learning the difference between the two and having epic tantrums. Her mother remarked later that whilst they travelled the road of life together it seemed arduous and long, but in hindsight Senpai had grown from infant to child with relative ease.

Apart from her outlandish hair and eyes, which still attracted harmless attention, Senpai soon resembled her mother in her appearance. Her mother would not be classified as an attractive woman; not beautiful enough in proportions to be considered a geisha but not so unappealing to be without recompense for her services, and Senpai inherited those same hardened features over those first few developmental years. Her cheeks were unusually narrowed and undefined, possibly overshadowed by a decidedly wider and stouter nose than what constituted a pretty face by the social normality’s of the time period. Her large forehead and button ears were never uncovered by many, lost beneath an ever expanding mass of wild white hair that exploded outward by the day; gifting her head the remarkable appearance of a dandelion.

By the time Senpai reached seven, her mother had secured full time tuition for Senpai in the Land of Whirlpools, through some undisclosed means. Her mother had repeatedly drilled into Senpai that she desired a better life for her daughter and such training would undoubtedly offer her a more lucrative life path, possibly as a secretary or guardian to some high-ranking official.  In actuality it was the beginning of a transition for the girl from a care-free spirit into a brazen and volatile young tom-boy. Markedly smarter than her peers in those opening months of tutelage – having talked primarily with the adults of her mother’s workplaces up until this point – this only highlighted her presence to them and Senpai was bombarded by the full and unfettered spitefulness of youth. She learned names that the townsfolk reserved for “her kind”, and her mother refused all her advances to better understand the meaning behind words, such as “traveler” and “gypsy”. The evolution of Senpai into an inquisitive mind soon impacted upon her mother who was terrified of losing the sort of blind reverence any young and innocent child afforded their parent.

And then one day the subject of her hair came into question.

“You there … Senpai!” shouted Takanashi Mura, a young and attractive boy from an excellent family. If Senpai closed her eyes from that day until her last, one of the images that flashed soonest into her mind would be Takanashi, his clean and kempt finger outstretched from his fine linens, stood at the helm of a throng of children, whose laughter, sharpened by the wide smiles, gutted her with ease for the rest of her life. It was not her birth name or a name at all, although upon becoming alone in the world, she only one other time resorted to uttering her original name. That real person died that day in the playground, she had reasoned with herself and every day of school after that, little by little with every use of that slur and insult in her direction.

Therein was the irony because in actual fact “Senpai” was an honorific term that was used as an essential element of their seniority-based culture throughout the lands, similar and aligned with how family and others are decided based on age, with even twins being divided into elder and younger sibling. Senpai was the term given to something of a mentor, paralleled by “kōhai” which was a rough equivalent of a protégé. Although the relationship of these terms was never as clearly defined as that, the nature of the word Senpai was usually associated with an elder as opposed to a junior and that usually meant that the person being allocated the name of Senpai was of a wiser and older disposition.

It was possible, Senpai discovered many years later for a younger person to be considered the Senpai of an elder person if circumstances dictated it— such as the elder entering an organization or institution at a later time than the younger member, therein being less advanced. But Senpai was not stupid and Takanashi Mura’s finger wavered little; steadfastly pointed at her bristle-like white hair that the children supposed on a whim that day reminded them of the hair of an elderly person. Senpai struggled to remain focused in her lessons after the nickname landed. Within the space of a month, she had morphed from a relatively mild mannered yet rambunctious child into an individual who struck numerous boys for what her tutors deemed relatively little provocation. Many of those boys were from affluent families; whose actual monetary payments far outweighed both her considered potential as a shinobi and the worth of her mother’s services.

Senpai was rejected from further schooling but instead enjoyed the village and her own company greatly. There were many gardens and streets and alleys and shops and playgrounds that were granted almost exclusively to her for large parts of the day. But at home—her mother’s workplace—she was no longer an inconspicuous mass concealable within a shroud of blankets; her presence a much more noticeable deterrent to any custom.

Six months later and the last of the vast calendar of events that had encouraged their relocation to the Land of Whirlpools — ranging from ninjutsu competitions to governmental summits— had been exhausted. The majority of the transient trade that visited this country returned home and in their absence, a mass-migration commenced. The bulk of her mother’s colleagues opted to head east for the Land of Tea so they were established there ahead of the next national games two years later. Senpai’s mother however had latched onto yet another regular gentleman at the bathhouses and although they seemed happy, Senpai knew almost from the offset that he was a nincompoop, but years passed before her mother learned that truth. The man insisted and so Senpai’s mother insisted and so they travelled west with this character to the Land of Water, which allegedly offered better long term prospects and opportunities.

The journey to Water-land by riverboat was long and arduous and when they arrived at their new home, Senpai was somewhat perplexed as to why a place almost entirely void of its namesake substance, would ever be named the Land of Water if not merely to further torture the residents there. They arrived on the tail-end of a drought and her mother’s gaze momentarily reciprocated her concerns. However the rivers and waters soon returned and they experienced the place in its most water-rich and flooded state for a further eight months of that year.

Senpai was unsure after her first day of new schooling whether the children from the Whirlpools had sent her nickname on to this place by way of some super accurate carrier-falcon; or whether these children shared with those other children some strange collective consciousness, or whether she actually looked like an old person, either wholly, or in part enough for the collective consciousness to have rejected her. The moniker of “Senpai” became the standard directive blurted in her direction once more and with the added threat of a thrashing from her mother should she be rejected again, Senpai regressed to being a truly lonesome individual.

Senpai withdrew from her peers and the classroom environments and instead channeled her energies into learning ninjutsu. The school was sufficiently equipped with an adequate instructor that started within Senpai a physical transformation. Her body responded aptly to the demands of training and her grades skyrocketed in the practical aspects, only for it to be dragged down as she suffered in the written work. Surrounded by a class of tormentors she felt unable to question the many things that seemingly resonated first time for the other children but left her cold and confused.     

Senpai reached twelve years of age in the Land of Water and was quickly becoming a little woman; however her mother aged horribly in the five years since they relocated there. Her hair developed a silvery sheen and her health declined as she became less active. There wasn’t very much for an adult to do in this place and so they drank and gambled and frolicked with one another. When the man who had delivered them to this place left them there and departed with a caravan that moved through on route back to the mainland, Senpai noted that her mother changed more dramatically than she had anticipated in her solitude. Although they had never possessed a conventional relationship with one another, or experienced many of the things that other families took for granted, their resolve was usually always strengthened by being with one another. But the changes that Senpai noted in her mother this time inspired a worry in the girl that she struggled to alleviate; a concern that if her mother continued in her current fashion she might one day not be there and then it would be her turn to feel the pangs of real loneliness.

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