Shikamaru Nara, a 13 year old boy was lounging around at his desk at the Ninja Academy.
"Okay everybody, listen up." Their teacher, Iruka addressed the class. "We have a new student in our class as of now, so I want you to be supportive and show her around." He nodded to a girl at the door who then walked towards Iruka. She had pale skin and pale gold eyes. She had silver hair pulled into a simple, loose braid and her height and body type were average. She was slightly on the skinny side, though. She wore a simple black hoodie jacket and black leggings. Shikamaru stared. The only word for her was beautiful. Even Sasuke was interested. "Could you introduce yourself, please?" Iruka asked the girl.
"Hi, my name's Maria," the girl said, smiling. She had a kind, mellow voice. "Pleasure to meet you all."
"Thank you," Iruka said. "There's a spare seat next to Shikamaru, there." He pointed and Maria walked over and sat beside Shikamaru.
"Hey," she said to him.
"Hi," Shikamaru said. "I'm Shikamaru Nara."
"Pleasure," Maria smiled at him.
"Okay, Maria," Iruka said, "We've been working on chakra control. Do you know what that is?" Maria nodded. "Good. Okay everyone, let's go outside and run over what we've been doing." He lead the way outside and all the students followed him.
Shikamaru stood up, sighed and followed suit. Maria walked behind him. He looked around and regarded her. She was spinning a ring in her fingers. It looked like it was made of tree leaves and horse hair. She looked up from what she was doing and saw Shikamaru looking at her. He flushed slightly and looked away. He risked a glance back and saw that she was smiling.
What a drag, he thought to himself.
"See you later, Shikamaru!"
"Yeah, see you." Shikamaru began walking towards his house. He was crossing a bridge over the busy village roads below when he saw her. Maria. She was walking along and he could hear her humming a song that he didn't know. He allowed himself a small smile. Then he noticed where she was going. She was walking out of the village. Shikamaru decided to follow her. Reaching the edge of the village, she glanced behind her and began running. Shikamaru ran after her.
Soon she reached a cliff and stopped. She put two fingers in her mouth and whistled. Loud and sharp. Then she jumped. Shikamaru cried out. There was only rocky ground below; she would kill herself! Then he sighed in relief as she landed on a rock, unharmed. Then there was a sound and a huge four-legged creature came up to Maria. Maria easily climbed onto the chestnut stallion and he reared up and jumped. He jumped right over the river that was below and took off. The stallion was going so fast he was almost out of sight when Shikamaru began following them. Maria was laughing with joy, clutching onto the stallion's mane and leaning forward onto his neck. Then the roaring stallion slowed to a halt and Maria was rubbing it's neck and shushing him. She brought her legs up and stood on his back. She reached behind her and pulled out something from her bag. In a flash, it was out and flying straight to where Shikamaru was hiding in a bush.
Shikamaru jumped out of the way just as the kunai stuck into the ground. Maria was horrified. Shikamaru pulled the kunai out of the ground and walked over to the horse. The gleaming chestnut turned and snorted, baring his teeth at the boy. Maria hadn't lost her balance at all, in fact it was like she barely noticed him turning. She jumped off his back and stood between him and Shikamaru.
"Easy, Yarraman." She murmured, rubbing his muzzle. "He's a friend, it's alright." The horse, Yarraman," snorted again but retreated, nodding his head to Shikamaru. Maria turned to him as he held out the kunai. She took it. "What are you doing here, Shikamaru?" she asked.
"I followed you from the village." he replied, scratching the back of his neck. "You looked like you didn't want anyone following you."
"Which probably meant that I didn't, you idiot." Maria shot. "It's not safe around here."
"Really?" Shikamaru raised his eyebrows. "Then why do you live here?"
"I've always lived here." she looked at Yarraman, who had nudged her shoulder. "What is it?" Yarraman nickered, moving his head behind him. "Yes, alright. I'm coming." She looked back at Shikamaru. "Now that you're here, you may as well come along." She said. "Hop on."
Shikamaru blinked. "Excuse me?"
"You heard." Maria beckoned him, and he approached slowly. "Ever ridden before?"
"Uh," Shikamaru couldn't continue. The mere sight of Yarraman and his huge, powerful figure gave him doubts.
"I'll take that as a no." Maria nodded to the horse, who blinked and lay down. "Yarraman won't hurt you unless you hurt me. We're good like that." She grabbed Shikamaru's arm and, ignoring his protests, put him towards the back of Yarraman. Then she got on herself, sitting just in front of him. "Hold onto my waist." She told him.
"What?" he said.
"Just do it," she replied. "Unless you want to fall of. It hurts, believe me." Yarraman shot out his forelegs and pushed himself up. Maria took hold of his main and patted his neck. "Ready?" She asked the horse. He reared up and Shikamaru grabbed Maria's waist just as the beast took off so fast he nearly came off. Maria laughed at his shock.
The trio went flying across the rocky hills. Jumping over logs and weaving in and out of trees they went, Yarraman screaming, Maria laughing and Shikamaru frozen in terror.
Soon enough they slowed to a stop in a small clearing. There was a wooden hut in the middle of the clearing, and you could hear birds chirping and a stream a little while away.
"Well done, Yarraman," Maria played with the stallion's mane and he whinnied in triumph. Maria removed Shikamaru's arms from around her and he slid off. She swung her leg over his neck and sat facing Shikamaru. "Welcome to my humble home." She said, sliding off Yarraman's back. The horse nuzzled her shoulder and trotted off behind the hut. "Want to come in?" She smiled and led the way into her house.
Pushing aside a length of thick material, she revealed a room which housed wooden furniture and a fireplace with a huge pot hanging over it. There was a little whinny from the back of the room.
"Bess? Is that you?" She made her way towards the sound. A tiny foal jumped up and walked over to her with shaking legs. "How are you doing?" she murmured to her. Bess nipped Maria's shirt playfully. Maria smiled and gave the foal an apple from her bag. Leaving the foal to it's snack she stood up and faced Shikamaru, who was staring at her. "This is it. It's not much, mind you."
"A one-room house?" Shikamaru asked, looking around.
"Butt out." Maria said sarcastically.
"Where do you get the names for your horses?" he asked.
Maria smiled and took some books off a table near her. She held them up. The Silver Brumby, Wild Echoes Ringing and Man from Snowy River. "I get them from here. I name them according to their looks. Or the closest one."
"I see." Shikamaru looked at the foal munching away at the apple. "So, where are your parents?" Maria was silent. She sat down again and rubbed the foal's back, who nickered kindly.
"They're dead." She muttered sadly. "When I was born. Apparently some ninja from the Hidden Stone attacked us here. Mama and Papa died protecting me. After living by myself out here alone, I decided to become a ninja myself. So I could protect the people I care about. So I can honour the memories of my parents."
Shikamaru was silent. He didn't know what to say to the poor girl. She had lost both her parents, was looking after herself like this and was training to become a ninja. She had gone through so many hardships and Shikamaru... hadn't gone through any of that.
"I'm sorry for you." He said at last. "I don't know what else to say."
"It's okay." Maria's voice was suddenly strong and proud. "You have nothing to say. I have my friends with me. That's all I need."
Shikamaru smiled. He smiled at how strong she was emotionally, and at how she had managed to do all this by herself for this long. "I'll be here for you," he told her, which got him a skeptical glance. "It'll be a drag, but I'll be here."
"When those ninja come back for me, you'll wish you hadn't said that." she warned.
"I'll take my chances."
Maria grinned. "Thank you!" Looking away, she noticed the sun's position. "You should go. It's getting late." She stood up and Bess followed suit. She swallowed the last bit of apple and poked her nose in Maria's bag, looking for more. Maria poked the foal on the nose. "No you don't, little miss." She led the way out again and made that piercing whistle. Yarraman walked up and lay down again. The pair got on his back and they took off again.
Once they reached the cliff they climbed off the horse and jumped up onto the little ledge. Maria took a rope from her bag, which was tied to a hook. She threw it up the cliff side and it caught. She pulled it to make sure it was secure and handed it to Shikamaru.
"See you tomorrow," she said.
"See you," Shikamaru climbed up the cliff and rolled onto the top. He unhooked the rope and threw it down to Maria, who stowed it in her bag. With one final smile, she jumped down and was gone, reappearing on Yarraman's back, galloping off.
"Where were you?" Shikamaru's mother asked accusingly when he finally reached home. "I was worried sick."
"I was with a friend," Shikamaru sighed. "Get off my case."
"Are you going with this friend again tomorrow?"
"Alright, just tell me when you decide to take off."
Shikamaru sighed again and wandered into his room. He flopped down on his bed and stared at the ceiling. He had only known the new girl for one day and already... he didn't know. That was a thought he couldn't finish. The girl with silver hair and golden eyes was amazing in her own way.
And, still thinking that, he fell asleep.
"Has anyone seen Maria?" Iruka asked the class that morning. Everybody shook their heads and mumbled no.
"Who's Maria?" Choji Akimichi whispered to Shikamaru.
"A new girl in our class." Shikamaru whispered back. "Started yesterday. Nobody's seen her since end of school yesterday." That was a lie. Shikamaru had seen the girl yesterday, but he didn't tell him that. "She just disappeared and hasn't shown up today."
"I wonder what's going on." Choji muttered to himself.
"Yeah," Shikamaru was worried.
"Some ninja from the Hidden Stone attacked us."... "When those ninja come back for me..."...
He couldn't stop repeating those words in his head, the words she had spoken about the attack that killed her parents. He looked out one of the windows, which overlooked the hills where Maria lived. It was peaceful, so maybe she was just sick today, but he couldn't shake the bad feeling he had.
Shikamaru left Choji at his house after school and walked in the direction of Maria's house. He remembered the route perfectly, and had reached the cliff in no time. He jumped over onto the ledge and then down onto the ground. Seeing as he couldn't whistle like Maria could, he'd just have to walk.
Then there was an explosion.
Smoke filled the air around the area where Maria's house was built. Shikamaru froze for a second, and the next he was running as fast as he could towards the smoke. There were yells carried across the wind and a ringing neigh. Thundering of hooves came towards Shikamaru and he hid in a nearby bush, just in case. Yarraman came into view and Shikamaru emerged from the bush. The horse tugged at his shirt sleeve and pulled him toward a log. Shikamaru stood on the log and swung himself onto Yarraman's back. He leaned forward and held onto his mane as Maria had and the mighty horse shot off like a rocket.
"Please be okay, Maria," Shikamaru muttered to himself. "Please be okay."
Faster than the day before they had reached the hut, which was on fire. It was endlessly burning and it hurt to get close. But Shikamaru launched himself off Yarraman and, taking a deep breath, plunged himself into the burning hut.
"Maria?" He shouted over the roar of the flames. "Maria!"