Konoha's Guardians : Book II :

By Silver Dragonfly

Chapter 6 : breathing

Naruto cursed under his breath as he dodged one of the snakes that Orochimaru had summoned in response to his use of the Kitsune clan summoning. Dodging once more, he braced himself while standing on a thick branch some thirty feet from the ground and turned to face the large snake as it curled around another tree and poised itself to strike.

"Come on scale-face! You want me, then come and get me!" Naruto shouted, baiting the large reptile.

The snake's gold eyes gleamed as its' tongue flickered out, tasting the air and the tension that filled the forest. Then it attacked. Naruto smirked as his hands armed with kunai moved to intercept the long fangs coming his way. Then there was a shrieked hiss as the snake suddenly pulled short, thrashed once, twice, and then collapsed. Naruto grinned at the larger-than average fox standing over the mangled neck of the snake. "Good job Zurui!"

"Not good enough brat!" Orochimaru snarled as he launched himself forward at the blonde teenager, blasting the fox aside as he passed.

Naruto grunted as he was forced to counter the snake sword with nothing more then the kunai in his hands. A flurry of attacks and block followed, metal clashing against metal as Naruto barely managed to block the fierce and furious attacks.

Orochimaru's eyes glinted in a nearly euphoric fashion as he came closer and closer to striking his target, pushing the boy further and further back towards the trunk of the tree. In a sudden shift of movement the snake closed in and pinned Naruto to the tree. Orochimaru stepped back a pace, his thin lips curled in a smirk, his tongue slipping out to taste the air between them like a snake before retreating back into his mouth. "And so the Fox will die by the Snake's hand. I will finally have my revenge against Konoha's so called blue-eyed hero...Jiraiya's prodigy student, Sarutobi's precious Yondaime—I give the old man credit though. Hiding your identity from me for so long... but then if he hadn't I would have killed you years ago and gladly set the Kyuubi free to rampage once more."

Naruto smirked, "You have no idea what you're talking about Snake-Freak."

Orochimaru's lips twisted into a cruel smile, "On the country fox brat. I think I do. Fifteen years ago I had my chance at revenge against Konoha's precious Yondaime Hokage, a position that should have been mine. However my plans were thwarted by that damn fox demon as it caused 'him' to pull a noble hero act to 'save the village'." Orochimaru sneered, "So instead I took my anger out on some of his precious favorites, using them in my experiments and focusing on developing ways to get back at the old man for choosing the blonde upstart instead of me...I wonder if Kakashi-kun ever did recover from the sight of what I had used his precious teammates for." The Snake's sneer turned upward in a smirk, "And then to think... all this time the perfect vessel to take out my revenge upon has been just waiting for me to find..."

"My Father didn't leave anything for you!" Naruto growled as he dropped down from above, his fist flaming with blue chakra, the Naruto pinned to the tree vanishing in a small poof.

"And so the runt admits his secret heritage—tell me, do you think wearing your father's old battle cloak will really make a difference? Perhaps I should remove it from you and rip it to shreds before your very eyes while snakes feed on your skin, filling you with their poison and softening your flesh for consumption..." Orochimaru laughed as he parried the boy's furious attacks, inwardly amused at the sudden strength in them. He cursed as sharp teeth sunk into his shoulder and with the flexibility and strength of a giant snake he bashed the kitsune's head, forcing its teeth loose from his skin. His amber eyes sparked as snakes flew out from around his hand and wound tightly around the fallen fox before it could get up, binding its legs together and its muzzle shut. "I hate kitsunes..."

"Then leave Zurui alone!" Naruto hollered as he charged forward and knocked Orochimaru aside, launch a barrage of shuriken that quickly found targets in the snakes holding down Zurui.

"That's the end of you Brat!" Orochimaru snarled as a second and a third wave of snakes launched forward from him and quickly set fang into Naruto's skin wherever it was bare and their rope like bodies wrapping tightly around him.

"Damn it!" Naruto cursed as poison began to flow into his blood stream and slow his movements. 'Kyuubi!'

"I'm on it kid! The poison's overwhelming your healing abilities... we can't do much more then slow it down. You have to get rid of the snakes!"

'I'm working on it!' Naruto bit back as he yanked a snake away from him before it could latch onto his neck.

Orochimaru's laugh echoed around the trees as he watched Naruto struggle against the ever growing swarm of snakes.

Higher up the trees steel gray eyes watched the events with a smirk. 'Things are going well...'

Hinata paused as she reached a battered section of forest, where trees were cracked, toppled, or showing other signs of damage. Her eyes widened as she spotted a bright spot of orange fur sticking out from under one large branch that had crashed to the ground. She quickly rushed to the pinned animal's side. Hinata bit her lip tightly upon seeing the puddle of blood and broken neck of the fox on the other side of the branch. She also noted the large mangled snake just a scant foot away. It was too late for this one, but she quickly scanned the forest trying to spot a trail that she could follow that would lead her to where the battle still raged.

"Hinata! Look out!" Kilin warned as a soft hiss filled the air around them.

Hinata whirled, her pale eyes widening at the sight of the huge cobra snake that was arched up over her, its hood flared fully and its hypnotic gaze and movements freezing her to the spot.

There was an equine scream and Hinata felt a surge of protective anger and then a sleek form leaped over her and hit the snake with four sharp hooves and an iridescent pearl horn. In moments the scuffle was over and Hinata found herself staring at what for the most part appeared to be a dappled gray horse... but then she noticed the cloven hoofs and tufts of softer hair above each heal, but the biggest difference was in the delicately shaped head that bore a spiral horn arching up from its forehead between two intelligent looking dark gray eyes. As she slowly snapped out of her surprise she felt a questioning worry reach out for her.

"Hinata, this is Kurorin, she has come in response to your call."

Before girl or unicorn could reply insane laughter reached their ears as it echoed through the forest. "Naruto!" Hinata cried and then dashed towards the edge of the battle-created clearing only to be blocked by the body of the unicorn as she reached its edge. "Get out the way! I have to go!"

The unicorn only stared at her and Hinata felt a wave of urgency and a desire to help wash through her. "She says to climb on. She can get you there faster!"

Hinata paused for only an instant before she nimbly climbed onto the sleek back; she had barely settled herself before they were off—Kurorin moving like a deer through the trees.

Orochimaru's eyes glimmered as he studied the twitching form of Naruto, the teenage shinobi still struggling to try and rid himself of the snakes that constantly swarmed around him and under his clothing, every few seconds bringing a new bite and more poison to his blood system. "Interesting... the amount of poison in your bloodstream should be lethal by this point, but then I should expect nothing less from the vessel of Kyuubi."

A whimper drew his attention away from the boy and his tongue stretched out licking his lips as he took in the sight of the now normal sized fox pinned to a tree with several shuriken through its fur and a kunai through its' haunch and shoulder. "Ah you'll have to wait until I have the time to skin you properly... after all I mustn't give the Yondaime's precious heir a chance to recover..." As he spoke, he turned his focus back to the boy.

Naruto glared at Orochimaru furiously, his blue eyes intense, his pupils slit.

"Perhaps I'll remove your eyes first... those same blue eyes...the eyes that always looked so trusting... so infuriatingly innocent, self-assured... and TRUSTING!!" Orochimaru's voice rose into a furious snarl and his hand, armed with a senbon, moved towards Naruto's face.


The shout came only an instant before pain blossomed through Orochimaru and he glanced down to see something sharp, long, and iridescent run through his side. His amber gaze traveled up the object to the animal's head it was attached to. Then he was leaping backwards before the animal could viciously run him through again.

Kurorin paid Hinata no mind as she slipped off her back and quickly moved to help Naruto; the unicorn's own focus on Orochimaru. She was Determined to run him through with her horn yet again and keep him from harming Hinata and the boy she now helped.

Orochimaru struggled to quickly deal with the wound and yet at the same time keep the creature from causing further damage... a task that was proving more difficult than could be imagined considering the creatures size and build... no horse could move like a mountain goat and yet like a deer at the same time.

Meanwhile Hinata quickly sliced away the snakes that were coiling around Naruto's body, and then immediately began a healing jutsu that would neutralize the vast amounts of poison in his blood stream. Once he was clear of the reptiles, she moved to help him sit up, "Naruto-kun are you all right?"

Naruto coughed and nodded as he reached up to massage his throat were a snake had wound a bit too tightly. "Help Zurui," he told her, his voice rough as he slowly pulled himself up into a crouch and then raised one hand to his mouth, biting the edge of his thumb.

Hinata nodded, knowing what he was going to do and quickly looked around, her eyes widening slightly at the position Zurui was in. She quickly moved from branch to branch until she was at the pinned kitsune's side—hearing Naruto's voice announcing his summoning behind her.

In a flash of displaced air and jutsu haze the toad boss, Gamabunta, appeared.

Above, steel gray eyes narrowed. This was not a good development.

Orochimaru snarled at the large toad as he dodged yet another charge made by the unicorn while and simultaneously marking the summoning tattoo on his arm with his own blood—a second woosh of quickly moving air and jutsu haze and the massive snake known as Manda appeared and met the gaze of Gamabunta.

For a moment—everything froze. Manda remained still, saying nothing, his tongue flickering out to taste the air. Then the huge snake's eyes glowed with malice... "Orochimaru—How dare you summon me after what you've done!"

"Shut up and just Get rid of that Toad—but leave the boy. He's mine!"

Manda hissed, but remained motionless for a moment longer as his eyes took in the sight of Naruto atop Gamabunta's head, noting as the girl carrying a wounded fox and followed by a unicorn appeared beside him. The snake's tongue flickered as he recognized the two teenagers for what they were.

"You are a fool Orochimaru," and that was the only warning the snake gave as his tail moved with no warning knocking the sanin from his head.

Orochimaru cursed as he quickly moved to change his trajectory... but it was too late. Manda's jaws snapped shut around the snake-like man.

Naruto stared in shock.

Gamabunta grunted.

Hinata said nothing, too busy working on healing Zurui to pay the event much notice.

Manda's tongue flickered as he settled himself, looking content. His amber eyes once more settled on the giant toad and those on his head. "Guardians...I want no dealings with you." And then the snake was gone.

"Is this all you summoned me for kid?" Gamabunta grumbled having done nothing but sit where he appeared.

Naruto scratched the back of his head, "Well..."

"Naruto! There is a key nearby!" Kyuubi warned and Naruto tensed immediately, his eyes scanning the surrounding trees. A shift of shadow amongst the higher branches caught his eye.

A cloaked figure stepped out to the edge of the open space created by the summoning of Manda, and dropped his hood.

"Kabuto!" Naruto growled.

The man only glared. "You Guardians may have won this little battle...but you won't survive so easily again." And then he was gone.

Naruto clenched his fist.

Gamabunta sighed, "Well kid, I'm heading home." With those words, the toad boss vanished leaving those who had been on his head to manage their own landings.

"Now, you were saying about a change in missions?" Neji asked, trying to guide the conversation to where he wanted it to go—something that had completely failed to happen as of yet. The fact that Sakura was happily chatting to Sasuke about his new lizard companion while simultaneously pampering his own tiger companion who now laid against her side purring loudly as the girl pet, scratched, and stroked her head. He refused to admit that having the large cat, who seemed to enjoy using him as her personal play toy was now cuddling up to the girl as if she was her best friend annoyed him. Rather her than me... He grumbled to himself. Lee had been no help either, though he blatantly stated that he knew what the changes were... but that it was Sakura-chan's job to tell them. He'd volunteered to go buy supplies and as of yet, hadn't returned.

"I wasn't saying, but since you seem so insistent Neji-kun."

Neji frowned.

"Its like this, you see Tsunade-sama received an interesting letter from Sunagakure shortly after you two, Naruto, and Hinata had left."

Sasuke's eyebrows arched up, "Are those three siblings up to something again?"

"You could say that. They authorized a diplomatic meeting, wanting to tighten the alliance with Konoha... but here's the real surprise of the message. The exact wording was for a 'Guardian delegation'. Capital G, so my cover mission changed. Now while initially I was suppose to team up with Sasuke when we got here... Tsunade-sama decided that because of his history with Gaara, that it wouldn't be wise, (and the) same thing with Lee-kun."

Neji's eyes narrowed.

"So she's reassigned Sasuke-kun to go with Lee-kun on from here to Hidden Grass and Waterfall while Neji-kun comes with me to Suna. Nothing too major really."

"I don't like it... Gaara was unstable and deadly three years ago; I doubt that's changed since then," Sasuke stated.

"That's why I have to go, and why you and Lee-kun can't. There was something about the whole thing that just pulled at me... and not because I'm a shinobi, but because I'm bound with Hitori and she agrees. Besides it's not like I'm going alone; Neji will be there."

"As will I," Oniyuri added from where she lay with her head now in Sakura's lap; her expression one of complete contentment.

Neji sighed loudly, "As if we really have a choice."

Sakura smiled brightly, "Oh good. I'm glad you're not being difficult... I didn't want to have to use Tsunade-sama's threats if you had been."

Both boys frowned. The Godaime Hokage, however reluctant to initially take the position, was a good leader. Those shinobi under her command had quickly learned it was wiser to do as she wished rather then argue and face what she came up with if you did not.

Sasuke scowled. He'd just recently begun to seriously consider his feelings for his pink-to-flame-tip-haired teammate, and he wasn't entirely sure he liked the thought of her going off with Hyuga alone... to Sunagakure of all places.

Sakura, as usual as of late, seemed to pick up on his train of thought. "Don't worry so much Sasuke-kun! You and Naruto don't have to take care of me all the time—I can fight for myself to."

Sasuke sighed audibly, "I know." It was at that point that he noticed that Yamori had managed to climb onto the top of his head again. Sasuke chose to ignore the giggling Sakura and smirking Hyuga as he pulled the lizard out of his hair and moved long enough to drop the reptile on Oniyuri's head. The lizard quickly scurried off the tiger before she thought he'd make a good snack and instead climbed up into Sakura's hair. The girl only giggled and then smiled at the boys.

"Good, then we'll all leave first thing in the morning," Sakura stated cheerfully.

Sasuke decided then that she had spent too much time with Lee.

As always, new chapters go up at Kitsune no Hana first. (see profile for link)

Thanks for all the support. I hadn't forgotten this story I promise you, but between a writing slump and lots of real life stuff, my writing time has been cut down much.