:...:

The air was ominous and windy, sweeping leaves to and fro. The sky was dark and murky as if it were a sign of dark things to come. Despite being in the middle of the summer season, the temperature was unreasonably cool and sent a chill through anyone who walked outside expecting it to be a typical summer day.

Inside a large and foreboding manor, various men sat around a long and beautifully polished dark oak table. The mood inside was unbearably gloomy and tense; a fire crackled from a fireplace and emitted the only source of light from inside the room.

At the head of the table sat a rather tall man, his pale and hairless skin gleaming eerily in warm light. His red eyes were calm as he looked about the room. He seemed to be waiting for someone. To his left, another man was clicking his fingernails against the table. He seemed rather impatient, yet amused; his yellow snake eyes darting to and fro. A long tongue slithered out, licking his lips and earning a few disgusted stares from the black clad men around the table.

The doors to the room burst open and two men stalked in. One was rather tall and thin, his face set with a cunning grin and the other held a stoic expression, his face an impenetrable mask.

The Dark Lord smiled a serene smile and beckoned for the stoic man to take the seat to his right; then shooed the other to sit down. The man to the Dark Lord's left eyed the two men carefully as he brushed his long black hair over his shoulder.

Eyes cautiously glanced around the room, most eyeing the stoic man as he sat down. This man had a reputation now as slayer of the Dark Lord's most feared enemy.

"So?" Asked the Dark Lord, his voice soft like a caress.

"My Lord." Said the stoic man, his voice and gaze never wavering. "They plan to move the boy on Saturday next, at nightfall."

There was a cackle of delight from the long haired man sitting on the left. The tall man who had entered previously gave an almost indistinguishable, yet amused chuckle. "My Lord, I have heard differently." He said.

The room tensed as everyone turned to face the man, their expressions unreadable. A few shifted their eyes quickly back to the stoic man then turned back.

Silence filled the room so the man continued. "Dawlish, the Auror, let it slip that they would move the boy on the thirteenth."

Eyes turned back to the stoic man who smirked, looking quite confident. "I have heard of plans to leave a false trail; it seems that you have stumbled upon it. The Auror's Office has no further role in the boy's protection."

The tall man bit his lip. One could say he almost looked quite angry, with a hint of fear hidden behind his eyes. "And why not?"

The stoic man's lips curled upward, deepening his smirk. "Because they believe we have infiltrated the Ministry."

The table erupted into good natured laughter, save for a few men here and there. "They've got one thing right then, eh?" One man said.

The Dark Lord looked amused, but certainly did not laugh. He turned to the stoic man, cutting off all conversation attempts by the tall man. "And where will they hide the boy?"

"At the home of one of the Order." Said the stoic man. "It seems that this house has been fitted with every sort of protection both the Order and Ministry could muster. There is little chance of taking him there. It must be before."

"No matter." Said the Dark Lord, as if it was of little consequence. "Seeing as they do not trust the Ministry, they will no doubt make the move in the open. This makes things easier for us. I shall be attend to the boy in person."

"How delightful." The long haired man to the Dark Lord's left said, a wide smile on his face. "I do hope you'll let me play with him for a bit. After all that you've told me, I am most...curious."

The Dark Lord glanced at the man, but did not smile. "There will be time enough for that...after you have dealt with the girl."

"Ah yes." Smiled the long haired man, his fingers curling together as a smile slithered on his face. "I shall take some pleasure in that."

The Dark Lord abruptly stood up and began to pace down the length of the table. "As I was saying, in order to deal with the boy, I will need to borrow another's wand. Does anyone volunteer?" He gazed down the table expectantly, his hands spread wide.

As soon as the words left his mouth, everyone in the room seemed uncomfortable, their gaze dropping to the table in front of them. Some of them started to twiddle with the long wooden sticks sitting in their laps.

"No volunteers?" The Dark Lord asked, almost disappointed as he made his way back up the table. He stopped behind the chair of a rather anxious looking blond haired man. His hair was messy and hung haphazardly in front of his face.

"Lucius?"

The blond haired man jumped at hearing his name. "Me, My Lord?"

"Your wand, Lucius." Said the Dark Lord, his patience wearing thin. He held out his slim hand expectantly.

The blond haired man trembled and looked at the table. Beside him, a blond woman, her hair pulled tightly into a bun reached over under the table and softly squeezed his hand. She never looked at him. At the feel of her touch, the man reluctantly pulled out his wand from his robes and placed it in the Dark Lord's hand.

As the Dark Lord questioned the blond man almost severely about the elements of the wand, a blond boy stared up, his face painted with fright as he looked at the rather ghastly sight that was suspended above the table. Her eyes, glazed over and wide with fear stared back at the blond boy, almost as if she were pleading for help. The blond boy was unwilling, unable to help, but it didn't stop him from feeling an unfamiliar pang in his heart. The others around the table were doing well in ignoring the sight that had greeted them when they walked in the room, but the blond boy couldn't help but staring.

"Do you recognize our guest?"

The boy's eyes darted away from the woman, but he saw that the Dark Lord's attention was focused on the stoic man.

The woman opened her mouth, trying to rasp words out to the man, but barely any sound came out.

Eyes turned to the stoic man who kept his eyes on the woman. "Yes." His gaze was unwavering and his eyes unsympathetic.

"For those of you who don't now, we are joined here tonight by Charity Burbage, a Professor at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry." Said the Dark Lord.

There were jeers of recognition from around the room.

"She was brought to be here tonight by my associate," He continued, "As she found pleasure in teaching the children of witches and wizards all about Muggles. In fact, just last week, Ms. Burbage wrote an article in our own Daily Prophet about how she desires to have us all mate with Muggles, that it would be good for us…"

No one moved, no one spoke as everyone seemed to be well aware of the quite rage and contempt that had entered the Dark Lord's voice. Only the long haired man seemed to be smiling more widely now, almost as if in anticipation of what would happen next.

Silence filled the room, the only sounds to be heard was the cackling of wood in the fireplace and of spatters of blood dripping onto the table. Charity Burbage was struggling against her bonds now, the wire cutting into her more fiercely where it was looped around her extremities and neck. Her eyes were wide as she stared at the stoic man and her lips moved as if she were pleading with him. The stoic man did nothing.

"My associate brought her here tonight from right under the nose of Albus Dumbledore." The Dark Lord gave the room a sharp smile. "Perhaps he would now like to do the honors."

The man was out of his chair before anyone could blink and the wires holding Ms. Burbage snapped suddenly. She fell to the table with a resounding thud, almost shaking the blond boy out of his chair. Then the man was behind her, grabbing her neck. No one could seem to pull their eyes away as he ran a pointed blade slowly along the width of her neck. The woman gasped and grew pale as her neck blossomed in crimson. The man held her by the neck until her limbs stopped twitching and the front of her robes had been soaked completely in blood. Then he dropped her as if she were nothing more than a doll and ran his tongue over blood coated fingers.

No one said a word as the man easily jumped from the table and casually returned to his seat.

"Dinner, Nagini." Voldermort called softly.

::Start::

Naruto Uzumaki jogged up the stairs, a smile plastered on his face and an anxious jitter in his step. He stopped in front of a red door and knocked rapidly. He had breakfast waiting and was excited to see her reaction. Normally he only had sour milk and ramen in his apartment, so she should be surprised by what he had waiting for her.

"Sakura-chan!" Naruto yelled getting impatient. "It's me!"

Frowning, Naruto reached toward the door and tested the doorknob. The doorknob twisted under his touch and the door opened. "Hmm…" Naruto scratched his head and walked in. Normally, Sakura kept her door locked as she was quite paranoid about intruders breaking in during her long shifts at the hospital. Was she expecting a visit from someone?

"Ohayo, Sakura-chan! I have breakfast!" Naruto called out as he waited just inside the door.

The apartment was eerily empty. Stacks of medical books and charts were neatly piled on the coffee table; each of Sakura's pillows properly lying on the couch. The place was clean and spotless, just as Sakura usually liked it. Naruto walked further inside and looked around. "Sakura…"

He froze when he walked into the kitchen.

The chairs that were supposed to be around the small table were pushed aside and the table was missing a leg. Ceramic cups and dishes littered the floor, shattered into pieces. The window was broken, the curtain fluttering in the wind as if someone had crashed through it. The worse thing was the pool of blood on the floor by the table and the small drips that trailed to the broken window.

"K'so!" Naruto exclaimed as he raced out of the apartment. He had dropped the bag of fresh groceries onto the floor, the eggs breaking and cracking as they mixed with Sakura's blood.

Sai was standing in the Hokage's office, surrounded by Jounin. He felt severely under dressed as everyone was dressed in full combat gear while he was still wearing his simple civilian clothing consisting of an understated grey jacket and pants. Shizune had literally plucked him out of his apartment where he had been painting and dragged him to the Hokage's office. She didn't even have the decency of telling him what was going on; not that it bothered him any. He did feel a small prick of curiosity at what the Hokage wanted from him. Sometimes…and he couldn't always be sure, but he felt as if the blond haired Hokage wasn't fond of him. He had once asked Naruto and Sakura about it, and they hadn't given him much of an answer. It was cryptic and Sai didn't have the emotional means to decipher it.

The chatter in the room quickly ceased as Tsunade bustled in the room in a no-nonsense manner before seating herself at her desk. She keenly made eye contact with everyone in the room. It was times like this Sai could clearly see who Sakura resembled in mannerism. It unnerved him and Sai didn't like feeling fearful.

"Haruno Sakura has been kidnapped." Said Tsunade, her voice cutting through the room like a hot knife through butter.

The room was silent and even Sai found himself surprised. He and Naruto had just saw Sakura the previous day. How could something like this happen so fast? Speaking of Naruto, Sai looked around the room again and was surprised to not find the loud mouthed ninja. Was Tsunade trying to keep Sakura's disappearance from him? That would be disastrous no doubt.

"Tsunade-baa-chan! Tsuna –"

Speak of the devil.

Naruto stormed into Tsunade's office only to find that there were twenty people crammed in, all staring at him.

"What's going on?" Naruto demanded, his blue eyes blazing.

"Naruto." Tsunade called in a sharp voice from her desk. "Up here." She motioned with her hand.

Naruto pushed his way through the crowd, glaring at Kiba who rolled his eyes at his tardiness to stand in front of her. "What's going on here?" He demanded. He spotted Kakashi standing just behind him, his face devoid of any mirth and Neji standing just behind him, his face arranged in his usual stoic features. Shikamaru stood to Neji's left, puffing away on a cigarette as Mite Gai stood behind him, not so subtly choking on the smoke being emitted from Shikamaru's cigarette.

"We were just discussing an important matter." Said Tsunade gravely. She crossed her hands underneath her chin and looked at Shizune. "Continue please."

Shizune cleared her throat uncomfortably. "I was just thinking…we should have a small team investigate the matter. I don't think the captors could have gotten far with Sakura…"

"WHAT!" Naruto roared. "Sakura-chan was kidnapped?"

Tsunade looked at him. "Yes, early this morning. Her neighbor reported a disturbance. An ANBU found the evidence and reported it to us."

"What the hell! No one bothered to tell me?" Yelled Naruto enraged.

Tsunade narrowed her eyes at Naruto. "ANBU tried to summon you, but you never answered your door. You should have been left a notice."

Naruto thought back to when he left this morning. He was in such a hurry he didn't even check the door. Naruto grumbled. "Tell me what happened."

Tsunade paused. "We don't know. We were discussing a course of action now."

"I'm going to find her!" Naruto declared.

"You can't go by yourself!" Shizune exclaimed, her motherly intuition taking control. Tsunade shot Shizune an annoyed look which made the short haired woman bow her head in apology.

"Alright, Naruto." Tsunade sighed. "As Sakura's teammate and closest friend, I think it is only fair that I grant you this mission."

"Damn straight." Naruto muttered to which Tsunade narrowed her eyes at him.

"He can't go alone." Shizune whispered loudly which earned her a glare from Tsunade.

Tsunade remained silent, but her golden eyes started roaming around the room. She spotted Sai's dark head of hair standing near the back and nodded toward him. "Alright then. Sai will go with you." She said looking at the artist. Naruto looked at Sai, not pleased as he smiled back.

Tsunade looked around the room. "I have reasonable belief to think Orochimaru is behind this." Murmurs went around the room at Tsunade's statement. "But as to what his motive is, I haven't the faintest idea. But we'll have to keep our guard up until Sakura is found and safely returned."

"Yosh." Tsunade concluded in a firm voice. "You are all dismissed. Everyone except for Sai, Naruto and Kakashi."

There were various poofs going off as the remaining three moved in front of Tsunade's desk. Tsunade steepled her fingers and she suddenly looked as old as she really was. "ANBU found a barrier that he must have escaped through just outside the village in the woods. They are keeping it open for you."

"A barrier?" Sai asked quizzically.

"Any ideas on where it leads to?" Kakashi asked.

Tsunade grimaced. "I have an idea. And I pray that I'm wrong. Naruto, you and Sai will pursue this mission, but you need to be careful." Naruto frowned at Tsunade as she continued. "You need to use every precaution that you can. Don't just go charging head on into a situation. Got it?" She asked, glaring at Naruto.

"Yeah, I got it." Naruto snapped before he spun on his heel and marched from the room.

Tsunade shook her head and looked to Sai. "Make sure he doesn't do anything stupid." She said. The dark haired boy nodded before exiting the room.

"Tsunade-sama?" Said Kakashi once Sai had shut the door. Tsunade had put her face down and was cradling her forehead in her hands.

"Don't go anywhere." Tsunade growled, her voice muffled. "I still need to speak to you."


An hour later, Naruto and Sai both met fully armed at the entrance gate. Sai had abandoned his civilian clothes for his customary cropped jacket and pants. A brush and scroll were clipped to his waist for easy access; his backpack and tanto secured on his back. Naruto too had a pack slung over his shoulder in which he had hastily threw in some weapons and scrolls.

"Ready?" Asked Naruto with a determined look.

Sai gave one nod of his head and they set out. They both walked in muted silence. Naruto felt both frustrated an angry. Orochimaru again? First Sasuke and now Sakura? What did he want with her? And furthermore, how was he able to slip in and out of the village without anyone noticing.

"These are the coordinates to the barrier." Said Sai, handing Naruto a slip of paper. "It should be just ahead."

Naruto glanced at the coordinates and nodded.

They finally reached a clearing in the forest where they saw two ANBU members seated on the ground. Between them there was a distortion in the air, as if someone had cut through both time and space itself. But the portal was dark and there was no telling what was on the other side. Both of the ANBU were deep in concentration, probably on the seal they had fastened to their hands. Naruto saw bushy brown hair sticking out from behind the mask of one which made him think it was Yamato. Discreet beads of sweat were dripping from the ANBU's forehead and Naruto wondered how long they had been concentrating on keeping the portal open.

"Are you ready?" One questioned.

Both took a running leap into the portal and disappeared. The ANBU both shared a quick look with each other before releasing their hand seals. The portal quickly snapped shut, leaving Naruto and Sai trapped inside. The brown haired ANBU looked toward the closed portal and sighed before disappearing.


"He left a trail of bread crumbs straight to the barrier."

Tsunade was pacing around her office like a madwoman, having already hit back two glasses of sake. Something about this whole situation had Kakashi on edge.

Tsunade shook her head furiously before turning back to Kakashi. "For Orochimaru's standards, you know how sloppy that is. It's like he wanted us to find the portal."

"But how do you know it's Orochimaru?" Kakashi asked, casually leaning back against Tsunade's desk. "Sakura's become highly accomplished within the last couple of years…her and Naruto have made no shortage of enemies. It could even be Akatsuki, for all we know."

Tsunade paused, steepling her fingers in front of her face. "There's some information that I've withheld from Naruto. Mostly because I wanted to make sure…" Said Tsunade carefully.

Kakashi narrowed his eyes at Tsunade. "What kind of information?"

"That…" Tsunade paused, grunting in aggravation before she stormed back to her desk and took her seat once more. "…That I believe Sakura is being used as bait. That her kidnapping is a way to draw Naruto out."

It took a minute before Kakashi exploded. "Then why? Why would you send Naruto out on this mission if you believe he is at the root of it? If you're right, then you've played Naruto right into the enemies hands!"

"Because Naruto is the only one who can accomplish this mission!" Tsunade fired back. "You, Naruto and Sai…you are the only ones."

Glossary:
Yosh –Ok
K'so – Damn
Ohayo – Good morning