Harken's Bell

This story has been abandoned. I will not be finishing it. There is a note posted on my author's page. Thank you and I apologize.

Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto. I just play in the sandbox already created.

Chapter 1:

The young pink haired shrine warrior strode through the streets of her city. She could hear the bells of the guardsmen ringing loudly, beckoning her to the walls of the old city. It was her duty to defend the way of her people against outsiders. They would come to the precious lands of the Gate Keepers, to obtain the sacred power that she, alone protected. She was the last of her line and the last of a blood lineage long died out. Her parents, had died when she had been just ten summers old, defending the way to the sacred gates. The Council of Ixion, wanted her to disband her duties, and to surrender. The old ways, were a hindrance they had told her. It made them different. They wanted peace with their neighbors. It was better to blend in, they always reminded her.

Sakura always responded, that if that's how they felt – she would take up arms alone. She wouldn't involve the city with her duties. If she died, then the old ways would disappear with her. The elders wouldn't dare to stand in her way, because they believed that the spirits of the Bijuu would curse them. And so, it was she, the last of her kind who would stand alone against all invaders who would seek out that sacred power.

The inhabitants of the city scattered and parted at the sight of the young woman. The adults whispered among one another. The children stared and pointed wildly at the strange pink haired woman. Not only did the odd hue of her tresses separate her from the other civilians, but so did her vibrant vivid green eyes and her very pale skin. She paid them no mind, already used to such behavior from as far back as she could remember.

The guards quickly spotted her amongst the gathering throng of curious onlookers. They immediately opened the gates and the loud echo of the bells began to wane. The soldier on the left of the gate eyed her through narrowed orbs. He smirked down at her as he informed her coolly, "It's best you listen to the Council. They feel that you should be up to the task."

Sakura didn't even bother to look at the male. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see him frown at her blatantly ignoring him, but such a minor thing didn't concern the prideful female. She strode past him as if he hadn't spoken, paying no mind to the warning. The young woman was well aware of the chakra signatures on the other side of the massive walls and she highly doubted anyone in the city but her felt them.

As soon as her sandal clad feet hit the gravel path outside of the gate, the guards shut it behind her. Sharp, intelligent eyes roamed over to the mounted small army of twenty or so men that faced the city. The tension in the air was so thick that she could nearly taste the bitterness of it on the tip of her tongue. Their chakra signatures, she realized, was tinged with an edge of malice that made her feel uneasy. These men were used to killing, she sensed. That thought made her slightly nervous. So these were shinobi, she noted thoughtfully.

The afternoon breeze danced over the dark cranberry hued material of her hakama pants and jacket. Sakura slowly made her way to the three males, sitting proud and tall on their large war stallions at the front of the small show of force. She figured that they must be the leaders of this little entourage. Halting several feet away from them. She wouldn't get any closer to them then she had to. She asked smoothly, the sound echoing loudly, "What is it that you want?"

The men all looked at each other, unsure of how to seriously answer this statement from the lone, diminutive female.

Sakura took the time their confusion afforded her to study them. She knew that they were not of the same familial clan, as they all looked too distinctly different to be related. The one on the far left, had spiky blond hair, and brilliant blue eyes as clear as a cloudless summer sky. The one in the far right, watched her through cool orbs of icy pupil-less lavender tinged silver. His dark coffee brown ponytail lay over his shoulder. The rich material of his cream hued kimono with embroidered sleeves with his familial crest indicated he was of a prominent clan. The one in the center, also wore clothing much like the man to his right, except his was stark black. The symbol of a red and white fan was emblazoned proudly for all to see. His hair was ebony like a moonless night, as were his fathomless and cold emotionless eyes.

Her lips thinned. This force they brought before Ixion was serious. These were not soft men.

"Do they think to make fools of us?" The one on the right finally spoke, the tone as aristocratic and arrogant as she assumed it would be.

She arched a pink brow at him in response, but did not speak. He had not answered her question, so she didn't believe that his rudeness deserved a proper reply.

One of the men in the back broke rank, and rode his mount forward. One look at him, and Sakura decided he must be a relation of the black haired leader. His eyes were of the same obsidian hue. She could read the impatience in the lines of his body. He glared down at her, his spiky hair bobbing with the movement, "Go back woman and bring out your leaders! We have no time to waste on the likes of you."

Her lips stretched into a frown. Perhaps they were here to declare war against Ixion. Maybe she had been too arrogant to assume that they'd be here for the ancient power of the Bijuu. It was a dying legend. She knew, that it was falling from the memories of mankind. Even the current residents of Ixion knew very little about who she really was. The Elders of the City Council wanted it that way, and had forbidden her to speak about what she truly was. The last set of invaders had come a decade ago and with the defense of her powerful parents, they had repelled the enemy at the cost of their lives.

Or so the story was told.

These shinobi had powerful chakra signatures, but that didn't mean they were necessarily there to exploit the secrets of the Bijuu.

Then, the one whom she assumed was the leader finally spoke, "Do not assume that I will continue to overlook your rudeness. Fetch the Captain of the guard."

Tilting her chin upward, she met his his eyes calmly, "I apologize. I cannot do that until you declare your intentions."

His eyes narrowed dangerously on her, but she didn't flinch beneath the tepid gaze.

"Woman, this does not concern you," he reiterated, his voice as cold as the first snowfall of the northern territory.

A long sigh escaped her small frame. Her chin dipped down, and she shut her eyes.

They took this as a sign of acquiescence on her behalf. They watched her reaction with a smirk or continued to glare haughtily down the aristocratic nose, depending on the male in question. Those expressions quickly melted away however when she lifted her right arm. The long, loose sleeves of her jacket fell down to her elbow revealing a golden bracelet, with a bell dangling at the wrist. It tinkled against the backdrop of curious silence.

Sakura heard their murmurs, but she paid them no mind. Quickly and quietly she summoned the chakra within her. Crimson armor formed over her exposed epidermis before bewildered gazes. It spread over her torso, shoulders, and arms. Gripping her fist tighter, the tiny golden bell jangled with her surprisingly graceful movements. A long metal silver pole appeared in her grip, the deadly curve of the scythe glinted menacingly beneath the sunlight. The top edge was gilded in elegant decorative golden metal, that reminded one of a wild vine, wound around wrapping the length of the gracefully deadly blade. A green ribbon tied at the top of the stave fluttered in the breezy afternoon where the weapon met the handle.

Lifting her head, she positioned her slender body into a battle stance. Brilliant green eyes met stern black. Her tone was soft, but there was steel laced in the sound, "Now that I have your undivided attention," the left corner of her lip quirked up into a rather unfriendly smile, "I will ask you again. What is it that you have come here for? What do you want?"

"You would dare to openly challenge us?" The opaque lilac-eyed one spoke again.

"I asked you a question. My patience with you wears thin," she snapped back, her left hand slid up to pull the weapon down, while tipping the blade up before pointing the razor edge outwards.

"Oi, I think she's serious Hyuuga," the blond finally interjected, his blue eyes never leaving the blade.

The said Hyuuga sent the blue-eyed male a telling glare.

Sakura's eyes narrowed. She was going to have to show them that she was serious before they'd answer her, it seemed. Bending her knees in a crouch, she jumped into the air, lifting the blade up in a graceful sweep, while lining the soles of her feet with threads of chakra. Their horses reared with high-pitched whinnies, as she landed right in front of the three leaders, the impact of her landing, creating a small crater.

Within the breath of a second, the leader was off his mount and in front of her. His unsheathed wakizashi styled blade swept out in the direction of her unprotected stomach. She caught the weapon with the stave of her weapon, before falling down to her feet, to sweep her legs out to knock him down. He jumped back easily, his dark eyes never leaving her face. Her movements became blurs to the naked eye as she continued to meticulously feed chakra to her limbs to execute the simple moves her father had taught her. She arced the sharp edge of the unusual weapon at his left side, her heels digging into the ground. She was taken aback when he caught the hook of her blade with his, and held her immobile.

"If you continue your foolishness, I will become serious," he said coolly. He was so close his breath fanned out over her face, "I will not be merciful if you push me to that point woman."

The normally tight reigns on her temper snapped, and she literally growled back in response. She hopped back to put some distance between them. Cheeks lined with red ire, she came at him again, this time, much more fiercely that what she had initially planned. Sakura had just wanted to test the waters and possibly get them to leave her village.

The growing smirk starting to line his lips, was beginning to get to her. It was painfully obvious, he didn't find her much of a threat, nor was the effort of keeping up with her difficult in the slightest. The arrogant superior look he wore on his face gave his thoughts away to the exasperated female.

"Shouldn't we help?" The blond asked wide-eyed, his orbs glancing to the men behind him.

"I don't think the Uchiha would appreciate our efforts," the Hyuuga responded dryly.

The spiky blacked haired male added scoffing icily, "Do you seriously believe my brother would need your help against one lone woman Uzumaki?"

Uzumaki didn't reply to the comment coming from his prideful teammate. It wasn't that he thought that his comrade actually needed help. But was it really all right to just stand by and watch? He looked back at the other men behind him. Half of them looked like they were just enjoying the show, the other part seemed bored by the whole thing. Shutting his eyes, he let out a sigh. If it was going to turn out like this, what was the point in bringing all these useless men in the first place? If they had gone on foot without the extra people, they would have arrived much sooner.

Truly she had thought these men arrogant, but now she was beginning to believe she also fit the description. She had never utilized her skills against another human being. She had undergone training by her father, but she'd never completed it due to his untimely death. She'd practiced obediently what little she knew, but it would probably not be enough against these men. Yet she had come out here to openly challenge them like an overzealous fool. Perhaps her stubborn pride would indeed get her killed after all. The elders probably would probably rejoice. Sakura jumped back, once again putting distance between her and the shinobi.

She shifted her weapon in front of her, and gripping it with both hands tightly, she squeezed her palms against the now skin warmed metal. In a puff of yellow smoke it disappeared along with her armor.

"You are wiser than you seem. Surrender is by far your best choice." His eyes narrowed into satisfied slits.

"Who said anything about surrender?" She responded, chest heaving from the exertion of their short battle. Her forehead was slick with sweat. She ignored the droplets of moisture running down her temples. Instead she crouched into a completely different styled fighting stance.

His lips thinned with displeasure at her flippant response.

With a feral war cry, the female launched herself at her enemy. He sprung back, avoiding the sudden swing of her fist, more then just a little surprised by her sudden frontal onslaught with no weapon in sight. However everyone's eyes widened into disbelief when she punched the ground. The earth cracked and split with a rumble, sending a shower of dirt spraying in every direction. This, was the skill that she had learned from her mother. She'd always been more comfortable with her mother's fighting style. Her father's was certainly more impressive, and it might make enemies nervous. However she'd never been able to completely master the unique style. For what little she knew of it, it was too complicated beyond the basics for her to learn on her own.

"I," she made a complete about face and charged in the direction of the blond male, "asked," his horse reared when she yelled loudly dumping him before galloping away with a sharp whinny, "you," he rolled aside as her fist hit the ground again. The fissure caused by her angry blow, forced him to keep rolling. Turning on her heel sharply, she eyed the one called Hyuuga, who had long dismounted his warhorse to face her, "a," and this time she ran at him instead, kicking a fierce leg out, forcing him to duck the wild attack. Her foot connected with the tree trunk directly behind him, "QUESTION! DAMMIT!"

The top half of the canopy of the tree hit the forest floor, the crashing sound frightened the horses. It sent them into a furious gallop, with the confused men still sitting in the saddle and holding onto the reins for dear life.

By the time the dust cleared and settled, she found herself facing the four males who were the only ones left of the bunch. She returned to a fighting stance once again, her eyes darting between the each of them. The vicious look daring them to even think about attacking her. She would make them sorry if they even got within an arm's length of her.

Finally the leader spoke. His voice indicated he wasn't none too happy with divulging the information but he was fed up with the ordeal, "I am Itachi Uchiha, this is my younger brother Sasuke," he indicated the rude young male who had addressed her earlier before turning to gesture towards the blond and lilac-eyed male, "Naruto Uzumaki, and Neji Hyuuga. We come under the banner of the Konoha Alliance. We were sent here to meet with Ixion's leadership at their query beneath the flag of diplomacy. I am loathed to think they proffered an invitation only to send you out to waste our time."

Her eyes widened at the frostily and just a little more than angrily delivered words. Green eyes narrowed with the dawning realization of what she'd done. Her fists clenched at her sides. Anger coiled into an angry knot in the pit of her stomach. If that was the case, then why did they send her out here to deal with them in the first place? From what this Itachi Uchiha said, the elders should have heard about their arrival way ahead of time.

Maybe the elders had set her up, hoping that these shinobi would finish her off if she came out challenged them. Even with her limited experience of the world Sakura knew that the shinobi lifestyle was one centered around the ideals of violence to obtaining what they desired.

Straightening, her spine stiff with the remnants of her pride in tatters. Sakura tilted her head to the side, sharply eyeing the male. She couldn't detect any falseness in his words. Rage white and hot filled her when she realized how thoroughly she'd been duped. She could feel her temper struggling to surface. She was beginning to desire nothing more than to go smash something into a million broken pieces.

The males watching her was amused at first by the visible signs of temper on her dirt stained visage.

Their entertainment didn't last very long. It didn't take long for them to notice her emanating yellow chakra from her fists. The sight made them leery of her intentions. Sakura suddenly announced in a surprisingly calm tone, "I would apologize for the inconvenience if I were actually sorry."

She turned just to march straight back to the gates of the city before stopping in front of them. She looked skywards for a small moment. She breathed in a deep, calming breath of oxygen in her lungs. She didn't even bother to tell the guards to open the gates. Cocking back an elbow, the young woman sent a satisfying fist through the large wooden, steel-laced entrance. The doors flew off the hinges, sending the populace nearby scattering in a minor panic. The wood panels hit the ground with a satisfying thud.

The nearby guards ran up to the young woman, their expressions wary of the tiny volatile female.

"It seems these men are honored guests of the Council. Why in the hell was I summoned if these people invited by the council?" She snapped at the captain of the guard as he approached her, brushing the other gaping sentries aside. Her angry green eyes bore into his watery gray orbs mercilessly.

"My apologies Lady Haruno. I had no idea. I was doing as I was ordered," he replied, his thumb going to his collar as if he were letting off nervous steam. The rumors of superstition surrounding her kept everyone at an arm's length. So even the captain of the guard wouldn't push his luck with her, unless he wanted to be cursed by her 'dark magic.'

It was all she could do not to roll her eyes. Like hell he didn't know, she should have known there was something up when he sent her out there with a smirk on his face.

The shinobi watched the interaction with avid interest.

"I see," she bit back, her voice pure ice, "Then this has nothing to do with me."

She didn't bother to look back at the visitors as she turned to stride up the dirt path with anger filled steps to the haven of her home. When she slammed into the small shrine styled house, her black cat was startled by her mistress's overly loud entry. She gave a yowl of protest before jumping off of the ledge onto the old creaky wooden floor. The feline glared up at Sakura, her tail twitching with irritation.

Sakura's attention turned to her pet, "Sorry Hana."

Kneeling she ran a hand over the cat's smooth fur, and then she adjusted the pink collar that was a bit skewed, so that the bell hung properly.

Appeased that her human greeted her, the feline's tail twitched one more time before she stalked away as if she owned the place.

Her pet's attitude brought an amused smile to the young woman's face. The last vestiges of her ire forgotten for the moment. She glanced around the sparse room, that contained pretty much only the necessities. A plain brown couch, a matching rug in one corner. Off to the side, a tiny kitchenette could be seen peeking through a veil of old curtains shifted to the side of the tiny entrance. Next to that, through a set of simple shoji doors, was the small bedroom with tatami mats. It was her sleeping space with her bed tucked in the corner.

Her mind kept going back to the run in with Konoha's diplomats. She wondered how the Council was going to react to their plans going awry. She doubted they would do anything, but act like nothing had happened. Shaking her head, still irked by the whole fiasco, she decided to finish her daily chores of maintaining the shrine to take her mind off of it. By the time she was finished with her usual duties the sun was beginning to set in the horizon. Exhausted mentally and physically, she gathered a set of fresh clothing before stepping out of the house to go to the small bathhouse at the back edge of the property.

Feeling much refreshed after washing away the grime of the day, she headed back to her home listening to the sound of her own sandals heels clacking against the hard path. Her chin lifted when she heard the sound of voices. Her eyes widened in surprise. No one ever came out this close to the old shrine. Curious, she set her dirty clothes down on the porch, and determinedly set out to see who it was.

The baritone depth to the chatter indicated that it was a couple of men. Their voices also sounded very, very familiar to her. Frowning as she headed to the front of the property, she peeked around the gate. Whomever it was, was coming up the hill with obviously no intentions of turning around. She could hear their footsteps crunching loudly against the gravel path as they drew closer.

"This is actually a very spacious area for such an old village. There is no housing around here. Just trees, and this trail. We could probably use this section for development," one of the voices said, "Since it's a hill. It would make a good compound for one of the clans."

"I don't know about that. The civilians are pretty frightened of this place," the other responded in a thoughtful tone.

"Nonsensical superstitions mean nothing to me."

Eyelids fell half-mast. She didn't like the sound of those words. What the hell did they mean by 'section for development'? The elders knew very well that this was her family's property, and they couldn't touch it until she died - if she never had any children to inherit it anyway. Shoving open the gate, she marched out to the small road striding out visibly into the open.

She stood in the middle of the trail, planting folded fists on the cradle of her hips. She couldn't help the shock she felt when she realized it was two of the diplomats that she met earlier that day. Naruto Uzumaki and Neji Hyuuga, she recalled their names from the terse introduction. Her left eyebrow twitched irritably at the memory. It certainly wasn't something she'd forget any time soon.

Sakura interrupted their conversation, clearing her throat loudly drawing their eyes to her, "What are you doing all the way out here? On private property?"

The two males halted and eyed her thoughtfully. Neither responded. Instead, they looked at the old shrine behind her curiously.

"I didn't even realize there was a building here," Naruto spoke out loud to his companion, ignoring the woman.

Neji smirked over at the small female, "So you're the town witch the villagers speak of."

"Yes I am. If you don't go the hell away, I'll make sure to curse you," her wet tresses covered her face, as she dipped her chin. Peeking through her damp bangs she sent him a malicious look. The silvery moonlight bathing her features and reflected off her vibrant green eyes giving her an eerie air, "I think a spell to make your testicles shrivel into prunes so that you will be unable to produce any heirs." She lifted her hand and tapped her chin with a fingertip as if she were contemplating it, "Hmm, I believe that should do just fine."

She began to absently stroke her chin, turning her back on the both of them, mumbling to herself, "Toad's eyes, bat's blood, and..." she started to tick off her fingers listing the fake ingredients. For effect, she began to leak a bit of yellow chakra from the soles of her feet. Sakura mused, she hadn't had to scare off people in quite a while. She hoped that she wasn't too rusty to pull it off effectively.

Naruto chuckled nervously at the bizarre girl, "Well, we're sorry to have disturbed you. We'll just be on our way then. We didn't realize that there was a house up here."

Sakura just turned her head, the long, wet strands of her hair sliding over her shoulders. Her cold eyes were less then welcoming, "Good. I'm glad that we understand each other."

The Hyuuga merely sent her an icy glare before pivoting on his heel sharply to follow the blond back the way they had come. The moment they were out of sight the hard lines around her eyes melted away, and her shoulders slumped in relief. The young women slowly returned to her home to once again picking up her clothes on the way to enjoy another lonely meal of natto and white rice. It was just the way she liked things.


Sakura was up before dawn. Dressed in her usual maroon hakama, and jacket ensemble, she went about her morning rituals. As she swept the dusty wooden floors of the front porch, she sang merrily to the rhythm of the bristles of the broom against the hard wood, "Oh tanuki, Shukaku, lord of the wind. Good fortune blows in with the breath of Zephyr. The night has gone Nekomata, and the silver eye of the moon, whom watches over the souls of the living rests in slumber. Oh Isonade, the fisherman prays for your rain, drawing their catch to the surface of your blue waters."

She paused a moment smiling at Hana. The cat jumped on the railing, her triangle-shaped head tilting to the side, as if she were actually listening to her mistress's slightly off key song.

Sakura continued cheerfully with a smile and a conspiratorial wink at the black feline who watched her with curious amber eyes, "Sokou, may your hibernation be peaceful, and the voices of the living – wake you not. Houkou, all the elements bow to your wisdom. Raiju, I hear the distant thunder, your voice a brilliant white light over the darkened lands. Kaku, lord of the earth, spring blossoms and the farmers pray your blessings upon the harvests. Yamata no Orochi, the spirits of evil tremble at the mention of your name, but you are part of the balance that must be kept. Kyuubi, king of the Bijuu, your fiery inferno lays waste to the legions of your enemies."

It was an old rhyme her parents had taught her as a child so that she could remember the names of those she was supposed to protect. Pausing mid-sweep, Sakura glanced out towards the ancient trail. It let to the top of the large hill. It was almost the time of the year, for the full moon heralding the spring equinox. She would have to reapply the seal on the invisible gates and offer a prayer, and light the candles once again very soon.

She stiffened when a voice interrupted her musings, "Lady Haruno. The Council of Elders requests your presence."

Sakura lifted eyes lacking any welcoming warmth towards the Captain of the guard, "When?"

"As soon as possible," he bowed, nervous at her close proximity.

Lifting her chin, she tilted her chin, taken aback by the sudden summons, "I see. Thank you. I will be right there."

Straightening he nodded quickly, looking more than ready to leave the premises, "I will convey your message. Thank you Lady Haruno."

Sighing deeply after his abrupt departure, she lifted her fingers to the bridge of her nose and shut her eyes for a moment. Releasing a calming breath, Sakura entered the shrine, and quickly dressed into her rubicund hued formal robes. Embroidered on the back, was a white ring, indicating the eternal circle of the life that she protected. The Haruno crest. She brushed out her hair and put it up into a quick formal chignon. She snapped her bell bracelets that once belonged to her mother on both wrists.

Leaving the shrine in a hurried pace, she laced her hands together inside the large bell shaped sleeves. Striding down the hill, she held her bearing and stature as one of refined dignity. She wouldn't allow the Council of Elders to realize still how angry she was with them. At least, not in front of strangers. Even if she felt they deserved it.

She could feel the eyes of the populace on her as she walked through the busy streets. She was out and about two days in a row. Their brains were probably ready to implode, she thought to herself wryly. Their openly curious stares were agitating her far more than they usually did. Still, she kept her gaze on the large, tower shaped building at the western edge of the town, tucked near the rugged cliff side. The city guard bowed in fearful respect when she halted at the entrance. They opened the way for her, and stepped aside to allow her passage. The hem of her garment swirled with the swift movement of her steps. Sakura just wanted to get the whole ordeal done and over with. The less she had to deal with the dogs of the Council, the more content she would be.

Finally, she arrived at the top of the building, where the Council met nearly on a daily basis. The captain of the guard who had been waiting for her arrival sent her a nervous smile. He opened the door announcing to the Council, "Lady Haruno has arrived, my lords."

Sakura stepped forth onto the plush, blue carpet. She held her chin at a haughty angle, "Good morning," she took quick notice that the four diplomats hailing from the Konoha Alliance were present. She paid them no mind, but still her eyes darkened to angry viridian at the memory of yesterday afternoon. Her face was otherwise vacant of emotion.

"Lady Haruno, we are pleased that you came so quickly. There is much we have to discuss with you," the head of the Council spoke. The old woman was the fiercest of the bunch, leading the old men with her wrinkled hands in an unforgiving iron dictatorship. Sakura was the only person in the town of whom she feared. However, that didn't mean that she didn't try press her luck from time to time. Or perhaps the elderly woman respected her in her own way. Sakura had never been quite certain of the elderly woman's true feelings. The others however, were a different manner.

"Please, get straight to the point. I'm not in the mood to deal with your fake smiles today," the shrine warrior waved a rude, dismissive hand at Koharu Utatane.

Her wrinkled visage darkened with anger at the young woman's blatant disrespect in front of their guests. The four Shinobi waited for the old lady to explode on the disrespectful girl and was surprised when she didn't but instead nodded, "Yes well, we have come to a decision concerning the city. We are going to align ourselves with the Konoha Alliance. They will become apart of Ixion. When they complete the move - the city will become known as Konohagakure and..."

"This concerns me how?" Sakura tried to keep the shock off of her face. But by the looks on the faces of the young men watching her with shrewd eyes, she knew she hadn't quite succeeded.

"Lord Hyuuga expressed an interest in your property. We thought that perhaps that you would consider..." Homura Mitokado interjected quickly. He was the second in command of the Ixion Council.

"Absolutely not," Sakura's face flushed, fuming at his audacity. Her voice became a hiss of rage, "How dare you even suggest such a thing? This city was founded by my clan. That happens to be the land of my ancestors. I care not what you do with the rest of the city. If you wish to allow yourselves to be taken over by strangers, that is no concern of mine. But if anyone dares to even look at the home of my kin the wrong way, I will make you all very, very sorry."

The entire committee of board members paled at the blatant threat minus the old woman who didn't look surprised by Sakura's reaction. She turned angered by the suggestion in the Hyuuga's direction, "I trust you will find another area suitable to your clan's future needs. There is plenty of property open for new development."

"Indeed," was the tight monosyllabic reply from the seemingly emotionless male.

Naruto was eyeing her warily. He was half expecting the strange girl, dressed in robes that were completely archaic in style to detonate in a fit of temper at any moment. His eyebrows drew together thoughtfully. Not even the elderly monks and priestesses of the modern religions wore the kind of clothing this young woman was garbed in. She was an odd one to say the least.

Sasuke was silently waiting for someone to put the chit in her place. For some reason she just annoyed him. Her rude attitude made his eyebrow twitch. It didn't help that he found the sound of her voice irritating either.

Itachi merely watched the entire proceedings, contemplating and waiting for the outcome. He felt something was off with the whole thing. Yes, the young woman had a strong chakra signature, and she utilized her abilities in an interesting way. However, he couldn't understand why she evoked such fear from not only the civilians but also from the Council of Elders who had a miniature army of men at their disposal.

She had a title, but she was not dressed as a noble, nor did she carry herself as one. She was a tiny little thing, buried beneath those large and old-fashioned garments. Hardly someone to be afraid of in his opinion. He hated to admit that he was just a bit more then a tad curious about her. Even that pastel pink hair of hers was an unusual sight.

He spoke, his smooth and commanding tenor drawing the attention of the entire room, "We understand your desire to do your duty to your family. Now that we understand your standing, no one will bother your familial ancestral grounds. I take it you will not interfere with the merging of clans nor the structural change of the city?"

"If your alliance desired to burn Ixion to ashes, I still would not bother to intrude upon your agreement. Just keep your people away from my home, and all shall be well and peaceful." The bell on her wrist jangled as she gave a 'I could care less' flourish of the hand.

His onyx orbs narrowed at her impudent lack of manners. He was further aggravated to see that the Ixion Council looked relieved by her admission. Her tone of voice was anything but respectful.

Homura cleared his throat loudly, "Do not concern yourself Lady Haruno. The protection of the shrine grounds shall be written into the agreement with the Konoha leaders."

"I would like to see the contract then before it is signed." She lifted a palm stemming the protest wanting to burst from the red-faced council, "Preferably just the section that pertains to my family's grounds. As I said before I hold no interest in anything else."

Koharu finally gave a nod of acquiescence, "That's fine. If you would step outside Lady Haruno while we discuss the rest of the terms with our guests. We will have the guard fetch you before we sign the agreement."

Sakura inclined her head regally, her jewel-toned eyes falling on each member of the board daring them to double cross her, "I understand. I will be just right outside then."

With a swirl of her robes, she swept out the door. Once the captain of the guard shut it behind her, she went to lean against the opposite wall, the fatigue in the lines of her face showing a crack in her armor for the first time in front of the young man. He tilted his head to the side and studied her more closely than he ever had. He realized with a stunning jolt that she was actually pretty, in her own exotic way that was. She wasn't wearing her usual permanent dark scowl and it did wonders for her petite, oval face. His hand tightened over the wooden staff of his glaive. He had never really contemplated how small and slender she actually was. She was just a smidgen over five feet, if he had to estimate.

The young woman could feel the sudden intensity of the guard's scrutiny. Lifting her eyes, she didn't like the contemplative look on the captain's face. She nearly snarled at him, her lip curling over her teeth in a sneer, "Do you find what you see interesting?"

An incriminating blush spread over his tanned cheeks, "I'm sorry Lady Haruno. I didn't mean to seem rude. It's just that..." he glanced away, "you rarely show yourself in public."

Sakura merely sighed and averted her face. What the heck did he mean by that? She did work part time at Ichiraku Ramen. Sure, she worked in the back washing the dishes but still, it wasn't like she was a complete hermit. She needed cash like anyone else to buy food, and other essentials. Old man Teuchi the owner of the place, had been on good terms with her parents, and so unlike most of the populace he didn't fear her and had no issues with giving her a part-time job. Although, he did have her working in the back so that the customers wouldn't be upset by her presence. She doubted anyone other then his daughter, knew that she even worked there.

They stood in awkward silence for a good fifteen minutes, before the door was opened and she was beckoned back inside.

Immediately she strode over to the table, and Homura pointed out the section she wanted to see with a knobby appendage. Scanning it's contents, she was satisfied by the fact that no matter what occurred, her property would be hers and hers alone. It even stated that if she produced any heirs that the property would stay in her family's line and if she failed to have any, then it would go to the city and would remain untouched by development. She nodded pleased, "Very well. I cannot find fault in it. The terms are agreeable."

With that, the treaty was signed and the Shinobi left, with a copy of the document to take back to their alliance.

Once they were gone, Sakura straightened and folded her arms against her chest, "Are all of you actually all right with such a decision? Once those people move in, the culture of the people here will completely disappear with the newcomers mingling with the residents. Are you fine with with seeing the old ways forgotten?"

Koharu sighed, her age had never been more apparent than in that moment, "I thought you didn't care Lady Haruno."

"I am not going to show how I really feel to outsiders," Sakura admitted honestly, "I understand your desire to blend in with the rest of the world is strong. But is this wise? They are Shinobi. Will this really bring true safety to Ixion? Everyone knows that war often breaks out between the Shinobi clans. If they begin bicker amongst themselves, it will put the rest of us in danger."

The elderly woman folded her hands on the lacquered surface of the table before meeting Sakura's earnest gaze, "I know you hide yourself away in that Kami-forsaken shrine of yours. So it may have escaped your notice that the borders around us are forming into a Country. They are beginning to call the space within these borders Fire Country. A Daimyo is already taking up residence in the largest city. It is now slowly becoming the Capital. If we do not conform, we would be completely consumed by them. It is better that we live, then to die a wasteful death. The old ways died with your grandparents Lady Haruno. Your parents struggled to keep them alive, but even still despite all the impressive power they held they lost their lives for their forgotten legends. It is something that is best left in the past. We have not ever denied you the right to protect your heritage, but with merely the tiny price of silence."

Sakura slammed an angry fist down on the table startling them with a sudden display of temper, "Oh really? Then what the hell was yesterday? You knew they were coming and yet you had the guard send me out to treat them as enemies. Did you perhaps hope that I would fall beneath their blades?"

Homura spoke up, the wrinkles at the edges of his eyes deepening as he assessed her coolly, "No. It was not your death we desired. I freely admit we sent you out there knowing full well who they were. It was done on your behalf. We wanted you to secure your own position amongst them. Since it is well known that you wish to remain apart from everyone else, it was best they came to realize that for themselves."

She relaxed slightly at that statement. She linked her arms together against her chest, the tinkle of the bells ringing in the short breadth of the awkward silence between her and the Council, "I see. If that was the case. A warning would have been nice at the very least," she turned her back on them, "I just hope you don't regret your decision. People like them will devour us whole if we are not cautious. The ways of your ancestors will disappear with you."

"It is for the best," Homura's voice followed her as she strode out the door. Sakura merely shook her head as she shut it behind her. On their heads be it, she thought with an airy, resolute sigh passing through her lips. She would take no part of it.


Hana sat next to her mistress. They were sitting both on the red roof of the shrine that looked out over the whole village. Sakura had dressed decidedly casual that morning. She had slipped into a pair of serviceable black shorts, and zip up cranberry colored top with her family's symbol on the back. It was completed with a pastel pink skirt apron cloth over the top of her shorts. Her left knee was drawn up, and she was hunched over slightly. She rested her chin on top of the smooth skin.

"Would you look at that Hana? It's not been a full week and they are all already pretty much moved in." She patted the cat's head absentmindedly, "We're being invaded." She finished with a dry chuckle.

"Meow," the cat responded, while rubbing up against her hip with a purr – which Sakura believed translated to, 'I could care less human. I want to be fed.'

"All right already cat," Sakura rose to her feet. Placing a hand over her eyes, she gazed out into the distance. She was amazed by all the buildings popping up literally everywhere with the colorful specs of construction workers practically hanging off the sides in their haste to get the homes built. She could tell the current residents were actually pleased with the newcomers arriving by the wagon loads. The prevalent changes in the country borders surrounding them had probably made the populace nervous. For them, this was the best course of action. Not only would they become apart of the newly forming Fire Country but they would also receive protection as well. She knew that the Council had made the decision based mostly on what they felt was best for the greater population.

She never thought she'd see the day when those old bats would finally retire. Her cat reminded her once more with another insistent mew that it was her feeding time. The girl jumped off of the roof. Hana followed, via hopping onto a nearby tree branch, and climbing down the thick barked trunk with an agility only felines had. Sakura strode into the house. She headed straight to the dimly lit kitchen, and pulled out a can of her cat's usual fare. Pouring the smelly contents into a porcelain white bowl, she griped at the cat threading around her ankles, "You get to eat meat more often than I do."

Setting the dish on the floor. She straightened slowly, watching the cat streak towards the bowl before practically burying her face into her food. With a slight smile still on her face she turned to grab her work apron that hung a metal hook, and set off for her part-time job. With nimble fingers, she reached down into the left pocket and pulled out a dark piece of cloth. She tied the black kerchief over her tightly woven bun, to hide her hair from view as she walked out of the gate. When she dressed so nondescript, no one usually noticed her true identity. She locked the shrine gate behind her, before taking the short-cut through the small wooded area down to the city streets. All around her, it was bustling, and as lively as she'd ever seen it. Wooden skeletons of the buildings were popping up out all over the place. She noticed it from her home, but up close it almost seemed practically surreal. She could see the outlines of some of the future clan compounds in the distance. Not only was the city already expanding, the face of it was also changing rapidly.

The differences in architectural design was quite noticeable to her. And thus Ixion would soon be forgotten, she thought to herself. Maybe the elders were right. Perhaps it would be best for the past to be lost to the folds of time. After all, the last secrets of the Bijuu would die with her. The world was moving away from the ancient beliefs, and in the end such a thing would be good for the earth spirits. Repeated history proved time and time again that humans abused power. Sakura would complete her life's duty as a shrine warrior, in silence. She would be the last gate keeper.

Entering the back of the small ramen shop, Teuchi caught the brooding look on Sakura's face, "Hey kid! You're far too young to have such a serious look in your eyes."

A smile touched the corner of Sakura's lips. It was nice to be talked to normally once in awhile she thought appreciatively. She gave him a small nod, "You're right. I'm sorry."

He hooked a finger under her chin and gently lifted her face and looked into her eyes, "No fake smiles are allowed either. Besides - I'm going to need you at the front counter tonight."

"What? Wait? Where's Ayame? I don't think that's such a good idea..." She protested with flushing cheeks.

"Nonsense. It's really busy and with all these strangers moving into town. I don't think it's going to be that big of a deal. Put on the uniform, and keep your kerchief on to hide your hair. You'll be golden," He backed away and gave her a thumb's up sign, followed with a smile that made her eyebrow tick a couple times.

Sakura made a face, "I still don't think that's..." She trailed off uncertainly.

He shoved the uniform his daughter normally wore into her arms, "Go ahead and get changed. I'll meet you upfront. It's easy, I promise. All you have to do is hand them their bowls and clear away when they finish."

Before she could object again, he went through the door connecting to the small cooking area that sat behind the service counter. With a sigh, Sakura quickly did as she was bade. It really wasn't all that bad. It was a simple white kimono, with a matching kerchief to cover the hair. She opted to keep the black one on, and left the white material folded neatly on the counter in the back. Breathing in a deep sigh, she ducked into the small kitchenette. She nearly stumbled back when Teuchi shoved a bowl of steaming hot ramen into her hands, "Give that to the gentlemen on the far right." He ordered her curtly.

"Okay," she murmured obediently before, she delivered the bowl as bade. The customer didn't even bother to look up at her face. She turned around with a sigh of relief. Perhaps this wouldn't be so bad after all. The man didn't even seem to really notice her.

"What are you doing?" Teuchi harped at her, while holding out two bowls over the counter and serving the next in line himself, "The customers are waiting."

With flaming cheeks at being admonished for being too slow, she muttered a breathy apology before squaring her shoulders and doing what had to be done.

The hours seemed to melt away, as she handed out the food and collected the dirty bowls all afternoon. For the most part, it went just as Teuchi said it would. She glanced past the flaps of the small ramen bar, taking note that it was already getting dark. Business had slowed down quite a bit, and so Teuchi had her go to the back to wash up the dishes to get ready for the dinner rush.

The way the day was going she didn't really have time to contemplate the happenings of the city. Perhaps keeping her mind busy was a good thing. Sakura tightened the knot on her skullcap and with a deep sigh, she took out the stack of clean bowls and eating utensils to Teuchi. Carefully she set them down next to the large cooking pots. He offered her a small grin and a wink, "Just in time Haruno. It seems we have a group with big appetites coming in."

"Dammit teme if you don't like ramen, then go eat somewhere else," a familiar voice groused from just outside the shop.

"I didn't say that I didn't like it. But you want to eat the stuff every damn day," the response made her stiffen when she felt a shudder of recognition, "This is a pretty large village. There are other restaurants here, you know."

She knew those voices. You have to be kidding, she thought to herself with a roll of the eyes. Her shoulders stiffened perceptibly. Teuchi turned with a big, and overly cheerful smile at his face. He was obviously well acquainted with the young blond man. His smile was large and toothy, "Uzumaki. It's a pleasure to see you again. What can I get you today?"

Sakura glanced between the two males and sighed with a slump of the shoulders. Old man Teuchi hardly ever smiled like that. He must look at Naruto Uzumaki and see money, Sakura thought to herself almost mutinously.

"I'll take the same as usual."

"Special number four?" The ramen shop owner queried.

"Yep," Naruto replied cheerfully, with a brilliant smile.

"I'll have what he's having," Sasuke added dully before sitting down in the stool, and slumping over the counter. His body language of not wanting to be there was completely obvious. Sakura was a bit gratified to see his discomfort. At least she wasn't the only one feeling that way at the moment.

Within seconds, the bowls were filled with their orders. Sakura quickly set the food down in front of them and turned away. She'd rather they not recognize her. When she glanced back she realized that Naruto was staring at her through half-slit eyes, "Oi old Teuchi, where's Ayame?"

"She's not here today. Sakura is helping out today instead," Teuchi announced to her consternation.

Her green eyes warily glanced back waiting for a caustic comment from one of them. When none came, her eyebrows drew together thoughtfully. Maybe with her hair covered, they didn't recognize her. Now that she thought about it, she hadn't given them her first name. They only knew her as Lady Haruno. Thank the Bijuu, she thought to herself in relief. She just hoped that they'd hurry up and eat their food, pay the bill and leave.

She was hard pressed to keep the irritation off of her face when Naruto and Sasuke both ordered second portions. She continued to serve them, but kept her body angled away so they couldn't get a good look at her features. Sakura was also subconsciously keeping her chakra signature suppressed. By the time she handed Naruto his fourth bowl, she was beginning to see why Teuchi had been so happy to see him. The kid ate ramen, like a horse ate hay. She'd never seen anyone eat so much of the stuff. The noodles and meat were very filling. She could never eat a second bowl herself.

"Where's Sai?" Naruto suddenly asked his companion.

"Why are you asking me dobe?" Sasuke groused, propping his chin in the cradle of his palm.

"You were the last one who seen him teme," the male reminded his teammate after slurping up a mouthful of noodles loudly.

"He said something about helping Kakashi Hatake with a project." He dismissed the blond and added, "That's all I know."

Sakura rolled her eyes at the man's biting tone. And the original residents in this village thought she was tetchy. It looked like she had new competition for the title of the town recluse and resident grouch. He made it all look so effortless, she thought bemused her lips quirking at the amusing thought

"Hey Sakura," Naruto's voice made her jump.

"Y - yes sir. Did you need something else?" She queried softly. Her voice held an edge to it, that made Teuchi glance back at her with an arched brow.

"You're not very talkative Sakura. Normally Ayame likes to have a conversation with us." He set his empty bowl on the upper counter.

"I'm sorry," Sakura responded, but the words held no meaning or emotion in them.

Sasuke snapped at Naruto, "Not everyone likes to run their mouth all damn day long like you do dobe."

"Hey Sakura, you've worked a longer shift then I normally ask you to. If you want to go home, go ahead. I'll send you home with some takeout tonight as thanks," Teuchi noticed her features were pale and withdrawn. He figured that she was probably exhausted with all the changes going on in town.

Sakura wasn't one to look a gift horse in the mouth. "Thank you. I should be heading home."

In a flash of white, the young woman was through the door before any of the males could get out another word. She changed in record time. Sakura was out the back exit and into the dark streets, her strides short and quick. By the time she was halfway up the path to the shrine, she realized that she hadn't bothered to grab that take-out Teuchi had so graciously offered her. Oh well, it was white rice, and natto tonight. Again.

Sighing she folded her arms against her chest to ward of the nighttime chill, eager to settle in for the evening. A nice, long bath in the hot springs sounded heavenly. It was truly the only luxury on her property. One she took advantage of regularly.

When she reached the peak of the trail, her heart squeezed in her chest. She noticed someone standing emerged halfway in the shadows of the falling night. She squinted and when she recognized who it was, she wanted to cradle her forehead against her palm. The shadowy silhouette of Itachi Uchiha moved into the dim light of the moon. He leaned against the wall that was supposed to keep the rest of the world out of her little haven. Was today not her day? She had just left one Uchiha for another. It was all she could do not to stomp her foot in frustration.

"So – the mistress of the mysterious residence finally returns," he quipped caustically without bothering to look in her direction.

"Uchiha-sama." She grit her teeth, grinding the molars with abject irritation. "To what do I owe the displeasure of your visit? I thought we had agreed that you people would stay the hell away from my home?"

"You really have no manners," he responded coldly.

"I see. So now that we have confirmed the truth about that aspect of my personality. Why don't you take your leave off of my property?"

"The proper thing to do, would be for you to invite me in for tea," He straightened up and angled his body to face her.

"I am sorry to disappoint you, but you are in correct in that I have no manners. I'd just end up spitting in your tea anyway." She gave a callous and careless shrug irked by his arrogant statement, "So why bother?"

He stepped towards her the mask of indifference beginning to crack under the strain of her unbridled impertinence. Sakura was not in the least bit intimidated when he moved close enough to tower over her just to glare down into her face.

"I've tried asking the elders about you. They had no answers. I questioned the civilians – even the guards. No one seems to know anything about this shrine, or about you. The residents do seem to believe you're a witch of some kind," he thrust his hands into his pockets casually, attempting to regain his stoic manner, "but really - it's more than obvious that you are nobody to be afraid of."

"That's nice." Sakura was doing her best to keep a tight rein on temper. Why was he going out of his way to make her angry? She tried to step around him but he blocked her path.

"So I decided that the most obvious conclusion to this was simple – I should just seek answers from the source." His apathetic gaze followed her every movement, which was beginning to set her on nervous edge.

Sakura put a fingertip to her throbbing temple. She sighed wearily, "Didn't you just already do whatever it is that shinobi do and explore the shrine for yourself?"


"Oh." She was taken aback by the quick, curt response. If he was that bent on digging into her secrets, then wouldn't he have just done what she just said?

"We signed an agreement of terms. I would not do such a thing without orders to do so." He explained without any inflection in his tone.

"Well then, I would appreciate you keeping to that contract. My life, and what I do is none of your business. You don't see me sticking my nose into your private affairs. I would ask that you return the damn favor," her voice was tight with irritation. She didn't believe he would hold true to that, but she kept that thought to herself. Provoking him further would do her little good.

Deciding she had more than enough of the annoying male, she pushed chakra into the soles of her feet, so that she could use speed to just go around him. It was obvious he didn't plan on moving out of her way, and she was too tired to deal with this tonight. When she attempted to just run around him, she felt his hand shackling her wrist tightly forcing her to an abrupt stop. A surprised gasp left her at his audacity. Her shock at the sudden contact kept her from reacting to the rough handling of her person. She let out a soft yelp when her back hit the wall sharply and rather painfully. She lifted her chin, her eyes trailed warily upward. She had to suppress a flinch at the hard and unrelenting look on his face.

At first Sakura was at a loss of how to react in this situation. Indignation sparked in her heart. What had she done to draw his wrath down upon her hapless head? If he expected her to be frightened of him, he was in for a nice little surprise, because his behavior was only serving to make her angry. The lost look of confusion on her face was replaced with heated pique. Her eyes sparked emerald fire up at him. Her voice pitched an octave lower, the husky anger in her tone alerting him to the fact she was about ready to erupt, "So violence is your thing is it? Why am I not surprised?"

He ignored her caustic words, and instead got to the point, "It is my business. You aren't a shinobi, but yet you are able to use chakra in a very unusual way. I find your abilities a threat to the merging of this city with the Konoha Alliance. You're not a real noble either, according to the elders. You are like a loose end, but of what, no one seems to know. I will not ignore this."

Sakura continued to glare mutinously up into his face. She immediately began to infuse chakra into her limbs. If he really wanted a fight, then she was going to give him one. Who in the hell did he think he was anyway to threaten her like this? This was her home first. Who was a threat to who? He was the one who had it all backwards.

"Don't even contemplate it." He brandished a kunai from out of the veil of shadows. In the blink of an eye, he had the tip aimed at the pulse point of her throat.

"Go ahead and finish me off then." Sakura really didn't want him to do that, but she wouldn't divulge her clan's secrets just to mollify his misplaced concern about her supposed threat. "Either way, you will not be given any information." To her, duty was duty.

Itachi could see by the look in her eyes that she was dead serious. Even still, he didn't back off yet.

"I'm not afraid of you," she announced tersely, her control on her anger finally snapping and spiraling out of control, "Are you used to bullying people to get your way? Is that your shinobi culture? You are nothing but a bunch of power hungry mongrels, the way I see it. I will die a dog's death before I'd tell someone like you anything. Go ahead and slit my throat you bastard. I will just make sure to curse you to the very depths of hell."

Sharp obsidian widened at the tiny female's fiery tirade.

Sakura noticed his momentary distraction and took the chance to grab his wrist with her free hand. She yanked the appendage away from her vulnerable skin, before delivering a hard snap kick to his chest. He was forced to take several steps back, giving her enough room to move away from the wall. At least she didn't feel like a cornered rodent anymore, she thought fiercely clenching her fingers into curled fists.

Itachi lifted his head quickly, eyes darting to see where she'd gone. He figured that the woman would have tried to make her escape while he recovered from the surprisingly bruising blow. He smirked in dark amusement when instead he found her still glaring at him, her ribs and torso heaving heavily with visible signs of anger. Did she really have the audacity to just kick him? Didn't she realize just who she was dealing with? His eyes narrowed into dangerous slits. There had been chakra in that kick and also during the time when she had used it when she forced his hand holding the kunai away from her neck. Her use of chakra was unorthodox as was her various fighting styles. He didn't like the idea of someone like that walking around freely in Konoha without any supposed allegiance to anyone.

Sakura was absolutely livid with him at his point. How dare he behave this way on her family's sacred ground? Her home! Ripping the kerchief off of her head, she threw it in the dirt and pointed at him in a fit of temper, "You know what? Maybe I should just kick your rude ass. You're uppity attitude seriously pisses me the hell off. You come to my home to bully me. You think I'm some coward that would tremble in fright at the sight of your pathetic shinobi abilities?" She stomped her sandal clad foot, creating a tiny crater beneath her heel, "You believe your wretched threats would make me tell you whatever you want to know, just like that?"

Sakura marched over to him and bravely poked a finger in his chest. He froze, looking down at the offending digit, amazed by her sudden fearlessness. She snarled up into his face, her lips curling revealing pearly white teeth, "Well guess what, you freaking Uchiha? You. Are. Wrong." She could tell she was making him angry, by the way his eyebrows came together sharply.

His black orbs grew flintier by the second. She had noticed the same look on Sasuke's face when she had first challenged the four of them at the city's gate. What she didn't expect however was for his midnight hued eyes, to suddenly melt into crimson in the time span of a blink. She had no idea what the hell that was all about, but she still raged on too hacked off to really care, "Don't you dare get all red-eyed on me you stupid bastard! I'm the one who is pissed off dammit!"

His visage suddenly took on a frightening predatory look. Sakura's instincts told her that he was way out of her league. It was the first time Sakura felt a small nibble of fear tickle her heart in the unwanted meeting between them.

Her anger fizzled out, and she was at a loss on how to respond to this explosive situation that she had part in making. She could tell by the way he held himself, he was about ready to spring, his shoulders were taunt like a tightly wound coil. He was probably contemplating the idea of mauling her into submission. The soft, familiar tinkle sound that Sakura knew so well, drew both of their attention in its direction. The tension between them loosened slightly at the unexpected interruption and she was hard pressed not to feel the relief blossoming in her chest. She glanced down at Hana, who was padding over to them curiously. Her amber eyes flicked between Sakura and the stranger. She probably wanted to know why her mistress hadn't gone inside to feed her already, the pink haired woman thought in nearly hysterical amusement.

A quick, yet possibly the stupidest idea she'd ever had formulated in her already overtaxed brain. She bent over and picked up her cat. She nodded at the Uchiha with a firm nod. "Yes, you win. I'll tell you what you want to know."

He looked at her a moment, as if he didn't understand the words that were suddenly coming out of her mouth. It was too much of a quick turnaround in her attitude for him to keep up.

"Yes, you see," Sakura walked back over to him and lifted the confused black cat until Hana was face level with the stunned male. Hana looked at Itachi, a soft cute mew emitting from her small fuzzy body. Sakura watched the Uchiha's crimson eyes nearly go cross looking back at the cat's face. He looked just as puzzled as the feline. "I am a witch just like everyone says I am."

Itachi gave her a look of dubious disbelief at the obviously blatant lies spilling from her mouth.

"I worship the Evil Dark Neko, and this here is His minion that He's entrusted me with to care for. If you don't leave me alone, I'll feed your soul to her. She's rather hungry you see. I mean -" Sakura knew she was babbling, but maybe he'd leave her alone if he thought she was out of her mind. She tacked on quickly, "She prefers tuna and I'd imagine your soul would probably taste rather nasty and bitter anyway."

His eyes narrowed on the woman. Was she still insulting him while babbling nonsense at the same time? He looked at the black cat, with the pink collar incredulously. Did she think he was truly an idiot? His eyes narrowed.

"Okay well, I have to go light candles to His great and majestic darkness before He devours my soul," Sakura nodded at him as if it were Kami's honest truth. Then quickly she turned, and using the last vestiges of chakra in her heels, she jumped over the wall in a manner that would make any shinobi proud before he could even think to react to her ridiculous words, and actions.

On the other side, she looked down at her cat, "Thanks Hana. You're a lifesaver."

Hana sent her a dirty look.

"I'm sorry. I know you aren't some evil minion of darkness. I'll feed you a can of tuna tonight to make it up to you. Okay?" Sakura scratched the cat's head lovingly.

Hana continued to glare, ignoring the caress.

"All right, I'll give you a can for breakfast too. You know you drive a hard bargain cat?"

Satisfied by Sakura's promise, the cat mewed in response. Sakura's shoulders were set stiff, because she could still feel the Uchiha's menacing chakra signature just on the other side of the wall. She suddenly fervently hoped he wouldn't go back on his word about invading her property. She looked at the white wall warily. She never realized how little protection it truly afforded her. Sakura stepped onto the porch, and looked out past the gate. He was standing just on the other side. Their eyes met through it and locked in silent battle. The threat in his gaze made the hair on her neck stand on end. Putting her cat down, she put a fist saucily on her hip and tossed her hair over her shoulder. The look she sent him was merely a response to the blatant challenge. Bring it!

She refused to blink, or to show that he actually scared her. He crouched down, the movement liquid and smooth, reminiscent of a predator. He gave her one last look, and with a leap into the darkness beyond. He was gone. She could sense his retreating chakra signature in the opposite direction. She had the feeling he was letting her know he was actually leaving. When she could no longer feel it, her knees gave out beneath her, and she sank down surprised at how relieved she felt. She knew he wasn't retreating and that instead it would be continued at another time.

A sharp nip on her big toe brought Sakura's chaotic thoughts back into focus and the present. She glanced down into Hana's golden eyes. With a mock sigh of agitation, she threw up her hands, "Sheesh! All right already!" Opening the door to her residence, her cat pranced inside like she was the owner of the house.

Sakura rolled her eyes, before following the feline inside, "Yes, yes. I'm coming."

With one last glance into the darkness behind her, she shut the door with a decisive click to settle in for the evening. She did her best to ignore the pounding of her heart as she went through the motions of feeding her cat, and getting ready for bed. It was a long while before slumber claimed the young woman.