A/N: Well guys, here comes another one.
I'd posted a teaser up of this up on my livejournal. For those who read it, here's the continuation. For those who didn't, hope it catches your interest. Like I said before, I was overcome by the image of a sort of prehistoric Gaara knocking Sakura over the head with a club and dragging her away by the hair. As a result, I ended up writing 10 pages of what started out as a drabble.
This is set in an alternate universe but is similar to the Narutoverse when it comes to being a mix of technology and traditional Japan.
Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters of Naruto. This story was written for entertainment purposes only.
Additional note: zubon trousers are the kind of trousers used in karate and other martial arts uniforms. They're loose but not as loose as a hakama.
Buki: Japanese for weapons, arms.
CHAPTER I – CAUGHT
Sakura willed her jumping nerves to be still. Showing any sort of weakness would not be favourable under any circumstance. Wild beasts could smell fear and would react to it. She'd be damned if she gave anything away.
They'd done nothing wrong, damn it. There shouldn't be any reason for them to feel guilty, none at all. As a matter of fact, they were out on a rescue mission of some sort... placing their lives in danger for the benefits of others.
How the hell could they have known the sandstorm would hit during the night? They had no idea of how to predict the errant weather of the region. With the desert so near the arid landscape they were traversing, they knew sandstorms were a possibility... they just didn't know how quickly they could sneak upon unsuspecting travellers.
They had been forced to find shelter and it had been almost two hours before they'd found any kind of decent cover. It was impossible to tell where they were going in the sand filled darkness. By then, it was entirely too late. They'd wondered too far among the crags, going into territory they should've avoided at all costs.
Now, their small group found itself in the hands of the wildest clan of the East Province... with, Sakura suspected, no possibility of immediate release.
She'd tested the coarse rope binding her hands behind her back while they were "escorted" to the clan's main stronghold and realized they had been strengthened with chakra. There was no other option but to attempt a dialogue of some sorts with the leader of this wayward assemblage.
After walking all night, they were herded into the main hall of a large round building, not allowed any sort of respite. The pink haired girl's hopes fell when she entered a spacious hall, filled to the brim with warriors who looked just as tough and crude as the ones in their impromptu welcome party. The news of their capture had spread fast and it seemed every fighter in the village had turned up to see their arrival.
The crowd parted before the guards that led them as they moved to the back of the room. Sakura could make out a large chair made of animal hide and crowned with impressive antlers standing on an elevated platform. It was empty at the moment but she had no doubt the clan's chieftain would be making an appearance very soon.
Jeers were elicited by some of the gathered males in reaction to their all-female group. Sakura heard Tenten hiss through her teeth in response behind her right shoulder. She was sure the weapon's specialist was itching for some of her knives. Unfortunately they had all been taken away.
Ino, behind her to the left, was unusually quiet. This made Sakura suspect she was up to something. The last thing she needed was for the blond to act impulsively, something she was infamous for. One inappropriate peep out of her and the pink haired girl knew their heads would end up rolling. She turned her face to pin her with a warning look.
'Leave the talking to me.'
To her relief, Ino bit her bottom lip but nodded slightly.
Their guarded escort stopped when they were a few feet before the throne. Pushing them forward brusquely, they closed ranks behind the three women, looking rather threatening. Sakura was sure they were harbouring desires to wring their necks for the sound trashing some of them had received when they'd tried to capture them.
Her lips twisted up into a wry smile. Much good it had done them. They had been caught by surprise; in the end, there just had been too many assailants. She guessed they were lucky they hadn't been killed on the spot. This clan was notorious for being intolerant to trespassers. No one was allowed on their territory unless they were specifically invited.
Now, the three women were at the mercy of the Fates.
The sound of a door opening to the left was followed by the noise of shuffling feet. Sakura looked up to see another group of warriors, five of them, coming decidedly their way. By looking at them she could tell they were captains of some sort. They held themselves differently from the brutish rabble gathered round the rest of the room. In perfect order, they arranged themselves round the throne: three of them standing on the same level as the prisoners while two stood on the platform, each on one side of the decorated chair.
It was one of these last two who pinned Sakura with a dark, deadly glare.
And for the life of her, she couldn't pry her eyes away.
The piercing shade of jade of his irises was unreal. It was impossible for someone to naturally possess such an eye colour. They were the exact same hue of an emerald sea under the scalding sun of midday, transparent enough for you to see the sand at the bottom.
But there was nothing transparent about this man's gaze. It was impossible to see anything beyond the lethal intent emanating from him. He was as harsh as the sandstorms of the region and just as fatal. The crimson red of his hair and of the tattoo on his forehead she associated immediately with blood. There was absolutely no softness about him. The cruelty staring back at Sakura made her shiver.
She didn't give him the pleasure of seeing her tremble, however. Her exterior facade remained the same as she tore her eyes away and proceeded to survey his clothing as well as that of the men who had entered with him.
They wore more or less the same colours: dark magenta and earth brown. She guessed the hues reflected their status as military leaders. They wore a type of gi of varying sleeve length along with zubon trousers or hakamas. Sakura noted the redheaded man was dressed in a sleeveless gi, which made the muscles on his crossed arms all the more evident and reinforced the aura of strength surrounding him. She found herself wondering how many necks he had wrung with his bare hands.
Sakura turned her eyes to the man standing on the other side of the throne, wondering if he shared the same rank as the redhead. His face was covered in deep purple tattoos and she wondered if it was the clan's tradition for military leaders to mark their faces. This other man, even though he did look tough and very menacing, didn't seem to emanate the level of cruelty as his counterpart. Somehow, the pink haired girl thought he would be willing to dialogue first before making any judgments.
She almost snorted at the absurdity of her train of thought. Here she was, making wild guesses over the character of people who would most likely have her liver for dinner if they were given the chance. Instead of harbouring illusions, she should be thinking of what the hell she was going to say when the moment came to state their defence.
If these intimidating men were the captains, Sakura could only quail at the thought of what their chieftain would be like.
She heard Tenten shift to her right and looked up to see her scowling. Her gaze was directed towards one of the men who had positioned themselves in front of the platform. He had eyes of the palest silver, almost white.
'Byakugan,' Sakura thought immediately but refrained from showing any outward reaction.
The man's long dark hair was held back by a loose ponytail at his neck. The menacing glower he was directing towards her friend would've made a weaker woman crumble. But Tenten wasn't one to cave under intimidation... quite the opposite. Sakura could only hope she didn't lunge at the silver eyed man and get them killed before they were given the chance to explain the situation.
Closing her emerald eyes for a moment, she sent out a prayer to whatever deity was listening at the moment.
When she opened them once more, she found the redheaded man hadn't taken his eyes off her. He was staring at her as intently as ever and all she could do was glare back.
If he thought she was some kind of weak, submissive female who would surrender at a man's slightest threat, he was in for a big surprise. She didn't care if he ended up snapping her neck in half, which she was sure he was very capable of; she would never give him the pleasure of witnessing her fear.
His eyes narrowed, as if he could sense her thoughts. But before Sakura could do no more than blink, the door to their left opened again and the crowd behind them bowed in respect to the newcomer.
The pink haired girl gawked. It was simply unavoidable.
The person who had just entered the room was none other than a woman. Dressed in a deep blue yukata and wearing a simple headdress of leather adorned with a single silver feather and an aquamarine jewel. There was no doubt this was the Chieftain.
Recovering her senses quickly, Sakura bowed from the waist, just like everyone else was doing. Her companions caught on quickly and did the same, paying their respects to the leader. The tall woman made her way gracefully towards the elevated throne and took her seat.
Straightening up, the pink haired girl surveyed her and realized this woman was a seasoned warrior. Her hair was a sandy blond colour and the teal of her eyes spoke of a leader with experience. The harshness of her face was the same as that of her people, the legacy of living in such an austere territory.
Once more, she realized it was going to be very difficult to get out of the predicament they were in.
The room had gone suddenly quiet and Sakura could feel the weight of the redheaded man's glare more clearly. She refused to look at him though, giving all the attention to the Chieftain now seated upon the throne.
The woman lifted her arm and bade one of the men who had captured them to step forward.
"Kiba, report," she said in a deep voice.
"Chieftain Temari," the man replied, coming to stand before his leader. "We have brought you the trespassers we found on the northern border. We came upon them during the night as they tried to sneak into our territory."
"Spies, spies!" yelled the crowd behind them at the man's words.
Sakura could almost hear Ino grinding her teeth. Luckily, her friend stayed silent.
The man continued speaking. "They resisted but they presented no real challenge. We bring you their weapons." With that, he bade another of the men to come forward. The man rolled out a long cloth containing Tenten's weapons on the floor before the Chieftain. Spread out like this, it did look like the arsenal of a small army.
Tenten hissed. She couldn't tolerate her precious weapon being touched by anyone... much less her captors.
Sakura pinned her with a glare before she took any action.
"What more evidence do you need?" someone in the crowd exclaimed. "They came here planning an attack!"
There were shouts of agreement all around and Sakura repeated the prayer she had said earlier.
Not only had they stepped into the territory of one of the most dangerous clans but they had trespassed into their land while said clan was clearly having a feud with their neighbouring tribe.
Fate really was a fickle miss.
The Chieftain raised her hand, silencing the crowd. She surveyed the gathered weapons for a moment then raised her gaze towards the three captured women.
"You will have only one chance to speak. Please make good use of it," she said.
The time was upon them. It was now or never.
Sakura stepped forward, trying to emanate an air of confidence she wasn't truly feeling.
"Chieftain, I'm afraid there has been a great mistake. We are not spies. We are on a mission to the nearby Forest Kingdom on your north-east border. We have been summoned by Uzumaki-sama himself. I am a medic and I have been called to treat a strange illness his wife has been afflicted with."
As she said those last words, Sakura saw the silver eyed man who'd been glaring at Tenten turn to look at her. But she refused to lose focus.
"I have Uzumaki-sama's letter of summons in my backpack. We were on our way to his kingdom when a sandstorm struck our camp last night and we were forced to seek shelter. Unfortunately, we got lost among the wind and sand and stumbled into your territory quite unintentionally."
Chieftain Temari looked at her silently for a moment. "If you're a group of medics, as you claim, why would you bring such a cache of weapons with you?"
Sakura knew the question was inevitable. "I'm afraid these weapons aren't ours. They belong solely to my friend here," she answered, gesturing towards Tenten. "She is a Master of the ancient Buki arts."
There was surprised murmur around the crowd at this statement. Sakura saw her friend lift her chin proudly and nod in acknowledgment at her words.
"We are not a group of medics," the pink haired girl went on to clarify. "I am the only medic in our small band. These two women are my travelling companions. Considering the dangers of the road, having an expert in the Buki arts with you seems a prudent way to travel."
This elicited a small smile from the Chieftain but her questioning was only beginning. "You're the medic, you say?" she asked. "I heard from one of my messengers that you knocked out one of my most stout warriors with a single blow. Isn't that right, Chouji?"
A large bulky man, one of their captors, stepped forward somewhat unsteadily. He had been the only one stupid enough to try and go up against Sakura one on one. Despite his large size, it hadn't boded well for him. She'd delivered a devastating punch to the right side of his skull. It wasn't enough to kill him, that hadn't been her intent, but it was enough to douse his lights for a couple of hours. His comrades had been forced to carry the heavy man between them as they made their way back towards the village.
"Yes, Chieftain," he answered, trying to look as dignified as possible. "She blew me out like a candle, she did."
Temari turned to look at Sakura with a questioning look.
The pink haired simply shrugged. "I said I was a medic, I didn't say I was defenceless."
This answer brought a chuckle from the tattooed face man standing to the Chieftain's right.
Sitting on her throne, she looked up at him with a small smile on her face. Turning back to Sakura she said, "I would see this letter of yours."
"It's in my pack," the pink haired woman replied.
"Bring her things," the Chieftain ordered.
There was movement behind them and the medic's backpack materialised at her feet. One of their guards approached and knelt down to rummage through it.
"She uses a special technique, charging her fists with chakra," Kiba said, stepping forward while the letter was found. "We saw her blow a rock the size of a house to pieces when she missed one of her attacks."
"Infused chakra attacks?" the Chieftain asked, as if the technique seemed familiar. After a few thoughtful seconds, she turned back to Sakura. "What is your name?"
"Haruno Sakura, Chieftain," she replied, bowing slightly.
Temari erupted into a fit of loud laughter. "I should've known!" she exclaimed, slapping the arm of her chair. "Your pink hair should've giving it away from the very beginning. So you're the apprentice of the Ageless... both your reputations precede you."
Sakura nodded at the compliment. "I didn't know you were acquainted with Tsunade-shishou."
"We met once but it was a very long time ago," the Chieftain said, glancing briefly at the redhead beside her. He looked down at her for a moment but remained silent. "I was very young back then, I'm not sure she'll remember me. However, I'm sure she'll look exactly the same as she did back then."
The pink haired girl nodded but didn't offer anything more. Her master's techniques were a secret she intended to take to the grave.
"I found it!" the man looking through her knapsack exclaimed. He pulled out a scroll tied with a white ribbon and took it to his leader.
Temari pulled the tie and spread the paper on her knees, reading quickly.
Sakura thought it was finally the moment to show her trump card.
"I understand you have a solid alliance with the Forest Kingdom. If anything were to happen to us, Uzumaki-sama would be very displeased."
The Chieftain turned to look at her but it was the redheaded man who spoke.
"I do not think an alliance such as ours would be disrupted over a mere medic, despite her alleged reputation," he said in a cold derisive tone.
Sakura couldn't help but shiver at the cruel sound of his deep voice. If she'd had any doubts of his mercilessness before, they were immediately quelled after hearing him speak.
She lifted her chin and looked directly at him. "I have been summoned by Uzumaki-sama not because of my reputation as a medic. I was called to his kingdom because he will not tolerate to have a medic he doesn't trust near his pregnant wife."
"You claim the Lord of the Forest's trust?" the redhead asked, clearly unconvinced.
"Yes I do," Sakura stated without hesitation. "I have known him since childhood... since before he became who he is today."
Jade clashed with emerald, neither backing down.
"Gaara," the Chieftain said in a warning tone. "She is who she says she is. This missive is authentic. This is Naruto's signature." Lifting the letter up to him, the redhead snatched it out of her hand.
Turning back to the captured women, she smiled. "I apologize for the treatment but I'm afraid it couldn't be helped. We are currently at war with one of our neighbouring tribes and must make to no exceptions for anyone caught trespassing."
"We understand," Sakura replied, breathing easily for the first time.
"Let these women go!" the Chieftain exclaimed.
At the order, the men behind them stepped forward. The ties around their hands were cut loose and their belongings returned to them.
"May I have the names of your companions?" Temari asked.
"This is Yamanaka Ino," Sakura answered, gesturing towards her left. "And the Master of the Buki arts is Tenten."
Both women inclined their heads in respect towards the Chieftain.
"Please receive my welcome! And all of those present listen," Temari shouted out to the gathering. "These women have been elevated to the status of guests. They will receive the best of our hospitality for the length of their stay."
"The length of our stay?" Ino blurted out. She simply wasn't able to keep quiet anymore. "I thought we'd be leaving immediately!" Throwing an exasperating glance at Sakura, she was on the verge of throttling the next person who came within reach.
Temari proceeded to explain. "Due to the current circumstance, you will have to stay in our village for the time being. Like I said, we are at war with an enemy tribe. It is not safe for you to travel. You will be able to leave as soon as things calm down somewhat."
"But we were travelling just fine!" Ino exclaimed.
"That was before you came into our territory," the tattooed man next to the Chieftain explained patiently. "Now that you have come into our lands, it makes you fair game for the enemy."
"Kankurou's right," Temari replied, nodding up at him. "You will inevitably be attacked and considering your mission, I cannot let you come to harm. It is the very least I can do for the Lord of the Forest."
"I don't give a- OUCH!" Ino started to say, only to be kicked on the shin by Sakura in mid-sentence.
"We gratefully accept your hospitality, Chieftain," she said. "If there's anything we can help with during our visit, please do not hesitate to let us know."
"Your skills may come in handy at some point," Temari admitted. "But for the time being, you may rest. You have travelled far from South City to get here. I will, however, take you at your word if your assistance becomes necessary."
All three women, Ino a tad reluctantly, bowed in acquiescence.
"Now," the Chieftain continued to say, "since you are my personal guests, you will be given a personal escort."
Sakura was abruptly overcome by a foreboding feeling.
"You will be strictly under their supervision when it comes to your safety. I advice you listen to their counsel and follow their orders when it is needed."
The sense of apprehension came climbing up for the soles of her feet and up her spine.
"They, in turn, will make sure you are provided with everything you need."
The colour was draining from her face. She simply knew exactly what would happen next.
"Gaara," Chieftain Temari said, gesturing up to him. "Haruno Sakura comes as first priority for she is the medic who is to attend Hinata-sama. Please take good care of her."
And there was simply no way Sakura could say no. Not without insulting the whole clan.
She was on the verge of asking if she could go with the man named Kankurou instead but the glare the redhead sent her way brought the idea to an abrupt end.
"Yes, Chieftain," he answered reluctantly, emanating waves of barely controlled violence.
At least he wasn't happy with the arrangements either! Still, Sakura was sure she would be the one to suffer the most. It was a small comfort but being offered the protection of the rank of guest might keep her safe from him.
"Shino," the Chieftain said, speaking to one of the men standing in front the platform. "Please take care of Yamanaka-san."
The man wore dark glasses a strange hood over his head. He nodded towards Ino and the blond had no choice but to pick up her things and go stand by his side.
"And finally Neji," Temari said to the silver eyed man with a sly smile. "You will have the duty to take care of the Buki Master."
Sakura almost snorted. Was it her or had the Chieftain picked up on the antagonizing emotions swirling between her guests and her men and had acted on purpose?
She turned her emerald eyes up the leader but found nothing suspicious in her welcoming smile.
"Fine," Neji answered with a curt nod. "You may come with me."
Tenten glared at him.
"Not before getting my weapons back I won't!"
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