Chapter 37:

Once she had rolled their forms through a shielding line of trees behind her house, Sayomi untangled herself from the great snake with a powerful kick to it center using her hind legs. The slick hissing creature flew into the base of a nearby tree some feet away with a resounding smack that cracked and splintered the bark.

Recovering from the blow, the black serpent picked itself back up- fixing its unblinking yellow eyes upon Sayomi as it started swaying hypnotically.

Meanwhile, she re-positioned herself in a four-legged, semi-crouch stance, with her front low to the ground as though she were ready to pounce at a second's notice. Not a single muscle moved on her sleek, tiger-body as the two predators continued staring each other down, daring the other one to make the next move.

"So it's true..."Though the black snake hissed out loud in his own reptilian dialect, because of her animal form, Sayomi understood his words as if they were as apparent as the night sky that hung above them. Underneath the serpents yellow gaze, the reptile seemed to almost smile, "The original shape-shifter is here in the Hidden Leaf."

The tiger's indigo eyes widened slightly at the declaration before her belly rumbled with a low growl, "And just who wants to know?"

The serpent's blue tongue flickered outward in mocking anticipation, "He didn't want me to say..."

The white and black striped feline snarled while her front claws slowly drew themselves out and subtly tested their sharpness across the ground beneath her, "Then why bother seeking me out?"

"To confirm your existence, of course." the snake answered with a malicious laugh, "...and to deliver a message." Without warning, the black serpent spit. Heavy golden drops of venom struck the tiger right in her face.

The great feline screamed, a shriek of agony as her fur-covered flesh began to sizzle.

The snake laughed as its poison dripped from its fangs to the ground. It ran as thick as mercury and was as potent as a lethal acid.

Sayomi staggered backwards with her eyes sealing shut against the pain. Her head thrashed back and forth in an attempt to shake the burning concentrate off but to no prevail. Not needing her eyes to see to know the reptiles' exact location, the tiger leapt straight up and twisted in midair, allowing her back claws to slash the wide-open mouthed serpent across his own face-leaving four large diagonal streaks of crimson running from the top of his black head, down his nose and stopping right around his neck.

Then, Sayomi dived face-first to the ground and ferociously rubbed herself into the earth.

The grass and dirt helped clear away some of the venom, therefore easing its sting, allowing the tiger to slowly recollect herself from the sudden attack while the snake reared up, dodging wildly back and forth, seeking her out.

The reptile's blood spattered the ground-it's violent coils knocked over some small trees that stood around him. After another minute or so, the serpent's agitation gradually calmed as it turned its body around and found Sayomi defensively poised a few feet away.

"You bitch..." Furious at the tiger's assault, the center of its yellow eyes glowed red with flames as the snake's body slithered forward in great waves. "I'm not suppose to kill you...but there's nothing stopping me from killing that weakling of an old man that was with you tonight!"

Hearing the threat against her old sensei's life, Sayomi instantly fact, she was beyond rage now. "You can make all the threats you want at me..." without giving the snake a chance to prove his words, the tiger lunged forward, bounding off the trees around them and onto the serpent, only to smash its head against the ground. "But you will never hurt Hiruzen!"

Closing her powerful jaws around the reptile's neck, with its body now in between her teeth, the large white and black feline flipped the serpent up into the night air, then snapped its spine with an audible crack.

Blood spurted. And Sayomi spat the ghastly thing away from her and watched with cool eyes as it writhed around on the earth before her in its death agonies.

Her tiger form stood tall and panting, her mouth stained crimson from the reptile's bitter blood while her face bore the marks seared by its venom into her right cheek and across her brow.

The snake's flopping became more frantic, an unnerving rhythm of its serpentine death.

"You said you carried a message..." Sayomi pointed out with a snarl, "...what was it?"

Little by little, it's thrashing subsided as it pinned the tigress with its yellow, lidless eyes from where he laid sprawled on the ground. It seemed to already resign itself to its fate, "I would've thought that answer was already obvious..." the serpent hissed, " master wants to see you-in person, that is." he informed with a sneer, "Privately."

Sayomi tossed her furry head dismissively. Knowing full well she had won this fight, she willed her body to change. Her white and black striped fur slid back into smooth, fair skin, her leg bones stretched out straight while her paws grew fingers and toes. All feline features melted away within moments as a round face framed by long wild locks of aqua green with high cheek bones and a ruby stained mouth, redeveloped on top of a feminine neck.

The snake gave a strangled chuckle, "...He'll be pleased with you, no doubt. You carry much strength."

She finished the change. "Is that all?" Sayomi's unaffected human voice took the place of her animal dialect. Completely bare and now bored with her defeated foe, she slowly started turning away, "...well thanks for the invitation. But I'll pass on that."

Behind her, the serpent's upper body rose with its fangs bared, dripping of fresh venom as its eyes fixed themselves on Sayomi. "Suit yourself..."

Using a final burst of energy, he snapped forward and before Sayomi could stop it, the snake with his gleaming triumphant eyes buried its fangs deep into the muscle of her naked thigh.

The young woman gave a sharp cry of pain, then enraged, she reached down with both hands and seized the massive reptile by the back of his neck. She had just about had enough of this thing.

Without caring as its fangs sliced open two nasty gashes into her leg, she jerked the snake free from her flesh before dropping into a crouch that allowed her to slam it back into the ground. It's skull cracked under her force.

" Allow me to pass onto your master a message of my own..." She seethed, "...if I ever detect even just a hint of his retched self around this village...I don't care who he is, I will rip him..or any of his associates, to pieces!"

To prove her words, with the snake's neck still in her hands, Sayomi gave it a powerful 360-degree twist, and then pulled until its tissues and scale-covered flesh gave way to her animalistic vigor. After she had separated the head from its body, the young woman left the dismembered parts in a pile before she rose back up to her full height and stepped away.

But the second she put weight on the leg that had been bitten, the young woman's muscle screamed with protest. White-hot pain coursed through the veins in her thigh, feeling like thousands of tiny needles that were ruthlessly assaulting her nerves to the point where everything was becoming numb.

Gritting her teeth, she collapsed heavily to her knees, catching most of her weight with her hands.

"Damn it..." she thought to herself as her fingers dug themselves into the turned up dirt. The venom's potency was stronger than what she had originally anticipated for the bite being so quick.

Off in the distance, her ears twitched expectantly as they detected the quiet fall of fast approaching footsteps. Sayomi looked up and turned towards the sound, sniffing the air lightly. She wasn't surprised that the ANBU had caught on to something-but she couldn't say she was appreciative for it either.

In all honesty, their presence would be nuisance now-especially with her naked self covered head to toe in blood and suffering from the serpent's unpleasant venom that was beginning to hinder her body's ability to function by the second.

Then again...with them around, they'd be able to escort Hiruzen safely back to his facility, she mumbled in her thoughts. At least on that note, there was some benefit-But not for her.

Though most of the ANBU, thanks to her old sensei's vouch, could distinguish Sayomi as a fellow Hidden Leaf peer, she knew none of them would fully understand just what had taken place here tonight. Which was precisely why, "I can't be seen like this..." Even her fallen foe that lied feet away seemed to share the same idea for the large serpent's remains without warning suddenly disappeared in a cloud of white smoke as though it had been summoned away-a thought Sayomi would have to deal with later.

For now, being that she was left with no option, with a quiet sigh- mixed with a light groan- she demanded her body to shift back into its animal form. Then, using her remaining three legs that still could bare her weight for the time being, Sayomi bounded with a steady limp into the shadows-allowing them to efficiently carry her away from her house, away the scene, and out of sight...

"Lord Hokage..."

The old man looked up from his seat at the foot of Sayomi's bed and took notice of the three ANBU Black Ops kneeling before him without surprise.

"Are you alright, my Lord?" spoke the leader of the trio with a bird mask shielding his face. "...we had detected a sudden splurge of chakra in the air and came to investigate."

Hiruzen forced a harmless smile onto his face, "I am just fine...came to visit a dear friend."

"Sir...there may have been signs of a struggle less than a half a mile from this house...are you sure nothing out of the ordinary took place?"

The old man shook his white head and carried on forming a lie, "Nothing besides my missing hostess who had to run out to the store to buy some more tea. " he sighed with a dramatic air, "...but then again, that's nothing out of the ordinary...she always forgets to keep Chamomile around."

The Trio of ANBU took a quick look around the bedroom, "This is Sayomi's residence?"

"What happened to that window?"

Before the questions could keep coming, Hiruzen held up an aged hand and rose to his feet, "At ease, men..." he told them, "I can assure you that all is in order...and yes, this is Sayomi's house. She's been wanting to renovate her bedroom for some time now and she wanted a second opinion first before she started tearing down walls."

"So she did that herself?" The leader ANBU nodded once at the shattered remains of the bay window behind the Third Hokage.

The old man smiled again and raised a hand up to scratch his head, "What can I say? Sayomi's always been the do-it-yourself kind of girl...and she is quite good with her hands..." the old man took a moment to pause as though he were considering his own words, "...though I'll admit, her technique is a little unorthodox..."

The Three ANBU shared a subtle glance with each other before looking back at the old man. "Well sir, if all checks out as you say...we would then like to ask to escort you back to your own premises. With Orochimaru afoot, it isn't safe for you to be making these late-night visits...especially when they lie just outside our city's great wall."

"Hmm..." Hiruzen once again played along and silently thanked the heavens above that his cover had work, "Perhaps you're right...very well, let us be gone. I'll send a messenger hawk to Sayomi when I get back explaining the situation." After putting his wide-brimmed hat back on his head, the Hokage moved forward and led the way out of the bedroom, "She's a good girl...I'm sure she'll understand."

Keeping her prints light, Sayomi maneuvered her way through the trees and carved her own path, making it as untraceable as she could in case someone tried tracking her while in her secondary form. She was able to cover a few miles before she could no longer make her body continue on in its current condition.

The venom by now had spread throughout her entire system...her limbs felt heavy as lead and numb to the touch- meanwhile, her flesh and nerves burned with an insatiable inferno. Using her keen hearing and sense of smell, Sayomi hobbled into a small clearing by the training grounds that she deemed safe by a small rocky mountain side where the gentle roaring of a fresh water spring and pool resided.

Once by the pool, she was able to force her body to climb midway up the rocky side before it finally collapsed onto a stone ledge ten feet above the water. Out of breath, Sayomi gritted her teeth painfully as her feline body curled up into a tight ball as she tucked herself out of view against the cool rock.

Luckily, the venom in her system wasn't going to kill her, she knew that much...but until further notice, it appeared that it would immobilize her for some time. The aching fever that was settling in upon her told her that. All Sayomi could do now is shut her body down...and let it fight this poison off.

Finally at her limits, within moments Sayomi eyes closed as she slipped into the deep abyss that was unconsciousness...

(Five Days Later...)

It was midday, there was still no word or sign of Sayomi since that night...

...and the stack of files and scrolls upon the Hokage's desk that he had been using as a form of distraction were starting to wane in size.

" wished to see me?"

Without taking his eyes from the papers he was currently reviewing, the Third Hokage nodded his head, "Yes..." he answered, "...come on in, Kakashi."

At the invitation, the Jounin stepped into the office and closed the door behind him before he leisurely moved across the floor to stand before the large desk.

"I've been meaning to ask since the preliminary fairs your team of Genin?" the old man inquired as he set a paper down only to scribble his signature down at the bottom corner. "Are they handling the Chunin Exams alright?"

Kakashi slipped his hands inside his front pockets, "Well..Sasuke's still recuperating in the hospital. Sakura is doing fine, taking things rather easily for the time being. And Naruto..." the silver haired Jounin paused in thought before he shrugged a casual shoulder, "...well, he's off being Naruto."

"Good, good..." The Third answered as he left more signatures on the various paperwork before him, "That's...that's good..." A heavy silence befell the room.

A silver brow arched softly as Kakashi continued studying the old Hokage. Something about him seemed awfully off , "Er...was that all you wanted, sir?"

Hiruzen looked up, instantly puzzled as though he had already forgotten that he had company present, "Hmm? Did you say something, Kakashi?"

The Jounin politely cleared his throat, "Lord Hokage...correct me if I'm something troubling you?" While keeping one hand still pocketed, he used his other to lightly scratch the side of his unruly kept head, " seem distracted, sir."

The old man blinked as the statement processed. Then, he sighed, closing his eyes with resignation. "I suppose you can say that..." Hiruzen neatly set all papers aside before he joined his hands together and rested them on top of the desk's surface, "I'm sure it's nothing...but...I haven't seen or heard from Sayomi recently."

Hearing the young woman's name, Kakashi's attention immediately perked and the Jounin straightened up, "Sayomi's gone?" he repeated as his visible brow furrowed lightly with the information, " you saying she's missing?"

"I'm not sure I would call it missing, per say..." Hiruzen answered, "...after all, it's never been an uncommon thing for her to pull a disappearing act that takes her away for a few days at a time..."

"And she does this often?"

"It's for training purposes, usually." Though Hiruzen was certain that wasn't the case this time around. Nonetheless, he had to keep things as quiet as possible in regards to her absence.

Kakashi sighed and shook his silver head, " That that keeps her away for days at a time, you say? Makes a man wonder just what exactly she does with her time..."

"Indeed." The old man agreed as he sat back in his chair, "...but like I said...her disappearance is probably nothing more than a training exercise of some sort. I imagine she'll probably show up again soon enough. She always does. Until then, I seem to have developed a habit of worrying I'm afraid. "

Kakashi nodded, understanding the truth behind the Third Hokage's words, "Well...I'll be sure to keep an eye out for when she does, sir."

For the first time in a few days, day, Hiruzen found himself starting to smile, "Thank you, Kakashi. I would greatly appreciate that.

"Sayomi…."called a gentle and strangely familiar voice.

Standing up on the tiny mountain that overlooked their tiny village below, a little Sayomi, no older than six years of age, happily spun around in recognition; her deep indigo eyes sparkled with joy.

"Mama!" she cried before she ran with outstretched arms towards the woman standing halfway down the mountain's slope, gazing lovingly up at her.

Bathed in rays of yellow sunshine, that reflected brilliantly off her golden hair that fell down her back in soft curls, her mother smiled warmly, before opening her arms up wide to accept her eager child.

Giggling, little Sayomi flew into her mother's awaiting embrace. "Hahaha, Mama!" Sayomi declared as she snuggled into the woman.

Her mother's laugh was as clear and as crisp as the melody of a song. And it was Sayomi's favorite thing to listen to. "Hello, sweetheart." Her mother spoke. Pulling back, Sayomi lifted her head up to stare into her mother's lovely face that resembled her own. And like Sayomi, even their eyes matched in similarity.

Of course, there were some obvious color differences between the two- her mother's eyes were the soft shade of violet rather than the deep, drowning indigo pools that Sayomi possessed.

Taking her daughter's tiny hand within her own, the two slowly began their descent down the mountain's slope together, heading back toward their village. "You know I'd prefer it if you didn't run off like this, Sayomi." Her mother lightly scolded her, with a tiny smile, "….especially when you're going alone." She added.

A light blush came to Sayomi's cheeks before she buried her left cheek into her mother's arm as she walked alongside her, a nervous laugh escaping her lips while doing so, "Heh, sorry!" she apologized while raising her head up to meet her mother's gaze before she smiled a double-dimple smile, "Next time, I'll be sure to take you with me!" she promised.

Her mother smiled in return before she brought her free hand over to tenderly cup Sayomi's face; her hand was soft and warm and she herself smelled fragrantly of vanilla.

"That's my girl…."

When the images of the dream faded into blackness, Sayomi stirred from her slumber with a groan. Her eyes slowly fluttered open and she was instantly blinded by the daylight. Human once more, the woman brought a hand up to shield her eyes as she slowly came to her senses.

But the more she started to feel again, the more she wished she had remained asleep. Though the venom had finally passed through her system, it's lasting affects still took their toll upon the young woman.

Sayomi felt sluggish and her head pounded with the wrath of a great migraine that left her half blind. She could make out colors and their silhouettes, but other than that, everything looked heavily blurred together. And when she moved, even just to stretch and flex her limbs, thin threads of agony would shoot up and down her nerves.

Willing her naked body to sit up, she breathed slow, deep breaths until she could focus enough chakra to vanquish her present discomfort. Then, using the stone mountainside behind her as leverage, Sayomi clambered to her feet. Her knees wobbled under her weight, and the young woman realized just how weak her physical condition was.

Not to mention dirty.

Sayomi took a moment and gave herself a quick look-over, frowning as her eyes took in the dirt and caked on blood from the fight that still clung to her skin from head to toe. She took a quick whiff of herself, and her responsive nostrils were assaulted by a rancid sourness that all but forced her to lose the lingering contents of her stomach.

"Damn it all..." she felt as horrible as she reckoned she looked.

A shadow suddenly passed overhead, and Sayomi picked up the proud screech of a hawk before she turned her head up to the sky and spotted the great bird just as it dived in and landed on the stone ledge a foot away.

Recognizing the bird instantly, Sayomi moved forward a pace before she took a knee, "Hey there, Eclipse..." she greeted quietly, cringing when her voice cracked and strained itself with the formation of words. God, her mouth was as dry as a desert.

The black hawk chirped in response.

"Did Hiruzen sent you?" Eclipse remained silent and unmoving at the question.

A brow smartly arched as the woman read the bird's body language, "No? came and found me on your accord?"

The sleek black hawk fluffed her feathers, causing Sayomi to softly smile. "I see..." then, she extended an arm out and offered Eclipse her wrist.

At the gesture, the great bird instantly claimed her new perch upon Sayomi's arm. Though most people handled their messenger hawks with protective equipment for fear of their powerful talons, Sayomi preferred the direct contact between the bird and herself. It was just one of the ways the two of them showed their companionship-their trust for the other.

Shaking her head with wonder, the young woman gently stroked the bird's feathered head with an affectionate finger. Eclipse gave another soft chirp as though approving before she delivered a chastising peck upon Sayomi's hand with her sharp beak. Not offended by spilt-response in the slightest, a curt laugh erupted out of the young woman. "You truly are my best and most clever friend..."

At the praise, Eclipse shook her feathers out once more, stretching her wings for a moment before she settled back onto Sayomi's arm. "Can you do something for me?"

Eclipse turned her head to the side, showing Sayomi that she was listening, "Can you go and fetch me a cover of some sort?" To help get her message across, Sayomi gestured down her naked body with her free hand.

The black hawk gave a quick screech of compliance before she opened her wings and took back off into the sky. In a few moments, she was out of sight. Until Eclipse returned, Sayomi thought to herself, she could at least get herself cleaned up a tad.

Stepping up to the stone ledge she had taken sanctuary on as the poisonous venom laid rampage upon her system, Sayomi gazed down into the blue pool that lied a good ten feet below.

" isn't a bathhouse..." Sayomi murmured out loud as she wiggled her bare toes against the cliff's edge. But a bath was a bath. And at least she wouldn't reek anymore of blood, sweat and acid-like venom.

Without needing more encouragement, Sayomi stepped off the cliff and plummeted into the crisp blue waters below.

"Hey Pervy-Sage..." Naruto spoke as he and his newfound mentor walked side by side toward the training grounds. "What are we going to do today?"

Jiraiya, one of the Legendary Sannin, glanced over at the anxious blonde headed boy beside him and sighed, "Same thing we've been doing. You still haven't mastered summoning yet."

"Aww...can't we do something else?"

The man shook his head, "Look kid...You asked me to train I'm training you. If you don't like what ..I do..find somebody else." Immediately, Jiraiya grew hopeful, "...and leave me to finally carry on with my research."

Naruto grumbled with irritation, "You and your research..."

" research is very important!"


"A kid like you wouldn't understand..."

As the two bickered back and forth, they passed through a line of trees and entered the clear, flat plains of the training grounds.

"All I'm saying is I need to be learning something useful for the final exam coming is summoning suppose to...uh.. Pervy-sage?" In the midst of his lecture, Jiraiya had come to a complete standstill beside the young boy, his eyes locked onto something far ahead.

Naruto's blue eyes flickered back and forth from Jiraiya and the direction that held his tutor's absolute attention-he clearly did not see what was so interesting to the older man beside him.

Frustrated, Naruto's arms came up and crossed themselves over his chest, "What are you staring at, Pervy-Sage?!"

"I must get closer..."


"Shush!" After delivering the order, Jiraiya seized the young boy and tucked his smaller form under his arm, "...or you will ruin this for me!"

Before Naruto could further protest, the two Shinobi sped off, ducking and taking cover behind nearby bushes and surrounding trees as Jiraiya crept in for a closer look.

Once he had deemed them close enough, he hid them behind a rather large hedge before Jiraiya immediately dropped Naruto with a quiet plop on the grass. Then, he carefully buried his face into the bush. "Ohhhh...myyy..." Jiraiya openly giggled before he silenced himself with his own hand. "Looks like I'll get to do my research after all..."

Looking up at the Sannin, Naruto frowned as he brushed himself off and got to his feet, "What the hell are you going on about?"

"Hush...we don't want to frighten her off..."

"Her?!" Sick and tired of his mentor's rambles, Naruto moved in alongside him and after shifting some branches aside, he peeked on through the greenery.

Heat instantly came to his young cheeks as he spotted just what it was that was holding his teacher in such rapture. Some twenty yards away resided a small pool...and the obvious silhouette of a woman was swimming inside it. And she was completely naked.

Not even Naruto could look away when she reached a shallow end and stood up in the water, offering a pleasing side shot of her body which was revealed from her hips up. Her long aqua green hair provided some coverage, acting like a wet curtain that draped and fitted itself over her breasts, falling down her front before stopping just at her belly button.

"Umm...err..." Naruto was speechless. A part of him screamed that he shouldn't be doing this...but then the other didn't seem to mind.

"Hubba-hubba-hubba..." wide-eyed Jiraiya was practically drooling.

"Pervy-Sage..." Naruto finally managed to speak, "...I don't think we ought to be doing this... she kind of looks familiar..."

"Naruto..." At the unexpected sound of his Sensei's voice, the startled young boy spun around and spotted Kakashi approaching from behind.

"Ka..Ka..Kakashi-Sensei!" the boy exclaimed as he wildly looked about as though he had been caught in a dastardly act, "...wh..where did you come from?"

Stopping in front of the young boy, Kakashi's silver head fell softly to one side, "Me? ...I came here in search of a friend..." His ebony black eye narrowed with mild skepticism as he took in Naruto's guilty look, "...what are you doing here, Naruto?"

"Umm..." The blonde boy glanced over at Jiraiya who was too busy peeping to pay them any mind, "" he offered.

Kakashi's arms came up and crossed themselves over his chest, "Training?" he repeated, not buying it for a second, "...I see...and the purpose of this training is what exactly?"

Naruto opened his mouth to reply but realized he didn't really have a valid excuse. So, he did the only thing he could do and hung his blonde head in shame, "Ok...I've got nothing..."

Kakashi arched a smooth brow and remained silent, forcing Naruto to shift uncomfortably back and forth on his feet before he pointed an accusing finger at the Sannin's back.

"In my defense though...this was all Pervy-Sage's fault!"

At the declaration, Jiraiya's white head turned to glare at Naruto and Kakashi, "Will you both shut it?" he asked in a lowered voice, "...I'm trying to work here!"

"Work?" Kakashi repeated.

Oh boy...

Coming from the legendary Jiraiya, that could only mean one thing...

Sighing, Kakashi stepped up to the larger male's form and placed a hand upon his shoulder, "Jiraiya...I don't think now is a good time for your shenanigans with Naruto present...if you catch my drift..."

"Shenanigans?" Jiraiya's hushed voiced sounded almost insulted before he caught Kakashi by his shoulder and pulled the Jounin in, forcing his silver head into the bushes beside him.

"Hey!" The Jounin protested as the Sannin forced his direct attention.

"Oh, you cannot call something like this, that!"

Kakashi was about to resist when his eye landed on the womanly object of Jiraiya's absorption. At first, Kakashi thought his vision was playing tricks on him...but then as he continued studying the feminine details displayed, the resemblance, even looking at her from the side, was unmistakable. The fair skin marked with black stripes...the hair...

His mouth ran dry. "Sayomi...?" the name had quietly slipped out before Kakashi could contain it as instant color stained his cheeks a rich pink that showed from the top of the mask that he wore across his face.

After his meeting with the Hokage, Kakashi had naturally taken it upon himself to try and locate Sayomi's whereabouts, just to satisfy his own curiosity for the mysterious woman. But this...never in his entire life did he imagine he would find her like this. The exquisite sight of the young woman bathing in the pool- naked- before his very eyes was overwhelming.

Surely, Kakashi thought to himself as his blood stirred wildly in his veins, this had to be some kind of Genjutsu...