An alien sensation of warmth crept through her cold, aching bones. It was a strange feeling, rousing from the depths of sleep; she shivered at the foreign sensation, drawing her knees to her chest, grasping them as though they tethered her to the very earth. Her eyes were shut tightly, as though afraid of opening to discover a waking nightmare.

Demons lurked behind her closed eyelids. She was hallucinating, she knew; however, that didn't ease the fear she felt in her heart. The shadows surrounding her became bloodthirsty demons, with razor-blade teeth. The whisper of the wind as it brushed fondly against her became a torrent of unholy whispers, promising a swift demise.

"…We are the harbingers of blood and death…"

Her throat was bone-dry; a dull pounding within her temples drowned out all thought, as she blindly struggled against her own body. She groaned in discomfort, rolling over, trying and failing to find a comfortable position. Her hands clasped the blanket that covered her modesty with a grip of iron, winding it tightly about her figure.

Blue-gray eyes opened slowly, only to close reflexively as sharp daggers of light pierced them. Krystal grunted, sitting up quickly; suddenly, she was hit with the sensation of vertigo, so strong her head began spinning and her stomach threatened to release its meager contents. She sat still for what seemed like an eternity, lost in a haze of nausea and still half-drowning in sleep's muted embrace.

The vixen's tail twitched in agitation at the feeling of helplessness that pervaded within her. Her thoughts seemed slow and imprecise; she couldn't focus long enough to form a coherent sentence, let alone use telepathy. Her eyes, though closed, burned as beams of ambient light pierced them viciously; covering them with her forearm did little to relieve the pain, and the effort to move was too great to bother. Her breathing echoed slowly and painfully in her ears, like the cry of a wild banshee.

"Ngh…" She grunted, only to recoil at the sound of her own voice. It was scratchy from disuse; the effort to speak was far too great, opting her to return to silence once more.

Then, her ears picked up another sound; the rustle of cloth, close by. She heard a distant voice; it seemed to fade in and out, as though it spoke from within the depths of the earth itself. Taken by surprise, Krystal leapt to her feet, ready to fight; however, her body failed her once again. A stab of pain lanced up her fight side, and she hissed in agony; her legs buckled, and she toppled quickly, as though a puppet with its strings cut. No sound escaped her lips; she was far too dazed to scream.

Thankfully, her silent prayers were answered; rather than hitting the earth, she was supported by another person. Cracking open bleary eyes, the blue-furred vixen bore the pain for just a moment, observing her savior.

Blonde hair, like a second sun… ethereal blue eyes that captivated her own… whisker-like scars on his cheeks, awe-inspiring yet primal in nature… broad shoulders that seemed to bear the weight of the entire world…

Naruto. The name echoed within her mind – her soul – bringing memories of the previous day to the forefront of her mind. She remembered. Where was she? What was going-

"Relax. It's okay." Cooed Naruto, a soft smile playing upon his lips. He must have seen her minor panic attack, as he pulled her into a firm, yet tender embrace. Krystal relaxed into his grip, too tired to resist; she grunted softly, enjoying the warmth his body provided.

"Drink this." Her savior whispered, as he held something up to her lips. She tentatively opened her eyes, a rush of relief filling her as she caught sight of a water bottle dangling just within reach. She accepted the gift, recklessly draining the bottle of all its contents. She coughed haggardly as life itself traveled down her throat, restoring her energy.

"Slow down… you'll upset your stomach," the blond man chuckled, as the vixen in his arms slowed down to a more reasonable pace. The bottle was soon drained of its contents, and Krystal sighed contentedly.

They remained in that position for a few moments, neither Cerinian nor human speaking; it was a friendly, companionable silence, punctuated only by their slow breathing... but for all her comfort, Krystal felt out of place within the man's grasp; slowly, in spite of her concerns her tired eyes closed once more, and her head found its way onto his chest. Her breathing deepened, and her closed eyes didn't notice the soft smile of the man that held her.

"You've overworked yourself… you have a fever and your body needs rest." Naruto continued, his soft voice penetrating the haze cloaking her fevered mind. Krystal nodded slowly as he eased her to the floor, his hands lingering sensually on her soft belly fur. She blushed as she realized she was completely naked, save for the blanket that now lay beneath her. The sensation of his hand dipping just below her breasts sent a soft shiver through her core.

The vixen gasped at his touch, and as his hand pulled away, she groaned softly. The blond man, upon seeing her reaction, smirked, though not unkindly.

"You're not yourself right now," he whispered, grabbing another blanket and lowering it gently over her naked form. "Just... get some sleep. Hopefully, your fever will break by morning."

As though hypnotized by his soft voice, Krystal's eyes closed once more. Her breathing slowed, and within seconds, she was fast asleep, her chest rising and falling lightly beneath the wool blanket that preserved her modesty.

Naruto sat by her bedside for a moment, smiling as he bathed in her presence.

Before she had awoken, a miasma of despair seemed to sweep through the cave - their home – and it seemed to consume his very spirit, driving him into inaction. He'd spent the past ten hours by her bedside, tending to her minor injuries and watching over her, silently cursing himself for not knowing any medicinal techniques.

However, he did know a basic examination technique, which he had promptly put to use on her unconscious form. In Konoha's Black Ops division, it was rudimentary technique simply known as the Tap, due to its method of application. A lone hand sign, a radial energy pulse, and a light tap on the head of the vixen was all it took for Naruto to gain a brief understanding of her condition… and as his life energy melded with hers, he gasped in surprise.

He was floored by the sensation of sheer power that boiled inside of her. He thought his teachers had taught him everything there was to know about chakra and its applications.

It appeared, then, that his teachers had never met Krystal.

Having been raised in a ninja society, one of the first things he was taught about was chakra, otherwise known as life energy. A combination of physical and mental will, it flowed through all living beings, giving them that 'spark' that kept their hearts beating, that kept their souls bound to their bodies. A strong life had strong chakra; a weak life possessed very little; the dead possessed none.

Her chakra network – or at least, what he thought was her chakra network - was a sight to behold; it was alight like the midnight sky during a new moon, burning with an almost ethereal intensity. Even more surprising, is that it didn't possess chakra. Naruto's mind blazed intensely as he struggled to understand what he was sensing.

Normal chakra felt lighter and more erratic in its movements, like the cutting winds of a tornado. On the other hand, Krystal's energy – he wasn't sure what to call it – was entirely different.

It was a thick green mist that ebbed and flowed within her spiritual core, as heavy and precise as an ocean wave, and the smell of ozone lingered in its wake. It was astronomically dense, much moreso than anything he'd ever seen, and whereas chakra burned brightly like a morning star, this energy was calm and languid in its movement. 'Touching' a smoky wisp of her power, his eyes widened as a spark jumped from her sleeping form to his fingertip, startling him slightly.

Judging by the sheer density of the energy inside her, an army's worth of pure power was compressed into the unconscious vixen, and yet she remained unaffected; the blond man astonished that she was alive, let alone in one piece.

Pulling his consciousness away from her physical injuries, he turned his attention to her mental state, activating the second stage of the Tap... melding his mind with the vixen's own.

The Tap was similar to the Yamanaka family techniques, in that the caster entered the consciousness of the target; however, the Tap only permitted observation, and was not a strong enough technique to actually affect the mind.

The sensation of mind-melding with another person was described as 'being sucked into your own stomach', a feeling the blond man had experienced before, and expected yet again. He steadied himself, took a deep breath, and entered her mind.

When the blond man merged his psyche with the unconscious vixen's, he was graced with a foreign, alien feeling; blackness flooded his vision, and he grew lightheaded. He felt as though he were being watched by a sleeping ancient, its alien presence probing at his mind with curious fingers.

Truth be told, he felt mildly guilty about invading her soul… but, he reasoned, he needed to make sure she was okay. The itching curiosity he had - that had nipped at his heels ever since he had first seen her, and had grown steadily since her mind-walking technique - had nothing to do with it.

Of course not.

Suddenly, it was upon him. It lashed out with incredible speed and power, snaring him in its clutch of steel. He quickly realized he was feeling the power of Krystal's unconscious mind; she was subconsciously reacting to his presence, her sheer mental strength threatening to swallow him whole.

Her psyche smothered his thoughts like a thick wool blanket; his ears were stuffed with cotton, and his own body refused to move. His vision began to swim, and he grew lightheaded, slowly tilting to one side; he felt his consciousness waning, and as panic flooded his veins, he forced his weakened body to move.

Reacting quickly to the perceived threat, he released a strong chakra pulse, releasing her unconscious mind's hold on his own. Quickly, he pulled away from the vixen, panting as though he had run a marathon.

Her mind was definitely not normal.

He stared down at the unconscious vixen in hesitation and confusion; what he had seen… it was impossible. There was no way his observations could be true; and yet… he was forced to accept reality. Within moments of completing the Tap, he'd uncovered new information that had shocked him to the core.

The first of which was that her abilities didn't use chakra, for the simple reason that she didn't have it.

It was a difficult thing to accept; having been raised in a ninja society, he'd been under the belief that everyone, everything, possessed some form of chakra: mental and physical energy, manifested into a force that could be manipulated. Krystal should have been no exception; the techniques she used were fueled by her own energy, and were inherently devastating. She used them freely, to great effect; and yet, the blue-furred vixen possessed not even a whisper of chakra within her entire body…

The power she was using, whatever it was, was a lot more dangerous than chakra. When using chakra, if a person exhausted themselves, they would simply pass out, and their body would begin the process of recovering. If they passed the point of exhaustion, they might very well die.

However, Krystal's situation was entirely different. She possessed an unearthly amount of energy within her; similar to Naruto, hers was incredibly potent. But the sheer intensity of it... the blonde hero swallowed thickly, a bead of sweat dotting his temple.

Even he had his limits, but this vixen - the energy within her, as expansive as the world itself, would never run out. She was paramount to a walking force of nature. And rather than exhausting her energy supply – a feat which would be, in all likelihood, next to impossible – she exhausted herself trying to control it.

So, in order to cope with the strain of holding and manipulating her own latent energies, her body began breaking down in order to fuel her techniques. Simply put, she would burn away her own life energy in order to control the power that possessed her.

As long as the vixen had willpower left in her body, she could use her abilities. From what his cursory scan indicated, there was no limiter on how much power she could push into an attack, because her attacks were based on her imagination and her will to make her thoughts reality…

…which meant that using a high-powered technique, when she was exhausted, could cause her to lose her ability to contain the energy she possessed.

In short, she would kill herself… and take out every living being within miles, if his estimation of her power correct. She was a literal walking bomb.

It was a thought that filled Naruto with unease.

How close had she come to dying? Krystal's ears flicked softly as she dreamed, and at the sight, Naruto's eyes hardened in grim realization. She'd been unconscious for the better part of a day now, only waking for that single moment in time. When she'd collapsed, her breathing had been erratic; she'd nearly gone into cardiac arrest. She looked like a walking corpse; the strange powers she called upon during their battle had drained her to the point that she was on the verge of death. Her pulse was feather-light, and her body dropped like a heavy stone, unable to support its own weight. Blood had tricked freely from her nose, a sign of internal injury… possibly even brain hemorrhaging.

She had poured all of her mental energy into resisting him, and now she suffered for it. She would recover, of course; she was strong, and healing rather quickly, all things considered.

He felt a pang of sympathy for the vixen; he'd been in the same situation all too many times, but only now did he realize what it felt like to observe another going through such a trial. When she woke up, he'd tell her not to do it again.

His thoughts shifted gears as he caught sight of their rations, now running dangerously low.

He had to prepare for her awakening. Groaning in relief, he stood, stretching his legs after hours of disuse. There were chores that needed to be done, to prepare for nightfall. Firewood was an essential; they'd exhausted their supply the previous night, and the skies were growing darker with clouds by the minute, hinting at an impending rainstorm. He'd need to retrieve some now, before their supply became waterlogged; to do any less was irresponsible on his part.

The concerned ninja let his thoughts wander, as he exited their cave and began searching for firewood. His thoughts were inevitably drawn back to the vixen; every half-hour or so, he'd loop back, follow the naturally concealed path behind the waterfall, and check up on Krystal, ascertaining her condition and maintaining a constant vigil at her bedside.

Slowly but surely, a sizeable stack of firewood accumulated in their home; they would have enough fuel to last for a night or two, before a return run was needed.

However, Naruto wasn't sure they'd even be able to make another trip into the forest – at least, not for a short while. They'd been discovered by a Konoha sentry, his friend Kiba no less... and though he didn't like hiding, Krystal's survival – and possibly his own, at this point – depended on their ability to avoid detection by the nearby village.

Of course, that was easier said than done, especially since they'd been tailed to the waterfall. If Kiba were to return, bringing an adequate ninja force to inspect the area, the wizened blond had no doubts that their home would be uncovered.

When he had been chased, uncertainty had wavered in his heart; should he flee, or come clean? On the one hand, he could have revealed his presence to Kiba. After all, they were as close as brothers, and surely Kiba wouldn't have reacted violently… but what of Krystal? What would become of her, if Kiba had seen them together? Incapacitated as she was, she wouldn't be able to defend herself, let alone stand, and Kiba might have had another scout with him… one who was considerably less tolerant of 'otherworldly' matters.

In the end, he decided to err on the side of caution and lead his brother in a winding pursuit.

He loved Kiba like a brother, but he couldn't sacrifice Krystal's safety to satisfy Kiba's curiosity. Even if Kiba had been alone, if the beautiful vixen's existence had been unveiled, their secret wouldn't remain as such. The dark-haired hotshot was known for having an incredibly loose tongue, and in an organization that made its living on extracting information…

Well, telling the scruffy-haired ninja of Krystal's existence was paramount to signing her death warrant.

Their current situation frustrated him to no end. What if Kiba returned with more reinforcements? What if Krystal didn't recover?

He growled like a lion protecting his young, a deep throaty sound that rumbled from deep within his chest. Prowling softly through a clearing in the trees, he breathed deeply, venting away the rage that grew within him like a thick malaise. Fighting had awakened his blood, as well as the Fox within him. It was whispering dark things into his ears, indistinct but grim in their intent; as he closed his eyes, visions of bloodshed came to him, and his nostrils were filled with the smell of sulfur.

The demon, sealed within him at birth, was trying to manipulate him. It fed on his doubts and fears, fusing them into potent rage... and should he give in, a blind fury would consume him, bringing power, chaos and death until it lost momentum.

"…the harbingers of blood and death…"

A drop of rain kissed the blond's cheek gently, distracting him from his morose thoughts. He wiped it away with a curious finger, and turned his hardened gaze to the sky; a cool autumn breeze caressed his hair, and slowly, the pitter-patter of raindrops on leaves graced his ears. He closed his eyes for a moment, enjoying the peace brought by nature's kiss… and unlike before, visions of another's torment didn't swim behind his eyelids. He felt calm; the smell of ozone flooded his nostrils, invigorating him with an energy he couldn't express.

He frowned softly as the raindrops swiftly crushed his fears and doubts, brushing them aside as though dust in a hurricane. Memories that were not his own soothed his mind; a feeling of grim determination blazed within his soul, burning away any regret and confusion. He felt hopeless, and yet empowered; it was a sensation unlike anything that he had experienced before, save for when he was within the teeth of Death, so long ago….

Something was going to happen soon. He could feel it.