Sakura let out a sigh of relief as she released her hold on her chakra, allowing the mixture of poison and water she had been controlling to fall into the bowl by her side. Beneath her Kankuro's body seemed to relax, the lines of pain that had been etched into his face-which looked surprisingly young and vulnerable without his customary war paint-to relax as his body settled into something like sleep.
"He's cured, just like that?" Temari asked. The blonde had been hovering over Sakura's shoulder throughout the operation, and spoke up now as soon as it was clear that she wouldn't be putting her brother's life in danger by interrupting.
Sakura shook her head.
"Even I can't just remove all of the poison from the body so simply," she lied. "To fully cure him, I will need to make up an antidote. Unfortunately, I don't have what I need in my field kit."
"Then you will have whatever Suna can provide. Chiyo, show Sakura to the medical supplies." Temari ordered.
The old woman started to protest, but stilled herself when Temari fixed her with a heated glare. The blonde was extremely agitated, even to the point of releasing some killing intent. It was obvious that she would not be swayed on this point. Grumbling, Chiyo gestured to Sakura and led her to the medical storeroom and garden.
"You have the slug princess's fingerprints all over you, girl." Chiyo said, sneering, as soon as they were alone in the hallway. "Leaf poisons, leaf medics... it's enough to make an old woman suspicious."
"My teacher is the foremost medic-nin in the world. I'm fortunate that she chose to pass her wisdom on to me." Sakura said, smiling, pointedly not making a comment about Chiyo's lack of an apprentice. "As to the injury... perhaps I misunderstood the briefing, but I thought Kankuro was attacked by a puppet."
Puppetry, of course, was an art nearly exclusively practiced in the Village Hidden in the Sand. Unable to muster a reply, Chiyo could do nothing but glare at Sakura before turning once more to lead her towards through the hall. The pair soon arrived at the storeroom. Not well equipped by Konoha's standards, the garden nevertheless had everything that Sakura would need. Smiling, she stepped into the room and began gathering ingredients.
Sakura tossed the herbs she would need on a convenient lab table for later processing. She had just finished tossing the last ingredient onto the pile when Chiyo's hand shot out with surprising speed, capturing her wrist. Sakura could have responded physically, but openly murdering a respected elder really wasn't acceptable behavior between allied villages.
"Bloodwort leaf is a deadly poison, girl." Chiyo said, accusingly.
"It's the dose that makes the poison, elder." Sakura said, smiling brightly. "In this case, to counter such a widespread poison, we need something that will spread like the poison itself in order to neutralize the danger."
Neutralize, but not eliminate. The concoction Sakura would prepare would bind to the poison in Kankuro's body, allowing him to heal. Over time it would start to break down, once again endangering his life. Without a steady supply of the antidote, he would certainly die. Sakura was confident that Chiyo wouldn't be able to reproduce the antidote simply by watching her make it-there was a reason that Tsunade of the Sannin was a legendary figure, and Chiyo was a bitter old hermit.
When the "unfortunate side effect" of Kankuro's healing came out, Konoha would react with the appropriate level of dismay. Teaching the Sand how to reproduce the antidote would unfortunately be impossible due to the number of secret techniques involved, but of course Konoha would be happy to keep providing them with a steady supply... that was the kind of thing Konoha did for its allies.
Sakura hummed a cheerful tune to herself as she began putting the antidote together. She wasn't too worried about Chiyo figuring out the plan. If the woman had the intelligence to piece together the workings of Sakura's creation, she would have been able to put it together herself. Of course, even if she did figure out what was going on, there was little she could do. It was a simple fact that Kankuro's life was in danger, and the potion Sakura was putting together was necessary to allow him to live out the day.
Sakura knew that she couldn't match her sensei or her teammates in open combat. But in turning every situation to the benefit of the village, in creating deadly medicines even under the enemy's close scrutiny... there, she had learned well from the Hokage.
Sakura had a smile on her face and a song in heart when she finished putting together her "cure," and it was all she could do not to skip along next to Chiyo as the bitter old woman led her back to treat the Kazekage's brother. She was rather put out when there was a green flash of light and the world around her disappeared.
Sakura experienced a moment of complete sensory deprivation before the world exploded before her eyes in a kaleidoscope of colors, and she was subjected to the uncomfortable sensation of feeling her body taken apart, piece by piece, and pulled along in an unimaginably powerful current. After another timeless moment she felt herself being put back together again, and the world mercifully faded to black once more. Just as Sakura was beginning to relax, the process repeated itself.
Sakura soon lost count of how many times the entire series of events was repeated, and she was seriously starting to wonder if it was ever going to end when there was an explosion that slammed her flat on her back into the ground, momentarily stunning her.
When Sakura regained her senses, she found herself staring into the face of a girl around her age, with pink hair that looked much like her own. The odd sensation of looking into a mirror faded when she noticed the girl's brown eyes, which were focused on her with a look of irritation.
"Where am I? What just happened?" Sakura asked, raising a hand to massage her temple.
Instead of replying to her question, the girl leaned back and babbled something incomprehensible, before turning around to speak with somebody outside of Sakura's line of vision. Since she obviously wasn't going to learn anything by eavesdropping on people speaking a foreign language, Sakura levered herself up into a sitting position to take a look around.
Her first impression was that it was a beautiful mid-summer day, with a clear blue sky just beginning to darken as evening set in. Since it had been well into fall back in Konoha, this was a cause of some concern. Turning to her surroundings, she saw a lovely countryside, the grassland that she was sitting on disappearing in a large forest off to her right, and turning to rolling hills off to her left. A rather large fortification was built on top of the hill nearest her, although she couldn't see what it was defending from her vantage point.
Of more immediate concern to the kuniochi was the group of people gathered around her. They all seemed to be around her age, other than an older man who seemed to be in charge. All of them were dressed in a variety of outlandish colors and styles. Most of them were wearing cloaks, which just didn't make any sense at all. Only the strongest ninjas could wear such impractical clothing in the field, but no hidden village that she knew of could boast of a class of thirty prodigies around her age.
None of them seemed poised to attack her, so Sakura took a moment to think through her sudden arrival. She had been in one place, and was now clearly in another. She didn't think she was under a genjutsu-any technique that would last through the sensations she had suffered in transit... well, if she was up against a ninja capable of such things she was already dead. The only logical explanation for what had happened was some kind of human summoning, although the logic was undermined by the fact that human summoning was thought to be impossible.
Sakura had read up on summoning after learning that her teacher was considering allowing her to sign the Slug Contract. She didn't understand all of the theory behind summoning, but she knew that the summons were believed to hail from an entirely separate plane of existence, allowing them to appear wherever they were summoned. Human summoning was something of a Holy Grail for seal masters. A nation that mastered human summoning would be able to destroy its enemies at its leisure by summoning them into inescapable traps. Geniuses from the Niidaime to Jiraiya the Sage to the Yondaime had all taken a crack at it, and had all failed. The best anybody had done was to create a sort of glorified shunshin effect as with the scrolls used in the chuunin exam. Some of the scrolls speculated that the Hiraishin technique developed by the Yondaime had involved a sort of self-summoning, but he had taken the secret of that technique with him to the grave. And in any event, even the Yondaime had never truly been able to summon another person.
So for her to have been summoned to a new place was also impossible... and yet, here she was. Looking at the situation from a tactical perspective, Sakura had to admit that it was not good. She had a few of her knockout gas pellets with her, but she didn't think their effect would spread to the whole group in front of her. She could try taking a hostage-she didn't speak the language, but a kunai to the throat had a certain universal meaning-but the kind of people who could perform a human summoning were unlikely to be inconvenienced by a knife to the throat. For now, Sakura decided to watch and learn as best she could.
The conversation between the foreigners continued, but Sakura still could make little sense of it. It seemed that the group of younger people would occasionally taunt the girl who had first drawn Sakura's attention, drawing an angry response from her while she continued to engage in what looked like a contentious argument with the older man. Finally the argument seemed to end as the girl turned away from the older man in a huff and made her way back to Sakura.
Sakura held herself still as the girl said something formal-sounding while waving a stick at her. She was taken completely by surprise when the other girl leaned in and kissed her on the lips. Despite her earlier resolution to watch and wait, Sakura couldn't control her instinctive reaction to slap the other girl in the face. She did manage to refrain from putting any enhanced strength into the blow, not wanting to start an all out brawl with these unknown opponents.
"How dare you attack a maiden's virtue! Have you no shame?" Sakura asked, incensed.
The girl stumbled back, holding her cheek gingerly while glaring daggers at Sakura. When she had regained her balance, she said something to the kunoichi, again in that incomprehensible language.
Sakura was distracted from her frustration at her inability to communicate when she felt a sudden burning sensation in her hand. The pain was intense, but she had been through worse in counter-interrogation training. She kept her eyes on the girl who had kissed her the entire time, refusing to show any effects from her technique. The burning pain faded away, much more quickly than Sakura had expected.
"I hardly felt that! Don't you know any better torture techniques?" Sakura asked, unable to restrain herself from taunting the other girl.
"Don't be ridiculous." The girl replied, snorting. "That was the Contract Servant spell, not some sort of torture."
The two girls continued glaring at each other, before they both did a double take. "I can understand you!"
"Yes, the Summon Familiar spell is said to improve understanding between a mage and her familiar." The older man broke into their conversation. "It appears that you performed the spell correctly on your first try, Ms. Valliere, despite your troubles with the Summon Servent spell."
The petite mage flushed at his comment, although it was hard for Sakura to tell if she was blushing at the praise of her most recent "spell" or with anger at the reminder of earlier failures. Before she could say anything, the man had turned away from them to face the rest of the group.
"Well, let's go back to class, everyone." He directed them.
Without any further orders, the class all rose into the air as one and began to fly back to the castle together, leaving Sakura alone with the other pink-haired girl. She could only watch the group fly off in shock. The strongest wind element user she knew was Temari, and even she needed the help of her giant fan to catch the wind currents in order to fly. What was more, she hadn't felt so much as a stray breeze from her position. An entire group of people with such power and control... Sakura was suddenly very glad she hadn't made any aggressive moves.
After a moment the other girl began to walk back to the castle, gesturing for Sakura to follow. Sakura weighed her options briefly before following. With flight techniques like that at their disposal, she was never going to get away from these people just by running for it.
"Well, now that you're bonded to me as my familiar, we ought to get to know each other." The other girl said after a moment, breaking the silence that had built up between them. "My name is Louise de la Valliere. Who are you?"
"Haruno Sakura, chuunin of Konohagakure, ID number three five six seven one." Sakura replied automatically, before she processed what the other girl had said. "Wait, a 'familiar'?"
"Where do you come from, that you don't know this?" Louise asked rhetorically, before she sighed and explained. "All mages summon familiars to assist and serve them. When I performed the Summon Servant spell you showed up, so now you're my familiar."
"Don't I get any say in this?" Sakura asked. She wasn't sure whether to be horrified, outraged, or terrified, and for now had settled on a sort of artificial calm.
"Of course! Those marks on your hand... they're like a stamp that says you're my familiar." Louise said, very matter-of-fact.
For the first time Sakura looked down to her left hand at the source of her earlier discomfort. She was shocked to see a strange array of foreign seals that had been burned into her hand, apparently by the kiss Louise had given her. For a moment the forest around her disappeared, replaced with an image of the Forest of Death. She remembered when the horribly powerful missing-nin Orochimaru had placed a seal on her teammate simply by biting him. Over time that seal had warped Sasuke's personality, granting him power but also luring him away from his home village into the service of Orochimaru. To have what was to all appearances an improved and refined version of the technique used on her by such an innocent looking girl... it was just too much. Sakura stopped walking.
"Who are you people?" She asked. Even now, engrained training kept most of the utter terror that she was feeling out of her voice.
"We are students at the renowned Tristain Academy of Magic!" Louise spoke with pride. "The greatest school of magic in Halkeginia."
Sakura tried to ignore the implications of the existence of a school full of such powerful students. "And where are we? How do we get to Fire Country from here?"
"We are in Tristain, of course." Louise replied, then paused to think. "I've never heard of this Fire Country."
"So there's no way for me to go home?" Sakura asked.
"No, of course not, you're my familiar now." Louis said, sounding surprised at the idea, before giving Sakura a sympathetic look. "Don't worry, as long as you serve me faithfully and take care of me, I will take care of you too. The master-familiar bond is a two way street, you know."
"Couldn't you, maybe, just send me back and get a different familiar?" Sakura asked, trying her best to negotiate a way home without provoking the other girl. She guessed from the reaction of Louise's classmates that her summoning had not been particularly impressive. "It looked like you were hoping for something else..."
"No, it's impossible. The familiar bond is for life. I have no idea where you came from and the Summon Servant spell is strictly a one-way spell." Louise replied, looking at her evenly. "Even if it weren't... the only way Summon Servant can be used again is if the familiar you first summoned has died."
"I see." Sakura said, subdued.
Nothing more was said as the pair returned to the castle. Louise seemed uninterested in Sakura's background, and Sakura felt she had learned enough about her new master. Apparently the mage was not the type that would kill her out of hand in hopes of summoning a superior familiar-or at least not the type who would do so without her teacher's approval, as Sakura thought she had an idea of what the earlier argument with the old man had been about. However, it was pretty clear what would happen if Sakura proved to be a useless familiar.
Sakura did her best to calm herself as they reached the end of their walk. She reminder herself that the situation could have been much worse, and certainly would have been much worse if any of the S-rank ninja hostile to Konoha had mastered a human summoning technique. These mages didn't seem interested in torturing her for information, and didn't really seem to care about her at all except for her position as Louise's familiar. Surrounded by more powerful people her own age, desperate to prove herself useful... it was almost enough to make her nostalgic.