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"May I inquire as to where you are off to?" asked the Hokage as he watched the leader of Suna rise from his seat. "If I am not mistaken, your daughter is about to take to the field against the prodigy of the Hyuga clan; the match will be quite the spectacle I believe."

"I care not," said the Kazekage as he moved towards the exit. "I must check in with my son immediately."

"I assure you that our best medics are currently looking after him," said Sarutobi, but his words fell upon deaf ears as the Kazekage left the box without bothering to turn around and gesture towards the leader of Konoha. While somewhat understandable in nature, Sarutobi motioned to one of his guards to come within earshot. "Find Jiraiya. I need to speak with him urgently."

"At once," they responded before vanishing, allowing the Hokage to turn his attention towards the fight going on beneath him. He only prayed that the fighting remained restricted to the arena floor, and that the inkling feeling at the back of his mind was nothing to be worried about.


Orochimaru scowled slightly as he made his way swiftly down from the private box which housed the important guests of the exams. Gaara would be in the medical bay, and the structure of the stadium had hardly changed from when he himself was a Chunin.

It was quite troubling that the Sandaime was already onto him.

While he often said that his sensei had almost gone senile, the fact that he had seen Sarutobi call upon his ANBU just as he had stepped out of the box proved that the old man was just as perceptive as ever. Orochimaru had to prevent himself from almost shuddering in anticipation; he could not wait to see the look on his sensei's face when two of his role models turned their blades against him while the village he loved so dearly erupted into flames.

Naturally, he'd be the one to deliver the final blow. He wasn't too much for theatrics and all that, but that would undoubtedly be the best way for him to exact his revenge upon the Hokage for all the wrongdoing he had done.

As he approached the medical bay, Orochimaru turned his thoughts more towards the short term. The Genin who specialised in Taijutsu was strong compared to the rest of his peers - Orochimaru had 'fought' him after all - but there was no way that Gaara should have lost to the boy. The match had been a pitiful exhibition of the Ichibi's bloodlust, and if something was wrong, it was important that it was rectified before the invasion kicked off. He wasn't sure what his odds stood at without the Ichibi being unleashed in the middle of the city.

"Kazekage-sama," said a nearby nurse as she bowed respectfully, snapping him back to reality.

"I am here to talk with my son," said Orochimaru, maintaining the Kazekage charade as best as he could. "Has he awoken?"

"Yes, he woke up about five minutes ago," the nurse smiled. "You've got a strong boy."

Orochimaru's only response was a slight nod. "In that case, may I speak to him… privately?"

"Of course," said the nurse as she gestured outside the door. "I'll keep watch outside if that's alright with you, Kazekage-sama."

"Thank you for understanding," the missing-nin responded, unsure of how the actual Kazekage would have responded to such an offer.

"Oh!" the nurse exclaimed as she was heading out the door, turning around to face him. "I should let you know, that blow to the head he took didn't look too good. He seems a little woozy, and at this stage, we're unsure if he's suffering from a concussion or not."

He nodded once more and she left, the member of the Sannin taking a few seconds to make sure that the woman wasn't eavesdropping before turning towards the Jinchuuriki in question.

"That was a disappointing result; I expected more of you," said Orochimaru with a visible frown. That was true even when one looked past the charade, Gaara should have been capable of much more.

Gaara sat up slightly from the bed, a nod so miniscule that Orochimaru would have missed it had he not been a seasoned ninja being his only response.

"Was something the matter?" asked the 'Kazekage'. "Why did you lose to such a mumbling idiot? One which cannot use a single Ninjutsu or Genjutsu at that!"

Gaara, for his part, contemplated those words for a few seconds. Was it a smart move to tell him about the old man or would it be a better idea to stay quiet? If his 'father' knew how to fix what was wrong with Gaara, that would probably be a good thing once he looked past the Ichibi's voice. On the other hand however, if his 'father' did not know how to fix such a thing, then he would know that Gaara was weak and vulnerable… Knowing the man he certainly wouldn't hesitate to exploit that.

If he didn't tell his 'father' anything, that would leave Gaara in the midst of the invasion with a screwed up chakra network. That more than likely meant death… but perhaps if he could hide somewhere until the entire thing blew over…

Gaara shot that option down. He would be held answerable to his 'father' later on, and regardless of whether or not the invasion was won, the end result would not be pretty. It essentially boiled down to trusting his 'father' or perhaps facing certain death: one of the most difficult choices he had ever been faced with.

"There's something a little… off with my chakra," admitted Gaara as he bowed his head in shame. "It is not forming correctly."

"Perhaps one of the boy's earlier blows disrupted your chakra network," said Orochimaru with a frown. He had known Gaara to be brittle behind his so called 'ultimate defense', but even that was pushing it. "Should I call a medic-nin?"

"I don't think that's the case," said Gaara, noting that his voice seemed rather different compared to what it would have sounded like a month ago. "This has been happening for a while… and I can't hear mother's voice."

Orochimaru's eyes widened. That was unprecedented, somehow the Ichibi had been silenced? Not voluntarily, he assumed, since the beast was reportedly too bloodthirsty for something like that. The beast clearly hadn't been extracted from the boy given that he was still alive, and his chakra seemed to be funky too. Recalling the match that Gaara had had with Lee, he also remembered that his sand shield was a little off, just barely blocking Lee's blows in the nick of time. Initially, he had attributed that to the speed of Gai's protege, but now he realised it was the result of something else.

"You can still form chakra to some degree, can't you?" asked Orochimaru, a slight smirk coming to his lips when the boy nodded. It seemed the odd twist he had been dealt was not to be, there were a few things that could do the described effects to a Jinchuuriki. He had planned to do one of them to deal with the Leaf's very own Jinchuuriki.

"Can you please lift up your shirt?"

Gaara's eyebrow raised, Orochimaru curiously noting that he had never seen the boy display that much emotion, but he complied anyway. As expected, around Gaara's seal laid five mark in a pentagonal shape; there was no mistaking it, it was the Five Elements Seal.

"This is going to hurt," said Orochimaru as he plunged glowing blue fingertips into the boy's stomach before he could react. "Gogyō Kaiin!"

The boy spluttered, trying to double over in pain but failed to do so since he was lying down on a bed. A feral look overcame the boy's face when he registered that his 'father' had attacked him.

"Relax," said Orochimaru, in an attempt to calm the boy. "Try and mould your chakra now."

The feral look didn't disappear from Gaara's face until he summoned a small ball of sand in the palm of his hand. A puzzled one replaced it.

"You haven't happened to run into any grey-haired, perverted old men, have you?"


Neji thrust forward, his Juken strike trying to hit his target. Despite having Guy as his teacher, the speed his opponent was using was indeed impressive, as she managed to weave around his attacks. However, his relentless assault also had her on the back foot as she had been unable to use her war-fan as anything more than a tool to block his attacks thus far.

Spotting a potential opening, Temari flicked open her fan but only realised her mistake when Neji quickly burst forward with a speed he hadn't yet shown, and drove his palm through her fan's sheet, making it effectively unusable in battle. With his arm still poking through, however, Temari slammed her fan shut with all the force she could muster, slamming Neji's wrist painfully between two metallic boards.

A grunt of pain escaped Neji's lips as he tried to free his extended arm, only for the base of the fan to be thrust into his stomach before he found his chin the target of a precise kick that rattled his brains.

At least somewhere along there, his arm had been released from its entrapment.

As he tried to regain his bearings, he wasn't quite sure what was coming his way but knew that it couldn't be good. Even though he had wanted to save this for his fight against Lee he had no real choice as he started spinning on the spot, chakra springing forth from his Tenketsu points forming a protective sphere around him that reflected the kunai that Temari had tossed.

Neji slowly came to a stop sensing that the danger had passed for the moment, looking at Temari who was trying to figure out her next move from here. Not particularly wanting to give her the time to do so, Neji charged forward in the hope of getting a preemptive strike in.

Driving his palm forward, he expected his attack to be blocked in some manner, but when his strike was met with little resistance, the simple clone burst out of existence, and Neji couldn't help but wonder why he hadn't been able to tell the difference between the clone and the real thing as a result of his Byakugan.

The answer was a simple one, as the smoke departed to show Temari standing no more than a foot away from where the clone had been, hiding behind it and making Neji believe that the clone he had been able to see through had Tenkatsu points. His mistake was made even more clear as Temari raised her closed war-fan high overhead before bringing it crashing down upon Neji's head.

As Temari turned away from the collapsing body of her unconscious opponent, she looked towards the Kage box to see if her father was pleased with her efforts. To find that he wasn't even present infuriated her, resulting in her storming off despite the ovation of the crowd.


"Alright, I've spoken with all of the Suna shinobi and none of them claimed to have killed Sasuke," said Kakashi as Naruto and Sakura stood nearby. "According to reports, they saw Sasuke use a jutsu before he vanished in a puff of smoke. They couldn't really see the handseals he produced so we can't discern what jutsu he managed to use, but at least we know he's not in enemy hands. What is problematic, however, is that the Suna nin were given orders to kill us but keep the last Uchiha alive."

"How come the teme gets all the special 'keep alive' treatment?" complained Naruto as he tried to push his previous bloodlust to the back of his mind. While Kakashi's words had managed to settle him to a point, he knew that at some stage he would need to tell both Sasuke and Sakura just what he was and what he was capable of.

"I assume they were after his eyes," mused Kakashi. "Whoever orchestrated this attack would have been after the Uchiha bloodline."

"So we still don't know who killed the Kazekage," said Sakura, slightly disheartened that they didn't know who the mastermind was.

"The Kazekage was always a bit reclusive and did most of his dealings in secrecy. It could have been a minor village or even a rogue organisation, it's impossible to tell at this point," said Kakashi with a shake of his head. "For now we can do nothing but wait here."

"You mean we're not going back to Konoha immediately?" asked Naruto.

"Suna is still our ally on paper, despite this betrayal," said Kakashi. "Their leader was killed, so they may have been following orders from the wrong Kazekage all this time. We'll have to be careful in our actions, as those who are potentially going to attack Konoha may attack here as well. It would do no good if we charged out back towards Konoha only to run straight into an invading force, especially when none of us are at our best after fighting only an hour ago. Especially you, Sakura; you should know the dangers of taking so many soldier pills. You're not going to be able to do anything physically strenuous for the better part of a week."

Sakura lowered her head to avoid meeting Kakashi's gaze. She was well aware of the risks that taking a single pill did to the body, and after having taken so much, she wasn't looking forward to the after-effects that would start kicking in within the next couple of hours - the vomiting had already been bad enough and she wasn't even sure if that was because of all the pills she had taken. Sakura was also aware that what she was soon to experience would only be the tip of the iceberg; things were not going to be pretty later on.

"Don't worry, Sakura, it can't be that bad," said Naruto as he patted her on the back.

Oh, how wrong he was...

"How is your son, mind me asking?" said the Hokage as he noticed his fellow village-leader walking into the private box.

"He is well. He was not quite feeling himself before his bout," said Orochimaru still playing the part of the Kazekage. "I expect more from him in the future."

"Well, I should inform you that your daughter is now competing in the final against both Rock Lee and the young Nara, Shikamaru. I believe it would be quite humorous if the rookie of the group were to come out victorious, but knowing the Nara's constant lack of motivation, I shouldn't keep my hopes too high," said the Hokage with a light chuckle.

Orochimaru remained silent as he took a seat next to his former sensei. He would have to await until the end of the bout to signal for the attack to begin; it would take a little time before Shukaku would be back at full strength, and he would need the full power of the Biju in order to make a solid impact against the village. Anything less could be taken down too soon to make any real impact against Konoha as a whole, and to see the giant beast taken down would destroy the moral of his shinobi, something which the shinobi of the Leaf would quickly pounce upon. Timing would be everything.

Leaning forward, Orochimaru pretended to look interested in his 'daughter's' bout, as she did her best to avoid the lightning-fast strikes that Lee dished out. While she had been able to block a majority of the strikes that Neji had thrown, Lee was on another level completely, as whatever attacks Temari managed to block with her fan still knocked her back several feet and left imprints of Lee's fist within the metal.

Temari, for one, had no real idea how to counter such ridiculous brute strength; if his blows could do that much damage to steel, she had no real desire to take any of these attacks head on. Sadly, she wouldn't be able to dodge forever, as Lee leapt into the air, spinning rapidly as he extended out his leg.

"Konoha Senpuu!" he shouted as his shin kicked the war fan out of Temari's hands, who was suddenly forced to pull out a couple of kunai to defend herself. Without her sturdy defence protecting her from what would undoubtedly be a knockout-blow, her confidence was now shot as she leaped back as far as she could in order to gain some distance against this green beast.

No matter how fast she moved, however, Lee was faster, as his knee drove up into her sternum before her feet had even touched the ground. While it hadn't broken the bone, it still felt as if she had just taken a full- blown attack from Shukaku. If she managed to survive the day, Temari swore that she would do her best in order to increase her durability so that she could take some of these hits without feeling ridiculous amounts of pain.

While she wasn't quite as adept with them as she was with her larger fans, Temari whipped out two smaller fans she had kept hidden in her back pocket. Swinging them in front of her, a strong gust burst forward and flung the attacking Lee back several metres. While nothing Temari could call 'damage' had been done, for the moment she would be able to nullify him for a bit while she constructed a strategy of some kind.

"I see the flames of youth still burn within you," complimented Lee.

"I can honestly say that I have no idea what you are talking about," said Temari with brutal honesty.

"Yosh, let our bout continue," said Lee as he prepared to charge forward, but found that his body would not obey his commands.

"What the..." mused Temari looking at the infuriated look upon Lee's face. Not one to give up such an opportunity, Temari went to lift up her arms in order to launch a wind jutsu at her foe, only to find that her muscles wouldn't move an inch. "The hells going on?"

"Kage Mane no Jutsu: success," said Shikamaru as he made himself known in the bout. Temari and Lee were both in complete shock, having completely forgotten about the third competitor who had spent most of the fight staring at the clouds.

"You've got to be kidding me," said Ino from the competitors' booth, having come out of the infirmary to watch her teammate in action.

Temari watched in disbelief as she dropped her fan before reaching into her kunai pouch. Her hand gripped nothing, however, the Suna Genin having lost them earlier when trying to block Lee. For Lee and Shikamaru, however, their palms gripped around the handles of the projectiles.

"Shikamaru, what is it that you are planning?" asked Lee as his arm involuntarily lifted above his shoulder, kunai still in hand.

"While it would go unnoticed to some, if I were to throw my kunai at you Lee, by mimicking my actions you in turn will throw your kunai at Temari while nothing will be thrown my way," explained Shikamaru. "If I was to aim it head-height it would be a lethal attack, one that cannot be dodged or avoided so long as you are caught in my jutsu, so you have but two options; forefeit or die."

Temari swallowed nervously, as she looked at the glint of metal out of the corner of her eye. No matter how much she willed it, she couldn't move a muscle, and as she felt her arm lift slightly even higher and poised to strike she knew she only had one choice. "I...I forefeit," she conceded.

"Despite dampening my flames of youth, I too must withdraw in order to burn brightly another day," stated Lee in more words than were necessary.

"Good, 'cause in all honesty, I could only have held the two of you in place for a few seconds more," admitted Shikamaru as he released his jutsu allowing his fellow finalists full control of their actions once more.

"Winner: Nara Shikamaru," shouted the announcer as the crowd erupted in cheers, a standing ovation given for the finalists and the champion of the tournament.

"Troublesome," muttered Shikamaru as he tried to hide from the attention to no success.

Sakura felt absolutely horrible. The pain that she felt when her monthly visitor came along paled in comparison to what she was currently feeling. She felt incredibly thirsty, almost as though she were dehydrated, but she couldn't bring herself to gulp down the remainder of the rest of the half-empty glass of water on the side-table whenever she tried.

Though her mind was rather hazy, she was still able to recollect roughly how she had managed to get onto the bed she was currently laying on. The kunoichi she had met while vomiting her guts out had been kind enough to take Sakura in and let her rest in her parent's - who were a part of the invasion's main force - room. Naruto and Kakashi had grumbled about finding some kind of accommodation somewhere in Suna, and had left her to her own devices; namely, feeling so woozy she was sure that she'd never be able to think straight again.

Her face screwed up a little bit as she thought of Naruto. All that red chakra, that intense hatred she had felt, did that mean what Shikamaru had said about the Kyuubi was true? In that case, did that mean Naruto and the Kyuubi were one and the same if he was capable of accessing its tremendous power?

That, she didn't know, and even just beginning to think about complicated sealing processes and ancient demons brought a new dimension of pain to her headache. She supposed she'd have to find out eventually, but she couldn't shake the notion that perhaps something more sinister lay beneath the surface of her bubbly blond friend.

Sakura's thoughts drifted towards Sasuke when she realised that Naruto was too much of an enigma to solve. Her stomach grumbled slightly, and she couldn't tell whether that was her body's way of telling her that she was hungry or that she had contracted diarrhea, so she laid still and stared up at the ceiling. Where exactly was Sasuke, and more importantly, was he safe?

It was only in his absence that she realised how much she actually cared for him. She wasn't upset that she would not get to marry him because he was gone, rather she was just genuinely worried for him. Had the Sound gotten to him? Maybe he had used a Kawarimi and an onlooking Sound ninja had captured him as soon as he switched out with a log or something?

"He should be alright."

Sakura lazily looked to her left, unsure whether or not to be glad that the kunoichi who was hosting her was pulling up a chair. She was lonely, and some company definitely couldn't hurt, but at the same time, thinking was already hard enough and she doubted she had the energy for a conversation.

"You know, I should probably hate his guts and hope he burns in the lowest circle of hell for what he did." Upon receiving Sakura's confused look, the blonde continued. "That shuriken he hit my sister with? Yeah, she tried to dodge but it didn't quite work out; it bruised her spinal cord… paralysed from the waist down according to the medics."

"Shit," exclaimed Sakura as her eyes widened only to regret it when pain swelled through her exhausted body. Slumping back down, she looked at the kunoichi with all her attention despite the grogginess in her head.

"Thankfully, it didn't sever it completely, and with enough healing she should be able to just barely regain muscle control in her legs; nerve damage is permanent, however," the blonde kunoichi informed. "She's either looking at the end of her ninja career or a very difficult and challenging one if she chooses to continue on with weak legs."

"I'm s-sorry," Sakura winced, "to hear that."

"Thanks, I just hope mum and dad are okay over in your village," the girl frowned slightly before shaking her head. "Anyway, the name's Yoki."


When Hinata came to, the first thing she saw was the pale cream ceiling of the medical bay. She frowned as she sat up, taking in her surroundings, somewhat nervous to note that her father was standing by her side.

"Ah, you have awoken," said Hiashi neutrally. "The doctors thought that you would've awakened almost an hour ago."

She smiled sheepishly, taking a second or two to recollect why exactly she was sitting in the medical bay. "H-How did Neji nii-san's fight go?"

"That's not of importance," responded Hiashi. "The medic-nin said that you were on the receiving end of several powerful blows, so how are you feeling?"

"Good, I think," she said softly before continuing. "Can you please tell me how Neji nii-san is doing? Will I still be able to see him fight and ch-cheer him on?"

Hiashi's left eyebrow raised half an inch but the man did not comment on it. "He won his first fight with ease against some measly Sound ninja but lost the second against a kunoichi from the Sand. It was a close match, however, and he fought well."

"So does that mean the exams are over then?" asked Hinata with a frown, it seemed to be quite an abrupt end.

"No, I don't think so, a Nara was fighting against a kunoichi from Konoha last I saw," said Hiashi. "Now, I think it's time we discussed your fight with Neji's teammate."

Hinata gulped dryly, tugging at the blanket to try and slither ever-so-slightly under it.

"I'll be honest with you," continued Hiashi. "You could have done much better had you properly drawn from the weeks we spent training beforehand. You didn't use the Jutsu that you had struggled so much to learn, and though you made contact with your opponent, you failed to hit the crucial point that would have perhaps swung the match in your favour."

Feeling almost as small as a mouse under her father's hard-as-steel criticism, she nodded slowly.

"I must also say that, as you undoubtedly know, your opponent is incredibly strong and has yet to be defeated," said Hiashi. "While it is slightly disappointing that you lost to a handicapped opponent, there is no denying that he is a taijutsu prodigy on par with - or perhaps even above - Neji himself. It is also possible that, since he likely has knowledge of Hyuga techniques from sparring with Neji, he had become adept at countering them."

"L-Lee was very strong," she nodded timidly, looking at her father. "I think I'll be rooting for him to win this tournament now."

Much to her surprise, Hiashi gave a slight nod. "I must, however, commend you on your tolerance; you took quite a beating and I'm sure that many would not have been able to continue fighting the way you did. What I am most impressed with, though, was your resolve through the fight. From what Jiraiya has informed me, it is very easy for one to be enticed by the power of Orochimaru's cursed seal, especially during a fight, yet you did not fight with a power that was not your own even once during the fight."

It occurred to Hinata that she hadn't even thought about the cursed seal which she bore, she hadn't even remembered that it was there. A light smile tugged at her lips as she realised that perhaps there was still hope yet. "Thank you, Father."

"You did well," Hiashi said. "While you did not meet all the expectations I had of you, you did not disappoint me either."

With that said, the clan head moved forward slightly to gently ruffle the hair of his eldest.

"This stinks," said Naruto as he helped Kakashi pitch a tent on the side of a relatively quiet street. Almost every apartment owner was either out of town or shutting down or some other nonsense, and so they hadn't been able to seek accommodation anywhere.

Naruto had suggested that they seek refuge in one of the houses that were empty because its occupants were fighting in the invasion, but Kakashi had shot that down. "We don't want to make anymore of a problem out of ourselves."

Naruto had also pointed out that they could ask the kunoichi taking care of Sakura for a place to stay - even if they still had to use their sleeping bags, a roof still sure beat the cramped inside of a tent - but Kakashi had said that the girl was already doing enough by looking after Sakura. That, and the girl's sister had apparently been injured pretty badly during the little battle they'd had, so it would be rude to impose themselves any further. While the blond had felt a twinge of guilt after hearing that, he still believed that his sensei wanted to pitch a tent as opposed to sleeping somewhere relatively nice.

If there was one good thing to come of it, though, it was that it was easy to peg the tent down into sand.

Once the tent was all set up, Naruto tossed his backpack inside before eagerly crawling into it and lying down. The liberating feeling that flowed down his backside was incredible. Kakashi, however, took a minute or two to slap a few seals on the outside of the tent before going inside with his own backpack.

"Alright, we can finally talk without being overheard," said Kakashi with a sigh as he sat cross-legged.

"What do you mean?" asked Naruto, confused. "I thought we were friends with Suna now."

"I said 'on paper'," said Kakashi before explaining. "I'm still very unsure if we can trust these people; it's why we only checked about three or four hotels."

Naruto nodded, realising that it was probably one of those 'underneath the underneath' things Kakashi kept talking about - he likely wanted to give the illusion that they were actually looking for accommodation - before frowning. "But what about that chick we left Sakura with? Since we can't trust them, does that mean she's in danger?"

"I'm not going to lie to you because you're the only one of my students in fighting shape: yes," said Kakashi bluntly. "But before you start yelling and testing the limits of my silencing seal, it's a calculated risk that we have to take. She's not in good shape, and is almost undoubtedly suffering from chakra exhaustion. We wouldn't be able to care for her from this tent."

"Shouldn't we at least find a medic-nin for her?" asked Naruto, unable to shake the worry from his mind.

"I tried," replied Kakashi. "They're all hard at work, doing their best to treat those who had fought today. Medical ninjutsu is a very precise thing that takes great deals of concentration and chakra control. Taking Sakura into a building full of people who were recovering from the wounds they received today would not be the wisest of moves."

"I think I understand, but can we really trust this girl to look after Sakura?" asked Naruto as he worried about her teammate.

"I have a clone watching from nearby, keeping an eye on her," assured Kakashi. "They'll be able to handle the worst case scenario. And it's not like we have any other choice either."

Naruto nodded in acceptance now knowing that Sakura was safe. That however left the question about where their other teammate was. "So what's the real plan then, you said that we weren't going to leave because we might run into an invasion force before but is that actually true?" asked Naruto.

"It's hard to tell at the moment without Sasuke here. I can't make too many rash calls not knowing whether he has been captured or whether he somehow escaped," said Kakashi as his head dropped slightly. "I would summon my dogs to try and sniff him out but I don't have anything of his on me that they can use to track him. We don't have the numbers to send a squad out to search for him, and neither do we have the resources. If we leave now we risk missing him if he comes back here, but at the same time we can't assume that he'll head back to Konoha."

Naruto shifted himself into a crossed legged sitting position as he did his best to process all of this information. Every time he went to say something he paused just as his mouth opened, as the last thing he wanted to do was ask the simplest question or state something completely obvious when it was just him and Kakashi-sensei. Thus the two Konoha shinobi sat in silence, the sun still sitting in the sky with roughly an hour of daylight left to go. Little did they know, however, was that their movements were being carefully watched as Suna shinobi hid out of sight with their gaze fixated on the tent.

Sakura clutched her stomach in agony, Yoki's hand gently rubbing her back. "Why don't we go onto the rooftop? Some fresh air might do you some good," offered the Suna shinobi.

Sakura tried to say something but had to cover her mouth straight away less she stained the room with the contents of her stomach. A simple nod was all she could manage to accomplish before Yoki helped her to her feet and led her towards the stairwell. What should have only taken half a minute took nearly five, each step sending bursts of unforetold pain shooting through Sakura's body.

The scorching heat and the dry desert air did little to actually help the pink-haired girl's ailments, as a large shadow swooped overhead giving her the smallest moment of reprieve from the sunlight. The only reason she hadn't turned around to go straight back down the stairs was the fear of the repercussions such an act might have.

"It's strange, you know?" said Yoki from behind. "That a team of four were able to withstand the strength of a hundred. It's strange that, unbeknown to anybody, the Kazekage would wind up dead. Finally, it's strange that my sister wasn't even able to feel the embrace of an honorable death but will now suffer for years on end for not being able to do the one thing she's dreamed of doing since childbirth."

"Yoki…" said Sakura weakly as she looked up at the Suna girl to find that she had pulled out a kunai at some stage.

"I don't know if this is planned, staged, or even a freaking coup, but I do know this: I'm going to feel so good as I kill you," said Yoki as she approached the weakened girl, the shadow once more circling overhead. "It won't be a quick death though; it's going to be slow and painful as I slice you into tiny pieces before leaving your corpse up here to rot as the vultures eat on your flesh."

Sakura's first thought was to plead for her life, but as the shadow circled overhead once more she did her best to see what it was as something descended from above, but as she tried to focus in on what it was, her face was gripped tightly and she was forced to look Yoki in the eyes. "What, no pleading words? No questions as to why I took you in? Well fuck it then," said Yoki as she brandished the blade threateningly. "Let's begin."

"Let's end," said a male voice, which caused Yoki to turn around quickly only to have a kunai buried deep within her throat. She clutched wordlessly at it as her life slowly bled out onto the rooftop. As Yoki dropped to her knees, Sakura was able to see the image of her savior, but it didn't matter as the words he had spoken had told her all she needed to hear.

Uchiha Sasuke had returned.

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