As I Wake

Whispering Serpent

And my wish might come true sooner than I planned when a snake of sand slivered around my waist. His offensive stance wasn't for his siblings as they initially feared; it was for me. I gasped with shock as the coils tightened and ripped me out of my, apparently, terrible hiding spot.

Gaara used his sand bending skills to summon me forward. Hovering, I squirmed as everything waist-down crystallized with sand. My lower half was immobile; arms pinned to my sides.

"Well, well. It seems we have ourselves a little spy," Kankuro tsk'ed. His smirk was genuine, but his eyes said it all: he was relieved Gaara's attack wasn't for him.

"I wasn't spying." I kept my voice steady, even though my thoughts were running wild.

"No? What do you call hiding in the shrubs, then?" Kankuro looked at me like I was below him, an ant.

This angered me which made me swallow my fear and apt up my boldness. "I stumbled into the scene. It's called observing."

"Observing, huh?" Kankuro wasn't nearly convinced. A sense of recognition appeared across his face as his eyes scrunched. "I've seen you before. You were with that Uchiha kid and those brats."

"Hey, I remember that. Didn't you make a huge scene in the waiting room to the written exam, too?" Temari added. Her hand was placed on her hip.

"R-right. Now I remember. A bratty little fire cracker you are." Kankuro smiled. I spat at him. Even if true, no one was going to downgrade me and get away with it, despite the sand wrapping tighter around me with each passing second.

Kankuro wiped his face with disgust. "You little-"

"I don't care about any of those things," Gaara bombarded. "All I want is blood." He was hungry, a Mad Hatter for blood. His thirst was almost palatable.

I ignored his bloodthirsty look. "I'm looking for my friend. She's tall, fire red hair that's in a ponytail, light brown eyes… full of attitude."

"I remember her." Kankuro nodded, smile perverted. "The brat who mooned everyone. I know where you can find her.” His purple painted face stretched into a larger grin. “At the bottom of a ditch as she's probably as good as dead."

"You shut your mouth before I shut it for-" my words were cut short as the sand coils tightened, smothering my breath short.

"I said I don't care," Gaara said, furiously. His short patience was shrinking. "I just want blood." His tongue rolled with the word, like he could taste it.

Gaara was so close to getting what he wanted. All he needed was a squeeze of the palm. One more gesture and I would be added to the blood bath- more like blood ocean.

My features were smooth, expressionless like a china doll– despite my heart pounding, struggle to keep me alive. "Go ahead. You would be intrigued with my blood." The vampire would love my onyx blood. I laughed to myself of the irony. His desire for blood and my desire to find phantom eyes that I was convinced were real. Both obsessions were unhealthy.

His eyes bore into mine, studying me. A sea of foam glowed bright with the sharp contrast of his porcelain skin and crimson hair. His darkly lined eyes made them pop that much more.

"You aren't scared." It was more a statement than a question.

Unlike the shinobi from before, I wasn't screaming or pleading for my life nor praying for God or some upper entity to show me mercy. The truth was, being in this close proximity was proving to be helpful. Yes, I was in mortal danger, but I was closer to confirming my nightmare, confirming Gaara were the eyes. Proving that I wasn't crazy, that my nightmares weren't figments of my vivid imagination. It was complete suicide, but what can I say, curiosity killed the cat.

"No." I was determined.

"You should be scared," Kankuro lectured. "Gaara is the ruler of sand, the God of the Desert. You will never live to see another day, you -"

"Shut up," Gaara snapped.

"I am scared," I confirmed. "But not of you."

"Of what then." There he went again, asking in a commanding tone rather than questioningly. His expression stone cold.

"I'm scared of what I don't know. I'm scared of the Unknown." I was aware of Gaara, his dangerous persona. It was obvious - obvious his yearnings.

"What do you mean?" Gaara looked at me intrigued. The blood lust was still present in his eyes, but there was a twinkle of curiosity. Like he never talked to his dinner prior to quenching his thirst before.

"Don't listen to this bitch. Just kill her so we can go to the tower already," Kankuro whined.

"I said shut up, Kankuro. Or else I will kill you first."

"I'm scared of my past … and its monsters." And that was the truth. Unidentifiable monsters haunted me at night, filling me with visions and thoughts that I don't understand. They may be from my past, they may not. Finding answers was the only way. And the worse part was, Unknown could be me.

"Monsters…" he repeated under his breath, too quiet for his siblings to hear. It had a tinge of understanding. His hushed voice sounded hurt as if he spent his whole life running from monsters. "And why shouldn't I kill you?"

"Because…" I trailed off and not from lack of breath as Gaara's sand still strangled me. All I saw now were his eyes, mesmerized. Everything else became nothing, became a nuisance. Like my nightmares, the pupil-less green glowed in the darkness. They gave a familiar comfort, but terrified me at the same time.

"Because I can't die..." Yanking on my sandy imprisonment, I managed to pull my arm out. Without subconsciously understanding what I was doing and how dangerous it was, I reached for Gaara. Those were the eyes, they had to be. He was the key to Pandora's Box. He will tell me about my past, about everything. "Not before I find myself."

Gaara stood motionless, without ever blinking as I tried to reach even further. It was an unexplainable bond, an attraction which drew me forward. Only inches away when I couldn't go any further. It was like not being able to finish the last lap of the race.

I managed to make one final push despite my lungs being fully deflated and my ribs creaking like a hundred year old door. But it was enough, it was just enough to graze my fingertips along his cheek.

"Not before I found you," I spoke in a breathy whisper, loud enough for only us to hear.

Gaara's expression was undetectable. Puzzlement didn't reach his brow bone nor anger across his lips. There was nothing, but there was everything at the same time. Acknowledgment— acknowledging of my presence, that I was speaking to him, that I was alive.

Slowly, like time seeping through an hourglass, the sand cocoon melted away. The air rushed to my lungs, thankful for the fresh air. My heart pounded to disperse starving blood. Sand drifted downwards until my fragile feet hit earth.

Temari stared wide-eyed by Gaara's unexpected decision as her brother had a look of bewilderment. If Kankuro wanted to object Gaara's decision, he kept his mouth shut.

Firmly on the ground, I didn't know what to do or say next. Our eyes stayed connected. It was an electric current between us that neither of us could look away from.

There were so many things I needed to ask. What was I supposed to say first? Why didn't I prepare beforehand?! Thousands of thoughts cluttered my mind, varying from why he let me go to wondering what his favorite color was.

I opened my mouth to spew out word vomit, but a sharp premonition overtook me. I didn't know how I knew or why, but it was yanking me, yelling at me that something was wrong. A vision of Team Seven crossed my mind.

"As much as I really wish to talk to you more, I think my friends are in trouble." Before Gaara or anyone had time to react, I ran off. No closer to solving the mystery.

The forest provided many obstacles as I sped through. Logs, ditches, crazed animals – all were minute to me as I trudged forward. I couldn't explain this feeling. It was instinctual, like when a mother knows there's something wrong with their child.

My moment was there, I was so close to talking to Gaara. It was in my grasps— or his grasps per se. Granted, he was going to kill me. Just because he freed me from embodiment, didn't mean he was sparing me. However, I could have gotten a few non-psychotic words out of him. But, my friends come first, they always come first. It was my shinobi way— to protect the ones I care most for.

That's when I saw them. A pink-haired kunoichi and a raven-haired Uchiha, sitting motionlessly on the ground. Sakura had a fearful look on her face, like she was seeing death in front of her eyes. Sasuke was frightened as well, but he was struggling to fight it off.

Their opponent, I soon recognized, was the grass ninja who returned the knife Anko threw at Naruto. She didn't seem to be doing anything offensive, but I knew better. The ninja was after what everyone desired here: the scroll.

I didn't understand – why weren't they moving? I observed, questioningly. It was as though they were frozen by fear.

"Don't worry. I'll make it quick," the grass ninja promised. "But I don't need to tell you that. You've seen it with your own eyes." She slowly approached them with two kunai leisurely in her palm.

Sasuke fought to a stand. A kunai knife wobbled in his hand. We're they actually paralyzed?

She laughed at the simplicity of the battle. "I expected you to be a bit more of a challenge. How disappointing…" At which she threw her knives and they sailed through the air, showing promise to make its mark at Sasuke and Sakura's throats.

It didn't matter now why they weren't running, I knew what must happen. Jumping out of cover, I instinctively, maternally, ran towards them. "Run!" I yelled at Sasuke as I grabbed Sakura. We leapt out of safety the moment the kunai made a thump on the soft ground.

We escaped to the high canopy of the gargantuan trees. I settled Sakura on a thick branch. She was clearly still shaken. Sasuke crouched next to us. The kunai he held loosely before was now jammed into his thigh.

"What the hell happened?" I panted. "Why weren't you two moving?"

"It was an illusion," Sasuke said. "An illusion based off fear."

It made sense now why they were acting like sitting ducks. "You stabbed yourself to overcome the fear," I concluded.

"Overcame fear with pain," Sasuke winced as he ripped the kunai out.

Sakura woke up from the illusion. She noticed Sasuke's wound. "Oh, Sasuke."

"Where's Naruto?" I asked.

"I don't know," Sasuke seethed through his teeth. "She tried to trick us by disguising herself as Naruto." A pang hit the bottom of my stomach. I hoped he was alright.

"That wound's deep." Sakura reached to tend the bleeding leg. "Let me hel-"

"We gotta move," Sasuke interrupted, activating his Sharingan. "We got to get out of here."

"It'll be alright, Sasuke," I reassured. "We got away. Let's go find Naruto and get out of here."

"You don't understand, she's here, there. She's everywhere. We can't escape her. It's inevitable." His voice was panicked, on the verge of hysteria.

What did she do to them? I thought, worried about them. "What are you talking about?"

"I saw it. Sakura saw it. We were in an illusion, but what we saw wasn't a lie. It was our death. Our cruel, painful, inevitable death."

I was about to rebut as a shadow hovered over us and to my distraught, witnessed a massive, King Kong size snake ready to make us his next meal. Sasuke doesn't realize the ambush.

"Sasuke, snap out of it!" I screamed, jumping out of way as the snake chopped on the branch. Thankfully, Sakura and Sasuke got out of there at the last second. Splitters soared through the air, a demonstration of this beast's power.

The snake slithered around the wide tree and launched its muscular body at its target— Sasuke.

"No! Get away. Stay away from me!" He threw puny shuriken at the monstrous reptile.

They hit their mark and the snake collapsed on the branch with a crash. But the snake wasn't dead. Oh no, something far worse happened. The scales began to crack.

"I sense your fear and desperation. It's only natural." Came from the woman inside the belly of the beast. "The prey must never let down its guard, not even for a moment."

The enemy slowly birthed out of the skin, like a parasite ready for its next host. "In the presence of its predator," she hissed. Her tongue was long; unnaturally long.

She turned into a humanoid snake as she slivered up the branch and launched to Sasuke. Her tongue flickered wildly, with anticipation, wanting to taste Uchiha skin. Her lifeless eyes sent shivers down my spine.

She was about to get her gut-wrenching desire when a barrage of weaponry penetrated the trunk in front of her, cutting the Snakestress off.

"Looks like I came just in time," called the notorious blonde. Naruto stood at a distant branch. Arms crossed, face smug. The enemy stared at Naruto with fascination.

"Naruto, get out of here!" Sasuke warned. "What are you thinking? You don't know what you are up against. Hurry, go now. While you still can!"

"So Naruto, you managed to escape my friend," she said. Her body was still rubberized and wrapped around the tree.

"I get it. So that wasn't just some random snake attack. You sent it after me," Naruto said, rubbing his chin. "Okay, okay. I don't know what's going on here, but you have been picking on my friends and I don't like that. So you better slither back into your hole, Snake Lady, or else I'll make a pair of shoes out of you!"

The Snake Lady didn't seem too entertained by the threat. I, on the other hand, thought it was extremely creative… and stupid.

"Cut it out, Naruto!" Sasuke screamed. It was so unusual for him to freak out like this. He wasn't this delusional when he fought Lee. He shook like a leaf, prepared to be blown away. I was nervous to be fighting a ninja that far exceeds a genin ability, but I was more nervous for Sasuke.

Sasuke took out their scroll, their Heaven scroll, and brought it to view. "You can have it." His Sharingan deactivated. "The scroll is what you want, isn't it? Alright then. Here, take it and leave us in peace."

"Sasuke, are you crazy or what? We're just going to hand over the scroll to the enemy? No way! What's wrong with you?" Naruto yelled.

"Shut up and stay out of it!" Sasuke barked.

"Very wise, very sensible. Sometimes the helpless prey, if they want to save their own skins, realize that their only hope is to distract their predator with something even more precious," she hissed agreeably.

"Just take it." Sasuke tossed the scroll, but it never made it to her as the Knuckleheaded ninja stood in the way.

"Stop being the hero, Naruto! Just stay out of this and leave it to me!"

Naruto, with the freshly caught scroll in one hand, punched the Uchiha with the other.

Sasuke fell back with a heavy thud. "Stupid fool, you don't know what you're doing!"

"I know what I am doing and know who I am… but I don't know who you are," Naruto huffed.

"What do you mean, Naruto? It's Sasuke," Sakura scolded.

"It's me, you idiot."

"Liar," Naruto said, trembling with anger. "You may look like him and even sound like him, but the Sasuke I know would never surrender to the enemy. I don't care how tough of a fight you've been through. Giving up the scroll… When did Sasuke become a coward!? You keep saying I don't know what's going on, but I do. You choked!"

Sasuke was speechless. He wouldn't admit it, but we all knew. Whatever this woman was, she terrified him. She dug underneath his skin and shook him to the core.

"Sad, but true," the snake charmer replied, tongue flicking with excitement. Her expression, dead. "It doesn't matter. As far as the scroll goes, I can simply kill you and take it."

She pulled up her sleeve to display thick, black tribal markings tattooed on her arm. Biting her thumb, blood surfaced as she smeared it on the markings.

"Alright, let's see you try it!" Naruto charged.

"Don't!" Sasuke screamed.

She rattled off many hand signs. "Summoning jutsu."

Naruto and the rest of us were welcomed by a snake even bigger than the last. Its head was larger than the four of us combined. It made the horde of three-eyed monkeys look harmless.

"What a tasty little meal you'll make for him," she pitched to Naruto. "Careful, he likes to play with his food."

The snake demonstrated by whipping his tail through the air, snapping the branch Naruto was standing on. He was sent flying; his back slammed against a tree in the distance.

"Finish him off," she ordered. The snake happily obliged with his mouth opened wide and charged towards Naruto.

"Oh yeah? Eat this." Naruto kicked the snake in the snout. The reptile shook his head, displeased by the runt's rebellion.

There was suddenly something off with Naruto. His face twisted, his demeanor angered. It wasn't the same kind of stubborn anger that usually aroused him. This was much more sinister, evil. Something in the air shifted.

"But, how? It's impossible," the grass ninja spoke with attraction.

Naruto goes ballistic and punched the snake madly. His small statue against the beast appeared unreal, comical if it wasn't happening right before my eyes.

"Look at him, he's gone nuts. Where did he get that kind of power all of a sudden? What's happened to him, Quorra?" Sakura asked, overwhelmed by Naruto's sudden burst of energy.

Naruto sprang towards the enemy, who was standing on the snake's head, ready to take him on. He made a war cry that sounded pained, like a wounded animal.

"I don't know, Sakura," was all I could muster as the boy continued his fight. I couldn't take my eyes off of him.

The enemy ninja performed a fire jutsu, breathing an amber fire onto the wild leaf shinobi. The flames engulfed Naruto and crashing down into the canopy below.

"Naruto!" I dashed over to him, who laid motionless.

I crouched over the boy. His eyes scrunched in pain as I laid a gentle hand over his forehead. My hand retracted from shock. He's skin was hot to the touch like he had a fever or he was laying on hot coals. Did the fire toast him?

Naruto's hands flexed instinctively. His human nails were replaced with … claws. That power, the destruction. It wasn't Naruto. He was concerned that Sasuke wasn't who he said he was, but what about him?

"Naruto?" I spoke, nervous.

"Now then," the grass ninja continued with the battle. "Let's see how you do, Sasuke." She gestured to the snake and it attacked, ready to take a taste of Uchiha blood. Sasuke stood there like a statue without any use of an illusion technique.

Naruto opened his eyes and that's when I saw it. His bright blue, clear sky eyes were no more. They were replaced with red, lava glass eyes. His pupils were slits, like a reptile or feline.

The enemy sailed on the snake's head, only feet away from the stagnant Sasuke. He was right, his death was inevitable.

"Sasuke!" Sakura shrieked.

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