Author's Note: Welcome, dear reader! This story is my first in many years, and it is a personal experiment to see how far I can take my imagination.

Sakura-centric. Major AU warning!

Disclaimer: Naruto is not mine and never will be.


Mature Readers ONLY please! There may be inferred adult-content.


~ Please adjust the story-width to either 1/2 or 3/4. It will be easier to read!


Chapter One


.

In a place where time had yet to be born, a woman drifted down a sinuous black river, propelled by a volatile current that tumbled her beneath its roiling surface.

The water that flowed over her head was black as pitch and infinitely colder than ice. Had she been awake, each dark droplet would have felt like acid against her ghastly pale skin. Fortunately, consciousness had fled long ago, and glassy eyes set in a slack face gazed unseeingly into the inky black depths.

Lost in a maze of fragmented dreams, she remained completely unaware of her surroundings.

As fate would have it, her liquid prison was one-of-a-kind. Eons before the creation of Man, the River had already flowed through a thousand different worlds. It was so ancient that it had eventually gained sentience. Although it could not communicate with words, the River was nonetheless an intelligent and curious being.

Its body—if it could be called that—was thick and viscous, like heavy molasses and just as tenacious. Usually at rest due to sheer boredom, it slowly awakened upon feeling a new disturbance rippling its sensitive waters.

All who fell into the River belonged to it—at least until they were sent to their next destination.

From deep within the darkness, solid tendrils of the obsidian liquid slowly coalesced into existence and began swimming in the direction of its newest plaything.

The woman did not react as the dark strands paused to regard her with interest, before slithering up her neck to probe curiously at the openings to her ears. A few more ducked into her nostrils and burrowed down the collapsed tube of her trachea; in search of something only they could see.

Still others—ones that looked thicker and glossier then the rest—took their explorations further down south.

Like serpents, they meandered with grace across the flat skin of her belly, not stopping until they reached the apex of her thighs. Upon finding what they had been looking for, the tendrils quivered in excitement before surging forward.

The woman's body gave a sudden jerk, spasming briefly before falling still once more. Other than a minute widening of grass-green eyes, no further reaction crossed her pallid face.

A single bubble the size of a small pebble escaped her parted lips, wobbling mournfully towards the distant surface.

The River chortled with glee, ecstatic by its precious find after years of mind-numbing boredom. In the next instant, more sinewy tendrils effortlessly emerged from the darkness, wrapping around its prize and tugging her gently towards the unseen river floor.

As she sank into the silent depths, long strands of pale pink hair slowly billowed upwards, tangling like clumps of seaweed against her motionless form.

.


"The day which we fear as our last is but the birthday of eternity." - Seneca


.

In the middle of a sparsely wooded clearing littered with the dry husks of dead trees, a pair of green eyes suddenly snapped open, only to stare in bleary confusion at the sight of a dark red moon illuminating a starless night sky.

The owner of those eyes was a young woman, who had awakened to find herself lying on the back in the ashen dirt. She blinked once, then a second time. When the eerie vision failed to dissipate, she reluctantly used sore arms to push herself into a sitting position. Her head throbbed with a vengeance and she rubbed at it, grimacing.

A hangover? But she didn't recall drinking any alcohol last night.

And it wasn't just her head, she discovered, but her whole body felt like one big aching bruise. Small cuts and scrapes littered her arms and legs, stinging painfully for attention.

Greatly confused, she spent the next few minutes gingerly examining the rest of her injuries; a dried gash on the forehead and a swollen left knee among the worst of them. However, it was with growing trepidation that she realized she couldn't recall how these injuries came to be.

Come to think of it, her wounds were the least of her worries. The woman was shocked to find that she did not know where she was, or even who she was.

Fighting the urge to panic, she concentrated on wracking her brain for the answers.

Unfortunately, gazing into her own mind was like peering into the blackest abyss. If she once had memories, they certainly weren't there now. The woman realized she could not even remember her own name, and the discovery terrified her.

It was many minutes later before she finally came to terms with her predicament.

While she sat there, wondering what to do next, a strange idea unexpectedly floated through her head: What if today was actually her first day of existence?

Even though it sounded absolutely ludicrous, something inside of her was reacting well to the thought. Second laters, however, she berated herself for being stupid and began studying her surroundings instead.

She was sitting in the midst of what looked like the aftermath of a great forest fire. The uneven ground was charred black in some areas, and coated with gray ash in others. In every direction, corpses of blackened trees loomed like dark and menacing sentinels.

A rust-colored moon had risen high in the sky, bathing everything in its somber red glow. It was eerily beautiful in a sort of post-apocalyptic way. The woman vaguely recalled hearing something about a red moon, once. But the memory was fleeting and it slipped away like a wisp of fine smoke.

Other than a few craggy boulders scattered about, there was nothing else to be seen. It was both a sobering and unfamiliar sight.

As she contemplated her next plan of action, a strong blast of icy wind suddenly bulldozed through the clearing; sending the gray ash flying and nearly bowling her over.

Blinded by her own hair whipping about in the turbulent wind, the woman struggled for shelter behind the nearest tree. Upon feeling the rough bark against her back, she prepared to hunch down and make herself as small as possible. However, the next instant barely passed before the wind had dissipated into nothingness.

In the silence that followed, swirls of moth-eaten brown leaves drifted gently to the ground.

The woman blinked warily, feeling quite peculiar. When nothing else happened, she turned her attention back to herself. She was unimpressed to find that the only thing she wore was a flimsy white dress that ended just above her knees. Both feet were bare. The dress was thin, sleeveless, and completely impractical for her current surroundings.

No, this wouldn't do. Not at all. Clamping down firmly on her anxiety and fear, her lips flattened into a resolute line and she reached up to break off a long branch from the tree.

Although she was still confused and upset, there was no way she was going to just sit around and wait to be found. Besides, gut instinct was telling her that in this kind of situation, protocol demanded that she find safe shelter immediately. The woman did not know how she knew this, only that it needed to be done.

Using the newly torn branch as a make-shift crutch, she chose a random direction and began carving a slow path through the desolate forest. As she walked, she wondered if she had been a very eccentric person in the past.

After all, why else would she have dyed her hair pink?

.


.

Following that first night in the clearing, the woman quickly came to the conclusion that she had been cast into hell, though she tried to deny it. There was simply no other logical explanation for the strange and often frightening things she had encountered.

This forest, she realized, was like something out of a mad man's dream.

During the daytime, a dense wet fog descended upon the land and covered everything in sight. It was so thick that she could not see more than three feet in any direction. If there was a sun, she never caught a glimpse of it. The fog was able to easily soak through her clothes in a matter of minutes, which made her quite miserable.

Nightfall was a whole other story, and the transition from day to night occurred unbelievably rapidly. The first time it happened she had been astonished.

One moment she stumbled through the forest—barely able to see her own feet. But in the span of ten seconds, the fog had simply disappeared as if it had never existed. Looking up, she had been bewildered to see the rust-colored moon already glowing high in the sky. It just didn't make sense.

There were other things, too. Things she didn't like to think about.

During the day, the sound of hushed whispers would sometimes echo through the fog. She never understood the words being said, but the soft voices always seemed to be moving closer and closer to her. Once she could have sworn that someone had whispered directly into her ear. But when she whipped around, there had been no one there.

Another time, the strangled scream of a woman had unexpectedly echoed through the air. She had run blindly towards the sound, only to end up lost in the fog for hours.

Nights were usually not much better. Bathed in the moon's red glow, the forest became as silent as a tomb. Dark shapes sometimes flitted between the trees, often too quickly for her eye to see. Several times, she had come across claw marks gouged deeply into solid rock. The sight of it had compelled her to fashion crude weapons out of some branches for protection.

In spite of everything, the woman was quite resilient because she slowly but steadily acclimated to her surroundings. She learned to travel at night and sleep during the day. Finding food was no simple task, but hours of foraging had revealed bland but edible tubers hidden beneath the blackened soil.

Water had been more difficult to come by. For the first few days, she had resorted to wringing out her fog-soaked clothing for drops of the precious liquid. But on the sixth day of travel, she discovered a small pond hidden behind a large boulder, where she ultimately decided to set up base.

On the seventh day, she gave herself a name.

The woman had stripped down to bathe for the first time when she caught sight of her reflection in the water. It was disconcerting because the image did not look even vaguely familiar. Pale-skinned and lightly muscled, her body had an athletic build that spoke of someone who exercised often.

However, what stole her attention was not the clear green eyes or (surprisingly) natural pink hair, but the huge mess of scar tissue resting on the skin just above her heart. About the size of her hand, the scar extended below her collarbone to the tip of her left breast. It was a hideous thing, all splotchy and puckered, with jagged, raised edges.

She had traced it with her fingertip, both fascinated and horrified. What kind of injury did it take to result in such a wicked looking thing? Based on the shape of the scar, it appeared something big had been plunged into her chest, and then ripped out. The pain must have been immense.

She wondered how it was possible to have survived such a wound.

The feeling of horror quickly passed as a funny but ridiculous thought popped into her head.

Since her memory still had not returned, she had decided on creating a new name for herself. Unfortunately, all the names she came up with never seemed to feel right. As stupid as it sounded, the discovery of this scar meant that she could now call herself Scar-girl, and it would suit her quite well because it was technically true.

…Come to think of it, wasn't there another name that had been equally ridiculous yet accurate? Without knowing why, she raised her left hand and brushed her fingers against her forehead.

The feeling came and went, and was quickly forgotten.

Gazing at her reflection once more, she noticed that the color of her hair appeared almost familiar. The pale pink reminded her of something delicate and fragrant; something that arrived every spring. What was it again?

Forcibly concentrating, the word she searched for began to reluctantly emerge, like heavy tar being suctioned from the dark recesses of her mind. …A little more… there! Grasping it triumphantly, she tested the name on her lips.

.

"…Sakura."

.

And deep in her bones, it felt right.

.


.

Sakura—as she now called herself, released a tired sigh as she dragged the crudely made sled filled with freshly dug roots down the familiar path back to her camp.

Countless days had passed since her arrival in this godforsaken forest, and it was all starting to wear her down. She had been here so long that most of her injuries had healed. With the exception of her knee which still hurt like a bitch when she put weight on it, the rest of her body was as good as new.

It had never been part of the plan to stay in one place for so long.

However, one night she had painstakingly climbed the tallest tree in the area out of sheer curiosity, and had been sorely disappointed by what she saw. She had hoped to catch a glimpse of civilization in the distance, but her vantage point revealed nothing but desolate landscape that stretched for hundreds of miles in every direction.

It was as if someone had plopped her in the middle of nowhere and left her to fend for herself.

Regardless of personal feelings on the matter, her decision to stay in the same place was for practical reasons. Her injured knee was still not strong enough for extended travel, and plus, she had hit the jackpot by discovering a patch of ground full of roots.

With a steady supply of water at hand, what more was there to ask for?

Stopping to catch her breath, Sakura released the sled and flexed her hand to ease the soreness. She found herself humming a cheery little tune to keep the silence at bay. If there was one thing she hated most about nights, it was the complete lack of sound. Other than the occasional howl of the fierce wind—which she could almost pretend was alive, the forest she inhabited appeared devoid of all life forms.

It was impossible not to be used to it by now, but oh, how she yearned for the chance to talk to another human being! As a social creature, she was immensely sick of having only her voice to keep her company.

In addition, she was also sick of eating those flavorless roots. Sure, food was food and being picky meant death, but if only there were some animals around! Images of a succulent roast turning on a spit drifted through her mind, and she swallowed with a wistful sigh as saliva pooled in her mouth.

Rest time soon over, the lost woman resumed a faster pace back to her camp. Based on the position of the moon, she had about another hour before it would be daylight, and there was no way in hell she wanted to be caught up in that fog...

.

The moment Sakura arrived back at her camp, it was apparent that something was wrong. Her bed—which had taken three whole days to build from slender branches, had been carelessly torn apart. The flat rock she used as a sitting stool was thrown on its side, and the roots that were set out to dry two days ago had all but disappeared.

Narrowing her eyes, the pink-haired woman soundlessly placed the handle of her sled to the ground, and moved to pick up one of two spears she had made for just this kind of situation.

Straining her ears, she could barely make out a strange slurping noise coming from behind the boulder. It sounded almost like a dog drinking water, but what would a dog be doing all the way out here? No, it was most likely a wild animal. Possibly a deer, or maybe a bear.

Raising the spear, Sakura bravely tip-toed around the boulder, ready to confront the beast that dared invade her home. Unfortunately, nothing in the world could have prepared her for the sight that greeted her eyes.

Bathed in the eerie red glow of the moon, a gargantuan creature that vaguely resembled a frog was crouched by the pond on its hind legs, taking its fill of her precious water. The thing was about the size of a bear, but appeared infinitely times more deadly.

Covered in wrinkled, flesh-colored skin, it looked strangely naked and vulnerable. Yet judging by the razor sharp claws that protruded from its paws, she knew that was not the case. A long sinuous tail whipped leisurely from side to side, tipped with barbs that easily sank into the boulder she hid against.

Like a frog, the creature had an extremely long tongue that it was using to drink with. The appendage was dark purple, almost black, and it retracted into an enormous maw that glistened with multiple rows of sharp teeth. Giant, bulbous eyes protruded from either side of its misshapen head. The eyes appeared unfocused at first, but as she watched with mounting horror, the pupil to the left suddenly swiveled around in its milky nest, coming to rest directly upon her.

Her heart nearly stopped in her chest.

She barely had time to leap out of the way before the creature had whipped its head around, sending its long tongue flying after her. The tongue hit the boulder instead, which completely shattered upon impact. A huge cloud of dust and rock particles mushroomed into the air, obscuring everything in sight.

She used this time to hide behind the trunk of a thick tree, and stood trembling against it in disbelief.

This is not happening! This is not happening! This is not happening! The mantra repeated in her head like a broken record.

Back by the pond, the creature sniffed and scratched at the remains of the boulder in frustration. Unable to find her, it released an ear-piercing roar.

The blast of sound managed to bring her back to reality and her eyes narrowed in determination. Right now, there were clearly two choices: Plan A was to try and kill that monster (which honestly sounded like the stupidest thing in the world), and Plan B was to attempt an escape with her life intact.

Sakura knew that she must have been some kind of fighter in the past.

In the long weeks of living on her own, she had quickly discovered that this body of hers was unusually strong and flexible. Even so, she had major doubts about defeating a monster of this magnitude. So that pretty much ruled out Plan A.

Plan B it was, then.

She emerged from her rapid thoughts to find that the forest had gone utterly silent. With a mental curse, Sakura berated herself for not paying better attention. Feeling her blood pound loudly in her ears, she tightened her grasp on the spear and listened intently for signs of the creature's presence.

Five minutes passed, then ten. Just when she entertained the thought that it might have left…

Something wet and slimy brushed against her foot.

Sakura glanced down in surprise, and then immediately fought the urge to scream. Despite her best efforts, a pathetic whimper still managed to escape her lips. The thing she felt had been the creature's tongue, and it was now slowly coiling up her leg.

Immobilized by both fear and disgust, she watched dumbly as the tip of the appendage slithered higher and higher, until it eventually disappeared beneath the ragged hem of her dress. Having seen the thing pulverize a boulder, she had expected it to be as hard as steel. However, the serpentine muscle turned out to be quite soft to the touch. It was coated in a gelatinous fluid which allowed it to glide easily across her skin.

To Sakura's immense shame and horror, she felt herself beginning to heat up.

The appendage seemed to be leisurely exploring her flesh; poking and prodding so gently that she nearly blushed. Against her best wishes, her muscles were involuntarily relaxing, and she was beginning to feel quite…disoriented.

Her knees trembled when the tongue reached the seam of her thigh. As it tickled the spot, a strange, warming sensation began to magnify outward from the point of contact, spreading all over her body. Suddenly, she felt unusually sleepy. Sakura struggled to keep her eyes open but it was simply too difficult. Her brain felt like it had been replaced with cotton.

Lips parting, she allowed her head to fall back against the tree, completely dazed and confused.

And then two things happened at once.

The first was a jolt of pleasure so strong that she gasped and jerked back, accidentally scraping her cheek against the rough bark.

And the second, was that her eyes had shot open, only to stare directly into one of the creature's milky eyeballs. It had emerged from its hiding place to watch her every reaction. Thick, foul-smelling drool dribbled down its wrinkled chin.

Shocked back to her senses, Sakura fought the urge to gag and reflexively thrust her wooden spear forward. It was only through sheer luck that she managed to pierce its eye.

The reaction was instantaneous.

Unwinding from her, the thing released a pained shriek that nearly burst her eardrums. It thrashed about, gouging deep holes in its own flesh as it clawed at the spear. She ducked and rolled as its tail whipped about, pulverizing the tree she had leaned against. A shower of splinters filled the air.

With her heart beating furiously in her chest, she scrambled to grab the remaining spear from across the clearing.

Fortunately, it wasn't needed because the creature was done for.

The thing was apparently not too intelligent because it had accidentally lodged the spear even deeper into its eye. Sakura watched warily as it lumbered about, screeching and swaying before collapsing into a heap on the ground. It twitched a few times before finally falling still.

All was silent in the forest once more, except for the sound of her own rapid breathing.

Moving on auto-pilot, Sakura made sure the creature was actually dead before giving in to the urge to retch. When she finished, she covered the mess with dirt and began wiping strands of sticky slime off her leg.

However, the feeling of horror and disgust remained. There were simply no words to describe just how dirty she felt right now.

That…thing had been…and she had almost…

Severely disturbed and more than slightly traumatized, she decided that she was not going to think about what just transpired, at least not at this moment. There would be plenty of time to come to terms with it tomorrow.

Right now, her next plan of action was to get some rest and assess the damage done to her campsite.

She had barely finished gulping down some water before there was a sudden movement at the edge of her peripherals. Whipping around to face the new possible threat, Sakura couldn't keep her jaw from dropping.

A man had stepped out from between two trees.

.

For the second time that night, she was stunned into silence.

The newcomer was very tall, with tanned skin and dark brown eyes. He had a patrician nose and high cheek bones that were framed on either side by long brown bangs. The rest of his hair flowed loosely down his back. Dressed in an imposing red armor that emphasized the broadness of his shoulders, he cut quite an intimidating figure.

Intimidating or not, he was still the first human that she had seen in ages, and her momentary shock quickly gave way to barely restrained happiness.

"E-Excuse me, sir…" she began hurriedly, in an excited voice that was hoarse from days of disuse. "I've been lost in these woods for quite some time now... and I would really appreciate it if you could guide me back to the nearest… village, or city…" she trailed off, suddenly feeling quite self-conscious.

Covered in both dirt and drool from her recent fight, she must have looked quite a sight.

If the man heard her he gave no indication, and his stern features remained strangely impassive. Without bothering to introduce himself, he took a step towards her.

Sakura was slightly taken aback, but tried her best not to show it. Although the man's eyes were a pleasant shade of brown, his unblinking stare was just a bit unnerving.

Under the impression that he might not have caught her words the first time, she opened her mouth to repeat the question. However, he chose that moment to tip his head back and gaze intently at the sky. On impulse, she followed suit.

At first glance, she hadn't a clue what they were looking at, but after a moment it soon became clear. From the far left, there was a bright glimmer of white light that appeared to be slowly spreading across the surface of the moon. With each second that ticked by, the white increasingly ate up more of the red.

They were witnessing what appeared to be a lunar eclipse, and it was absolutely mesmerizing. The red moon had been beautiful enough, but she had a small hunch that this white one would be twice as brilliant when fully realized.

As she gazed at the spectacle, a feeling of calm rose within her chest, and she suddenly felt more energized.

Eventually, she dropped her gaze back to the man… just in time to catch a glimpse of his red armor as he disappeared back into the trees.

He was leaving her behind.

Surprise turned to fury in an instant. "That bastard…" she cursed under her breath as green eyes flashed with ire. "HEY, wait up!" she yelled after him.

The man either didn't hear her or was purposely ignoring her. She had a feeling it was the latter, and her stomach churned queasily at the idea of being alone again.

Mind made up, she moved to follow him.

The man was extremely fast for someone who wasn't even running (how did he do that?!), and she had to scramble to catch up. He ignored all of her calls and led her on a merry chase through the desolate woods, winding this way and that so many times that her sense of direction was thoroughly shot to hell. Every time she sped up, he seemed to sense it for he would speed up as well.

A good chunk of time soon passed, and Sakura became unsure how long she would be able to keep up. She had quit shouting for his attention long ago in an effort to conserve energy, but apparently it still wasn't enough.

Right now, her muscles were practically on fire and she couldn't seem to get enough oxygen into her lungs. Plus, her feet were absolutely killing her. The crude wooden sandals she had so proudly carved were definitely not the best foot-gear for running.

In a stroke of bad luck, she suddenly tripped on an upraised root and went sprawling to the ground. Groaning painfully, Sakura managed to push herself into a sitting position. She gingerly touched the warm liquid that suddenly trickled down her neck, and her fingers came away red and sticky.

She had gashed her chin open against a rock, and the intense stinging sensation was making her eyes water. Unfortunately, the fall had cost her far more than just this injury. Glancing up, she realized the man had disappeared. The trees around her grew densely together, and in the darkness there was no way to tell which direction he might have gone.

Once again, she was alone.

Feeling her heart plummet, Sakura struggled to her feet. Too tired and depressed to even curse, she settled on catching her breath instead. As she panted, her eyes caught sight of a twisted green vine that seemed strangely out of place, and she followed it with her gaze until it disappeared into the thick forest canopy above.

With a start, the pinkette realized that she'd been so intent on chasing the man that the very ecology had changed, and she hadn't even noticed!

Completely mind-boggled, she surveyed her surroundings with new eyes.

The air here was thick with moisture and smelled strongly of fresh dirt and leaves. Plants and bushes grew everywhere, tangling with long vines that dangled like snakes from the trees. It was still dark and she couldn't see too well, but this forest felt startlingly alive—a stark contrast to the burned-out woods she had inhabited for so long.

Above her, sturdy boughs heavy with leaves shifted in the invisible wind, allowing a few rays of moonbeam to hit the forest floor.

The pale light shimmered white, and Sakura stared at it, entranced.

Of course, the eclipse! She had completely forgot about it. Not knowing why, she suddenly felt the strangest urge to see it once more. Looking around, she quickly chose the tallest tree she could find, shucked off her sandals, and began to climb.

When her head finally popped above the dense canopy of leaves, it was to the vision of a radiant white moon illuminating the night sky. The eclipse had come full circle and it was nearly too beautiful for words. The light was ethereal; almost…sacred, even. She basked in its glow with a contented sigh.

From her vantage point, she was finally able to see a long mountain range in the distance. Some of the mountains were so tall that their summits were covered in snow. Others were short and dumpy, more like hills. It was overall quite a majestic sight.

And then something else caught her attention.

Hidden near the base of the craggiest peak, there appeared to be what looked like a dark, gaping hole that seemed entirely out of place. At first glance, she thought it was the entrance to some kind of cave, but the shape of it was too smooth to be natural. It almost looked man-made.

Lost in contemplation, it took her a few moments to realize that the pain from her chin had all but vanished. Further inspection revealed that the gash was gone, as if it had never even existed. However, dried blood still stained the neckline of her dirty white dress.

The pain from her knee was also gone, and she suddenly recalled that she had been running on it all this time without feeling a single twinge of discomfort. With a wry shake of the head, she wondered if this strange place would ever stop surprising her.

And then the forest around her literally exploded.

.


.

The shock-wave from the explosion was so powerful that Sakura was torn from her perch. She tumbled to the forest floor, smacking painfully into multiple tree branches on the way down.

The final impact knocked all of the air from her lungs and she doubled over in pain, coughing wretchedly. It was only when she could breathe normally again that she finally looked around, wide-eyed and dazed.

What the hell was that?!

Many of the trees nearby had toppled over, sending a huge cloud of dust and dirt wafting into the air. Broken branches and limp vines obscured the ground; some charred and others still smoking. From the wreckage, it looked like a giant bomb had gone off, and she was suddenly very glad for her life.

Making sure there was no immediate danger, Sakura carefully inspected herself. Luckily, nothing had been broken. However, both arms and legs were sporting long scratches, courtesy of the rough branches.

Before she could begin tending the largest of the cuts, it suddenly glowed with a soft green light and began knitting closed, right before her astonished eyes. The same thing began happening to the rest of her injuries as well.

So that's how it happened… but why?

As she watched her wounds heal, something inside of her reacted emotionally to the sight, and her chest felt heavy with homesickness. Why did this look so familiar? She didn't know the answer but was sure it had something to do with her past.

Soon, all of her injuries had healed except for a nasty scrape on her forearm. She couldn't tear her eyes away as that, too, began healing. By the time the light finally vanished to reveal smooth and unblemished skin, Sakura was horrified to find that tears were dripping down her cheeks.

Frustrated by her feelings of helplessness, she angrily wiped the tears away and cursed her lack of memory, wishing not for the first time that everything was back to normal.

…Not that she could remember what normal was, per say. Just that it probably didn't mean a creepy forest inhabited by eerie fog, voracious frog-like monsters, random explosions...

The pink-haired woman was so lost in inner torment that it was only through sheer instinct that she ducked, narrowly missing having her head skewered by a three-pronged blade. The blade sank deeply into a fallen branch behind her.

Shocked by the near-miss, Sakura paused for a split-second before bursting into action. She lunged to her feet, dodging a few more blades as they came whistling through the air. Her body's agility and fast reflexes astounded her, but she had no time to think about it.

Right now, someone was trying to kill her.

A near-miss shaved an inch off of her hair and she quickly hid behind a boulder. Peering discreetly from her hiding spot, green eyes narrowed as a man dressed in a dark green flak jacket materialized out of thin air, right near the spot she had vacated not too long ago. He reached down, effortlessly pulling one of his blades from where it had embedded into the branch.

As if he knew where she was hiding, he straightened his back and shifted to face her direction. The new position illuminated his features starkly under the bright moonlight—made brighter still by the recently fallen trees.

The man had short blonde hair that was slightly longer in the front, and eyes that were a startling shade of blue. With lightly tanned skin and a perfectly symmetrical face, he could have looked quite handsome if not for the current circumstance.

He was frowning, and it was a dangerous look on him.

"I know you're there. Show yourself!" he demanded in a cold, hard voice.

Sakura panicked, unsure what to do. Who was this man and why was he trying to kill her? Did she accidentally trespass on his lands or what? The woman had no idea what the hell was going on and she yearned for answers. Against her better wishes, she decided to do what he said, and hesitantly inched out from behind the boulder.

When the man saw her, his eyes widened and the frown on his face actually deepened into a look of pure disgust. His arm drew back, ready to send his blade flying at her.

Sakura's heart leaped into her throat.

"Wait, don't throw it!" She quickly choked out, flashing both palms at him in a universal sign of surrender.

At the sound of her voice, the blonde man faltered and a look of shock crossed his face.

"You can speak!" he muttered, stating the obvious as if he couldn't believe it.

Sakura stared at him incredulously, her heart thundering wildly in her chest. "Of course I can speak! What kind of question is that?"

He opened his mouth to say something, but the words never made it out. In the next instant, a long serpentine tongue that only looked too familiar had shot out from the woods, hitting him squarely in the chest.

The force of the blow knocked the man off his feet, punching him through two trees before he finally impacted head-first against a fallen log. He didn't get back up.

Sakura barely managed to duck down in horror as not one, but two of the flesh-colored creatures suddenly dropped down from the trees. Both of them appeared identical to the one she had fought earlier, down to the very tip of their barbed tails.

Drooling heavily, the creatures flicked out their long tongues and tasted the air, before loping in the direction of the fallen man. As they passed by her hidden location, Sakura realized they hadn't seen her. She nearly sighed in relief, but the breath froze in her throat when she thought of the man.

He was going to be killed.

The pinkette clenched her eyes shut and groaned. Instincts were suddenly telling her to do something extremely stupid right now, and for the first time since she had woken up in this godforsaken place, she wanted to ignore them. After all, why save a man who tried to kill her?

Nevertheless, her instincts won the battle against reason.

Whispering a silent prayer to a god she doubted even existed, Sakura emerged from her hiding spot before she could change her mind.

"HEY! Over here!" Waving her arms to attract more attention, she shouted with far more courage than she felt.

Upon hearing her voice, the creatures stopped in their tracks and turned around. When they caught sight of her, a look that could only be described as excitement crossed their ugly features, and Sakura knew she was in for it.

Without waiting to see if they followed, she dashed into the forest.

The creatures thundered after her.

Tangled pink hair streamed like a flickering flag as she sprinted through the woods, trying her best not to step on sharp objects with her bare feet. Unfortunately, the darkness made it difficult and the pain slowed her down.

While running, Sakura couldn't help but mentally berate herself.

Stupid, stupid, stupid! Wasn't there something else you could have done instead of offering yourself like a sacrifice?!

She briefly tried to think of what that 'something else' could have been, but running for her life was taking up all her concentration. Behind her, the sounds of the creatures crashing through the trees became increasingly louder, which only meant one thing:

They were gaining on her.

Frightened by the very thought, Sakura spurred more energy into her feet in an attempt to regain more distance.

She did not know there was steep cliff right ahead of her.

Apparently, the creatures weren't aware of it either. In the next instant, one of them had let loose its long, powerful tongue. The grisly appendage whipped through the air and slammed into her back with deadly accuracy.

With a choked cry, Sakura was knocked right off her feet. She hit the ground hard, tumbling head over heels in the dirt. Unfortunately, there was nothing to slow her down, and the force of the blow sent her rolling right off the edge of the cliff.

She plummeted through the air soundlessly, too shocked to scream.

The creatures, realizing they had lost their prey, released simultaneous roars of fury into the air.

Sakura was too distracted to hear it.

In her moment of weightlessness, the sky had swallowed her vision. Like a magnet, her gaze was suddenly drawn to the iridescent moon. It was slowly turning red once more, and for some inexplicable reason, the sight of it made her want to cry.

That feeling only lasted a split-second before everything went dark.

.


...To be continued.


Author: So...what do you think about this introductory chapter? I know you probably have a ton of questions, and I'll answer them soon. There will definitely be more dialogue in Chapter 2 as well. Thanks for reading!

Reviews will be treasured!