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Tsunade scowled at the ANBU assembly's reflection in the room. "And no one thought to inform me of this?". None of them said anything. She frowned at their lack of response "What did you do to them?" At that, Morino Ibiki, the head of Konoha's T&I stepped from the dark corner where he had been standing and answered: " We managed to capture one of them but..."

Ibiki glanced at the ANBU hesitating. Tsunade raised an eyebrow. "But.." she prompted. "But the creature melted into shadows once we put it into a cell.

After hearing that, Tsunade's eyes widened and she barked an order. "Get me Hatake Kakashi and Umino Iruka at once!"

The ANBU nodded once and flickered out.

Morino's question drew her gaze back to him. "It's one of them isn't it?"

Tsunade gave a curt nod as she sat back in her chair.

Luckily, not five minutes later, Umino Iruka opened the door. He wore a confused face as he walked forwards and bowed. "Yes, Hokage-sama?"

Tsunade rested her chin on her steepled fingers. Resting her gaze on Iruka, she asked, "Do you know anything about the disturbances of the animals?" For a moment Iruka looked thrown off. However, he shook his head.

"Yo," said Kakashi, waving at them from the window sill where he perched. Two pairs of eyes simultaneously swiveled towards him. One worried, the other shrewd. He made an eye smile before jumping into the room and walking over and slouching beside Iruka.

"I want the truth. Do either of you know what's happening to the animals?" questioned Tsunade once more. Iruka shook his head once more while Kakashi frowned. "What do you mean?"

Tsunade waved Ibiki in front as answer. Both Iruka and Kakashi looked at him. Ibiki cleared his throat before explaining. Animals both wild and domestic had been jumpy and terrified since a few weeks ago. A few deer had even wondered from the Nara forest - though 'wondered' was a relatively gentle team to how they had came out. And since they were the Nara's no one could go near enough to subdue them without incurring the wrath of the clan on them. Villagers had to witness cats and dogs dash into stalls and over turn furniture, occasionally impaling themselves on sharp points.

In short most, if not all, animals were afraid of something.

Generally, the people were becoming increasingly nervous and jumpy. And to add fuel to the fire, there were rumors that something big was going to happen and even the shinobi were more high-strung than usual.

After Ibiki was done, Kakashi and Iruka looked nervously at each other before Iruka hesitantly said," Um, Hokage-sama, I not sure what this has to do with Kakashi and me."

Tsunade narrowed her eyes before softening them. "I need you to help me give your leader a letter." Iruka stiffed before smiling nervously, nodding his head.

Tsunade gave him a scroll. He glanced at it before bowing.

"Anything else?" asked Kakashi, already putting a foot on the window sill, even though half of his body was already dangling from it. Tsunade shook her head before leaning back in her chair.

As if on cue, the both of them then jumped out.

Tsunade looked out the window at their retreating forms. 'If anyone can solve this problem and stop it, it's got to be her.'

After exiting by the window, Iruka and Kakashi traveled on the rooftops heading towards the nearest river. While running, neither one of them said a word, though both of them noticed that the animals were indeed acting strangely as the reports had said they were.

Iruka jumped into the river after checking that no one was nearby. Closing his eyes and concentrating, he felt the water swirl, creating a small whirlpool around him. He opened his eyes and tossed the scroll into the water. In his mind's eye, his saw the scroll land safely and dry onto the small bookshelf beside Hanta's bed. Nodding in satisfaction, he turned and waded back onto dry land, following his mate back to their home to change.

After Hanta had finished her lunch, she retired to her room to read in to pass the time. The moment she noticed the scroll, however, she knew that it would be a long time before she would be able to kill time with books.

Picking it up from the ground, she unrolled it and started inspecting its contents. She ran her hands along each line, eyebrows furrowing. The more she read, the more puzzled she got. Why would the animals act like that? Hanta remained confused with the situation until she read a particular line. Grimacing, Hanta moved her finger back re-reading the line several times. Impossible. Animals couldn't turn into shadows... but if they did, then what the hell was happening?

****

Serinal woke to the sound of thick soled shoes clomping down the stone steps. They made their way towards him and Serinal could picture the man's face twisted into a cruel smirk. The cloudy fog wrapped around his head started to dissipate and so did the blissful numbness that kept the wrath of his injuries at bay. Already Serinal's arms had started to throb, purple and swollen, the broken bones still not mended. The ropes that strung him from the ceiling cutting off blood supply.

Serinal knew those things, yet he couldn't remember how or why he can.

His back screamed and sent waves of fiery pain when he groaned. If Serinal ever survived by some goddamn miracle, the muscles and torn flesh might never heal. He might never fly again. he didn't remember flying, the sensation of wind breezing by, taking away the heat and stress gathered during the day. But he somehow just knew it.

Serinal's head lolled forwards of its own accord and his neck popped. Offhandedly he wondered if humans could survive the injuries he had. Probably not.

The nails on his feet were gone. Serinal could feel the coldness settling on the beds of his toenails . Did that mean his talons were gone as well? Oh wait. They regrow back every week don't they? Yeah, his captors love to pull them off every uh, Monday? Or is it Friday? He couldn't remember.

The silence cut in through his thoughts. The man had stopped. Straining his ears, he still couldn't catch even a rustle of fabric to pinpoint the man's location. His senses expanded, becoming hypersensitive, taking in everything. The air stilled, heavy, humid, and suffocating. He could feel every drop of sweat that slid down his body, the vulnerability, the twist of his muscles. The anticipation almost killing him.

The man moved again. Soft and deep, he chuckled,"What do you think we should do today, Serinal-kun?"

The question threw him off guard. That was the first time they asked him. A trick? He chose to remain silent despite the rapid thumps of his heart warning, screaming that it was a trap.

The man continued after a few seconds of silence. "Fine, since you won't choose, I will." He ran his fingers down Serinal's back. Serinal recoiled from the gruesome touch and stiffened when his back reprimanded him for his careless movement. "After so long, we still haven't managed to find out what kind of avian you are, though some say the fearsome hawk, others say the more docile sparrow. So which one are you? I heard of a method to make an avian reveal its wings. Brutal, but effective. Let's try that out today eh?"

Serinal's eyes widened in alarm. A cold metal blade gently rested on his back. It vanished, and for a moment he thought his wings were going to be cut out. The rattle of metal against metal said otherwise. For a foolish moment, he thought the danger was over and breathed out. The whip slashed through the air and tore a large gash from his right shoulder to his left hip. The pain that flows through his veins like liquid lava nearly causes him to lose consciousness. He wished he had. Serinal didin't realise that he was screaming until he hacked, out of breath, throat burning. Stop it. Stop it. Stop it. Stop it. STOP IT.

****

The rumble of a thousand horses stampeding in the sky tended to be normal after a storm as bad as the one that had just passed. The following tremor of the earth wasn't. Loud shrieks erupted from the throats of startled animals. Wide eyes looked up and ears flicked, searching for hints of an impending disaster. The ground beneath shook again.

Nervous now, animals moved in synchrony all headed to the same destination. New orange coloured clouds loomed above the land, blanketed with an air of uncertainty and caution, and the one thing that everyone was certain about was that it wouldn't be safe for a long time.

Mismatched eyes stared emotionlessly at the crowd under them. Hundreds of shifters were gathered at the center of the land, probably looking for answers. Groups of all kinds waiting patiently for the core to reassure them.

The core was a large marble sphere hovering above a giant hole. When there was a major problem, sometimes the core split apart and the being inside it comes out. Or it was supposed to, except that it hadn't shown any signs of life for the past century. And the century before that. And before that as well.

The owner of the eyes' was perched in a large old canro tree, cursing every living being and their creator, humans and the mad sadistic fool that created them, and problems in general. Hunter still didn't understand why the masses underneath even bothered coming here. No matter the crisis no one would show. Why do they waste their time like incompetent humans and search for an answer in the wrong place?

Just barely a few hours back, Hunter had received a letter of plea from a human acquaintance, someone who she had only ever met once and would rather have not met again. Unfortunately, that letter asking for help meant that something had to be incredibly wrong and worrying for her to use her helping card. No matter, after this, she would never have to answer to their call until the next Hokage.

Hunter twirled a few strands of dual coloured hair that had escaped from the tight bun she had twisted them into before leaving her territory to see if the quake was serious.

Small flames ignited on the branch, slowly engulfing the wolf whole. When they had died down, the shifter was gone.