I had no proofreader. Sorry for any major mistakes.

The Crusaders

Chapter One

Opening Moves

Hanabi hid all expression as she settled into the stance for the Juuken. Across from her Konohamaru set himself into the fighting stance she saw earlier. He wore an eager grin on his face as he looked at her, something that she found irksome for some reason.

"This should be fun," he said, "Try not to hurt me too bad."

"If you believe that you can go easy on me because I'm a little younger than you," she stated, "or because I'm a girl…" She didn't get to finish her warning before he interrupted.

"It's not that at all. I know you're one of the best in our class," he said, still in his position, "that's why I'm happy to get the chance to fight you. I want to see how strong you are."

The young Hyuga girl had the sudden desire to slap him on the head. I'll show you how strong I…

Again she found herself interrupted, but this time it wasn't the boy standing across from her. In fact, he seemed surprised by the sound as well. They both blinked curiously at each other before turning back toward the city, where the odd noise had come from.

She had enough time to notice what looked like dust in the air near the wall before she heard Gai's call. "Neji!"

She looked up at her cousin, who was already completing the last seal and activating his Byakugan. He stared at the city for a moment before his eyes went wide and a look that Hanabi had not seen on his face before appeared. "Move!" he yelled.

Without warning, and almost faster than she could see, Hanabi found one of Neji's arms around her, yanking her off her feet as she let out a surprised yelp. Hearing Konohamaru's sudden grunt, she had surmised that he had been grabbed by the other arm, something that she confirmed as the Hyuga prodigy came to a stop and set the two confused Gennin on their feet. "Stay close to me," he said grimly.

"Neji," she asked, a little worried about how he was acting, "what's going on?" She barely had time to finish the question before Konohamaru started nudging her in the arm. She turned on him, ready to tell him to never poke her like that again, but stopped at the startled look on his face. Following his eyes, she completely forgot about everything else.

Hanabi had no idea what was happening, but she did know that there were numerous kunai and shuriken in the ground where they had just been. She also knew that there were at least twenty shinobi that she could see, though that was a guess since she was too dumbfounded to count, and that none of them were wearing Konoha forehead protectors.

"Hanabi," came Neji's deadly serious voice, getting her attention, "Konohamaru. The two of you will be safe with me, but do not let your guard down. We don't know what their intentions are."

She noticed the other boy pull out a kunai and four shuriken, looking nervous and watching the strangers closely. Suddenly understanding Neji's words, she ran through several hand seals, "Byakugan!"

Her breath caught in her throat. What is this? She saw shadows moving in the nearby trees, ready to surround them, and dozens more further out. Looking behind her, at the city, she focused her sight. She felt an odd knot in her stomach as she saw more of the shadowy men swarming toward her home.

"Hanabi-sama," again Neji's voice brought her back, "Keep your focus. Do not let yourself be distracted by enemies that cannot harm you."

She swallowed her feelings and tried to push away her nervousness. He was right, most of the enemies she could see thanks to her Byakugan were not close enough to even throw a kunai at her. But there were plenty that could, and she could not let herself be distracted from them.

"Listen to me," he said calmly, "The three of us will run to our right, toward Tenten and the others. Once we are there, stay with her. Do not attack."

"No way!" Konohamaru blurted out suddenly, "I'm not gonna sit back and watch! I want to help!"

Hanabi quickly scolded him, "Be quiet, you idiot! Neji is a Jounin, he knows what he is doing!" She quickly put out of her mind that she had been less than a second from voicing the same protest.

"Konoha ninjas don't run from their enemies!" he complained, "Why the hell was I training earlier if it wasn't to learn how to fight!"

"Do as I say," came the reply that brooked no argument, "both of you."

Hanabi was surprised that he included her, then she remembered how good he was at reading people. He knew that she secretly wanted to fight, even though she was a little scared. "Get ready."

The two Gennins crouched slightly, then bolted as soon as they saw Neji move.

Suddenly all the shinobi that had been standing before them were darting forward, throwing weapons and forming seals. Hanabi felt her heart in her throat as she saw enemies approaching from the side and behind them.

While she looked ahead at Tenten, a frightened Moegi standing close by with shuriken in hand, she could also see her cousin to her left and Konohamaru behind her. As she tried to keep track of all the movements going on around them, she suddenly saw a kunai flying from behind them straight at the other Gennin.

Slowing down only slightly, she twisted just enough to toss her own knife at it. She realized too late that Konohamaru had sensed the incoming projectile and had thrown a kunai of his own. Both of their throws were spot on, or at least they would have been if they hadn't hit each other a fraction of a second before reaching their target. Their deflected kunai still made just enough contact to change the trajectory of the enemy weapon.

Unfortunately, it was now speeding straight at her, and she was out of position to deal with it. She put her arms up and closed her eyes instinctively, though her Byakugan could still see. She saw Neji's hand reach out and snatch the kunai out of mid-air as if it were the easiest thing in the world. As her natural attempt to block twisted her around more awkwardly, her running speed dropped to almost nothing, and she saw Konohamaru's frantic face as he tried unsuccessfully to stop before he plowed into her.

She felt him grab her arms as they collided, and as they hit the ground his body absorbed the impact. Disoriented for only a moment, she regained her balance as he pushed her back upright and they both resumed their run. It had slowed them for less than three seconds, but it was enough.

One of the enemy ninjas used a jutsu that caused the ground between them and the rest of Neji's team to grow into an enormous rock wall. They slid to a stop before she heard her cousin curse, then yell, "Tenten!"

The three of them had no time to rest, however. They scattered slightly as a rain of shuriken impacted all around them. Hanabi's heart seemed to be beating abnormally hard as she saw the enemies close on them.

"You two, stay together!" Neji yelled as he darted forward to strike the first ninja with three rapid hits, killing the man before he hit the ground.

Hanabi took a deep breath as she went to her familiar fighting stance, but she could still feel herself tremble ever so slightly. Gritting her teeth in determination, she began to emit chakra from her hands. She would prove that she deserved the title of heiress of the Hyuga clan, and make her family proud.

While Neji quickly dispatched two more men, another came toward her and Konohamaru. "Watch my back!" she commanded him as she sprinted forward. The boy protested angrily, but she paid him no mind. She was focused on only one thing.

Quickly ducking the horizontal slash he gave with his knife, she struck his passing elbow with an uppercut strike with her left palm. Forcing her chakra into the hit, she knew that she damaged the ligaments and the cartilage in his joint.

Yelling in pain, he tried to grab at her with his left hand. Spinning to the outside, she squared off and thrust both palms into his unprotected flank. He staggered several steps away from her, coughing and groaning in pain. She watched as he reached into his holster and pulled out another kunai. The young Hyuga dodged the throw almost too easily, then realized that the true target was the unsuspecting Gennin behind her.

Hanabi looked just in time to see Konohamaru's pained expression as the knife buried itself deep in his stomach. Her eyes widened in horror when she saw the exploding tag wrapped around the handle. She tried to call out to him, but before she could utter a sound, the tag exploded violently.

She was knocked to the ground by the blast, her ears ringing. Shaking her head, her vision was starting to clear as she saw the enemy standing over her. Time seemed to slow as he brought his arm up to deliver a killing blow. His head seemed to jolt, suddenly, and his eyes lost focus as he flopped to the ground. There, standing behind him, was Konohamaru.

Hanabi blinked at the boy, who had not a scratch on him. Looking behind her as she sat up, she saw a scorch mark and quite a few splinters of wood. Replacement technique. How did I not see it? Her line of thought was quickly shoved aside as she noticed him offering his hand. She ignored it and got up herself.

Looking a little put off by the refusal of his gesture, he grunted, "You don't have to worry about me, I can take care of myself."

"I wasn't worried about you at all," she replied, slightly embarrassed at having to be saved, "It wouldn't have been a problem if your replacement hadn't blown up so close to me."

Before he could say anything back, Neji appeared next to them, "There's no time for this, we have to move." With that, he jumped forward.

The two Gennins scowled at each other for a moment, then followed as fast as they could.

Aburame Shino walked down the streets of his hometown at a measured, moderate pace. Not particularly fast, as he had nothing in particular to do that day. He disliked wasting time, however, so he wasn't walking slowly either.

The sun beat down on the pale grey of his hooded jacket. His dark sunglasses took care of whatever light made it to his eyes.

He was heading out to the forest, a small glade a few miles into the forest actually. He wanted to arrive at sunset so he could watch one of the last appearances of the fireflies that often haunted that spot near the pond. Shino knew that soon the cold autumn air would drive them away, and he would have to wait until the next summer to see them again.

As he approached the huge, thick walls that protected the Hidden Village of the Leaf, he felt an odd uneasiness wash over him. It was odd because it started at his feet, and moved up. It was something he hadn't quite experienced before, and it took a few moments before he realized what it was.

Just as the rest of his clan, Shino's body was a nest for a swarm of tiny insects. His body and chakra were given in exchange for the submission of the bugs to his will, allowing him to not only control them, but communicate as well. Right at that moment, they were communicating with him.

Stopping in his tracks, he blinked at the gate ahead. What kind of vibrations in the ground? He waited patiently for a response, as the bugs struggled to think of a way to explain something that they had not experienced before. The chakra in the ground is vibrating? Why is there chakra in the ground?

The answer came to him a moment before his insects responded. Someone is putting it there. That means someone is using a ninjutsu that affects the earth. Before he could even ask himself why someone would be doing such a thing, he began to feel vibrations himself. The ground itself was shaking under his feet as he felt the bugs within him calling for him to move.

A stark realization of what was happening struck him as he saw the large crack in the road racing toward him. "Everyone, get out of the street! Now!" He yelled as loud as he ever had as he turned to the townspeople behind him. He jumped out of the path of the crack just as gigantic earthen crags exploded upward from the ground.

Shino found himself crouched on the wall of a nearby building. He could hear screaming through the dust cloud that had enveloped the area. The chakra surge that had caused the ground to split and upturn was beginning to dissipate, though he was still essentially blinded.

As he began to send out his insects, trying to discover what was happening, the second story window that he was crouched next to opened, and a middle aged man stuck his head out. "What the hell is going on out…here…?" He trailed off as he and Shino looked at each other. His face had gone from anger to a kind of shocked fear as he saw the young Chuunin that was stuck to his wall. The insects that were crawling all over the shinobi probably weren't helping either.

Shino hated it when people looked at him like that, but now wasn't the time for that. "Go inside," he commanded, "gather whoever you can, and run as fast as possible to the Hokage Monuments." When the man continued to stare at him, he added a harsh, "Now!" The man jumped and disappeared back inside.

He hated raising his voice. He wasn't one for talking at all, in fact. This seemed like one of those times that would require him to do a little more than he was used to.

Receiving a report back from one of his insects, he leapt from his wall. Landing atop the rocky protrusions that now filled the street, he looked around through the slowly clearing veil of dust. He saw that the rocks he stood on stretched another fifty yards beyond him, and that the four story high crags had completely blocked the entire gate, pressing against the sides enough to cause massive stress fractures in the city wall.

His father had always told him that people always do things for a reason, whether others understand them or not. If you can understand the reasons behind the action, you have gained an advantage over your opponent. Shino thought of this as he surveyed the scene.

The gate must have been the target, if they were trying to damage the wall, it would be difficult to miss. The attack didn't go very far into the city, so they weren't trying to penetrate our defenses. Any ninja could get past the wall without much difficulty if they came in force. So why use such a powerful jutsu simply to hit an open gate?

Shino was puzzled. It didn't make much sense to him. He was certain that someone who could use such a powerful jutsu could certainly have destroyed the gate if he had tried, but the gate was already open. What was the point? The only other option was that they had intended to block the gate. But since that would only slow a ninja down a little, the only other reason to do that would be to keep non-ninjas from passing.

As the realization hit him, Shino felt his stomach clench for a moment. Calling for one of his bugs, he pulled out a kunai. Find my father, or someone else from the clan. Tell them that the attackers are taking measures to prevent the civilians from escaping the city.

The tiny bug crawled onto the kunai and held on tight. As soon as it was ready, Shino reared back and threw the knife as far into the city as he could. His bugs were loyal and strong in numbers, but not particularly fast and time was now of the essence. Hopefully he had just given his messenger enough of a head start to warn them in time to do something.

He turned back just in time to duck an attack as the enemy's thrust went by his left ear. In an instant Shino had brought his left arm up and over the outstretched arm of his attacker. Pinning it against his shoulder, he slammed his left arm down, breaking the man's arm with a sickening snap.

Not even waiting for the enemy to scream, he jumped backward, narrowly avoiding a series of shuriken. They crumbled and fragmented as they struck the rock where he stood. Normally Shino would have already realized that his enemies were Rock shinobi, despite the fact he had never faced one before, but he was far too busy to think even that much.

It was taking all the concentration he had to avoid the attacks of the two new opponents, even as four more appeared behind them, charging around to flank him. This is bad.

His thoughts were an understatement, something he realized as the ground cracked beneath him.

He felt it before he heard it. The vibration in the earth beneath him caused his lazy eyes to open. He sat up when he heard the crashing explosion in the distance.

"What the hell was that?" Temari asked, more curious than anything else, a feeling Shikamaru shared until he saw the smoke rising awfully close to the wall.

"Damn," he muttered as he stood up, "This is just great. I'm going to find out what happened. You can stay here, if you want."

She gave him an amused look, as if he were crazy. "You don't really expect me to sit here, do you?"

He gave a weary smile, "Of course not, but I have to offer, since you're a woman and all."

Her eyes flared at him. Crap…why do I keep saying things to piss her off? He saw her hand clench as he put his hands up. Both of them jumped away from each other at the same time.

Putting a hand up to Temari, she held short of opening her large fan. His gaze went from the four windmill shuriken that had just missed them by a hair's breadth to the ninjas who had thrown them.

They were dressed in brown and grey, each with a vest that held scrolls and other equipment. He could see the forehead protectors that they wore, and the design that was engraved into them. They're all at least Chuunin level. But what are Rock ninjas doing here?

"I'm impressed," one of them said, "We took our time getting close to you so you wouldn't notice us, but you still managed to avoid our attacks."

"It looks like Konoha Chuunin aren't all soft!" one of the other ones taunted.

"Who the hell are you calling a Konoha Chuunin?" Shikamaru wanted to slap himself in the face out of frustration. He settled with getting her attention.

"Temari!" he snapped, leaving the rest unsaid. There was no need to announce that she was a Jounin. They would probably need a trump card, something that Temari obviously understood, even if she didn't like it.

"Oh ho ho!" another laughed, "A cute little thing from the Sand!"

"It's a shame we can't linger here," the last one said, "I would love to take my time with her." The man, perhaps in his early twenties, had a lustful look in his eye as he smiled at her. It made Shikamaru sick.

"Why are you here?" Shikamaru demanded, "We have to treaty with Rock, your presence here is a hostile act. Are you fools trying to start a war?" The four enemy ninjas looked at each other and sniggered, if not laughed openly.

"Are you retarded?" one asked between chuckles, "I suppose we gave you too much credit before." Shikamaru grimaced as the truth hit him. They were at war, and his home village was under attack.

A thousand things flickered through his mind, from why they were doing this, to the tactics that they used, to how many shinobi were attacking, to how they got so close without anyone noticing, to how well the defenses of Konoha were likely to hold out.

His main concern, how to beat these four guys and get back to the city, remained at the forefront. There was no way to know how these guys would fight, as his knowledge of the last war with Hidden Rock was woeful at best. He knew of only a few jutsus that Rock used, but there were so many others that he couldn't plan for because he just didn't know.

"Sorry you two," the first one said as they all crouched slightly, "but we have objectives to complete."

"Nothing against you, baby," the perverted one said to Temari, "I would have shown you a good time, but duty calls."

Shikamaru felt his irritation swell at this guy, but quickly pushed it away as he glanced at the Sand ninja. She flashed a dangerous grin at him as she pulled out several shuriken. He nodded back and put his hands in front of him, his fingers holding four kunai in each hand.

They made the first move quicker than he had expected, but it didn't really make much of a difference. It wouldn't affect his plan.

Tossing his kunai, he split the four ninjas in half. Temari dashed around to the right as he dropped a paper tag and charged into the middle. Shikamaru focused his attention to the ninjas on his left, as the other two moved behind him, between him and his Sand ally.

The Rock nin, who thought that they had divided and conquered, focused on Shikamaru. After rapidly going through seals, one slammed his hand on the ground, causing ten fist sized stones to rise up into the air. Transforming into shuriken, they shot forward.

His dodges and blocks were awkward, as the rock shuriken were quite heavy and knocked his balance off when he deflected them with his kunai. He wound up on the ground, just barely arching back out to the way of the last one. He would have been killed if it weren't for some pinpoint shuriken throws from Temari.

The distraction she caused lasted only a split second, but it was enough. When they turned their attention back to Shikamaru, they saw him forming seals as he lay on the ground. Trying to counter, the one furthest from Temari began to form seals as well while the rest readied something to throw.

They all froze, eyes wide, as they saw tendrils of darkness reach out from their target and merged into their shadows. Smiling to himself that the plan had gone to their favor so far, he quickly stood and called, "Temari!"

Nodding, she took two steps forward, then jumped into an arc that would carry her clear over the battle. Shikamaru, waiting for a moment, jumped as well. His shadow bind technique causing the four Rock ninjas to leap into the air as well.

They quickly realized that the Konoha ninja's technique had released them as soon as they had become airborne, so they all prepared to attack. Too quickly, however, Shikamaru and Temari met in midair. Catching him, then kicking off, Temari sent Shikamaru flying out of the combat area, while she gave herself a perfect shot at all four Rock shinobi. Unfurling her fan, she gave a mighty yell as she swung.

Unable to dodge, since they were in mid-air, the enemies began to form seals. Three of them completed them just before the wind blast hit them, the one closest to her did not. The unprotected ninja was cut to ribbons by the powerful attack. The other three had just managed to activate their earth armor jutsus, protecting them from the worst of it.

By the time Temari had landed, the four Rock nins had been knocked over a hundred yards away. She gave a curious look at Shikamaru, who was starting to get up, hands still covering his head. He responded to her unspoken question by saying, "It would have been troublesome to get hit with my partner's attack."

She was about to give him a piece of her mind about his lack of faith in her aim, but she merely growled as she saw three of her enemies stagger to their feet.

Shikamaru saw the look on her face and grabbed her arm before she did something he was going to regret, "C'mon, we have to get back to the city. The others might need our help!"

She didn't seem keen on the idea of running when they seemed to be on top, but she saw the look in Shikamaru's eye. "Fine," she huffed, "Let's go."

That attack should have killed all of them, he mused to himself as they jumped toward the city. What other tricks do these guys have up their sleeves?

The Rock nin stood across from his partner. The ten foot space between them had a circle drawn in chalk, with numerous designs and runes running throughout. It had taken the two of them six hours to finish the intricate work, but they had finished faster than the other seven groups. They took pride in that.

He breathed in through his nose and out through his mouth as he had for almost an hour, preparing his chakra and gathering it for the massive task that he would soon have to complete.

Yes, it would be soon. On the edge of his senses, he could hear the rumblings of the Earth as it rose up against their old foes. Today the dirt and stone that they took for granted would be their undoing. They would learn the wrath of the Hidden Village of Rock.

"Get ready!" someone called. His heart raced as he cut his hand, excited that his moment was about to come. The reason he had trained for so many years. He would make his parents proud.


He and his partner began forming seals, so in step that they looked like reflections of each other. As their seals ended, they dropped to one knee as they slammed their palms to the circle and yelled in unison, not only with each other, but with the other fourteen men doing the same thing, "Kuchiyose no Jutsu!"

He felt the strain on his chakra system, as he always did when the new corporeal form of the summon took shape. In a moment it was over, and there before him was a strange formation of boulders. That's what they would look like to a normal person, anyway.

The boulders soon began to shake and shift, moving upward with the grinding and clacking sounds of rocks sliding and hitting together. He laughed as the twenty foot humanoid of stone began to lumber forward.

Cheers went up from his companions, goading the golems to show what they could do. He couldn't suppress his own cheer of triumph as he watched the one his chakra helped to make. He knew that it would be defeated by the Leaf ninja, but it would kill many before that happened.

The stone elemental reared back, and in an impressive display of force, hurled a ten foot diameter boulder into the air. The graceful arc, he knew, would land the stone within the walls of the city.

He was happy that his efforts would result in the death of the enemies of his people.

Kakashi jumped from overhang to street sign as he rushed to see what had happened at the West gate. Close behind him followed his former students and current assigned teammates, Sakura and Naruto. They were an odd team in that they only had the three of them instead of the normal four. However, Konoha had still not fully recovered from its shortage of personnel, and the three of them neither wanted nor needed a replacement for Sasuke.

They had a long distance to go, since they had been halfway across the city when they first heard the noise. It had only been a couple of minutes since the disturbance, but Kakashi was still surprised that no one had sounded an alarm to move the civilians further into the city for protection from whatever it was.

Then again, it was entirely possible that it was just some sort of accident, and that he was worrying over nothing. Yeah, it's probably nothing to worry about.

Just then, there was a tremendous crash to their left. It was probably three or four blocks away, but it still made them stop. He looked at his former students and received a nod from both. Turning, they made their way toward the new dust plume and screams.

The Jounin was more than a little surprised to find two good sized buildings destroyed, several more half knocked down, and all the other ones he could see with shattered windows and a few cracks. Sakura immediately jumped forward to aid the victims as he and Naruto eyed the apparent cause of all this destruction.

The large, slightly lop-sided boulder, was half buried in the floor of a former watch maker's shop. "What the hell is going on here?" Naruto asked him.

"I'm not sure yet," Kakashi answered truthfully. There were not very many possibilities, and none of them were very probable to his mind.

Quickly moving over to Sakura, she was doing her best to heal a woman with a broken leg. He was about to ask if she needed them, but he was interrupted.

"Medic!" came a shaky female voice, "I need a medic!"

"Hinata?" Naruto called to her as she ran down the street, "What's wrong?"

The Hyuga girl skidded to a stop, "Naruto-kun! I need-Sakura!"

Kakashi and Naruto stood to the side as Hinata sprinted between them, clutching a young child to her chest. As she set the child down next to the overwhelmed medi-nin, he heard Naruto gasp. Even he couldn't help but sigh. The child was hurt badly and covered in blood and dust, and he knew that there was probably nothing to be done. Still, he watched as Sakura worked as hard as she could to save the little girl.

Hinata sat back, trying not to cry, as she watched. Seconds went by, and Kakashi could see the frustration building in Sakura's eyes.

"Kakashi?" he heard Naruto ask, just loud enough for him to hear, "Can she…I mean, will she…?"

He simply bowed his head quietly, closing his eyes. It seemed to be answer enough, since Naruto remained silent as well. Almost thirty seconds passed, and Sakura looked ready to pick up the boulder and throw it back at whoever did this.

Just then, the two men noticed it. "Sakura, there's another one!" he called, grabbing her arm, "We have to move."

Yanking her arm away angrily, she kept trying to save the girl. Naruto pleaded, equally aware of the danger arcing toward them as they spoke, "Sakura-chan, if we don't move we're going to get crushed!"

Hinata obviously didn't know what to do. She wanted the girl to be alright, but it was obvious that they hadn't been fast enough.

Looking again, Kakashi saw the stone, larger than the last, hurtling at them. There was no time left. Grabbing Sakura tightly and leaping out of the way, he saw Naruto grab Hinata's arm and helped her to safety. Kakashi hadn't even landed yet when the boulder smashed through the space that they were just in.

Once two more buildings right next to them had fallen, he let go. Sakura slowly stood up, staring at the place they had just been. He watched as she walked over to the destroyed area. Hinata had moved up from the other side, Naruto close behind.

As he walked over to the three, he could feel the heat of his anger within. Naruto was watching Sakura as she looked around, appearing to have lost something. Hinata was the one who spoke, albeit softly, "Sakura? What are you doing?"

The pink haired Chuunin looked as if she wanted to cry, "I…I can't find her. Her body isn't even here anymore." Hinata held her hands over her mouth as tears began to form in her white eyes. "Who did this? Why?"

"Let's go find out," Kakashi stated.

Naruto nodded grimly, "Yeah, let's find these bastards. I won't let them get away with hurting the people of my home town."

Konohamaru was glancing sideways as he ran through the woods. That stupid Hyuga girl. She thinks she's so great.

'That stupid Hyuga girl' was a few feet to his right, trying as hard as he was to keep up with Neji. He had tried to be friendly with her in the past. He had even used Naruto's Sexy no Jutsu one day when Iruka was giving her a hard time about something. She just acted offended and wouldn't give him the time of day after that.

Well, she was giving him at least some of her day now. It was starting to look more and more like they hadn't just been hit by a random attack. It seemed wherever they turned there were more enemies. Neji had quickly decided that it would be best to take the two of them inside the city walls. Konohamaru knew that the only reason that they were doing it was because of her.

It wasn't exactly a secret that she had been made heir to the Hyuga clan (though why that title had been taken from her older sister, Hinata, was more hearsay and conjecture). Konohamaru had also come to know that Neji had some kind of obligation to protect the leaders of the Hyuga clan. Konohamaru didn't really understand it all, but he knew it was why he was being taken out of the action, so it wasn't sitting too well with him.

Surprisingly, Hanabi had argued even more vehemently than he had to not go back. It hadn't taken long for Neji to shoot that idea down. In fact, he had yelled at her to stop being selfish. Her eyes had gone wide when he did that, and Konohamaru had thought she was about to cry. She never did though, and she hadn't said a word since.

It didn't matter, though. He was glad that he didn't have to listen to her.

As they continued forward, Neji suddenly slowed his pace, and he thought he heard the Jounin mutter, "What the hell is that?" They kept going, though, so he started to think he had imagined it. That was when they stopped at the edge of the woods.

Konohamaru's eyes widened as he looked. There was Konoha, black smoke rising from several fires. It wasn't too bad, he thought, but it obviously wasn't over. He felt a cold lump in his stomach as he watched some foreign force try to destroy his home.

"Neji," he whispered, "We're gonna beat these guys right?"

"Of course we're going to beat them," Hanabi interjected. When Neji said nothing, she added a "Won't we, Neji?" with slightly less confidence.

His continued silence caused the two Gennin to look at each other. Konohamaru felt as though someone had just hit him in the gut. Did Neji actually think it was possible that they would loose?

Haha! No way! It's just not possible!

He realized that he was hearing noise to his left. Loud noises. In fact it sounded as though something was flat out destroying the forrest as it moved less than a mile away. He stared in wonder as he heard Hanabi gasp behind him. Looking at the girl sitting on the other side of Neji, he saw that she had her Byakugan activated. She knew what it was. Just a few seconds later he knew what it was, too.

Crashing through the edge of the trees, several huge humanoid looking things lumbered into the field. The rock creatures were terrifying to behold, some of which stood thirty or forty feet tall. The emotionless things marched toward his home, some picking up the trees they had uprooted and slinging them end over end over the city walls.

Konohamaru had never felt so helpless in his life. He couldn't imagine what he could possibly do to one of those things to bring one down. And there were eight of the things. There was no way someone like him could do anything.

"Hanabi-sama," Neji suddenly said to the girl, who was looking in shock at the scene with her normal vision, "You have to get to the city. Go to the Hyuga clan mansion. They'll know what to do." She barely seemed to hear him, so he added a more firm, "Hanabi! Do you understand?"

She jumped when he raised his voice slightly, but it got her attention. She nodded at him as she gave a weak, "Yes."

"Konohamaru," Neji turned his eyes on the other Gennin, "You have to make sure Hanabi-sama stays safe. Protect her with your life."

Inside of his heart, he suddenly felt a surge of confidence. The fear was pushed back just enough for him to think clearly, and he realized that Neji had just given him the most important mission he could have received. Neji trusted Konohamaru with Hanabi's life.

His face turning serious, Konohamaru turned to the Jounin, "I won't fail. I'll make sure she gets back safe. It's a promise."

"Good man," Neji patted his shoulder, "Now the two of you stay away from the enemy. Avoid them at all cost. Hanabi, make sure you take the safest path."

She nodded at her cousin, then asked, "Why aren't you coming with us? You aren't going to fight those, those rock things are you?"

"No," he replied, "I'm going to kill the ones who summoned them. Or at least, as many as I can."

"You can't do that by yourself!" Konohamaru blurted out, "There's no telling how many of these guys are running around out here. Not even you can fight a whole army, Neji!"

"He's right, Neji!" Hanabi said, suddenly loosing all fear and seeming quite resolute, "We'll back you up."

"Yeah!" he agreed, feeling odd that he was going along with what she said for once.

"That won't be necessary," he said, "I won't be going alone."

"That's right!" came a new voice. Konohamaru almost had a heart attack when he realized that one of Neji's teammates had virtually materialized right next to him.

"Lee!" Hanabi smiled, "You won't let anything happen to Neji, will you?"

He laughed. "Of course not, Hanabi-chan! I can't let my rival be defeated by anyone but me!" He ended by giving her the nice guy pose.

Konohamaru rolled his eyes at this, but then grinned a little, "Lee, you and Neji better show those jerks what Konoha ninjas are made of!"

Lee smiled at him, then motioned him over a little. Huddling together, and facing away from the two Hyugas, Lee whispered, "Konohamaru, you should know that a man can find his true strength only when he is protecting something that is important to him. I know that you'll find your true power and keep Hanabi-chan safe!"

Konohamaru simply gaped at the thick browed young man. He didn't even know where to start. "I…she…don't…"

"Let's go, Neji," Lee said, jumping back into the forest.

The Jounin stepped forward, placing his hand on Konohamaru's shoulder. "Keep her safe, no matter what." With that, he jumped away, too.

Looking after the retreating figure of their protector, the two Gennin glanced back at each other. Hanabi suddenly looked irritated and walked away without saying a word.

Konohamaru grumbled under his breath and followed. It seemed to him that the hardest part of protecting her would be keeping himself from knocking her out.


Well, now that all that is started, I want to try and get a chap of Drifting Sand written before doing another one here. I'm hoping the wait will be no more than a week and a half, but knowing me it'll be longer.

So what do you guys think so far? I know there's not much actual story to comment on. I felt as though the part with Naruto and his group were kind of rushed. I may go back and tweak that later, but I just don't feel like it right now.

So why are the Rock ninjas so freaking angry? Stay tuned!

Please review, and thanks to those who already did! I'll see you next chapter!

Katamari Damacy