Author's Notes: I have recently joined a community with a number of other well known authors like LD 1449 and VFSNAKE called the Guild dedicated to helping other authors and coming up with new and interesting writing challenges. Two of my new stories, 'That Look' and 'The Tempered Heart' area direct result of challenges from this community. I invite all of you who might be interested to take a look. Here is the link:

www .fanfiction. net/forum/The_Guild/54464/

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Naruto was stripped to the waist and sweating. He grunted with the effort of carrying a massive stone statue of a meditating frog on his back. A small bearded frog rode on his shoulder.

"Well it looks like you are finally getting how to manipulate natural energy, and it only took you an entire month!" Fukasaku snorted but it was purely for show. Jiraiya-chan had needed six months to get this far.

"Does this mean I can rest now?" Naruto said hopefully.

Whack!

"Ow!" The statue very nearly slipped as he momentarily lost concentration. "You could have just said no!" Naruto complained as he got the statue centered again.

"This isn't the time to relax!" Fukasaku reminded him sharply. "Your whole village is under threat and relying on you."

"I haven't forgotten," Naruto grumbled.

An orange and black frog suddenly arrived in a puff of smoke. This was Renku, the messenger frog that had been left with the Hokage.

Fukasaku leapt off Naruto's shoulder to go over to Renku who handed him a sealed message. Fukasaku broke open the seal and read it. When he did so he turned back to Naruto with a frown on his face.

"It's an emergency message from the Hokage," Fukasaku told him.

"Well what's it say?" Fukasaku answered him with just one word.

"Tomorrow."

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Jiraiya stood on the eastern bank of the river Hayai. Before him was a long steel and concrete bridge that spanned the large river connecting two sections of the main road. This road was the quickest and easiest way to Konoha, which lay just twenty miles away.

Jiraiya watched as the last members of his special strike force crossed over the bridge. "That everybody?" He asked. He knew it was but still wanted to ask to make sure.

Kakashi nodded. "Yeah, everyone from our side is across."

"Have all the other bridges been blown?"

"Yosh! They have Jiraiya-sama." Gai confirmed.

With a depressed sigh Jiraiya nodded to Kakashi. "Do it."

"Right," Kakashi pressed down a lever.

Three large explosions echoed out at the concrete supports were blown up. The metal span gave way with a sickening groan and fell into the waters below.

"Well that's it," Jiraiya announced. "The last barrier between the enemy and the village." He looked out at the sky, it was almost sunset. He knew Pein wouldn't attack tonight. He would want his forces at their absolute peak for the climatic last battle. He would spend the night getting them across and sending his scouts forward. The army would rest and refresh themselves.

"Let's go," Jiraiya said to Kakashi and the rest of his people. "Tomorrow's going to be a hell of a day."

XXXXXXXXXX

Asuma glared at his father. "I refuse!"

"You have no say in the matter," Sarutobi told him coldly. "As a leaf ninja you will obey my orders."

"Then I resign!"

"In that case I will order you to arrested and taken a safe distance from the village."

The two men glared at men another.

"Uhm, I think I'd rather have someone else escort me," Karin said nervously.

Asuma looked at the woman coldly. "From what I hear you're about as much of a murdered as Pein of Orochimaru. What you deserve is a trip to the headsman. What you want doesn't interest me." He turned back to his father. "Why should I take her and all her info to Kumo?"

"If we fall then only Kumo and Kiri will remain to oppose Pein, Suna is too weak to be considered. I could not in good conscience use the Legacy seal on my ninja. However the Raikage may have another opinion. To stop Pein I will do whatever I can and that includes passing on this information to others who may be willing to muse it."

"And what if the Raikage does decide to use the seal? How would he be any better than Pein?" Asuma demanded.

"I can only hope that he would prove less ambitious," Sarutobi said. "But I consider any alternative better than Pein's conquering the entire world."

"So you're going to condemn a whole new group of ninja to being inflicted with this thing?"

"That will be the Raikage's decision, not mine."

"But you will make it possible!"

"Enough Asuma!" Sarutobi said sharply. "As is often the case my choice is not between good and bad. I have only a choice of the lesser evil. You will take Karin out of the village with all the information concerning the Legacy seal. If Konoha should fall you will deliver her to the Raikage. If we triumph you will return her here. My decision is made and it is not up for debate."

Asuma shook his head. "Why me?"

"You are one of our finest Jonin and as my son you will have immediate credibility among the Cloud ninja."

"You wouldn't just be trying to protect me would you?" Asuma asked flatly.

Sarutobi looked back at him calmly. "That might be some small part of it," he admitted.

As they had so often before they clashed, but Asuma finally accepted his orders and took Karin out of Konoha.

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"You wanted to see me Hinata-sama?" Neji asked stiffly.

Hinata was in the garden of the Hyuuga estate. She turned and nodded politely to him. "Please come and join me Neji." He came and stood at her side amid the flowers. His form was rigid and unbending, his face set in a permanent scowl.

Hinata did her best to ignore that. She smiled at him pleasantly. "Aren't the flowers lovely Neji? Seeing them reminds me of all the beautiful and wondrous things in this world. All the things that we should fight to protect."

"Are we fighting for flowers Lady Hinata?" He asked in a cool voice. "I was under the impression we were fighting to save the village."

"We are fighting for the village," she said quietly. "And for other things too. Is it true that you have asked Tenten to marry you?"

"It is," he answered curtly.

"Well I hope the two of you will have a long and happy marriage."

"That is very generous of you Lady Hinata."

She looked at him sadly with her pale eyes. "Must it be this way between us Neji? Even now as our whole world hangs in the balance?"

"I do not know what you mean Lady Hinata."

"Can we stop behaving like enemies and try to make peace Neji?" She asked pleadingly. "I always wanted us to be a family."

A cold smirk touched his lips. "We are a family, many families hate one another. You do still hate me do you not Hinata-sama?"

"I did," she answered firmly and with no hint of regret. "When I said those words to you I meant them and it was how I felt for a very long time. You tried to ruin everything I had with Naruto, and you did it for no other reason than to hurt me. How could I not hate you?"

In reply he reached up and untied his hitai-ite, revealing the Caged Bird seal he usually kept hidden. "And how could I not hate you?"

"Is that you answer?" She asked him miserably. "Is there no room for forgiveness? Can't we forgive each other and try to be a real family?"

"Hmph, as I've already said we are a family. You have always been filled with unrealistic hopes. You get that from Naruto I think."

"Yes, I do," she smiled fondly. "Naruto-kun showed me that anything was possible so long as you never gave up."

"He was wrong," Neji said flatly.

Hinata looked at him with deep sadness. "I see," she said. "Well, even if that is how you feel I forgive you Neji and I won't give up on you."

He shook his head. "Ridiculous."

"No," she told him. "Trying to make peace with the people who are important to you is never ridiculous."

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Hidan, Kakuzu, and Zetsu were gathered around a small fire in their black robes with red clouds. They were having an animated discussion about the coming battle.

About two miles away was large tower constructed entirely of paper. Inside were Konan, all six incarnations of Pein, and Nagato.

"Tomorrow," Nagato said wearily. "Tomorrow I will finally avenge my parents and destroy Konoha. It will be a good long step towards creating my world of peace and justice."

Konan looked at him. He was emaciated and had the control sticking out of his body. She knew they caused him constant pain, though he tried to hide the fact. When she looked at him she could still see the sad little boy who had spent all his time crying.

"Where is Madara?" Konan asked. "Shouldn't he be here too?"

"He disappeared when Sasuke died," Nagato replied. "I'm sure he'll appear again at some point."

"Nagato," she asked slowly. "Do you ever have any… doubts about the path you've chosen?"

With the rinnegan he looked at her. She was the only person left who he considered a true friend, and the only person with whom he could be honest. "No," he told her. "I have no doubts since I understand this is the only way to fulfill my dream. I have regrets about all the lives that have been lost, especially all the innocent children and parents. But this is the only way. To create my world of peace and justice a terrible price in blood must be paid."

But does that matter to all the innocents we are destroying? None of them will live to see this perfect world. Konan wondered sadly. "Do you ever wish…"

Nagato eyed her. "What Konan?"

Do you ever wish we could stop destroying everything? Konoha would not be the end. Suna would be next, and then Kumo and Kiri and after that what sort of world would they really have? Would it be a world of peace? Or would it be one ruled by fear? Just like Rain had been under Hanzo? But she knew it was much too late for these questions. It had probably been too late from them moment Yahiko died.

"Nothing," she said quietly. "Nothing at all."

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The village felt empty. There were more than two thousand ninja still here, but for a place the size of Konoha it felt like a ghost town. Even so the Hokage walked along the empty darkened streets. He could not sleep and wanted to walk and look at the sights.

He had been born here. Part of the first generation of his clan to be born in Konoha just after it had been established by the First. There were so many memories, good and bad. He passed an ice cream parlor where he had once treated his young students. He passed a restaurant where he and his dear wife had celebrated their twentieth wedding anniversary. Passing the academy he remembered meeting his three students of the first time. His eyes also drifted to a swing and he was reminded of Naruto and the hardships that boy had endured.

Passing the hospital he was reminded of more births and tragic deaths than he cared to remember. Passing the memorial stone he remembered some of the brave ninja who had given their lives to save Konoha. He thought of his eldest son, Konohamaru's father. He remembered the White Fang, even though sadly his name was not on the memorial. And he remembered Minato, noble Minato, the one who most people judged the greatest ninja ever produced by the village. He had watched the generations being born, growing up, and sacrificing themselves to protect and preserve the next generation. This was the constant unchanging cycle of life.

What will tomorrow bring? He wondered. Would the cycle continue or would everything come to a final end? He believed with all his soul in the Will of Fire. Believed in his home and in his people, but he could not banish all doubt.

It all rides with Naruto, the one the villagers scorned and hated. If we are to survive he must be the one who saves us. It seemed at once terribly fitting and terribly ironic that the fate of the village rode with the one person most of the villagers had wanted to get rid of.

Sufficiently tired from his walk and his thoughts he headed for home to get a few hours sleep.

XXXXXXXXXX

The sun rose like on any other morning.

The day of reckoning had come.

The gates were sealed, earth jutsus had been used to bury them under rock. Along the entire length of the outer wall ninja waited. There would be no more retreats. Today Konoha would triumph or be destroyed forever.

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All of the most powerful ninja were on the section of the wall closest to the gate. They all expected that this was where the main thrust would come. Among them was the Lord Hokage dressed in the same black ninja gear he had favored when he had been an active duty Jonin. Not too far from him were his two remaining students.

"You know Tsunade if you want to confess your feelings for me this might be your last chance," Jiraiya said with a boyish grin. This was just some of the same teasing banter they had always shared. So he was surprised when she turned to him and spoke very seriously.

"You know Jiraiya there is something I've been wanting to confess to you."

"Re… really?"

She nodded. "You know all those times I hit you? All those beatings I gave you?"

"Yes," he said. "What about them?"

Smiling she gave him a wink. "I was always taking it easy on you."

He stared at her for a second before putting his head back and roaring with laughter.

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Hyuuga Hiashi stood with many of his clan near him including his two daughters and his nephew.

"Whatever happens today remember, we fight for the glory of the Hyuuga clan." Hiashi reminded them.

"As always," Neji replied softly, bitterly.

"Father," Hinata said. "Shouldn't we fight for more than just our clan's glory?"

"And what could be more important?" Hiashi asked.

"Fighting for the ones we love," she answered. "When Naruto fights it's not to win glory, but to protect the people who are precious to him."

"And where's Naruto now?" Neji asked. "He disappeared after the opening battle."

"He will be here," she told him with absolute certainty. "He will be the one to save us."

Neji snorted while Hiashi merely shook his head. "You have a great deal of faith in him daughter."

"Yes, I believe in him father. He has never given up and I know he never will. He will be here and he will save us."

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Sakura looked out to the distance and saw clouds of dust forming. It wouldn't be long now.

"Nervous?" Tayuya asked as she stood by her side.

"Yeah," Sakura admitted. "To be honest I'm scared almost tot eh point of being petrified."

Tayuya grinned. "Don't worry, the worst that can happen is you die."

"Gee, that's cheerful."

"There are worse things than death," she gave her a sideways glance. "For instance being in love with someone and never getting to tell them."

"I know," Sakura said. In her mind's eye she saw Naruto. She loved him. But resigned to the fact that he did not love her. The only time he had ever kissed her had been on the cheek to wish her luck. She had seen him kiss Hinata sometimes, she knew where his heart was. She'd had her chance and had never even realized it. "I wish I had someone."

"Sakura-chan," Tayuya whispered and leaned close.

"Hmmm? Wha… mmmph!" She was cut off as Tayuya's lips pressed down on hers.

"You do have someone," Tayuya said with color filling her cheeks.

Sakura stared at her and felt her heart pounding.

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Pein stood before his army. Since before daybreak he had brought them to the edge of the enemy village. His army was now gathered in the forest just out of sight of the defenders. When they attacked he would be following close behind in Konan's tower. He wanted to see Konoha's end with his own eyes.

Looking through Pein's rinnegan he saw the faces of his captains as they awaited the final order.

"Begin," Pein told them.

The captains leapt away and began shouting orders to their men.

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On the wall the leaf ninja felt the massive spike in chakra coming from the nearby forest as a couple thousand seals were being activated. The Hokage nodded to Renku and the messenger frog vanished.

Out of the forest came a screaming horde of monsters. More like something from a child's nightmare than an enemy army.

"Here they come," the Hokage said calmly.

Every last ninja on the wall looked out at the oncoming horror and saw their deaths there. They steeled themselves for what was coming.

Then out in front of the gate cam a puff of smoke and a lone figure appeared.

Uzumaki Naruto had come.

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Naruto stood there all alone, the only person between an army of transformed ninja and the walls of his home. Seeing the unbroken line of screaming creatures rushing straight at him Naruto felt an odd calm. He knew what he had to do and was ready.

He could sense every last one of the tri-kunai that had been buried in the ground before him. He deliberately waited to let the enemy get closer. He needed to get them all in one move or this would be for nothing.

So he stood there calmly breathing in and out as the tip of the spear drew closer and closer while the rest of them unwittingly came into his trap. A thousand yards, five hundred yards, a hundred, fifty, close enough for him to see their eyes and smell the sweat from their bodies.

Now.

Anywhere the light touches I can go. "Hiraishin no Jutsu."

Before the eyes of friends and foe alike Uzumaki Naruto vanished in a flash of yellow.

Then the dying began.

The front line suddenly staggered and dropped. A rapid series of pops could be heard all through the clearing and heads were torn from bodies or holes were bored through chests. In seconds hundreds had fallen dead in the road and in the grass before Konoha's wall.

Like dominoes falling the line of dead ninja began to sweep back. Cries of horror could be heard. Not from those being killed, they died too swiftly to make any noise, but from those poor nin who could see what was coming and had no idea what to do about it. All they could do was scream and then die.

Line after line of them died, with twenty, thirty, forty, or more dying in the blink of an eye. Whatever their power level or ability, whether a lowly Genin or Pein himself they were all helpless against this power.

Nagato was only just with range. Had he fled immediately he might have escaped. But he was too stunned by what he was seeing to run. By the time he did consider that it was too late as his head was ripped from his neck by an arm coursing with natural energy.

It took fifty seconds.

In less than one minute two thousand enemy ninja, the most powerful army this world had ever seen, were dead.

With all enemies eliminated Naruto ended the jutsu. Appearing before the gate again bent over and panting, near chakra exhaustion. His arms were red all the way up to the shoulder.

From the wall there was a stunned silence. They were all staring down at their orange clad savior unable to even shout or applaud.

Finally a single voice spoke and could be heard clearly all the way along the wall.

With a clear voice the Third Hokage spoke. "The Yellow Flash of Konoha is reborn."

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Author's Notes: There will be an epilogue to wrap things up.