Disclaimer: Naruto, Ino, Shikamaru, and anyone else in the Naruto universe don't belong to me.

UZUMAKI NARUTO, GENIN OF TEAM TEN

CHAPTER 6: A STEP UP

Naruto sighed as he jabbed a stick through an empty tin can. Even after hearing the importance of D-Rank missions, the boredom just never went away. Also, with every mission that seemed to come their way, they seemed to be more and more like summer jobs. The three Genin had been through a variety of jobs so far. They babysat, painted a house, did yard work, hunted down a very agitated cat at least four times, did grocery shopping, and now were hard at work picking up litter that had been building up in the park of Konoha. Needless to say, these missions were tedious and seemed to just drag on forever. Also, Asuma's newest addition to the groups training, the weights he gave them earlier, seemed to just get in the way. Still, the Jounin assured the group that in the end it would all be worth it.

Asuma on the other hand, was proud of his team's progress so far. The group had mastered tree climbing completely. They were now averaging about two to three missions a day. Ino and Shikamaru were slowly getting the hang of them, and Naruto had already had to have his adjusted. Of course, the boy had a little help in the healing and stamina department, but all that meant to the Jounin was that he could handle more intense training for longer periods. The Jounin watched the three while finishing a smoke. His mind going through various thoughts on the three, when suddenly a sigh from the Nara snapped him out of his thoughts.

"There…" Shikamaru muttered, stuffing a piece of paper into a sack hanging off his right shoulder. "We're finally done…"

"Good work, all. This park is really looking good now." Asuma replied as he walked forward to rejoin his team. He paused and glanced down at a watch that was around his left wrist. A small smile graced his lips. "Good news, too. We have just enough time to take another mission. Let's get to back to the tower."

The group nodded, and made their way back to the tower. Just like before they simply walked past the secretary, who still shot a glare at Naruto as they walked by. The group walked into the old man's office, Iruka was once again assisting him for the day. The Sandaime sighed as he saw it was Asuma once more, still just barging in without even knocking.

"Heya, Pops." Asuma greeted. "Another mission complete."

"I see…" the old man sighed. He looked at the three Genin and smiled. "You three seem to be going through the missions quite quickly these days. Quite impressive, to say the least."

"I suppose so…" Asuma agreed. "How about giving us another mission? I think we're up for one."

"Sure thing." Iruka replied, after receiving a quick nod from the Hokage. "Let's see what we have here… Kazama Izumi could use a babysitter for her twins… A certain cat has gone missing again… Hiruma Gohei could use some help digging holes for his sweet potatoes…"

"Actually… I think I'd like to go through the list and pick…"

Asuma interrupted. Iruka looked back to the Hokage. The old man gave a nod, and Asuma walked forward, beginning to read through the various missions that were on the scroll. Naruto and the others watched with interest as Asuma appeared to be carefully reading the line-up. They weren't expecting that the man would want to hand pick a job, but he tended to be full of surprises. At least, that's what he had seemed to show them so far. A smile spread across the Jounin's lips as he pointed to a mission. Iruka looked it over, and a look of concern appeared on his face.

"Are you sure, Asuma?" he asked. "They haven't been Genin that long…"

"Asuma-sensei? What kind of mission is it?" Naruto asked.

"Your sensei seems to think you guys are ready to try a C-Rank mission." Iruka answered. "However, he seems to be forgetting that these types of missions are usually reserved for shinobi of the Chuunin level…"

"Hey, I remember you saying earlier if I felt they were ready, then they could take on a higher ranked mission." Asuma replied. "Well, I checked, and I think they are."

"Do you have any proof?" the Sandaime asked.

"You bet I do." Asuma replied. "For one example, look through your records. You'll see that my team has taken more missions than any of the other Genin teams that graduated this year. Not only have they taken more, but all of them managed to be a success. That includes the ones that involved chasing down that damned cat."

"He's right, Iruka-san…" the Sandaime replied, looking into a folder.

"Well, he is… But…" Iruka began. "I'm just worried about their safety. As their former sensei, I…"

"Exactly, Iruka." Asuma cut in. "Former… But the second you gave my guys their hitai-ate, you gave me supervision of them. I'm in charge of their well-being and deciding if they're ready. I think they are. What about you, Pops?"

The team looked on as the Hokage appeared to be in thought. Naruto and Ino both leaned forward, as if their life depended on the answer. Shikamaru honestly didn't seem to care one way or the other. Small rings of smoke rose from his pipe as he sighed.

"Very well… If Asuma believes that his team is ready… Then we will let you attempt this mission." the Sandaime declared.

"Alright!" Naruto and Ino both declared. "Finally something exciting!"

"Whoo…" Shikamaru celebrated with significantly less enthusiasm.

"Come on, Shikamaru!" Naruto replied. "Aren't you excited to finally be done with those D-Ranks?"

"I dunno… I guess it depends on how troublesome this mission turns out to be." Shikamaru replied. "Now, why don't you two quiet down so we can hear what it is."

Naruto and Ino glared at the boy, but turned around to face the Hokage again. The old man chuckled a bit as he watched the three. Even though it didn't seem like it, he was definitely seeing strong bonds developing between the three.

"The mission your sensei has chosen for you is a C-Rank, as you already know." the Sandaime began. "This mission will involve the escort and protection of a certain individual. You will be escorting him from this village to another one."

"Is it someone important?" Ino asked quickly.

"I bet it's some great lord! Or maybe a princess!" Naruto replied with excitement.

"Troublesome blondes… Always too loud…" Shikamaru sighed.

"Calm down… If you want to accept this higher difficulty mission, then act like you are ready." the Sandaime said. This caused Naruto and Ino to both quiet down immediately. Shikamaru sighed again, while Asuma smirked. The Hokage chuckled once more. "Alright then… Please send the client in and we will begin the introduction."

Naruto and Ino looked on in anticipation. The door to the office slowly opened, and the first thing that could be heard was slightly… haggard cough. It wasn't a lord or princess that came into the room. Rather, it was an older, poorer looking man. He was wearing a pair of yellow pants with various black lines running through them, giving off a checkered design. A thin, brown t-shirt of sorts rested on his upper body. He had gray hair, with a gray beard and moustache combo to match. A pair of glasses rested on his face, and a rope belt around his waste. Naruto's nose wrinkled up a bit as the smell of booze just seemed to reek off the man. It was really no surprise judging from the bottle of sake in his hand. He glanced around the room, his eyes narrowing at the team of Genin before him.

"You're kidding me… Right?" the man asked. "Your putting my life in the hands of a bunch of squirts? Especially the blondes… Neither one of them look like they could find their way out of a paper sack with a map, guide, and a flashlight."

Shikamaru sighed, rubbing his forehead. The silence that entered the room was one that immediately gave the boy a headache. It was probably because he knew what was coming. Both Naruto and Ino glared at the man… A small spark of fire sat off in their eyes…

"I'll kill him!" both Naruto and Ino shouted.

They began to run towards the man, fists ready to strike. Asuma smirked as he quickly grabbed both of the blondes by the collars of their shirts, and pulled them to the ground. He knelt down to their level, placing a hand on both of their heads.

"Please… I'm giving you both a shot with this mission. Let's try to protect our client like ordered and not kill him, okay?" he asked the two. The two nodded and Asuma smiled, patting both of them on the head. He looked up at the client, smiling weakly. "Gomen… They may seem a little… unprepared, but I assure you my guys can handle this mission."

"Heh… very well." the man replied. "Listen up, kids. My name is Yoshuki Tazuna, master architect of ultimate renown. And until I get to my homeland, the Land of Waves, you runts are to be in charge of protecting me. Even if it costs you your lives."

"Talk about being overly dramatic…" Shikamaru muttered with a sigh, one that seemed to go unnoticed by all.

"I promise my team will give you their all, Tazuna-san." Asuma said. He turned to the three Genin and nodded. "Alright guys, our mission will begin in about an hour. Go pack up the essentials, kunai, shuriken, sleeping bags… You get the idea. Oh, and that doesn't mean a backpack full of ramen, Naruto. We'll meet at the village gates in one hour."

The three nodded, and packed exactly as the sensei instructed. Although, Naruto did somewhat begrudgingly. It didn't really take the three that long to get what they needed, and they soon found themselves waiting at the village gates with a little extra time to spare.

"Man… Even if it is a guy like that… I'm so stoked for this mission!" Naruto declared. "I bet if we do this one right with no screw ups at all, we'll never have to do another stupid D-Rank again!"

"Don't you think you may be exaggerating a bit, Naruto?" Ino sighed.

"Well… Maybe." Naruto shrugged. "But, I bet we won't get them as much as we had been!"

Ino smiled a bit at her teammate's excitement. To be honest, she was hoping to do as good a job on this mission as he was. The Yamanaka was getting quite bored with the D-Ranks too, and this mission seemed to pump her up some too.

"Well, let's just try our best. Alright, Whiskers?" Ino suggested.

"You bet!" Naruto replied. That's when something registered in his mind. "Wait, what?"

"Did you just call him… Whiskers?" Shikamaru asked.

"That's right!" Ino replied. "I thought that since we were going to be going on missions like these now, we could use something like… codenames."

"Codenames? What for?" Naruto asked.

"Simple, baka…" Ino sighed. "Imagine we go into an enemy's territory. We can't use our normal names. We need to use codes and stuff. That ways, we'll know exactly what we mean when we talk, but no one else will."

"Huh…" Naruto replied. He seemed to be analyzing the whole thing for a moment, before blinking slowly. "So… If I'm Whiskers, what about you the rest of us?"

"Well, Asuma-sensei will be Smokey." Ino began. "Obviously because of his smoking. Shikamaru, your codename will be Sloth, on account of how lazy you are."

"Troublesome blonde…" he sighed. He glared at Naruto, who was in the middle of fighting back a batch of giggling. "Alright then… What about you?"

"Obviously, since I thought of this, I should b-" Ino began.

"INO-PIG!!" a voice interrupted her.

The three Genin looked over to see Team Seven, minus Kakashi approaching them. Sakura was smirking at Ino. She quickly latched herself around Sasuke's arm. Ino's eyes narrowed at the sight. Sasuke sighed, trying to pull himself away, until his eyes met Naruto's. Both of the boys began to scowl at each other. Chouji, the only seemingly normal member of the team, was simply eating out of a bag of chips. He gave a smile and wave at Team Ten. Shikamaru was the only one not too busy at the time to return the wave. It was a lazy wave, but a wave all the same.

"What are you doing here, Billboard-Brow?" Ino asked.

"We were on our way for a meeting with Kakashi-sensei." Sakura answered. She then noticed that the three's backpacks, and smirked again. "What's with the backpacks, Ino-pig? Are you and your team so bad their kicking you out of the village?"

"Actually… The opposite." Ino smiled. "We're so good, that the Hokage gave us a C-Rank mission!"

"No way!" Sakura replied. "How can you… a lazy bum like Shikamaru, and that dobe be ready for a C-Rank?! We have Sasuke-kun on our team, and we're still doing D-Ranks! There is no way you guys can have one!"

"It's true, Sakura-chan!" Naruto spoke up. "We're on our way to our very first C-Rank! You know… when we get back I can tell you all about it. Maybe over a bowl of ramen? Like a date?"

"Not on your life!" Sakura snapped, punching the blonde boy in the back of the head.

"Hey! Don't punch my teammate like that!" Ino shouted, helping Naruto to his feet.

"Oooh… I didn't know you had a thing for him, Ino-pig…" Sakura taunted. "I guess one good baka deserves another, right Sasuke-kun?"

The pink-haired girl waited for her teammate to say something. However, all she got was silence. Quickly, the girl spun around just in time to see Sasuke making his way towards the team's meeting place. Sakura ran forward a bit.

"Sasuke-kun, where are you going?!" she shouted.

"To find Kakashi." the boy said, stopping for a minute. He turned around, glaring daggers at Naruto, before turning back. "If the dobe can get a C-Rank, I can too."

Sasuke stuffed his hands in his pockets and began to walk on once more. Sakura glared at Ino and Naruto, before she ran off to catch up to Sasuke. One could see his shoulders slump as she latched on to his arm again, as well as seeing him try to pull away. Shikamaru sighed at the whole display, rubbing his right shoulder in the process.

"What a drag, Chouji… I thought I got stuck with troublesome teammates…" he said.

"I guess… They're so weird to be around… I mean, Sasuke just sulks all the time, and Sakura… Well, it's always Sasuke this, and Sasuke that. Then she treats me like crap if I even try to talk to her or something… She even got mad at me for beating Sasuke in a sparring match once. She said I must've cheated or something."

"Ahh… She's just trying to find something to put the blame on…" Naruto muttered. "I always knew Sasuke was nothing that special!"

Shikamaru and Chouji's eyes widened at the boy's comments. They braced themselves, waiting for Ino to punch Naruto or something for his comment. However, they never came. Instead, she appeared to be mad at Sakura and possibly Sasuke, not Naruto. The boys shrugged it off, and Chouji sighed.

"Well, I better get going. Kakashi-sensei will probably be late. I better not join his little club." he said. "Hey, let's get together when you three get back from your mission. It'll be just like old times."

Shikamaru and Ino both nodded. The Akimichi boy finished his chips, and quickly ran off to find his team. Naruto was a little surprised by the scene. It wasn't so much the fact that Sakura turned him down… again. Nor was it the fact that she punched him. Rather, it was the fact that Ino was so quick to stand up for him. He turned and glanced at Ino, deciding to find out.

"Ino… Not that I mind or anything, but… Why did you stand up for me like that?" Naruto asked.

"What do you mean?" the girl asked back.

"Well, it's just… You never did something like that before… So, why did you do it now?" he continued.

Ino hesitated for a moment. She could feel her face turning red, and quickly looked away for a moment. She didn't know why the boy asking her this was bothering her so much, but knew she had to answer him.

"Well… We're teammates, right?" Ino asked. Naruto gave a nod. "Well, that means we gotta look out for each other, baka. After all, a team is no good when we're not at one hundred percent, right?"

"I guess so…" Naruto replied. He thought about it for a moment, and realized she was right. The only reason the group had made it this far, and was already getting a C-Rank was thanks to how they had been able to work together so far. A fox-like smile spread across his face as he nodded. "You're right!"

"Of course I am!" Ino agreed.

Shikamaru watched the exchange between the two for a moment. Something about Ino seemed different. Sure, he had known her for quite a while, but still… Maybe this time away from Sakura and Sasuke was doing her some good. He was soon snapped out of his thoughts when Tazuna and Asuma finally arrived at the gates. The Jounin smiled as he took a puff from his cigarette, and looked his team over.

"Alright, gang. Is everyone ready?" he asked. The team nodded. "Well then, let's get this show on the road."

"Finally! Let's get going!" Naruto exclaimed, pumping his fist in the air excitedly. "Road trip time!"

"Road trip?" Shikamaru asked, wincing from the boy's shouting.

"Well, this is the first time I've ever been outside the village gates." Naruto explained. "It's gonna be like walking into a different world!"

Tazuna sighed, glancing back at Naruto. A scowl was evident on the old man's face as he took a swig from his sake bottle and groaned.

"You're way too loud, kid." the man said. "Am I really supposed to believe that I'm putting my life in the hand of a moron like this?"

"He's just a little over-excited, that's all. You shouldn't have much to worry about. After all, I'll be coming along on this mission as well. I am a Jounin, you know." Asuma explained to Tazuna. He gave a nod to the old man and walked back to Naruto. "Naruto, I know you're excited, but keep it down. This is an escort mission, after all. And while it is just a C-Rank mission, you still don't need to alert any potential threats to our current location. You want to make a good impression on the Hokage, right?"

Naruto looked down for a moment, but suddenly looked up at the Jounin. He smiled at the man, giving him an affirmative nod. Asuma returned the nod, and returned to the front of the group once more. The boy glared a bit at Tazuna, but he let it go. He really wanted to rip into the old fart. He wanted to let Tazuna know that he wasn't going to take any crap. But, he knew that Asuma was right too. Plus, he did want to do a good job on this mission. Tazuna would get off… For now. The group fell into a silence for a bit as they walked. Ino didn't much care for it, and decided to try and make conversation.

"So… Tazuna-san…" the girl began. "You said you were an architect, right?"

"That's right. What of it?" Tazuna asked.

"Well, is there something you've built recently that's been pretty interesting?" Ino continued. "Or maybe something you're in the middle of?"

"As a matter of fact, there is." the old man replied. "Well… not really something big. But a project that is. It's nothing probably any of you would be interested in though."

Ino sighed as the man walked on, taking another swallow from his sake bottle. That proved to be a rather dull conversation. Well, if the old man wouldn't talk, then she could still talk to Asuma. She had a question about the Land of Waves anyhow. Especially since she had never been there before. So, the girl looked up to her sensei.

"Asuma-sensei, the Land of Waves is in a different country, right? Doesn't the village have its own shinobi?" she asked. "I mean, wouldn't it have made more sense if they were escorting Tazuna-san? Not that I'm ungrateful, but…"

"I understand what you mean, Ino…" Asuma replied. "The funny thing is, the Land of Waves does not have it's own shinobi."

"It's not as rich as other countries, like the Land of Fire." Tazuna cut in. "So usually if we require the aid of shinobi, we make a request in advance."

The group noticed that Tazuna seemed to be a bit… tense on the subject. It was almost as if the conversation was bothering him. And despite him bringing out the information of his homeland possibly being a bit… well… poor and of his freewill, he seemed to speak of it with anger and regret. Asuma shrugged it off and continued.

"You see, most countries on this continent have shinobi villages like Konoha to serve as a military force of sorts. They take care of their own people, while doing other things. You know, like handling relations with other countries. All though there are exceptions, most villages don't answer to the rulers of their native countries. Instead, they share equal footing, and have their own heads to rule them, like the Hokage." Asuma explained. "Now, small island nations, while some may be poorer, have no need for a shinobi village. Anyone care to guess why?"

"Because mounting an invasion there would be way too troublesome…" Shikamaru replied. "It's in the middle of nowhere, why bother?"

"Right." Asuma responded. "So, basically we probably won't have to worry about many, if any enemy shinobi. Our destination happens just to be one of those little islands nations. So, no worries."

Naruto tried his best to follow along here and there, but he did find the whole lecture a little boring. Still, the blonde boy did manage to learn something. However, most of the conversation, he rather paid attention to the sights about him. For the most part, the scenery looked the same as the forest within Konoha. Trees everywhere you looked, dirt path to walk on, and a clear look at the sky. There was one thing that did catch his interest though. Along the dirt path, was a small puddle of water. It was a rather odd one at that. Something about it just didn't add up.

"Asuma-sensei… Has it rained lately?" the blonde boy asked.

"Hmm? Not that I'm aware of…" Asuma replied. He paused in his steps to light another cigarette, glancing down to where the boy was looking. "In fact, it's been pretty dry this month… Let's keep moving… Alright?"

The three Genin looked at Asuma carefully. He had a rather calm, happy look on his face. Yet, his voice was serious and cautious. Asuma raised an eyebrow at the three, taking a slow puff from his cigarette. The three Genin began to move closer to Tazuna, forming a triangle-shaped guard around him. A gentle breeze began to blow through the air. Asuma could hear the sound of water moving, and he felt a different chakra in the air. He slowly took a drag off his cigarette, and flicked it out immediately. Asuma then smirked and quickly turned to his team.

"Everyone, duck!" the Jounin shouted.

All three Genin and Tazuna did as told. Almost in a flash, a figure rose out of the water and charged straight for the group. It was hard to tell what it was exactly. The figure moved in such a blur that the three Genin and old man barely had time to duck. Asuma quickly spun around, pulling a pair of trench knives from his pockets. The sound of steel could be heard clanging. Naruto and the others gazed up to see what was going on. Two figures were standing on each side of Asuma. It was kind of hard to make out their body types and such. The cloaks and strange headgear both were wearing made sure of that. What was obvious however, was the weaponry they both used. A long chain extended from their cloaks. Each one of the mysterious strangers seemed to be holding onto an end of it. The two attackers chuckled as they looked at their work. The two of them circled around Asuma several times, binding his hands and trench knives completely. The Genin watched with widened eyes as the two suddenly snapped their wrists forward. A loud rip seemed to echo across the area, as Asuma's arms came flying out of their sockets. The two strangers smirked and launched themselves at the literally disarmed Jounin, smashing him into his face with clawed, sinister looking hands. Slowly, the duo turned away from remained of Asuma's body and smirked at the sight of the three Genin and Tazuna.

"N-No way…" Naruto stammered. "They took Asuma-sensei down like he was nothing!"

"We saw, baka!" Shikamaru replied, a slightly more worried tone in his voice replacing the usual lazy one.

His eyes quickly shifted over to Tazuna, narrowing slightly. The man was scared, that was obvious. However… He didn't seem to be surprised about this attack. In fact, it appeared as if he was expecting it. He was snapped out his thoughts though, as the sight of Naruto drawing a kunai entered his line of vision. He opened his mouth to speak, but was beaten to the punch by Ino.

"Naruto! What are you doing?!" the girl demanded to know. "You can't be seriously thinking of fighting these guys, can you?! You saw what they did to Asuma-sensei, didn't you?!"

"I know what we saw, Ino!" Naruto replied. "But what else can we do? If they did that to Asuma-sensei, then they'll have no problem getting us! So, instead of just standing around… I'm gonna fight back!"

"Troublesome blonde… You're not going to be able to much alone, even with Kage Bunshin." Shikamaru sighed.

"Maybe not…" Naruto replied. A small smirk stretched across his lips as he looked to the two attackers, and then back at Shikamaru. "I just need them to hold still for a bit."

Naruto quickly turned back to the attackers as the two raced forward once more. Shikamaru looked at Naruto in confusion for only a half second, before a smirk lined his face as well. He knew exactly what Naruto was hinting at, and quickly jumped away from the group. Ino looked back and forth between Naruto and the retreating Nara. She wasn't quite sure what the duo was up to, but she wasn't sure if she wanted to either. Ino felt her knees shaking quickly. Her eyes shifted back to Naruto, who quickly leapt into the air, and hurled his kunai as hard as he could. The two men were literally right on top of Ino and Tazuna, ready to go in for another kill. Suddenly, the two felt a snag. Someone or something was pulling back on their chain. The two of them looked back to see Naruto's kunai had snagged itself into the middle of the chain, and was flying straight back into a tree.

"What the hell?" one of them asked.

"It's just a kunai thrown by a kid!" the other one replied. "Just pull!"

"What about that one kid running away?" the first one asked back.

"We'll get him later, now pull!" his partner snapped.

The two attackers began to pull furiously. Naruto smirked as he fell back to the ground, and quickly formed a single hand sign. In a cloud of smoke, two Kage Bunshin appeared by his side. The three of them landed on the ground and dashed straight for one of the attackers. The two clones delivered a heavy kick to his face, while the real Naruto dropped a kick straight into his stomach. A snap was heard, as the man's claw was sent flying off, revealing a normal hand. He skidded across the ground, groaning in pain. His partner smirked quickly, and detached his claw. He jumped away from Naruto and his two Kage Bunshin partners, readying a barrage of kunai to be tossed. A kunai rested between a finger and thumb, totaling for a eight in all. He quickly leaned back, smirking as he began to launch them. However, as he lunged his arms forward, he found that he suddenly could not move. The attacker struggled to move, but to no avail.

"W-What the hell is going on?!" he demanded to know, looking at Naruto with hate filled eyes.

"Heh… That'd be my teammate, Shikamaru." Naruto answered.

"It was a troublesome, dangerous set up…" Shikamaru muttered. "Let's hope for a better set up next time."

"And maybe for a better eye on more than just one foe!" Tazuna shouted.

Naruto and Shikamaru quickly looked up just in time to see the attacker that Naruto and his Bunshin took out zooming straight for Tazuna and Ino. Another claw-like weapon rested over his hand, though this one did not have a kunai attached to it. Naruto's Kage Bunshin quickly began to run towards the duo, but they missed the shuriken the foe launched at them.

"Damn it! Naruto, move!" Shikamaru shouted.

Naruto gave a quick nod and began to run as fast as he could towards Ino and Tazuna. However, it didn't take long before all four of them knew that Naruto wasn't going to make it in time. Ino eyes widened, and she braced herself quickly for a painful death. Despite everything so far, she couldn't bring herself to move. Her mind was screaming orders, but her body just not listening. Her eyes quickly snapped shut… but death never came. Slowly, Ino's eyes opened just in time to see Asuma holding back the enemy with one of his trench knives. He quickly brought his other knife around, and slammed it into the man's arm, slicing it off quite effectively. He finished off the attack with a powerful punch to the face sending the man falling back to the ground. He was out cold. Slowly, Asuma turned to face the other mystery man.

"Do you surrender?" he asked calmly. The remaining attacker gave a nod. Asuma sighed deeply, and turned back to Ino. "Gomen, Ino. Had I had known that you were going to freeze up like that, I would've stepped back in sooner."

Ino gave a silent nod, and sighed. Her eyes widened at a thought, and glanced back over to where the two attackers had taken down Asuma earlier. Only instead of his body parts being scattered about, a sliced up log was there. The group began to clean up the area, Asuma securing both of the attackers to a tree.

"That takes care of that!" Naruto said confidently.

"Are you guys alright?" Asuma asked the two boys. Both gave a nod. "Good. I'd hate for both of you to be taken down by two, low level Chuunin… Although I would like to go on about this, I'm afraid we haven't got the time… Tazuna-san… Is there something you'd like to share with us?"

"Wh-What do you mean?" the old man asked.

"Well, this is just a C-Rank mission, old man." Asuma replied. He paused, and lit a cigarette. A small ring of smoke escaping his lips as he puffed. "We shouldn't have really even have had to deal with enemy shinobi… And I don't think they just appeared for no reason… That, and you have a guilty look on your face. It's almost as if you know something was up. Let's hear it."

"I don't know anything." Tazuna said quickly.

The old man shook his head, and backed away slowly. The gruff, uncaring look returned to his face, and he took a quick swallow from his sake bottle. Asuma sighed, and looked back to Ino.

"Alright, then we'll find out another way." Asuma said. "I'm sure our Yamanaka resident can use her family jutsu to find out. She'll just go in your mind, and go through all your secrets and memories until she finds it. Either way, we will know the truth."

"Fine…" Tazuna sighed. "I'll tell you…"