Disclaimer: I don't own Naruto

Author's Notes: Thanks to Kraken's Ghost for creating the challenge that resulted in this. For readers, I would just like to mention that part of the challenge was to use crossovers. I've taken a lot of care into making sure that everything not from Naruto is adequately explained so that you don't have to have read, watched, or played anything to "get" The Gate. Though it might help.

Crossovers: Neji with Black and White (game), Naruto with…The One (movie), for lack of a better explanation.

The Gate: Chapter One

Escorting thirty-six self-righteous, arrogant, preteen genin through a desert to their first Chunin Exam was punishment duty. There was no other way to describe it – constant whining, sand everywhere, and not a drop of spare water for even the most basic vanities.

Of course, half the genin had never been out of Fire Country, where water was plentiful. They'd burned through their water supplies quickly, expecting that "someone would have extra." Now everyone suffered the results of their incompetence in the form of strict rationing. Hopefully the lesson would not be lost on them, though expecting genin to learn from their mistakes was a lot like expecting leniency from the Main House. Sometimes it happened, and you were dazed and confused for awhile, but most of the time you were just in pain for awhile.

Then there was the thirty-seventh genin.

Uzumaki Naruto. Neji had been looking forward to their reunion for three long years. They had a lot of unfinished business – Neji owed Naruto, though whether it was a fight or thanks, he wasn't quite sure.

Given that Naruto was being Naruto, and had apparently matured little in three years, Neji was leaning towards a fight.

An ordinary person would have banged their head against the wall. An ordinary jounin would have banged Naruto's head against the wall. But Neji came from a long line of distinguished, dignified Hyuuga famed for their stoicism. Not even Naruto could break his calm façade. Neji would keep his eyes forward, constantly vigilant. Nevermind that Naruto was invading his personal space, the slight darkening of the horizon over the next sand dune was far more fascinating.

"C'mon Neji! You know we can go faster than this!" Naruto whined, hands clasped together in a begging pose, empty canteen clunking against his side. Naruto had been one of the first to run out of water.

Could one strangle someone to death in a stoic fit of rage? Probably not, Neji decided with regret. Waving a dismissive hand at Naruto's uncomfortably close face, Neji sighed. "Most of our genin are actually genin. They're not all jounin who have been too preoccupied to bother with promotions."

Naruto put on (what he thought was) a sly look. "How about a bet? A hundred ryo says I could beat you in a race to Suna."

He could always blame the murder on madness from the desert heat, Neji mused. It had been known to happen.

"Two hundred ryo?" Naruto asked, trying (futilely) to tempt Neji into doing something stupid.

Neji's only outward sign of frustration was a slight flaring of his nostrils. A quick glance behind him revealed that the genin teams were still broken up into their own little groups about a hundred feet back. The jounin-sensei who had been able to attend were whispering advice to their teams, while the un-chaperoned teams were oh-so-innocently trying to eavesdrop. Even Konohamaru's team was listening to Ebisu instead of stalking Naruto. Perhaps they'd finally begun to realize that this was a serious, potentially deadly mission.

If Neji hadn't seen first-hand that Naruto could be focused, determined, and completely unable to admit defeat in battle, he would have dismissed the blond as just another idiot genin. Of course, the other idiot genin were with their teams, hoping to succeed in the Chuunin Exam being hosted by Sunagakure no Sato.

Naruto opened his mouth to up the bet further, but Neji cut him off with a curt hand gesture.

"Why are you even here, Naruto? You can't be here to take the exam; you don't have a team. What are you getting out of this?" In the Hyuuga household, Neji's phrasing and slightly patronizing tone of voice would have been a mortal insult.

Such subtleties as diction and intonation were lost on Naruto. He scrunched up his eyes and pouted, asking "What do you mean I don't have a team?"

Neji arched a perfectly groomed eyebrow. "Sakura is a Chuunin. Sasuke is…absent." He would have called the Uchiha a traitor, but Naruto was stubbornly loyal enough to pick a fight over that.

Naruto brought his hands together in a familiar cross-shaped seal. A poof of smoke later, a scantily clad, tall, buxom redhead and a childish, innocent looking little boy appeared on either side of Naruto.

Naruto winked and grinned wolfishly. "See? My team's right here."

Neji blinked. For a doujutsu user schooled in the art of facial examination, it was equivalent to a kenjutsu master dropping their sword in shock.

The redhead pressed herself against Naruto, artfully displayed curves threatening to squeeze out of their thin silk coverings at the additional pressure. Her cheek rubbed against Naruto's whisker marks, but her eyes never left Neji's as she introduced herself. "My name is Beni. Pleased to make your acquaintance, Hyuuga-donou." She fairly purred Neji's family name.

Neji closed his eyes, swallowed once, and declared, "Naruto, go make a circuit of the group and make sure that nobody's decided to wander off. I'm going to scout ahead." He then activated his Byakugan and quickly strode past the disturbing trio, hoping the doujutsu would disguise the vein pulsing in his forehead.

"Would you like to scout me, Hyuuga-donou?" Beni called out in a sultry voice. No, Neji corrected himself, that was Naruto calling out in a mentally scarring tone of voice.

Neji refused to dignify the shadow clone with a response, instead taking two chakra enhanced leaps to clear the next sand dune. He could have mentally projected his vision beyond the dune of course, but that wouldn't have put another three hundred feet between him and Naruto's "team."

His first reaction upon reaching the top of the dune was relief. That clone had looked and acted like a...like a courtesan. If he hadn't been constantly revolted by the knowledge that "Beni" was a Henge'd Naruto...he closed his eyes and shuddered at the thought.

The whole thing was a completely Naruto stunt. An incredibly idiotic idea so horrendously flawed that everybody would know that there was no one stupid enough to do that. So, of course, it would work perfectly. It was true what they said about Naruto – crazy like a fox. Neji didn't bother to hide his smirk; there was nobody nearby to see it.

The amusingly infuriating jinchuriiki would keep things interesting, if nothing else. Putting Naruto's antics out of his mind for the moment, Neji returned his attention to the outside world.

His eyes widened in shock and his jaw went slack.

The slightly dark tinge to the horizon he'd noticed earlier was now visible as a beige wall as high as the clouds. There was a sandstorm coming. No, a sand hurricane coming. The entirety of the horizon, from earth to sky, was blotted out by the monstrous wall of sand. At a quick estimate, he'd say it was seventy miles away. And it was still that huge…there was no way! But the Byakugan didn't lie. It was no illusion.

That was impossible. No storm was that big!

But he'd been trained in reacting to and surviving the impossible, and instinct shoved disbelief aside.

Turning around, he raised his right hand in the air and brought his left to his mouth, whistling sharply. The assembled Konoha nin came to a halt, looking up at him with disgruntled focus. Water rations, though necessary, were not popular.

Neji cleared his throat. "There's a sandstorm approaching," he began, managing to keep his voice completely calm and clinical, as if the storm would be nothing more than a minor inconvenience. "To make sure nobody gets separated, I want you to all tie yourselves together at the waist. Start with your own team, and then set up another rope to another team until everyone is connected. Then dig yourselves a burrow in the sand at least six inches deep." Before anyone could question him he barked, "Now!"

There was a moment of confusion where the genin looked at each other or their sensei for confirmation. Neji nearly cursed at them; he was in command, not the sensei. And they had precious little time to waste before that demon of a storm caught up to them. The thing was moving impossibly quickly; if they had half an hour Neji would be shocked.

Surveying the preparations with a critical eye, Neji barely managed to contain his frustration. At least half the genin hadn't bothered to pack rope of any sort. (If he remembered correctly, they were the same lot who were out of water.) Idiots like that would never make chuunin…but at least their teammates and sensei were lenient enough to share.

Things could have been worse, he thought. Thankfully Konoha nin were disciplined, or at least, had been taught enough to know the dangers of a sandstorm. Some of Suna's sandstorms were powerful enough to strip the flesh right off of your bones; everyone knew that.

Surveying the busy, efficient work of the genin (even the forgetful ones) filled Neji with a sense of calm. There were good ninja amongst them. Those few would lead the others; they were the ones the Chunin Exam was truly designed for.

Groups of three and four quickly roped themselves together, then buckled themselves in with other groups, and a rapidly forming a spider web of human bodies began to appear.

Still, he had a lingering feeling that something was wrong.

"You know, I think you're just trying to sucker me into losing my bet," came a voice that was all too close to Neji's ear. The Hyuuga spun, jaw clenched in frustration.

"Damnit Naruto, this is no time for games! There's a serious storm coming. We need to get under cover."

"Oh come on, it's just sand. What the hell's a little sand gonna do, ruin your hair?" Naruto stuck his tongue out at Neji and jabbed a finger at the Hyuuga's long black hair.

Neji ignored the jab and put as much authority into his voice as possible. "Naruto, this is not a game. This is a mission, and I order you to follow me and get to shelter."

Naruto grinned goofily. "I'm not stupid enough to fall for that. If it's so dangerous, why aren't you under cover already? I hear 'officers' aren't supposed to needlessly risk themselves." There was a slight mocking tone to his voice, as if Naruto thought himself more of a jounin than Neji.

If he'd had the time, Neji would have left Naruto awake but paralyzed and left him to bake in the sand for a few hours, but now he only had time for efficiency. A lightning jab to the blonde's temple and a short burst of chakra later…Naruto disappeared into a poof of smoke.

A series of thundering footsteps and shifting sand came from behind Neji. "Catch us if you can!" was all the warning he had before a tidal wave of orange jackets and amused Naruto's bounded over and around the shocked Hyuuga.

Far louder than Naruto's antics was the screaming wail of the sandstorm. It had to be almost on top of them by now. Why couldn't Naruto hear it coming? Damn the idiot for saving Neji from a self-made hell, damn Naruto for making Neji owe him.

Konoha nin didn't leave anyone behind. Neji chased after the hundreds of Naruto clones, expertly manipulating the chakra in his feet to give himself a firm grip on the sand.

For every step, he lashed out with two perfectly aimed jyuuken strikes at two different Naruto's. All disappeared in puffs of smoke, their surviving comrades jeering at the laggards' demise.

But it wasn't enough. Neji knew it wouldn't be, and he knew that he would still try anyway. If he'd learned anything from his fight with Naruto all those years ago, it was to never admit defeat.

When he crested the hill, defeat roared its hellish triumph at him, almost bringing him to his knees. Wave after wave of Naruto's disappeared into the wall of sand. The storm was moving too quickly for Neji to even see the puffs of smoke as they were destroyed. Then the storm was no more than a dozen yards from Neji, and he had no time for anything but instinct.

He bent his knees and let a feeling of liquid fluidity replace the rigid bones in his arms. His eyes closed, and with a shove from his foot, he spun. Chakra poured from every square inch of his body, mixing with the speed of his spin to form the Hyuuga absolute defense: Kaiten.

Most sandstorms ended in a few minutes. Neji had never kept a Kaiten up for more than thirty seconds, and that had almost killed him.

When the sandstorm struck the thin chakra shell of his Kaiten, he almost gave in. All it would take would be a simple relaxation of his muscles, to just stop fighting against that endless, omnipotent tidal wave of sand and it would be over. Almost.

Hyuuga Neji would be damned if he died to a few measly grains of sand.

Two bolts of lightning agony erupted behind his still-active Byakugan eyes, and he felt something inside him snap, felt the building pressure crack like a damn. A surge of power flowed through his veins, and he spun harder. He could do this forever.

Then he saw it. Somehow, he could see a pattern of intense planes and impossible curves in the sandstorm. Unconsciously, he shifted his angle of rotation and slowed almost imperceptibly. For an instant, he could feel the resonance. His kaiten, his chakra, his very being was fused in perfect synchronization with a power vast beyond his comprehension.

He felt small, insignificant before that power, but he still fought it. And in the back of his mind, he felt a cold presence momentarily studying the anomaly that stood firm.

Then the presence evaporated. He could feel the storm shifting, moving with the desires of his half-formed thoughts – 'part…pass over us…'

And the storm shifted, the wall of wind-driven sand parting to either side of Neji, curving out, then in, meeting and reforming the sandstorm a half mile away. Before him, the sand continued to rush on and part before the barrier of his will and Kaiten.

In that moment of ecstasy, the power overwhelmed him. His Kaiten shattered, exploding outward in a blinding display of power.

The only witness was Konohamaru, who had ignored Ebisu's warnings and kept his head above the sand to get one good look at the storm. The boy immediately bowed his head to the sand, mouth shut in total awe that words could not encompass. For a short sliver of time, Konohamaru had felt something…something truly, awesomely terrifying, something he could only call divine presence. What he had seen was a miracle, one he would never forget.

For Neji, the experience was merely a quick slip into oblivion. By the time he landed, head first, a hundred yards from the top of the dune, completely boneless, he was already dead to the world.

Above Neji, the sandstorm twisted, impossibly arcing into a perfect circle a half mile wide, centering upon the fallen Hyuuga. It could no longer be called a sandstorm – it was a sand hurricane, and Neji was its eye.

A voice echoed forth from every corner of the hurricane, cold, deep, and never meant for human ears.

Konohamaru, the only one with his head above the sand, merely felt the sound pass in one ear and out the other, as if it had uttered a concept too vast for his brain to even register the mere existence of. Neji screamed piercingly, back arching until the slightest further movement would snap his spine. Blood streamed from his ears and his nose, and as quickly as it had come, the voice vanished, leaving Neji to collapse, still unconscious, bleeding onto the dry desert sands.

The massive hurricane of sand still surrounded the Konoha nin, and Konohamaru felt his goggles fog up with terrified tears. He should get up. He should help Neji, Neji who had saved them all.

But the supernatural wall of sand glared down at him, forced him to cry and bury his head in the sand and beg for forgiveness for witnessing something normal humans were never meant to see: an act of God.

His body shook and he wriggled further down into the sand, still shaking. He was no hero. If he waited a minute, one of the adults would do something. Or Naruto. Where was Naruto? He lived for things like this.

Time passed. The sand around Konohamaru felt like the sands of an hourglass, falling down and crushing him. Still no one moved. No Naruto leapt to the rescue.

Konohamaru's right arm punched through the thin sand hole he'd dug and was quickly followed by his left. With no small effort, he managed to shove himself up, suction from the sand beneath him giving way abruptly. Everyone else remained underground, still fearful of the sandstorm that had whimsically decided encircle the Konoha nin.

Konohamaru ignored the unholy, omnipresent roar of the sand hurricane and ran for Neji, slipping on sand in his haste. He couldn't hear his own ragged breaths over the continual pound of sand on wind driven sand, like never-ending thunder.

He knew that if he looked up at the steady, immobile chaos of the eye wall, he wouldn't look away. The horrifying suggestions he caught out of the corners of his eyes were more than enough, like there was something lurking at the threshold between reality and the infinite beyond.

But Neji was more important now.

Konohamaru wasn't sure when it happened; one minute he was running painfully slowly, uncomfortably aware of his surroundings, and the next he was falling to his knees before Neji's prone form. The Hyuuga's limbs were splayed awkwardly, left arm bent at an impossible angle. His clothes were torn and bloodied, face bruised, and most of the skin below his neck was badly abraded.

Suddenly Konohamaru felt out of his depth. He wasn't a medic, had no idea what to do. There'd been a course on this, but he hadn't paid attention…pulse! Check pulse. He pressed two trembling fingers into Neji's neck where the carotid artery should be. Nothing.

He pressed harder. He still didn't feel anything. His vision blurred, and he pressed harder, willing Neji's pulse into being. Nothing. Konohamaru's throat closed and his vision blurred. His jaw shook uncontrollably, and he tried to breathe, unable to get air through his shock.

Neji had taken a direct hit from the hurricane and then fallen and he wasn't moving and what was he going to do and –

"What happened to you?"

Neji's voice knifed through his benumbed senses. Konohamaru shook his head and blinked uncomprehendingly. It was as if Neji had never been struck…he couldn't see any of the wounds, the scratches, the blood he'd seen before; not even a scrap of torn cloth remained.

"I told everyone to stay in the sand," Neji began, speaking slowly, as if with a very young, stupid child. "Why are you here?"

Konohamaru opened his mouth to speak, to explain…but…there was…no. Instead, he pointed at the giant funnel of sand swirling around them. As Neji glanced up at the phenomenon, it occurred to Konohamaru that, for the first time, he couldn't hear the howling of the sand. He couldn't have grown used to that cacophony of noise, could he?

"Unusual," Neji remarked calmly. "Go get everyone out of the sand. Send the jounin-sensei to me, and keep the other genin occupied."

Only one thing held Konohamaru back. "Where's Naruto?"

A far-off look entered Neji's eyes. "He went into the sandstorm…and I'm going to bring him out. Now, go."

Something about him struck a chord in Konohamaru, and he swallowed back a wave of emotion. Not trusting his voice, he nodded. The individual he'd spoken to was Neji, but more. There was a confidence, a serious determination to achieve the impossible, that he had only seen in Naruto.

Konohamaru had never been more serious than when he answered, "Anything you say."


Neji held his hands clasped behind his back as he faced the sand wall, seemingly oblivious to the half dozen jounin he'd summoned. "Report."

Ebisu adjusted his glasses and stepped forward to answer, silently placing himself as second in command. None of the other jounin-sensei visibly protested. "All present and accounted for. The only injury of note was Ame, who passed out. I believe he's claustrophobic."

Neji narrowed his eyes in thought. "He didn't get out of the sand, even though he was afraid?"

"No. He followed his orders."

"Commend him, if you haven't already. Courage in the face of fear should be rewarded." Neji abruptly pivoted around to face them. "Now…does anyone know what that –" he motioned towards the eye wall with a lazy gesture of his hand, "– is?"

Ebisu stepped back amongst the other jounin. Neji mentally noted the action. Hyuuga were trained to interpret the slightest of facial suggestions, and Ebisu was obviously self-effacing and eager to prove his worth, while equally eager to avoid blame. From his record he had a tendency to be a toady, but he was skilled and somewhat intelligent. Seven points out of ten.

Silence reigned.

"I'm open to any suggestion at this point. Pure theory, myth, mass illusion…" Neji trailed off as one of the jounin-sensei cleared his throat. "Yes, Mozuku?" He didn't know the glasses-wearing young man that well, besides hearing somewhere that Mozuku had been one of the examiners during Neji's first Chunin Exam. Apparently he'd made jounin shortly afterwards.

Mozuku licked his lips nervously before answering, "Well, I have heard one legend about something like this…" he shrugged. "But it was only some superstition a few of the stupider Suna genin talked about during one of the Exams."

Six out of ten thus far. Knowledge, but little courage to advance with it.

"We are in Wind Country at the moment." Neji didn't expand on the comment, instead waiting for Mozuku.

The jounin exhaled in defeat, knowing his answer would be ridiculed. "One of them was trying to scare their teammate into doing better. 'Don't screw up or the Maelstrom will get you!' was what I think she said. He mocked her for believing in it, and she answered that a lot of people had seen sandstorms of unnatural size in the desert, and that nobody had ever survived one. He told her, 'So where do we get the stories?' and she shut up. Sounded like a boogeyman story for little kids, but it's the closest thing I've heard of to something like this."

So he'd come to a juncture, Neji mused. He could be exasperated with Mozuku's tale, as the other jounin-sensei appeared to be, or he could thank the man for trying. One would get him more camaraderie from most of them, but even less initiative. The other would make him seem silly for listening to folk legends.

Neji frowned and chose the middle path. "It's not a lot to go on, but thanks anyway." From the corner of his eye, he caught Genma nodding slightly at his words.

Before he could continue, Ebisu craned his neck forward and asked, "Have you tried seeing through it with the Byakugan?"

"My doujutsu appears to be unable to perceive the sandstorm. My vision merely…stops, at the edge. Now, does anyone else have anything to add?" Some were visibly nervous at his casual mention of the Byakugan's failure, and Neji took note of it. He always did, constantly reevaluating those around him. "Alright. Go talk to the genin, tell them this can't last much longer, and try and prevent hysteria. I don't need panicked children running into that storm in desperation."

"What if they ask about Naruto?" Neji wasn't sure who'd asked, and it didn't particularly matter. He felt an inward tug directing his voice, subtle enough that he barely noticed it, and when he did, he immediately forgot it.

"Tell them that he's missing in the storm. We'll look for him once it blows over. Dismissed."


Neji peered up at the darkly overcast night sky and leaned back into the sand of the dune. The top of the dune's crest a hundred feet behind him was just barely inside the sandstorm, and its slope gave him a good view of the rest of the Konoha nin. Many were sleeping, some were talking, and others were keeping a watch. He doubted the necessity of a watch, but telling trained soldiers that keeping watch was pointless would only increase their insecurities.

Sand trickled through the wide neck of his shirt, but he ignored it. For some reason, he didn't feel tired. The group trusted him, had faith in his abilities, and would follow him. All he had to do was maintain constant command and superiority over jounin more experienced, more knowledgeable, and more used to getting their way.

The easiest way to keep their loyalty would be to do something worthy of it, like find a way out.

Rising to his feet in one fluid motion, Neji activated his Byakugan. He slowly strode up the dune towards the edge of the sandstorm, focusing intently on the void in his vision. It was different than when he tried to look beyond his field of vision…this was more like he was trying to see the void between the stars.

Unconsciously, he reached out towards the barrier. His fingers were mere inches from the swirling abyss of sand that his Byakugan told him was not sand, was something more.

He snatched his hand back and physically turned away from the sand. He needed to test the barrier, yes, but the first thing to go through would be something less important than his hand, like a stick, or one of the genin.

Neji smirked at his own humor and cast a careful eye over the camp again. Nothing had changed, and he still didn't feel tired.

Exhaling slowly, Neji slowly sat down in the Lotus position and let his arms hang limply over his knees. Using the Byakugan, he zoomed in on a single grain of sand. It was a tiny object, yet it filled his vision. Neji knew that the strain of looking at something so small would quickly build until it became an unbearable distraction and broke his focus, but he took his time.

The grain was a single, somewhat smoothly rounded bit of quartz, no more than a millimeter in diameter. The yellowish tinge appeared to be from tiny bits of iron inside the quartz. The bits of iron seemed more interesting than the quartz, and without thinking Neji's vision snapped even closer in, bringing one of the iron impurities into the forefront of his sight.

Fascinated, Neji lost himself in the study of the minute object. With every second, he came closer to the goal of the meditation: complete comprehension.

It was always the goal because it was impossible. Striving for it led one to improvement of the Byakugan, but one was always aware that there was an unbreakable barrier between effort and achievement. Right now, Neji couldn't comprehend the idea of a limit, that his search might reach a wall.

His vision reached the void between electron and nucleus. It was a massive gulf, but he crossed through it with a thought.

Interesting. The particles in the nucleus weren't spherical after all. They were angular and impossible to describe using the traditional three dimensions. Somehow their shape drew the eye inward. Neji obligingly gazed inside.

Studying the new, infinitely smaller object with focused interest, Neji carefully committed every detail to memory. He didn't have the words to describe what he saw, only that it was fundamentally simple and profoundly intricate.

On a whim, he went back through the sand grain in reverse, idly tracing the electrical charges of the electrons with his eyes as he passed. The other atoms held no interest for him; they were more of the same. The molecular structure now seemed overly simplistic, and he barely spared it a glance as his sight expanded to the entirety of the iron speck in the sand grain, then the grain itself.

He still perfectly remembered every part of the grain's inner structure. At a base level, he comprehended it. And based on that comprehension…

A minute shift of his Byakugan brought another sand grain into view. He repeated the in depth study of its being.

Then he did it again, on another grain. And another, and another, and another, each coming more and more quickly. For the first time in years, he felt excited. This was something that no Hyuuga had ever done before, that no one could have ever done before.

Konohamaru's voice reached him, seemingly from a great distance. "…-eji? Neji? Are you awake?"

Neji deactivated his Byakugan and blinked twice, trying to bring the short genin's form into focus. He frowned at the boy and stood from the Lotus position in a single, practiced motion. The position of the moon hadn't changed very much, so he couldn't have been meditating for very long. And Konohamaru was already interrupting! Well, that was what came of having Naruto as a role model.

"Yes?" Neji asked testily.

Konohamaru shifted nervously. "Um…Ebisu-sensei sent me to check on you."

Neji's voice could have frozen steel. "I am not a child. Your sensei does not need to assign genin to babysit his commander." The boy was silent, but awkwardly so. He showed no signs of fear at Neji's tone. Perplexed, Neji narrowed his eyes. "What?"

Konohamaru shrugged. "Well…you've kind of been sitting there for two days. He's been sending someone up every hour, but you never reacted…" his voice trailed off, and he shrugged at Neji again.

With great effort, Neji contained his reaction to a slight inhalation. For a moment he paused, gathering his thoughts. At the back of his mind, he could feel the square foot of sand that he now understood perfectly. He knew where they were, could detect even the most minute brush of wind against their surface…

He nodded, half to himself, half to Konohamaru.

"Send the jounin-sensei to me. Tell them I have an idea."

Neji watched Konohamaru depart before turning back to the patch of sand. It didn't look any different from the sand around it, or even the other grains in the patch. Neji knew differently; each of the grains was different on many levels…size, exact composition, etc. He crouched and ran a finger through the sand, watching the individual grains shift and tumble.

He knew he didn't have to use his eyes to watch the sand shift. He knew when the sand shifted, would always know.

That was the only real difference between this bit of sand and the rest of the desert. There was nothing special about it besides the fact that, impossibly, he knew it. Knowing it created a sense of ownership, which was only logical. If he was the only one to truly know something, he should be the only one to lay claim to it.

The new level of understanding didn't concern him; it merely was. The ability existed, was part of him, and he knew at a base level that without it he would feel an indelible sense of loss. So he accepted it as a gift from divine fate. There was no real alternative.

He picked up a single grain of sand and carefully walked towards the edge of the sand hurricane. With a casual flick of his hand, he sent the grain into the maelstrom. A tiny section of his consciousness followed, and his eyes widened.

The Maelstrom wasn't a storm. It was the gateway to the universe, and other universes.

The grain of sand wasn't being tossed around in the storm he thought he saw.

It was in another dimension altogether.