Hinata, heir of the Hyuuga clan, walked with a moderate pace as she and her two companions, Sunako and Ayaka, traversed the hot desert which led to the Hidden Village of Suna. They were sent to act as ambassadors, representing their village in a sort of ninja conference. Shikamaru was usually the one to do this job but he was quite busy with a mission that Tsunade was forced to pick another ambassador. The most likely candidate was Hinata, since she belonged to one of the most powerful clans in Konoha and was the heir to the clan. So here she was, picking her way among the sand dunes of Suna.

The three of them were wrapped in shawls to keep the sand from stinging their faces. However, their eyesight was not very accurate in this type of clothing. Hinata, being the kind-hearted person that she was, offered to use her Byakugan, the Hyuuga's powerful bloodline technique, to watch out for enemies until they reach their destination. The two happily consented, both of them fearing the possibility of being ambushed. The Hyuuga too was delighted with the idea, knowing that she could contribute more to their mission. It also calmed her poor, nervous heart. She was quite afraid of going to an unknown village with two shinobis she barely knew. Although both Ayaka and Sunako had good credits, she could not help but feel dreadful about the whole mission. What irritated her most was that she didn't know why she felt that way.

The angry, hot sun was beating on their backs that the three felt faint even after only an hour of walking through the sandy desert. Their water supply was also running low. Hinata could feel the sweat trickling down her forehead and back. Her eyes too were beginning to feel the glare of the afternoon sun. Sunako, being the appointed leader of the group, decided that they would stop by the nearest oasis, if they ever saw one.

"However," She said in the most commanding voice. "I'll only give you a few minutes to rest and refill your canteens with water. After that, we'll have to leave. Bandits might see us and take the chance to ambush us because of this..." She lifted her cloak a little and showed the two girls a pouch of gold coins the Godaime gave her. "This money is to be used in the conference. All villages are required to bring it as a sign of loyalty. Without it, the other leaders might think that Konoha is fickle." She concealed the pouch again. "The bandits might know something about it, too. Let's be more careful. They could be anywhere, waiting for the most likely victims."

There was a slight tone of fear in the girl's voice but she shrugged it all off a little later on. Hinata cringed at the mention of the most likely victims. It seemed to her that the most likely victims were the three of them.

"Well, let's get going, girls." Sunako finally said, her eyes shining with determination. "We have to get to Suna before the sun sets."

"Sunako-san," Hinata squeaked. "I... I see an... Oasis. It's about a... a mile away... No one seems to be a-around. There are lots of... Coconuts and bushes with... Berries, I think... And a big pool of wa-water..."

"That's good to hear, Hinata-kun. Good job." The tall brunette said, smiling at the girl and patting her head. "I guess there's more reason now to go faster, huh? Let's go."

The three of them started walking again through the sand, hearts light with joy and hope. They had been quite thirsty for a spell. Fresh water sounded like a good idea. Even berries from desert bushes sounded like a good idea.

A few more minutes later, the three of them arrived at the oasis. It was just as Hinata described it to be: a complete paradise for weary travelers. A huge pool of cool, fresh water was situated in the middle of the oasis. Around it, on a circle, stood the tallest coconuts they had ever seen with large, shady branches and round, plump fruits. Behind the coconut trees, on the edge of the oasis, there grew date trees with delicious-looking fruits. There were also the desert bushes with tiny, red fruits that looked like berries. Everything was mouth-watering and just fantastic that the three girls just stood where they were, mouths gaping open. Ayaka, the blond shinobi, was the first to speak.

"Beautiful." She said, in awe. "I haven't laid eyes on a desert paradise yet. I can't believe I'm looking at it right now." She gathered up all of her belongings and spread a cloth beside the water's bank. She then sat down on the cloth and refilled her canteen. The two girls followed suit. All the while, Ayaka was looking around her. "So the stories are true..."

Sunako looked at her, quite puzzled. "What stories?"

"Well..." Ayaka finished refilling her canteen and now lay down on the cloth. "Some old men say that desert paradises like these do exist but sometimes they can be dangerous. Did you notice that this oasis isn't touched at all? Like no one's been here before? Just look at the coconuts. They're almost ready to burst but they're still up there, untouched. Basically, no one has tried to get them."

"Maybe they're booby trapped." Sunako suggested as she washed her sand-streaked hair. "Or maybe they just don't see this place."

"Probably." The other nodded. "But don't you think that they might be avoiding this on purpose?"

"Hmm... That's a likely answer. I wonder why they would do that?"

"Sometimes," Ayaka told the two in a murmur. "Paradise can be hell in disguise." Then she smiled, seeing the horror on her companions' faces. "Don't worry. That's sometimes and not always."

Hinata shivered in spite of the heat. The very thought of that oasis being a trap for the three of them scared her. She wondered how her teammates could feel so calm about the place when she felt so weird. Something was not right, she was sure of it.

"Hey, Hinata-kun!" Sunako said, shaking her shoulder. "You don't have to look so smug all day! We're on a nice place and it's all thanks to you. You ought to congratulate yourself, Hinata. That's very nice work for one so young as you. Now, get yourself comfortable there and we'll rest. There you go, place that cloth over there and lie down. Yes, yes, that's it. Now just sleep for a while."

"A-aren't we in a hu-hurry?" She asked innocently. "Sh-shouldn't we be go-going now? We've spent so much ti-time on this oasis already."

The two girls laughed. Sunako smiled at her. "Hinata-kun, are you really that intent on wrapping this mission up quickly? Come on, we have to have some fun! We're already here so why not enjoy?"

"Bu-but... The mission always comes first."

"No more but's, Hinata." The brunette insisted. "We'll go when we're ready. After all, we can always go faster if we choose to, right? So it's perfectly alright. After all, the Godaime won't know unless someone tells her, right?" She grinned slyly at the Hyuuga. "Anyway, let's just make the most of our stay here..."

Ayaka and Sunako began a lively tete-a-tete about their private lives. Hinata took no notice of the two. Her heart was beating faster than ever before. Something was totally not right about the whole thing. The coconuts. The dates. The berries. The water. The oasis. Everything. It all seemed out of place. She longed to see an end to the misery she felt right now, the wrongness. But her mind was too tired, her chakra too depleted, to think about anything. Her sight darkened gradually and, soon, she fell into a deep, untroubled sleep.

- - - - -

Hinata was awakened by the sounds of stifled gasps. Slowly, her eyes shot open. It was already nighttime. She had slept for at least five to six hours. The moon was directly above her, shining its beautiful luminescence on her frail figure. The shadows were already playing on the deep pool of fresh water. A strong gust of wind blew, bringing a flurry of sand grains with it, stinging her eyes. She closed them for a time and, as she opened them again, she saw the shadows of ten men in front of her. They held two squirming girls she knew quite well: Ayaka and Sunako. She gasped and soon felt a hand clamped on her mouth. With a little bit of struggle, she bit the hand and stepped back a few paces, easing onto her clan's infamous position. A thousand thoughts screamed on her mind. She had been right about the place. The wrongness she felt was absolute. It was a Genjutsu. She had known it even before they reached the place. She knew now why so many ninjas avoided it. The chakra that was used in the technique could be felt even from a distance. That, perhaps, was the only catch in the technique. But she should have told Sunako long ago. She cursed herself for not having the courage to speak up. Now, the lives of her comrades were in her unsteady hands.

With both tears and grains of sand stinging her eyes, she performed the needed hand seals. A large amount of chakra flowed out from her, enveloping her into a haze of blue-green silk-like stuff. A few moments later, she uttered the name of her jutsu and attacked the ten bandits, going all-out in every strike. Soon, all ten of them were down and out. She heaved a sigh of relief, satisfied with her work. Her whole frame flopped down on the sand, tired and out of chakra. The sleep she had was not enough to regain all her chakra.

After a few minutes of sitting there and panting, Hinata stood up, eager to look for her comrades. Her eyes widened in horror. She was too late. There, on the sand, lay the two mangled bodies of her teammates, obviously murdered. Blood was splattered on the sand and even flowed on the water, making it dirty and unfit for drinking. She slumped down on the ground again, all of her strength sucked out of her body. She was still too weak, too frail. Unfit for her position in the clan. She was a huge disgrace. In rage, she thumped the hard ground with her clenched fists, hot tears streaming down her face.

There was a sound behind her but Hinata did not notice it in her anger. A man, one of the bandits, stood behind her, holding a thick, wooden stick. With one fierce blow, he knocked the consciousness out of the Hyuuga. She fell on the sand, thick, crimson blood spilling out of the newly-opened wound. He ran to the side of the brunette ninja and took out from her cloak a small pouch of gold coins, the cost of thirteen lives...

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