When I'm Gone Chap. 3

Tsunade couldn't help but smile at the letter she had received from the Mizukage. It was so ironic, she couldn't help herself. Of all the things she had expected, this was not one of them. The letter read:

'Hokage-sama,

I am pleased to tell you that your prodigy, Namikaze Naruto, has succeeded in obtaining the Water Crystal from the temple. He is en route to Suna now, with the Kazekage expecting him to arrive within two days. I notified the other nations in advanced, as to make things a little easier for him. After all, he did save several of my shinobi who now accompany him. Also, the heiress of the Hyuga clan is with him. She requested a message be given to her father, which is enclosed with this letter. You've got a fine young man on the job, Tsunade. I don't believe he'll have any problems with this mission.

Yours truly,

Setsumaru'

"Ah, that boy's a miracle worker, I swear to God....." Tsunade said aloud to herself. She could feel the stress lifting from her like a weight was taken off her shoulders. The difference was very noticeable. Shizune happened to walk into the office at this moment in time.

"Tsunade-sama, the report is in. They finally came to a decision about – woah, what's with you?" she asked, taking note of her superior's newfound cheeriness.

"Nothing, Shizune. Just that something is finally going right for a change!" she announced joyfully. She showed her the letter from the Mizukage, and Shizune joined her in her joy.

"That's wonderful! It looks like Kiri is on our side in this matter." she said.

"Yes, but we can only hope the other nations will understand. Setsumaru is well-liked in the political arena, so perhaps he has helped us win favor with them." Tsunade said.

"I know Naruto and his team will be able to do it. They've got one so far, and it's only been three days since he left! They may very well finish it all before the month ends!" Shizune exclaimed.

"Too bad nothing lasts forever." the Hokage commented. Too bad she was right.....

(One and a half days later: Campsite)

"..so then Sakura ended up smacking him across the face! It was hilarious!" Naruto said, retelling an incident involving Sakura, Konohamaru, two boxes of shampoo and a broken windowsill. The others laughed in enjoyment, an atmosphere of peace around them.

"Wow, I feel so bad for that kid! It wasn't even his fault!" Umi said.

"This Sakura person sounds like a real B-I-T-C-H, if you ask me." Naito commented.

"She isn't like that all the time, though. She can be sweet and thoughtful most of the time." Hinata said.

"Yeah. Now it's to the point where it's like a competition to see who can piss her off enough to make her hit them first." Naruto said.

"Konoha really sounds like a weird place to live." Masato commented.

"Tell me about it. It's like there's a new thing every week!" the blonde shinobi joked.

"Of course, it isn't always just fun and games. We've had to fight some pretty tough opponents before." Hinata said.

"Like those guys in the temple?" Shisui asked.

"Some were like that, but some were even harder." the Hyuga heiress replied.

"Have you ever heard of Momochi Zabuza?" Naruto asked.

"Of course we've heard of him! He's only one of the most famous shinobi from our village ever!" Naito replied indignantly.

"My team fought him and his minions, and won." he revealed. The Kiri Genin looked at him in awe.

"You guys fought Momochi Zabuza and won?!" Shisui exclaimed.

"That's amazing! How did you manage that?" Umi asked.

"....I'm not even sure of what happened. All I know is that I thought Sasuke had gotten killed, I was really pissed off and the next thing I remember is holding his 'killer' by the throat with my fist about to pierce his chest." he replied.

"Jeez, that sounds pretty weird. Maybe it had to do with you being a Jinchuriki and/or a hanyou?" Naito suggested.

"Maybe. But that happened a long time ago, so there's no need to dwell on it." Naruto replied.

"Sorry to change the subject so abruptly, but what do you think is gonna happen tomorrow when we get to Suna?" Umi asked.

"I know a few people there, so I don't think we'll have any trouble." Naruto said.

"Plus, Suna has been a longtime ally of Konoha. I doubt that they'll take this the wrong way." Hinata added.

"I hope so. Kiri and Suna haven't always been on good terms, so I hope nothing bad will happen." Shisui commented.

"Even if something does go wrong, we can handle it. We're not exactly pushovers, you know." Naito said.

"But we should watch ourselves just in case. With those Shadow Knights running around, who knows when we'll have to fight them again? And we may not be as fortunate as we were last time." Hinata warned.

"Hinata-chan is right. If we let our guard down, then we lose. It's that simple." Naruto agreed.

"We should take into account that the way we were divided up was not set by our standards. They focused on us first, so we were at a disadvantage that entire fight." Umi pointed out.

"So not only should we prepare ourselves in future battles, we should also make sure that the units we have with us can effectively fight the enemy. Is that it?" Masato said.

"That's a good point, Umi. But I don't think we can perform too many strategies with a force of six people." Naito said.

"Don't forget, the Konoha 20 is still out looking for Naruto. We're bound to run into them sooner or later. I'm certain that they'll help out once they learn the truth." Hinata said.

"Yeah. Our friends know how to put up a damn good fight, so I don't think we'll have any trouble with them around." Naruto said.

"You also said you knew people in Suna, right? Maybe they could help out as well." Umi said.

"Hey, yeah, you're right! Gaara and his siblings would probably join up with us without any problems!" Naruto said.

"Gaara? Like, Sabaku no Gaara?" Shisui asked.

"The one and only." the blonde replied proudly.

"Woah, the Sabaku no Gaara might help us? That'd be awesome!" the teal haired boy enthused.

"I've heard about him. They say he can crush an entire army with one attack. The mere sight of him is enough to make enemies surrender." Umi said.

"Gaara is a much better person than he used to be. After Naruto helped him out greatly, he's been a powerful ally and a good friend." Hinata said.

"When our friend Sasuke fled the village, he and his siblings came to help us. Some of us wouldn't have made it without their help." Naruto admitted.

"I just hope that nothing goes wrong, and things work out in our favor. Tomorrow, we're going to explore the Wind Temple." Masato said.

"Yeah. It's getting kinda late though. Let's get some sleep." Shisui said. Everyone agreed unanimously. Naruto knew that, when tomorrow came, it was going to be a long day.

(Concurrently: Suna)

Sasuke tossed another book to the side of the table, with Sakura sighing in frustration. They had decided to do some research on the location of the Holy Crystals, but so far they had uncovered nothing.

"We've gone through half the entire library and yet there is no information on the Holy Crystals? What kind of screwed up system is this?!" Sakura complained, reclining back in her chair.

"They say patients is a virtue, Sakura." Sasuke said, attempting to calm his teammate.

"Well my patients is at an end!" she replied, throwing her arms into the air. As Sasuke attempted to once again comb the vast amount of books, the double doors opened to reveal three shinobi that, not too long ago, had nearly killed them both.

"Uchiha? Haruno? What are you doing here?" one boy asked. He had spiky red hair and baby blue eyes. Two dark rings coated the skin around his eyes, demonstrating a lack of sleep. He wore a red jumpsuit outfit, with a white sash wrapped around his torso and hanging in front of and behind him, Fishnet cuffs covered his wrists and ankles. A large tan gourd was also securely placed on his back. This was Sabaku no Gaara, a friend of Naruto's and the container for the One-Tailed Shukaku.

"I had heard emissaries from Konoha had arrived, but I wasn't expecting you two." the girl said. She had sandy blonde hair done in four pigtails in the back of her head, and deep turquoise eyes. She wore a lavender crop-top and a matching skirt, with fishnet covering her abdomen and her calves. She had a red sash wrapped around her waist, along with black leather gloves she wore. She carried a large tessen fan on her back, tucked into the sash. She was Sabaku no Temari, Gaara's elder sister and a master of tessenjutsu.

"I don't know about you two, but I wasn't expecting to find 'em here of all places." the last boy said. He had dark hazel eyes and wore a black puppeteer hat over his dark brown hair. He wore a completely black outfit, save for the fishnet at his ankles. There was a single emblem – two semi-circles, one red and one yellow, next to each other and enclosed in a larger white circle – was sewn into his chest. On his face were various markings made by purple kabuki paint. This was Sabaku no Kankuro, Gaara's elder brother and a master puppeteer.

"Gaara-san! Temari-san! Kankuro-san! You were looking for us?" Sakura asked, rising from her seat. She remembered how the three siblings had assisted them in rescuing Sasuke from Orochimaru, and was eternally grateful for it.

"Yes. We wanted to know the reason why emissaries had arrived. Does Konoha need our assistance?" Gaara asked.

"It's not that. We need information on the Holy Crystals. We have reason to believe that they're the reason why Uzumaki Naruto has fled Konoha." Sasuke replied. There was a stunned silence from the three Suna Genin. The surprise on Temari's and Kankuro's faces was too obvious. Gaara, however, remained passive. But one could see the disbelief in his eyes.

"I hope you're not just messing with me, Uchiha." Gaara replied darkly. Sasuke glared back fearlessly, undaunted by his threats.

"I'm telling the truth. I wouldn't travel three days to Suna just to screw with someone's head." he replied.

"So it's true then? Uzumaki really did go rogue?" Temari asked, surprised.

"Yeah, and we have to find him before he gets himself hurt." Sakura said.

"Then we will accompany you. It is the least we could do after what he did for me." Gaara replied. This took Sasuke and Sakura aback a little. Sabaku no Gaara was offering to help them? What had Naruto done before that was so important to him?

Gaara looked away from the two Konoha ninja for a moment, turning to his siblings. They nodded in response, knowing what he was asking. Turning to the ground, he steeled his resolve. 'Uzumaki Naruto....I will help save you, like how you saved me.'

(The next morning)

Naruto's party arrived in Suna with excellent timing. There were en route to the Kazekage's Tower in order to discuss their mission and where to find the Wind Crystal. But, focused as they were, they neglected to see the four Genin walking out of a store until....

"AHHHHHHHHHHHH!" Several whacking sounds were heard before the dust cleared. Naruto noted that there were one girl and three boys.

"Why don't you watch where you're going?!" the girl scolded. She had long purple hair and light yellow eyes. She wore a red-orange sleeveless shirt with a black dragon design on her left side and black cargo pants. She wore a pair of red bands around her wrists. A small gold necklace was hanging around her neck.

"We're sorry, we were in a rush. We had an appointment with the Kazekage and we wanted to get there as soon as possible." Masato offered as an apology.

"Kazekage-sama wants to see you? I wonder why." one boy wondered. He had spiky tan hair and crimson red eyes. He wore a short-sleeved brown shirt and a pair of baggy white shorts. He had a silver chain necklace around his neck and wore a pair of black cloth gloves as well.

"Whatever the reason, it must be important. Perhaps we should escort them?" the second boy asked. He was taller than the others, with short light brown hair and muddy brown eyes. He wore a dark beige shirt with black bands around his wrists and white cargo pants. He had a bronze necklace around his neck.

"That'd be a great help! If you wouldn't mind that is." Shisui said excitedly.

"We have to go there ourselves. We've a mission report to hand in." the last boy said. He had bushy, dark green hair and dark orange eyes. He wore a dark green vest over a blue shirt with white leather pants. The crest of his clan – the hazard symbol – was stitched into his shirt in black thread.

"Thank you very much. We should introduce ourselves. I'm Umi, and these are my companions, Naruto-san, Naito-chan, Shisui, Masato-kun and Hinata-san." Umi said, with each person smiling or waving when their name was said.

"Cool. I'm Aisuru Hikari. These are my friends, Arano Kouen and Gunshin Samaru, and my cousin Hora Subaru." the purple haired girl said.

"It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance" Naruto said, shaking Hikari's hand. She smiled at the jester.

"Ditto. Now, c'mon. We'll take you to the tower." she said, leading the way. As they walked, Hinata couldn't help but notice Naruto's ability to interact with people on such a level. He had never demonstrated that back in Konoha. But then again, he never really had a chance to. Samaru apparently noticed her deep in thought.

"Excuse me, Hinata-san? Are you alright?" he asked, concerned. She looked up at him and, shaking off her previous thoughts, smiled at him convincingly.

"Oh yes, I'm alright. Apologies if I worried. My mind was just elsewhere is all. Now, shall we be on our way?" she asked. He nodded and the two walked beside the rest of the group, now enlarged by four.

(Meanwhile: Kazekage's Office)

Gaara and his siblings stood before the Kazekage, with Sasuke and Sakura standing to the side of them. They had just explained their plight, but for some reason he would not allow them to join them.

"But why not? We have an obligation to assist them and yet we do nothing?!" Temari asked, outraged.

"Temari, I suggest that the facts are examined throughly and carefully before conclusions are made. I understand the gratitude you and your siblings feel, but leaping into foreign affairs without the correct provocation or reasoning can land us into a crossroads with other nations. It is imperative that we search this matter for its integrity before such thoughts are made." the Kazekage advised.

"If I may be blunt for a moment, Kazekage-sama." Sakura piped up.

"Yes, child?" he replied.

"We of Konoha are your allies, and this mission was given to us by the Hokage herself. Surely she would not be so foolish to order this manhunt without the proper reasoning?" she said, attempting to convince him.

"That is all fine and good for the affairs of Konoha. But if Suna begins to meddle with things that are not our concern, it will allow an international backlash. And, due to our current state of affairs, we cannot afford such a thing. I'm sorry, but my decision stands." he replied.

"But, Kazekage-sama, please-" Sakura was cut off by a knocking at the door.

"Kazekage-sama, the group Mizukage-sama described has arrived. Shall I send them in?" an assistant said from behind the door. The Kazekage smiled to himself. What perfect timing.

"Yes, please. Send them in. Perhaps this will answer some questions that seem to be unanswered." he said. As the door opened, the five Genin looked in shock as the first person who walked in was none other than Uzumaki Naruto himself.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Naruto knew, the second he walked through the door, that he had just made a big mistake. He had not expected Sasuke and Sakura, much less Gaara and his siblings, to be with the Kazekage. Hinata was just as surprised as he was, her eyes wide. Most of the other Genin, however, remained confused.

"Naruto? Is that...really you? What are you doing here?!" Sakura asked, her anger rising.

"Sakura-chan, please, we can explain why-" Hinata tried to placate her.

"Hinata-chan, you've joined him? You.......you betray Konoha as well?" the pinked haired girl asked, the hurt evident on her face. Sasuke glared at them in anger, ready for a fight.

"You've got five seconds to explain why I shouldn't kick your ass right now, dobe." he said to the blonde.

"For the simple fact that you can't." Naruto replied coldly.

"What is going on here?" Kouen asked, completely confused.

"Kouen? What are you and your squad doing with them?" Kankuro asked them. Kouen and his friends immediately tensed when they realized Gaara and his siblings were there as well.

"K-Kankuro-san! We were just escorting these people to the Kazekage Tower. They said they had a meeting with him." he replied.

"Were you aware that they are missing-nin from Konoha?" Temari asked. The four Suna Genin gasped in shock.

"You guys are....missing-nin?" Hikari asked in surprise.

"No! I mean, not in actuality....." Masato started, but he was cut off by Subaru's rebuttal.

"No matter. If you are missing-nin, then I suppose you'll have to be taken care of." he said, readying himself for combat. Reluctantly, the others did the same. Sasuke and Sakura, as well as Gaara and his siblings, did the same. Naruto's group immediately went on the defensive.

"Listen, we don't want to fight you all. If you give us a chance to explain, then I'm certain we can-" Umi was cut off by Temari's shouting voice.

"No more excuses! It's time for you to pay for your crimes!" she exclaimed, her fan at the ready. Just before the first attack could be launched, the Kazekage had seen enough.

"That is enough! All of you stand down or I will be forced to deal with you all myself!" he exclaimed in anger. His outburst immediately quelled the argument, all fifteen shinobi disarming themselves. With calm once more prevalent, the older man allowed Naruto to speak.

"Now, tell me, son of Yondaime; how has your mission gone so far?" he asked Naruto. He ignored the many stares of shock as he relayed his progress so far.

"The Water Crystal has been successfully retrieved, but the thief of the Fire Crystal still eludes us. The Akatsuki has shown no signs of aggression, but we had engaged the Shadow Knights in a battle in the Water Temple. If it were not for my friends, they would have walked away the victor." he reported.

"Ah, excellent. Tsunade will be pleased with the results. But tell me, why have these people accompanied you?" the Kazekage asked.

"We came with him, sir, because he is our dear friend and we merely wished to help. It was unfair how he was blamed for things that were not his doing and the resulting actions of the villagers of Konoha, and then he was burdened with such a task alone? We just simply could not allow it." Hinata answered, ignoring the surprised stares from Sakura and Sasuke.

"So noble. Apparently, the youth of our world are just and caring, which are rarities in the world of the shinobi." the Kazekage said.

"Wait a moment. Are you saying that Naruto-san and his friends aren't missing-nin after all?" Samaru asked.

"And what is this mission that you spoke of?" Gaara asked.

"The Hokage, Tsunade, had sent Naruto out under the guise of a missing-nin due to three unique abilities – his powers as a Jinchuriki, his powers as a hanyou, and his own natural abilities – to retrieve and protect the twelve Holy Crystals, which are currently being targeted by two separate organizations. He had retrieved the Water Crystal only two days ago, and the Mizukage sent word of his mission to the various village leaders in order to make the journey less stressful for the lad. Once we learned he was the son of the late Yondaime Hokage, we felt indebted to assist him.

You see, while he was an enemy to some, he did his best to assist all nations. For that, we respected him throughout the world. But, of course, there were those who wished vengeance upon him. In order to protect his children, he gave them their mother's surname and sent two of them to different villages. The only reason Naruto stayed in Konoha was due to the Kyuubi being sealed inside him. And with his mother being of garuda blood, Naruto and his siblings would be hanyou of the almighty and holy garuda clan, with all the abilities pertaining thereto.

So lay down your arms and rejoice at your reunion. The boy's heart before you is no different than how you remember it."

No sooner had he said that then had Sakura embraced her blonde teammate in a loving hug. She wept on his shoulder, muttering apologies for accusing him falsely and her harsh treatment of him. Sasuke merely smiled and pat him on the shoulder in a friendly gesture. Hinata let out a breath of relief as the tension in the room immediately diffused itself.

"Wow.....that's some deep stuff." Kouen remarked, with his friends nodding dumbly in agreement. Temari and Kankuro happily smiled as Gaara relaxed himself. Naruto's joyful smile spoke paragraphs of grateful emotions, but none so more prevalent that the pure relief that entered his features. The Kazekage cleared his throat, once more garnering the attention of the room.

"Now that that's over, we have some business to take care of. Gaara-san, I would like for your squadron to accompany Naruto-san on his journey. With the force of seven Genin, I'm certain the battles ahead would be much safer." he said. Gaara nodded in response.

"Hai, Kazekage-sama." he replied.

"As for the location of the Wind Temple, it is perched atop the acropolis overlooking the village. Be warned, as monstrous creatures roam the area around the temple entrance. Once inside, it is a matter of finding the crystal without angering the guardian. I'll allow you to handle it, as you've done it before. But use extreme caution. Dark creatures have been on the rise lately, most likely due to the disturbance of the Holy Crystals. They are not to be taken lightly, so watch yourselves." he warned.

"Thank you Kazekage-sama. We will make sure to return victorious." Naruto replied respectfully. With that, the group left the office all at once. Once they were gone, the Kazekage reclined in his chair and massaged his aching temples.

"He's Minato's son all right; he gives me a migraine like he did." he said aloud.

(Later: Sandy Trail)

The wind blew wildly, kicking sand up from the ground and creating a small sandstorm that hindered the group's visibly. They wore cloaks around their bodies in order to protect themselves from the storm.

"Sandstorms like this always come and go here, but for some reason this one seems stronger that the others...." Kouen said thoughtfully.

"Let's hope that isn't a bad omen." Masato replied.

"What do you think he meant when he said 'dark creatures?'" Sakura asked.

"I think he meant the monsters that supposedly serve the generals of hell. They come in all shapes and sizes, and the weakest of them is stronger than any common man." Hikari explained.

"In short, they're not something you wanna mess with." Kankuro added, smirking slightly. A gust of wind kicked up more sand, forcing some of them to shut their eyes in agitation.

"Man, this wind is so strong! Now I know why this is the Wind Country." Shisui remarked, shielding his eyes from the sand.

"The vast deserts prove to be an invaluable natural barrier to stave off foreign attacks. It's the reason why there's hardly ever been a battle in the village." Gaara explained.

"While a small group could make the trip, having an entire army cross these deserts would be perilous. Not to mention that the men would be exhausted by the time they made it to the village, so it's not like there'd be much of a fight against the well-rested and equipped Suna ninja." Subaru added.

"It's a more definite way of protection." Samaru offered.

"Well it's definitely effective." Naito commented. Hinata suddenly stopped in her tracks, looking straight ahead of them. The others stopped shortly after, looking to her for guidance.

"What is it, Hinata-chan?" Naruto asked.

"I see.....these weirds creatures. They're at the top of the acropolis. They have chakra, but it's so....dark and corrupted. I've never seen anything like this. They look sort of like werewolves, but they're about the size of a child. I can see large claws and teeth, but other than that I can't tell if they have some other weapon of some kind." she reported.

"Those must be the desert wolves. They're a desert-specialized wolf-like creature that prowl around the sands of the country searching for fresh meat. They are variants of the desert wolf, but they aren't native to this area." Hikari said.

"You sure seem to know a lot about monsters and demonology." Umi said.

"It's best to know these things, God forbid you ever had to face them. Fortunately, it seems all my studies are going to pay off." she said, looking up towards the top of the platform.

"Are there any other monsters that we should be worried about?" Sasuke asked.

"Well, there are only two other species that live around here. The first are the sand hawks, these big, hawk-like things with razor sharp talons and powerful beaks to peck at you. And the second would be the archalons, which are about the size of a large dog and look like a chicken with an alligator's jaw. They're really nasty." she replied.

"We should divide up our group. Some of us stay here to fend off the monsters, while the rest of us venture inside the temple to retrieve the crystal." Temari said.

"There are fifteen of us, so eight will stay to fight and seven will enter the temple. That way, the forces are even enough to operate safely." Naito said.

"But, the question is, who goes where?" Samaru asked. Naruto thought deeply about the situation. Hinata looked up again, a worried look on her face.

"I think we've been spotted. I can see several sand hawks in the air, and the desert wolves are moving towards us. I don't see any archalons yet, but that can change in a few minutes." she reported, prompting Naruto to hurry.

"Alright, here's how we'll do it. Hikari, Naito, Subaru, Samaru, Umi, Kankuro, Shisui and Sasuke will stay out here to fight. Hinata, Sakura, Masato, Kouen, Temari, Gaara and myself will go into the temple and get the crystal. I've supplied each group with a healer and a sufficient amount of force to deal with any issues we may have. Everyone good with this?" Naruto explained. After a chorus of "yes" and "okay," Naruto took his group and quickly made a beeline for the temple.

As soon as they emerged, the monsters went on the attack. But no sooner did the monsters go on the attack than the second group went on a counter attack.

"Ice Style: Glacial Daggers!" Several icicle daggers flew through the air and impaled three desert wolves trailing Naruto's group. Shisui pumped his fist up in excitement, but quickly ducked down to evade the talons of a sand hawk. He quickly threw two kunai towards the bird from behind, stabbing it between its wing. It fell to the ground with one last squawk.

Hikari, taking the chance, began her spell. "O heavenly light, guide us in our time of need; Shine!"she called. Several bolts of light crashed down on the hawk monster, effectively killing it. She cheered a little before drawing three shuriken and throwing them into the air, embedding them in the torso of yet another sand hawk.

Naito cut down a wolf in her way, making sure to cover Umi while she cast. "Gracious wellspring of life, cleanse the dark spirits from this world; Aqua Jet!" she called. Just before two more wolves could attack, they were crushed by a jet stream of water. The green haired girl smiled at her friend approvingly before slashing down two more wolves that stood before her.

Samaru flipped over five of the wolves while making the hand seals for his jutsu. He landed squarely on his feet and simultaneously released the jutsu. "Wood Style: Forest Root!" he called. Sharp tree roots emerged from the ground and impaled the wolves straight through their chests. Dark blood seeped from their wounds.

Subaru ducked under one of the hawks that had nearly maimed him, gripping the handle of his poleaxe as he did so. He then swung the weapon over his head, cleaving the hawk in two as it attempted to hit him once again. Two more hawks appeared to replace the one killed, swooping downwards in an attempt to gut him. Subaru formed a quick series of hand signs. "Earth Style: Ground Armor." he said. Solid rock encased both his hands and his poleaxe as he knelt down. Standing up, he twirled the axe above his head a few times before throwing it like a boomerang towards the sand hawks. It successfully killed both of them in very....gruesome ways before the bloodied weapon returned to its owner.

Sasuke kicked off the chest of one of the wolves, flipping into the air while making hand seals. "Fire Style: Phoenix Flower Jutsu!" he called. Many small fireball were shot from his mouth and bombarded the wolves below him, killing many of them. As he landed, a long jaw of razor sharp teeth snapped at him, nearly biting into his leg. He realized it was an archalon, waiting in ambush. It's dusty brown feathers allowed it to blend into the sand scape. Channeling chakra into his arm, he charged at the monster with a strong vigor. His hand held what looked like a bolt of lightning, which he thrust forward through the beast's chest. "Chidori!" he called victoriously. He withdrew his hand from the wound, letting the body drop to the ground.

Kankuro drew two black cards from his pouch. Channeling chakra into them, he threw them both to the ground. "Summoning: Karasu! Summoning: Kuroari!" he called. Two wooden puppets emerged from the ground where the cards had landed, with chakra strings attaching their joints and Kankuro's fingers. Three desert wolves and two archalons were headed for him, thinking him easy prey. With a flick of his wrist, Karasu fired several kunai from its mouth that shot down two of the wolves easily. Kuroari flew towards the three remaining monsters, with razor blades on all fours of its arms. It hugged one of the archalons, killing it with ease. Before the remaining archalon could attack, Karasu stabbed its head with a blade concealed in its wrist. Kankuro smirked as his puppets made quick work of the remaining wolf, shredding it to nothingness.

"Man, these things just keep coming!" Shisui said as he cut through another wolf. Naito nodded in agreement, stabbing her sword through an archalon.

"At this rate, we're gonna run out of energy before they run out of troops!" she said. A blast of light blinded her for a moment, only for her to realize it was Hikari casting a spell.

"Monsters tend to travel in large packs. I think we're about a quarter of the way finished with them all." she reported.

"Only a quarter!? Jeez, you'd think that they'd get the memo after a while!" Shisui announced. Subaru kicked away a desert wolf, hitting in straight in the head.

"I don't suspect this battle will get any easier anytime soon." he said to them.

"We just have to make sure they don't enter the temple. Otherwise, Naruto and the others will have one helluva fight on their hands." Samaru agreed.

"I just hope they're okay...." Umi said.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Naruto's group managed to easily get to the center of the temple, traversing a single straight path down. Naturally, this made them incredibly suspicious of what they would find at the center. Cautiously, they searched the room for the crystal, which was no where in sight.

"Naruto-kun, I can't seem to find anything." Hinata reported, her Byakugan active. Naruto let out a dismayed sighed.

"I see. Thanks Hinata-chan." he replied. She nodded in reply, but then sharply turned her head in the direction they had entered from.

"I think we have company." she said. Her words had them all prepare for a fight. A tense moment passed before a fireball was launched from the shadows. Gaara used his sand to form a shield, successfully blocking the attack. However, an unexpected burst of water caught him off guard and knocked him to the ground.

"Gaara! Are you alright?" Temari asked in concern. He silently nodded, standing back up.

"Hm.....two Jinchuriki now? I wasn't expecting Suna to join up with the savior." a female voice resounded.

"That just means more fun for us." a second voice, also female, replied. Three figures emerged from the shadows. The woman who had just spoken was, apparently, also the one who attacked Gaara. She had blonde hair done in a ponytail and green eyes, wearing a turquoise green tunic under a dark blue cape.

The other woman had dark brown hair that reached her mid-back and bright yellow eyes. She wore a red tube top and white denim shorts, with fishnet covering her arms and legs. A sword was tucked at her side.

The third person was a young boy about Naruto's age. He had dark orange hair and cerulean blue eyes. He was wearing a long cloak that covered most of his body, save his head, making it impossible to discern what he was wearing underneath. However, they could tell that he seemed reluctant to even be there.

"You must be part of the Shadow Knights." Sakura commented.

"Correct, little girl. Now, prepare yourselves. Otherwise, this fight will be so boring." the brown haired woman said. The blonde woman then fired several fireballs from her hand, evidently from a spell she had cast without their knowing. The seven shinobi dodged quickly, readying themselves for battle.

"Naruto-san! Go on ahead and get the crystal! We'll handle things here!" Kouen urged, drawing his sword.

"He's right, Naruto-kun. Our top priority is to ensure that the Holy Crystals are safe from harm. You must hurry!" Hinata agreed. Naruto frowned in discontent, but nodded in response.

"Alright. I'll leave them to you." he replied. Turning on his heel, he ran deeper into the temple. The brown haired woman glared at him from behind.

"Cali, stop him!" she commanded her sage partner. The blonde woman, now named Cali, summoned a torrent of water to trail the blonde. However, before it could impact it, several blades of wind cut into it and forced it to disperse. Temari rounded her fan on her enemies, releasing a great gale of wind that slammed Cali against the stone wall behind her.

"Karla, don't just stand there!" Cali yelled at the brunette. Karla smirked evilly.

"These guys just might wheat my appetite." she said, drawing her sword. Kouen nodded in response.

"Very well then. I'll take you on!" he called out. At speeds nearly invisible to the naked eye, he had slammed his blade against hers in a fierce display of power. She parried and forced him back, but he merely pivoted on his heel and brought his sword around from the side. She jumped back to dodge, the edge of Kouen's sword making a small scratch along her stomach.

Cali, in the meantime, had risen and was casting yet another spell. However, before she could unleash it, sand rose from the ground and surrounded her limbs. She struggled against Gaara's sand, attempting to break free of the hold it had on her. Suddenly, a burst of water forced the sand away from her, allowing her to continue her spell. Cali fired a bolt of fire towards Gaara, but a quick breeze from Temari's fan steered it off course. Taking advantage of the confusion, Sakura charged chakra into her fist and slammed it into the ground, creating a fissure that tumbled both Cali and Karla.

Karla caught herself and flipped to the side before Kouen could impale her to the ground. However, she found herself caught off guard by Masato's wind blade, which knocked her to the ground with a thud. She was once more forced to dodge when Hinata attempted to strike her from above. The floor cracked from the force of Hinata's attack, leaving Karla thankful that she had managed to move in time. Kouen flashed through several hand seals before unleashing his jutsu.

"Wind Style: Tempest Gale!" he called. Several tempests of gale force winds erupted from the air, slamming into Karla and Cali and knocking them to the ground. The dust kicked up from the attack momentarily paused the battle, with the tensity of the fight hanging heavy in the atmosphere.

"Raging Torrent!" Cali called. A large torrent of raging water erupted from the dust, hitting and knocking down Sakura and Temari. Before anyone else could react, Karla had appeared beside Kouen and kicked him upside the head. She then pivoted around and landed her elbow in Masato's gut. Cali sent another wave of fireballs towards Gaara, who managed to summon his sand shield to deflect the blast. However, he was caught off guard by Karla's attack. She coated her blade in chakra and sliced straight through his shield, knocking him away in the process. Hinata jumped up to attack Karla from behind, but a quick fireball from Cali sent her sprawling to the ground.

During all the confusion, no one had noticed that the boy had disappeared deeper within the temple....

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Naruto had reached the inner sanctum of the temple, but no crystal was to be seen. Figuring it was similar to the Water Temple, he searched for a hidden room or altar. He placed his hand on the stone wall, trying to find some sort of switch. He closed his eyes in concentration, letting his chakra flow into the wall. Suddenly, he could see through it, his chakra acting as a lens. He pulled his hand away, opening his eyes and smirking as he did so.

"Found it. Now I just need to find a way inside." he remarked.

"I'm afraid....I can't allow that." a somewhat melancholy voice replied. Naruto turned around to see the boy in the cloak behind him. He drew his sword in anticipation of a fight. The boy seemed hesitant to fight.

"Is there any way I can convince you to leave this place without fighting?" he asked, a sad look in his eyes. Naruto paused for a moment, his confusion evident on his face. Why would his opponent not want to fight? Especially if he was here in the first place?

"I'm afraid there isn't. The fate of the world is at stake, and I can't let you endanger it any further!" Naruto announced, his sword at a ready position.

"I was afraid you'd say that...Then I suppose I have no choice..." the boy replied. Then, Naruto noticed something that he hadn't before. There was a small shine coming from underneath the boy's cloak, due to the light of the torches in the room.

"Wait a minute....you're wearing shackles?" Naruto asked incredulously. The boy seemed to wince in remembrance of a bad event from the past.

"If....If I helped the Shadow Knights stop you, then I'd be set free. That's what they promised. And I need to get to my sister, or......" he stopped talking for a moment, but Naruto could see the tears beginning to well up in his eyes. Naruto lowered his sword, feeling no desire to fight this boy.

"They're just using you. They took you prisoner and now they're just taking advantage of you." he stated. It was not a question, but the boy nodded anyway.

"My sister is ill....if it goes on for much longer, then she'll eventually die. She's always taken care of me, ever since our parents died, and now it's my turn to return the favor. So, I need to finish you, and make sure that I can save her. I'm so sorry." he replied, getting ready to fight. However, Naruto refused to lift his sword.

"C'mon. There's no reason to back down now." the boy said, taking a standard taijutsu stance. The blonde merely shook his head.

"Yes there is! Imagine what would happen if you died here. Then your sister wouldn't have anyone to help her. She'll die alone, wondering where her little brother was while she was sick and dying." he said. He knew he had struck a cord, as the expression on the boy's face immediately became one of pain and sadness. "Let us help you. I'm sure we'll find a way without anyone having to die." Naruto said reassuringly. The boy stopped for a moment, gathering his thoughts. A tense moment passed before he stood tall.

"My name is Kamizaru Soan. I am fourteen years old and a Chunin of Taki. And today, I will betray the Shadow Knights in favor of justice." he said with a small smile. Naruto let out a sigh of relief.

"Now, you have a crystal to retrieve. I'll go help out the others." Soan said.

"Right. But first, hold out your wrists." Naruto urged. Soan, having a feeling he knew what the blonde had in store, wasted no time in revealing his shackles to him. With a quick sword stroke, the chains were broken in two and the cuffs fell to the floor in a shattered heap.

"Thank you, Namikaze-san." Soan replied.

"Please, just call me Naruto." Naruto replied. The Taki boy nodded.

"Okay, Naruto-san. We both have a job to do, so let's get to it." he replied. Naruto nodded in response, then returned to the wall as Soan ran back to the other room.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Sakura was knocked to the floor yet again, the sting of Karla's punch still painfully evident on her cheek. It hadn't taken long for her to realize that the two were merely holding back earlier, but now that was not the case. Not by a long shot.

She watched as Kouen attempted to attack her from behind, but was merely knocked away with a quick chakra blade from Karla. Cali had also washed Temari and Masato away once more using water spells on a much higher tier than previous displayed.

"I wonder where that kid went? He's missing all the fun." Cali wondered aloud in regards to their third 'teammate.' Karla merely shrugged in response.

"I dunno, but who cares? He's not our problem." she replied.

"I am now!" a shout responded. Before either of them could react, a steel gray gauntlet made contact with Karla's face, knocking her into the wall on the far side of the room. The mysterious attacker then rounded on Cali, performing an aerial kick that was worthy of Rock Lee's expertise. The older sage cried out in pain as her head slammed into the stone floor beneath her.

Masato looked up, sensing the new chakra presence, and was surprised to see that the boy who they had assumed was their teammate had attacked them out of no where. Needless to say, the two females were pissed beyond belief.

"You little bastard! You dare betray us!?" Cali shouted in anger.

"In all fairness, I was never on your side!" the boy replied, taking a taijutsu stance that was all too familiar to them. 'That's Lee-kun's stance!' Sakura thought in realization. The boy threw off his cloak, revealing his outfit to the world. He wore a red long-sleeved shirt with silver sweatpants, with armor plating around his torso. He wore a steel gauntlet on each hand and wore metal gray boots that reached his ankles. It was obvious he specialized in hand-to-hand combat. He wore a Taki headband around his waist, tied securely where his shirt and pants met. His musculature stature was prominent from the way his shirt stuck to his body, something the females took to notice.

"Who are you?" Kouen managed to ask.

"My name is Soan. Thanks to Naruto-san, I've seen the error in my cowardice ways and I'm here to make amends. I'll start by killing these two miserable excuses for human beings." the boy replied, his deathly glare on his enemies.

"You? Kill us? Ha, that's a laugh!" Karla said in amusement. She wasn't laughing when Soan's fist connected with her gut and pinned her against the wall. The stone cracked even further from the impact of the blow, to the point where Hinata was questioning the structural integrity of the wall.

"We can't just sit here and watch. Let's help out!" Masato called out to the others, who all hastily agreed. Cali brought out her tome, but was quickly neutralized by Temari's fan. Kouen and Masato flashed through hand seals quickly, both performing the same jutsu.

"Wind Style: Sonic Burst!" they called. A burst of air traveling at sonic speeds came from both boys and slammed into the older sage, knocking her to the ground once more. She also sustained some bruises and lacerations. Before she could move, Gaara's sand rose from the ground and encased her.

"You're not going anywhere." the young Jinchuriki said. Then, with a quick movement of his wrist, he flung Cali against the wall and held her there with his sand.

Meanwhile, Soan had released Karla and had nimbly dodged her sword. In frustration, she added chakra to the mix again, but she had not anticipated Hinata's Jyuuken neutralizing it. All at once, Sakura, Soan and Hinata landed a punching blow to her abdominal area. She hacked up blood as she flew across the room, knocking over a column before finally resting on the ground. Blood was pouring from the wounds on her back, as well as her side and a long gash on her cheek. She coughed more as she struggled to stand.

"D-Dammit....I underestimated them again....." she muttered. Cali suddenly burst from her prison once more, then sped past the group and took Karla in her arms. The blonde sage turned to the group with a venomous glare.

"You won this time. But next we met, you won't be so lucky." she warned. Then, without warning, the two Shadow Knights disappeared in a puff of smoke. Kouen let out a breath of relief he had subconsciously been holding.

"That was close." he admitted.

"It was a tough fight, but we made it through." Masato remarked. Hinata turned to Soan, who wore a small smile on his face.

"Thank you for helping us, Soan-san." she said gratefully. He smiled at her warmly.

"It wasn't a problem. But for now, I think Naruto-san could use your help. He seemed to be having trouble finding that crystal thing." he suggested. The other agreed, and they made their way deeper into the temple.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Sasuke was breathing heavily. The monsters just kept coming in a wave that had no end in sight. He took a quick look around to survey his allies. Umi and Naito were doing well, but it was painfully obvious that both were exhausted, and Shisui was beginning to slow in his movements. Hikari had taken a few scratches, but was otherwise doing better than the other two. Subaru had a long gash on his left leg while Samaru had been scratched along his chest by a desert wolf, but they were still able to fight. Kankuro had managed to come away with the least number of injuries, but Sasuke could tell his chakra was beginning to run out. He cut down another wolf with his kunai, his own wounded arm hurting him slightly.

'Dammit. Naruto, you better hurry the hell up in there.'

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Naruto heard the sound of sandals hitting stone and knew that his friends had won. He turned to greet them, only to gawk at the injuries some of them had sustained. Deciding not to ask questions, he only congratulated them on their victory.

"It was tough, but Soan-san came at the right time." Masato reported.

"Good. I think the crystal is sealed behind this wall, but I can't find an opening." the blonde relented.

"Did you try blowing the wall up?" Kouen asked.

"That would risk damaging the crystal. Not to mention it would probably piss off the guardian as well." Naruto replied. Suddenly Hinata snapped her fingers in realization.

"Naruto-kun, remember what Ushuai said in the Water Temple? She was going to tell the other guardians of our arrival. Perhaps if we were to call out for the guardian to appear, then maybe he would open the way." she suggested.

"You have a point there Hinata-chan." Naruto agreed.

"Yeah, but do we truly want to risk our chances on the appearance of a spirit who may not bother to show up?" Temari asked.

"It's risky, but do we have a choice? The more time we waste in here, the worse it gets for the others outside. We have to do something!" Naruto replied.

"He's right. We have to hurry before someone gets really hurt." Kouen added.

"Sakura, Gaara, Soan, you three go out to help the others. The rest of us will stay here to try and find the crystal." the blonde boy ordered. They hastily agreed, then filed out of the room. Masato turned to Naruto confused.

"Why did you send only them and not us?" he asked.

"You three are wind elementals, so I figured that the wind guardian would feel safer if you were still present. And Hinata-chan's here because she had the Byakugan. I would've sent you all out to fight if I thought otherwise." he replied.

"Smart plan, but do you think it'll work?" Temari asked.

"I hope so." Naruto replied. Suddenly, Hinata pointed towards the top of the wall.

"Up there! There's a weak spot in the wall! If we can strike that spot, then it'll crumble enough to let us pass. And judging by the angle the spot is at, the wall will just fall flat to the ground, so the crystal is in no danger." she reported.

"I got this." Temari said, smirking superiorly. With a quick flick of her wrist, she sent a gust of wind towards the spot with her fan. Within moments, the wall crumbled just as Hinata reported, revealing the hidden altar in the room.

"Awesome job, girls!" Naruto said to the two ladies. The five entered the room, unaware of what awaited them. The altar was very similar to the one in the water temple, save for the greenish hue rather than a blueish hue. Floating at the top of the altar was the Wind Crystal, encased in a strange light just like the Water Crystal before it.

"Ah, so you've finally arrived!" a voice boomed. The five teens immediately went on guard, searching for the source of the voice.

"Who are you?" Kouen asked. A hearty laugh answered him.

"Dear boy, you seem to not be schooled in the knowledge of spirits. Allow me to enlighten you!" the voice said again. Suddenly, in a flash of light, a figure appeared before them. He was a tall man, strong and muscular, who appeared no older than twenty-two. He wore a green vest that revealed his chest and torso, with a brown leather belt around his waist and black cargo pants. He had shaggy brown hair and steel gray eyes. However, his most surprising feature was the pair of hawk wings on his back.

"I am Ventus, guardian of the Wind Crystal and this temple. I assume that you are the group that Ushuai told me about?" the spirit questioned.

"Yes. I am Namikaze Naruto, and these are my companions." Naruto said in a formal tone. Ventus merely laughed in a good-nature way.

"There are no need for formalities, boy. You had agreed to the pact with Ushuai, so I know that you are truthful. And, as I can see it, three of you are children of the wind. Now, this just makes my job a lot easier! Naruto-san, you may take the crystal of its place of rest, so long as it remains in one piece. I don't have any qualms about lending you my power so long as that stone remains intact." Ventus said.

"I understand. Thank you." the blonde replied. As he went to take the crystal, Ventus examined Temari, Masato and Kouen.

"Hmm....you three seem strong enough. Alright then! I hereby bestow my blessings upon these three children of the wind!" he called out. Suddenly, the trio was engulfed in a bright light, and a strange power was instilled within them. Once the light faded, Ventus had vanished and Naruto had the crystal in his hand.

"Well....that was interesting." Hinata commented. The others merely nodded in agreement. Suddenly, Ventus' voice echoed out again.

"Okay now, I'm assuming you're going to the Steel Crystal next? The temple is not too far from here; only about a half-day's walk. However, Justinian is not a very trusting person by nature. Hopefully, myself and Ushuai can convince him, but for now head south of here to get to the Steel Temple." he advised them.

"Thank you, Ventus-sama!" Kouen called out to nothingness.

"No prob." And with that, Ventus' presence disappeared. Naruto turned to his friends.

"Now that that's done and over with, let's head out." he said. They agreed without a second thought. Temari couldn't help but laugh to herself. That was one of the oddest experiences of her life!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Just as Sakura, Gaara and Soan reached the exit, the battle seemed to stop in it's tracks. The monsters suddenly began to retreat, with the archalons and desert wolves disappearing into the sand while the sand hawks flew off into the sky.

"What just happened?" Samaru asked, confused.

"I've not the slightest idea." Subaru replied, just as confused as his teammate.

"Hey, they're gone so I'm not complaining." Naito said, laughing a little.

"Oh thank goodness you're all alright!" Sakura said relieved. This brought attention to herself and her group.

"Sakura-chan! Are you okay? Did you get the crystal?" Shisui asked in anticipation.

"I'm fine, and so is everyone else. We came out to help, but apparently that isn't needed anymore." Sakura replied.

"And we've got the crystal right here." Temari's voice said as the other five emerged from the ruins. Naruto held the green crystal in his hand for the others to see.

"So this is one of the Holy Crystals...." Kankuro said, looking at the jewel in Naruto's hand.

"Yeah, but our mission is far from complete. We have two, the Shadow Knights have one and the Akatsuki have none. There are still nine of them out there, and we need to get to them first." Naruto replied.

"But for now, let's get some rest. I'm bushed, and I'm certain the rest of you are way worse off than I am." Soan suggested. Some of the others laughed in agreement.

"Soan has a point. Alright then, let's return to the village." Naruto said. With that, the group made its way towards the village, another victory under their belts.

(Later: Suna Hotel Room)

"Thanks for letting me stay here with you guys, Naruto-san." Soan said gratefully as he settled into bed.

"It's not a problem. Besides, I figured that explaining things to you would be easier if we could sit down and relax as well." Naruto offered.

"Smart thinking. Man....I can't believe I'm a part of this whole thing." the orange haired boy said in amazement.

"That's what I thought at first, too. But after I got the Water Crystal, it just seemed like it was actually possible. Not to mention that the Shadow Knights were hell-bent on killing me that time." the blonde replied.

"I won't be able to stay with your group long, though. My sister is still sick and bedridden, so I can't abandon her." Soan said with a hint of regret.

"Hey, don't sweat it. Your sister comes first, especially when she's so sick. You can come with us until we're closer to Taki. Then you're free to go." Naruto said.

"Thanks. I'll help you however I can til then." he replied.

"That'll be a big help, thanks. I heard about how you took down those two girls earlier and, I gotta say, I'm impressed." Naruto said.

"Haha, well, I didn't make Chunin by studying ninjutsu all my life. Practice makes perfect, like I always say." Soan replied, smiling lightly.

"Well, it's getting kinda late, so let's get some sleep. G'night." Naruto said, turning out the light and settling into his bed.

"Good night." Soan said, yawning tiredly. Within moments, both boys were snoring rather loudly in their separate beds.

(Concurrently)

"Man, I was not expecting anything like that today." Kouen remarked to his teammates.

"Tell me about it! One minute we're getting supplies, and the next we're fighting monsters in a battle to determine the fate of the world!" Hikari said, flailing her arms above her head.

"It certain was quite the experience. And something tells me that more await us in the future." Subaru commented. Hikari rolled her eyes in boredom.

"Jeez, Subaru, you are such a stick in the mud! Lighten up a little!" she playfully chastised her cousin. Subaru merely scoffed and ignored her. Before she could blow her top, Samaru cut into the conversation.

"Yeah, it was kinda weird. But now we're involved in something that may very well save the world. We can't afford to hold the rest of them back, so we can't hold back ourselves. We've gotta give it everything we have!" he announced with an enthusiastic vigor.

"Samaru is right! We've gotta do our best and make sure that we don't become a burden!" Hikari said, equally exuberant as her teammate. Kouen only laughed at his teammates, but agreed with their sentiment.

"Some things will never change." he said to himself.

(Concurrently)

Sakura sat out on the balcony, looking out into the moonlit night. A gentle breeze swept through the area, gently combing her bubble-gum pink hair. The moonlight illuminated her pale, porcelain skin, which in turn brought out her vivid emerald green eyes. The events of the day flashed through her mind in rapid order. It was so confusing, but it would make sense in time. For now, though, she was content sitting out under the moonlight and looking up at the many stars in the sky.

"Sakura? What are you doing here?" she heard an all too familiar voice ask from behind her. She turned to see the object of her affections standing by the door.

"Oh Sasuke-kun. Nothing, I'm just stargazing is all." she replied.

"Since when do you stargaze?" the Uchiha asked.

"Since I was a little girl. I always used to go out during the summer nights with my older brother and watch the stars. I guess I've done it so much that it's become a habit." she answered.

"Your brother? You have a brother?" Sasuke asked. Apparently, this was all news to Sasuke. Admittedly, though, he never really bothered to get to know her before this whole mess started. He had always just shrugged her off as another one of his annoying fangirls. However, now he was beginning to see a completely different side of her that he had never seen before. She seemed to recoil in sadness after he asked that question.

"Yeah. But he's been M.I.A for nearly five years now. If he's still alive, then I think he may have run away from home." she admitted.

"Run away? Like a rogue ninja?" he asked.

"Sort of. You see, my brother and my father never truly got along. Father always wanted to have him follow in his footsteps, and didn't really care too much for his personal wishes. The day before he went on that mission, he and Father had a huge fight. I'm just glad they didn't kill each other. My brother was only a Chunin, but talk was going around about a Jonin nomination. But I've thought for a while now that my brother merely wanted to get away from a father who didn't care about his feelings." she explained.

"I.....see...." Sasuke said. The similarity between Sakura's older brother and Itachi was uncanny. Both had bad relationships with their fathers, and their younger siblings were often worried about them. Sakura noticed the tone of Sasuke's voice and adopted a look of concern.

"Sasuke-kun? Are you okay?" she asked. He was broken from his reverie by her voice.

"Yeah, I'm alright. Just thinking about something. Anyway, I'm certain your brother is at peace, wherever he may be." he replied. She smiled warmly at his remark.

"I hope so. Thank you, Sasuke-kun." she replied. There was a twinging feeling inside Sasuke that he just couldn't make go away when she said that. It was almost as if a young child had just asked you for a bite of food to eat. Was it sympathy? Compassion? Concern? He just couldn't make it out – or ignore it.

"Uh....your welcome." he replied somewhat awkwardly. Before Sakura could question him about his bizarre behavior, he had disappeared back into the building. She shrugged to herself and returned to her stargazing.

"Satoshi-nii-san, wherever you are, I hope you're happy." she prayed.

Okay then, Chapter 3 is finished! Man, a lot of new OCs in this chapter, but don't worry. This is about the biggest adding of characters at once in this saga, so you'll get them down eventually. Now, don't expect an update for at least another two weeks, since I'm going on vacation come Monday and I'll be way too busy packing tomorrow to get much work done on Chap. 4. But, I still have your preview right here:

Konohamaru looked at Hanabi as though she had lost her mind.

"You want to go in there?! Are you crazy?!" he half-asked, half-shouted at her. She merely nodded and ventured inside the abandoned factory, leaving him alone.

"H-Hey! Don't leave me out here!" he shouted at her in protest, following her inside. However, he knew that he would regret that decision eventually.

"Be on your guard. We don't know what else is here." Hanabi warned him. She knew he had begun to have the feeling of being watched as well.

"I-I know that!" he replied indignantly. The further inside they went, the stronger the feeling of being watched became. Strange sounds only added to the paranoid, and soon the two were jumping at every little thing.

"M-Maybe coming in here wasn't such a good idea...." Konohamaru offered.

"Maybe....." Hanabi was tempted to agree, but didn't for the sake of her ego. At once, they heard a low growling sound.

"Konohamaru-kun....please tell me that was your stomach." the Hyuga girl pleaded. He slowly shook his head. Suddenly, a loud howl resounded from the shadows. Their screams were heard echoing in the night.....