A/N: Thank you, everyone, for your understanding - not to mention your faith in me. Now, 3 things about this chapter:

1. Naruto is very glad that I don't own him or his friends.

2. I actually like Kurenai - I think she's very skilled, and probably very clever. But she's not a powerhouse.

3. I warned you I'd souped up the villains...


~S~u~n~a~

Light barely filtered into the large space, irregular shapes casting threatening shadows along dusty walls. Dim lights flicked on, triggered by the lone figure stepping quietly into the room. Sakura sneezed, stirring up even more of the dust that tickled her nose and settled grittily in her hair. The girl made a brief face, but shifted her burden and continued on into the dark storeroom.

Judging from the amount of filth, she guessed that this was one of those places Suna put things they never expected to need - or even see! - again. Finally setting her box down on an empty patch of floor, the Genin wiped her hands on her shirt, looking curiously around the cluttered room. Shaking her head at the mess, she turned to go back up the stairs... only to have her attention caught by a splash of color leaning crookedly against one wall.

Interest peaked, she glanced quickly up the stairs, and then stepped through the maze of boxes and furniture and who-knows what else. Keeping a sharp eye out for scorpions, she finally knelt in front of the object, dusty hands righting and wiping away the film of age. And then green eyes widened.

"Oohh" Sakura breathed in surprise. "Oh, the boys need to see this..."


~W~a~v~e~

Hinata darted, Sanctuary's distinct weaving motions shining through her Clan training as she ducked and dodged the rain of needles slicing through the air. A tiny smile played at the girl's lips as she drew back her palm for a series of crippling Jyuuken strikes - only to twist away, free hand snatching a kunai out of her belt as the strange Rain man swiped at her with some sort of black, knobby object.

Steel met steel as kunai and weapon met, and then... the adult's smile twisted, some unholy mania lighting his eyes as he laughed. "Sorry, little girl, but you won't beat Rokusho Aoi that easily!" And with a light push of chakra, lightning blazed to life in the form of a blade. Conducted and amplified by steel and soaking rain, it snapped and sizzled along nerve and muscle, making the slender Genin's spine arch instinctively.

Hinata screamed.

-o-

That pained cry ripped through the air, causing four different shinobi to react. Neji jumped to his feet, his Byakugan registering his cousin's danger only a heartbeat before she cried out. But he checked his speed as those same eyes saw two different - and closer - shinobi move towards the girl.

Gai launched himself out of hiding, moving at high speed towards the familiar voice cracking with an unfamiliar tinge of agony.

Kiba's head snapped around, eyes widening as he recognized the high voice, though he had never heard it in that tone. "Hinata..." he breathed. "Shit!" he snarled. "Akamaru, handle these idiots!" His partner's short, sharp bark was all the acknowledgment he needed as he broke easily away from the weak thugs he had been engaging. Unaware that one of the Jounin were en route, Kiba raced towards his endangered teammate.

And Haku winced, watching passively from the sidelines. Patiently observing, and waiting for just the right moment to strike.

-o-

Lee's kick connected firmly - and passed straight through his opponent. Recovering instantly, the Leaf Genin spun, leg re-chambered for the next kick... only to see nearly a dozen of his enemy pulling themselves out of quickly growing puddles. "Ah. Bunshin."

Lee smiled again, though the expression held only trace amusement. "Unfortunately for you, my friend, I regularly train with the master of Bunshin. This many of you is nothing!" And Lee settled into his stance, regulating chakra into his feet for traction on the slick streets before launching into a multi-front offense. He ducked and spun, blocking and lashing out with powerful taijutsu attacks as he demolished the multiplying Bunshin one by one.

Lee laughed.

-o-

Neji turned, brow furrowing as he watched another of his comrades. "Lee, what are you...?" Then pale eyes widened as he realized what he was seeing. "Genjutsu!" Gritting his teeth, Neji changed direction. He wasn't sure what advantage the enemy expected to achieve by herding his friend out onto the ocean, but it wasn't going to be enough if he had anything to say about it!

Even as he moved, Neji made a mental note to drag his teammates to Kurenai's group after this ended for practice in breaking genjutsu.

-o-

Kurenai winced inside as she heard her Genin scream, but she would have to trust the others to help the girl. There was nothing she could do about it at the moment. Hands flying, sliding into one of her beloved genjutsu, Kurenai tried to circle around her enemy - only to have lightning crash unerringly towards her.

The Konoha Jounin dived into an evasive roll with an oath on her lips, and her hooded opponent snarled. "That won't work! Now fight me, give me a good match, or I won't be able to cry at your funeral!" The man crossed his twin swords, and lightning arched down again.

Kurenai dodged, but not quite quickly enough. The ground just behind her exploded, sending the elegant Jounin hurtling through the air. Twisting in midair, she managed to control her fall, landing in a crouch on a nearby rooftop. As she called up one of her best techniques - anything to buy a moment, room to breathe! - she thought she heard a soft voice, but couldn't be sure over the wind and rain.

But lightning zeroed in again, and she dodged - immediately throwing her arm up to block as she realized her enemy was right there! Steel screamed along steel as kunai met sword, but she felt the bite of pain and the warmth of blood as the second sword dug into her left shoulder. And before she could do more than spin out from under the attack, a booted foot connected solidly with her ribs.

Lightning struck again, finding its target in a slender woman unable to dodge quickly enough with the breath knocked out of her, slinging the genjutsu user through the air. She hit the ground hard, hands shaking as she pushed herself back to her feet. Unease, and a tinge of fear snaked down her spine. Kurenai was a spy, an infiltration or capture specialist. Sometimes an assassin or interrogation operative. Not a close quarters combat expert. In a situation where her genjutsu wouldn't work... this could get ugly.

Fast.

-o-

Realizing that something had gone wrong, Tenten jumped from her hiding spot with every intention of reinforcing her squad. But she was quickly intercepted. Hearing a familiar whistling sound, the girl dropped to the ground, allowing the attack to sail harmlessly overhead. But an odd clicking sound caused her to glance back, only to see a cloaked and gas-mask wearing shinobi with the end of the spiked chain attached to the clawed gauntlet on his hand.

A chuckled made her spin back around, finding a similar, if uncloaked, opponent at the other end of the chain. "First one" the uncloaked one murmured.

"Who are you?" the kunoichi snapped.

The two glanced at one another, and the cloaked one giggled. "The Demon Brothers, of course. Now die!" And the pair darted in different directions, circling tightly and dashing back to crisscross each other's path, attempting to trap the Konoha Genin in the center. Tenten snarled, hurtling kunai at the links of the chain, vaguely amused as the sudden stop jerked the brothers off course.

But she wasn't laughing as the instantly unattached the chain, using the momentum to increase their speed as the rushed her with their claws. Tenten hurriedly activated one of her scrolls, summoning her iron sansetsukon to hand. The girl lashed one end of the tri-sectional staff at the further of the brothers, swinging the opposite end up to block the nearer sibling's claws.

Dancing back, she spun the staff in quick, precise lashes at the nearer brother, then abruptly twisted to jab it into the gut of the one trying to charge at her back. But by the time she turned back, one of the pair had gotten their chain free, tossing it eagerly to his brother.

Tenten settled into her stance, watching constantly for her chance to stop defending and attack.

-o-

Gai paused in his headlong dash, focused mind noting the Inuzuka boy barreling around the corner to aid the Hyuuga girl. The Green Beast hesitated, eyes flicking between two different sources of lightning strikes. Two of his comrades were in trouble - both of the youngsters were only Genin, but Kurenai had no backup.

Just as he decided which battle needed his help more, he more felt than saw a flicker of motion at his back. Gai spun away, ducking back - only to back straight into something cold and solid. A hurried glance showed what appeared to be a wall of slightly mirrored ice - and by the time he turned back, the space around him was completely enclosed.

Another flicker of motion gave him just enough time to dodge the barrage of senbon hurtling towards him, and at the next flicker he launched a blitzing strike, slamming his fist into the ice. He growled in annoyance, quickly turning to chase the masked shinobi flitting from mirror to mirror, occasionally batting senbon out of his way.

Gai smirked. His taijutsu wasn't cracking the ice - which he strongly suspected was some sort of Bloodline Ability, judging from how quickly it formed and the amount of chakra pouring off of it - but he could easily push this enemy - only a boy from the looks of him - into scrambling back. And based on that same outpouring of chakra, he doubted the boy could hold it for long.

"I am sorry, young one" he called, as another kick made the youth throw himself to the ground and change directions. "But you are just. Too. SLOW!"

-o-

Neji touched lightly down on the shore, gritting his teeth as he saw his teammate move farther and farther out onto the water. He had tried yelling at the boy, but apparently his voice could not penetrate the illusion his friend was under. Blue eyes narrowed as he finally saw the trap - the three shinobi beneath the water all wore masks, apparently allowing them to breathe without surfacing. If Lee wore himself down fighting illusions, and they could pull him under... Focusing his chakra almost thoughtlessly, Neji raced out onto the churning sea.

-o-

Kiba rounded the corner just in time to see Hinata hit the ground. The girl rolled on impact, staggering only a little as she dashed to the side to avoid a rain of needles zeroing in on her. A quick assessment, a heartbeat of mental calculation, and the tracker grinned. A slight shifting of feet, a war cry of "Gatsuuga!" and Kiba launched himself into his favorite attack, trusting the rotation of the technique to deflect the light senbon.

It worked just as he'd thought it would... but there was something he'd missed. He barely had time to register Hinata's horrified shout - "Kiba, NO!" - before the enemy turned, a flicker of black in his hand... and then the world lit up as electricity ricocheted through his cyclone attack.

Fragmented and striking multiple points at once, Kiba couldn't even draw breath to scream.

-o-

Raiga growled in irritation, watching the pathetic little kunoichi flounder as her illusions failed her time and again. This was not the challenge he'd hoped for from a Jounin. He might as well have taken on one of the Genin babies, for all the fight she was putting up. "Sorry, Ranmaru" he muttered, genuine regret in his voice. "I'd hoped to show you a better time that this."

Curled in the harness against his back, shielded from the cold and damp by his cloak and body warmth, his young partner shifted. Some of Raiga's rage cooled as a small hand patted his shoulder gently. "It's okay, Raiga, really. I don't mind - actually, it's kind of interesting to watch her fight. We didn't see many kunoichi back in Mist. She moves very differently than a male shinobi."

An amused smirk quirked at his lips, and Raiga laughed. "You always see the bright side, don't you kid?" He was so busy paying attention to his friend, he didn't notice the Konoha kunoichi tilt her head, red eyes narrowing thoughtfully.

-o-

Tenten spun her tri-staff yet again, jabbing one end into the ground to halt the chain as she spun the opposite end in an overhead clearing move, driving back the Demon Brother closest to her. But that left her back open, and the other brother took advantage to swipe at her with those wicked claws. Tenten ducked away, biting off an oath as it scored her upper arm anyway.

She had managed to avoid major injury so far - the brothers weren't all that powerful individually, but their synchronicity was high - but she was streaked with light wounds from close calls. She danced back... and stumbled, vision abruptly blurring. Shaking her head quickly to dispel the disturbance, confusion flickered across her face. The Demon Brothers laughed.

"The poison's finally kicking in!" one of them crowed, and Tenten felt something inside grow cold.

-o-

Haku's breathing was precise, controlled - but his mind ran through a litany of oaths. And Haku wasn't one to curse. He had expected this green-clad shinobi to be strong, had thought he had seen his speed - it was why he'd attacked, to keep what seemed to be the most dangerous of them away from the battles.

But he hadn't expected the man to be this fast! It was taking all he had just to avoid the man's attacks, and as much as he felt bad for killing the little Genin he'd liked, a part of him hoped the others would finish their battles soon.

He was going to need help if this green speed demon was to be beaten.

-o-

Hinata pushed her still-trembling legs for more speed, trying to get to Aoi. Part of her mind prayed frantically for Kiba, knowing exactly how much that lightning sword hurt - but the rest of her knew that if she was to have any chance of beating this enemy, she needed to hit him now, while he was occupied with electrocuting her teammate. Otherwise that sword would keep them both at a distance until his needle rain finally wore them down. And she had a sneaking suspicion that those slender silver weapons were poisoned...

A little closer, and... there! The girl slammed a Jyuuken strike into Aoi's shoulder, but he was fast, faster than her. He spun before she could blink, that lightning sword crashing into her outstretched arm.

She vaguely hoped Kiba was alright as her senses whited out.

-o-

Oboro chuckled quietly as he watched the stupid little Genin brat fight the thin air above him. Behind him, Mubi and Kagari traded anticipatory grins.

But a frown flickered on his lips as another brat stepped into the playing field, completely ignoring their illusionary Bunshin. Oboro scowled sulkily. "Fine" the young man spat, hands twisting into familiar seals. The other two members of his team followed easily, catching on and backing up their comrade. They watched in satisfaction as the long-haired boy went to bypass another Bunshin - and got a kick to the kidney for his negligence. The boy cussed, and the trio giggled.

Mubi kicked towards the surface, kunai sliding from its sheath as he pushed up behind the unsuspecting shorter-haired enemy. The Rain shinobi exploded from the water, kunai slicing viciously down - but a shout from the other Genin finally alerted the first, and the boy dropped into a spinning hook kick that connected sharply with his side.

The rest of Team Oboro scowled as their comrade went skidding across the waves, and the pale-eyed boy reached the little taijutsu fighter. A quick hand seal, a light touch, and the first brat they'd trapped startled as the genjutsu was broken and the boy realized he wasn't actually on land anymore.

Exchanging a glance, the Rain pair nodded. It was time to finish this. The two swam in different directions, trusting their Mizu Bunshin to cover for them and buy enough time to pull of their last attack. As he surfaced, Kagari's hands were moving rapidly, almost moving as quickly as the cruel smile stretching across his face.

And the Genin brats startled, darting suspicious glances as the rain turned black, a slick, shiny coating settling along the top of the restless sea. But they couldn't run, not yet. Not until they beat all of Mubi's Bunshin - and by then, it would be too late.

A quick bite down, a swipe of blood and a light brush of chakra, and the scroll at Oboro's waist released his favorite crossbow. He took only the most general of aim, loosing the arrows. And the striker at the end of the fletching grated against the flint on the bow, catching the arrows alight as they soared skyward.

Oboro had just enough time to see the Genin's eyes widen in horror before the entire area was engulfed in flames, forcing him to dive beneath the safety of the waves.