As Konoha slowly came into view, the 5 people moving quietly through the trees stopped and examined the remains of their home from a distance, a feeling of sadness overwhelming them. It had been six years since they had seen their home. Six years since the Akatsuki's near simultaneous attack on the Hidden Villages had trapped them in Kirigakure. Visiting the village in the Land of Water on a diplomatic mission for the Sixth Hokage, they had viewed it as a nice vacation, a chance to relax. None of them had thought they would never see their friends and family again. After the fighting around Kiri had died down enough for messenger hawks to get through, word from the Kazekage confirmed their worst nightmare.
Konohagakure had fallen.
As reports slowly trickled in, they gradually put together what had happened. Only Suna had come through relatively unscathed, partly due to overconfidence on the part of the attackers. Their forces had over extended themselves, allowing the Kazekage to take down the inexperienced enemy commander. The Kazekage's victory had effectively broken Suna's attackers, forcing them to retreat. With a little breathing room, Suna had enough time to prepare their defenses. Unfortunately, the other villages had not fared so well. Konoha and Iwa had been wiped out. Kumo and Kiri had both survived, but neither was strong enough to push the enemy back, forcing them to fight a war of attrition.
Their first thought had been to head for The Land of Wind to meet with their allies. Suna would naturally be the first place any survivors from Konoha would head, so that seemed the best course of action at the time. But with Kisame Hoshigaki prowling the oceans around Kirigakure, and a large portion of the Akatsuki's forces on the island, it had been too dangerous to attempt. Not that that mattered anymore.
They had planned for the day the village would fall, no matter how confident the Mizukage was that they would eventually prevail. So when the time had come, their escape plans had long been in place. That escape, however, had come at a cost. They had made it out of the village proper without incident, managing to evade most of the Akatsuki's forces. Crossing to the mainland, however, was another story. Someone had to distract Kisame long enough for the others to get away. But no matter how necessary, leaving someone behind was never easy. By the time they had finally accepted that necessity, it had almost been too late.
As they slowly made their way into the city, the small group looked around, taking a closer look at what remained of their home. Most of the city was in ruins. Burnt out husks of once immaculate buildings stood silent, the roads cracked and cratered. Plant life had slowly begun to reclaim the city, overgrowing everything, taking root in every crevice that soil had blown into. Signs of battle still lay everywhere. A skeleton collapsed in the window of an apartment building. A scorched forehead protector half buried in the rubble. A line of rusted kunai embedded in the side of a small building, the remains of tattered flags flapping lightly in the breeze on the front edge of its roof. The woman at the head of the group froze as her white eyes came to rest on the broken down structure. Heavily faded, she could just barely make out "-raku" on the one flag with characters still visible.
Before she could break down at seeing the remains of the restaurant that held so many happy memories, a rather large hand gently came down on her shoulder.
"Hinata, we need to keep moving. We are almost there."
Turning, she looked up into the rounded face of Choji Akamichi. He looked tired, she reflected. His eyes were sunken, and the swirl marks on his cheeks seemed to sag. His forehead protector was chipped and scuffed, a result of the many fights they had been in without a chance to rest. Like the rest of them, his clothes were heavily stained. Dried blood flaked off of both of his forearm guards, the kanji on his chest plate faded and scratched until it was almost illegible.
Nodding and giving Choji a small, hesitant smile of thanks, she turned and surveyed the rest of the small group. Kiba Inuzaka and Akamaru were nearby, both sniffing the air. Akamaru gave a few quiet yips to his partner as they did so, relaying something. The man's red facial marks, distinctive of his clan, were streaked with soot, his black jacket in tatters. Akamaru was, if anything, in worse condition, his fur singed and stained.
Just behind them, Rock Lee quietly practiced a few taijutsu combination, his fists and feet a blur. The man's hair, surprisingly, was still in perfect shape. The rest of him was another story. The flak jacket he wore looked like it would fall apart if someone looked at it too hard, and his green jump suit was covered in tears, most of one sleeve missing. Seeing her watching, he stopped and gave her a big grin and a thumbs-up. His eyes, however, told a different story from the bravado on display. They no longer had the sparkle, the joy in life they once held. While she had never been as good at reading people as her cousin Neji, she could tell that he was putting up a brave front. Losing Gai during their escape from Kiri had hurt the taijutsu specialist badly.
Squelching that line of thought before it could go any further, she turned and focused on the last member of the little group. Wearing a green flak jacket two sizes too big over a simple grey shirt and pants, she looked much smaller than she was. The young girl was shifting back and forth from foot to foot as she stole furtive glances at the Akimichi standing next to her, her shoulder length blond hair obscuring her face from Hinata's gaze. Pressing the tips of her fingers together in front of her, she turned toward Choji, looking up at the man who towered above her.
"Choji, do you have anything to eat?" She asked in a quiet voice, looking directly at something on him that Hinata couldn't make out. The large man blinked at the youth. "Well, Ayame, looks like you busted me...,"and with a smile produced an open bag of chips and allowed her to take a handful. "Thank you!" She cried as she gave him a hug. Turning away quickly, she began eating her spoils.
Hinata sighed. Ayame was really working on being more observant. How Choji managed to move so quietly with that bag stashed on his person was amazing, but Ayame had spotted it unaided. It was such a shame that they had not had a chance to teach the young girl more. She hadn't even made genin rank before they had been forced to flee. Living in a village under siege made it hard to train anyone, but she couldn't help but feel a bit guilty. As soon as they made it to Suna safely, she would have to do something about that.
Signaling to the group, Hinata soon had them moving forward again, the four ninja surrounding the girl as they made their way toward the remnants of the Hokage's tower. They had covered their tracks as well as Kiba and his familiar could manage, which meant they should be safe. The Akatsuki was supposedly still keeping Kumogakure under siege, so prying eyes should be focused elsewhere. Unfortunately, they had not heard from their contact in Kumo for several weeks, so they moved slowly, cautious.
As they walked, Ayame eyes scanned the area, taking in the destruction. Tugging gently on Hinata's sleeve to get her attention, she asked the Hyuuga a question. "Why are we here? I thought we were going to Suna?"
"We are, but it is too dangerous to take the roads with the Akatsuki watching them so closely."
Ayame looked up at the older woman, a confused expression on her face. Hinata, the picture of patience, explained for the girl.
"There's another way to Suna, which only the Hokage knew about. He told me how to access it, before...," A sudden flood of anger swept through Hinata as she remembered that day so long ago, when her world had seemed to implode in on itself in a flash of blood and destruction.
The girl flinched, and Hinata realized she had activated her Byakugan in reaction to the hate and despair those memories had dredged up. Releasing her technique, she apologized. I should have better control than that, she chided herself. Ayame, looking at her warily through pale, lavender tinged eyes, nodded and seemed to accept it. Taking a deep breath, Hinata looked at her, gave a small smile, and spoke again.
"There's a special room in the tower that will take us straight to Suna. It's based on a technique the Fourth was famous for creating."
The young girl's eyes grew wide at the mention of one of the Hokages. The legendary leader's exploits were some of her favorite stories. Being able to see something even connected to Minato Namikaze was incredibly exciting.
"We are almost there, Ayame. There is the tower."
Stopping in front of the ruined building, Hinata turned toward the Inuzaka and his nin-dog. "Kiba, do you smell anything?"
Shaking his head, he walked up to her slowly. "I'm not sure. There is a scent, but I can't place it. There's something really familiar about it, though. They've been all over this area, almost as if they are looking for something."
Lee, his eyes hopeful, spoke up. "Familiar! It might be one of our friends! We must look for them!"
Choji grabbed Lee before he could take off. "We need to stay together. Getting the rest of us to safety...," with this he stole a glance toward Ayame, causing the girl to scowl, "is the most important thing right now. Once that is done, we can come back."
Just as Lee was about to retort something, Akamaru suddenly froze, the dog's hackles rising as he started barking something to Kiba. Eyes widening, he began scanning the surrounding area while whispering to his friends.
"Guys, Akamaru just remembered the scent. We need to get out of here NOW."
"It's much too late for that, Kiba." A voice from the top of a nearby building spoke. With a blur, the figure was standing behind them in the street, cutting off their escape out of the city. All five of the small group gasped as they turned and caught sight of the speaker.
Sasuke Uchiha did not look well. Dressed in a black cloak with a red cloud design on it, his gaunt face was the only part of him visible. The blade of a sword glinted in the sunlight, jutting out of one of the man's sleeves. His black hair was limp, tufts poking out at odd angles as if it had been hacked shorter with a dull knife. With an insane smile on his face, his Sharingan activated, he quietly spoke.
"I finally found you. The last five surviving members of Konoha. Finally, every remnant of Konoha will be completely wiped from the face of the planet!"
Kiba and Akamaru looked nearly rabid. A look of pure, unadulterated malice was etched onto the Inuzaka's face, his bared teeth emphasizing the bestial qualities common to his clan. His canine friend mirrored his expression, a growl rumbling deep in his throat as flecks of foam began to form about his muzzle.
Gai-sensei. Sakura. Neji. Tenten. Faces paraded themselves through Lee's thoughts, reminders of those lost, those who would never be seen again. Shaking with rage, tears streaked his face as he glared at the cause of all his pain. His mind clouded by the desire for revenge, Lee nearly forgot everything around him as he primed himself to attack. Before he could act on the desire, a familiar voice began speaking in his mind. Lee, you allow an unyouthful fire to consume you! Think of what may yet be lost, not what has already been taken. Stoke the Flames of Youth, not Hate! His mind immediately cleared at the thought of what his teacher would say if he saw him like this. Lee took a deep breath and unclenched his fists, determination replacing the anger in his eyes. Yes Sensei, I will not fail you. I will fight to protect those precious to me. Not for vengeance.
Shikamaru would be swearing at me for letting him corner us like this. The thought sprung into Choji's mind as he examined all of their options. They couldn't escape the way they came. Even if they could, Sasuke would follow them easily, his eyes picking out even the smallest trace of their trail. None of them would even think of splitting up and running, that was too big a risk. The armored ninja's eyes hardened, settling on the only course of action open to them. As much as he loathed the thought of leaving the young girl and her mother, the thought of what the missing-nin would do to the pair dredged up hatred a thousand times more intense.
A tense look passed between the men, and with a nod, Lee, Choji, Kiba, and Akamaru all stepped forward. Lee slapped the releases on his weights, the training devices hitting the ground with a crash, while Choji produced a small box containing 3 differently colored pills. Kiba, barely able to suppress his feelings enough to remember what pocket they were in, popped a soldier pill into his mouth, tossing one to Akamaru in the same motion.
It was Lee who spoke first, his words filled with a confidence he hadn't felt in months.
"Hinata, take Ayame and get to the objective. The four of us will show this traitor the real Power of Youth!"
"I can't just leave-" she began, taking a few steps toward Lee before she was cut off by Choji, the look on his face telling her he would allow no arguments.
"We don't have any choice. You're the only one left who can teach Ayame. Besides, losing one parent is bad enough. She needs you."
Sasuke, who had been staring at each of the group, silently building up his energy, suddenly turned and looked at the young girl standing to Hinata's left. A feral gleam appeared in his eyes as he realized what had just been said.
"So that is the girl I heard rumors about. How would you like to see your father, child?" He snarled. Time seemed to slow down as a senbon of crackling energy shot out from Sasuke's hand, the needle aimed straight for the twelve year old's heart.
Hinata, her Byakugan activated and standing off balance from her steps toward Lee, could see that there was no way to deflect the bolt away from the girl in time. Her normally quiet demeanor forgotten, she flashed into action, screaming the preteen's name. Before any of the group could react, she had thrown herself between the demented missing-nin and his target.
Ayame had been frozen to the spot at the sight of their foe, afraid to move lest she draw attention to herself. She barely had any training, and knew she stood no chance against the last of the Uchiha. Not completely comprehending what was happening, she watched as the needle slammed itself into her mother's side, burrowing into her flesh.
With that single blow the street in front of the tower exploded into chaos as Lee, Choji and Kiba all charged Sasuke. A voice, the youth was unsure whose, yelled out to her.
"Ayame, get your mom and go NOW! We will hold him off as long as we can."
The last thing she saw as she helped Hinata stumble over the threshold into the Hokage's tower was Choji, his arms ballooned to enormous size, blocking the path to the pair, while Kiba and Lee both clashed with the Uchiha, their blows ricocheting off of a cloud of dark chakra forming around him.
"We need to get you to the Hokage's office." Hinata gasped out as they slowly made their way up the stairs. Ayame could tell the woman was hurt badly. She was barely able to stand, even with her daughter supporting her, and the young girl was unsure how much longer she could keep it up. Remembering a few of her lessons, she tried to push a bit of chakra into her legs, though she was much too upset to keep the flow steady enough for it to really help.
They made it to just outside the Hokage's office before her mother collapsed, blood streaming down from the wound in her side. Gasping in pain as she managed to unclench her jaw, she slid down the wall next to the door. Her breathing labored, she started digging into the kunai pouch attached at her hip.
"Ayame...Take this." Pulling a strangely shaped kunai with a symbol etched onto it out of her pouch, she pressed it into the girl's hands. "It's… the key. There should be a book on the far end of the top shelf. Take it down-"
Ayame cut her off suddenly, tears streaming down her face. "But what about you! I can't just leave you here mom! He'll kill you! I-"
"Ayame." Ayame immediately stopped at the sound of her name. Her mother hardly ever spoke to anyone like that, let alone her daughter. It was so out of character for the normally soft spoken woman that she could do nothing but stop and listen. Breathing hard, Hinata spoke again. "We don't have time to argue. Choji, Kiba and Lee can't hold him off for long. Get in there and take that book. You'll know what to do." The building shook underneath them as the girl threw her arms around her mother one last time.
"I-" She started, but cut off as a sob escaped from her throat. "I love you, mom."
"I love you too, with all my heart, Ayame." Her mother smiled weakly up at her. "Now go. Suna is expecting you." Hinata began coughing and blood appeared on her lips as she slumped against the wall, her eyes fluttering shut.
Tears still streaking her face, sobs wracking her body after what she had seen, the girl entered the office. Ayame, trying her best to compose herself, slowly looked around, examining the remnants of the work space her heroes had utilized so long ago. Seeing the shelves, she quickly moved over to them. At the far end of the top shelf sat a single, worn looking book, its pages dog eared and yellow with age. The cover was dark green, with a rectangle of cream on the front color where the title was written. Not pausing to read it's title, she snatched it off of the shelf. With a slow grinding noise, the bookcase slid back, revealing a chamber behind it. Walking slowly in, the book forgotten in her hand, she gasped. It was like nothing she had ever seen before.
Strange, unfamiliar symbols covered nearly every surface of the small six foot by six foot chamber. Only a strip on the floor running the length of the room was free of the markings. Situated in the center of the chamber was a small stone pedestal. Walking up to it, she could see the sides were covered in different symbols. Vaguely, in the back of her mind, she recognized these as chakra storage symbols. On the top of the small stone construction was a cutout in the shape of the kunai she carried in her other hand. Walking around the pedestal, Ayame hesitated slightly before she reached forward and placed the knife in the slot. The symbols on the pedestal immediately began to glow a deep blue color, and she could feel a huge amount of chakra being released into the walls, floor and ceiling around her.
Ayame was so preoccupied examining what was going on around her that she didn't notice the black cloaked figure leap into the room through the large window behind the ruined desk, stumbling slightly as he landed. Sasuke was breathing heavily, covered in blood from multiple wounds. One arm hung limply at his side, a crimson stained sword in his other hand. The last user of the Sharingan quickly scanned the room, finally coming to rest on the young girl standing in the small chamber.
At the word, Ayame jumped and looked up, giving her pursuer exactly what he wanted. Her eyes locked with his, and the distinctive shape of a pinwheel merged with a six pointed star burned its way into her mind as his genjutsu took hold. Their eyes locked, both stood rock still until, with a flinch, Sasuke himself broke eye contact. Ayame, breathing heavily, collapsed across the pedestal between them, still clutching the book in her hands. Slowly, a look of fear and hate etched across her face, she raised her head and looked toward the man standing just outside the entrance to the chamber. Sasuke stared at the girl in shocked silence. Visibly shaken, his face hardened back to the mask of hate that so rarely left his features.
"How did you do that, girl?" He growled through clenched teeth. "No matter. You'll soon join your family and your friends."
Dropping his sword, he drew his hand back, launching a lightning senbon toward her. Flinching back as the crackling energy shot toward her, the senbon, rather than imbedding itself into Ayame's neck, burrowed through her shoulder and impacted the wall behind her, marring the symbols etched into the wall. Energy arcing across her body, her scream muted to a strangled cry as the technique forced her muscles to clench. Ayame's fingers spasmed around the book clutched in her hands as, with a blinding flash and a noise like a thousand rock slides crashing down around them, she blinked out of existence. Sasuke, standing in the entrance to the chamber, was blown back, smashing into the wall behind him with a sickening crunch.
Slumping down against the wall, Sasuke's eyes surveyed the destroyed chamber, and then slowly slid shut. No one could have survived that explosion. He sat there, his breathing growing more and more labored, as a crazed smile slowly grew on his face. His objective accomplished as far as he knew, the last Uchiha, and the last remnant of Konoha's ninja, breathed his last.
A/N: Thanks to Gman391 for helping hash out some important details, as well as beta reading along with Bookworm702. This idea popped into my head and made me want to try writing it out. I don't know how long it'll last, but figured I'd post it and see what people think of my first attempt at writing a fic.