Naruto fan fiction: Curse of the Dragon's Pearl.

Naruto and its characters belong to Masashi Kishimoto. This is just a fanfiction written for fun. I own nothing but my imagination. ^-^


Naruto's carelessness results in Neji getting cursed. It doesn't seem so bad at first when it's discovered that Neji has been transformed into a dragon, but there's an issue when he's mistaken for a beast that's been tormenting other villages. Now everyone wants to kill him. R&R plz!

Chapter 1:

"How much longer?" Naruto whined. "My feet are killing me. Come on! How much longer?" Naruto frowned. "I said, 'how much longer'? Will someone answer me?!"

"It'll just be a few minutes more!" Neji snapped, turning around to answer him in the only way he knew how. "Shut up!"

Naruto clicked his tongue and muttered under his breath. "Jeez, what's your problem?"

Everyone's favorite blond pain-in-the-ass had spent the past week bored out of his mind. After his latest B-rank mission with Sai and Sakura, he had returned home for some well deserved rest. But after two days of resting, he was ready to go back out on another mission. He was always a fast healer and bursting with energy. Unfortunately for him, there were no assignments. At the moment, everything was peaceful. No one needed any help. There were only a few D-rank missions available but those were reserved for the new Genin who were just starting out, also eager to prove themselves. Besides, he didn't want something easy like finding a lost cat or something. He wanted real danger. Something that would send him to the emergency room if everything went well.

Sadly, there was nothing like that available. So he tried to do some training by himself. Now completely bored, Naruto begged the Hokage for a mission; any mission. She had nothing to offer him. Until today, that is. When Naruto saw the members of Team Gai walk into her office, he decided to follow them. They were going on a B-rank mission to a village Naruto had never been to before or heard of. The mission sounded interesting. Then again, anything did at this point to the desperate ninja. They were to go to the village and retrieve some stolen artifacts from a group of thieves, said to be well armed and dangerous. They were also to protect the remaining goods which hadn't been taken yet. Naruto was thrilled and came running into the room, begging to join them.

Which brought them to this point. Now Neji was leading a team made up of Tenten, Lee and Naruto. Neji knew that they didn't need Naruto with them, but the Hokage wanted to get rid of him. Everyone did. Now he was annoying them, complaining every two seconds about something. Neji just wanted to ditch him and move on. This mission was simple enough for his team. It was Naruto who was making it difficult. There was only so much one person could take.

"Are we there yet? We've been walking forever."

"Naruto!" Neji snapped. "One more complaint out of you and I'll string you up by your whiskers in a tree and leave you there, I swear to God!"

He shut his mouth. "I was just asking a simple question. I'm just tired is all. God…"

Tenten walked beside Neji and spoke to him gently. "You do seem more agitated than usual to day, Neji. Is something wrong?"

"You try leading a group with him involved."

"We're all putting up with him, same as you. You just have very little patience."

"No kidding…"

She smiled and patted his shoulder. "Don't worry about it. I'm sure everything will work out fine. With any luck, he'll get it all out of his system and he'll be a lot more pleasant on the way back. Think of it that way. He's just restless."

"I know, I know." Neji came to the top of the hill and looked down through the trees. "Ah, good. There's the village."

"Where?!" Naruto pushed his way to the front and looked down the hill. His blue eyes lit up when he saw the rooftops poking through the tree branches. "Alright! Let's go!" He charged down the dirt road racing with Lee.

Neji groaned. "Idiots. Why waste energy like that? It's not like the village is going anywhere." Even as he said this, Tenten noticed that Neji had quickened his pace.

Naruto and Lee where neck-and-neck. They halted at the same time at the base of the hill and entered the village in a walk. There were children playing outside, kicking a ball around and chasing each other. Some adults were watching them while others went on with their own business. The village looked well kept. There was a large garden adjacent to the buildings and three wells in different locations. There were people leading horses into their stalls and some were standing around talking to each other. It looked like a very nice place to live.

As they walked, Naruto spotted something at the end of the street. This building was smaller than the others, but fancier. There were lanterns posted at each corner of the building and there was a wooden fence surrounding it. No other building had that feature. "That looks pretty cool."

"I think it is a shrine," said Lee. "It certainly looks like one."

"Yeah, but aren't shrines usually at the top of a hill somewhere and not just sitting there like that?"

Lee shrugged. "Not sure. Perhaps this village is different. Or it may not be a shrine at all and we are mistaken."

"Could be…"

Tenten stepped beside them and tugged on their sleeves. "Come on, let's go," she prodded. "We have to check in with the village headman. We have to let him know that we've arrived."

"Oh, right." Lee followed Tenten in the direction Neji had gone. Naruto followed close behind, taking another look at the tiny temple one last time before another building blocked it from sight.

Neji was already speaking to the man who had called for their help. Naruto couldn't hear what they were saying. He saw Neji nodding his head and he saw the man making gestures to some of the buildings and down the street. Naruto pushed his way to the front and looked at the headman. "So you're the boss of this village, right?"

The man looked at him. He had a receding hairline and a bit of a tummy on him. He was well dressed and wore a necklace with a tooth on it, making him look almost monk-like. "Yes, I am in charge here."

Naruto pointed to the small temple they passed on their way into the village. "Could you tell me what that is? That thing there that looks like a shrine."

The man looked in the direction Naruto was pointing. Though the building wasn't visible from where they stood, he knew what Naruto was referring to. "Oh, that. Yes, no one goes there. It's off limits."

"Why's that?"

The headman moved closer. "Because of the legends, of course."

"Legends?" Naruto, Lee and Tenten said at once.

"Oh, my, yes. Everyone knows the stories. They're famous in this village. Everyone's heard them. All sorts of legends." The man seemed proud of these stories. The tone in his voice told them that he was eager to tell them the tales. "There was rumored to be a high priestess many, many years ago who possessed awesome power. She was rumored to have the ability to summon dragons simply from drawing a small amount of blood from her finger."

"That sounds like a summoning jutsu to me," said Neji.

"Perhaps so, but these are what the legends say." The man went on. "According to legend, when she died, she wanted to keep her dragon followers safe from harm. So she sealed their essence away into jewels as a way to protect them."

"Cool..!" Naruto was in awe and wanted to hear more.

Neji scoffed. "That's ridiculous."

The headman looked at him. "Well, there are different variations of the legends. No one knows for sure if the tale is real or not. There are similar tales and we're not sure if any of those of correct either." He turned back to Naruto, who was hanging on his every word. "However, there is a legend called the Dragon's Pearl. It's the only proof we have that there may have been magic in the works in the past. There are different variations of this tale as well. But, long story short, we have an actual dragon pearl in that shrine. But it's cursed. There are different legends saying how it got cursed and why, but we are not to disturb its resting place. Anyone who does so shall have the dragon's curse upon them."

"Dragon's curse? That is so cool!"

"How long does this curse last?" asked Lee.

"No one knows for sure," said the headman. "Some say it's forever and nothing can be done. But others say that it's until order is restored. Not sure how. But there are stories that give details for how the curse can be lifted."

"Do all the legends of this village have to deal with dragons?" asked Tenten.

"No," he answered simply. "Some involve ghosts."

The twinkle in Naruto's eyes vanished. "G- ghosts?"

"What kind of ghosts?" asked Lee.

"There's a tale of the late priestess. They say she still roams the land, making sure no harm comes to her beloved dragon servants. She's said to punish anyone who displays any sort of hostility."

Lee looked excited while Naruto looked frightened. There was something about being haunted by dead spirits which could not be taken on by mere ninja tools or jutsus that was terrifying. Ghosts were scary things. Surely everyone would agree to that. Especially if it were a vengeful spirit. They were supposed to be able to throw things across the room and you couldn't see them do it. They could also pin you against the ceiling and strangle you. You could feel their hands on your throat but couldn't see them and couldn't touch them. Scary stuff.

"We have a lot of ghost stories here," the man went on. "Just ask around. Everyone knows the tales. And fair warning. Do not throw anything down the wells you find here. They say a well spirit will rise from the depths and make off with a piece of your flesh if you do so."

Naruto shivered. Tenten smiled, amused and Lee marveled at the image of the spirit. Neji just rolled his eyes. "Can we get back to business?" he asked.

The headman nodded. "Oh, right. Yes, of course. Ahem… Uh, is there anything else you'll be needing right now?"

"If I could have a layout of the land, that would be great." Neji looked at his team. "I'll set up a game plan with my team and we'll see what we can do for you."

"Thank you very much. I have a map in my study. Just a minute." The headman went into a nearby building and disappeared.

Naruto looked at Neji. "Did you know this place was haunted?" he asked in a shaky voice.

"Please. Those are just stories. None of it's true."

"But- but…"

"Trust me. Can we move on to real matters in the meantime?"

Once Neji was given the map, he showed it to his team. With the headman's permission, he asked to have a look around the building where the thefts occurred. Using his Byakugan, Neji stole a peek at the building.

"Anything?" Tenten asked, searching the outside of the building the old fashioned way.

"There don't seem to be any trap doors or hidden passages in the building. Nothing in the roof or underground. There are no broken windows or openings that I can see." Neji turned off his Byakugan.

Tenten stopped looking and came up to him, looking at the headman's home. "What are you thinking?"

"I'm thinking…" Neji said slowly. "There are a couple different possibilities I can see right off the bat. The lack of force to enter the building suggests that these people knew what they were doing."

"You're saying these aren't your typical bandits?"

"Could be that… or more likely…" Neji put a hand to his chin, thinking. "Here's the way I see it… According to the headman, this isn't the first time they had stolen things from the village. They've done it before. Skilled bandits would normally hit a place and then get out of there and not return. The fact that these people have done this more than once on a nightly basis would suggest that they're either not very good, or this whole thing is a game to them. Coming back, stealing more things, but never more than a few items means two things to me. They're only after certain artifacts, or that there aren't too many of them so they need to make multiple trips."

"Or both."

Neji looked around the house, examining it closely without his Byakugan. He put his hand against the walls, pushing to see if they would give way. Everything was sturdy. "They knew how to get in. Either they're good, or they know the land very well."

"You're thinking this was an inside job?" asked Tenten.

"No, no, no," said the headman. "The people of this village would never do such a thing. I can assure you that this was not an inside job."

"How would you know, sir?" Tenten asked. "I'm sure they're trustworthy people, but what if they just did this as a joke? Maybe there are people in the village who are angry with you for some reason. Any chance of that?"

The outside thoroughly checked, the team moved into the building, searching the headman's artifact room. Wall to wall shelves, overflowing with papers and trinkets. The floor held numerous vases and antiques and tables and chairs. There were empty spots on the shelves where things were missing. There was only one window in the room, just large enough for a thin person to squeeze through. There was only one door leading in and out but it lead to a long hallway and past several rooms. This would mean that whoever these thieves were, would have to pass through the whole house to get to the room and disturb everyone. Which meant their most likely entry was through the window. Other than that, there was no way in.

"No one, not even the children would consider doing such a thing. The adults understand the importance of these priceless artifacts."

Naruto nudged Lee with his elbow. "Hey, Lee, check this out." Naruto was wearing a bronze crown with numerous beads and ornaments dangling down like glimmering locks of hair. "I'm a royal prince. Lend me your ear, good sir."

"Get that off your head!" Neji snapped.

Naruto tossed it back on the shelf as quick as he could. The crown bounced off the shelf and clattered to the floor. "Sorry…"

"The children of the village believe most of these artifacts to be cursed. If they were mistreated or stolen from this room, it would bring misfortune to them and their entire family," the headman went on.

Naruto picked up the crown, polished it with his sleeve and placed it carefully back on the shelf. "Nice crown, good crown… No cursy, pleasy…"

Neji rolled his eyes. Then he addressed the headman again. "What about this room? Is the door ever locked?"

"No, this room is never locked."

"And the home itself? Do you lock your doors?"

"Not unless I'm retired for the evening. Otherwise, my home is open for anyone to enter. I only lock the doors when I do not intend to leave again until morning."

"I see… There's a whole gap for when these people could have entered…"

Lee stood up and turned to Neji. "Do you think the culprits will show up again tonight? What do we do about this room?"

"There seems to be a pattern. I believe they will show up again." Neji motioned for everyone to follow him outside. They left the artifact room and stood outside the building.

"They only strike at night," Lee said. "Should we wait until then to take action? What of the building? Lay down traps? Secure it?"

"No, leave the building alone. I have an idea." Neji pulled out the map the headman had given to him. The team looked it over. There wasn't much to it. Neji pointed to Tenten and Lee. "When I spoke with the headman before, he said that the thieves appeared yesterday night and stole some things from his office. They went off in that direction." He pointed east. "Now, this isn't the first time they've been hit. Some other things were stolen two nights ago. There seems to be a pattern. The village will most likely get hit again tonight. So here's what I think we should do. We'll split up into groups. Two will stay behind and guard the village. The other two will go into the forest and keep an eye out for these people. If anyone comes into the village from the east, regard them as the culprits."

Tenten nodded. "I can scout ahead and set up some traps if you think it'll help. Or would it risk hurting some innocent people? There are farm animals running loose around here and there are little kids."

"Traps in the woods seem fine. By that time, everyone should be in bed. I'll point out where I want you to set things up."

"Ok," she nodded. "Then I'll keep a lookout from up ahead. That ok with you?"

"That's fine. Lee, go with her."

He saluted Neji. "You can count on me."

"And me?" asked Naruto.

Neji sighed heavily. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but… you and I will be set up here. I'll guard the village from the inside in case they get past Lee and Tenten. Our job will be to protect the remaining artifacts."

"You mean we have to stay with the ghosts?"

"There are no ghosts. Will you stop it?"

When the sunset, most of the villagers returned to their homes for the evening. Except for a couple of teenagers returning to their homes after a long afternoon and an old man carrying baskets on his shoulders. The livestock had been returned to their proper locations and household pets were brought inside. Doors were locked and windows were shut.

Now all they had to do was wait. Neji had sent Naruto to the other side of the village, thinking it best if they were to spread out. Naruto didn't want to be alone like this. Not at night and certainly not in a supposedly haunted location. Prior to everyone getting into their locations, the village headman had filled Naruto's head with stories from their village. Other villagers jumped in with their own tales. After a few short hours, Naruto was completely paranoid. Every shadow looked ominous and every slight movement could have been a ghost, thirsty for revenge. So many curses, so many things he could do to set off one of the many spirits who dwelled within this village. Every sound made Naruto jump.

A bird flew from one branch to the next, making him jump up with a yelp; then looked up and saw the thin branch quiver in the bird's sudden absence. He pulled his collar up, feeling vulnerable. He wanted to go inside and hide somewhere.

"What am I thinking? I've made it this far, haven't I? I've got some new skills. Maybe I can fight my way out of a situation like that. Besides, Neji said there's no such thing."

A gust of wind howled low to the ground and slapped the back of Naruto's legs. It felt as if someone were trying to push him.

"Then again… Neji!" Naruto cried and ran to the other side of the village. He couldn't do this alone.

Neji saw him coming from the end of the street and pulled out a kunai. "What is it? Did you see them?"

Naruto ran and hid behind Neji, looking around to see if he was being followed. Positive that no one was there, he came out of his hiding place and gave another look around, panting. "Uh… I was thinking that… You know, maybe we could keep watch together. Maybe?"

The Jonin groaned, shoulders slumping. "You have got to be kidding me. Get back over there, you big baby!"

"Hey! I am not a baby! I just heard a noise and…"

"And you ran here because you got spooked? What if it were the thieves? Keep at your post."

Naruto gulped, looking at the shrine behind Neji. The lanterns were lit, giving it an eerie glow in the cloudy night. There were so many stories he heard about what dwelled within that shrine. There was a legend that claimed that taking anything from the hallowed ground would result in the person's eyes being torn out of their skulls. Setting foot on the grass would cause spirits to rise from their tombs and choke the trespasser to death. Breaking anything on or in the shrine itself would cause numerous demons to drag the person to the underworld in an instant. He started shaking again.

"Don't tell me you actually believe those stories they told you…"

Naruto answered with a whimper.

"For God's sake, Naruto… They tell those stories to kids to teach them a lesson. Don't throw things down the well. It's common knowledge but to a mischievous kid, they'll do it just to be a smart aleck. That's why they make up those tales. Some times a scary monster coming after you is more effective than a keep out sign. You know kids. They never listen when you say no. That only makes them want to do it more."

"Yeah, but…" There was a loud shriek from the trees and Naruto jumped behind Neji. "See? See?! What did I tell you? It's the shriek of the headless maiden, who was murdered for a false prostitution claim! Now she wails for unrequited love, crying out for her soulless lovers!"

"Naruto, do you even know what you just said?"

"I heard them say it."

"You're just regurgitating information…" Neji looked off into the distance. "It's probably Tenten and Lee. They might have caught the thieves."

"Shouldn't we help them?"

"No. Our job is to stay here as their backup. If we go charging in, we'll leave the village open to attack. Besides, we have no way of knowing if that was merely a distraction and the real trouble is coming in from another location of the village. We have to remain here and wait. Keep an eye out."

Naruto looked at the shrine. He felt like he was being watched. He tapped Neji on the shoulder. "What if just one of us goes on ahead to check things out?"

"Ok, but that means you'll have to be alone."

"… We'd better stay put. Just in case."

"Yeah, that's what I thought."

Neji kept staring off in one direction. When Naruto looked, he noticed the veins bulging around his eyes. He was using his Byakugan. "Can that thing see ghost, too, by any chance?"

"There's no such thing, now be quiet." A minute later he turned it off and started walking forward. Two figures were coming out of the forest dragging something behind them. "Well?"

Tenten gave him a smile. "That was almost too easy." She pulled a young man to the front and dropped him at Neji's feet. "He claims he knows the headman."

"Who are the others?" Neji gestured to the four unidentified boys tied up behind Lee with his chin. The boys couldn't have been older than 14 or so. One of them looked 12.

They dragged the boys to the headman's home and dropped them at the door. The headman stepped outside and looked disappointed as well as angry. As he looked into the eldest boy's face, he didn't seem too surprised.

"You know them? This one says he knows you."

"Yeah, I do," the headman sighed. "They're from the next village over. This one here's the ringleader. He used to belong to this village until he moved in with his girlfriend in the next village. He helped me clean my study from time to time. Now I know how he got in to my office in the first place."

The youngest boy turned on the waterworks. "It was just a prank!" he sobbed. "They told me to do it! Said it would be funny!"

"Shut up!" another boy kicked him.

"Please don't tell my mom. She'd kill me!"

"I said shut up!" The boy wiggled his gloved hand free to take a swing at him. Though their hands were bound, Naruto could see that every one of them had on a pair of gloves.

The headman paced the ground, rubbing his neck thoughtfully. "Well… I suppose I could go easy on you. Where are my artifacts?"

"My house…" the leader mumbled.

"Just return everything you've taken and never do it again. I'll keep this quiet, but if it should happen again, I will not go so lightly on you."

Naruto thought it was fair, but he would have liked to see these kids get whacked around a little bit. Maybe the headman was being too lenient. Then again, it was only a prank. Naruto had pulled his share of pranks before and they wouldn't be his last.

The headman was so pleased with their work that he invited the whole team to stay the night in his home. Actually, he wasn't so much pleased with them as he felt guilty for calling them all the way out on account of some merry pranksters. He was sorry that they had to waste their time, truly thinking that there were horrible bandits stealing their goods in the dead of night.

After a filling dinner, Neji's team went to their rooms. The headman only had two rooms available for them and they could only fit two people comfortably. Tenten said that she would stay with Neji while Naruto and Lee took the other room. That turned out to be a poor choice, seeing how the two were wound up and already making plans for an eventful evening. To keep them separated, Tenten decided to stay with Lee, leaving Naruto in Neji's care. Everything seemed to be going smoothly. Naruto was quiet for some time, leaving Neji to think that he had fallen asleep. Neji settled into his sleeping bag on the wicker floor and tried to relax.

In the middle of the night, Naruto awoke, sitting up in his sleeping bag and looking around. He heard creaking sounds but couldn't pinpoint where they were coming from. He gulped and reached for his pack with his ninja tools. Then he heard footsteps. He ducked inside his sleeping bag, cowering in fear. When he peeked out to see if there were any spirits floating around, he saw a strange light outside the only window in the room. The light moved slowly along the wall, as if someone were carrying a lantern. The light was pale and ghostly. It must have been one of the spirits from those stories he spent his afternoon hearing about. Why, oh, why did they have to travel to a haunted village at night like this?

A clunk made him jump and he reached out with a trembling hand, touching Neji's shoulder. "Psst. Neji. Neji!"

He squeezed his eyes tightly shut and turned away. After a few more prods, Neji finally answered him. "What?" he asked sleepily, keeping his eyes closed.

"I think there's something here. Like a ghost or something."

Neji moaned and turned away from him.

"Neji, I think it's one of those lantern spirits from those stories."

"Go back to sleep and don't wake me up again unless there's a real problem."

Naruto curled into a ball inside his sleeping bag and tried to get it out of his mind. Things seemed quiet for a few minutes. Then he started shivering, feeling as if he were being watched. He felt these eyes upon him, but was unable to tell if they were friendly or not. He hated this feeling. Though he couldn't see anyone, he knew someone was looking at him. Then there was another creaking noise and Naruto started to shake Neji's shoulder.

"Neji! Neji!"

"Is the house on fire?"

"Huh? Uh… no."

"Is the village under attack?"

"… No."

"Are Tenten and Lee in the room and asked you to bother me?"


"Has anyone been killed?"


"Then why the hell are you waking me up?"

"I heard something. I think we're being watched."

Neji rolled onto his stomach, grumbling. "I don't believe this…"

"Something's here, Neji."

"It's all in your head. Would you go back to sleep and leave me alone?"

Naruto tapped his shoulder again. "But I heard a creaking noise. And footsteps."

"Someone might have gotten up to go to the bathroom or something. We're not the only ones here, you know. And it's an old building. They creak and moan all the time. It's not a big deal."

His annoying roommate was quiet for a minute so Neji tried to get back to sleep. It wasn't easy. He was always such a light sleeper and it took him a while to finally get to sleep at night. Sometimes it took hours. Tonight, it was next to impossible with Naruto in the room. He felt Naruto's tug again at his arm.

"But Neji, what if it-"

"I'm telling you. Everything's fine. Now go to sleep."

A minute passed and then…

"I just saw a light go by the window. I think it's a spirit."

"It's nothing."

He gasped. "I just saw something move outside! There's something out there."

"You're being ridiculous."

He poked Neji's shoulder and back repeatedly with his finger. "Neji, Neji, Neji!"

"For God's sake, knock it off!" Neji sprang up and looked Naruto in the face with bloodshot eyes. "Listen to me. I'm tired. I didn't get a lot of sleep before the mission, I just came back from another one the other day and got next to no rest at all before another one of Gai's training sessions. On top of that, I had to deal with you whining the whole way here, your constant obsessions with folklore that's not even true in the slightest and you take it to heart and are on constant alert for ghosts, waking me up every five seconds when I would like nothing more than to get a good night's sleep for a change. Now will you please… leave me alone!"

Naruto looked over Neji's shoulder and started shaking. "I just saw it again. I think it came from the shrine."

"That's it!" Neji threw open his sleeping bag and climbed over Naruto's legs, reaching the door to the room. "We're settling this once and for all. We'll go out there and I'll show you that there's nothing out there. Anything to get peace."

The blond looked from side to side. "Are you sure? What if..?"

"Are you coming or not?" Neji started to leave. Not wanting to be left alone, Naruto chased after him.

The closely packed wooden houses along the dirt road were dark. The village, so lively in the day, was now quietly asleep, the moon mounted in the sky like a crooked smile shining down upon the humble little village. The two ninja walked from the warm headman's home into the dark cold street with nothing but the moon and the stars to guide them. Their footsteps seemed to hush the night as they made their way toward the shrine. Naruto kept close to Neji's heels as they walked in uneasy silence. Now he wished he had stayed in the house. He felt as if he would be attacked any moment. Something could pick him up and fling him into the air and dropped so hard every bone in his body would shatter.

Neji stood in front of the wooden gate fencing in the shrine, separating it from the rest of the buildings. The lanterns were all lit and glowing dimly in the night, chasing away the darkness. It looked like a welcoming little hut, promising comfort and warmth. Still, the lanterns' glow and the stories of the land gave it a spooky feel. "See? Nothing. It's fine."

"The ghost could be inside. You know, hiding from us. You'd better go check."

"Why do I have to go inside and check it out?"

"See, you're just as scared as I am." Naruto shivered as a small breeze picked up, chilling his exposed flesh. "There's no way I'm going in there alone. I don't wanna get eaten."

Neji groaned. "Will you stop complaining if I show you that there's nothing inside? Will you leave me alone then and let me get some sleep?"

Naruto nodded quickly feeling chills run up and down his spine. He gave the longhaired boy a shove toward the building.

"Let's get this over with," said Neji, as he passed the two stone lions marking the entrance.

Naruto hesitated. He looked at the stone lions, mouths agape, frozen in mid-attack. He was waiting for them to spring to life and pounce on him. Since Neji made it past unharmed, it must have been safe, so he crossed. He was careful to stay off the grass and on the stone walkway. Neji was already at the door to the shrine, waiting for him to catch up. Naruto quickened his pace and moved into the light of the lanterns. His footsteps creaked on the wooden steps leading up to the door. The loud sound made him want to turn back but he pressed on.

"Well?" Neji asked impatiently. He put his hand on the door, ready to open it. Naruto looked at the lanterns. It was strange that there weren't any moths or bugs of any kind fluttering around the light. It was as if the lights were a warning for all to stay away. There must have been some great power here to chase away even the simplest of creatures. There were no webs or dirt or anything on the outside of the shrine. It looked brand new, even up close. If no one was allowed on these grounds, the only explanation was magic. Neji pulled the sliding door open and stepped inside. Once again, Naruto hesitated. But seeing how Neji wasn't dragged to his doom gave Naruto confidence to do the same and went inside.

It looked like a small shack. There was barely enough room for two people to be inside at the same time. There were artifacts on small wooden tables along the walls on either side of the building. Naruto stepped closer to have a better look. Everything was quite old, but well kept. There were scrolls laying on the table, locked up tight which made Naruto curious to see what secrets they held. But he didn't touch any of them. Beside the scrolls were rusty tools from many years ago. Next to those were other old objects such as a flute, a bow, a trowel, a compass and an old pair of shoes. Next to them were some strange looking tassels and clips. "Neji, what are these?" he asked.

"Those are hair ornaments, usually worn by nobles. Can we go now?"

"Do priestesses count as nobles?"

"Whatever answer gets us out of here faster. We're not supposed to be in here. I only brought you in so I could show you that there's no such things…" He only agreed to this to pacify Naruto.

Naruto tuned him out. He was too busy looking at the other things on display in this little temple. Normally he hated museums, but these were pretty interesting. There were paintings hanging on walls and old pieces of wood and cloth. On the next table was a pipe and some thread. There was a display case containing some old coins and jewels behind the glass. Naruto moved closer, his breath fogging up the glass.

"Can we go now? With any luck I'll be able to get a couple hours' sleep in before dawn. We're not supposed to be in here."

"Then why did you bring me here?"

"To settle things once and for all. You wouldn't give me a moment's peace. I'm tired. I'm not thinking straight. Can't we just leave now? We've seen the shrine. There's nothing and no one in here. It was just the lanterns blowing in the wind. That's all."

"You never know," said Naruto. "The spirit could have known we were coming and…"

"Will you stop with the spirit nonsense?" Neji growled. "It's all made up. There's no such things."

"But the legends…"

"Naruto, think about it," he went on. "None of those stories made any logical sense. It was like no one could decide on a plot. Whoever made them up couldn't make up their minds. They're all over the place and make no sense at all. All the villagers told you different versions of the same stories. If those tales were true in the slightest, something would match up. Think about it."

Now that he thought about it, Neji did have a point. All those stories didn't match up at all. Even the ones with the same title were different entirely. Like the story of the Dragon's Pearl. One tale said that the priestess had sealed away her dragon servants into pearls, which was why they were so rightly named. Another tale claimed that the dragon pearl held within it the spirit of the dragons and their power. The people of the village would call upon them in their hour of need to protect them. The story explained how the spirit of the dragons would come out and shield the village from danger and once the threat was gone, their power went back into the pearl. A variation of that tale claimed that the spirit of the dragons and their power would enter into the bodies of the village's guardians, giving them strength and power to defeat their enemies. The same tale told by another said that the Dragon's Pearl was a curse in and of itself. Anyone who touched it would have the dragon's curse upon them. Just what that curse was, no one knew. But it was enough to frighten people away.

Maybe Neji was right. If any of it were true, something would have to match up somewhere. They had to decide on something. None of those stories were well put together and now that he thought about it, they really didn't make any sense at all.

After doing some thinking and seeing that there was nothing to fear, Naruto felt a lot better. He was being a little ridiculous. Maybe Neji did have a reason to yell at him. "I guess you're right. Sorry I woke you up."

Neji grunted. "Let's get out of here before you break something."

"I'm not going to break anything." Naruto backed up into a table and knocked something off a stand. Neji dove to the ground and caught something in both hands. He breathed a sigh of relief, holding up an orb. It matched the color of his pupil-less eyes and was about the side of a small melon. It looked like the same thing fortunetellers would use when predicting someone's fate.

Neji set the orb back on its resting place very carefully. Then he rounded on Naruto. "I told you to be careful."

"It wasn't my fault! This place is so cramped I can barely move."

"Let's go." Neji grabbed Naruto's arm and pulled him out of the building. He closed the door and dragged Naruto down the path and between the stone lions at the gate. "I can't believe I brought you in there just to put an end to the nonsense. You take everything at face value, don't you? You're so gullible."

"Am not!"

"Hey, you two!" A man carrying a lantern in his hand called to them, walking forward. "What are you doing out here? You're not supposed to be in there! It's off limits!"

Neji had a feeling this would happen. Before he could explain himself, the village headman came jogging towards them. "What's going on out here? I heard voices. Someone said the shrine door was open. What happened?"

"I'm very sorry," Neji told the two men. "We were concerned. We saw movement and lights and thought that those kids were back so we thought we'd check it out. We looked in the temple to see if anything was stolen. Everything's in its place so we left. I'm sorry about all this."

It was a good and believable lie. Neji was pretty good at this.

The headman sighed. "No, I'm sorry." He pulled his coat over his robes, protecting himself from the cold air. "No one's allowed in there. We hold precious artifacts from our ansesters in that shrine. They were supposed to belong to the founders of this village and that's all that's left of them. The kids get into everything and as you can see from tonight that we have our share of pranksters. So we locked everything up in that shrine and…"

"Told them that there were powerful curses involved?" interrupted Neji.

"Yes," the headman admitted. "Kids will be kids. When you tell them 'no' it only makes them want to do it more. Sometimes a tales about curses and monsters is more effective than a 'keep out' sign."

Neji shot Naruto a look. These were his words used by another man to convey a similar message. There really were no curses. They were all stories.

"It's become a tradition," the headman went on. "I heard the tales from my father and his family told them to him and they heard them around and… Well, everyone does it. We tell the kids so they'll have a reason to stay away. Like Santa and his naughty or nice list and whatnot. The kids would get in there, snoop around and try to play with the things in there. I'm sure you saw the flute and the jewels and the ink stones. They would take them, play with them. Especuially the orb that's in there. That's supposed to be the Dragon's Pearl. But knowing the children, they would try to use it as a ball, kick it around, throw it… It would break."

"I understand. Sometimes children believe stories and take them to heart." Neji shot another look at Naruto. He shot one back.

"Granted, that orb had been stolen before."

"It had?" Naruto asked. "But I thought they all believed those legends and curses."

"True, but just like Santa and all those similar tales, eventually the kids grow up and realize the truth. Some are mature enough to realize why they were told the tales in the first place. Others just like to monkey around and play tricks. Like tonight." The headman sighed again. "Because no one goes in there, we didn't even know it was missing until it was returned."

"Who returned it? Who stole it?" Naruto wanted to know.

He shrugged. "I have no idea. It was returned by someone from the Sand village. Some kid. He said that he was returning from some mission and saw a couple of kids running away carrying something in a sack. He stopped them and brought it back for us. He put it in the shrine and everything. Then he left. I have no idea who those thieves were, but with any luck, they were the same people you caught tonight from the next village over. I mean, it must have been them. The orb was stolen and returned a couple days before you arrived."

"Right when the other thefts started," Neji nodded. "It makes sense."

A strong gust of wind blew and the four shivered.

"It's late. You should return to bed."

"Gladly." Neji pulled on Naruto's arm. "Hear that? Just stories to scary impressionable children. Now let's go back to bed and I don't want to hear any more out of you for the rest of the night."

"What are you, my mom?" Naruto hated being lectured. He sounded just like Sakura, without all the punching.

This seems like a good start. I don't want to make the first chapter too long. We still have a ways to go ^-^

There should be a preview comic of this fanfiction posted on DeviantArt. It doesn't give away too much and they're fun to look at ^-^ If it's not posted yet, it will be for the next chapter or so.

Please review!