A/N: I'm giving fair warning to all that read this. It is a 'back-burner' project that will most likely only be updated once every month or so.
Gyatso stepped from the doors of the spirit chamber as an explosion rocked the temple. Behind him, the eyes on the statue of the Avatar Roku flared to life as the frightened nomads clustered at its base for protection.
How ironic. Gyatso thought as he walked away hoping that they would be safe wherever it was that Roku was taking them.
KEEP THE SOLDIERS AWAY AS LONG AS YOU CAN GYASTO. I NEED TIME TO BREACH THE BARRIER BETWEEN THE SPIRIT REALM AND THIS WORLD.
Gyatso nodded despite not needing to with the sound of the Avatar echoing within his mind. The explosions began to get worse and the building rocked as the soldiers invaded the sanctuary.
"You will not pass." Gyatso said with deadly calm as the soldiers stormed in heading for the spirit chamber.
Ignoring the old man, the foot soldiers ran for the door only to collapse to their knees as Gyatso stepped forward into their midst. One by one, the soldiers tore their faceplates away gasping for precious air as they watched their lives leaving them moment by moment. Common soldiers, they stood little chance of standing up to a trained airbender, much less a powerful monk of the southern air temple.
"Get in there!" One of the commanders roared and Gyatso watched as a young boy barely old enough to fit in armor was thrown into the temple by his cowardly commander. The boy collided with Gyatso and looked up into his face. Gyatso couldn't bring himself to smother this child. He reminded him too much of Aang.
"Please don't kill me!" The little boy cried looking up at Gyatso with fear and tears in his eyes. "I never wanted to be a part of this war!"
"None of us did, child." Gyatso said patiently, as he patted the boy's helmet. "Quickly, join the others in the chamber. If you wish to be spared the horror which is to come stay there with them and Avatar Roku will protect you."
The boy nodded and ran for the chamber as if hell itself were behind him, and to Gyatso's thinking it was.
The cowardly commander finally made his appearance then, flanked by three firebenders on each side of him. As the boy crossed the threshold, Gyatso sent a blast of air behind him to close the doors.
"So, you send a boy in here to die in your place hoping to tire an old man so that he will be more easily defeated?" Gyatso said angrily drawing himself up. Around him the air began to chill as he armored himself for combat against the firebenders. His feet lifted from the floor as he hovered, one of the few monks powerful enough to do so. "I say again, you will… not… pass."
"Brave words old man, but you are the last defender of this temple. Those little airbending whelps you've hidden in that chamber will die with you. I still have ten firebenders, and four hundred men at my command. Even you cannot best all of us. The Fire Nation will welcome back their victorious soldiers with honor!" The commander said motioning for his troops to attack.
"Perhaps… but it will not be you." Gyatso said hurling his air forward. The soldiers were lifted from their feet flying backwards out of the temple as Gyatso followed in pursuit. The soldiers were of little consequence however as Gyatso centered his blast on their commander, lifting him up and hurling him from the cliffs to his death.
"So die all those who would see a child die for their own benefit." Gyatso declared as he turned on the remaining firebenders.
Flames roared toward him heating the super cooled air around him, and Gyatso let fly with punch after punch, the air moving with his body to strike the men regardless of their distance from him. Gyatso fought as if the men were standing within reach and with his air striking at them they might as well have been.
A fireball whizzed past his head and Gyatso barely ducked in time to drive a column of air at an angle up into the chest plate of an oncoming soldier who had his sword raised.
Gyatso ducked and spun, slamming men around him like rag dolls with blasts of air which held strength his old enfeebled body could never dare to muster.
Gyatso had begun to tire, but he fought on despite the numerous burns and cuts he had endured. He had to give them time. If he couldn't hold them off long enough, the cycle would be broken. He had to give Roku time.
Finally after what seemed like an eternity, and the air had grown thick with the smell of blood and the sound of the dying, Gyatso heard the message. IT IS FINISHED GYATSO. WE ARE AWAY. FLEE WHILE YOU CAN.
Gyatso found himself fighting his way through one of the tents that had been miraculously spared, its sides whipping around wildly in his duel with the Fire Nation. A ripping sound above him brought his face up to see the dagger as it plunged down into his chest. The aged monk staggered back to fall against a pack, sitting up to look into the face of his murderer, a young lieutenant wearing a firebender's armor.
"You're too late." Gyatso hacked as he spit up blood. "The last of us has evaded you."
"What will we do sir?" One of the common soldiers said behind the lieutenant. "The Fire Lord promised us death if we did not succeed in killing the last of the air nomads!"
"He lies." The lieutenant said looking down at the old monk uneasily. "He was the last one. We have done our duty."
Gyatso couldn't help but chuckle as he felt his life essence escape him. He could feel his spirit rising from his body now as he left the mortal realm. He was looking down at his body, but he wasn't seeing it as it was but as it had been.
For once, Gyatso was glad that Aang had left. Even his strength would have been little use here today against such odds, not until he could master the Avatar State. Gyatso's only regret was in never being able to tell him how much he loved him. The other monks had always thought that his favoritism for the boy had stemmed from his being the Avatar, but they didn't know the truth. If you can hear me Aang, know that my prayers go with you, grandson. And with that Gyatso died.
The spirit of Roku watched as Gyatso's spirit rose to depart for the spirit realm and the soldiers picked their way down the side of the mountain. He raised his hand, tempted to make the ground tremble and crush their life for their blaspheme, but he lowered it instead.
They would serve their purpose. As long as the Fire Lord believed that there were no survivors today he would not look further into the matter and it would be some time before he realized the Avatar had not been reborn. By then he would be entrenched in a war with the Water tribe trying to destroy them so that the avatar would be reborn into earth and finally back into fire.
Roku shook his head in sadness at the megalomania of his countrymen. If the air nomads were eradicated, then there would be no more Avatar. As it was, Aang would have to seek these remnants out one day to restore the cycle, but that was a task for later.
Roku prepared to leave, but looked one last time at the empty courtyard where Gyatso had fought. It seemed wrong to simply leave without some sort of memorial for the courageous old monk.
Roku lifted his arm and the stone lifted from the ground to form into a perfect likeness of Gyatso. This would have to be the man's memorial. As for now, he had to prepare to send the last of the nomads and this young Fire Nation whelp, Uchiha, someplace where they would be safe.
"I just want you to know, I blame you all." Naruto heard as he skimmed through the trees. It was his day for patrol duty… joy.
"How am I to blame for this nephew?" An older voice added as Naruto stopped in the limbs above to descend and investigate the voices.
"You? YOU?! Let's see, 'Why nephew, it would be dishonorable to expect the Avatar and his friends to depart on a quest to revive the air nomads without lending them assistance. Since it was our nation that nearly wiped them all out, it behooves us to fulfill our debt of honor to make up for the crimes of our family against them.' RING A BELL?" A very angry young man was shouting.
Naruto stooped to watch the strange procession moving through the forest. Two girls, two boys, and an old man were walking single file straight toward the hidden leaf village. He hid himself beneath the foliage and watched to see if they were friend or foe. Right now though, if they were ninja, screaming at each other wasn't exactly the best way to sneak up on the village hidden in the leaves.
"Please Zuko, it's not like we planned to have you fall into that ravine." One of the young women, the one in blue, said.
"Hoped for it, maybe, but definitely didn't plan on it." The other girl piped in.
The one named Zuko growled at the last comment, but kept his silence. Naruto noticed he had a nasty looking scar on his face which looked like a burn.
"So how far is it to this city that Aang saw?" The other boy, also dressed in blue remarked.
"It shouldn't be far, we should be running into someone before too much further." The young woman in blue replied.
"We already have, they've been watching us for the past few minutes." The younger of the two girls replied.
Naruto jerked back as he realized he must have been seen and prepared to dart away to find another safe place to observe or to warn the sentry when his world exploded in a flurry of leaves and everything went black.
"Oh, way to go Aang, I think you killed him." Sokka said irately to the young airbender as he landed.
Iroh looked at the prone form of the boy Aang had accidentally knocked from the trees as he barreled through the canopy. Iroh walked over to check the boy and noticed he was still breathing, which was a good sign. "No, he's alive, but I fear he may need your assistance Katara dear."
Katara moved quickly to the strange young boy's side and began checking his wounds. Everyone else gathered around to look at the newcomer. "We're here two days, and the almighty Avatar manages to create yet another international incident." Zuko complained.
"It's not my fault, how was I supposed to know that he was in the trees above you?" Aang whimpered in concern at having hurt someone.
"He'll be alright, but look at his weird hair." Katara said pointing to the yellow locks that adorned the boy's head. "And are those whiskers?"
That's not all that's wrong. Iroh thought glancing down towards the young man's stomach in alarm as Toph moved to the other side of him and laid her hand on his chest. "His heartbeat is steady."
"You girls might want to get back, before he comes to." Iroh advised. "Unless I'm mistaken, those are weapons in those holsters he's carrying. We've stumbled upon an armed scout, or perhaps a sentry. He might react violently when he regains consciousness."
Groaning told everyone that such an awakening was going to be short in coming as well. Everyone but Iroh moved back to put a healthy distance between themselves and the strange boy that had stumbled onto them. Iroh sat down cross legged just out of arm's reach and waited for the boy to finish awakening. He didn't know what kind of alien environment they'd traveled to, but he wasn't taking any more chances than absolutely necessary.
"What happened?" The young man said as he slowly lifted his head up from the ground.
"I'm afraid you accidentally collided with our companion." Iroh said with relief when he realized they spoke the same language. Iroh tried not to look at the fox spirit that glared back at him malevolently from the boy's stomach.
The boy's head jerked up quickly and he swiftly flipped up into a battle ready stance. Iroh could tell without looking that his companions had most likely done the same out of instinct. He merely raised his hands apologetically.
"I am sorry if we startled you." Iroh said with his most charming smile. "We were traveling this way and apparently stumbled upon you by accident. My name is Iroh."
"Why are you headed for Konoha?" The man stated brusquely.
"You mean the city with the faces chiseled into the side of the mountain behind it? We saw it and were headed towards it hoping to find some civilization." Aang said quickly.
The young man did not look convinced. "How did you see it? It's supposed to be a hidden village?"
"It's pretty noticeable from the air." Aang said pointing upward.
"From the air? Do you have an airship?" The young warrior said looking up in alarm.
"Not at present, Appa wouldn't fit in the cave Iroh carried us to." Aang explained. "I'm an airbender, so I flew up to see where we were."
The young man looked suspicious, but he relaxed a little from his fighting stance. "Are you a ninja?"
"No, I'm an airbender, the Avatar to be exact. My friends and I have come here looking for the remnants of the air nomads. We were actually hoping to find clues to their whereabouts at the city just up ahead." Aang continued.
"I've never heard of an 'airbender' before, and I've never heard of 'air nomads' before either, if you continue on this path though you're going to be attacked if you aren't escorted." The young warrior told them.
"Can you escort us to your village then?" Katara asked the young man.
"Yeah, I guess. I'm supposed to round up any intruders anyway and bring them in for questioning. The Hokage will want to speak with you." The yellow haired youth replied. "By the way, my name's Uzumaki Naruto."
Iroh sat there for a moment and then got up slowly, his tired old body groaning from the effort. "Well, Uzumaki Naruto I guess we had better go introduce ourselves to this 'Hokage' of yours. I have just one other question."
Naruto looked back at him curiously. "What's that?"
"Does your village sell tea?"
The distance passed quickly as this 'Naruto' guided the group toward an open road, and then led them swiftly towards the 'Village Hidden in the Leaves' that Aang had described as being the size of a small city. Katara wondered briefly why a hidden village would want an open road leading to it, but decided not to ask.
The trip had been a long one, and Katara was anxious to get the quest over with. Traveling with Zuko tended to grate on her nerves, and the arrogant, self-absorbed Fire Prince seemed to almost enjoy making her angry on a regular basis.
"We have to blindfold you here, sorry but its standard practice." Naruto explained as he pulled some strips of cloth from his belt. As fortune would have it, he started with Toph.
"Can't you see I'm blind." Toph asked irately.
"You're blind?" Naruto said stupidly.
"Of course, why do you think my eyes are white?" Toph asked him as if addressing the stupidest ninja for miles.
"Actually I thought you might be related to the Hyuuga clan. All their eyes are the same color as yours and they see better than anyone in the whole village." Naruto replied honestly.
"You're kidding right?" Toph asked in disbelief.
"Nope, though now that you mention it, it doesn't do a whole lot of good to blindfold them either." Naruto said moving to Sokka.
"Great, now I can't see anything." Sokka groused.
"Oh my, how terrible!" Toph shot back to him with mock desperation.
"Must you?" Sokka replied.
"Are you sure you can't see anything?" Naruto said waving his hands in front of the Water tribe warriors face as if someone being taken in for questioning would say, 'Why yes, I can!'.
"Here, let's find out." Toph said pulling Sokka away from the group a little so that her back was to the rest of them and she was facing Sokka. Katara stifled a chuckle as the young girl then grabbed the front of her tunic and flashed Sokka.
"Did you see anything?" Toph asked with a grin as Naruto tried not to laugh.
"Not a thing." Sokka said honestly.
"Not like he would anyway, even without the blindfold." Zuko snorted.
What the prince didn't see was the punch. It landed soundly on his jaw and sent him reeling a good four feet backwards before he slammed to the ground, hard. Katara didn't bother stifling the laugh this time. "Blind, yes. Deaf, no." Katara said smiling with a tear coming to her eye.
"Um, uh, yeah, are you sure you're not a Hyuuga?" Naruto asked.
"Nope, Toph Beifong. I don't think I've ever met a Hyuuga before." Toph said glibly.
"I envy them." Zuko said spitting dust as he got up.
Naruto quickly finished blindfolding them and carried them into the forest. Katara walked along blindly, being led by Sokka, who was in turn led by Toph. She also held Aang's hand while Naruto guided Zuko and Iroh. They'd been walking for quite a while when Toph finally spoke. "Look, Naruto, I hate to break it to you but making us walk back and forth to make it seem like it's a long way off isn't working. Can we PLEASE just head straight to the village? If I have to stand here smelling the food coming from there any longer my stomach is going to start eating its way out through my chest.
"Small dish." Zuko noted before Katara heard a distinct 'oof'. "Do I ever try to trip you?" Zuko retorted.
"Like you could." Toph shot back.
"Uh, yeah the smell's starting to get to me too." Naruto admitted. "Look if anyone asks we've been walking for about two hours. I'm going to drop you guys off at the Hokage's office and then I'm going for ramen."
A few minutes later, Katara thankfully stripped the blindfold off. They were now inside a large gate and Naruto was making a report to two men who looked official. The strange city sprawled out in front of them, and Katara finally caught a whiff of the smells that Toph and Naruto had been referring to.
Naruto then led the group through the strangest looking streets that Katara had ever seen. Tubes and cables were draped from building to building, and large poles ran along the side of the street holding up yet more cables. It looked so alien, she looked toward Sokka to ask what was going on, but found her brother staring in apprehension ahead of them. There in front them stood a large tower with the symbol for 'fire' on it.
"You're doing to the talking." Sokka said turning to Iroh. The old general nodded solemnly and all them wondered just where they had landed.
Tsunade looked over her folded hands at the latest pain in the rear that Naruto had managed to drop into her lap.
"We are strangers in your land." The old man that all the kids called 'Iroh' said as he stepped forward to address Tsunade. He bowed elegantly with a flourish and then flashed the Hokage with a winning smile. "We humbly ask that we be allowed to remain in your village while we continue our quest."
Naruto looked at Tsunade questioningly as the Hokage coyly leaned her face against her palm and looked the old man in the eye. After a moment Naruto noticed the old man's eyes were starting to twitch.
"Finding it hard to look me in the eye?" Tsunade asked politely.
The old man named Iroh was now trembling slightly, as the young scarred man merely snorted and rolled his eyes. The rest of the kids merely coughed while the blind girl was grinning openly. "His heart rate just doubled." She whispered to the girl next to her with a snicker.
Finally, Iroh closed his eyes and bowed deeply. "I'm sorry if I offend." He said apologetically. "I'm not accustomed to addressing a woman with such a formidable... beauty."
"Old habits die hard." The scarred young man murmured.
"No offense taken." Tsunade said with aplomb. "Kakashi's given up trying, and it's been so long since Jiraiya's looked me in the eyes that I've forgotten his eye color. You're quite the gentleman for lasting as long as you did though."
"So tell me, Iroh-san, where exactly are you from?" Tsunade asked mildly. Naruto seldom heard her be polite with anyone.
"We are not all from the same land, but each of us is from very far away. Aang here is the last of his kind, and we are hoping to find the remnants of some of his people that may have migrated here long ago, possibly as long as one hundred years ago." Iroh explained. Even Naruto could tell that the old man was hiding something, and something important.
"I see." Tsunade said seriously. "Shizune, our guests are obviously tired and hungry. Could you please take them to get something to eat? I need to speak with Naruto for a moment."
Shizune nodded and motioned for the group to follow her. Naruto watched in envy as they headed off for freedom. "Look Baa-chan, can I go too? I have a coupon for ramen that's eating a hole in my pocket."
"Not just yet Naruto." Tsunade commanded as the last of the little party filed out of the room. She then waited a moment before she continued. "What do you think?"
Naruto was about to speak when Kakashi appeared next to him. "A stranger bunch I've not seen in a while."
"They aren't being very forthcoming." Jiraiya agreed as he also seemed to appear out of nowhere.
"Ero-sennin, what are you doing here?" Naruto demanded.
"Never mind that Naruto, what all did you hear from these people?" Tsunade asked.
"Well, apparently the one with the scar is the old man's nephew, and the bald headed one can fly." Naruto recounted.
"Possibly from the star village then?" Jiraiya asked Tsunade.
"I doubt it; while they're the only ninja that can fly they have to be extremely powerful to accomplish it. I don't think that boy would be old enough to have developed that much chakra control." Tsunade countered.
"Well, he did call himself the 'Avatar'. What does that mean?" Naruto asked.
"Never heard of him." Kakashi noted as he flipped a page in his book. "It could be some kind of nickname."
"The two girls and that boy in blue seemed to be deferring to him as well." Jiraiya noted.
"You would notice what the girls were doing." Naruto accused the old lecher.
"There's something fishy about the old man and his nephew too." Tsunade said getting up and walking to the window where you could just see the party headed off to the Ichiraku ramen stand behind Shizune. "Normal people aren't as practiced in the social graces as he is. His hands are also strange. They look like the hands of a warrior, and yet somehow soft at the same time." Tsunade said wistfully.
Naruto looked at Jiraiya and Kakashi who were exchanging strange glances with each other before Kakashi cleared his throat. "Well, I suppose it is possible that he comes from some sort of noble clan from within his village."
"That's the part that intrigues me." Tsunade continued. "We've got information on every noble ninja clan in existence within the five major villages, but there isn't any mention of anyone like him."
"Do you think they might really be from some far distant land?" Jiraiya asked. "One with a ninja village we know nothing about?"
"I don't know, but I think that this 'Iroh' bears some closer scrutiny. There's something else about their story too that doesn't sit well with me. I just can't put my finger on it. I'm going to meet with the village elders in the morning. I'm going to discuss this with them. Until then, Naruto, I believe there is a vacancy in the building you live in correct?" Tsunade asked finally turning to the young genin.
"Yeah, so?" Naruto blurted rudely.
"I am going to arrange for these travelers to stay in the same building with you. I want you to keep a close eye on them until I decide what to do with them. Dismissed." Tsunade said officiously before returning to her desk.
A/N: What can I say? It was a challenge put forward in the forums, and it serves as an interesting diversion from my other writing. I said it before, and I'll say it again… Do NOT expect my usual update schedule for this story. I'll be busy updating my other stories weekly to work on this one much.