Naruto sat down hard on the grass, feeling the soft wind blow through his hair. "It's not fair! How could they do this to me?" He asked himself. He checked the bandage on the wound on his leg. The villagers and quite a few Nins had felt the need to drive home the point that he was no longer wanted in the village.
He tilted his head back to reveal a dirt stained face with tears streaking down his cheeks. One word echoed in his head over and over again.
Naruto had awoken in the hospital a few days after failing to retrieve Sasuke. He had expected disappointment, but he had really tried his best. Even Sakura had forgiven him, had told him they'd get stronger together.
But the Village Council was not as forgiving. They had held a closed door meeting with the head of various Clans and had come to the conclusion that Naruto was just too dangerous. The first sentence passed on him apparently was death. Naruto smiled faintly at that, because Oba-san had taken one village elder and punched him through a wall and told them to pick again. She had been fired as Hokage of course, but she point blank told them that no one was going to kill Naruto. Jiraiya and Gamabunta had appeared as well and backed up that claim. Two of the Sannin staring them down had forced the council to alleviate the sentence passed, but would not convince them to back down completely.
"Don't worry Naruto, you and I shall see the world together and conduct research for my books! I have a great idea for the next one." Jiraiya had smiled when he told Naruto in his hospital bed. But Naruto could feel the desperation in his voice to make it seem not so bad.
His dreams had been crushed. There was no way he would be Hokage now. He would never make Chunnin or Jounin. He was no longer a Konoha-Nin. Period.
Tsunade herself had hugged him quietly, played with his hair and told him he'd be safe with Jiraiya. She cried quietly for his lost dreams. Sakura stood shocked in the corner and said nothing. Her heart broken completely, tears pouring down her face. Her team was completely dissolved now. Her best friends. One run away, one forced away.
Naruto could not stand it.
Early the next morning, he had heard the footsteps in his room, knew someone had come to kill him. He seriously considered letting them do it, but instinct took over and he rolled to the side to avoid a Kunai being stabbed into the hospital cot. Several voices of alarm were raised as Naruto dashed out the window to safety. Several weapons were thrown at him, none hit. A particularly well aimed Kunai though pierced his thigh. Glancing down Naruto could have sworn the person who threw it was one of his teachers from back at the academy.
He had no time to wait for Jiraiya, who was still sleeping off the previous nights activities. Naruto Uzumaki left Konoha with nothing except the hospital gown he was wearing.
With a sigh Naruto wiped the tears from his eyes and stood up. He tugged at the civilian clothes he had stolen off a clothesline at a farmhouse not far from Konoha. He glanced back in the direction of Konoha. He supposed eventually Jiraiya would catch up to him. But Naruto had no idea when that would be, and it was far more likely that some other Konoha Nin would find him first. Naruto was not the smartest ninja around, but he was no fool. Waiting was not an option.
Naruto headed into the wilderness, putting one foot in front of the other and did not look back again.
Naruto was lost, he knew that. Clearly there were no people around for miles, a large series of mountains stared back at him. Two months had passed since he left Konoha; he had not met a single Konoha nin since leaving. Naruto had long since stopped crying. Jiraiya had not found him either, but Naruto did not blame the ero-sennin. He had been keeping away from villages and people; staying in the wilderness. He had found a few things to help him.
Once he had come across a slaughtered caravan of merchants. Bandits had probably done it. But they had overlooked a few things. Naruto found some decent fitting clothes, even if they were white and not orange like he preferred. White boots, white pants, white t-shirt and a white coat. Naruto thought he looked like a ghost, but shrugged. It fit and it kept him warm.
He had also found a few kunai. By found of course, he meant embedded in the dead bodies of the caravan merchants. After cleaning them he had put them in a satchel he had recovered from an overturned cart.
Living off roots, berries and captured live animals was easy enough for a trained ninja. But Naruto had no real purpose; he had kept walking in a straight line. Never wavering.
And now here he was, staring at this mountain range in his way.
"I wouldn't go up there if I was you. Heh heh"
Naruto spun around at the raspy voice. A decrepit looking old man smiled back at him.
"People die in those mountains, that's the Pathway to Heaven and Hell kid, don't' you know that? No one goes there." The old man, clearly a hunter, put down his catch of 3 rabbits and sat. He sighed and pulled out some sticks and began to build a fire.
Naruto's hand still grasped the Kunai behind his back warily. This was the first person to talk to him in two months. It felt, odd. And dangerous.
"Hungry kid? Eat with me, it gets awful lonely out here if you stay long enough." The man invited him
Naruto eyed him warily but sat, hands still holding the Kunai.
"Ah. A kunai? Nice. So you're a Ninja? Kinda far from home aren't you? We're in the middle of nowhere."
"That's exactly where I want to be." Naruto said calmly. He didn't think the man meant him no harm; he clearly had no idea who Naruto was.
"Where you from Kid?" The trapper asked as the fire roared to life. He didn't even look at Naruto as he arranged two rabbits over the fire to roast.
Naruto thought about lying, but saw no real point to it. "Konoha"
"Wow. That's a hell of a long way from here kid, you trying to circle the world? " The man seemed to laugh at his own joke and leaned back on his backpack. His eyes locked on Naruto's for a brief second with an intensity that hadn't been there before.
"We're all running from something kid. I don't care what your reason is. But going into those mountains is suicide. Most people who have even heard of it are deathly afraid of them."
"Why?" Naruto asked intrigued by the old man's tone of voice.
The old man chuckled. "They're called the Pathways to Heaven and Hell. You're at what many people call the edge of the world. On the other side of the mountains is a limitless ocean. But these mountains? Oh they're a nasty piece of work." The man poked the rabbits, turning them to cook on the other side.
"Legend says that travelers who go in these mountains are either sucked into the depths of hell, or pulled into the waiting arms of heaven. Either way, none have ever gone in and come out." The old man laughed aloud. "None but me that is! Hahaha"
Naruto stared at the old man. He was clearly a bit on the crazy side. "So how did you escape?"
The old man smiled at Naruto. "Well, you're the first person I've met in over ten years out here. I'll tell you because this secret is too good not to be passed down." He chuckled softly. "I used to teach at a school in a far away land before the wander lust took me. I wanted to see the world. I traveled for twenty years before I saw these mountains. My insatiable curiosity drove me to enter them. Suddenly the ground beneath me gave way. I managed to grasp onto the ledge of the cave I was about to fall into. The light that shone in showed me nothing but blackness. I pulled myself out and watched as the ground shook and the hole sealed shut."
Naruto stared wide eyed at the man. "Was it? Was it a doorway to hell?"
"Hahaha" The man laughed, then coughed. "No, it was an underground cave that was exposed due to shifting tectonic plates. This 'edge of the world' is a huge fault line. That sort of thing is very common."
"Oh" Naruto drooped his shoulders disappointedly. "But what about the other part? Pathway to heaven?"
"Ah. Well after that I decided to be more careful of my movements. I took my time and climbed the mountain. I discovered something truly amazing. The path to the island in the sky." The old man erupted into bales of insane laughter.
Naruto stared at him. Yup, crazy.
The old man wiped away tears from his eyes. "No no really! I stepped into a narrow gully and an incredible river of wind grabbed me. All of the world's wind starts from somewhere and goes to somewhere. That's the rules of nature. But I was unprepared. This here, the edge of the world, is where the wind goes! Ha-ha. It picked me up, picked up a few boulders too, and threw me up this gully. It was like a barrel of a gun! I was shot into the evening sky right into some clouds!"
Naruto stood up angrily and pointed at him. "You're lying old man! No one could live through that!"
" I am not! I was blasted through a cloud! And what did I find? I didn't' come crashing back down to earth…oh no. I was on an island in the sky! The density of these clouds is such that it is solid like land. The results of millions of years of wind and debris being flung into the atmosphere. There is dirt, boulders, even trees up there. You don't' believe me? Go see for yourself!"
"You're lying ! How could that be! And how did you get back down?!" Naruto exclaimed in disbelief.
"Ha. I was trapped up there for months before I found it. If there is an updraft, there has to be a downdraft too. Imagine a river of wind that is constantly flowing down. This one is much gentler thankfully. It was like sliding down. I landed not far from where I went up. "
Naruto scowled at the crazy old man. "Even if I believe this, how did you survive up there that long?"
"Kid you're really starting to bug me. I told you it's always flowing. There are birds, animals that clearly had been thrown up there too. Some really rare one's too. There's water from rain that has collected into a small lake. There are clouds higher than that one. It's just like normal land, except it's an island in the sky."
Naruto sat back down and studied the old trapper. The trapper handed Naruto a now cooked rabbit and took one for himself. "My Name is Livingston by the wkay."
Naruto bit hungrily into the rabbit. "I'm Naruto. Can you show me how to get to this Island?"
Livingston chewed and laughed heartily. "Kid, I'm old now. If I tried to make it back home I'd die before I got there. I sense my time is close. I'm an explorer. But what goods an explorer if no one ever knew you were here, if you even existed." The old trapper cried. "Showing you will validate my existence kid. I'll take you tomorrow."
Naruto nodded. He understood Livingston very well.
"There it is kid" Livingston had barely made it up the hill they needed to climb to get to the wind channel he described. He was indeed very old, and feeble. Truthfully he needed Naruto to help him get even this far. With Naruto's help, it had taken them the better part of the day. Naruto looked around; this was a very hard place to find. The rocks were jagged and the terrain unforgiving. No one would willingly come along this path it looked like it led nowhere.
Naruto could see it. Somehow he could feel the wind in this place, the extreme power it held. He wondered absently if he could ever match the power of such wind force.
"What do we do now?" Naruto asked Livingston.
Livingston laughed maniacally and for a feeble old man seemed to have gained a sudden burst of energy. "Jump in the river fool!" With one last laugh, Livingston jumped into the gully and Naruto stared amazed as an unseen force lifted him and rocketed him through the gully, and up into the clouds covering the mountain ahead.
Naruto shrugged and adjusted the strap on his satchel. He jumped in and felt the cushion of air as it caught him. It wasn't sudden, his fall slowed down and then gradually he was pushed then rocketed towards the sky.
He felt an exhilarating rush as the mountain sped past him he saw in the Wind River a couple rabbits had been caught and were spinning around madly. The sky loomed before him and he was shot up into the clouds, riding the river of air.
The river punched through the clouds and Naruto ended up on his backside sitting on a hard piece of cloud.
"Gotta work on that landing kid." Livingston laughed at Naruto.
Naruto stood up and looked amazed at his surroundings. They were standing on what had to be a large mass of clouds. It was white and seemed to be in the general cloud shape. But it was definitely solid ground. Naruto saw that Livingston was standing on what could only be described as a beach. Sand formed a ring around an actual island of dirt, trees, grass. It looked like perfectly normal land, except for the clouds that it was perched on.
Naruto grinned and laughed. This was too amazing to be true. Livingston smiled at him and pointed to the sun. See over there kid? By that oak tree? That's the point where you go down. I found a few other wind rivers but they seemed to go off into the distance around the world. I think this is the center of all wind in the world kid. Where everything comes and goes."
Livingston fell to his knees and clutched his chest. "Where all things come at the end of things."
Naruto leaped over to the old man and caught him before he fell backwards.
"I'm so glad fate had us meet Naruto. I did not have the strength to come back to my beloved sky island myself. And…and I want to be buried here. My life was not always a pure one, but I want to be buried here. As close to heaven as I could possibly get." Livingston coughed and smiled at Naruto.
Naruto had no idea what to do; he wasn't a med-nin. He just held onto Livingston while he breathed his last.
"The sunset from heaven is like nowhere else kid. Don't miss it ok?" Naruto nodded and shed tears for the first person to show him kindness in months.
He sat there, holding the slowly breathing Livingston until the sun set and his chest stopped moving.
Naruto stood back from the marker he had just placed on the grave of Livingston and hoped it would be good enough. He had used his kunai to carve his name in a piece of wood he had found. "Livingston, discoverer of Heaven"
Naruto sighed and turned back to the desolate island. His mind raced. I have nowhere to go, no one to go to. Nothing to guide my life. But…I have a place where no one can ever find me.
He stared at the sky which really seemed much closer now, and wondered what his next step would be.A steady stream of rain began to beat down on him. I guess I can't sleep outside forever. I should probably build a shelter. Can't be living in Tengoku(Heaven) and not have somewhere dry to sleep.
Naruto stopped in his tracks. Tengoku. That's a good name for this place.
With a shrug, Naruto set about making himself more comfortable in his new home.
After a week in his new home Naruto decided the place he built was as best as he could do with his limited skills. There were a lot more animals than he could have thought possible trapped on this sky island, so he had no trouble for food. Naruto did his best to map out the island in his head in that time. It was large, mostly even terrain. It did indeed look as though it had been here since the dawn of time.
Naruto had also found many items that had been blown up by the wind. Things seemed to collect where the wind died down, on a small hill towards the center of the island. He had found several scrolls of a mostly useless nature, shoes, clothes, a wig, a few weapons he recognized like kunai and swords and a few he didn't. Naruto even found money among the items.
He smiled at his good fortune but realized he had nowhere to spend it, even if he wanted to. Naruto frowned, he didn't want to spend his whole life as a hermit. He needed a plan.
He fiddled with the weapons he had found for himself while he looked across the island. Well, I'm a banished Ninja. Maybe I can earn money doing Ninja stuff? That's what Konoha does after all.
He thought to himself. The question is how do I start?
Naruto had no idea how to proceed. But he did know one thing, now he had a home to come back to, so things didn't seem so hopeless anymore. He would need to leave Tengoku for a while, but he'd come back for sure. Besides, he couldn't find any ramen in the wind heap.
The following morning, Naruto packed up his satchel with kunai and food, and headed out. He saw the tree that Livingston had pointed out and felt the air currents swirling around it. Naruto stepped into the stream and felt himself pulled down into the Wind River. He felt the experience of flying down from the clouds; his body completely weightless as the wind rushed him at an angle to the ground.
Naruto almost panicked at the speed that he was going, but the wind curved until he was running almost parallel with the ground, just one hundred feet in the air, Naruto felt his feet brush the tree tops and his heart raced with the exhilaration. The wind slowed down gradually and he managed to jump out of the stream and land smoothly in a clearing.
He grinned widely as he looked back where he came from. The cloud with Tengoku was so high up, and looked like any other cloud. Completely hidden from the world.
Naruto set out to make a life for himself, knowing he had a home to come back to.
3 days east of Tengoku
Naruto was walking across a vast savannah of low lying grass, when he saw something in the distance. As he walked closer it looked like a giant birdcage with a vulture in it. The closer he got to it, the more like a person the bird in it resembled.
It was a man. Naruto came close to the cage after looking around to make sure no one was in the area. His ninja senses could detect no one. He peered into the cage.
The man looked half dead. His face cracked and dry, his eyes closed. His black mane of hair was long and disheveled. He had on black clothes that had long been covered in dirt and grime. A trail of dried blood went down one arm.
With a start, the man's eyes opened and he yawned. He glanced at Naruto. "Came to finish me off did you? I told your boss already that I will not tell him where the treasure I stole is, so he may as well give it up. I'll haunt him and kill him as a ghost so do your worst."
Naruto was too stunned to speak . He just took a step back.
"Well come on? Aren't you going to…" the man looked at Naruto properly and then stood up in the cage, his hands gripping the bars.
"You! You're not one of Lecher's men are you?" He sounded almost pleading.
"No." Naruto replied. "But maybe I should get going…" Naruto didn't want to get caught up with a thief, he turned his back to go but the man called out to him.
"Wait! Set me free kid! I'm an innocent man wrongly being punished for a crime I didn't commit!" The man said boldly.
"You just said you stole some treasure." Naruto replied dryly.
"Well yes, but that's not a crime if the initial treasure was stolen to begin with is it?" The man grinned.
"Allow me to introduce myself. I am Senjii Makato, the greatest swordsman in the world."
Naruto stared at him dumbfounded, what a statement to make.
The man nodded towards a nearby tree. "See my sword over there? The bastards couldn't even be bothered to take it, make sure it's well kept. Just left it out here to rust."
"They also left you here to die you know." Naruto stated incredulously. The man seemed more upset about his sword.
"Eh. I'd have gotten out, but it rained three nights ago and the sword need to be wiped down! This is an original Hattori Hanzo sword. It would dishonor me greatly if it were allowed to rust."
Naruto nodded, he understood now. "You're mad aren't you." He turned to walk away.
"No wait kid! Wait! You appear before me, dressed all in white like an angel sent to save me. It must mean something. I truly am the greatest swordsman you will ever meet. If you do me this favour, I shall owe you my life. I will forever swear my sword as yours." Senjii looked at Naruto and grinned widely and innocently.
Naruto frowned. The man could be a liar and a thief. But Naruto couldn't just leave him here to die. Could he?
As he thought about it, he heard the faint sound of hooves in the distance. Senjii heard it too.
"They're coming back to finish me off kid. Thanks, but you better get out of here for your own safety." Naruto was stunned at the difference in the man's voice and attitude. His voice had become steely and serious. Naruto's mind was made up in that instant and he started to form a Rasengen, his shadow clone appearing next to him to help him complete it.
"A ninja." Senjii said as he stepped away from the lock. Naruto slammed the Rasengen into the lock and it blew apart.
Senjii stepped out and fell shakily to his knees. "If you're a ninja, paying back my life debt just got a hell of a lot more dangerous." He pushed himself to his feet and glared at the approaching horsemen. "Excellent, I hate when life gets boring. Do me a favour and let me deal with these guys? I owe them a lil something"
Senjii lunged for his swords as an arrow whizzed by his head. The horsemen were upon them and Naruto leapt away from the fight. He looked on from a nearby tree as Senjii engaged the six riders.
Senjii grasped his sword and with a flick or his wrist sent the scabbard flying off the sword and towards the first rider. The point of it was clearly sharpened because it went through the man like a spear. Five riders and one rider less horse now bore down on him
He rolled to the side and parried a swing from one of the riders. With a sudden twirl, his body pivoted in midair. His sword was a blue blur as it sliced the air. Almost faster than Naruto could follow, Senjii planted his foot on the ground and sprung back into the middle of his attackers. To them it probably did seem like he disappeared.
In an instant Senjii stood with his back to the riders, his scabbard back in his hands. He slowly slid his sword into it. As if on cue, the riders fell from their horses, spurts of blood spraying upwards.
Naruto was actually impressed. The man was not just full of talk. He was indeed a good swordsman, at least the best he'd ever seen.
"Ahh…" Senji sighed. "That felt good. Payback you punks." He looked around for Naruto.
"Hey kid, you got any sake? I haven't had anything to eat or drink in a week." Senjii grinned widely and Naruto smiled back. Senjii then promptly fell to his knees and collapsed in the dirt.