Naruto got down the mountain well before the birds began chirping. He walked in the village silently, and made his way to the civilian sector, intent on grabbing some food from private gardens well before the civilians were up. Dogs were his main concern as they roamed freely, but they were way too interested in rummaging the garbage bins to look up on the roofs, or the walls. He reached a private garden enclosed with stiff and high rock walls. Climbing down, he took some carrots, salads, and fruits. He then walked on the koi (fish) pond, and grabbed a big one, before making his escape. Supper was assured. Now, to find a pot. A kitchen window was negligently left unlocked in another property, so he slid into the apartment and he took off with utensils and a bag of spices and rice, along with a few pots and pans. The house dog slept right through the minor robbery, too well fed to bother barking in alarm. Now to find some tools. A carpenter lost a saw and hammer, never realizing he had been visited by Naruto. The ironsmith never found a bag of nails he had just made for a paying customer. And the twine-maker never found where his new loop of twine went.
Naruto knew of every training ground in Konoha, so he thought hard. He decided that training ground forty-four was where he would hide. It was huge, easily covering half of the village grounds, and was inhabited by animals that were extremely dangerous, even for trained shinobi. No one in his right mind would look for him there! He made his way to its edge, and watched. A couple of shinobi were busy preparing something where he had planned to enter the training ground so he listened while staying in the spiny bushes. He learned that another exam was in the early design stages, and that the forest would be busy within a month. More than ample time to infiltrate the forest of Death and hide himself so deep even Sarutobi Hirano would be unable to find him. He waited patiently until the shinobi left for lunch and quickly crawled under the gate, pulling his stuff behind. Once done, he erased any indication of his passage and climbed up the nearest tree. He rapidly oriented himself and then took off toward the main lake.
After a three-hour run and hop, he reached the shore of the lake and studied the area. Below him, he saw a panther hunting a gazelle. As the panther made its move, he used the noise to run down the tree and onto the lake's mirror surface. His objective was an island with shores composed mostly of very sharp cliff faces. He had explored it and knew the island was free of predators so he would be safe within its thick forest. There were even a few clearings he could garden up. Half an hour run, and a close call with one of the big predatory fishes that lurked within its depth later, he climbed on the basaltic cliff face, noting the presence of nesting birds, another source of potential food to consider. Eggs were not to be neglected either. Once on the cliff top, Naruto made his way down in the deep caldera, where the forest grew thick and sheltered, watered by a narrow ravine that allowed the westerly winds to enter and drench the forest floor as they tried to climb over the steep sides.
Naruto found a dense clump of thick, huge and very old trees. A tree house had always been his dream so he began looking at how he could make it happen. But first, food! He moved to one of the clearings, and removed a thin layer of sod, uncovering the basaltic underlay. A fire pit: he cleansed the fish, keeping the innards as fertilizer for his future garden, and then used a hard green wood stick set in forked branches to hold the fish over a low fire. He then got to a stream and filled the pot with water and used the sharpest kunai to peel some vegetables and slice carrots, throwing them in the pot for cooking beside the fish. He kept some to plant in the richest soil he could find within the clearing, intent on starting his garden as quickly as possible. He just hoped he would get a harvest before the growing season was over. Once the vegetables were sown, he returned to his fire and noticed the enticing smell. The fish was ready and the vegetables and rice cooked. He had another hefty meal and seeded the fruits in the sunniest part of the clearing. He knew it would take years to get anything, but what was years if you had a life-time in front of you?
Meanwhile, at the Hokage tower, the third Hokage was having a bad day. Someone had robbed a whole kitchen set without alerting the house's dog! Who would do that? Then a koi pond had been raided, and an adjacent garden! Said garden was enclosed by a high wall that had glass shards at the top, and yet, not even a drop of blood had been found on the pieces! The carpenter and ironsmith were bickering as to whom had lost the most valuable tools. To top it off, Uzumaki Naruto, the fourth Hokage's son, had gone missing! And here he was, in the Council Hall, listening to idiots calling for Naruto being declared missing nin, while others clamored for his execution upon capture and still others claimed it was a good riddance that the devil had been kidnapped. Finally, the third had enough of the bickering and slammed his hand on the table where he sat.
"At this rate, we need not have enemies from outside! We are doing a fine job ourselves!" he began. "If there is a robber within Konoha, we will find out whom, but for now, I suggest you lock your homes better!"
"What about my fishes?" asked a pissed-off Homura Mitokado. "I am sure it is the work of that devil!"
"Homura, according to you, when it rains, it is because of Naruto; when we have a dry spell, it is also Naruto's fault. You keep clamoring for his death every day. It stops now! And Danzo, he can not be declared a missing nin since he never got enrolled at the Shinobi Academy. You know the laws: a child must reach the age of nine before he begins at the Academy! And he is five years and a day old!"
"But he is an orphan! And we can change the law!"
"So, Danzo? He is not below the law that protects children from the likes of you! And stop pointing at him like a scrape-goat! He has been missing since last evening, well before your families detected any robbery. He has not been seen in Konoha since yesterday morning, for that matter! I do wonder why he was not in the orphanage?" he asked, eyeing the orphanage Matron while distilling intense killing intent.
"I will not have the Devil contaminate my orphanage! You forced me to take him in. No more! I will set it on fire rather than let him come back in! It should enjoy burning since it comes from hell! I threw him out with a kunai as a parting gift, but he ducked in time, the bastard and took off with it!"
The hatred expressed by the orphanage matron took the Hokage by surprise. What shook him to the core was the entire civilian part of the Council applauding at the comment. His killing intent exploded but did not even affect the civilian members of the Council: their hatred of Naruto far outstripped even their basic survival instincts. The Hokage stood up and banged his hand hard enough on the table to fracture the thick hard wood.
"Get out! Get! Out!" he hollered, pointing at the Council Chamber's door. "I am ashamed of being the Hokage of a village composed of a majority of bigots that can not understand the distinction between the jailer and the prisoner! You are too dumb to sit on the Council. As of now, this Council is dissolved!"
"What about the Jinchuriki, Naruto?" exploded one of the civilian councillor.
Barely had the question left her mouth that the Hokage threw a kunai at her throat, cutting off her air supply.
"The fact that Naruto is not in the village has not removed my law! Mentioning that Naruto is a Jinchuriki aloud still entails death! I will remind you it cost one hundred and fifty civilian deaths five years ago to get the message across, and I will not hesitate to repeat the feat!"
"You will need to kill us all, then!" exclaimed another civilian councillor. "We kept quiet on the container, but no more! For us, all of us, he is whom he carries! And, should you decide to do so, we have taken precautions! The death of us all will see to it that the entire population knows you have been protecting a demon! We outnumber you five hundred to one, and we will dispose of the container! He left? Good! Now we can put a price on his head and have every single ninja hunt him down, as well as all samurai forces!"
Akimichi Torifu stood up, furious.
"You seem to forget that this hidden village is a village for ninjas, not for civilians. Some of you were invited to come here in some cases, but mostly, you moved in without asking, because you wanted our protection!"
"That is just it: you forgot to protect us from the demon! He should have been killed at birth!"
"Had it been so, idiot, the village would have finished in ashes! The fourth sacrificed his own son to protect this village from the demon! His own son! Are you so blinded by hatred you can not see in Naruto his own father?"
"We do not believe you! And if he was stupid enough to do it, then all the more reason to throw you ninjas out!"
"I doubt the Kage will let this happen any time soon. He needs Konoha for the protection of Fire country."
"And he needs our tax money to pay for his Samurai army! What do you think he will value the most? Us or you freaks?"
That pushed the ninjas over the board and a slew of kunai flew, killing every civilian member of the Council, in a move so fast that it took the Hokage by surprise.
"Now what?" asked the Hokage as he saw the blood seep into the wooden floor of the chamber, on its way to dripping on the heads of the Jonins and their teams in the Mission Room below.
"Now, we clean up this village, Sandaime Hokage. We move fast, and dispose of every civilian adult member of Konoha. I know, it is a genocide, but we have no choice. They seem to have forgotten why we are here, that we founded the hidden village and they glued to us."
"What about the Kage?"
"We do the clean-up, then send him a full report detailing the treason of the civilians and the means to put an end to it we undertook. He may not like the solution, but he is not above using some expedient to re-establish his control over civilians. He has done it with his own troops before. The Samurai did not do in needle work either."
"Apply it. Danzo, I am not dumb enough to believe you actually disbanded the Root Anbu forces. They are to assist. Remember, if we were forced out, so would your forces. From now on, civilians will be kept at the gate, traders or anything they may claim to be. That should reduce the number of traitors and spies within our midst! Too bad Naruto has left the village. He will never know of the cleanup."
"Should we search for Naruto?" asked Boar Anbu.
"Yes, but discretely. Do not ask questions, just open your ears and eyes during missions. That we lost one of our main assets, the jinchuriki Naruto that harbors the most powerful of bijuu, the nine-tailed one, The Fox, would be a disaster. Our prestige as hidden village would suffer, and our enemies would take the occasion to destroy us, as they did Whirlpool. Iwagakure would literally jump up and down in an orgasm! Do not even discuss the question on missions. Just note any report. I will not even ask Jaraya to search for him. His spy network may be good, but so is his tongue."
"Some of our Genin could compete on the tongue department with Jaraya..."
"I know. So, do not tell them anything. This knowledge stops at Jonin level, got it?"
"This will reduce the number of eyes considerably."
"So? Better be safe than sorry. For now, close the gates tighter than the bank's coffers. I want every, and I mean every, leak sealed. Including yours, Danzo! If I ever hear there was an escape from this cleanup due to your mishandling of my orders, Danzo, your head will be on a stake outside the gates faster than the axe will fall!"
"What do we do with the civilian children?" Danzo asked.
"There will be no civilians in the village. They either become part of a clan and ninjas, or they join their parents in death. And that is final! As for those that are currently out... on 'business'..., let them in then... strip them bare, burn everything they have on, minus any paper, seal, or contraband, which you will bring to Ibiki at Torture and Interrogation... for his personal care, preferably still able to talk, hum? Tell Ibiki I do not care if they survive, in fact, I'd prefer them dead. For those that have nothing, cut them short by a head. Throw them into the forest of Death. I am sure the leopards, panthers, lions, and oversized rats and ants will do us the favor of cleaning their bones of meat. Just make sure there are no identifying clothes."
"Hai! You will not be popular. And some will equate this with genocide."
"As if I cared about being popular amongst the dead or about genocide. Now, move. The sun's going to be up in five minutes. Do things silently. And gates first, damn it!"
As the clean-up began, Hiruzen thought about the Yondaime Hokage and his sacrifice. "What would you think of the villagers, my friend, if you knew they drove your own son, Naruto, out because of abuse?"
Meanwhile, hidden in the caldera of the dead volcano that was the island refuge of Naruto, the young five-year old was busy setting up his home. He found a lava cave that was mostly glass and volcanic sand, with a nice little cold fresh water lake in the middle and a stream leading out. On the side was a hot water stream that gently warmed up the lake water, keeping it at a comfortable temperature. The lake's waters cascaded down into a stream that led to a much bigger lake in the middle of the caldera. Around the big lake were these huge trees that would offer shelter once he built his tree house apartments in them. The trees were tall, divided into layers, and each layer was covered in thick leafy branches, thus allowing for Naruto's constructions to be invisible from the ground, or even from the first 'floor' of the tree.
Naruto had long thought about his 'perfect' tree house: it needed to be invisible, to merge with the tree so no one could see it from either right under it or from a distance. This required that the house walls match the looks of the tree trunks and that they be circular, adding circumference to the upper tree without sticking out at right angles. After all, Konohagakure had hammered into him that being unseen was the essence of safety. He looked for his first tree and found a huge one, measuring over thirty-five feet in diameter and over four hundred feet tall. Not the biggest, but certainly not the smallest tree in the rich volcanic ash that carpeted the forest floor. Using his chakra he climbed up the trunk without even needing a grip, his tiny feet and light weight helping him to focus just the right amount to help him 'stick' to the slick trunk. At two hundred and fifty feet, and twelve layers of branches separating him from the ground, he stood on a branch and dropped a weighed wire down through the branches until the weight touched the trunk, marking it with chalk. He then climbed up another fifty feet and repeated the process. By then, the trunk's diameter had shrunk to less than five feet, still impressive and sturdy, especially since the caldera was windless most of the time and trees grew up straight as arrows.
Satisfied with his markings, Naruto walked down the tree trunk to the forest floor and searched for fallen branches. He quickly found a dozen nearby, and some were still relatively intact, if rotten at the tips, which explained their demise. He used chakra to lift the first branch off the ground, brought it near the lake and used the saw he had filched to cut the rotten part off, infusing chakra in the saw blade to make it harder than diamond and ever-sharp, as he had seen the carpenter do before the man had thrown a hammer at the then four-year old. It took him the day to produce floor boards. Once the task was done, Naruto made a nice fire on a rock, using the wood residue to feed the fire, also making sure his work's residue disappeared in smoke. A nice fat rabbit later, he was ready for a restful night and dreams of getting even. A quick bath in the onsen in the cave and he lay down under the stars, watching them light up as the sky darkened. Tomorrow, he would set the first floor around the trunk, resting it on the thick branches.
The next morning, Naruto took a dive in the central lake, relishing the cold water to wake him up. After getting some eggs from nesting birds and cooking them for breakfast, he tried to take the first plank up. He tried bringing it up by carrying it, but quickly noticed he was unable to hold to it, as chakra could not grip it properly due to its length. What to do? Finally, Naruto resolved to use ninja wire. He tied two strands of the ultra-resistant wire at each end of the plank, tied the two strands with a knot to another wire, climbed up the tree, and used a block of wood to slip the wire over the branch and back down. Using chakra, he then pulled on the wire, loading the entire system with so much chakra the wires glowed: the result was as expected, the plank rose to the branch. Keeping touch with the wire so it would keep loaded with chakra, Naruto climbed up the tree trunk, walked to the thick branch, and swung the plank over the branch, allowing it to rest on two adjacent branches. Naruto repeated the process for each of the twelve levels of branches he had to cross.
Once the plank was laid on the last level, Naruto used chakra to carve the plank so it rested cleanly and firmly on the tree trunk, then thinned it so it could be locked in place with the branches it crossed over. The first plank had taken over three hours to put in place, much longer than what Naruto had expected, and had required a lot of control over vast amounts of chakra. He felt tired, but not exhausted. The two-foot wide and almost eight inch thick plank would stay put for as long as the tree stood. Walking down the tree, Naruto noticed some marks on the branches below. That would not do! He focussed on the tree and healed the underlying wood, and the bark. Satisfied that no trace of his passage could be seen on the branches, he moved off to go fish. Rabbit was good but he wanted something else.
Climbing out of the caldera by walking up the glassy surface of the cliff that encircled his home, he reached the top and looked out over the Forest of Death from his vintage point. At first, he did not see anything, but he felt there was something that had changed. The forest was huge, but there was this smell of fire and... death?, all around the area. Looking more closely, he noticed a cloud of black, oily smoke rising from where the civilians congregated. There was a fire in Konoha, and it was big if the smoke was any indication. Bah, it was none of his business. What could he do? The civilians would blame him for it if he dared show up. As long as the fire did not propagate out of control and destroyed his forest, he would not lift a finger or even take a piss to slow its progress.
Naruto climbed down the sharp slope that was opposite of Konoha's main agglomeration, in fact, facing toward the Hyuga sector. He could see from the lip of the volcano crater, far in the distance, the Hyuga mansion, and, small as Ants, the Hyuga clan moving about. Well aware of the slippery nature of the boulders that had fallen over the aeons from the volcano's mouth, he carefully used his chakra to stabilize the rocks he walked over. Finally, he reached the very narrow beach that was hidden by a fold in the coast-line of the island and looked around before stepping on the water, not making even a ripple. He stayed in the shade, making sure not to project any shadow: the Forest of Death carried its name in many ways, and some of the residents of the lake were well able to swallow him whole! Rather than walk, he skated on its surface, thus reducing his sound print. Half an hour later, he reached the outer shore of the like and climbed up a tree as quickly as possible, masking his body smell with chakra. He then moved to the edge of a stream that cascaded into the lake from twenty feet, its noise hiding any he might have done.
Naruto looked at the stream bank and estimated no great fish would lurk in such shallow waters. To make sure he was not underestimating his potential preys, he climbed up on a tree and walked on a branch overhanging above the stream. He used his chakra to sense for any land-locked predators, especially them damn big-ass Ants and the leopards. Sensing nothing nearby (a mile off in all directions), he lay on his belly and looked at the stream's bottom, searching for fish. He quickly spotted a rather huge one lurking under the bank, waiting for a naive animal to take a drink. BRR! That was where he had intended to fish! He would have to move upstream, where the stream bed would be narrower, the water faster, but the risk of meeting land-based predators would be higher.
He also realized that hand fishing in the rapids was out of the question. He therefore took a long branch laying on the ground, sharpened its tip using chakra, and climbed back on the overhanging branch he had spotted earlier. He lay down on it and waited for a fish to pass under his location. He did not have to wait long as a trout passed under him, being pursued by a big bass. He aimed for the bass, adjusting for the diffraction of light caused by water, not that he knew anything about it, but having missed a few catches before, he knew he had to target slightly off apparent target to make a hit. The hit was perfect, catching the bass just behind the head and cutting the spine. Naruto pulled the fish in its death throes and his spear using a ninja wire he had tied to the spear.
Knowing quite well that the smell of a fish would attract big cats from miles around, Naruto quickly moved to the lake's edge, and ran at full tilt to the island's cliff face, changing directions at random. Good he did too, as one of the big man-eating fish jumped where he would have been, maw agape, had he not changed his path a mere second earlier. Reaching the vertical cliff face that fell into the lake, he ran up, using chakra to glue his feet to the glassy surface. The fishing expedition had produced a good-sized bass, which he promptly cleansed, burying the offal in the future garden, along with the bones. This would help reduce the acidity and amend the earth to produce what he wanted later. After skewering the fish on a green branch, Naruto had it hanging over a low, well-controlled, fire. He then explored the forest looking for some greens. He quickly found wild onions, some edible mushrooms, and aromatic leaves. He used water to cook them on a nearby flat rock he had moved into the fire. Supper would be ready in half an hour. He used ash and volcanic sand to rub his hands clean of any fish residues, took a swim in his natural onsen and sat on a log, to keep an eye on the sauce and the cooking fish. Things were looking good for his second day of freedom.
In Konoha, things were not as well. The civilians were fighting back the freaks as best they could. The Hokage ordered a burned-earth policy to be applied. It was the smoke Naruto had seen from his volcano perch. Strangely enough, Tora, the cat of the Daimyo's wife, was fighting too... on the side of the ninja, no less! Quite a few adults were suddenly attacked from the roof by that big forest cat, losing one an eye, another, the use of his or her dominant hand, and family jewels, as silk only hid them, but did not protect from Tora's rather impressive claws and sharp teeth. What no one knew was that the Devil Cat had been saved from being drowned by a pissed-off civilian. All that had been the result of a pet bird escaping its cage to end its miserable life in Tora's stomach, much to the displeasure of the pet owner. But Naruto had taken a dive in the river, rescued the cat, and freed it from the bag it had been trapped in, along with twelve pounds of rock. From that day on, Tora had been dubbed the Devil's Cat. Now, Tora had memory: he remembered Naruto's kindness, and his effort to revive him after the forced drinking of too many cups of water. So, he kept watch on Naruto, and saw the abuse he was submitted daily by the civilians. Time to exact vengeance of the worst kind, and since the others were working to get rid of his enemies, he would help them. Tora knew Naruto had entered Training Ground forty-four, the Forest of Death, not that he knew the names. He had kept an eye on his savior and watched him enter the big woods with some trepidation. The cat could smell of the predators and of the death that inhabited the woods.
In the civilian sector, which was a rather small portion of Konoha, given that the ninjas families owned well over seventy percent of the land, children were taken by the Yamanaka clan and mentally examined for any misbehavior targeting Naruto. To their shock, ninety percent were conditioned by their parents to assault the five-year old on sight!
"Hiruzen, the civilian children have been brainwashed to assault Naruto on sight." Yamanaka Inoichi explained. "What do we do?"
"What are the options?"
"Brainwash them of their conditioning; it will take a lot of work, especially for the older minors. Second option: kill all those that have learned to talk, and keep the others. That would be bloody. We do need to try and keep as many as we can. After all, many civilians carry hidden blood lines. I wish we had Tsunade, Hiruzen, because she is likely to have developed techniques for the purpose of detecting blood lines."
"What does the first option imply?"
"The use of specific drugs to break the conditioning, then the erasure of the memory, again, using specific drugs, then, the slow and difficult part, replacing the erased contents with a new contents, which we must fix before doing anything."
"When you say 'erase', you mean what exactly?"
"They will be blank slate. They will not remember who they are, what their name is, their parents, their siblings, nothing. Those that have begun training at the Academy will forget everything and need to relearn from the beginning. The only thing they will remember is muscle memory, chakra control, and language. No jutsu or hand signs will survive. However fighting styles will be kept, since they are muscle memory."
"What about clan-specific jutsus?"
"These are not taught at the Academy, as you should know. Clan jutsus are secret and only taught to the members of the clans."
"And where are the children taken?"
"For now, those that are of academy age are taken on a survival test deep in the woods."
"Not the forty-four?"
"No, that is for Chunin hopefuls and above. We have arrangements with the clans. And we thought of using the Namikaze clan sector, but we can not enter it. The sector is locked down by powerful jutsus."
"Minato, Naruto's dad, was well versed in seals. I am therefore not surprised he sealed his sector with them and you can not enter. It abuts to training field forty-four, if my memory is correct, and I, for one, would not be surprised if Naruto was the only one that could enter."
"But he does not even know how to write, much less make seals!"
"Right! That child has survived hell for five years, Inoichi. Five years! I tried to help that kid, but every attempt was derailed by the civilian council. No more! NO MORE! It started the day he was born, when the doctor tried to cut his throat open! Luckily, I was there and beheaded the bastard. I tried to take him to my mansion, but the civilians called it kidnapping, and that there were perfectly accredited orphanages!"
Morino Ibiki walked in at that moment and slammed a thick shaft of paper on the Hokage's desk.
"The orphanage took every ryo of Naruto's orphanage money and documented where every coin went. None went to Naruto's care. He spent most of his first three years nude, physically abused by every staff member, and they are proud of it, only regretting having failed to torture him to death! I have skinned every member of the orphanage staff alive! The last two years, he was thrown out to scavenge for food! Even then, they told everyone they fed him and told the civilians to lock their garbage bins! Apparently, Naruto managed to break into many even then. Hokage, I have taken the liberty to take back the orphanage staff pay and bank accounts and transferred it to Naruto."
"If you think the bank will not rob him bare..."
"No, Inoichi, the bank is now run by ninjas. The bank manager told me flat out that he was glad Naruto was being robbed! I hope he is as glad from hanging by his testicles from the bank's front porch, held in place by ninja wires!"
"Jaraya, come in here!" thundered the third.
"Yes, Sansei, what can I do for you?"
"Find Tsunade of the Senju and bring her here!"
"She will not come easily."
"Little do I care! Tie her up, break every bone in her body, but I want her here as quickly as possible."
Jaraya looked at his Sansei, shocked.
The tone scared the ero-senin to jump out of the window and run to the northern gate as fast as he could muster. He had heard from his spy network that Tsunade was in northern Fire country, accruing gaming debts and drinking bills.