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Having perceived both Hatake and the Nara, I immediately started using the Skinwalking technique that was available to me as the holder of the Snake Contract. Instead of my usual tall and blonde self, I was a slightly hunched old man, whose hair had abandoned him long before, leaving a bald head to cook under the unforgiving sun of the Land of Fire.
I could have simply sprung a trap on the incoming Konoha-nin, but there wasn't an actual need for it. Officially, I was simply leading my young charge towards the capital, where we would purchase some glasses for her, since she lost her in her brief stint as a prisoner.
Shikamaru walked leisurely behind the unlikely duo that my disguised self and Karin made. Kakashi dropped him on the day before, his nose wrinkling occasionally as the stench of garlic made itself known.
The two Konoha ninjas had reached me and Karin in the middle of the night, and had been spotted immediately by the Uzumaki girl, who was coming along nicely in her training, to the point that with less than a day of practice, she became reasonably capable of walking blindfolded without tripping.
"So... how did you meet?" Shikamaru asked us as I popped another garlic slice on my tongue to hide a grin.
I had never been so grateful for having the Sanke Contract under my belt. Among the other things that I still had to actually try on the field, the skinwalking technique was extremely useful for trolling my ex-student, whose gaze I could feel pointed between my shoulder blades.
"We... huh." Karin's lackluster reply stole a bark of laughter out of me, and I turned briefly towards Shikamaru, who was looking at us with a deadpan stare.
I couldn't tell if he suspected something or if he was needling us on orders from Kakashi, who had left as soon as he was sure that I wasn't a threat. Foolish of him, but I cannot truly insult the white-haired bastard.
I realized that I had left behind most shinobi in the Elemental Nations. There were precious few fights that I would need to take seriously, namely the ones against Kages or S-rank. The only thing that stopped me from simply laying siege to Amegakure was numbers. I could use the war as a cover to get close, but I couldn't scout ahead, and that forced me to play this extremely dull game of 'biding my time'.
I had hoped that my teachings would be enough to push at least Shikamaru into S-class, his brain was surely capable of making each drop of chakra count, but I should have known that Konoha wouldn't risk him on an actually dangerous mission. I had to force myself against Tobirama and Hashirama to actually streamline my capabilities enough to reach the lower end of S-rank,
"A blonde shinobi rescued her from a prisoner camp, eheh!" I nodded exaggeratedly in order to keep up the personality that I was using, "They met me while I was going to the Capital, and the lass needs glasses, so the shinobi dropped her on me!"
"I don't need a babysitter!" Karin hissed in outrage even as I hopped over a large root that cut the trail.
"He just... met you and dropped the girl?" Shikamaru seemed to think that casually rescuing someone and abandoning him was right up my alley.
"Hey! I'm right here! Don't talk like I don't exist!"
Well, he's not wrong I guess. I admitted to myself in the safe confines of my mind.
"And do you often use the less traveled trails to cross Fire Country?" the Konoha-nin questioned me curiously.
"I'm old, child! Eheheh!" I once more nodded extremely seriously: "I've been walking these trails for the better part of 80 years!"
That brought the quiet once again over our small trio, and I knew that Shikamaru was now on his guard and as taut as a violin string. Beware the old people in a profession in which they die young. My old lessons had been hammered into his brain long before, and while he was used to break them apart in order to adjust them to his own perspective of the world, some suggestions were extremely obvious.
"You're a shinobi?"
"Nah! Imma priest!" I wiggled my fingers towards him: "I've found that walking the world is the best way to do the right thing."
"Which would be?" the Nara stopped walking for an instant, ready to engage if something in my play revealed me as an enemy of Konohagakure.
"To help." I simply replied, letting my chakra ripple subtly across the air so that Karin wouldn't be alarmed by the increasing potential for hostility in Shikamaru.
"To help... who?"
"The world, obviously!" I laughed out loud as we finally reached the main road that led towards the Capital of Hi no Kuni. We were less than an hour of leisure walk from the objective.
Shikamaru relaxed imperceptibly, but I could tell that he was still suspicious of me and Karin. Wise of him.
Soon enough, we started to cross path with many other people, civilian and shinobi alike, that came and went from the capital without paying any attention to us. Even in times of war, the Capital was a nexus of activity unmatched.
A couple of samurai guarded the southern gate, and even while her number wasn't the least threatening, I spied the guarding house built against the Gate, likely filled with both highly trained soldiers and a few shinobi on guard duty.
Having spotted my group a few minutes prior, the guards weren't unduly skittery regarding my presence, after all, which enemy simply walks towards the opponent? Besides, Shikamaru's hitai-ate made it look like we were clients approved by Konohagakure, that had in its best interests to not cause harm to the capital. Not only because of the economical consequences but also because the Guardians were all A-ranked, and answered directly to the Lord of Fire.
Nevertheless, the guards stood straighter and stopped us briefly at the entrance: "Wha's yer name?" asked one of them in a bored tone.
"I'm Hor." I replied in a flippantly happy tone, my senses spotting the incoming white-haired shinobi from within the city.
"Ya no', my son's has the same name!" the second guard noted happily.
"Well, it's a good name, my ma' choose it for me ya see, and for m'sister's boy, too, so there are two Hor in the family!"
The second guard nodded impatiently. "Yeah, yeah, spare me. And yer business here?" he spoke annoyed by the whole situation, he only wanted to go back to spend his day idly as he always did.
"I'm visitin' an old friend." I supplied, delicately reassuring both the guards that I was harmless.
"We were escorting the duo, guard-san, Konoha guarantees for them." Hatake's voice cut the conversation short before I was forced to create a commotion in order to get myself and Karin within the walls of the city.
The Konoha-nin's intervention allowed us to walk in, and Hatake wasted no time in making his position known: "Uzumaki-san, what are your plans once you purchase your glasses? There is another member of your clan among Konoha's forces."
Shikamaru must have signaled him the contents of our conversation. I realized as Karin stammered briefly, her eyes unfocused as she tried to figure out a good lie. Perhaps testing her on improvisation without warning her wasn't the best way to train her. I mused as I brought my hunched self near her.
"Well, I'll keep travellin' once I'm done with my old firend, lass." I tossed out as I patted her on one shoulder: "But I'll need this day to myself, why don't you roam the city? Lots to see!"
Karin found herself nodding while I hobbled away, my senses easily picking up on the couple of shinobi that was shadowing me from the roofs. The message had been clear: Stick around for a day, then I'll find you.
It was obvious that Konoha wanted to bring back an Uzumaki in the fold, especially one that had clearly been mistreated by the opposition in the war. The redhead's bloodline was the stuff of dreams, and while she was surely bright enough to have picked up on that, she also knew that I had just promised her that I would retrieve her later, so whatever her choice, this would be good training for her.
Maybe Konoha would simply let her settle in the Capital for the time being, I had left her more than enough money to live comfortably for a week, maybe they would simply spy on her, maybe they would stage a kidnapping. In any case, they wanted her alive, and I was close enough that in such an eventuality I would be able to save her.
Whatever she decides, it will be good training. I thought to myself. There was only so much that one could learn in a safe environment. Techniques, taijutsu... sure, but their application was sharpened only in the heat of battle, in a situation of perceived danger to one's own life.
I shook down my tail after a couple of blocks, and I expertly moved across the thin alleys of the Low Market until I spotted the destination given to me by Itachi with his summoned messager: the herbalist's shop had a cheery sign that spoke of the artistic hand of the owner, but my attention was quickly captivated by a short, curly-haired woman who was sitting by the door. She was holding a raven in one hand and writing with the other on a spare piece of parchment that she was balancing on a more or less flat piece of wood.
I entered the small shop without stopping to talk with the clone that Itachi had placed outside to be recognized by me, and I let my eyes distractedly roam over the shelves filled with sheaves of dried up herbs. Luckily there wasn't anyone in the room beside an old cashier, who was likely the owner.
"I need to chat with the boss about a vacancy." I stated with a smile on my face as the gnarly man was looking at me with narrowed eyes.
He simply pointed to his left, where a door 'Staff Only' led me into a small meeting room, in which, leisurely drinking tea, Itachi was waiting for me.
As the door closed behind me, my perception of the outside world dimmed into nothingness, making me whistle appreciatively at the fuinjutsu responsible for keeping the room a 'blank zone', making sure that whatever chakra manipulation the Uchiha and I were about to follow through wouldn't be detected.
"Kisame is dead."
"What?" I asked flatly as I poured myself a cup of tea.
"We raided one of Orochimaru' bases, there was a Kaguya and a strange Berserker kid." Itachi's blank gaze landed on me with the weight of a mountain: "Officially, we encountered Orochimaru, who had faked his death at Konoha in order to escape the Akatsuki's inquisition. It was a trap that my eyes couldn't unravel, forcing me to bathe everything in Amaterasu's flames."
That's fucking cold Itachi. I grimaced a bit at the news, but I could understand how this was a perfect occasion to set up my entering Akatsuki: using a dead man as an excuse, Itachi had neatly confirmed Orochimaru's death, taking credit, and prepared the road to have me as his companion. And it was also believable, Kisame was known for his absurd chakra and Samehada, the latter of which I had removed previously, and the first of which someone like the Snake Sannin could easily prepare for.
"You didn't tell me that you were Orochimaru's experiment." the Uchiha commented softly, making my eyes widen in realization.
"That's actually true?" I thought that he was talking out of his ass at the time of our last confrontation, that I was actually a result of his experiments was news to me.
A folder appeared on the table in front of Itachi: "The Kaguya was studying your case in order to find a weak spot, apparently he wanted to avenge his late master."
My hands opened the thick folder without any conscious input on my part, my eyes scanning the contents as fast as they could while my mind made use of any technique it knew in order to memorize the contents. Well, this solves the mystery of my appearance in the Naruto-verse. I mused as my limited understanding of fuinjutsu made out a few characters that spoke of [soul] and [outside].
"So Orochimaru wanted a body that could host... an immortal soul? No, a soul indefinitely. To act as a bridge with... this part is derived by the Edo Tensei..." I studied this shit only to adjust Tobirama and Hashirama, lucky that it comes useful now. I frowned as the news settled in my mind... and I realized a very simple thing.
It changed nothing.
Sure, a part of me felt relief in knowing the truth, a part of me was disgusted by the idea of 'not being human', but mostly I felt... disinterest. I had risen from nothingness to be one of the most feared shinobi around, and for good reason. I understood chakra in a way that few could match, I was shoring up resources in order to eliminate the greatest threat to human life that the Elemental Nations would ever face, while preparing the true Revolution in the minds and the hearts of the people.
Whatever I had been before, and however I came into being, I was surely much more than the Dead Orochimaru had bargained for.
"You also didn't tell me you had an apprentice." Itachi accused me when my musings stretched the silence between us into something vaguely uncomfortable.
"She has potential." I shrugged uncaringly, "I raided an Iwa's prisoner camp on my way here, she was there. Better for her to learn from me than for me to let her grow in the standard murder-hobo that the Elemental Nations are used to create. As for my origins... I didn't know. Or better yet, I knew something was up, but I had no proof: Orochimaru told me something to that effect just before I defeated him in Konoha."
Itachi' Sharingan studied me for several seconds in complete silence, judging if I was truly who I said I was, before he blinked, letting his eyes turn black once more.
"Before we get started with Akatsuki's business," I grinned at the Uchiha, "I need to reverse summon us in the Elephants' plane, you'll have to tell your story to a couple of people."
"Do you remember that Orochimaru brought Tobirama and Hashirama Senju back in order to fight Konoha?" I asked sardonically while his eyebrow twitched in distaste because of the direction that my speech was going, "I freed them from their command to destroy Konoha, but they don't want to serve me unless you confirm your story, that I'm working on secret orders from the Sandaime, and that Konoha's higher-ups are compromised."
"I didn't know you could do deadpan." I laughed as I got started on the technique.
little action here, but I needed this chat between Itachi and Daiki. Yeah, Kisame croaked it... it was a piece on the board that really disturbed the MC's game.
The MC fools everyone with his disguise just like Orochimaru did, and we finally get closer to the last arcs of the story.
Thoughts? Hopes? Let me know.