It all started with the Hiraishin.
Developed by Tobirama Senju during the Second Shinobi War, the fuinjutsu technique was used to transport armaments, food, and people to the war fronts. It was a technique only limited by its massive chakra requirement, a game-changer that left Konoha with the least fatalities after all the blood had been shed.
And now, Sarutobi wanted him to make it better.
To somehow turn this chakra-extensive behemoth into a stable transportation system, one which did not exponentially use more chakra with added distance and mass.
It would no doubt be helpful to Konoha, enhancing its ability to deploy shinobi.
But it was also boring.
Very boring, by Orochimaru's standards.
The Snake-Sannin was currently working on the analysis of Hashirama Senju's cells in hopes of understanding the mechanism behind Wood Release— something that took up all of his efforts and attention. He had no time for trivialities, and he told his old sensei as much.
And so, Hiruzen had given the task to Jiraiya, not that it would accomplish anything. Make no mistake, Jiraiya was good. Better than most people he knew, in fact. But he was no Orochimaru.
All things considered, Orochimaru had been happy. Well, relieved might have been the better word. The man-child often hounded him relentlessly about peeking into bathhouses and all sorts of perverted nonsense when burdened with too much free time. At least with this, he'd be doing something productive and, more importantly, not bothering him.
Though, the many misfortune incidents he'd been forced to undergo by the Toad-Sannin told him otherwise. No doubt he'd find some way to pervert even this technique.
He was good at that.
Regardless, it was officially not his cross to bear anymore. Out of sight, out of mind.
And that assumption, in hindsight, had been his greatest mistake.
After tinkering with the formula for months and running into nothing but roadblocks— as Orochimaru expected —his teammate then proceeded to give the task to his student.
He almost scoffed when he heard that. No matter how much Jiraiya boasted about his fuinjutsu apprentice's innovative mind, Orochimaru had never expected the boy to get anywhere with the technique. Hell, he was already half-prepared with a list of excuses to avoid such boring seal modification work, for when the task inevitably landed back in his hands.
And then, barely eight months later, Namikaze succeeded. He converted Tobirama's transportation seal into an offensive technique built for one purpose, and one purpose alone.
To slaughter armies.
Everyone had been skeptical at first— he himself was no exception. But the Battle of Kannabi Bridge left no more room for doubt in anyone's mind. Minato Namikaze ambushed a massive Iwa force, composed of over a thousand Iwa shinobi.
Only one person walked away from that confrontation uninjured. And it wasn't an Iwa shinobi.
"I dare say I wasn't expecting this invitation, Lord Third."
Orochimaru held his teacher's gaze for a full three seconds before sneering and looking away. The Hokage's office may not have been the grandest edifice in Konoha, but it was certainly the most famous. Interestingly enough, it was the only other building— aside from the Konoha Academy —that was built on the slopes of the Hokage Monument.
Ever since he was a child, he'd been strangely fixated on that particular landmark. Not because of the famous faces sculpted into its chest for the world to see, but for a far more morbid, ironic reason.
If that mountain ever shattered, Konoha's past would bury its present and future.
Orochimaru couldn't explain it, but every time he peered up at the monument, the instinctive desire to destroy the entire mountain seemed to raise its hood. The mental description may have seemed slightly odd for a neutral observer, but for the Snake Sannin, it was an apt fit.
"Actually, it was I who requested your presence."
Orochimaru suppressed a hiss as he craned his neck.
"Minato, please," Namikaze nodded, a polite smile on his lips. Clearly someone had been imparting the art of diplomacy to this… upstart.
"Namikaze," Orochimaru drolly repeated. He wasn't in the mood to stand on ceremony at the moment, especially not for the one chosen over him by his own teacher.
Minato sighed. "Before officially announcing my position as the Fourth, I suggested bringing about some changes in the Council. That's why I asked for your presence here."
"Not even Hokage yet and here you are, already making plans to take over the Council," Orochimaru smirked. "You've been a busy little man, haven't you?"
"You have been requested to aid in this discussion, Orochimaru, not to make snarky comments," Hiruzen replied in an acerbic tone, silencing the snake-summoner. "You were one of four possible candidates for the position, and Minato was chosen. All of them are present here, but you don't see anyone else complaining."
Orochimaru's gaze flitted towards Danzo Shimura, who looked distinctly uncomfortable with the setting, if the scowl on his face was any indication.
He smirked, meeting Hiruzen's gaze a second time.
"Alright, most of them aren't complaining," the old man muttered. "As you were saying, Minato?"
"As I was saying," Namikaze repeated, completely ignoring the tension that filled the room, "I have made some changes in the Council in light of recent events. While elders Utatane and Mitokado have historically advised Lord Third over administrative issues, I've decided to invite some other members of our village to promote smoother functioning."
"Minato has my complete support," Hiruzen spoke exuberantly. "In light of his... battle against Iwa, Konoha has entered a period of peace. It is in our interest to preserve that for as long as possible."
Battle? More like massacre.
Not that he wasn't a fan. He simply preferred looking at things as they were, whether good or bad.
"I think you're confusing peace with quiet," Danzo chided.
"That remains to be seen," Hiruzen countered. "Iwa has all but surrendered, and the rest of the villages have already withdrawn most of their troops from our land."
In any case," Namikaze interrupted, "while we are currently at peace, we must not—"
Orochimaru yawned, tuning out from Namikaze's passionate speech and opting to look at the rest of the attendants.
Probably members of the new council.
He could see Shikaku Nara, the newly minted Jōnin Commander. There was also Inoichi Yamanaka, the current Head of T&I, and finally Fugaku Uchiha, leader of the Uchiha clan and current Head of the Konoha Police division. In addition to them were, of course, the original trusted advisors of the Hokage— members of the original Council —Koharu Utatane and Homura Mitokado.
"—this expanded Council is going to advise me about decisions concerning Konoha's administration," Namikaze's grating voice droned. "Orochimaru, I'd like it if you were to be a part of this Council as well."
"Me?" Orochimaru asked, genuinely surprised. Out of all the expectations he had walked in with, this was certainly not among them. Then again, this was Minato Namikaze. That damn brat had the ability to get under his skin faster than anyone possible, and he was teammates with Jiraiya.
Not an easy feat, by any stretch.
"Tsunade was my first choice," Namikaze admitted, not that it surprised him. Despite her departure, the Princess of Konoha was still seen favorably among the masses. "Her presence would have served as an effective boost to our medical units. But Lord Third assures me she's not interested. So…" he drawled, "we think your research interests would be of great value to the Council."
That did it.
Not only was his position being taken away, but now he had to be this whelp's… advisor?
This was practically adding insult to injury, and Orochimaru could barely temper his rage. His knuckles paled from the clenching of his fists— an exercise to keep himself from exuding his animosity. Instinctively, he knew that if he let slip his rage, it would come out in the worst possible way. It would consume everything, including the delicate little charade that Namikaze and Hiruzen were trying to maintain.
"Orochimaru," Namikaze said once more, "I request your presence in the advisory council."
"...Of course," Orochimaru replied, his smile never quite reaching his eyes.
"You've taken to your new position like a fish to water."
Orochimaru sighed, looking up from his desk. Trust Danzo Shimura to poke his hawk-like nose into matters he had no business in. Then again, he referred to himself as the Darkness of Konoha, a rather self-important title in and of itself.
Danzo was a war-veteran mentally still fighting in the First Shinobi War. Despite wielding significant authority within Konoha, it did little to diminish the most important thing about the man.
Danzo Shimura was boring.
Tobirama Senju had chosen Sarutobi over Danzo to succeed him— his last act as the Second Hokage, barely minutes before his death at the hands of Kumo shinobi. What was shocking was that Danzo had not fought the decision, nor did he make any kind of stand. Instead, he outright denied it. Not by words, but by his own actions.
Since Hiruzen would rule Konoha as the supreme commander of the ANBU forces, Danzo created an entire ANBU division just for himself— a mindless group of socially-stunted individuals that were bootlickers at best and incompetent at worst. According to Danzo, his ANBU forces— which he named Root —didn't need to think. They just needed to follow his order to the fullest, and that apparently sufficed for the man.
Personally, Orochimaru thought that Danzo did it because anyone with two brain cells in working order would know to ditch him and join the real ANBU instead. That, or the old man feared his needlessly byzantine plans would be torn apart by any competent genin.
And now, the gaze of Konoha's warhawk fell upon him. Did the gods truly hate him so much? As if he didn't already have enough nonsense to deal with.
"What do you want, Danzo?"
"It is a sad day when someone who should have been Hokage is forced to settle for a desk job."
"I'd say pot-kettle, but that would mean I consider Root a real organization," Orochimaru waved off. He had neither the time nor patience for Danzo and his limitless paranoia. "It doesn't exist, after all. Isn't that right?"
He half expected the man to attack, knowing how twitchy Danzo could get when questioned about his organization's significance. Personally, a bit of physical combat would've been a breath of fresh air. Long hours of work inevitably led to boredom, even if said work was something as interesting as cracking the code behind Hashirama Senju's abilities to create life itself.
To his dismay, Danzo merely smiled.
Like he said, boring.
"You raise good points, Orochimaru of the Sannin," the man went on, his formality bordering on sarcastic. "However, I came here to discuss a proposition."
"I've yet to hear any."
"An offer to join Root."
"Declined. Now go away." Orochimaru turned back to his desk, his eyes roving over the diagrams he'd been working on before this impromptu conversation. Picking up his pencil, he continued his work.
"Just like Minato declined your request to start human trials?"
His hand stilled.
For the past five years, Orochimaru had spent nearly all his time researching Hashirama Senju's DNA, both in its ability to breathe life as well as prolong one's lifespan. As a diligent student and researcher, Orochimaru salivated at the endless possibilities his DNA offered, particularly if it could be harvested successfully.
With this, his personal goal of achieving an immensely long lifespan— and perhaps even immortality —would soon be within his grasp. And once that was achieved, learning all the jutsu throughout the Elemental Nations would be an afterthought at best.
It was why he had been using his field captures as his personal lab rats for research over the years. But with him slowly spending less and less time out on missions, his number of available test subjects had significantly decreased.
He had all but discarded his pride and ego and requested Lord Fourth to approve the use of prisoners from T&I in his research pursuits. He even took extra effort to diligently explain all that his research had to offer.
Namikaze listened to it all with that ever-patient smile of his.
And then denied him.
Because of course he had.
The brat even had the gall to use his own statistics against him. Sure, the number of survivors post the initial DNA injections were less than two percent, but that still meant a two percent success rate! Two out of every hundred. Twenty out of every thousand.
For fuck's sake, they were shinobi! Had the brat already forgotten that his throne was built from the corpses of a thousand Iwa shinobi?
His pencil began to move again, scribbling on the pages furiously as his mind churned in multiple tangents.
"I can grant you all the test subjects you desire," Danzo casually dropped. "After all, it is the sacrifice made by the roots that allows the tree to flourish and remain strong."
The nib of his pencil broke.
Orochimaru had never believed in fate.
In the two years since becoming Hokage, Minato Namikaze had accomplished many things. But nothing— nothing —grated at him more than the fact that the brat had somehow become a Perfect Sage.
Not even Jiraiya, beloved summoner of the Toads, had been able to achieve the feat. And anyone who knew Jiraiya claimed the man was too dignified to be jealous of his own student, but Orochimaru knew better.
The shaggy-haired man had literally cried himself to sleep over losing to his oh-so-perfect student like that.
After emptying several caskets of high-quality sake.
From Orochimaru's personal collection.
Despite his own personal grudges against Namikaze, Orochimaru had no qualms about admitting that the boy had potential. But to become the first Perfect Sage since Hashirama himself? It was almost like the kid was trying to one-up him.
That simply would not do.
He was never the type to get up close and personal in a fight— he preferred the stealthy slice of a kunai to a flashy jutsu anyday. Rushing towards the enemy was more of Jiraiya's thing, and to his credit, the fool played his part exceedingly well.
Jiraiya was the warrior, Tsunade the healer, and he himself the assassin.
Their team was a well-oiled machine, working perfectly for several years.
But now, on hearing about Namikaze's success with senjutsu, the competitive side of him raised its hood in defiance, wanting to prove himself. To show the world that it was no big deal.
Orochimaru of the Sannin could do it too. And do it better.
That was how he'd found himself standing at the entrance of Ryuchi Cave. The experience had been both enlightening and humiliating at the same time.
Back when Manda had offered him the chance to learn the art, he had openly expressed his contempt for it. But after thirty years as a snake-summoner, he found himself awaiting the trials at the entrance of Ryuchi Cave. If this was the work of a higher power trying to teach him humility, Orochimaru would reluctantly agree they were doing a rather decent job at it.
Unfortunately, the indignity didn't stop there.
It had taken him several months before he finally gave up. Fifteen months of rigorous study, coupled with equally diligent practice. Yet, despite doing everything the White Snake Sage asked of him, Orochimaru hadn't been able to become a sage.
And the reason was equally frustrating. If the ancient creature were to be believed, Orochimaru's soul was fragile. Whatever the hell that meant.
Soul manipulation wasn't his forte.
And so all those months, all that effort, all that training, all that information... It was all a waste.
At this point, Orochimaru was a hair's breadth away from giving into his anger and going on a murder spree to vent. Say what you would about the notion, but there was something strangely cathartic about killing a plethora of idiots.
Then, a boy named Jugo literally walked into one of the newer private labs he'd constructed off the coast of Konoha, and Orochimaru couldn't help but have his innate beliefs challenged. For what else could this be, if not divine providence?
In less than a month, he cracked the code— understood almost everything that made Jugo's incredible bloodline tick. It was able to directly harness ambient natural energy to modify the body, giving it supernatural strength. Of course, the strength came with a side effect of temporary insanity, but that was a minor side effect at best.
Sanity was overrated anyways.
All that remained was to learn how to harness the power for himself. But he planned to go even further.
The immense knowledge of senjutsu from the snakes had a lot to do with the soul. From what he understood, the snakes had been able to achieve a form of immortality through a semblance of reincarnation known only to them. Orochimaru had the theory down pat, but the practical aspect was beyond even him.
The answer to that dilemma came to him in the form of the Iburi clan, a family that had the special ability to turn to smoke and back. At first glance, people would identify it as a physical manipulation of the body. But after several months of research, Orochimaru knew better.
It was manipulation at the soul level.
He had been unable to master senjutsu— no, he had absolutely failed at it. But so what? He'd soon reach that peak of perfection, that final stage when one became an immortal. And he'd do whatever it took, using all the knowledge he'd earned over the years, to arrive at his destination.
After all, the ends always justified the means.
Around a year prior to the Battle of Kannabi Bridge, Namikaze had married Kushina Uzumaki— commonly believed to be the very last descendant of the famous— or infamous, depending on who you asked —Uzumaki heritage. If Orochimaru had been a bit more… interested in the pleasures of the flesh, he'd have tried to marry the girl. But the fact that she was smitten with Namikaze from day one had made her repulsive in his eyes.
Even he was allowed to be vain from time to time.
Regardless, it was the very same Uzumaki who was the current source of his problems.
Kushina Uzumaki was apparently the Kyuubi jinchuuriki.
A jinchuuriki's seal was apparently unstable during childbirth.
Kushina Uzumaki was apparently pregnant, and on the verge of labor.
And of course, some crackpot had gotten to know about it, and of course he was able to bypass Konoha's extensive security, kidnap Kushina and set the nine-tailed monstrosity loose on the village.
It almost sounded like the beginning of a bad joke. Orochimaru would have laughed if said joke wasn't currently trampling over half of Konoha.
Still, he did snicker a bit.
It didn't help that Konoha was bumbling in its efforts to deal with the situation handily. Its powerful and magnanimous Hokage was missing in action, leaving the plebian shinobi population to deal with the giant monstrosity.
Jiraiya was away gathering information on Kiri. Tsunade had been a no-show for several years now, and even if she chose to come back, the village would be decimated by the time word reached her. Aside from Sarutobi— who was old enough to have fought in the First Shinobi War —that left him to pick up the slack.
Either that, or allow his faltering reputation to be besmirched.
Orochimaru may have been a sociopath and a heartless killer, but he did have some attachment to the village. There was a reason he'd wanted to become Hokage, after all. It wasn't just for the sake of his pride.
No point in thinking about it when you have a job to do.
Regular shinobi were not capable of damaging a behemoth like the beast in front of him. Only a monster of similar proportions stood a chance.
Fortunately, he knew just the monster for the job.
Normally, he'd not have summoned him, but none of the other snakes would have been able to put up a strong resistance against the Kyuubi, a strong swipe of its many tails enough to spell disaster. Of course, Manda would demand a sacrifice of several hundred lives in exchange, but that could be arranged.
With proper resources.
At some vague point in the future.
His hands moved in perfect unison, manifesting seals with his own blood as he completed the summoning technique.
A moment later, his request was answered.
In hindsight, things had not gone the way he wanted. At all.
His summoning of Manda was far less effective than he expected. Fighting a feline creature was naturally difficult for a serpent, physically speaking, and this one was titanic and made of corrosive chakra. As such, the gladiatorial battle between the two mountain-sized creatures had decimated two-thirds of Konoha as collateral damage.
While he was able to secure the safety of a lot of clan members and other shinobi in the time Manda bought him, the battle brought with it a massive death toll on the civilian population.
All things considered, it was objectively a heavy price.
Over seventy thousand people had lost their lives by the end of it. The Kyuubi's chakra corroded anything it touched, and while Manda could hold him off for bits at a time, the residual chakra alone by simply being in its presence was enough to snuff out any nearby civilians. Hell, a significant chunk of the shinobi population perished as well— mostly genin and chunin.
In one single stroke, the event nearly purged Konoha's future.
The remaining chunin and genin may as well have been civilians for all the good they could do against such a foe. He idly wondered what the Academy had been teaching them, considering how vocal they were about strategically retreating until the Hokage showed up.
Orochimaru called those people 'quitters'.
Personally, he had followed wartime directives— prioritizing the lives of shinobi who could fight over others. The flipside of this, of course, was that it was paid for in the currency of civilian lives.
And so to some people, Orochimaru's actions— namely, his summoning of Manda —had been seen in a negative light. Many placed the blame for the mass destruction caused by the gigantic battle directly on his shoulders.
He hoped the Kyuubi would kill them next.
But for all their complaining about the number of deaths he had seemingly allowed, at least they were alive to complain. If he hadn't stepped in and stalled the Kyuubi, they probably wouldn't have that privilege to begin with.
Of course, they never stopped to realize that fact. Instead, they foolishly believed that if it was the venerated Lord Hokage in his place, he probably would have saved them all.
What a joke.
As if on cue, their prayers were answered, for there the man suddenly was, appearing on top of the Hokage Monument in a flash of yellow.
Speak of the devil, and he shall appear.
He was wearing that horribly ostentatious white cloak with the words Fourth Hokage inscribed on them. Kami knew that he couldn't possibly get a bigger head.
Though, for all his proclaimed hatred of the man, Orochimaru couldn't help but be impressed by what ensued.
Using a derivation of his Flying Thunder God technique— his head suddenly seemed even larger —Namikaze snatched one of those stupidly powerful balls of pure, corrosive chakra heading for Konoha and threw it at the surrounding forest instead. The looks of awe and veneration on everyone's faces at the feat punctuated what would likely be the last chapter of Namikaze's legend.
One in which he fought a bijuu single-handedly.
It only made Orochimaru hate him more.
And then, in a flash of blindingly bright yellow, both Namikaze and the Kyuubi suddenly vanished. He had somehow managed to teleport both himself and a goddamn bijuu away with him.
The hero who saved his hidden village received unending applause. And from the dirty look and side glances he'd been receiving, his own contributions would not be appreciated anytime soon.
Story of my life.
Hiruzen gaped in mute shock at the dead body of his successor. He had been Konoha's brightest flame— so young and powerful, the leader of the next generation. Stern when required, yet kind when it mattered.
"You— you did not deserve this," A tear tracked its way down his cheek as he closed his eyes. "Your Will of Fire burned strong. Stronger than any of us. You laid down your life to save us all, and you will never be forgotten."
He took a deep breath, opening his eyes as he turned to the surrounding shinobi. Everything laid in shambles— from the buildings to the mountains to the forests to the very people themselves. Their village was now more rubble than village.
Hundreds of shinobi lay dead, many of them with families that no longer had anyone to take care of them. Others, tragically, had nobody to mourn for them. And yet, all of them had bravely sacrificed their very lives to buy a scant few seconds longer for the sake of their village. The place they all called home.
They deserve to be cremated with honor.
Hiruzen took another deep breath. He had fought through three major different wars, but never had he experienced something quite so horrific. So… jarringly tragic.
But he had to remain strong. His village needed him to.
Minato's legacy needed him to.
Crouching down, he gently picked up the child from where he lay. Minato and Kushina had sacrificed their lives for the village, for the well-being of this child. Even in their death, they had ensured that their child survived, and in doing so, aided the village yet again.
It should have been me that died. Not you, Minato.
He glanced at the baby again— specifically, at the intricate seal adorning his belly button. A seal that would be Minato's greatest gift to Konoha, ensuring its safety in the coming tumultuous times.
Naruto Namikaze. The third jinchuuriki of the Kyuubi.
"Orochimaru," he barked.
A faint popping sound and the barest of smoke were all that indicated his pupil's arrival. His Body Flicker technique was as impeccable as ever.
"...Yes?" the Snake-Sannin asked.
"Take the child to the Hokage Tower. Your highest priority is ensuring he is safe from any and all harm." He discretely rubbed the seal on the child's belly, knowing that his student would recognize it for what it was.
As expected, Orochimaru's eyes widened immediately, before cool indifference overtook him once more.
"Of course," his student replied softly but resolutely, almost as if making some kind of decision. "I will make sure Minato's child remains safe."
It was quiet. Eerily quiet.
A few minutes later, Hiruzen realized the Hokage Monument was so quiet because it was empty.
Something is wrong.
As a shinobi, it was a privilege to live as long as he had. The feat spoke of power, talent, skill, and above all, an intuition that had never failed him thus far in life. And right now, it was screaming at him that something terrible had happened. He started to scale the Hokage Tower faster.
And then he saw it.
Both chunin guarding the entrance to the Hokage's office lay dead.
Freshly dead, the blood still dripping from their slit throats.
He'd recognize the subtle perfection of those cuts anywhere.
The utter feeling of wrongness only intensified as he rushed into the room. If anything had happened to Naruto, he'd never be able to face Minato nor Kushina in the Pure Land.
He frantically scanned around the room, but all he was met with was emptiness.
Every bit of paper, every scroll— anything that had value really —was methodically removed from the room. The tightly secured door to the fuinjutsu-locked safe was left open, and Konoha's forbidden Scroll of Seals was conspicuous by its absence.
There was no sign of Orochimaru anywhere. Or the baby.
"Orochimaru," Hiruzen whispered, bonelessly collapsing on the floor, the shock nearly too much for him to bear. "What have you done?"
Editor: Solo Starfish, the best goddamn starfish the world has ever seen.
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