Disclaimer: I do not own Naruto or any characters affiliated with Naruto. However, Senso and Ren are my creations.

NOTES: Most of this story takes place approximately six years after the chuunin exam saga. A lot has happened during those six years; you will have to read the story rather carefully to figure out exactly what's happened. And if you are strictly an anime watcher, this will contain a couple spoilers. Also, this story does have two important original characters.

I hope you readers remember who Kinuta Dosu was. Kinuta was the leader of the three Sound genins who entered the chuunin exam. You know, the guy who wore that lion's mane thingy and used his right arm to attack with sound waves? The guy with the super-cool and super-low voice? The first guy in the anime to get killed by Gaara's beast form? BTW, most people don't know this, but Dosu was the guy's last name, not his first name. His first name was Kinuta. Apparently, the Sound genins referred to each other by their last names (which makes sense, because they weren't close friends).

Anyway, the theme song of this chapter is: "Agenda Suicide", by The Faint


Approximately a month after the Great War of the Sand, Sound, and Leaf ...

"Ninety-seven ... ninety-eight ... ninety-nine ..." His lone eye scrunched shut as he prepared himself for one last monumental effort. Three quick deep breaths. "Hoof, hoof, hoof! One more - hua!"

The young man yelled out as he managed to squeeze one last sit-up out of his burning abdominals, hauling his buck naked torso up to an erect position. Then with a primal growl of satisfaction, he heaved aside the cast iron fifty pound weight which he had been clasping to his chest during each of his situps. The weight dropped like a stone, of course. And it was dropping from a rather considerable height too, since he had been doing the situps on his inclined workout bench. But underneath the bench, a thick rubber mat was protecting the wooden floor. And the mat was more than enough to cushion the weight's landing, turning a potentially disastrous crash into a mere heavy thump.

The young man was still on top of the bench and upright in his sitting position, staring straight ahead at the blank whitewashed wall before him, yet seeing nothing. Arms resting lightly on top of his bent knees. Sweaty back slowly heaving up and down as he regulated his breathing. Then with a grunt, he swung his legs over to the side of the bench, placed his feet on the ground, and stood up.

He was dressed in his usual scant workout gear: loose knee-length shorts, socks, sneakers, and absolutely nothing else. Oh, and those bandages wrapped around his head, of course. Technically, however, the bandages did not count as workout gear; he wore them virtually all the time, not just during his workouts.

His bandaged head now lolled from side to side, relieving the stiffness that was creeping up his neck. But as his head moved about, his lone exposed eye, the right one, stared fixedly and unwaveringly at his room's lone window. The atmosphere of this relatively small room was becoming stuffy with the dominating odor of sweat, and he decided that he should do something about it. So, with his head still rolling about, he walked over to the window, so he could open it and bleed away the stuffiness.

To reach the window, he had to walk across the length of his apartment. But like most apartments in the Village of Sound, this room was quite small, and he traversed it in seven and a half steps. His sneakers were now stepping on bare pine floorboards, since the rubber mat of his workout area only covered about half the floor. As he walked through his apartment, he did not bother to look around, because there simply isn't anything to look at. The walls were as bare as the smooth floorboards. A small neatly-made bed in one corner. His workout equipment in another corner. A tiny kitchen in yet another corner. An even tinier closet in the final corner. And a bathroom door in between the bed and closet.

Oh, and the window in between his kitchen and bed. As he approached the window, he took a moment to study his upper body's reflection in the glass. He was only thirteen, but as a result of his incessant training, he was already incredibly cut and wiry. The skin was drawn tight over the steely ropes that bind his body together, and his somewhat rangy frame has started to pack on the full muscles of a man, not a boy. He paused in front of the window, admiring the development of his almost grotesquely chiseled torso. Yes indeed, he was becoming stronger with each passing week. He could feel it. With each week, a slight yet noticeable increase in the strength and speed of the arms, the resilience and responsiveness of the legs, the agility and power of the torso. Yes, the sensation of strength was a welcome one, indeed.

One notable feature of his room was the lack of mirrors. Normally, workout fiends have mirrors near their equipment, so they can bask in the glory of their sculpted physiques. And his body would definitely qualify as a sculpted hard body, albeit a rather young and skinny one flawed with several sizable scars. But he did not care too much for appearances, hence the glaring omission of reflective surfaces. Yeah, it was nice and all if women found his body to be attractive; but he did not live for their attention and approval. He lived for strength, power, glory - no, check that, glory was not really all that high on his list of goals. But anyways. When he achieved his primary goals, he was quite sure the glory (and the women) would come flocking to him whether he wanted them or not.

He had opened the window by now, and he took a moment to look up at the full moon high above in the clear black sky. Almost midnight, he thought to himself. Almost time to clean up and go to bed. He then walked back to his exercise area, quickly loosening his arms and flexing his heavily bandaged knuckles. He always got in a few rounds with the heavy bag before his nightly shower. And tonight was no exception, as he was soon pounding away at the bulky bag hanging from the ceiling, his arms alternating with forceful lightning-quick strikes, causing the bag to buck about from the brutal punishment it was absorbing -

He suddenly reached out to grab the dancing bag, bringing it to a standstill. And with the room dead silent, he listened, certain that he had heard something ... his right eye narrowed. Yes, his suspicions were correct. Someone was coming up the stairs. And it was not the landlady, either, because her footsteps were noisy and clumsy, while these footsteps were stealthy. They were the footsteps of a ninja, of someone who was accustomed to moving quietly.

It did not sound like the ninja was trying to hide his approach, but one could never be too sure, of course. The young man let go of the heavy bag, and he got himself ready in case this midnight visitor was here for him. He took his time preparing himself, though, because judging from the sound of things, the visitor was still only on the second floor. And the young man's apartment was all the way up on the eighth floor -

The visitor's footsteps became muffled as they landed on that rug between the second and third levels of the stairwell. And the young man nodded to himself. Yes, this visitor was definitely somewhere around the second floor ...

Two minutes later, a Sound chuunin reached out to rap on the cracked-paint surface of a door. And he called out, "Senso Dosu?"

An unnerving deep voice replied, "Come in."

The chuunin obliged, opening the door and stepping into the den of the Sound genin. And standing in the middle of the room, waiting for him, was Senso Dosu, the younger half of the Dosu brothers.

The Village of Sound was still a small and intimate one, thus everyone pretty much knew everyone else. And this Sound chuunin was quite familiar with the reputation of the Dosu brothers. The brothers were rather prominent names throughout the village, highly touted as two of the Sound's most promising youngsters. Extremely talented, intelligent, savvy, vicious. They had all the essential traits of a top-notch shinobi, and many believed that the Dosus would someday be among the elite ninjas of the village. Thus, it had been no surprise when the elder brother, Kinuta, was chosen to be the leader of the first official Sound genin team to enter the Chuunin Qualification Exam.

Of course, the Village of Sound already had a number of talented people with the ranks of "chuunin" and "jounin". But those designations were merely recognized within the village itself, nothing more than labels bestowed upon them by their leader, Orochimaru-sama. Outside of the village, their ranks meant nothing, not recognized as official by the other shinobi villages. Thus, the entire village had high hopes when Kinuta Dosu, Abumi Zaku, and Tsuchi Kin embarked upon their journey to the Fire Country. The Village of Sound wanted acknowledgment from their peers, and they would certainly receive it if three of their top genins became official Chuunins before the eyes of everyone: the Go-Kages (the Five Kages), the daimyos, the corporations, etc etc.

During the Chuunin Exam, the Village of Sound had followed the newsflashes and reports with a rabid eagerness, bordering on fanaticism and worship. The villagers had been pleased when the Sound trio passed the first stage with flying colors, but the enthusiasm was muted because the first stage was supposedly the easiest one. Their celebration had been much more zealous, however, when they heard that Kinuta was one of the final ten to pass the famously difficult second stage. Of course their Kinuta had reached the third stage! He was Kinuta Dosu, one of the village's finest, one of the village's crown jewels.

The village's morale and pride had been at their ultimate peak. An understandable reaction, really, from a fledgling village with a full-blown chip on its shoulder. During their spare time, all they could talk about was the third stage of the chuunin exam. About how Kinuta would destroy everybody in his path, and show the world just how fearsome the Village of Sound truly was. The gamblers made bets amongst themselves, waging on how many dead opponents Kinuta would leave in his wake. Academy students were boasting about how they would be just like Kinuta when they grew up. Even the teenage girls were getting into the act, evolving into squealing fangirls who did nothing but rave about how cool and handsome Kinuta was (although, it was worthwhile to note that none of them actually knew what Kinuta's face looked like, thanks to his perpetually bandaged head).

And the best thing about all this was the fact that Senso, the younger Dosu brother who had stayed behind at the village, was supposed to be even more talented than his elder brother. Thus, if Kinuta could become a chuunin, then most certainly, for the next exam, Senso would become a chuunin also. Ah yes, the other villages would be impressed/frightened indeed if a "minor" village like the Sound produced two chuunins in successive exams ...

The village morale had been so high, they had actually been delighted when Orochimaru-sama finally unveiled his plan to invade and utterly destroy Konoha Village. Yes, the battle would be bloody and claim many of their lives, but the losses would not just be acceptable; they would be worthwhile. The blood of Sand, Sound, and Leaf. This blood would be the fuel that propelled the Village of Sound to prominence. A prominence which proclaimed them as one of the major players in the shinobi universe...

And of course, the other reason for the village's eagerness for war was their hatred for the Leaf Village. A hatred of a disturbingly intense and unhealthy passion. Like all the other villages, the Village of Sound was jealous of Konoha, envious of the overwhelming wealth, power, resources. Nothing would please them more than to see the superpower brought down to its knees, groveling and begging for mercy.

Then, during a time span of a mere two days, everything came crashing down. It started the day before the final stage of the Chuunin Exam, when the Village of Sound finally found out that the entire Sound genin trio had been missing for weeks. No one knew anything concerning the whereabouts of Abumi, Tsuchi, and, most importantly, Kinuta. Even Senso lost all contact with his brother; the last message Senso heard from Kinuta was a vague one. Something about how Kinuta was going to make sure he would be the one to kill Sasuke Uchiha. Hardly the kind of information that would provide any helpful leads to Kinuta's whereabouts.

Then there had been the disastrous Great War, of course. The Sand and Sound fought valiantly, but it was all for naught. Not surprisingly, Konoha Village proved to be too powerful for their combined foes, and the Sand and Sound were completely defeated. The Leaf and Sand had suffered great losses, but the Sound's losses were even more staggering in a relative sense, since there simply were not many Sound nins to begin with. Back home, the news of the resounding defeat was met with somber depressed ears. And the depression was only augmented further by the fact that their genin hero, Kinuta, was now officially declared a Missing-Nin and most likely dead. Even the invincible image of Orochimaru-sama had crumbled before their eyes. He had never been one to show his face much in public, but now he was totally invisible to the villagers' eyes. Hiding away in his secret lair, clearly hiding something from his followers. Bringing forth many questions and concerns which Orochimaru-sama did not bother to answer or alleviate ...

The Sound chuunin now looked to the middle of the room, where Senso Dosu had been waiting for him. Senso was fully dressed already, and Senso's odd costume reminded the chuunin of the fact that the Dosus were also known for their peculiar taste in clothing. The most outstanding feature, of course, was the voluminous lion's mane which resides on Senso's back. The trademark accessory of the Dosus. No one is quite sure why the brothers wore such huge frivolous things, because whenever they asked Kinuta or Senso, the brothers would merely mumble a veiled answer about how the manes "looked really cool", or something to that effect.

Manes aside, the Dosus also had other odd features about them. Like Kinuta, Senso had his head completely wrapped in bandages, the only difference being that Senso always left the right eye exposed, while Kinuta chose to expose the left eye. For five years now, the brothers had been bandaging their heads in this manner, hiding their faces from everyone at all times. And no one knew why they did this, other than the Dosus themselves.

Senso's soft-violet pullover shirt was also unusual, in that the sleeves were so excessively long, they dangled down by the knees. However, unlike the mysterious head bandages, the purpose behind these long sleeves was quite well-known amongst the villagers; the sleeves were to hide the Dosus' trademark sound-amplification tools on their arms...

The rest of Senso's costume was fairly standard Sound garb. The scarf and pants were camouflaged fatigues, light grey mottled with purple-black. The sash-like belt, sandals, and shuriken holster were a solid inky black ...

The oddest thing about the Dosus was the way they stand and walk. And the chuunin couldn't help but stare rather hard at Senso's awkward stance. Senso's posture was somewhat like that of a gorilla with a chronic back problem. The arms drooped and hung, their dangling effect exaggerated by the oversized sleeves. The back was hunched over like that of a stooping elderly man. The legs were bowed and the feet spread an unnatural distance. The chuunin had also seen the Dosus walking side by side before, and it was truly a puzzling sight to behold. They didn't truly walk, per se. Rather, they shuffled. They shuffled forward in a seemingly inefficient gait, their bodies awkwardly moving about in a manner which blatantly defied the human anatomical structure. When they shuffled, they moved about like how an ungainly beast would lumber about, their movements being almost inhuman, subhuman, ghoulish ...

The Sound chuunin finally spoke, uncomfortably aware of the lone right eye which was staring at him with an insulting intensity. "Dosu Senso. Kabuto-san calls for your presence."

Interesting. Orochimaru-sama's right-hand man ... Senso cocked his head to the left, and his weirdly deep voice asked, "Why so late?"

"He says that he has just received news from Orochimaru-sama concerning your brother."

Senso's wide open right eye flashed even wider at that, to the point where the chuunin could not help but wonder if the eye might pop out of the socket. Then Senso's right eye returned to its normal state of merely unusual wideness. "Very well. Let's go see Kabuto-san."

The chuunin now walked down the main street of the village, and Senso shuffled alongside him. The sky was midnight black, but the moon was incandescent bright over their heads, effectively illuminating them and the cluster of buildings down below. The asphalt road glows a shiny smooth black in the moonlight, still retaining impeccable newness due to its young age of two years. The newly constructed buildings, also no more than two years old, are simple, neat, and practical in design. The street signs are untouched, none of them bearing the slightest hint of graffiti or even minor scuff marks. Everything about the town reflects the newness of the expanding Village of Sound.

After perhaps ten minutes of walking through their village, the chuunin had finally led Senso to their destination: a small and apparently vacant house near the outskirts. The house, like the rest of the village's buildings, was a solid simple brand-new construction. And like the rest of the village, there was absolutely nothing else to the house other than its primary purpose as shelter. There was a simple lawn, but there were no bushes, flower gardens, fences, nothing of the sort. It did have a doorbell, at least, and the chuunin rung it.

A smooth serene voice called out, "Come in."

The chuunin and Senso walked through the unlocked door to find a totally empty living room, lacking in furniture, lighting, or any creature comforts. There was, however, a young man standing off to the side. A rather plain and inconspicuous figure, especially when compared to the walking freakshow known as Senso Dosu. This young man wore solid royal-purple shirt and pants. Long silver hair drawn back in a simple ponytail. Wire-rimmed glasses. Unassuming mild face that seemed to be smiling at all times ...

He is Kabuto Yakushi. By far the most dangerous man in the entire Village of Sound. With the exception of Orochimaru himself, of course.

The chuunin respectfully bowed his head. "Kabuto-san."

Senso also bowed his head, albeit a much more aborted bow than the chuunin's. "Kabuto-san." The lone eye now scanned the barren interior of the room, and he dryly commented, "Nice house."

Kabuto smiled at that. All three of them knew this was not his home, of course ... he waved away the chuunin. "You may go now. I will be the one to escort Senso-kun from here."

"Yes sir."

The chuunin bowed his head, then disappeared in a puff of smoke. And Kabuto then smiled upon Senso, ignoring the invasive glare of the genin's right eye. "Well then, I suppose you know where I am about to take you, yes?"

The unpleasantly bass voice replied, "We are going to pay a visit to Orochimaru-sama."

"That is correct. And as you are well-aware, few are privileged to see the face of Orochimaru-sama, let alone visit his secret lair." Kabuto's smile became even more benevolent now. "Before we go any further, Senso-kun, you must first solemnly swear, upon the honor of our village, that you will tell no one about the location of Orochimaru-sama's lair."

Senso did not twitch a muscle, his eye still boring into Kabuto. "I swear upon the honor of our village."

"Excellent!" The medic nin specialist clapped his hands together now. "Then, without further ado, let us be off!"

Senso nodded once, and they then vanished in two puffs of smoke, leaving behind an empty room and the still-open front door.

The two Sound nin were now walking through a seemingly endless maze of ancient catacombs. Or more precisely, Kabuto was the one actually walking, while Senso did his peculiar little shuffle. Either way, they had been inside the damp and musty tunnels for over ten minutes now, and Senso was hopelessly lost. He had tried to memorize the pathway as Kabuto led from the front, but he now gave up; he had lost track of the turns a couple minutes ago.

The eye rotated to the side, in order to focus on the medic nin. "Kabuto-san, how do I get back to the surface?"

Kabuto's eyes disappeared inside mirthful slants, as he half-laughed. "Ah, it is a long ways down here, yes? Do not worry, Senso-kun. When Orochimaru-sama is done with us, someone will lead you back."

"Good." Senso's eye unlatched itself from Kabuto, and it started to scan the mossy stone hallway surrounding them ...

Kabuto was watching Senso out of the corner of his own eyes, and he liked what he saw. Ever since they had left that house, Senso had not let his guard down for one second; the younger Dosu brother obviously did not trust Kabuto. And rightly so, Kabuto thought to himself with a little smile. If this Senso fellow's senses were as perceptive as everyone claimed, then he should have gotten a whiff of the danger that awaited him. And sure enough, to Kabuto's sharp eye, it seemed that Senso, on a subconscious level, already knew something was wrong. But the feeling was so subtle, only a man like Kabuto could see it in Senso's eye; even Senso himself could not quite understand what he was feeling, other than the standard unease associated with dark cramped places like the hallways of these catacombs.

A very sharp young man, Kabuto thought to himself. And strong, too. Ah yes, this young man might be useful, indeed, as a temporary vessel for Orochimaru-sama. But only as a temporary vessel, of course, not a permanent one. Sasuke-kun had the honor of being the permanent vessel upon which Orochimaru-sama had set his sights on ...

Kabuto stopped in front of an antiquated wooden door now. "Well, here we are! Orochimaru-sama's laboratory!"

Senso raised an eyebrow now. "A laboratory?"

"Yes, a laboratory. During his spare time, Orochimaru-sama likes to do research."

"What does he research?"

"Oh, well, I don't know. He won't tell even me the details concerning his experiments. Although sometimes, I have a decent guess as to what he is doing." Kabuto waved a dismissing hand. "Either way, that is not important right now. What's more important is that your brother is waiting for you behind this door, Senso-kun."

Senso's eye widened. "He is?" A sleeve immediately reached out to briefly wrestle with the doorknob. Then he gave a rather hefty shove, and he shuffled forward to peer around the door as it quickly swung open, revealing the laboratory -

He blinked at the sight of the most chaotic laboratory he had ever seen. The room was littered with tables and shelves. And the tables and shelves were littered with jars, vials, syringes, charts, flasks, beakers, bunsen burners, etc etc. The dominating color of the room was a tree-sap yellow. And the dominating smell was something Senso could not quite place. The strong pungent was remotely familiar, from the science classes he took during his academy days ...

Formaldehyde, Senso told himself with a self-congratulatory degree of satisfaction. Formaldehyde, a stinky nasty fluid he had used during biology classes to embalm and preserve human corpses for future dissection -

His eye narrowed into a suspicious slit. For some odd reason, the middle of the room was totally cleared away, save for one small table. This was no accidental arrangement, either. The table was meant to be noticed. There was a large jar on top of the table, too. And inside the jar was a rather spherical object. Perhaps it was an organ of sorts? If it was, it certainly wasn't an organ he had seen before. Actually, the outlines and features of the "organ" were slowly making sense to him, forming a vaguely recognizable image -

Senso's eye then bulged in horror, and he involuntarily uttered a minute choking sound from underneath the bandages over his mouth. That was no organ. It was a head. A decapitated human head. And not just any human head, either.

It was Kinuta's head. Immersed in a jar of formaldehyde.

Senso instantly tried to pull away from Kabuto - it was too late. Senso had been so affected by the sight of his "brother", he had let his guard down for just a moment. And Kabuto had been waiting for that exact moment. Of course, Kabuto could have overwhelmed Senso at any time he wished; but it was so much easier when the victim's guard was down ...

An open hand slammed into the base of Senso's skull, and the genin crumpled to the ground as he saw nothing but stars and bright flashing light. Half-blinded and half-conscious, Senso was already scrambling to get back up, but Kabuto gave the wobbly shinobi no chance, as he quickly whipped up several hand seals -

The medic specialist's hands were now pressed against Senso's neck, and the fingers shot chakra into two specific parts of the nervous system. In response, Senso's limbs immediately fell limp, and, with a grunt of surprise, the helpless genin toppled over, landing hard on his face due to his inability to brace himself for the impact.

Senso's surprise did not last for long, of course. The surprise rapidly switched over to murderous rage in its purest form, and Senso lifted his head from the chilly stone floor to scream in the harshest of guttural voices. As his spittle splashed itself into the bandages over his mouth: "Kabuto, you fucking bastard! What did you do to my brother - " An unintelligible roar of fury, then: "I am going to fucking kill you, you fucking - "

Kabuto landed another precise blow to the back of Senso's head. And the world, from the lone eye of the remaining Dosu brother, turned to black.

A young woman's voice stirred Senso from the depths of unconsciousness ...

"Jirobu, you fat fuck! Why haven't you taken off that arm gadget yet?!"

The voice of an irritated man answered: "I'll get around to it, geez. Kabuto-san said that this guy's not gonna be able to move for at least another hour, anyway ..."

The voice of the potty-mouthed girl once again: "Fucking lazy fatass. Fine, I'll fucking do it if it's such a big fucking deal to you."

"Hey Tayuya, keep it down. Kabuto-san said not to make too much noise around this guy."

"Yeah, yeah."

Senso could feel someone tugging at the amplification device strapped to his left forearm, and he finally opened his eye to see what the hell was going on. He was lying face-up on a large table, arms and legs spread out. And to his frustration, Kabuto's paralysis jutsu was still in effect; Senso's limbs were still nothing but deadweight, refusing to obey his will. Senso was also still dressed, for the most part, although his beloved lion's mane was now hanging from the wall, along with his scarf, belt, and shuriken holster ...

He turned his head to see who the owners of the two voices were, and his eye settled upon an astonishingly pretty girl and an astonishingly ugly fatass of a young man. And at a glance, they appeared to be dressed in one of the several standard Sound uniforms: black knee-length pants and undershirt, loose short-sleeved purple overshirt, and shimenawa ropes tied about their waists. Senso decided to take a closer look at them, and subconsciously, his male mind elected to study the pretty girl first, as one might expect. The girl named Tayuya, according to the fat ass apparently named Jirobu.

She was beautiful, all right. She wore some sort of dark-colored skull cap, where occasional tufts of wild fire-red hair poked out from the front to descend over the face. However, the hair failed to hide her beauty, the face delicate and fine, the eyes truly amazing: large and enchanting, yet keen and intense ... the Jirobu fatass was much less pleasant to look at. Dark-skinned, rather stupid-looking, small piggy ugly eyes, entirely bald save for a wacky orange mohawk on top. At least he carried his weight well, for a walking tub of a lard. No softness anywhere, really. He just happened to be a very large man.

Senso now took the time to quickly scan his surroundings. They were in the middle of a prison, as far as he could tell. Plain concrete walls, floor, and ceiling. Completely surrounded by perhaps twenty heavy wooden doors embedded into the four walls ...

The girl's full attractive lips now parted slightly in a manner that might be construed as seductive, as she uttered a few choice words: "What's up with this motherfucking cocksucking goat-blowing shit-nugget arm gadget!"

Tayuya was the one currently wrestling with Senso's arm device, obviously. And although she seemed to be a high-level nin, apparently she possessed little aptitude for mechanical constructs, as evidenced by her difficulty in deciphering the none-too-complex system of clasps which held the device to Senso's arm (typical woman, Senso derisively thought to himself) ... the pretty lips issuing a nonstop stream of curses and oaths, she finally undid the clasps and ripped the device away with a snarl.

"About fucking time, goddamit." She held up the device to her eyes, so that she could study it up close and personal. And she stared hard at the sieve-like pattern of holes scattered across its length. "So this is the speaker weapon thingy that the Dosus use? Huh, it looks more like a cheese grater if you ask me - "

Kabuto's voice rang out from across the room: "Tayuya-san, please keep your voice down when you are next to that young man."

Tayuya, Jirobu, and Senso all looked up to see Kabuto enter the room. And the girl said, in a much more civil voice this time: "Sorry, Kabuto-san."

"No worries, no harm done." Kabuto smiled benignly, as he looked down at the glaring Senso. "Welcome back, Senso-kun."

Senso said nothing, his murderous eye locked balefully onto the medic nin. Kabuto sighed at Senso's rudeness, and he took a moment to look over the Sound genin. Then he said to the other two, who were apparently his underlings: "Strip off all his clothing, until there is not a single thing left on his body."

The girl and the fat ass immediately complied with the order, quickly and efficiently removing all items of clothing from Senso. It was not long before he was completely stark naked, as requested by Kabuto. And the two then took a step back to examine their handiwork.

Tayuya grinned as her eyes danced all over the nicely carved physique of Senso. "He's only thirteen years old? Not bad." A glance down at his crotch, and an approving chuckle from her. "Mmm, not bad at all."

Jirobu's skeptical voice was nowhere near as admiring: "This guy is thirteen? No way, this guy doesn't look like no kid."

Kabuto chuckled. "I assure you, he is merely thirteen years of age. However, he does train a lot, as you can see."

Jirobu shrugged, still not completely sold on the age issue. "Huh. If you say so."

Tayuya half-snorted and half-snickered at her comrade. "Hey Jirobu, maybe you should take a page from this guy's book and work off some of that blubber - "

Kabuto interrupted: "Shut up, you two. Your task is not done yet."

Tayuya stopped jeering. "It's not?" She looked up and down the naked body several times, her face wrinkling in confusion. "I don't see anything left. What did we miss?"

"The bandages. Take off the bandages from his head."

Tayuya silently grinded her teeth at the obvious oversight, while Jirobu said in a rather stunted doltish manner: "Oh yeah."

After a couple laborious minutes of Jirobu's silence and Tayuya's oaths, all of Senso's bandages were now lying on the floor in a surprisingly large pile. The genin's head was finally exposed for all to see, the first time any outsider had laid eyes upon Senso's face for five long years. And the first words of reaction to escape from Tayuya's mouth were: "What the fuck happened to his eye?"

Previously hidden by the bandages, Senso's left eye was now in plain sight underneath the harsh light of the overhead bare light bulbs. And the sight was not a pretty one. The left eyelid was sewn shut and held fast by a crudely stitched twine of sorts, the messy sewing job leading Jirobu and Tayuya to conclude that Senso himself was most likely the one who had manipulated the needle and thread. And circling around the flaps of scarred tissue was a ring of exotic inky black shapes and swirls which had been tattooed into Senso's face. A seal, Tayuya thought to herself. This young fellow had burned a seal around his eye and into his face, for some odd reason.

She grunted, "So this is why he wore all those bandages. So that he could hide this ... this ... whatever the hell he did to his face."

Kabuto nodded, amused by his comrades' obvious curiosity and disgust. "You two should feel privileged. Few people have ever laid eyes upon this forbidden seal which the Dosu brothers have used."

Jirobu wondered in his thick ponderous voice: "What does this forbidden seal do?"

"This seal converts the eye's power of sight into an increased sense of hearing for the ears. In other words, the Dosu brothers chose to sacrifice half of their eyesight in order to improve their hearing."

"I get it now," said Tayuya. "So that's why everyone in the village thinks these Dosu dudes are so special, huh? That's why no one else is able to perform the Kyoumeisen jutsu (vibrating sound drill technique) like they can. With those seals, they can simply hear things better than us, that's all."

"Not quite, Tayuya-san. Even if we chose to seal off our eyes like they did, our hearing would still be nowhere as keen as theirs. Certainly not good enough to the point where we would be able to effectively funnel sound with our chakra. The Dosu brothers truly are special, in that they have inherited an auditory system more sophisticated and sensitive than that of anyone else I know of. As a matter of fact, I would guess that they were already able to manipulate sound even before they performed the seal ritual upon themselves."

"Seriously?! Then why ..." Jirobu scratched his head. "Then why use the seals? Why sacrifice an eye?"

Kabuto chuckled openly now. "I believe the Dosus came to the conclusion that they were not powerful enough with just their natural sense of hearing. And they were correct to arrive at this conclusion. Jirobu-san, although the common ignorant villager thinks that the Dosus are the best thing to come along since sliced bread, you and I both know that there are many people out there in the world with incredible talents and bloodlines which surpass the ability of mere superior hearing. And the Dosus realized this. Thus, they strove to improve themselves with these forbidden seals, trying to give themselves any extra edge possible." The medic nin smiled down upon Senso once again. "Am I correct, Senso-kun?"

Senso's lips might as well have been sewn shut too, as he refused to acknowledge Kabuto's taunting words. He chose instead to try and kill Kabuto with a lethal one-eyed glare ... Kabuto sighed at Sensoi's reticence of malevolence. "If it makes you feel any better, Senso-kun, neither Orochimaru-sama nor I was the one to kill Kinuta. It was a Sand nin who ended your brother's life - "

Tayuya asked, "How do you know so much about these Dosu guys? Did you interrogate Kinuta or something?"

"No." Kabuto shrugged. "I didn't even know who Kinuta was until I met him during the Chuunin Exam. But when I performed the autopsy on his corpse, I was greatly intrigued by the secrets which I gathered from his body. The highly evolved inner ear. The seal over his eye. The tool which he wore on his right arm ..."

Kabuto's face became serious as he picked up the rather heavy metal armpiece from the table, the sound amplification tool which had recently been attached to Senso's arm. "I have to admit, this thing is quite an ingenious invention. A clever construction indeed." He held up the tool for Senso to see. "Who invented this thing? You or Kinuta?"

Senso finally spoke now. More precisely, he spat out with a harsh voice that had the effect of flying nails: "Kinuta."

"Mmm." Kabuto nodded as he studied the sound amplification device a bit more. "An ingenious invention indeed." He waxed nostalgically now, already eulogizing for the Dosu brothers: "You two truly were a force to be reckoned with, Senso-kun. Definitely not to be underestimated ..."

Kabuto's eyes flashed a dim crimson now, casting his calm yet terrifying wrath upon Jirobu and Tayuya. "Which is exactly what I told you two. I told you not to underestimate him. I told you to be careful around him. If you are too loud around him, he could possibly manipulate your own sound against you with his chakra, which is why I told you to be quiet around him - "

He aimed a glare upon the shrinking Tayuya. Then he included the frozen Jirobu in his glare. "And yet, when I come down here, I find the two of you messing around like a pair of sloppy noisy piglets." A sigh of wistfulness. "Mark my words, someday, your carelessness and overconfidence will prove to be your downfall."

Jirobu and Tayuya were shifting uncomfortably in their open-toed shoes, neither daring to even try to defend themselves. And Kabuto was by no means done with them. "Now, I want you to finish what I ordered you to do: before this prisoner goes into his cell, make sure that he has no possible means of generating sound vibrations. That is, make sure he has no foreign objects on his body whatsoever."

Tayuya was silent now, for once. Meanwhile, Jirobu couldn't help but murmur, "Kabuto-san, uh, but he's naked now. So does that mean we're ready to throw him into a cell?"

"No, not yet." Kabuto sighed in exasperation, his patience all but gone. "Have you searched his body cavity yet?"

Both Tayuya and Jirobu winced at their obvious oversight. And both shook their heads ... Kabuto gestured to Senso's naked body. "Then do it now. And check thoroughly."

Jirobu and Tayuya now looked at each other. And Tayuya immediately said, "You do it, Jirobu. No way in hell I'm looking up a guy's stinky asshole."

Jirobu growled back, "I'm a guy, damn it! Guys aren't supposed to be sticking his hand up some other guy's butt!"

Tayuya nervously glanced over to Kabuto, whose face was so terrifyingly serene, she could not help but shiver in fear. And she hastily said back to Jirobu, "Fine, fine, I'll do it, you lazy fat fuck!" She headed over to the other end of the table where Senso's legs were. "Goddamn, where the fuck is Sakon?! I bet he'd actually enjoy sticking his fingers up this guy's ass, the fucking faggoty fairy ..."

Five minutes later, Tayuya was furiously washing her hands at a water faucet in the corner of the room, and she was muttering something about how finicky of a sissy Jirobu was. Jirobu, meanwhile, was hoisting the still-paralyzed Senso onto his shoulder. "Which cell do you want me to put this guy in, Kabuto-san?"

Kabuto nodded to the numerous doors spaced evenly along the surrounding walls. "Any one will do."

"Gotcha." Jirobu headed towards the nearest door and yanked it open to reveal the interior of a dark dank prison cell. Without another word, the hulking Sound nin took one step into the smallish concrete-walled room and unceremoniously dumped Senso's limp body onto the chilly unforgiving floor like a farmer would drop a sack of wheat. Unable to move, Senso was at least able to feel the floor's smoothness and cleanliness underneath his face and chest. This struck him as rather odd, because although the concrete room did seem rather new and clean, the air was decidedly musty, possessing a faintly nauseating odor of aged mold and rot. Perhaps this odor was due to the utter lack of sunlight. Or perhaps it was just his imagination.

Either way, Jirobu was already heading back out of the cell, where Tayuya waited for him. Tayuya, hardly the Miss Manners type, was brusquely wiping her wet hands dry on her pants and shirt, not bothering with the roll of paper towel next to the water faucet. Kabuto was off to the side, and he briefly nodded his head as he said:

"Do it."

At the medic specialist's command, Tayuya and Jirobu clapped their hands together into seals, and they muttered an incantation in unison -

Streaks of blazing purple flame ran along the ground from their feet into the cell, rapidly expanding out over the floor and up the walls. And in a matter of moments, the purple flame had completely enveloped the interior of the prison cell, including the floor which Senso lay upon. The ninpou flame barrier was uncomfortably hot, predictably enough, but thankfully for the inanimate Senso, the temperature was not quite at the point where it could set fire to human flesh. However, he could feel a heat blister forming underneath his cheek, the outermost epidermal layer of skin already peeling away into a dried dead crust and exposing the tender raw flesh underneath. But Senso stayed silent, not uttering any sound of pain or weakness. He did not even have to tell himself to stay quiet, really. The pain simply was not that big of a deal. Nothing more than child's play in comparison to the grim situation he was currently in, or the self-mutilation which he had already inflicted upon his eye ...

Not that Kabuto would have derived any special pleasure from sounds of suffering on Senso's behalf. For Orochimaru's right-hand man, it was not about inflicting pain on others. It was just the same shady business as usual ... he shut the door to the purple-cased cell and methodically placed an enchanted paper tag over the door's tiny barred window. The chakra-charged tag would serve as the source of energy for the purple flame barrier, more than powerful enough to contain a nin of Senso's level. This particular tag was only a temporary source, of course; in order to maintain the barrier's integrity, someone would have to replace the tag every three hours.

That "someone" would probably have to be himself, Kabuto thought within his calculating mind, as he peered one last time through the door's window and the somewhat translucent barrier to check on Senso. Orochimaru was about to send these barrier specialists, a.k.a. the Sound Four, on a recruiting mission, and Kabuto would be the only one left trustworthy enough to take care of these prisoners ...

Kabuto nodded to Tayuya and Jirobu. "Good job, you two. Now, we should go to Orochimaru-sama. Our lord wishes to assign you four a mission of the utmost importance."

Jirobu blinked. "The four of us? We should go find Sakon and Kidomaru, then."

"I believe they are already with Orochimaru-sama." A friendly smile from Kabuto. "I think we should get going as soon as possible. Don't you?"

"Yeah, yeah." Tayuya was already heading for the exit. "You ain't sticking around, Kabuto-san? You don't got anything else to do with that Senso guy?"

Kabuto walked beside her, along with Jirobu, his voice already fading away to Senso's ears as they passed through the exit and into a hallway: "Well, I do have to replace the battery tag every three hours. But other than that, we are done with him."

Jirobu's ponderous voice, also becoming faint: "That's seven guys we got locked up now. Why are we collecting all these dudes, Kabuto-san?"

"We are keeping them around, just in case."

Tayuya's loud voice now, not quite as faint as the others: "Just in case? Just in case of what?"

"Just in case you four happen to fail your mission."

"Well, okay, what's our mission then?"

"Patience, Tayuya-san. Orochimaru-sama will tell you soon ..."

Their muted voices were finally out of earshot. And although Senso was still paralyzed. Locked inside total darkness and silence. Imprisoned within a virtually impenetrable ninpou flame barrier. His parched dried face pressed against and blistering on the scalding surface, a disgusting cream of blood and pus beginning to ooze from the growing wound ...

Despite all this, Senso was smiling. Not a smile of desperation or hopelessness, either. It was a knowing smile. A genuine smirk, even.

He was smiling because he had been able to hear the conversation between Kabuto, Tayuya, and Jirobu. And this meant that the barrier was not sound-proof. The barrier was probably supposed to be sound-proof, because it had been very difficult for Senso to hear their voices. And for all intents and purposes, the barrier WAS soundproof. At least for the frequencies and volumes associated with the normal human ear.

But it was not completely soundproof. That much, Senso definitely knew for sure. And for him, that was a lucky break, indeed.

So he awkwardly lay there in his crouch, still in the same position which Jirobu had left him. Waiting for the paralysis jutsu to wear off. Waiting for his chance to escape. With his blistered face seemingly on fire, the river of pus and blood flowing out of the raw wounds in a feeble attempt to douse the searing heat.

For the next one hour, Senso spent the entire time struggling in vain. Struggling to move a limb, a finger, torso, anything.

And then, after that approximate one hour had passed, he was suddenly able to move again. There had been no warning of the impending return of his bodily functions, either. One moment, he had been unable to twitch even a toe. The next, he was suddenly wildly thrashing about like a wild pig who had just been stuck with a wooden spear -

He immediately scrambled to his feet and headed towards the cell's exit, wriggling his hands and arms, welcoming the the stinging pincushion sensation associated with muscles now rousing themselves after having fallen asleep. Welcoming the onrush of blood, no longer stagnant inside his veins, pumping freely throughout his naked body.

His captors had not bothered to place any sort of restraints on him, since it was virtually impossible to keep a competent ninja physically bound for any worthwhile period of time. The only way to keep a ninja imprisoned was to entirely enclose him within a barrier jutsu such as this one. A mystical barrier whose structural strength was greater than that of any natural material known to man. Senso knew a little bit about barrier jutsus and, judging from the skill level of the fatass and the pretty girl, he was sure that he would not be able to physically bust his way out of this one. Not really a problem, though, since he was not planning on using brute force to escape.

Without further ado, he reached up to his face with his left hand, and, in the pitch-black darkness, he felt for the left eye. The eye which had been sewn shut and sealed. The fingers momentarily passed over the bloody blister on his cheek, but they ignored the throbbing slickened wound for now, as a fingertip brushed gently against the familiar roughness of the twine which laced his eyelid shut.

Senso braced himself now, clenching his teeth as a fingernail forced itself underneath a loop of the twine, hooking itself securely inside. This was going to hurt quite a bit -

With a swift resolute motion, he ripped out the twine from his face. A half-whimper gurgled inside his throat as freshly bloodied ragged flesh, formerly his eyelids just moments ago, now flopped out with a palpable dangling sensation, resting gently against his burning cheek. An audible splatter of blood cascaded onto the floor, accompanying the equally grisly touch of torn skin flap upon burned skin, but Senso did not have the time to pay attention to such trivial details, his fingers already feeling around inside the hollow socket ...

The thumb and forefinger closed upon metal. And after securing a fast grip upon the rod of metal, Senso then proceeded to pull out and away, his hand slowly and carefully extracting a tiny tuning fork from the depths of his eye socket.

The tuning fork had been hidden in there for the last five years now. No one else had known about it. Not even his brother, Kinuta.

Senso had come up with the idea entirely on his own, and after some pondering, he had decided not to share the idea with Kinuta. And his selfishness was precisely because of this scenario. If Kabuto had found a fork concealed within the sealed eye of his brother's corpse, Kabuto would have known that Senso also had such a thing hidden within his own eye. But without such a hint, it had not yet occurred to Kabuto that Senso would do such a thing to himself.

All things considered , Senso was actually glad that Kabuto had performed an autopsy on his brother's body. During the autopsy, Kabuto most likely found only a blinded eyeball behind Kinuta's sealed eyelid, and nothing else; thus, the medic nin had assumed the same would apply to Senso. But of course, this was not the case. In order for the forbidden seal to function properly, the only organs needed were the optic nerves themselves; the presence of the eyeball itself was not required.

Kabuto did not know about this important little tidbit simply because the texts and scrolls which outlined the process, they did not mention it. Senso and Kinuta themselves had not known about it at first. They had discovered it the hard way when, during the process of sealing the eye of an anesthetized Senso, Kinuta accidentally punctured the eyeball, totally deflating and ruining the organ of sight. Senso had been immensely pissed off, of course, when he woke up from his anesthesia-induced slumber and found out that an unusually contrite Kinuta had been forced to scoop out the remnants of his eyeball's flesh and fluids. But when Senso realized that the seal still worked despite the absence of an eyeball, all was forgiven. As a matter of fact, as soon as he realized that he had an empty eye socket within his head, he had already begun to think of ways to take advantage of this potential storage space ...

So, a couple weeks after the sealing operation and without Kinuta's knowledge, Senso reopened his eyelid, stashed away the tuning fork, and sewed it back up himself. Frankly speaking, selfish motives not withstanding, Senso was not even sure if this idea was worth telling to Kinuta. The tuning fork was so damn tiny, the virtually inaudible sounds it could produce at such miniscule volumes, they would not give him any real edge. At least, not in any battle of consequence.

But still, it was just like Kabuto had surmised, Senso thought to himself with a wry grin. Kabuto was right when he presumed that the Dosu brothers were always looking for ways to improve themselves. Always looking for that extra edge. And no matter how small the edge might be, it would be worth it. And although this tuning fork was damn tiny and seemingly damn near worthless, it was still a tool that could produce sound vibrations. And this tool was the edge that would enable him to break out of this goddamn cell.

He briefly wiped the tuning fork clean against one of his hefty thunderously-built forearms, while his bare feet quickly made their way to the doorway of the cell. As the barrier strove to burn away at the hardened callused heat-resistant soles of his feet, his good eye was squinting at the tiny window just visible beyond the translucent flame barrier. More precisely, his eye was focusing on the barrier's source of energy: the sealing tag which dangled in front of the window. He was not familiar with the symbols written onto the tag, and after a moment of futilely attempting to decipher the patterned ink, he decided that he might as well go ahead and damage the center of the most closely-clustered characters.

With a crisp tap, he rapped the tuning fork against his knuckles, summoning forth a ringing whine so high in pitch, it was inaudible to the normal human ear. But Senso's ears were not normal, of course, and he could hear the pulsating sound waves with perfect clarity - no, he did not just hear the sound waves. He could practically see them. Feel them. So acutely aware of the sound surrounding him, etched into his mind was an ever-changing real-time picture of the waves as they propagated throughout the room. This virtually omniscient awareness of sound was what separated him and Kinuta from everyone else; this awareness was what enabled the Dosu brothers to manipulate sound, to a degree which no one else could even attempt to imitate. Manipulate sound, augment it, direct it, aim it ...

Now his eye narrowed in concentration, as chakra unfurled from his hands, expanding rapidly into a voluminous net of sorts and trapping the sound waves within. Then the chakra net abruptly drew itself in, transforming into an ephemerally thin pipeline with a diameter no more than a hair's width. The sudden constriction squeezed mightily upon the sound waves, and the pressure of the sound waves multiplied tenfold, hundredfold, thousand fold, as the chakra walls resonated in time with the tuning fork's frequency, molding and coaxing, augmenting and increasing the sound's amplitude and force at an exponential rate -

Senso released the ultra-thin super-densified sound wave. It shot straight through the "soundproof" barrier with unexpectedly pleasant ease, the inaudible frequency apparently unfiltered by the ninpou wall, and the sound wave headed right for the sealing tag -

A muted ripping sound: pft! The greatly magnified pressure of the sound wave was barely potent enough to punch a tiny pin-sized hole into the thin parchment. But the minute physical damage, the tiny pocket of nothingness inside one of the tag's painted characters, it was already having a visible effect, causing the barrier to briefly spark and waver.

With a grim smile, Senso again smacked the tuning fork against his knuckles, and he repeated the miniscule sound drill attack. Pft! Another tiny hole now appeared in the tag, and the barrier fluctuated once again. Again, the tuning fork hit the knuckles. Pft! Another tiny hole, and the barrier was now seriously wavering in and out of sight, its existence hanging by a precarious thread -

Pft! The barrier briefly sparked in a gaudy show of pyrotechnics. And then it was gone.

Senso did not pause to relish the refreshingly cool and soothing feel of concrete beneath his feet, partially because he did not like to indulge in self-gratification, mostly because he was sorely pressed for time. More than one hour had passed since Kabuto had left the room. Which meant that Kabuto would be back in less than two hours to replace the battery tag. Less than two hours. Not much time at all for Senso to put a safe distance between himself and the horde of Hunter Nin who would soon be pursuing him.

Senso promptly shoved open the cell's door and headed straight for his arm tool laying upon a table. He briskly strapped his trademark weapon onto his left forearm, all the while keeping a wary lone eye focused on the hallway, alert for unexpected visitors. The clothes were next, as he retrieved them from the trash can which Tayuya had tossed them into. Then the shoes. And then, finally, the lion's mane. No bandages, though. He did not have the time to wrap them back onto his head.

The door of Senso's prison cell was closed once again, exuding an outward appearance to the casual observer that nothing was amiss. And Senso was walking rapidly and stealthily down the hallway, irrepressibly tense and nervous. Flinching mentally, although not physically, at every sound he heard within a half-mile radius. Trying to keep down the volume of his annoying loud breathing.

Wondering just how the hell he was going to find his way out of this catacomb maze.

Amazingly enough, his savior turned out to be an early-rising rooster. After perhaps fifteen minutes of controlled panic, with a totally lost Senso aimlessly walking around in discombobulation, the Dosu brother's ears finally detected a foreign sound. A rooster, crowing in the distance with the moon still high overhead, sounding an overwhelmingly premature reveille, urging the still-sleeping Sound Village to rise and ready itself for the new day.

Senso homed in on the powerful voice of the rooster, his once-hesitant feet now confidently guided by his ears. And to his surprise, in under five minutes, he had found his way out of the catacombs and was standing darn near the smack-dab middle of the village.

The rooster, maybe a couple hundred yards away, crowed yet again, welcoming back Senso. The Sound nin was only human, and he finally allowed himself to momentarily smile in relief, reveling in the succesful first stage of his escape. Then the lips drew back into their customary grimness, as he headed straight towards the center of the village. He was not going to flee just yet. Before he left the village, he needed to pick up an item of the utmost importance ...

Two hours later. The rooster was still crowing its lungs out. The sun was just beginning to crack across the dawn's shady horizon. And a tight-faced Kabuto, surrounded by a squad of Sound chuunin, was standing before the entrance to one of the village's storage facilities. This facility was one of the most important buildings in the village, for it contained numerous sensitive items, the most important being several scrolls which outlined the forbidden jutsus of the village. For this reason, there were always a minimum of three guards stationed here, even despite the recent shortage of manpower due to the Sound's losses during the war.

Unfortunately, the three current guards were now dead. They had been dead for a while, Kabuto's expert medical eye had concluded. Just under two hours of postmortem. The causes of death varied from one guard to the other. Two of them had huge gaping slashes across their throats. The third had a kunai lodged deep inside the left temple of his skull. However, they all shared one common injury: massive internal bleeding from within their ears, as evidenced by the numerous rivulets of dried crusty red which stemmed from their earholes. Rupturing of the eardrum, middle ear, and semicircular canal, which induced a severe case of the medical condition called "eye beating". Which, in turn, induced a severe case of vertigo, effectively removing all sense of bodily balance from a man and reducing him to little more than a floundering cripple (assuming that he had not already fainted from the incredible pain, of course).

One of the Sound chuunins emerged from the building now, and he called out needlessly, "Kabuto-san! All three scrolls of our village's forbidden techniques are missing!"

Kabuto simply nodded, not bothering to verbally acknowledge the obvious. His eyes, like the eyes of the other chuunin beside him, were still focused on the bloody lettering which had been painted on the wall. The lettering formed words. And the words spelled out a message for all the villagers to see ...

"Orochimaru has betrayed us all."

The Sound chuunin who had just read the message out loud, he now scratched his head. "Who would write such a thing?"

"Senso Dosu," said Kabuto. "He was the one who did this."

All of the chuunins turned to look at Kabuto in surprise, as the same chuunin asked, "Senso?! But why?!"

Kabuto said quite truthfully, "Senso became upset when I told him about the confirmation of his brother's death. It would seem that he blames Orochimaru-sama for Kinuta's tragic end." A sad sigh. "I knew that Senso would have a hard time dealing with this, but I certainly did not anticipate a reaction of this magnitude."

"Ahh, I see. He blames Orochimaru-sama for his brother's death." The chuunin nodded in understanding now. "He must have just mentally snapped when he heard the news."

Kabuto nodded. "Mmm, quite possibly."

"I can't say I'm too surprised, honestly. Those Dosu brothers were talented, but there was always something weird about them."

"Mmm." Another nod from Kabuto. "True."

Another chuunin said in an openly angry voice, "With that scroll in his hands, Senso can reveal many of our village's secrets to the outside world! We must stop him before he ruins us all!"

"Mmm." Kabuto nodded yet again. "You. Go to the Hunter nin headquarters and tell them that they are to retrieve the forbidden scrolls and Senso Dosu. For the latter, it does not matter if they bring him back dead or alive."

"Yes sir!"

As the Openly Angry Chuunin bounded away on the rooftops, Kabuto turned back to stare distractedly at the corpses. Now that a course of action had been determined, he could finally sit back, relax a bit, and figure out just how the hell Senso had escaped from the prison cell.

Kabuto was almost positive that Senso had used his sound manipulation ability to damage the battery tag, but he was not quite sure how. The barrier was supposed to be soundproof; a hundred men could be screaming inside such a barrier, and no one would be able to hear even a peep from the outside. Perhaps Senso had generated a sound frequency beyond the barrier's muffling capabilities? But then he would need a tool to generate such a sound. Perhaps a tool had been hidden inside his body cavity after all? Perhaps Tayuya had been careless while searching? Was it possible that he could have hidden it somewhere else on his body? But where else could it have been? Jirobu said he had already checked Senso's mouth and throat -

The medic nin's wandering eyes were passing over one of the satchels attached to a corpse's belt. And something about the satchel made Kabuto's eyes stop. He did not know why his eyes had stopped upon this particular satchel, either. It was just a normal village-issue satchel, as far as he could tell. A simple accessory composed of four rectangular pieces of sturdy canvas sewn together to form a container for varying purposes. In this case, Kabuto was not quite sure what the purpose of this particular satchel was, for the satchel was still closed, its contents hidden away inside -

The medic nin bit down so hard onto his lower lip, his teeth almost broke the skin. Son of a bitch. A simple container. Sewn together. Its contents hidden from plain sight. Son of a bitch. Son of a bitch. Son of a bitch.

Kabuto decided that he would not tell Orochimaru about this little error of an oversight. Orochimaru would surely not care much about the details concerning a mere runaway genin. Even the missing scrolls were not that big of a deal either, really. Not when Orochimaru-sama had much more important things to worry about ...

Twelve hours later. A dangerously exhausted Senso Dosu was curled up behind a pile of crates, stowed away inside the cargo room of a small merchant ship en route to the Country of the Wave. Actually, "dangerously exhausted" was putting it mildly, as far as a description of Senso's physical health was concerned. Senso seriously felt like he was teetering on the brink of death. His chest and throat were burning like the sunbaked sand dunes of the Sahara desert, the dryness barely satiated by a quick stop at a water fountain he had found just outside of the boat docks. His body throbbed and screamed so loudly for sleep, the mind-numbingly aching pain actually kept him awake, refusing to let him peacefully drift off into slumber. His gruesome facial wounds were still unattended to, for the most part; a couple lengths of bandage had been wrapped over the eye, but nothing more. He would have to take a look at them after he slept, he told himself. Make sure that no serious infection was setting in.

Senso had been running nonstop across the countryside for the last twelve hours, deathly afraid that if he paused to rest for even a few moments, the Hunter Nins would overtake him and kill him on the spot. So many times, his body had begged him to stop, begged him for a chance to recover and replenish itself. Senso had turned an ironically deaf ear towards his body's pleas, however. He refused to take any chances. He would not stop until he was on a boat to the Country of the Wave. A country devoid of any ninja clan or village. A land where people were least likely to recognize him for what he was: a ninja.

For the umpteenth time, he reached down to pat the backpack strapped over a shoulder, reassuring himself of the solid cylindrical shapes of three large scrolls inside. They were quite heavy and bulky, and they had been quite a hindrance during his entire flight; however, Senso had not even considered the possibility of ditching the scrolls in order to lighten his load. These scrolls were his most important possessions now. More important than the fighting value of his arm tool. More important than even the sentimental value of his beloved lion's mane.

And then it all crashed down upon him.

His brother was dead. Gone. The only person whom he could truly trust in the ninja world of clandestine agendas and hidden motives. Their relationship had been hardly the sappy type, unless one considered a relationship filled with numerous violent fisticuffs and heatedly combative competition to be a sweet and tender example. But in the end, each brother knew that, if push ever came to shove, he would have, at the very least, one fiercest of allies in his corner.

No parents. No siblings. Only the two of them. And in a world like this one, such a connection was only once in a lifetime. Only amongst family -

With a disgusted fury, Senso swiped away the lone tear from his lone eye. Soft. Goddamned soft. Kinuta would have sneered at him just now for being such a wimpy punk. And now, a stilted chuckle from Senso. Of course, if Kinuta had ever cried before him, Senso would have done the exact same thing. Label him as soft. Taunt him a few times. And then they would have started scuffling.

A hasty sniffle, as Senso's mind momentarily drifted, thinking of the people who remained behind at the Village of Sound. God, those poor bastards. They had no idea. They were merely pawns. Tools. Drones who had no idea about what purpose they actually served, of how little regard with which their leader held their lives -

He grimaced. Just hours ago, he had been one of those drones himself. Orochimaru, that fucking fucking bastard. Senso was going to get back at him somehow. Not just for Kinuta. For the entire village.

Virtually the entire village's population was composed of people like the Dosu brothers. People who had only themselves, and no one else in their lives. Castoffs with nowhere else to go. People desperate to find meaning, to find purpose in their lives. Hell, Senso and Kinuta actually had it pretty good compared to the other Sound recruits; at least the Dosu brothers had each other to rely on. Senso remembered when that Abumi Zaku dude had told him his life story; and that dude's childhood had been pretty much the most miserable sad-as-fuck story Senso had ever heard.

Orochimaru searched intensely for people like Zaku and the Dosu brothers. Hungry talented people who gnawed and jumped at the chance to become somebody. He recruited them into the ranks of the Sound. Showed them a brief display of his awesome power, showing what each man could become. Told them of the future where, one day, they could become a part of something which would surpass all of the other villages in the world. And they had believed in it all. They had found meaning in their lives. They had finally found their purpose.

And it had all turned out to be a bunch of crap. A bunch of slop which Orochimaru had spoon-fed them like a bunch of guillible babies. With Orochimaru leading the way, the Village of Sound would never flourish. With a man like Orochimaru posing as their "leader", the Village was doomed from the start. Doomed to die once their purpose was served.

But really, all those lies, all that shit which Orochimaru had shoveled down their throats. All of it was okay, Senso told himself. Because, when he killed Orochimaru, all debts would be repaid in full. His brother. The village. All of them.

He did not know how he was going to do it. He was not sure if he could even pull it off, considering the godlike status of Orochimaru's strength. But one way or another, he was going to get back at Orochimaru. Someway, somehow, he was going to do it. These scrolls would be the start. And he would figure something out for the finish. And heck, maybe afterwards, he could even become the leader of the village. Ah ha ha ha. A wry chuckle from Senso. He was obviously becoming delirious now. He really should get some rest.

The overwhelming pain was no longer suffocating. It was now ebbing away, dulled by the onset of direly needed sleep. Senso's mind shut down on its own now, as it stopped thinking about everything. Forced his eye to draw shut, blotting out the dimly lit air which reeked of machine oil. Even the ears, which heard absolutely everything, were become deaf, as the grinding and clanking of turning gears and pumping pistons faded away, claimed by the smothering silence of slumber.

With one last conscious thought, he pulled his comfy lion's mane over his rolled-up body. A makeshift blanket of sorts, if you will. Unfortunately, he was far too big for the "blanket" now, his exposed lower legs sticking out from beneath the flowing fur ...

It had not always been like this, of course. Once upon a time, a long long while ago, a single lion's mane had been more than large enough. Large enough for both of the Dosu brothers to snuggle in, underneath the stars of the open night sky. Once upon a time, a time when they used to sleep in the streets, live in the streets, run wild throughout the streets, and terrorize the local shopowners like the juvenile delinquents which they were.

That was the life they had led, until they were recruited into the Village of Sound by Orochimaru.


Notes: I thought it would be fun to portray how other ninja villages might view the Leaf Village. Hence, this story will focus a lot on the viewpoints of nin from the Sound and Sand. You can expect Temari and Gaara to play major roles in this fic. The other original character, Ren, will make her debut in the next chapter. The Leaf ninjas will also have major roles, of course.

As for Senso Dosu? When Kinuta got killed off, that kinda irritated me because he was one of my fave chars. I thought his character had potential, since he was the only Sound genin to show some initiative by questioning Orochimaru's authority. His voice and special attack were also pretty darned cool ... and then he goes and gets himself killed. Dang. Oh well.

Anyway, that's another reason why I am writing this fic. Through Kinuta's brother, I am trying to build upon the potential presented by Kinuta's character.

BTW, the word "Dosu" means "sword" in yakuza slang, while the word "Senso" means "war" in yakuza slang. When I chose the name for Senso, I just followed the yakuza slang theme, that's all. And btw, in case you didn't know, "yakuza" are Japanese gangsters.

For the people who watch only the anime, Jirobu and Tayuya are two of the four Sound nin who created that big purple barrier around Orochimaru and the 3rd Hokage during the SandLeafSound war. In the anime, those 4 Sound nin will soon be playing a much larger role.

One last thing. Some of you might have read my other Naruto fic, "Butterflies". If you liked that fic, don't worry, I have not completely quit on that fic. However, I have not been in a romantic mood lately, and I am finding that I am unable to express the upcoming scenes for "Butterflies" at a satisfactory level. I will definitely go back to that fic when I get out of my writer's block for that particular story.