This chapter has brought the rating up to M. It probably wasn't needed, but I don't want to take chances. And it's not like it'll get any milder.
Disclaimer: If I owned Naruto, Edo Tensei wouldn't exist. (Although 525 was pretty damn badass.)
"Over time, I felt new power coursing through my veins. Those emotions of grief and terror soon morphed into something more; something appalling."
Wings of Death
Those were the sounds that echoed through the Forest of Death as Orochimaru was propelled through tree after tree. He had been launched like a rocket after his enemy's initial blast of scalding hot air; his throat burned after he made the mistake of inhaling some of it. The good news was that he had chakra coating his entire body, so the damage he sustained was minimal. The bad news was that the thing chasing him was faster than he was, even when chakra fueled his muscles. He was seriously considering the possibility of teleportation.
Righting himself in midair, the snake planted his legs onto the next tree in his path and launched himself into the forest with a powerful push. The problem with this entire situation was that his enemy wasn't corporeal, or at least he didn't think it was; the kunai he had thrown earlier had passed right through it. All of its attacks seemed to have the wind element incorporated on some level, as well.
His thought process was conveniently interrupted as the being appeared right in front of him, slashing through his clothes with the scimitars. The only thing that had prevented his being bisected were his reflexes – he had twisted in midair right in time, so the sword had only lightly cut across his abdominals.
Orochimaru frowned; it could hit him, but he couldn't return the favor. Wonderful.
He realized he needed to make room, lest the thing pursue him right out of the forest and into the waiting maw that was the Leaf Village. He turned around in midair and flew through hand seals. Fire beat wind, after all.
"Katon: Gokakyu no Jutsu!"
The large fireball flew into the still shimmering being, exploding on contact. Orochimaru allowed himself a grim smirk of satisfaction; a grin which was promptly erased as the thing materialized right in his face again.
This time, instead of a sword slash, he was blown through the forest by another blast of superheated air. He allowed the momentum to carry him into the forest floor, where he rolled onto his feet and took off again. He pulsed his chakra, signaling for Oto-nin assistance. Help came, though, in the form of the Oto genin squad.
"What is your wish, Orochimaru-sama?" Dosu asked respectfully. Orochimaru frowned – if he was having a difficult time, the genin squad would be absolutely crushed, cream of the crop or not. He disregarded those thoughts, though; if he needed to sacrifice the children to make his escape, so be it.
"Distract the being chasing me while I find some way to counter its abilities."
"As you command," the lead genin replied.
He and his squad turned around immediately; Dosu rang his Melody Arm while Zaku fired off a Decapitating Airwave. Kin has let loose with some senbon needles, bells attached. The ringing made their enemy waver, but the blast of air and the projectiles did absolutely nothing. Dosu turned to check up on their leader, but the Sannin member had already vanished. He attempted to refocus on their enemy; the result was him being launched into the forest by a much powerful burst of air. He felt one of his legs crack as he landed awkwardly a good distance away from his teammates, who had also been blasted in different directions.
Dosu felt panic rising in his throat, but crushed it instantly. He attempted to stand up, but that plan backfired as pain lanced up his left leg and into his hip. He fell against the forest floor once more.
That was when the screams began.
Zaku had been eager to test his mettle against this new foe; maybe this one could actually stand against his Decapitating Airwaves, although he highly doubted it. He was incredibly powerful, already chuunin level, in fact! None of these fools could touch him! He and his teammates would go all the way to the top, and prove to their leader that they had what it took to stand by him in the top echelons of Otogakure.
At least, he had been confident before.
He ran through the forest, throwing everything in his playbook at the apparition after him. The thing was like a ghost – it took no damage. All of Zaku's attacks had phased through the thing, and he was starting to get nervous. How was he supposed to prove himself if he couldn't bring it down?
He let loose a yelp of pain as the wind blasted into his back, sending him careening face-first into a tree trunk. The genin pushed himself up quickly and continued running.
It continued like this for another five minutes. Zaku was panting now, a result of sprinting for too long. The wind whipped by his ears; it only reminded him of the monster chasing him. He spared a glance over his shoulder.
How long had it been that close to him? Was it just toying with him?
"D-Die!" he stammered, hurling more kunai in its direction. The results stayed the same – it hadn't even bothered to dodge or block. He could feel its eyes on him, even as its form wavered.
"My w-what?" Sweat rolled down his forehead. It could talk too – maybe it would spare him if he showed his worthiness?
"Wait a minute, buddy! We can talk this out, right? What do you want to know – the invasion plans! Yeah!"
He lost his balance, but it was not his fault. Pain wracked his entire body as he fell onto his ass. He looked through shocked eyes at the blood staining the forest floor. His blood. His blood. Zaku followed the trail to the source of his torment. His leg – he could see his own bones and muscles and blood!
More pain. He saw red; he felt his nerves in his shoulders go haywire, frying themselves from the agony. Suddenly he was off the ground. He looked into the face of his reaper – the face of the immortal and the everlasting, Death incarnate – and he screamed.
"Your existence, child. Prove to me your existence."
Kin ran. She had heard the inhuman screams, felt the bloodshed all around her. It was too much – it was all too much! And so she ran through the forest, eager to get away from the monster and Otogakure and the Chuunin Exams.
She practically flew into the clearing, thinking herself home free. Alas, it was not to meant to be. The blood was here too, as well as another genin squad; it was the Suna children, the Jinchuuriki and his siblings. The crimson fluid was all around them, but no bodies. Apparently there had been an execution. They looked at her in apathetic curiosity, noting the way she sweated and the wideness of her eyes. Gaara licked his lips. Kin shivered.
"H-hey, you guys! You gotta get out of here, quick! It's not safe!"
The siblings just looked at her; she was an irritant, she realized. They thought she was off her rocker. She steeled her resolve. It was of the utmost importance, both for the invasion and as a fellow human being, to convince them to run.
"I'm s-serious! There's something coming, something even you won't-"
The searing rolled through her back, cutting off her words. It was as she fell backwards, absently noting the mild shock on the Suna genins' faces and the growing dark around her vision, that she finally heard the heavenly echo.
"Your existence, child."
Temari and Kankuro took a hesitant step back. Gaara, though, was curious. At first they couldn't see what had spilled the Oto girl's entrails all over the ground, but as her bisected top half fell backwards, they could make out the figure. It fluctuated in place, its form never fully coalescing. They made out a head, which was looking down into Kin's unseeing eyes, but it soon appeared to grow bored and glanced up at the siblings. Its indistinguishable face soon locked onto Gaara.
Gaara felt an unsettling lump in his stomach. It was a strange, new feeling. Was this what they called nervousness? He felt Mother shift in his mind.
The being cocked its head, like a curious little puppy, and the Shukaku started howling.
"Run, child! Do not let it near us! Do not let it near me!"
Gaara squinted in confusion. Mother?
"Are you deaf, boy?! Go! NOW! BEFORE IT GETS CLOSER!"
The Jinchuuriki of the Ichibi watched as the thing put its right foot forward, and instead of a step, simply appeared a few feet closer to them. The wavering never ceased. The lump previously resting in his stomach now lodged itself in Gaara's throat. It was then that he made up his mind.
"Temari, Kankuro," he hissed, "we're leaving." His siblings were already starting towards the trees.
They disappeared, running through the forest at max speed. They didn't rest until they were a good three miles away from the clearing, and noted with relief that it hadn't followed them.
"What was that thing?"
"I don't know and I'm not sure I want to find out. We need to keep moving."
Sasuke and Sakura raced through the forest, searching valiantly for their third teammate. They felt incomplete without their boisterous blonde; it was a result of the teamwork training Kakashi had put them through. They felt like an incomplete jigsaw puzzle if they weren't all together. They were lucky that the powerful winds had knocked them to the forest floor; it was easy enough to break their descent, and Orochimaru's attention had been focused on the new arrival, whatever it was. The situation had been win-win. Now all they had to do was find Naruto.
"I wish I had the Byakugan," Sakura lamented; Sasuke silently agreed. They both knew how massive Naruto's chakra reserves were – he would've been a beacon to chakra-seeing eyes. As it were, they had to make due with Sasuke's Sharingan and Sakura's normal eyesight and chakra sensing capabilities. It was no easy task, even as they headed in the direction of the giant snake.
They continued to hear the sounds of battle between Orochimaru and his foe, but they grew distant as Team 7 put more ground between them.
The snake had apparently slithered quite far. The genin hoped Naruto had managed to get out before he was swallowed, but they both individually shook off that thought whenever it entered their minds. It wouldn't do to get all negative. If anyone could make it out, it was Naruto.
Sasuke leapt to a new branch, but felt his weight give out. The tree limb collapsed and he fell to the forest floor.
"Sasuke!" his teammate called out.
"I'm fine, Sakura," he returned.
She landed next to him, but he paid her no attention. His sole focus was on the snapped tree branch – it was charred black. All of the trees in this area were.
"Did someone get careless with fire jutsu?" he wondered aloud.
"I don't think so," Sakura replied. "Look at the trunks. They're all burned only on one side. It looks more like something... exploded."
It was easy enough to find the focal point of the explosion once they noted that fact. The burned corpse of the giant snake was twisted on the floor – it was barely recognizable. It looked to have been burst open from the inside. Lying on the skin, a little crispy but otherwise unharmed, was their third teammate.
"Naruto!" they both chorused, already on the move. He appeared to be unconscious, but they noticed him taking big breaths and weren't worried. Sasuke approached him. As he reached out to grab his shoulder, though, he suddenly found his hand repulsed.
He tried again, but it was the same result. When his hand got close to Naruto's body, a furious wind forced it back. They both frowned and looked at each other.
"I obviously don't want to try a fire jutsu to cut through it. That would just be stupid," Sasuke spoke.
Sakura nodded. "Try forcing through it with a kunai. It doesn't look like it would stand up to a sharpened object."
Fishing through his holster, Sasuke retrieved the tool. He twirled it into a reverse grip and then thrust it into the shield of wind, being careful that his angle of attack wouldn't end up with him stabbing his comrade. The wind held for a good five seconds, but eventually the concentrated piercing power of the kunai won out, and Sasuke was through. The wind enveloped his arm up until he made contact with Naruto's shoulder; as he grabbed the blonde, the wind dissipated spontaneously, almost as if it was never there in the first place.
"Dobe! Hey, Naruto!" Sasuke half-shouted, shaking his teammate. There wasn't a response.
"Hold on Sasuke, let me try something," Sakura spoke up. She searched through her backpack before pulling out a canteen of water. It was her only one; Sasuke frowned when he realized how much she would be wasting.
"It's alright," she placated, "I can always refill it at the stream, and I'm not thirsty as it is. Worst case scenario, I can take a quick sip from either your's or Naruto's."
At his reluctant nod, she unscrewed the cap and dumped the water onto Naruto's face. He sputtered after a moment and his eyes fluttered open.
"Ugh, my head," he groaned. "What hap – whoaaaa! Did I do that?"
Sakura shrugged. "Apparently."
Naruto's grin was very telling, but also quite tired. "I'm such a badass."
"Don't get cocky," Sasuke scolded. "I don't know what you did, but we can talk about it later. Can you move? We need to get to the tower and tell them about Orochimaru."
"Yeah, I think I'm good," Naruto replied, stretching after he wobbly got to his feet. After exchanging a nod with his fellow genin, they all took off into the forest.
The smell of blood permeated that charred portion of the forest. If they had stayed a moment longer, they would've heard the wind winding through the blackened trees, echoes of disturbing laughter in the air.
Dosu had been drifting in and out for a while now. Apparently he had hit the ground harder than he had initially thought, because after quickly analyzing his leg, his head had started throbbing. Right as he realized it was a concussion, the black had consumed him. Since then he had been awoken at random intervals, although it couldn't really be called true consciousness, as all sound had been muffled and his vision had swam. He considered himself both lucky and unlucky that he hadn't been found. If it was a Suna squad, he'd thank both Kami and the Log a million times over. Anyone else? Well, that would be risky.
He tried to inch backwards to find something to prop himself against. He had heard more screams radiating through the forest and had deduced that the monster had found another victim. Miraculously, he had been ignored, or so he hoped. There wasn't really anything he could do to defend himself, after all. His ninjutsu and genjutsu were admittedly poor at best, and his taijutsu wasn't much better. He had relied on his Melody Arm to the point where it became a crutch.
Dosu hissed in pain as his broken leg was dragged over a rock, not bothering to suppress it. At this point he really didn't care whether he was found or not. It was either hopefully receive medical attention, or stay in the forest until either he was eaten or the brain swelling killed him.
"Who the hell are you?"
Dosu groaned as he cracked open his uncovered eye. Standing over him, alert and ready, were a trio of Konoha-nin. They were looking at him curiously and with just a hint of pity. That eye widened when he noticed the face of one Uchiha Sasuke.
Dammit, dammit, dammit. Okay, stay calm. They don't know. They might not have even run into him yet.
"I am Kinuta Dosu. My squad was ambushed and I was separated from them after being hit by a jutsu. I broke my left leg and suffered a concussion during the fall. I don't know what happened to my teammates."
He watched as their eyes moved to his Oto hitai-ate, and for a split second panic and paranoia overcame him. Do they know? But his fears were alleviated when they didn't speak up after noting his affiliation. They all shared a quick, unspoken glance. A part of Dosu wished for that sense of comradery with his own teammates, but it was quickly stomped. That kind of thinking was not welcome in Otogakure.
"We do not require a scroll, but we were heading to the tower. We can bring you with us so you can receive medical attention. Your team will not pass, obviously, but it is better than eventually dying out here." While Sasuke was talking, he and Naruto had moved to Dosu's sides, each supporting a shoulder so he could stay off his wounding leg. Sakura had kept her eyes on the trees, watching for potential hostiles that might take advantage of the situation.
"Thank you for your help, Uchiha Sasuke," Dosu said. He instantly realized his mistake, but by then it was too late. The supporting arms had become vice-like.
"How do you know his name," Naruto ordered warily. It wasn't a question.
Dosu had always been a logical and intelligent person. While he was definitely not on the level of a Nara, he could nonetheless sufficiently analyze a situation and come up with multiple ways to solve it, with varying levels of success. It was here that he had a decision to make – he had run the mental calculations, and had thrown out the responses that would not have at least a seventy-five percent chance of saving his own life. The only remaining task was to decide which one to use.
He had come to a conclusion: Orochimaru had thrown his team away. They were pawns, meant to distract the enemy that could challenge their leader himself, while he made his grand escape with his tail between his legs. At least one of his teammates was most likely dead, and the other was unaccounted for. It was only a stroke of luck that Dosu had not met the same fate.
By all accounts, the young Oto-nin could have easily given a response that was perfectly reasonable and that would have explained his knowing of Uchiha Sasuke without revealing so much as a vowel. But he was a man that valued his life, and he was a man that held grudges.
And so, Kinuta Dosu gave a response that would alter the very course of history itself.
"I have information about Orochimaru and a plot against your village. I will exchange said information for sufficient medical attention."
And they were off, bounding towards the tower at top speed.