I own neither Naruto nor the basic idea of this plot. They belong to Kishimoto and dracohalo117 respectively.

This idea was on the profile of dracohalo117. I wrote to him and asked for permission to use it, which I'm pleased to say he said yes to. I am aware that there is another version of this fic, but apart from the obvious, this fic isn't really like that one. Having said that, I did write to Thanathos to check that he was okay with it before I started on this, so don't start moaning about plagiarism. To anyone that's read the idea on dracohalo117's profile, I've changed a few things, most notably the 'good Akatsuki aspect.' I don't mind stories like that, but I just prefer them as villains.


Orochimaru had always wanted to achieve it. Even as a child, he had longed to be the strongest, and he had critically examined the ninja of Konoha, shaking his head as he observed them. This one could have much better aim if he wasn't missing some fingers, this one could reach so much further if he only hardened his heart to killing, this one would have so much potential if he didn't drown his sorrow in alcohol, this one could become so easily become Hokage if he only had a bloodline to help back his skills.

Eventually, he had reached the conclusion that every ninja had a flaw holding him back, and to be the strongest, Orochimaru would have to rid himself of any flaws, so that he could reach his full potential.

However, instead of seeking to improve the things that needed to be improving, such as his ego and sadism, Orochimaru had turned to his physical form. Any other ninja would have found nothing wrong with his body - it had all four limbs, all five senses, was fast and strong. But Orochimaru's eyes still found weaknesses. His body had no special ability, no bloodline to elevate him above the rest. He had worked hard to become one of the greatest ninja in the world, but one mistake on the battlefield and it would all be wiped away. And even if he managed to live to a ripe old age, his body would still weaken and shrivel until it crumbled into dust, unable to hold back the ravages of time.

No, his body was not perfect by any means. But Orochimaru vowed that he would make it so.

It was almost stupidly easy to get his hands on test subjects. Despite the wars that had raged across the continents, the civilians of Konoha trusted their ninja to keep them safe. It never occurred to them that those same ninja could attack them as they attacked the civilians of the other villages.

First he only used the scraps, the shadows of humanity on the streets, who had no one to miss them or care about their well-being. No one had noticed, and so he grew bolder, and took the children from the orphanages, which were filled to bursting after the wars. Again, no one seemed to realize that people were disappearing, and for a few years, Orochimaru worked in peace; cutting, injecting, extracting, stitching, slicing, carving and crushing as he sought to unlock secrets that should have been left well alone.

And unlock them he did. After countless experiments, which cost as many lives, he invented not only a jutsu that would allow him to exchange his body for another's, extending his life in the process, but also many others, which could not have been discovered without the use of his experiments. Many times, Orochimaru had paused within the middle of an experiment, and stared down at skin parted to reveal the glistening red flesh beneath, unable to believe that so much power could be found within the bodies of the weak.

However, there was only so much that the weak could give him. For every secret he discovered, it was not unusual for fifty subjects to die in the process of discovering it. They died in many ways; his own carelessness, shock, biting through their own tongues so that they drowned in their own blood while strapped down to tables, mistakes spawned from his lack of medical knowledge, but it didn't really bother him, only the fact that he had to keep replacing them, which was irksome. But after thirty men died as he tried to find a way to create an immunity to fire, Orochimaru was forced to look for superior test subjects, those with strong bodies, those who regularly pushed themselves to their limits and beyond.


He had at first only gone for ninjas from outside the village, not out of a sense of loyalty, but because they would not be noticed by Konoha. But the number of shinobi who went near enough to Konoha for them to be snatched, but were unimportant enough that no one would notice were few and far between. So Orochimaru had turned to the shinobi of Konoha to provide subjects, snatching them in the dead of night and carting them off to the laboratories that he had hidden so carefully underneath the abandoned buildings of Konoha.

He was cautious, naturally. He did not take the strongest of the strong, did not steal away the elite, no matter how much his fingers itched to wield a scalpel against the flesh of Konoha's White Fang, or dissect that strange student of Jiraiya, who had been labelled the prodigy that might even surpass him, though his eyes flashed whenever someone mentioned the brat possibly becoming a better ninja than him. It was ludicrous to even think that someone trained by the 'dead-last' to ever surpass the genius, a fantasy that his foolish teammate could only dream about as he ruffled the golden hair of his favourite student.

But then came the blow that had shocked both Konoha and Orochimaru. Instead of choosing his own student, the one that he had praised above all others, the Sandaime had selected Namikaze Minato, determining that he was more fit to be the Yondaime that Orochimaru. It was a bitter blow, but more importantly, it was a sign that the Sandaime had detected, if only slightly, the darkness that lurked in his favoured student.

So, Orochimaru had begun to quietly shift his work from Konoha to the hideouts he had slowly constructed on his many trips away from Konoha, keeping only the most delicate subjects in the village. On one of his visits to his largest hideout, he was approached by a member from Akatsuki, an organization of S-class missing-nins that was based in Ame. Intrigued, Orochimaru had listened to the man, a strange fellow that was hunched on the ground, almost as if he was crawling along it, and found out that they were gathering members. Deciding to keep the offer in mind, he returned to Konoha, his mind ever-whirring with ideas to test out on the unfortunates in his labs.

But still, the bitterness from not being chosen as the Yondaime remained, and slowly fanned into rage. And from that rage sprang carelessness.

He had limited himself to only taking genin and chunin, the ordinary ones that wouldn't be missed too badly. After all, losing poorly-skilled ninja during missions was not that uncommon, though it happened less with Konoha than the other villages. But as his rage searched for an outlet and he lost more subjects due to his carelessness during experiments, Orochimaru began snatching more and more. He did not just take genin and chunin, but also abducted jonin, ANBU, and even some academy students, wanting to see how they would react to his tests compared to the elite.

People had begun to realize that villagers were being snatched away in the night, and reported to the Sandaime, who searched frantically for the culprit. And then had come that fateful night, when the old man had confronted him, the two facing each other across a battlefield of restricted scrolls scattered across the ground.

Orochimaru had fled, feeling anger and a bittersweet triumph course through him, for he knew that the only reason he was not dead was because Sarutobi had been too weak to kill the man he had thought of as a son. He then decided to head to Ame, hoping that the organization could offer him as much value as the citizens of Konoha had.

It didn't.

It offered him so much more.

Upon arriving, Orochimaru had been introduced to the leader of Akatsuki, Pein, and his partner. His shock at seeing two of the brats that Jiraiya had taken an interest in after their battle with Hanzo was only surpassed by his glee when he saw the eyes of the orange-haired man. Orochimaru's leg had been black for a week from where he'd kicked himself after learning that the Rinnegan, said to be the most powerful of the dojutsu, had been within ten feet of him and he'd missed it. But now it seemed that he had a second chance at gaining it, and the Sannin was most certainly not going to waste it.

He was also impressed by the man's partner. He vaguely recalled Jiraiya saying that the girl of the group had had some skill in folding paper, but either his teammate had been holding back considerably, or Konan had spent a lot of time honing her skills since Jiraiya had left them. Orochimaru witnessed her create practically everything a shinobi would need out of paper, even fly by use of hundreds of pieces of paper stuck together to form graceful wings. While not a conventional method of fighting, Konan's origami was certainly a key part in her status as an S-class shinobi.

The leader explained to Orochimaru what their goal was, though the Sannin sensed that he was holding a few things back. First of all, they would gather money by accepting missions at a lower cost than the main villages would. This would not only gain money for the organization, but it would also deprive the main villages of some of their income, an idea that Orochimaru approved of.

Their second goal was to gather the bjuu, and though the leader didn't say why, Orochimaru had a few guesses. Each of the nine demons had an incredible amount of chakra, and were capable of wreaking destruction that shinobi could never hope to match. One on their own made a powerful weapon. All nine of them together...Well, the villages would be falling over themselves in their haste to surrender.

However, they would not be going after the bjuu for a while, as they needed to gather information, as well as other members. In the mean time, they would simply collect money in teams of two, which they would remain in for a long time unless one member died, or was replaced for any other reason.

Orochimaru smirked as he leaned back against the tree, watching the young man kneel down next to a puppet. He had assumed that the grotesque figure that had invited him to join the organization was Sasori's real form, but during a fight with a missing-nin that was skilled in wind jutsus, the puppet had been blown apart, revealing a redhead who seemed to be in his late teens.

The fight was over, the missing-nin dead and his bounty collected, and now all that was left to do was for Sasori to fix the broken puppet. He was clearly very skilled, and soon the cracked shell of the puppet had been repaired without so much as a scratch to show where it had been damaged. Satisfied, Sasori unsealed several other puppets and began to tinker with them.

Orochimaru meanwhile observed Sasori with interest. His nose, refined by a procedure that had cost several civilians their looks - and lives - as he dissected their faces in an attempt to study how to do it, told him that Sasori's scent was comprised of the smell of wood, oil, and metal. Not unusual for a puppeteer, except for the fact that Sasori's scent had very little in the way of an ordinary human scent - something that was not usual for a puppeteer. Could the rumours he had heard from his spies be true?

However, his interest was diverted from Sasori as the redhead unsealed another puppet from a scroll, and began to carefully examine it, checking over for any flaws. Orochimaru's eyes bulged as he took in the messy black hair and the sweeping brown robe, the sight taking him back to a time before the Third Shinobi War, where Sarutobi had taken his team on a diplomatic mission. Orochimaru remembered standing in front of a desk, feeling naked without any kunai or shruiken by his side, though his sensei had warned them that metal weapons would be more of a hindrance than a help, thanks to the kekkei genkai of the Sandaime Kazekage, who could had manipulate the magnetic field.

Now the greatest Kazekage in the history of Suna stood before Sasori, clearly held up by chakra strings. Orochimaru could tell that the man was dead, but his body seemed to not have deteriorated at all. A quick sniff told him that the Kazkage's body had had chemicals used on it, probably to preserve it, while it also seemed to have had metal added, a suspicion that was confirmed as the Sannin took a closer look and noticed a joint where the Kazekage's neck met his head.

Orochimaru's eyes narrowed. He had seen Sasori use puppets in action before, but had not paid them much heed. But now as he looked back, they had possessed abilities that even a master puppet-maker should not have been able to install. However, a human with a bloodline could have conceivably used them. So...

'He seems to have found a way to create puppets out of shinobi, while preserving their abilities! And if he can do that, there's no reason why I can't work with the genetic material. This is wonderful!'

Indeed it was. For if the Kazekage's body was intact, then that meant that his kekkei genkai was up for grabs as well.

His partner had just gotten a lot more interesting.

It was not long until Orochimaru met the three other members of the organization, and he was delighted by them. He had known that they would be powerful, but not that they would possess such a goldmine of potential for his own use.

Hoshigaki Kisame was a face he remembered well from the bingo books. The shark-like man was a member of the Hoshigaki clan, which had practically died out in recent years thanks to the bloodline purges of Kiri. As Orochimaru recalled, they were famous not only for their blue skin, large chakra reserves and gills, which let them breathe underwater for a short period of time, but also for their swords, which were grown rather than made by feeding chakra to fragments of earlier created swords, and could 'eat' chakra. Rumour had it that the tradition had started when one of Kisame's ancestors had fought the Sanbi, and left the battle bleeding and broken, but triumphantly carrying one of the bjuu's scales.

Kakuzu, he found out, was the reason why Akatsuki had so little members at this point. The man was incredibly violent, and had killed two of the partners that had been given to him. He was also greedy, and had a deep obsession for money. But that was not why Orochimaru was interested in him.

Kakuzu had somehow transformed his entire body into a mass of thick black thread that was hidden under his skin. Orochimaru and Sasori had been paired up with him on a few missions, and Orochimaru had observed him manipulate the threads outside of his body for various purposes. However, what interested him the most was the form of immortality that came with it. Kakuzu was able to rip out the hearts of others, and then store them within his own body, not only extending his own life, but also granting the chakra and elemental abilities of the shinobi that he had taken the hearts from.

Orochimaru would have gone green with envy if it had been within his facial colour palette. The idea was not so dissimilar to his own, and yet it was almost improved. If it were not for Kakuzu's prowess as a shinobi and his own desire for more than what the violent man offered, he might have tried taking him for a host.

And then there was Zetsu. Orochimaru saw him rarely, as Zetsu worked alone as the organization's spy, and reported directly to their leader. But what he did see intrigued him. Zetsu had shown the ability to be able to pass through solid matter, and also to sink into the ground and reappear a fair distance away in a very short amount of time. Such a skill could prove to be very useful, though Orochimaru was not as interested in it as the others.

For a few months, he and the other members continued their work, collecting bounties and quietly gathering information on the bjuu and their jinchuriki. Orochimaru was assigned the Ichibi, but seeing as he would not be going after it for a few years, he didn't pay much attention to it.

Then a new member arrived. Hidan, a former shinobi of Yukagakure, left after killing his neighbours. At first, Orochimaru had not seen anything special about him. Hidan was skilled with a scythe, that was true, but he was not as skilled as some of even the Konoha shinobi, and he was incredibly disrespectful and rather arrogant. Orochimaru had dismissed him as useless for his research - until he saw him fight.

They were up against a group of rogue ANBU, all of whom had a hefty bounty on their head. While Orochimaru dealt with the leader of the group, Hidan faced off against another, who was very skilled with a katana. Orochimaru had just turned from the corpse of his foe when he saw the ANBU slicing at Hidan's neck. Even if he had wanted to shout a warning, it would be too late.

Hidan's head fell to the ground, and the ANBU scoffed. "That was pathet-"

Then Hidan's mouth opened, and to Orochimaru's astonishment, began to yell at Kakuzu to hurry up and fix him.

It was then that Orochimaru discovered Hidan's power. A member of the cult of Jashin, he was the result of their secret jutsu, which had transformed his body into something that simply would not die. Add that to his ritual that allowed him to inflict wounds on his opponent by attacking himself, and Orochimaru realized why Hidan was not as skilled as the other members - he didn't need to be. One drop of blood, and he had already won the fight.

Such an ability was something that interested the Sannin very much. Thanks to a jutsu he had created while in Konoha, he had the ability to regurgitate a new body from his mouth, in the event of getting a wound too serious to ignore. However, the technique required a large amount of chakra to use, and he could be finished off while trying to perform it. But Hidan did not have to use any chakra to keep himself alive - his body did it all for him - and he could only be stopped by chopping him into tiny pieces, but even that could be fixed by Kakuzu.

Time passed, and soon they were called back to Ame, as Pein liked to check on his subordinates, though the visits were growing fewer as time passed. Once he had given his report, Orochimaru took his leave, and began to wander around Ame, noting with amusement that he was given revered looks due to his cloak. Really, it was pathetic how some people just had to find someone to worship, not even bothering to gain power-

Suddenly he came to a halt, staring up at a building. On its roof was a blue-haired woman he recognized as Konan, who was standing next to a figure with orange hair and rippled eyes. But this was not the leader of Akatsuki, this was another man altogether. Orochimaru's eyes widened greedily. There was more than one source of the Rinnegan?

He waited until both Konan and the figure had gone before summoning a snake and ordering it to track the figure down. The snake complied, and led him to a building that was heavily guarded by both guards and traps. Orochimaru didn't doubt that he could break through, but if he did, someone would probably notice. Still, he made a note of the building before leaving. He had sensed more than one chakra signature, but the strange thing was, five seemed to be almost echoes of the same one. This would merit some investigation.

As he busied himself with setting up a new hideout in the Land of Rice, one that he had decided would be his main headquarters, Orochimaru reflected on his fellow members. All of them possessed power that he wanted, and he could not decide which one interested him more. Pein, with his legendary dojutsu? Konan, with her origami skills that he was sure he could mold to his own uses? Kisame, with his clever little sword that could eat chakra and seemed to be sentient? Sasori and his puppet? Kakuzu with his small form of immortality and those useful black threads? Hidan with his apparent immunity to death and clever little ritual? Zetsu with his strange powers that Orochimaru was already envisioning various uses for?

He could not decide, and it annoyed him. He wished to try out his body-switch jutsu soon, but when he left his body, he wanted to go to a better one. No, not just a better one - he wanted to have the best. But which one would be that be?

'If only one of them possessed the powers of the others! They would truly be the ultimate host-'

And that was when it hit him.

Despite the failure of the Mokuton transfer (well, at least, he thought it was a failure. There was a niggling suspicion that he thought he saw the chest of one of the infants rising and falling, but it was probably just his imagination) Orochimaru had not given up on the idea of grafting abilities on to another. In fact, thanks to a boy with a strange disorder, he had managed to create a new, more powerful version of the curse seal. The survival rate was one in ten, true, but as far as he was concerned, that was also a good thing. Only the strongest could survive it, and he would not have any weaklings bear his mark.

But the curse seal was not the only thing he had been able to graft. He had taken the kekkei genkai of several minor clans that lived in the Land of Rice, and managed to replicate it in others. The death rate was as high as the curse mark, higher in some cases, but that did not matter to Orochimaru, only the fact that it could be done.

And if he could transfer the abilities of Akatsuki...his mouth watered at the implications. He would have the ultimate host, one that would finally be able to achieve what his own body was unable to-


Orochimaru knew that he would have to be incredibly careful. His associates were S-class missing-nins, and they would not appreciate someone trying to replicate their abilities. Not only that, but they rarely came together at the same time, and he needed to be able to gather what he needed in a short span of time, so that one would not notice the materials missing and inform the others before he could flee. And he would need to flee - Sasori especially would not be amused by what Orochimaru intended to steal.

But there was one occasion where all of the members would gather together in the same place - when a new member joined. And Orochimaru had it on good authority that their number was going to be up by one very soon. It was at that point that he would act.

So he carefully made notes of what he needed, and began to delve into the mystery of the strange figure with the Rinnegan. For he knew that he had little chance of getting what he wanted from Pein - the man was extremely powerful; if he was not, Orochimaru would never have called him 'leader.'

It took some time, but eventually, he found the answer.

Pein seemed to have made use of corpses as eyes and ears, and somehow had gifted them with the Rinnegan. Orochimaru wasn't sure of exactly how the process worked, only that it let him use them as if they were his own bodies, and that the corpses were transformed by those strange piercings.

Seeing as Orochimaru had never encountered anything like this before, he would have have to take a gamble. Though stealing a sample from the leader would be impossible, the corpses, which remained in a hidden room in a coma-like state most of the time, were another matter. However, he was not sure if they now contained the genetic information needed for the Rinnegan, or it was just a jutsu that had nothing to do with them. He could only hope that it was the former, otherwise he would not be able to replicate it.

But now he knew what he had to do. All that was left was to act.

Orochimaru plunged his sword into the chest of the missing-nin, a sadistic grin on his face. The man, an A-rank shinobi from Iwa, slumped to the ground and his partner gasped as he saw him. "Daichi!"

His distraction cost him dearly, as one of Sasori's puppets came up from behind and stabbed him in the back. The man choked before toppling over. Sasori eyed the corpse before taking a scroll out of the pouch at his side, the one where he kept all of his puppets when they sealed. Orochimaru drifted over. "You intend to turn him into a puppet?"

Sasori nodded. "He showed skill."

"Indeed." Orochimaru knelt by Sasori's side, pretending to look over the corpse. "But are you sure that you wish to do that? Leader-sama asked us to collect bounties after all."

Sasori shot him an annoyed look before turning back to the dead body. "Yes, I'm sure. Now, we must leave soon. Leader expects us to be present when the new member arrives, and I hate to keep people waiting."

Orochimaru nodded, and rose to his feet, turning away to hide the scroll that he had replaced with an empty one in Sasori's open pouch when the puppet-master was occupied. 'Kukuku...One down, now just six to go.'

To Orochimaru's joy, he managed to retrieve two more samples before even reaching Ame. He and Sasori found 'the Zombie Brothers' as Kisame had dubbed them fighting against a group of bounty hunters. It was one-sided really - the hunters had no chance against the combined efforts of two S-class ninjas - but Hidan had decided to drag it out with his ritual.

When Orochimaru arrived on the scene, there was only one hunter-nin left, who was covered in deep gashes that matched those on Hidan's body exactly. As he and Sasori approached, the silver-haired Jashinist plunged his pike into his own heart, and the hunter-nin fell to the floor.

Hidan pulled the pike out of his chest, giving it a shake. "Man, that fucking hurt like hell!"

Kakuzu, long since finished with his own opponent, shook his head at Hidan. "If you hadn't wasted your time with that ritual, you wouldn't be in that mess."

"Shut it, heathen! Jashin-sama fucking demands blood!"

As they argued, Orochimaru stooped down and discretely used a syringe to suck up the blood that had splattered the area from Hidan's self-mutilation. This was a golden opportunity after all, and he couldn't afford to waste it, not when he was on such a tight schedule.

Suddenly, his eyes caught a flicker of black and white, and he threw a kunai in its direction. Zetsu, who had just risen from the ground, put a hand to his cheek where the kunai had sliced it. His eyes narrowed at Orochimaru. "Don't do that ever again!"

Orochimaru smiled. "My apologies. I'm just a little tense."

Zetsu glared at him, but turned to the others. "Leader-sama expects you to arrive promptly. Don't be late."

With that, he sank into the ground and vanished.

Orochimaru walked over to the kunai that was now lodged in the ground, and scooped it up. He smirked as he saw that it was coated with a strange muddy-brown liquid, which was quickly added into another syringe underneath his cloak. "We should head back. We don't want to be late now, do we?"

Pein. Konan. Kisame. Kakuzu. It was those four that Orochimaru still needed samples from, and he would have to go about it carefully. But he had thought it over, and believed that he could do it.

As they stepped into Ame, Konan appeared before them in a swirl of paper. "We've been waiting for you."

Sasori grunted. "Blame Hidan. We were held up by his rituals."

"Oh, go and play with your fucking dolls! My ritual is important!"

Konan glared at Hidan, who rolled his eyes but fell silent. "You have wasted enough time. Come."

They followed her in, Hidan muttering darkly about someone calling his ritual a waste of time.

As they lowered their heads against the relentless downpour that was always present in Ame, no one noticed the piece of paper trapped in Orochimaru's fist.

Orochimaru hissed in excitement as he watched the new member being greeted by their leader. The boy was an Uchiha! A member of the clan that he had always envied for their bloodline, the powerful sharingan that could copy any jutsu they desired. And not only that, but the boy was non other than Uchiha Itachi, the heir and prodigy of the clan! With his body, Orochimaru was certain that he could bring the land to its knees - and that was just while he waited for his later host to be perfected!

He had originally intended to just leave with the samples, but now the Uchiha had provided an opportunity for Orochimaru to test out his jutsu, and it would be rather ungrateful to waste it, would it not?

But first he had to gather samples from Pein, Kazkuzu and Kisame, or rather, Kisame's Samehada. This could prove to be tricky, but Orochimaru was confident that he could do it.

Behind the Sannin, Hidan and Kazkuzu were arguing again, and Kakuzu was clearly beginning to get annoyed with his partner. He lifted his arm, ready to send some of his black threads at the Jashinist. But then a pale hand rested on his shoulder. "Kukuku...You shouldn't be fighting. You are partners, after all."

Kakuzu snorted, and shook his arm free of Orochimaru's grip, not noticing the black threads that remained between the Sannin's fingers, though they quickly vanished inside his cloak.

The Sannin quickly stepped inside the room, panting heavily. The various safeguards around the building protecting the body had been more difficult to combat than he thought, and he was aware that Pein probably knew that they had been breached. He had to work fast, before anyone else arrived.

He walked over to the nearest body lying motionless in a strange contraption, ready to dart away if it showed a hint of moving. But from what he had observed, the bodies were controlled by those strange piercings, and deactivated when they were not needed, becoming nothing more than corpses once again until Pein commanded them to move.

Even so, Orochimaru worked quickly, snipping away hair from each body and yanking out a few piercings as well, intending to study them as well. Once he was done, he sealed away the samples and left the room. He had already collected a sample from Samehada, picking out the scales embedded in Kisame's training dummies from where the shark-man had gone overboard, which left just one last member - Uchiha Itachi.

Orochimaru panted as he stared at Itachi in rage. The Uchiha stared back stoically, seeming to be unmoved by the killing intent that the Snake Sannin was pouring out. "Orochimaru, any technique you use will be useless before these eyes."

Orochimaru gritted his teeth even as he stared longingly at the Uchiha's eyes, which seemed to be different than the normal sharingan, especially if that hellish technique he had just been through was any indication. He could almost feel the spikes impaling his body again and again, as he realized that he had been beaten by a mere child.

He snarled at the thought and lunged forward. But Itachi was faster, and he brought the kunai arching down just as Orochimaru's fingers reached his head.

Pain stabbed through Orochimaru's wrist as he stared at his hand, now lying on the floor. He had never felt such raw fury before. It almost encompassed the throbbing that he felt from the stump where his hand had been, the hand that was now lying pathetically on the ground, its fingers limp-

Orochimaru's eyes widened. For snagged between the useless digits were several strands of black hair that had not been there before he attacked the Uchiha. His mind quickly ran through several scenarios. He had failed in his bid to take over Itachi's body, that much was obvious. But with the genetic material from the boy's hairs...

Well, his perfect body would not be perfect without the sharingan, would it?

He thrust forward his other hand, and a snake sprung forward, grasping the severed hand before Orochimaru darted away through the trees. He might have been bested by the Uchiha now, but he would wait, he would sharpen his skills, and he would create the perfect body.

Then he would return to slay the Akatsuki, and give Itachi the pleasure of knowing what the sharingan was capable of in the grasp of a man like himself before he ended the wretched child's life.

The guard standing outside of the base was bored out of his mind. It wasn't fair. Inside the base, you got to mess around with the prisoners, and it was a lot warmer in there as well. But no, he had to get stuck with guard duty, standing outside in the cold for hours on end, while thinking mournfully of the pretty girls that Orochimaru had never minded them playing with as long as they didn't damage them too much.

Suddenly, there was a noise which jolted him out of his grumbling. He narrowed his eyes, squinting through the mist that always drifted over in the early morning. "Who's there? Show yourself!"

A figure staggered out of the mist, and the guard gasped. "Orochimaru-sama?"

The Snake Sannin was in a bad shape. He had managed to perform a medical ninjutsu that limited the bleeding, but it was crude, and his sight was beginning to blur from the pain. Due to his white skin, it was difficult to see if he had got any paler, but his harsh breathing would have told anyone that there was something wrong even if they didn't see the stump where his hand had been.

The guard rushed forward to help, but Orochimaru waved him away as he strode forward. " my quarters. Send one...of the prisoners...there."

The guard frowned. "Which one, Orochimaru-sama?"

Orochimaru hissed. "Anyone!"

The guard paled, and quickly rushed off to the dungeons, not wanting to be the target of the wrath that Orochimaru was clearly only barely holding back.

He dragged the wife of the daimyo of the Land of Rice from out of the cell they had shoved her in earlier after kidnapping her for some leverage over the man. Despite the fear in her eyes, the woman had been raised from birth to be quiet and dignified at all times, and so she allowed the guard to lead her to Orochimaru's chambers, vowing to herself that she would not scream, no matter what he did to her.

It took only five seconds after Orochimaru began the jutsu for her to break her vow.

Orochimaru seethed as he looked at himself in the mirror. The face staring back at him could be considered pretty by some, with long glossy brown hair, dark eyes, and full pink lips. But that was all it was. A pretty face with a useless body; a gilded prison that he was to be trapped in for the next three years!

Hissing angrily, the Sannin slumped back into his chair, glancing around the room, which was an odd mix of a lab and a study. The walls were painted white with swirling patterns of red, gold and black, while the floor was white tiles, with elaborate rugs scattered over one half of them. Bookcases lined the walls, containing everything from fantasy tales (collected by Orochimaru while he researched legends about wild spirits who were immortal) to medical textbooks. A comfortable armchair faced a steel table, which had leather straps hanging off the sides.

The brown fabric was stained from where it had cut into frantically struggling limbs, the owners desperately trying to get free as Orochimaru wielded the glinting tools that were kept in the display cases by the door. Inspiration could strike him at any time, and he liked to be able test out his ideas on cruder models within the comfort of his room without having to bother to go down to the laboratories where the real work was done.

There was a knock on the door, and Orochimaru looked up, though he already knew who it was. The experiments he had performed on himself had granted him the senses of a snake after all, and he knew the scent of the man outside the door very well. He passed a hand over his face, and when he took it away, the features of his new body were replaced by the snake-like ones of his old form. "Enter."

The door swung open, the oiled hinges not giving so much as a creak, and inside stepped Mizuki. "Orochimaru-sama? You summoned me?"

Orochimaru smirked when he saw him. Though Mizuki was nothing more than a pawn, he was certainly a useful one. Though after a few incidents, he was watched like a hawk on missions with teammates, document-carrying missions were not really looked at beyond the fact that the document had arrived where it was supposed to; meaning that Mizuki was able to show him quite a lot of Konoha's minor documents, which added up to quite a helpful amount of information for anyone interesting in invading.

Of course, Orochimaru was not delusional. He knew that he would not be able to take on his old village for a very long time, and it would require careful planning, as well as a considerable increase in the size of his army. But the Sannin was patient, and he was sure that he, the one destined to learn every jutsu in the world, to access the secrets of immortality, could prevail against a village of weaklings. After all, he had easily beaten Jiraiya, and his old teammate had been heralded as one of the strongest Konoha had ever seen.

However, there was a few small matters that he had to currently attend to. The most important one was that he was slowly but surely running out of test subjects. They died so easily, yet gathering the quantity he needed was proving...irksome. He couldn't turn everyone that came to him looking for power into experiments - he had an army to build, after all.

"Yes. Tell me, Mizuki-kun, when do you return to Konoha?"

Mizuki frowned. "With your permission, Orochimaru-sama, I'd like to return as soon as possible. I fear that the Sandaime suspects that I've been straying from the missions he's assigned me."

Orochimaru leaned back in his chair, pretending to mull this over. In fact, he already knew that the Sandaime had suspected Mizuki for far longer than the chunin realized. But he saw no need to inform the chunin of that. He preferred for the pawns to not know the entire strength of the king.

"Very well. But before you go, I have something for you to take back."

Mizuki looked excited as Orochimaru reached over to his desk with an extended arm and picked up a scroll. "What is it, Orochimaru-sama? Some powerful jutsus? A new formulae? A-"

Orochimaru chuckled. "No, not that it concerns you. I wish for you to take this scroll back to Konoha, and leave it in the hole in the wall of the alley next to that...quaint little ramen stand. It will then be retrieved by another one of my agents."

Mizuki nodded, looking sulky that the scroll was not for him, and accepted it from the Sannin before leaving the room. Orochimaru knew that he wouldn't dare open it - the silver-haired man knew the price for 'betrayal.'

Chuckling softly to himself, Orochimaru rose to his feet, feeling a light hunger within his stomach. "I wonder what Sarutobi-sensei would say if he knew how well Homura, Koharu and I were getting along?"

Sasori frowned as he leaned over the worktable, varnishing the face of his latest puppet, a pretty girl with blue hair and orange eyes. He was in a house on the outskirts of Iwa, a place he had bought before he had truly become a master of puppets. After learning that he no longer had a partner, he had decided to spend some leisurely time with his art before Pein found a replacement for Orochimaru.

A shame that the man had gone - he was very talented, and having one of the Sannin as their members had been very useful for Akatsuki - but it was not entirely unexpected. He had always suspected that Orochimaru was placing his goals above that of Akatsuki. His attempted theft of their new member's body only confirmed that suspicion, and placed him on the list of people to be eliminated, though not right now. The Sannin was powerful, but he would not try to attack them, at least not for a long time.

But still, Sasori couldn't shake off the nagging feeling that something was wrong. He couldn't put his finger on what, but there was definitely something amiss.

Sasori tried to shake the feeling off, and reached for his pouch of scrolls. Working on his favourite puppet always soothed him, not to mention the fact that looking at the Sandaime Kazekage that he had defeated and transformed into a true piece of art gave him no small amount of pride.

He frowned as he glanced at the pouch. He couldn't seem to spot the scroll that the Kazekage was sealed in, despite the fact that he was sure that he had placed it on top of the pile. He yanked the pouch fully open and peered inside, but still he couldn't spot it.

Feeling an increasing amount of panic, Sasori tipped the scrolls out onto the floor, and frantically searched through them. But it was to no avail - the scroll was gone.

Sasori rocked back onto his heels, dumbfounded. The Kazekage was gone? But how-

He froze, thinking over the events of the last few days. Then his eyes narrowed and he clenched his fists, feeling anger burn through him, the likes of which he had not felt for many years.

Orochimaru would pay.

The Snake Sannin frowned as he looked over the results of his latest test. He had been trying to give the abilities of Sakon and Ukon to seventeen other shinobi, and all but one had died within a few hours of receiving it, though the latter expired after a day.

Orochimaru's gaze drifted over to the vials that held the Akatsuki samples. He had not tested them out yet - he had precious little of them, and so could not afford to squander them on people who would die anyway. But they had been trying to graft many different kekkei genkais, and the lowest death rate they could get was one out of eight, far too many for Orochimaru to risk an experiment with even one of the Akatsuki samples.

No, what he needed was the assurance that whoever he gave the samples too would not die. But who could that be?

He sighed, and returned to the other matters that needed his attention. After the mess with the Soma no Ko kekkei genkai, he had realized that he needed more test subjects, which was why he had sent Mizuki off with the scroll, which contained a request to Koharu and Homura to send him more children from the orphanages in Konoha.

Most people would be surprised to find that the two patriotic elders were working with the treacherous snake. But Komaru and Homura were only doing what was best for Konoha - or at least, they believed they were. When Sarutobi had failed to kill him, they had tried to plant their own spies into his ranks. Orochimaru had detected them easily and fooled them into thinking that he and his armies were much more powerful than they were, which was the opposite signal to what he was displaying to ordinary Konoha spies.

Koharu and Homura had panicked when they heard back from their spies, which they believed to be far more reliable than the ones Sarutobi had sent out, and it was then that Orochimaru had contacted them with an offer - he would leave Konoha alone if they would send him some of the orphans that had been crammed into the orphanages after the attack of the Kyuubi no Kitsune. It was a deal that he never intended to honour, but the elders didn't realize that - despite their shrewdness and experiance, they still couldn't help but still see the loyal genius of Konoha rather than the cold S-rank missing-nin, if only a little bit.

So they believed him, and began to quietly send him some children every once in a while. No one noticed - it was them, after all, who dealt in missing civilians, so even if anyone had reported a few children going missing, they would have got rid of any record. Orochimaru didn't make many requests of them - he knew that asking too much would result in them going to the Hokage. The only reason why they hadn't done so already was because he had threaten to make his army march on Konoha if they did.

The trickle of subjects from Konoha were useful indeed, but not much. After all, any with kekkei genkai were normally from clans who would take them in if their parents died. Even if they weren't, Konoha liked to keep an eye on 'special' children, so the chance of snatching them without alerting Konoha would be slim to none.

Besides, it wasn't as if any kekkei genkai from Konoha would solve his Akatsuki problem. He had never heard of someone being able to withstand the sort of trauma that grafting abilities could provide...

Orochimaru froze, his eyes wide. Wait a minute. He had heard of such a person.

A while ago, one of his spies, a minor medic-nin, nowhere near Kabuto's calibre, had remarked casually about how the jinchuriki of the Kyuubi had been brought into hospital after being attacked by a mob. That was not unusual for a jinchuriki, but the fact that all of his cuts and broken bones had been healed up within a day was.

The Sannin thought over this, his eyes gleaming. It seemed obvious to him where the healing came from - the Kyuubi, unwilling to be dragged off to the grave with its host. But even the Kyuubi would be unable to get rid of a bloodline once it was injected into its jinchuriki - the body had only two options: accept the bloodline and integrate it, or reject it and die. Orochimaru was sure that the Kyuubi would never go for the latter, which meant that it would have to accept the abilities.

Of course, there would be a limit. Even with the Kyuubi, there was only so much that the body could take. But even so, he was sure that he would be able to force the abilities of Akatsuk into the jinchuriki. And then...

He would at last be able to create utter perfection.

Koharu pursed her lips as she read over the letter from Orochimaru. Homura, sensing the agitation of his old teammate, glanced over at her. "What's wrong?"

She silently passed him the letter, and picked up her cup of tea as he read over it. Homura's eyebrows rose higher and higher as he read through it until they had practically disappeared into his hair. "He wants Uzumaki?"

"Yes" Koharu sighed. "And he seems quite keen to have him."

Homura frowned. "But why? He has some talent, I admit, but not much, even compared to his academy class. He's a rude, loud, obnoxious brat. and I doubt that he'll live long, even if he does make it past the academy."

Koharu's eyes flashed. "Don't be foolish. He's the jinchuriki of the most powerful bjuu! Who wouldn't want him?"

Homura shook his head. "The Kyuubi is powerful. He isn't."

Koharu took a sip of her drink before staring down at the letter. "But what if he cracks open the seal? The Kyuubi would be free, and in the hands of Orochimaru."

They both shuddered at the thought, but Homura still looked doubtful. "You saw Minato's seal. It was designed to withstand practically anything that was thrown at it. I don't think that Orochimaru could ever hope to break it, and besides, you heard Jiraiya. Apparently Minato also encrypted it so that it could only be altered with elements that Minato hid, and I'm sure that only Jiraiya knows where they are - and he certainly would never tell Orochimaru, even under torture."

That was something that they could both agree on - Jiraiya was stubbornly loyal, and he had survived several bouts of torture when he was captured during the Second Shinobi War without telling his captors a thing.

Koharu picked up the letter and read it again. "It's possible I suppose that he only wants Uzumaki to see the difference between a jinchuriki and a human. It's something that many have puzzled over before, after all."

Homura nodded. "Besides, if we lose Uzumaki, we do not lose much. He is a jinchuriki, destined from birth to be a sacrifice. This is no different. Perhaps if he was more skilled...but the child shows no talent at all. He is nothing compared to what we could lose if we did not send him to Orochimaru."

Koharu nodded, and held the letter over a candle. It was quickly consumed, and she let go of it as the remains floated down, crumbling into black ashes. "Then we are agreed."

Naruto was extremely excited. He had been told to go to the old man's office, because there was a special surprise waiting for him there. Normally, he'd be wary of surprises, but this was the old man. He would never hurt him.

As he walked towards the old man's office, he was surprised to see that there weren't any guards standing outside. Normally there were at least two of those weird guys who wore animal masks like little kids (little kids being the four year olds that played in the park with their mothers watching from nearby. Naurto was six, and that made him a big boy - at least, Kiba's mother had called him a big boy when he turned six) but today there was no one.

He opened the door, not knocking as usual. To his confusion, the old man wasn't sitting there. Instead, he saw the two old people that the old man had called his friends. To Naruto, this didn't make much sense - he didn't like those two, because they weren't nice like the old man, and he thought that nice people had nice friends - but the old man had told him to be polite to them, so he smiled hesitantly at them.

They didn't smile back. Instead, the old lady walked over to him, and looked down at him strangely. "You're Naruto, aren't you?"

Naruto nodded, wondering why she was asking that - he had heard the old man call him Naruto in front of her many times before.

The old lady's face did break into a smile at that point, but the sight of it made Naruto wish that she hadn't. It exposed her slightly browning teeth, and it made him think of the cat that pounced upon the mice that scurried around the dustbins.

"Naruto, you want to be a ninja don't you?"

Naruto's face lit up. "Yeah! I'm gonna be the best ninja ever! And then I'm gonna become Hokage!"

The old lady looked rather sour for a moment before her face returned to its smile. "I see. Now, you know that as a ninja, you would have to make sacrifices for Konoha?"

Naruto nodded carelessly. The old man had mentioned something about that, but he hadn't really paid attention.

The old lady reached down and patted his arm. "Now, are you willing to make sacrifices? A good Hokage must be able to do that, after all."

Naruto was hooked the moment she mentioned Hokage. "Yeah! Of course I am!"


She swung her palm into the back of his head, sending him crashing to the floor. The last thing Naruto heard her say before he was lost to unconsciousness was "It's also what a jinchuriki should do as well."

Naruto groaned as he opened his eyes. 'What happened?'

He bit back a moan at his throbbing head, and looked around. He was in a room that had no windows, and he wrinkled his nose at the putrid smell before he noticed that he was not the only person in the room - far from it. About thirty children were crammed inside, boys and girls, their ages ranging from crying toddlers to teenagers that had the muscled build of shinobi. Some were too grubby to tell their gender, some were reasonably clean, some were malnourished while others looked healthy, but there was one thing that they all had in common: they were all terrified.

Naruto looked around, and saw to his horror that there was no door, just bars stretching down from the ceiling to the floor. A memory swarmed up in his mind from when he had spray-painted the Uchiha symbol and turned the red and white into pink and green. Two Uchihas had hunted him down and dragged him to the Konoha Military Police station where they had relished showing him the cells and promising him a trip into them if he ever tried to deface the noble Uchiha clan's symbol again.

'Am I in prison? I didn't do anything wrong!'

Footsteps echoed, and Naruto looked up. A tall man was standing on the other side of the bars. He had pale skin and long black hair, but it was his eyes that Naruto noticed. They were gold, with slitted pupils, and they were fixed on the crowd of children, some of whom stared back defiantly while others cowered away.

No. Not fixed on the children.

Fixed on him.

Icy fear bubbled in Naruto's stomach as he looked up at the man, and he suddenly knew, with a sharp, dreadful clarity, that he had not been put in a prison.

He had been sent straight to Hell.

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