Author's Note: Hey all, I'm so sorry that this took forever to upload.
I've been going through some personal issues recently, and it has made writing difficult, but I'm trying my best. :)
So, this story may seem to start a bit slow. You will not see Gaara for another... oh... four or five chapters. But it's to set up necessary background info that will make the story make much more sense later on. I hope you all can be patient, and I'll try to make these first few chapters as interesting as I can!
As always, reviews would be greatly appreciated. Let me know how I'm doing!
A special thank you to AkariWolfPrincess and Your Favorite Freak for reviewing the prologue! You guys are awesome, as always. ^.^


The Test

Growing up locked in a small, dark cell with oozing walls and no windows wasn't exactly the ideal way to live for a normal child, but it never bothered Kimi, for it was all that she had ever known. She found the constant drip of moisture from the ceiling to the floor somewhat soothing, like a metronome keeping her life in time. She found the darkness more relaxing than the sunlight, which burned her eyes when she gazed upon it. And she didn't think of the room as small, but rather cozy instead, consisting of only a bed, a table, a bathroom, and a few toys to entertain her. Born with a naturally positive disposition and patience that was abnormally high for a child, she didn't need much to remain happy. All she really desired was her father's acknowledgement.

Kimi sat on the edge of her cot, which had already been made, with a small stuffed teddy bear cradled in her arms. She kicked her feet gently, rubbing the teddy's matted fur with the tips of her fingers, as she waited for the clock on the wall to read eight o' clock, the time that she would receive her breakfast. "Don't worry, Kota," she said to the toy in her lap, "Only five more minutes until we can eat."

The girl, at only five years old, had already developed a daily routine of order and cleanliness that she clung to all on her own. She woke up every morning at seven o' clock and immediately made her bed. She then made a trip to the bathroom before returning to her room to make sure it was neat and tidy before her father's morning visit. She didn't get to see him often, so when she did, she wanted to be sure that she had done everything in her power to impress him. As she waited for the remaining time to pass, she sat on her bed and played with Kota, whom she had been in possession of since she was just an infant.

She hugged the bear tightly in her arms, its snout pressed against her ear as she listened for the bear's reply. Though the bear did not speak, Kimi could hear him perfectly. "You hope we get pancakes?" She repeated, pulling the bear away to look into his black button eyes, smiling, "Me too."

Suddenly, the sound of keys jingling on the outside of her door alerted Kimi that it was time for her father to visit with her breakfast. She quickly but tenderly placed Kota on the floor at the foot of her bed, along with her other toys, before hopping off of her bed to stand in the center of her room. The key turned in the lock, clicking loudly against the tumblers, and the door was immediately pushed open. The girl was disappointed, however, when she didn't see her father on the other side, but rather his grey-haired, glasses-wearing assistant. It was Kabuto.

"Here's your food," he said as he stepped into the room, carrying a tray in his gloved hands, his eyes drooping with boredom. He set it down on the small table in the back corner of the room, the metal clanking loudly against the hardwood.

Kimi's emerald eyes traveled upward to meet his. "Where's father?" She softly asked.

"He's busy," was all he said before turning on his heel to make his way to the exit. Without another word, he closed the door behind him and locked it, leaving Kimi alone once again.

Her eyes dropped to the floor as sadness shot through her heart, causing a dull ache to pulse throughout her entire body with its gentle beating. This wasn't the first time her father had been too busy to stop by in the morning, but it still upset her just the same. She would have much preferred to see him over Kabuto, who always gave off a strange vibe that produced in Kimi a mixture between anxiety and fear. She knew that he disliked having to travel all the way to her room just to drop off her food, for he did little, if anything at all, to hide it. He simply placed the tray on the table and left, barely speaking to her at all. Her father, on the other hand, would smile at her, ask her how she was feeling, and, if he had enough time, would even sit with her while she ate. She looked forward to his visits every morning, so she hated the days that he was too busy to stop by.

The girl wandered toward her toys to grasp Kota in her arms before plodding toward the table to eat. She cradled him in her arms, his familiar softness soothing some of the pain away. "Don't cry," she whispered to the bear while fighting off tears of her own, "I'm sure he'll come tomorrow."

She climbed into the dining chair to begin eating, her small fingers gripping the spoon that had nearly fallen off of the tray in Kabuto's haste to leave the room. She plunged the utensil into the bowl, picking up some soggy granola and watered-down milk and pretending all the while that it was the freshly baked pancakes that she had originally hoped for.

Kimi's fingers swirled quickly yet carefully across the paper, leaving behind a trail of black and red pastel. Her eyes focused intently on the page, never blinking, as she attempted to recreate the abstract visions in her head. She plunged her hand into the box at her right, pulling out of it two sticks of chalk, one green and one yellow. She placed one in each hand and instantly began scribbling away, combining their hues to form the lime-green color that she wanted. She then used the tip of her index finger to collect some of the dust and gently dab it on top of the black, forming tiny star-like dots to contrast the darkness.

The girl had always enjoyed art. Not only was it a way to keep busy through the long days locked in her cell, but also it acted as an escape from reality, a way to forget about the sadness that she sometimes felt. When she closed her eyes, she often imagined a world of bursting colors of the decorative, rather than local, sort, abstract shapes both geometric and organic, and fantastic designs filling every inch of space; it was a world that probably wouldn't have made sense to anyone but her. She thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of putting her thoughts to paper, since it required a lot of concentration and determination. Within a matter of minutes, whatever negative emotions she may have been feeling would have been completely diminished, leaving her with only a feeling of serenity.

As she continued adding color to the once plain piece of paper, she felt the disappointment of her father's absence slowly melting away from her. She bit her lip as she placed the sharp edge of the pastel against the paper. As she glided it along. Kimi fluctuated the pressure with which she applied the chalky substance, creating a line varying greatly in width and in opacity that danced whimsically across the scene. It twisted and twirled in all directions, as if it was simply continuing on blindly without any clear destination. It appeared just as happy to be travelling through the blackness as it did traveling through the swirls of warm reds and oranges. Kimi admired that line for its courage and optimism, wishing that she too could always be as confident as it was.

She had been so engrossed in her artwork that she didn't even hear the door to her cell being unlocked; she didn't notice the echoing footsteps that clicked and clacked against the stone floor as the perpetrator approached her; and she didn't even feel his presence as he crouched down behind her and peered over her shoulder at her sketchbook. "That looks nice," he finally said in a low voice.

Startled, Kimi jumped and immediately whirled herself around to face the intruder, allowing a tiny yelp to escape her lips. A familiar pair of yellow-green eyes stared back at her, contrasting with the long black hair that fell over his pale skin. His thin lips stretched into a wide smile, lifting his cheeks and causing his purple eye-markings to scrunch ever so slightly.

The young girl's cheeks began to flush as she frantically wiped the colorful dust from her fingertips onto her already dingy t-shirt. She felt embarrassed to have been caught making a mess of both her room and herself, but, at the same time, she was delighted that he had come to visit her. She normally didn't see him during the evenings, for that was his busiest time of day.

"Th-thank you," she managed to respond in a whisper. She fingered the hem of her shirt nervously as she lowered her gaze to the floor. "I… I'm sorry I've made such a mess."

Orochimaru's smile widened, thoroughly enjoying the fear that he had instilled in her without even meaning to. He admitted to himself that it was somewhat sadistic of him, but he thought little of it, for he had always been a sadistic man. He lifted himself into a standing position to approach the girl, taking her little hand in his and using his other to gently lift her chin so as to look upon those familiar emeralds of hers. "Don't apologize, little one," he told her, ruffling her shoulder-length white hair.

Kimi's blush darkened as a smile found its way onto her lips. He had always been so good to her, even when she hadn't given him much reason to. His kind words had stirred within her the courage to speak. Gripping his hand in both of hers, she enthusiastically asked, "What did you come here for, father? Did you come to play with me?"

"Something like that," he responded. Orochimaru then began pulling the girl toward the door to her cell, which was still gaping open to expose the dimly lit corridor on the other side, "Come with me."

Kimi was ecstatic, for she rarely got to leave her cell. She wondered where they would be going, how long it would take them to get there, and what they would be doing once they arrived. She wondered if Kabuto was going to join them, but she secretly wished that he wouldn't. She even wondered if there was another room somewhere in this place that looked like the world that she imagined in her dreams. Thoughts like bees buzzed fervently through their hive—her mind—and, though she, herself, couldn't answer all of the questions that she had, she was still just happy that she had gotten to see her father after all. She almost felt ashamed for doubting him; she should have known that he cared enough about her to make time for her.

Orochimaru, on the other hand, had not a thousand buzzing thoughts, but one lingering one. He knew exactly where they were going and what was to be done. Today was the day that he finally tested Kimi's abilities, the day that he would finally know if she was truly capable of taking on the task that had been assigned to her at her birth. Kimi was born—perhaps designed would be a better word—to be exceptionally strong and talented, for she shared the blood of a powerful shinobi, one who excelled in the art of combat and possessed almost inhuman DNA. Orochimaru desired that, by performing numerous genetic experiments on the girl, she could be molded into someone who was just as, if not more, powerful than that shinobi so that, someday, she could become the perfect vessel to replace his aging body. If today's test proved that his experiments had been successful, then he would start training Kimi immediately to turn her into the fighting machine that she was destined to become. If the experiments had failed, however, then he would have no reason to keep the girl around, and he would have no choice but to dispose of her.

Orochimaru guided her around a corner to continue down a hallway that looked identical to the one that they had just departed. Kimi guessed that there had to have been at least a hundred doors on each side of the corridor, and she immediately began to wonder what was hiding on the other sides. Some of the candles in the sconces on the walls had burned out, leaving some areas of patchy darkness that caused the intricate designs etched into the walls to disappear from sight, then reappear shortly after. Kimi continued to follow the swirling patterns on the walls, but she eventually lost interest in its unchanging pattern and began wondering how much longer they would have to walk.

"Don't worry," he soothed her, sensing her growing impatience, "We're almost there."

They turned down another corner, to the right this time, and instead of coming to another never-ending corridor, they were met by a dead end. Kimi wondered what they were going to be doing in such a small area; it was even tinier than her cell. Orochimaru slipped his hand out of the girl's grip and approached the empty wall, which only stirred Kimi's curiosity even more. He performed a few hand seals before placing both of his hands against the stone, and, after a moment, a loud click permeated the silence before the wall began splitting in two to reveal a hidden room. Kimi gazed in awe at the spectacle, then averted her widened eyes to Orochimaru, who had turned to face her with his wide smile. "Come, child," he commanded, reaching his hand out to her.

The girl, still in shock at what had just happened, shuffled toward him and took his hand in the process. She wondered what he possibly could have done to move the walls so easily, and if he would ever teach her how to do it herself. Kimi's excitement built up inside her small body as she imagined what other incredible things her father could do, causing a skip in her step as she followed Orochimaru into the room. As her eyes scanned her surroundings, she decided that this must have been another one of Orochimaru's laboratories, for there was a large table in the center of the room with a ceiling lamp dangling above it, jars of various unknown specimens scattered all across the shelves which lined the back wall, and a small sink in the corner for cleaning utensils and washing hands. She wondered what motive he could possibly have for bringing her here, but quickly decided that it didn't matter what they did, as long as they were together.

"Now, Kimi," Orochimaru started while walking toward the center table. He turned around once he was beside it, and he looked into the little girl's eyes as he patted the hardwood surface with his left hand, "I want you to lie down on this table."

Kimi immediately did as she was told, advancing further into the room to grasp one of the table's legs. She was about to begin pulling herself up, but was stopped when she felt Orochimaru place his hands underneath her arms to easily lift her into the air. She was surprised by the gesture, but, at the same time, his touch warmed her and made her smile happily. Once she was seated on the edge of the table, she began to scoot herself backwards so she could lie down as instructed. The light above her shone directly in her sensitive eyes, causing her to squint and use her hands as a shield. She was about to ask Orochimaru what was going on before she was interrupted.

"Sorry I'm late," a familiar voice spoke from the doorway. Kimi turned her head toward it, only to be disappointed by the sight of Kabuto entering the room. The medic adjusted his glasses, causing the glare from the lenses to shine directly into the girl's eyes. "The prisoners were a bit on the rowdy side, this evening."

"That's alright," Orochimaru responded, "I was just getting Kimi situated."

Kimi wanted to ask Orochimaru why Kabuto had been invited, but she restrained herself, not wanting to appear impolite. She simply averted her eyes away from the man, hoping that if she didn't pay any attention to him he would eventually just go away.

Orochimaru's heart began pumping quicker with anticipation as the moment of truth neared. He motioned for Kabuto to begin making the preparations while he focused on concentrating his chakra. The medic nodded in understanding before approaching the table on which Kimi lie. He grasped one of her ankles in each hand, startling the girl slightly and causing her to flinch against his cold touch, and placed them into the correct positions to apply the restraints. The sensation of cold metal pressing tightly against her limbs stirred within Kimi a strong feeling of foreboding that caused her heart to begin throbbing inside her chest. Her eyes darted frantically around the room, searching for the comfort of her father's gaze. "Father," she whimpered, "What is Kabuto doing?"

"Just relax," Kabuto interjected as he applied the shackles to her wrists. His tone did little to relax her, however, and she found herself growing more afraid despite his command.

Kabuto tightened the final restraint around Kimi's forehead, preventing her from squirming around and making his master's little test even more difficult than it had to be. "All set," he informed Orochimaru, a slanted smirk stretching onto his lips as he thought of what was soon to come. Whether he was simply born a sadist or he acquired the little quirk after spending such a large amount of time with his master, he would never know. All he did know was that he was really going to enjoy this little experiment.

Kimi fought to turn her head just enough to see Orochimaru spinning around to approach her. She stared at him with pleading eyes, wanting desperately to know what was going on, but his enigmatic expression failed to provide any sort of answer. Her breath caught in her throat, making a verbal inquiry virtually impossible. She supposed that her only remaining option was to simply wait and see what was in store, though every second spent waiting only served to magnify her anxiety.

"Kimi," Orochimaru started, stroking her hair with his long, bony fingers, "I have brought you here because I believe that you are a very special little girl. There is a strong possibility that your body has the ability to perform actions that no other human body in this world is capable of. You may very well be the owner of an extremely rare kekkei genkai known as the Shikotsumyaku. I'm going to test these abilities, to see if my assumptions about you are correct. If they are, then you have the potential of becoming the most powerful shinobi in the entire world." Orochimaru had to stifle the urge to shout in excitement as the adrenaline began pumping through his veins just from thinking about the opportunities that lie ahead.

Kimi, on the other hand, was growing even more terrified with all the talk about strength and power. She had never thought that there was anything particularly special about her, and now, all of a sudden, there was a possibility that she possessed rare abilities that no one else in the world had. It was a lot to take in, especially for a five-year-old who had just been shackled to a cold laboratory table by a man that made her nervous just by looking at her. Her mind muddled as she attempted to process all of the new information that had just been thrown at her, though she immediately found that task to be quite difficult, if not impossible.

"Do you trust me, Kimi?" Orochimaru finally asked, breaking the silence that had lasted a good minute or two.

Gulping down the lump in her throat, the young girl nodded. "I… I trust you," she whispered.

Orochimaru concentrated his chakra in his hands and placed them above her shins. Kimi could almost feel the energy radiating from his palms, sending a shiver down her spine. Kabuto, watching from the sidelines, felt a jolt of excitement pulse throughout his entire body as he waited for his master's final move.

Suddenly, a loud cracking noise permeated the stillness, followed by a piercing shriek that echoed endlessly against the stone walls.

Orochimaru struck the girl's legs with full force, instantly shattering her bones into a thousand tiny fragments. The girl writhed in response to the intense pain, unable to stifle her high-pitched screams and choke back the tears in her eyes. She felt the sensation of a million knives stabbing into her legs and shooting the pain all throughout her body; it was like nothing she had ever felt before. She sobbed and cried so frantically that she was sure that she would pass out from lack of oxygen, but the pain was so severe that she just couldn't bring herself to stop. After only a matter of seconds, the color of her face had transformed into a shade of dark red, she was soaked from the waterfalls of tears that fell from her eyes, and her voice had already become hoarse from all her screaming.

"Kabuto," Orochimaru said to his associate, ignoring the girl's deafening cries.

"I'm on it," the medic responded, immediately understanding his master's unspoken command.

Kabuto placed his hands above the girl's broken legs, careful not to rest against them so as to amplify her uproar. He instantly began channeling his own chakra into her body, waiting for it to bounce off of her shattered bones and return the signal to his palms. It was a medical technique that he had developed, allowing him to read the vibrations in order to put together a mental picture of the body's structure. It had only been a few seconds since her injury, so Kabuto wasn't expecting much, but when the signals returned to him, he couldn't keep his jaw from dropping. "Unbelievable," he whispered to himself.

"What is it?" Orochimaru demanded.

Kabuto turned to his master. "Her bones have already begun to heal… I'd say they've already completed one-fourth of the healing process, and she seems to have produced another layer of bone over top of the broken one. It's… quite incredible."

Orochimaru's devilish smile spread across his face. His experiments had succeeded; he had created the perfect vessel. He approached the crying girl, placing his face mere inches away from her own, and gently wiped away a tear that had just fallen from her eye. "Did you hear that?" he asked her, "I was right about you after all! Do you know what this means?" He was shouting now, unable to control himself, "It means that your purpose in life has been realized—you will become strong, and you will master your kekkei genkai so that I can have the perfect vessel to replace this old body of mine! You will train under me, and together we will become unstoppable! Do you understand, Kimi? Do you understand your purpose in life?"

Though the pain was still unbearable, the young girl still managed to listen to her father's little speech. Though she wasn't quite sure what exactly it was that he was yelling about, she nodded anyway and forced a smile while murmuring, "I understand… father."

And then the darkness overcame her.