Three years, she had been in this godforsaken desert, and she hated it.
But she knew it now.
She had allies.
Not friends, never friends.
But certainly allies.
She was just a lackey, but she was also the most experienced in using this… this pure spiritual energy, this reiryoku, to create illusions.
The rest didn't, couldn't, wouldn't do it.
They just didn't know how.
She had had enough experience in her life to be accustomed to the idea of putting her own thoughts in another's head. They had not.
She knew how to hide herself, her presence in every form, how to conceal her very being from the denizens of the castle below.
She was lucky that there was this rocky outcropping; she wouldn't have been able to spy on them otherwise.
Her eyes narrowed as a hollow headed her way. No, not quite her way, it would pass by a few dozen meters from her, but it was close enough to cause her to worry.
She raised an arm, moving it behind her to grasp the instrument of death that was part of her very being now.
She raised it to her lips, blowing softly, and the hollow slowed down, stopped, blinked in confusion. It looked around, and then it turned slightly and headed away from her.
She smirked, glad to know that she had a power that was so rare in this world.
She crept closer, wanting to get a better look through the windows to the lab. There had been rumors, but she had been the one sent to confirm them.
Her teeth clenched and her heart sped in anger as she saw the black hair, the olive eyes, the far-too-pale skin.
She growled lowly at the sight of the snake-man.
Hissing to herself in anger, the hollow that had once been Tayuya of the Sound Four spun on her heel and began to lope back to her companions.
They needed to know.
Tayuya swung her head, adorned with its strange horned mask, staring at her… companions… as she sped to the leaders.
Of the three leaders, one took the form akin to that of a dragon, the bone-like substance of the mask spreading out over its entire body, with large, lethal-looking spikes erupting from its spine. One took the form of a lizard, a squat triangle making up his mask and false ears. The last one had a form that could not be tied to any animal, but had a strange pattern across the lower half of its mask, reminding one many bandages.
Tayuya stopped in front of them, her insect-like body folding up under her so that she could lean back and sit. Her torso was human, but below the waist was another story.
The dragon swung its head around. "Tayuya. What do you have for us?"
"The b****rd. He's there." Tayuya's voice was interspersed with clicks from her mask, but her words were still audible. "That f**king snake b****rd is there."
"What's he doing?" A spider hollow called out, and Tayuya looked over in distaste at her old teammate.
"What do you think, a**hat?" She bit out. "He's in the f**king labs, moron."
"Tayuya!" The reprimand came from the third leader, the one of indefinite form. The small, vulpine hollow next to it, with the smooth, Kiri-esque mask moved closer, as though to calm him down.
"Tch." Tayuya looked away, glaring around the circle. A two headed hollow tittered at her, snarling laughter escaping the body with no legs and too many arms; a worm with two human torsos. "F*** off, Sakon. You too, Ukon."
The twin-hollows glared down at her, swaying from side to side dangerously.
"That's enough." The dragon snapped at them, and the twins sank down.
"Yeah, sure, whatever makes you happy, Kimimaro." One of them muttered petulantly. Tayuya didn't bother to distinguish which.
"Tayuya-san?" A soft voice called. She turned to look at the vulpine butler of a hollow.
"Was there anyone with him?"
Tayuya blinked at the question, though it was hard to tell behind the mask. "Yeah, I think so. Some pink-haired dork with stupid glasses."
The hollow nodded and lay back down at its master's side.
"This is… problematic." The lizard-like leader mumbled. There was an odd, grating quality to his voice, as though he had spent too many years dealing with undue pressure on his lungs and throat, of illness or of smoking. "I doubt that our normal plans are applicable to this situation."
"Of course not, Gekko." The bandaged hollow grumbled. "Our best chance would be to… what is it, Haku?"
The vulpine hollow that had been pawing at him took a polite step back. "My apologies, Zabuza-sama, but may I ask if you remember what we saw of the Sexta Espada three days ago?"
Zabuza nodded, and Gekko Hayate and Kimimaro did the same behind him.
"He claimed that he was deserting, and planned on going to an alternate dimension, following a group that Aizen had mentioned before due to one 'Kurosaki Ichigo' going there. If that dimension is our original one, and Grimmjow was capable of going there…" Haku trailed off, allowing the others to fill it in as they would.
"Do you really think it would be a smart idea to listen to that dumba**, though?" Tayuya snorted.
"You shouldn't speak like—"
"Oh, f*** off, Jiroubo. No one cares." Tayuya shot the large, bear-like hollow a dirty glare. His mask had large, thick spikes of mask-bone, akin to his hair in his level two cursed seal form, and the face of the mask had a pattern very much like his curse seal splattered across it.
"He also mentioned the Hogyoku." Kimimaro brought the discussion back to the main subject. "If we could take it and get it to—"
"If you suggest going back to Orochimaru in any way, shape, or form after what he did to us, you're a… you're a complete noob." The spider hollow faltered at the end of his sentence when he received a glare from Kimimaro, but finished it off with flare anyway.
"…Shut up, Kidomaru." Kimimaro grumbled.
"We could follow Jeagerjaques to the Elemental Nations." Haku offered. "We could find Naruto and—"
"No." Zabuza and Hayate spoke at the same time, though only Zabuza continued. "I know you want to see him again, especially after what we heard from these Oto idiots, but there are too many people there for us to go. Too many souls to be tempted with."
Haku hunkered down, acknowledging the decision. Zabuza sighed and rested a hand on the small hollow's head, rubbing between the ears on the mask.
"So what do we do?" Sakon voiced the question, and Kimimaro answered.
"We wait, and bide our time until we can steal the Hogyoku."
Kisame blinked as he watched Kakuzu stalk by, dragging Hidan along behind him. "Where are you two going?"
"To find Leader and Konan." Kakuzu grumbled. "They haven't been here for days, and they left without warning. Tobi seems to know something, but he's not telling."
"Oh. Well, have fun." Kisame waved them off.
Nothing to worry about, right?
Sakura sat in the hall of Konoha's high-security prison, arms crossed, frowning.
Sasuke ignored her.
He continued to ignore her.
This had been going on for nearly an hour.
He shifted slightly. It was enough to acknowledge that he'd heard her, and also enough to show that he wasn't going to follow her instructions.
"As the medic in charge of caring for your health until your punishment is decided, I must insist that you eat."
He snorted quietly at that, refusing to react otherwise.
Sakura grit her teeth in annoyance. She couldn't let her old feelings get in the way, friendship or otherwise.
She had to stay professional.
"I command you to eat, Uchiha, or I will force feed you through a tube."
"D*** it, Sasuke-kun, will you just eat your f**king dinner already?"
He actually turned and stared at her for several seconds, eyebrow raised.
Then he went back to staring at the stones.
Sakura punched a wall.
"Don't you dare."
"I don't care, Jiraiya-sensei! I'm a grown woman! I can make my own choices!"
"But why a swimsuit maga—"
"For the love of—"
Nagato sank down behind his newspaper. He didn't want to get caught up in this. Not again.
He sighed, looking over the paper, noting a few bounties and making a mental note to ask Kakuzu to…
No real supervision.
This was bad.
Maybe Sasori had been responsible enough to keep control. Or maybe Itachi had been.
Kakuzu's temper was too volatile, and the others were too immature or, in the case of Kisame and Zetsu, too bloodthirsty or all-around strange.
She turned around, face still stuck in an angry expression from yelling at Jiraiya. "What?"
Konan frowned. "What?"
"No one's watching the base." Nagato explained. "We didn't leave anyone in charge, and if they weren't kept under strict watch…"
Konan paled. "Oh no."
"Why are you still here?"
"Aw, you want me gone? And here I thought we were friends."
Naruto stared at Yahiko in confusion. The whole situation was just… okay, so it wasn't nearly as bad as the fact that the guys from the other dimension still hadn't left (though that was probably Orihime's fault…), but still!
"I don't feel like leaving."
"That's it?" Naruto wanted to facepalm, but he was pretty sure he would have said the same thing at one point, probably while in Suna or something.
Of course, they were distracted at this point by the fact that Ishida Uryuu came running out of the Yamanaka flower shop at full tilt and sped past them without a word.
Naruto looked over at Ino, who had followed Ishida out. "Oi, Ino! What happened?"
The blonde girl looked up and walked over briskly, sitting down on one of the seats at the restaurant (not Ichiraku's, unfortunately) almost primly. "No clue. One second we're talking through the first kill issue, the next he's frozen, whispers something about a 'hollow,' and then he runs out."
"So… should we follow him?" Naruto didn't really feel like getting up.
"Probably." Yahiko commented.
There was silence for a few seconds.
"You're not going to follow him, are you?" Ino raised one perfectly sculpted eyebrow.
Naruto winced. "I'm sure he can take care of it himself."
"Yeah, the brat'll be fine." Yahiko shrugged.
And then there was an explosion.
ANBU arrived to find a very peculiar scene.
Ichigo had his sword out, the blade pressed against an unknown's face.
Uryuu had an arrow aimed point-blank in the unknown's eye.
Orihime was watching from a few feet away, her 'fairies' floating around her.
And the blue-haired unknown was cursing his head off.
They glanced at each other, and then back at the interdimensional travelers.
…They decided that they should probably get the Hokage for this.
Tsunade wanted to slam her head against her desk after drinking copious amounts of sake. Dear god, why was all of this piling onto her plate now? Ugh, she just hoped that Yahiko fellow wouldn't be too late for a statement concerning what he knew on the subject, given that he was the only one that had spent enough time on both sides to actually know the situation fully.
Kakashi strode into the room, book out and whistling. "Hey, Tsunade-sama."
"So, I kind of ran into some nukenin earlier with Gai and managed to convince them to come here because they were Akatsuki instead of getting into a fight…"
"It's fine. We ran into Kurenai in the lobby of the tower when I was bringing them in, and she asked me what we thought we were doing, so Gai started yelling something about youth, and I told her I'd gotten lost on the road of life and run into some fellow travelers that had also lost their way."
"She hit me."
"Then she demanded that we tie the nukenin up, but they didn't seem very happy with that idea, and then Jiraiya walked by, Kurenai hit them with a genjutsu, and now they're down in the lobby wrapped up in toad tongues."
God d*** it, she needed some sake.
Kakashi eye-smiled at her.
Today was a good day.
Yahiko whistled as he made his way into the Hokage tower to talk to the woman in charge about whatever had happened with the shinigami and his little friends.
He walked into the Hokage's office, and immediately noticed two large toads with their tongues wrapped around a pair of nukenin.
The nukenin were wearing Akatsuki cloaks.
They stared at him.
He stared back.
Yahiko turned to look at Tsunade.
She glared back.
"I'll just go get Nagato."
He shunshined out before the Akatsuki members started asking awkward questions.
"What?" The man with the Rinnegan stood up almost immediately, given the urgency in his friend's tone.
"Your friends are here!"
"…What?" Nagato was genuinely confused.
"There are some guys in Akatsuki cloaks in the Hokage's office."
"Yeah, the ones that the shinigami sometimes gossiped or complained about because they just wouldn't die."
"Yahiko, what are you—?" Konan walked out of the bathroom, hands on her hips and hair up in a towel, but was cut off before she could finish her question.
"Ninjas, Konan-chan. Ninjas." Yahiko nodded solemnly.
There was silence for several seconds.
"Anyway, the Hokage probably wants to see you two right now. She didn't say anything, but she kind of glared at me, so I said I'd get you, and she didn't stop me."
"…D*** it, Yahiko."
"Hey, at least I didn't barge in and yell 'Oi, Nagato! Your friends are here! The ones that the shinigami I met always complained about because they, quote-unquote, "Just won't f***ing die already!" The Hokage lady's got 'em tied up in the corner and they don't really look happy! Should I get you guys some tea? I'm kind of bored…' or something."
"You might as well have! In fact, you pretty much did!" Nagato glared at the man that was supposedly his best friend.
"Oh. Right. Heheh. Oops."
"Just… stop talking, Yahiko." Konan rubbed a hand over her face and went back into the bathroom. "Give me a few minutes to dry my hair, and we can go."
A/N: AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAND WE ARE BACK, PEOPLE!
Sorry for the huge delay regarding the start for our lovely sequel, but you know we get busy. Anyway, I promise that this side of the story is going to be a lot longer, and we're going to have a lot of fun with it.
Something I'd like to add: I hold contests on DeviantArt, and I'd be glad to see you all enter them. They're listed just under the "Binding" picture on my main account, which you can find a link to on my profile here on FFnet. There are fun prizes, so be sure to go and check them out.