Tayuya didn't really see what the big deal was.
"But how can we still be sure it's still Orochimaru-sama? He-" Kidomaru hesitated, "She is acting completely different. Minimizing casualties. Most research is now about things like medicines and jutsu that anyone can use. It's completely different from what was being done before."
"Right. And someone that just so happens to know all of Orochimaru's pass codes, techniques, and also just so happens to have a snake contract and the Kusanagi. Get real dumb-ass. It's the same person." Sakon mocked.
The collective morons that made up the Sound Four had regularly taken to bickering about the boss's decision to act like some air-headed bimbo. It was really fucking weird, to be sure, but this constant arguing on whether they still serve the same master was just so fucking pointless.
"Sweet Tits of Izanami, shut up!" She growled. The rest of Orochimaru's personal guards turned to her. Well most of them. None of them were dumb enough to have this conversation around Kimimaro. "If she is or isn't the original doesn't fucking matter! She can still take us apart like tissue paper. Her strength is real and that's all that counts in this fucked up world."
The ninja all shuffled in place. They had seen the strength for themselves. They knew she was right.
"Women shouldn't talk like that." Jirobo said, "But the new Orochimaru is also training us personally. We'll all be much stronger if things keep going this way. I like this better."
"The fact we get way more pork is the real reason you're happy, fatass." Tayuya said with a roll of her eyes. Couldn't have the tub of lard thinking that just because he agreed with her they were somehow friends or something.
The stupid bickering cut out though. All of them knew for sure that Boss Lady still had real power. The power to rival the strongest ninja in the world. At the end of the day, nothing else really mattered. You follow the strong or you die. There was nothing else to it.
"Come on. We have two hour to finish this training before we gotta see Chief Snakeyness. Lets get this over with." Tayuya said before turning back to the room full of moving targets and timed objectives.
Orochimaru was making changes, and they needed to keep strong or they would find themselves one of the one those "dismissed" from employment.
Things were beginning to get under control. It had been two weeks and there hadn't been a single unintended death. I could go out and help train some ninja for hours at a time without having things literally catch fire. I was somehow receiving even larger amounts of request for human testing though. But I was feeling better about things being somewhat stabilized.
Taking Kabuto had been very helpful. I just hoped he wasn't reporting everything happening to Danzo or Sasori. I mean, he almost certainly had to tell them something, but I didn't need all my dirty little secrets reported.
But after a month of having him assist in managing the din of psychos and idiots I felt confident enough to leave the spy in charge of running things for a week. I needed to get some things done and the clock was ticking down on me being able to make great strides in fixing my problems with man power, money, and supply lines all in one fell swoop.
I even had the perfect thing to make sure that Kabuto didn't try and stab me in the back while I was gone. Someone who, in his own words, was the arch nemesis of Kabuto.
"As a reminder, Nagisa-kun, don't confront Kabuto with any suspicions you have. If you see something just report it to Guren or Kimimaro. They will know how I want them to respond. You won't be able to take Kabuto in a fight anyways."
I realized that Nagisa was a little unfit for the job. However I needed someone who actually understood all of the laboratory stuff to keep an eye on what was going on. Hopefully Guren and Kimimaro could manage to keep his rampant paranoia about Kabuto in check.
I had already told the two to prepare themselves for a stream of baseless accusations.
"I will make sure to watch the traitor closely Orochimaru-sama. I won't let him get in the way of our machinations." He said as he went into a bow.
I briefly questioned my wisdom on giving authority to a man that used the word machinations without a hint of irony, but again told myself that I didn't really have a whole lot of options. Not if I wanted to leave this place for any significant amount of time.
Which really just meant I had to prioritize making sure Kabuto was completely loyal to me. Which was tricky because he'd made a life of making people believe he was completely loyal.
"How is the study on a cure for Kimimaro going?" I asked, trying to change subjects before this could get into a rant on how I shouldn't trust the two face back stabber that just wants to take Nagisa's position from him. The man was probably right on all those fronts, but I had other things I needed to take care of.
"I have gone over Kabuto's results and have to concur. It does seem as though Kimimaro's sickness comes from a problem with his bone marrow." Nagisa said with bitterness.
I had been afraid of that. Bone marrow was very hard to do anything with. Most medicine was already very filtered by the liver and kidneys and the bodies other various filtration systems before the medicine ever got close to penetrating into the bones. Chakra also tended to have trouble interacting through the bones to reach the marrow as well.
"Keep the research up. When I return I will assist in making this my highest priority." I said as dismissal.
"Yes, Orochimaru-sama." Nagisa said before bowing out of the room. As the door clicked behind him I felt a great weight fall off my shoulders. Interacting with any of the people that literally worshiped me was always so exhausting, but Nagisa was the worst of them.
It was incredibly relieving that I was going to be able to leave later that day. I stood up with a stretch before idly smoothing out my grey and purple sundress. I would have liked to have a larger of variety of colors in my wardrobe but it's apparently really hard to match outfits with the literally white skin and permanent purple lines under my eyes. I had options, but I found myself slightly more limited.
Also the sundresses seemed to really distress my minions. More so even than the turtleneck. So I took to only occasionally wearing the more feminine outfits.
They had no reaction to the purple lipstick for some reason though.
I had spent the weeks before deciding where exactly I needed to go and what exactly it was that I needed to do. I had so many plans. Even outside of gaining strength for my village I needed to get stronger myself too. I needed to be able to go toe to toe with the likes of Nagato.
After I got a report from Konoha though, I saw an opportunity unfold that made me realize I couldn't afford to wait.
A knock came at the door. "Orochimaru-sama. You called for us." Sakon asked through the door.
"Enter." I ordered.
The Sound Four were an odd bunch. They had mostly been chosen for their amount of chakra. Orochimaru needed them to be able to maintain his barriers for long periods of time. They were way too weak for them to really be body guards. They were still low rank jonin and there was a vast sea between that and any of the Sannin.
That said, the group seemed to hesitate on seeing me in a sundress. Aside from Kimimaro and Tayuya though. Kimimaro apparently accepted me as Orochitama now, or at least noticed that I wasn't killing people for treating me like a woman. Tayuya though seems to not give a single shit about who I am or what I wear. She's managed to take everything I have been throwing out with naught but a raised eyebrow.
"Ara ara. So prompt." I said as the five bowed (six if you counted Ukon), "Kimimaro-kun. I had told you that you didn't need to come to these meetings anymore. You're meant to be resting."
"My apologies. I know you intend to leave today and wanted to ensure that your personal guard were prepared for the dangers ahead." Kimimaro replied with eyes to the ground.
I promptly crossed the room to him, and gently pulled him up by his elbow. "That's no good. You have testing tomorrow. You need to be well rested because the marrow withdraw is going to be exhausting." I ordered as I spun him around and had him stand just on the outside of my door.
"But nothing. Go rest or I'll assign Suigetsu to tattle on you."
A grimace crossed the bone user's face, which for him was paramount to outright angst.
I shut the door in his face.
"Now, lets get down to business." I said as I clapped my hands together.
"Make sure that you all pack enough clothes, food, and toiletries for the next two weeks. Kidomaru and Tayuya, bring as many sealing scrolls as you can without feeling like you are overloading yourselves. You two will be coming with me for this mission and will be fulfilling a mostly stealth and information gathering role."
"Sakon, you and Jirobo, are going to dispatch from us along the way and start heading up the coast. You are going to be capturing an as of yet unnamed target. I will be contacting you by summon as soon as I find out who it is."
"Are there any questions?" I asked as I walked back to sit on the edge of my desk.
"Yes." Ukon asked, "What's our goal? What's the major point of the operation?"
"To liberate a country from an oppressive dictator, recruit a shirtless demon, and to steal an empire." I chirped in reply.
The four exchanged wary looks.
"Right? Sounds like fun!" From my perch atop the desk I started to swing my feet back to let out a dull thud every few seconds as my sandals impacted the front face of the desk. "Oh, there will probably also be a bit where I try and un-mess the heads of a few kids in the hopes they don't one day cause the end of the world. But you guys won't really be involved with that."
Kidomaru clearly restrained himself from asking what the hell that meant.
"For this mission avoid killing anyone as well. Most of the targets that actually pose a threat to any of us are ones I don't want killed." I ordered. "Though I have a really important question for you all as well."
The four once again exchanged a nervous glance.
"Between here and Wave, what's the best restaurant for us to stop at? It's been a decade since I've eaten anything in that area."
Jirobo looked absolutely ecstatic.
Travel by ninja running was fast. Not due alone to raw speed, but the simple fact that a well trained ninja can ignore almost any obstacle in their path that isn't another ninja. Even with stopping for an hour to eat at a homey diner that served an amazing chicken ginger soup, the trip of several hundred miles took us less than four hours.
When we reached the waters separating us from the isle of Wave Jirobo and Sakon separated from us to pursue their own objective. They would go to Gato's other major shipping operation further up the coast and await further orders.
As we ran through the fog I finally caught sight of what I had been looking for.
A massive half complete bridge hung over the water. Visible even before I had managed to lay eyes on land.
"Damn. That things fucking huge." Tayuya muttered.
"And well built." Kidomaru added, "Whoever is building this wants it to stand event against a hundred exploding tags."
"Or just one angry midget and his hoard of idiots." I added.
I had always wondered why Gato hadn't just destroyed the bridge but seeing the interwove beams of iron for myself quickly gave me the answer. The bridge was so reinforced with supports that the whole thing would be almost as expensive to take apart as it was to build the damn thing.
A few seconds later we arrived on shore.
"Go." I ordered my two remaining guards, "Rendezvous on the bridge at 2200. Stay out of sight. Information gathering only. No big risks yet."
"Yes ma'am." The two sounded before heading off. I knew they weren't completely sold on my plan. They were likely wondering why we didn't just go in and forcibly take everything. The three of us together certainly had the power for it.
"Well, they'll learn." I ran off to start my hearts and minds campaign.
Tsunami was always a bit resentful of her name. Their small island nation had experienced the disaster of the same name more than once. It was why almost no one built anything on the side of the island facing the ocean. Your home only stood a chance if it was halfway across the island from wherever the giant wave came from.
She had often asked her dad why he would name her after something that caused so much destruction. He always had the same answer.
"When I was young I saw a tsunami myself. It's power took my breath away. It made me realize the power of nature. The tsunami itself wasn't evil. It was just was. And the world quaked around it. I knew that any daughter I had I would want to have that strength too."
She was of the belief that he just thought it sounded cool.
Her father had always talked a big game, and he had always managed to make things sound much more appealing than they actually were. Which was probably an even greater strength than his ability to build his bridge. The bridge gave people hope that things could change, which was really more important than the bridge itself.
Bridges could have guards and tolls on it. The bridge wouldn't solve anything. It would just make it easier for the people to take their freedom back but at the end of the day they'd still have to fight for it.
Which is why when her father finally arrived with ninja to help protect him, in the hopes that it would spur people into being ready to fight, she kept herself from showing her disappointment. They got a cripple and three children. It was no reason to be rude to them. It wasn't their fault. They had risked their lives to keep her father safe, she just couldn't see these three little children being able to inspire the town to rise up like it would need to.
They had already saved her father's life and they were his best shot on completing the bridge though, so they weren't out of the game yet. If there was one thing she had learned over the years in a fishing village it was to not give up hope, because a sudden change of winds or a single cast of your net could bring you all your fortunes.
So she made the best of the situation. The ninja had arrived and she needed to make sure they were fed for their time here. They brought some food stuff with them, thankfully, so she could just add that touch of home made with just some herbs and spices, which could still be found in town.
It was hard to make an entire meal of peppercorn after all.
So, she had gone to town to look for some roots or herbs to help her father's protectors. However she began to notice some things amiss. The streets were almost barren, and what few people she did see wore a smile as they clutched a package close to their chest.
Smiles were a rare sight in this country.
Intrigued, she continued her journey into the heart of the town as she heard a crowd in the distance. She could also hear the reason so many people were happy.
"Food! Someone is handing out food!"
"Quick! Come to the market before it's gone! Someone is handing out food!"
The entire town seemed to be crammed into the market. Cries of thanks, need, and joy filled the air as the crowed slowly thinned one person at a time. Each person clutching a small parcel to their chest.
Tsunami could hardly believe it. Someone was handing out food? No one that had the ability to help ever seemed to care about them before hand. She wanted to believe it was true, that there were still good people in power in the world, but she suddenly found fear grip her heart as she realized who it might be handing things out.
Gato and his men were the only ones with power. The irrational thought that they were handing out poisoned food to kill them all grasped her limbs and had her push rudely through the crowd. She shoved or pulled all obstacles out her way until she burst into the gap in the middle of the mob.
The eye of the people storm held a small line of villagers that dissolved into the chaos of the crowd. However that line led to someone unlike she had ever seen before. It was a woman with skin as pale as moonlight and the golden eyes of a beast.
"Ara ara. No pushing. You have to wait in the line to get your food." The woman chastised her.
"Oh. Sorry." Tsunami muttered.
The woman in the grey and purple sundress certainly didn't look like one of Gato's men. She smiled kindly and spoke softly. She also didn't have guards with half drawn swords. All she had was herself and a large wooden crate that she was handing out to people one by one.
A child came to the the front of the line. It was Nariyuki's kid. The little girl probably couldn't remember the last time she had a full belly.
"Ah. A noble lady has come to have some of my humble food!" The pale woman said, making the young girl blush and shyly look to the ground. "Do you have someone to help you cook it?"
"Yes. Grandma can cook." The child said.
"Enjoy!" The stranger said as she handed over the brown paper package.
Tsunami didn't know the stranger, but the woman was confident, and spoke with so much authority that the throngs of desperate people listened to her as she mandated an orderly line in her circle. Gato would never let someone like that live anywhere he controlled. She effortlessly did what he required legions of goons to do.
"Excuse me." Tsunami said as she approached. "Can I help you somehow?"
"That would be great." The woman said. "It's just packages of rice and some pig's fat, so it's not heavy, but a second set of hands would speed this up."
Tsunami hadn't done what she was expecting to do with her time in town, but she certainly wasn't going to miss out on being part of something that was making the people of Wave smile once again.
I immediately thought that Tsunami was an absolute peach of a woman. The whole town seemed to know her and respect her. She made no comments about getting an extra portion of the food for helping out, she didn't seem to want anything from me at all. Tsunami just wanted to help people desperately in need and helped me hand out food until night fall.
"Thank you for the help, Tsunami-chan. You helped that go by much faster."
"Oh no, I'm much too old for the chan." Tsunami gave a dismissive wave, "And if some of us can't assist when help comes for us, then Wave really wouldn't deserve to be saved."
"Ara ara. You are plenty young and cute enough for everyone to call you chan." I said with a wink.
Tsunami just looked confused by my response. I was barking up the wrong tree apparently.
"Do you have somewhere to stay the night miss...actually, I don't think you gave me your name?" Tsunami asked pleasantly.
"You're right. I didn't!" I responded, "And I have my accommodations for the night. Thank you for your concern though."
"Alright then." She relented easily, "Though if you need anything I live in the little house to the east, outside town. It's right on the creek. If you need anything you can find me there, or go to the bridge and ask for Tazuna. That's my father."
Oh shit. I forgot what Tazuna's daughter's name was. Plus people look really different in person than they do as 2D drawings. I had no idea that I had spent the last three hours with someone that was actually pretty important to my plans.
It had actually been my goal to try and find the bridge builder's home after handing out food. Granted, just one of many goals for the night, but I had just passed on someone taking me directly there without rousing any sort of suspicion. It appeared I'd have to do this another way then.
"So your father is the one building the bridge! I'll have to swing by in the morning to see if he or his workers need anything."
"That would be great. The promise of food will do a lot to motivate workers. I'll tell my father to expect you in the morning." Tsunami said with cheer.
"Sure." I promised, "I'll swing by your house just after dawn."
"I'll be sure to set a plate for you at the breakfast table then." Tsunami promised.
"Are you sure? I've been known to eat a woman out...of house and home."
Tsunami was clearly wondering why I put an odd pause in the middle of my sentence, the sweet innocent child. I was clearly barking up the wrong FOREST.
"It should be fine. The more the merrier." She replied.
It took all of Orochimaru's training for me to give no reaction to that.
"Sure. I'll bring more food with me." I promised with a shake of my head.
I distinctly did not offer to bring my clam nor did I offer some fish. I just calmly waved goodbye and made my way to the other side of the island. I had to do some reconnaissance on Gato's warehouses and see what exactly it was that he was shipping illegally.
The anime never really expanded on his operations and Orochimaru never considered him important enough to find out.
It was time to see what exactly was hiding in Gato's warehouses. More importantly, it was time for me to see how I could make their contents work for me.