I was having a...well it wasn't a good day but it hadn't been a bad day either. The life of micromanaging psychopaths and doing paperwork was never glamorous, but it wasn't always terrible either. Having found people to delegate work to had also proven to be quite a wind fall for me. It meant I actually got everything I wanted done in a single day done; when I wasn't arranging clean up over people murdering each other over their chakra theories. The regular political stuff was usually manageable, if only because we were such a small village most people had no idea who we were.
"The Daimyo has expressed concerns over-" My current courier stated.
"The Daimyo of Rice is twelve. What does his regent say?" I cut in.
The courier's face twitched at being cut off but continued. "The Regent says he accepts the plan wholeheartedly."
Of course he did. The regent was terrified of me, for good reason, and I made him an offer he couldn't refuse.
"Excellent. You ran a long way to get the message here quickly. Take the rest of the day off and swing by the cafeteria." I stated.
The man looked a little queasy in response.
"We've set up a supply line with the Pink Canoe now. We have sold off the pork we had. They won't have any pork dish for two months and everyone get's one free ice cream cone." I offered.
The man actually got tears in his eyes. "The gods bless you."
The mostly pork and rice diet had been weighing on people apparently.
That was when my day went south. I felt something brush against my chakra and there was a puff of smoke and a cobra sat on my desk.
"Manda wishes to speak with you." The reptile said in a raspy hiss.
"Kenzo." I said as I eyed the snake. It's hood was flared and it stretched it's six foot length up from my desk so it's head was taller than mine. I put my face into a pout. "Manda made it very clear he didn't want me summoning him basically ever, so I'm sure that this can wait until-"
"No." The snake hissed. "Manda requires to speak with all new summoners."
My self control kept me from bolting upwards in my seat.
"I've given no one access to the summoning scrolls and I have been your summoner for decades." I said dismissively.
"You have." The snake said slowly, as if the act of speaking strained him. "Yet you also have not. We are not fools. We feel it. You are changed."
I drum my fingers on the desk. The snakes knew something was different. Probably not the whole picture, but they knew shenanigans happened and that I'm not just Orochimaru pulling a long con of some wort. I hadn't expected that and no amount of flirting with the reptile would get me anywhere.
"Fine. I'll come speak with Manda. Reverse summon me in three days. I will speak with him then."
"You would tell the great Manda to wait!? He requests your presence? You will leave now and-"
Quick as a flash I lashed a hand out and grasped the snake's maw, shutting it with two fingers that might as well have been made of iron despite their gentle hold.
"You doubt my identity, but do you doubt my power, Kenzo-kun?" I asked sweetly.
The snake attempted to pull its head back. I didn't let it.
"Just as Manda has subordinates, so do I. I have plans that can't be interrupted and jobs that need to be delegated if I am to be gone for hours. Manda will understand this."
I internally winced at the aggressive stance I was taking. This was not the sort of negotiating I liked to do with beings I worked with. However, Manda worked with Orochimaru, and thus me, because we were capable of killing him. The snakes were not ones to do things for cuddly ideals like loyalty and friendship.
Snakes ate other snakes all the time after all.
I released the cobra's mouth. He jerked away and let out an angry hiss. I pouted at him.
"So rude. I'm just fulfilling my responsibilities." Though truthfully it more had to do with maintaining power and control. If I acted like I'd dance to their tune they'd take advantage of it. "I do know how to thank a messenger though."
I reached into my desk and pulled out a cage with a mouse the size of my fist. I kept a few in a cage nearby specifically to pay my summons when needed.
I tossed the rodent. There was a brief squeak of pain then the Cobra looked much thicker just under his head.
"Very well. I will communicate your message to Manda. Three days at this time we will reverse summon you. Be prepared." The cobra ordered before disappearing in a puff of smoke.
I heaved a sigh. Now I had to deal with Manda, the homicidal giant snake.
Just as I was massaging my temples a knock came from the door. An unnecessary gesture since I could sense who was on the other side already, but I appreciated the consideration.
"Enter, Haku-chan." I stated, going for chipper but coming out as just tired.
The door opened to reveal Haku standing there, without a mask.
"Is this a bad time?"
"No. It's fine. Come in, what do you need?" I asked.
"Zabuza-sama just finished this week's training and wanted me to come and give you a report on their performance." Haku stated.
A smile ghosted my face. It had been three weeks since Zabuza first barged into my office demanding to know where I went wrong with my ninja. Since then he had managed to consistently put his foot in his mouth when giving me a report about them.
He had apparently decided to solve this by getting his assistant, Haku, to give the report for him.
Such a brave man, Zabuza.
"And? How are they coming?" I asked, leaning forward.
"They have begun...progressing." Haku stated. "Most of them could function as trained ninja but lacked the basics. Getting the basics is helping many of them progress their unusual abilities."
That had been what I was hoping to hear.
"Excellent. You are doing well Haku-chan." I praised. The ice user fidgeted awkwardly. Zabuza paid out compliments sparingly and Haku rarely had the chance to get compliments from others, resulting in him looking pained every time someone said nice things to him.
"It's Zabuza-sama's teaching." Haku deflected.
"How many do you think would fit into and do well in the Chunnin exams coming up in two months?" I asked.
"If they keep up the training there is about two dozen that fit in the age range and skill level for the Chunnin exams." Haku said slowly.
"How many of them do you think could actually win the tournament part of the competition?" I pressed.
Silence filled the room for a few beats.
"Three of them would be strong contenders. Two more potentials." Haku stated. "Though truthfully, it would be a shaky bet for all of them. It is in Konoha and they might go against-" Haku cut himself off. "Against some very talented genin."
I smirked at the avoided subject.
Five possible gennin? Not enough for two teams and I was almost positive who he meant. I would need one more for a full second team.
"Tell me, Haku-chan, did you ever hold the rank of gennin?" I asked.
Brown eyes widened as he immediately got my meaning.
"I- I'm not-"
"You were never part of the Hidden Mist. You have never actually held a rank, and you are still of an age that can take the exam without suspicion. You are unquestionably talented enough to take the exam." I stated.
"I won't leave Zabuza-sama." Haku stated firmly.
"You don't have to." I said with a dismissive wave of my hand. "You would be free to follow Zabuza however you like, but you are helping Zabuza train my soldiers. It would be helpful if you had a rank to along with that." I said as I placed an Oto headband on the desk before him.
"Why-" Haku hesitated before continuing, "Why would I want to be a gennin and take the exams?"
"I can't see into your mind Haku-chan." I said as I leaned back. "I can't know for certain, but here's my thought processes. You want to be useful to Zabuza above all else, but there is a part of you, a small one, that wants to be recognized for your work beyond just him. It's one thing to know you are skilled and talented and having a parental figure tell you that, but it's another thing entirely to have it confirmed by other people."
"I don't need anyone's ap-" He began,
"But I also think that the idea of being a part of something bigger, even if it's just while your here, is also very attractive to someone like you, who just wants to belong." I stated.
The atmosphere became tense as Haku stared at me. I ignored his stare and began shuffling some paperwork.
"You're right. You don't see into my mind." Haku said coolly.
"My mistake then." I admitted easily. It wasn't as if I expected Haku to confirm his emotional weak-points to me. Such a thing was very un-ninja. "Regardless, I'd consider you a wonderful asset to have and I'd appreciate your assistance. Please bring it up with your master. I think he would agree it is a good opportunity for you."
"I...will relay your message, Orochitama-san." My lip quirked. As his boss's boss, I technically should be called "sama". Ah, teenage rebellion.
"Thank you. If you do accept, I want you to report to Training Room 5 at noon in two days." I said in dismissal.
The ice user stood and began to leave. "Haku," I called, stopping him. I tossed the Sound headband to him, "Take this with you. You can return it if you change your mind."
Haku delayed only a moment longer before leaving without another word.
"If he accepts that will be really helpful." I muttered before standing. The paperwork could wait. I needed to finish development on the nature chakra draining seal and finish a few more projects.
I hesitated before leaving the room. I did also need to finish correspondence with the Daimyo of the Land of Mountains, and the Land of Volcanoes. I also needed to send correspondence to a few Hidden Villages as the leader of Oto and not as Orochimaru.
I had so much I needed to do and such little time. I was walking a tightrope with unspeakable horrors at the bottom and I wasn't even sure I really wanted what was on the other side.
"I've set enough into motion." I muttered to myself as I resolved to do a bit more Science, rather than the paperwork. I'd probably spend all day in three days doing politics after all. "Might as well see this through till the end."
Dosu glanced about the room in apprehension. He had been called in along with a few others. Small numbers likely meant good things, or at least it used to, before Sound got all the paint jobs and started pretending it shat rainbows. It used to be that small numbers were an actual meeting and large numbers were when everyone there was going to be experimented on. So the group of four other people he walked into would ordinarily have made him feel safe.
Now he wasn't sure what the fuck it meant.
The people in the room were one's he did recognize though. Zaku was here, the crazy bastard. He hadn't been around long but managed to have the first experiment on him be successful with no real side effects. He was going to get himself killed if he didn't learn to not strut his stuff around like he knows shit.
He also spotted Kin, a woman whose sole talent seemed to be not being around when shit was happening. It happened too frequently to be an accident though. If it had just been them he'd figure he was being set up for a mission brief, but the other two people made him pause.
Suigetsu and Jugo were here. Suigetsu was another experiment gone wrong and Jugo...well he wasn't sure if Jugo went right or wrong, but being near him was generally a good way to get the Sound Retirement Plan.
"Hi, Dosu." Jugo said from his place, looking nervous and all the world like he didn't want to be there.
Dosu was seriously considering leaving, fuck orders. There were too many people here for a small job, too little for a big one. If they had a job, it was probably to stress test Jugo to see how long it takes before he breaks and kills them all.
Then he felt a kick to his back that sent him sprawling into the room. He recovered with ninja speed, which still felt like an eternity of being vulnerable.
"Just standing in doorways while not being mindful of your surroundings will get you killed. Clearly you were looking for a Deep Lunge Sprint." A hated voice stated.
"Oh!" Jugo's voice stated, suddenly sounding much happier. "Hi Zabuza! Hi Haku! Are we training?"
Dosu's sole eye beheld the Demon in the doorway. Zabuza had appeared in Sound and had promptly made all Chunnin and lower hate their lives. His training was grueling, mind-numbing, and exhausting as he pushed everyone to their limits on pain of death.
He had a particular habit of singling Dosu out and assigning him extra laps, extra push ups, and any other extra work he could think of, smiling in sadistic glee the whole time.
Dosu's eye slid to Zabuza's assistant. Some girl named Haku. The girl was wearing a Sound headband and seemed to particularly salty about something. First he'd seen of any emotion on the ice queen.
"I hate small talk so lets cut to the chase. Congratulations. You six are all going to the chunin exams." Zabuza announced like he was telling a waiter they forgot his onions.
"Since when do we participate in the Chunin Exams?" Zaku asked arrogantly. The dumbass's continued survival in the face of constantly disrespecting Zabuza baffled him. "It's not like we need to be hanging around a bunch a kids with fingers up their ass. What braindead fucker thought that was a good idea?"
"Ara ara." Death announced and Dosu's blood went cold. "Braindead? Such mean words, Zaku-kun."
Zaku went white as a sheet and Zabuza's face became unbearably smug. Dosu turned slowly to see that, at some point, Orochitama had entered the room from behind them. Despite there not being a door. She sauntered towards them armed with only a pink sundress and a polite smile. It was fucking terrifying.
"I- I- I was just-" Zaku stammered.
"It's fine Zaku-kun. I'm sure you'll make up for it in the effort you put into training." The devil stated with poisoned honey.
The kid with cannon hands turned to Zabuza in hope, apparently decided he was the lesser of the dangers.
"Don't look at me kid. I won't be running this." Zabuza responded.
"Whoa whoa whoa." Suigetsu interrupted. "What do you mean you aren't going to be running this? You said this is going to be for the Chunin exams. I thought we'd be training?"
"You are!" The...thing that used to be Orochimaru said. "The chunin exams are a personal project for me, so I'm going to be dedicating a little time every day to train you all."
They had Orochitama's personal attention for training? That was...a very mixed blessing. The woman was strong. He'd seen that. Her training could increase his power, make him stronger, take him a step closer to being free.
It could also get him killed but he was a shinobi. One always had to gamble on the risk versus the reward.
"Orochitama-sama." Kin said, suddenly speaking up. The girl did an amazing job of hiding the fear in her voice. "We are prepared for the exams. We are some of your best gennin, we will be able to take on most any coopetition we'd be faced with. You need not-"
"I'm sure you could do well in the exams." The woman interrupted, "But I don't want you all to just do well. I expect you to win."
Kin and Zaku stared on, flabbergasted. But Dosu? Dosu just felt his smile stretch into a wicked grin. He was quite fond of winning.