I checked the heart monitor again. The pulse was still steady and the rest of the readable vitals were the same as when I'd last checked them. Everything remained frustratingly the same.
That is to say, on a slow and steady decline.
"The last batch of tests has had no observable effect." Kabuto stated. I assume it was for Kimimaro's benefit since I was staring at the test results.
"I am unafraid." The bone user said as he looked at me with complete faith. Faith was the correct word too, because I was certain it wasn't a statement to show he knew I'd fix him. He was saying he didn't mind dying.
"But you will be very bored," I stated firmly, "because you have reached the point that you aren't to leave this bed. When you do your health drops notably and will make my work even harder."
Phrasing it as him making things more difficult for me had the desired effect. If it was just for his own health he'd walk around whenever he liked, but stating it made things harder for me would ensure he remained here for as long as I asked him to.
"Yes, Orochitama-sama." He stated stiffly.
I give a jerk of my head to Kabuto and the two of us exit the room. The door closes behind us and my shoulder droops and I run a hand down my face.
"Orochitama-sama." Kabuto spoke up, brows furrowed. "Why haven't you gone to retrieve Tsunade? We located her a week ago on the day you gave the speech. It's clear that this is important to you, why have you not gone to speak with her?"
I contemplated the loaded question for a moment.
"The primary one? I don't want her to link me to Sound yet and moving him to her will be an extensive process." I stated simply.
"I...see." The man said with hesitation.
He didn't believe me. At least not completely. While moving Kimimaro would be a small ordeal while making sure his condition didn't worsen, it was far from impossible. I just didn't really want to unpack all my emotional baggage at the moment.
Those demons were doing just fine in their sealed bottles at the moment.
"I have to go meet the leaders of Hidden Grass and Hidden Waterfall in disguise tomorrow anyways, and I need to go to Hidden Sand and meet the Kazekage before that."
"Oh?" Kabuto asked, surprised. "I wasn't aware you'd scheduled an appointment with him."
"I haven't." I replied before turning towards the leader of the Drama department walking towards us. "Watanabe-kun! How goes preparations?"
"Things are going well!" The man responded with a wide grin on his chiseled features. In another world Watanabe would have done well as a movie star. He was classically handsome, tall, and had an astounding ability to mimic people's mannerisms and inflection. In this life he mostly used these attributes to get close to someone and kill them, though I was working on that. "I've been working with one of the scientists on these 'Stormtrooper' outfits. Amazing name for them by the way, very menacing."
"Oh I can't take the credit." I said with a wave of my hand, as I did for any compliment on 'my' writings. I didn't come up with them, but I badly wanted to bring some of my favorite bits of fiction to this world. The original Star Wars trilogy was something special and I wanted to bring it to life here.
"We managed to get make a lightsaber good enough for the purposes of a the play, though from what I've heard there are a bunch of Sound scientists trying to make one that's actually function." He followed up.
I gave a small laugh. Some things never change.
"Excellent. Do you think everyone will be ready in time for us to do an in house show the day before we leave?" I asked. I wanted everyone in Sound to be able to see the show before the wider world managed to.
"We might have a few slip ups but I think we can manage it in the month's time that we have." Watanabe stated with a nod. "Though my husband is going to be complaining about the longer hours to be ready in time."
"Your efforts are appreciated." I said. "And my appreciation takes the form of extra time off and more money."
"Oh, my second and third favorite form of appreciation." The man said with a smile. "I'll have it done in time."
With a word of farewell and a bow Watanabe left and I began to head towards my office, Kabuto following behind.
"So, Orochitama-sama, why the play?" Kabuto spoke up.
"You are putting a lot of resources and effort into this drama and I was wondering what purpose it serves. A simple circus act would have served your efforts just as well, would it not?"
"A circus would wow them and distract them just as well, yes." I acknowledge as I think on how to phrase the next part. "However, a story sticks with a person. Years later people will struggle to remember more than an act or two of a circus show, but they will remember a good story for their entire lives. Stories are how the mind remembers."
"And what in the story do wish for them to remember, Orochitama-sama?" Kabuto asked.
I gave a small smirk as I opened the door to my office and walked in. Kabuto was very good at asking questions. Possibly too good, as some of my reasons were a bit too personal for me to feel comfortable sharing with the spy.
"People will remember the message of the story and it's themes, and it will attach those themes to Sound."
"And what themes are in the story that you are trying to communicate?"
I reached to my desk and pulled out the script for the play and handed it over to the Medic Ninja.
"Read it for yourself, then you tell me." I stated.
Kabuto glanced from the script to me a few times before grabbing it.
"In the meantime I'm going to go break into the Kazekage's office for an unplanned meeting." I said simply as I pulled out some lipstick and applied it as I gave my appearance a once over to make sure I was presentable.
"Wait, you're going to what?" Kabuto asked, gaze snapping to me.
"Toodles!" I replied before disappearing in a puff of smoke.
Rasa was intimately familiar with every inch of the Kage Tower of Sunagakure no Sato. He regularly searched the place for traps and seals that might have been placed by enemy villages or his own rivals in the village. His own office in particular was so watched and searched that several jounin had pronounced it so secure as to be impossible to infiltrate covertly. It was the location that Rasa slept most nights, seeing as home was- well-
He felt more comfortable sleeping in his office.
So it was quite surprising to Rasa when he was awoken at two o'clock in the morning by a feminine voice.
"Ara ara. Laying on your desk like that is no good, Yondamine Kazekage-kun."
Rasa stood upright suddenly, knocking his chair over and gathering golden dust around him to fend off an oncoming attack as his mind went to process what was happening.
No attack came and his mind took a moment to process the other occupant of the room. A pale woman with long black hair garbed in white sundress that was decorated with images of cactuses, the woman's purple lips were stretched into a teasing grin and here silted held amusement and no fear.
He went to send a wave of gold dust at the intruder when she spoke up.
"So sorry to wake you, but I needed to meet with you alone." She stated as she produced a bottle of Wind Country tequila and placed it on his desk. "Please, accept my apologies."
It was not the words that made him pause, but the appearance. The woman looked very much like Orochimaru. Startlingly so. In fact, his initial guess was that she was the snake sannin's younger sister or possibly his daughter, but such a person should be well known in the world by now. Plus, the intruder managed to get into his office without raising any alarm, which would require an in-depth knowledge of several fuinjutsu schools of thought. The woman's chakra was well contained too; he couldn't even tell that she was there at all with his chakra senses.
She was skilled, she looked like Orochimaru. She was dangerous enough that taking a while to talk would be advantageous. One need not seek out fights that could kill you after all.
"And what is it that bring you to me in the middle of the night that can't possibly be done in the day?" Rasa asked, ignoring the bottle on the desk. Not accepting food and drink from strangers was academy student stuff after all.
"Oh, I just wanted you to pretend like you're going to team up with a small village and attack Konoha during the upcoming Chunnin exams." The woman stated as she popped the top off the tequila. "You got some glasses for this?"
"You want me to attack Konoha, our strongest allies?" He asked incredulously.
"Pretend. Pretend to attack." She stated with all the grace of a woman clarifying what day her niece's ballet recital was. "And do not pretend there is any love lost between you and Konoha. You're actually pretty pissed at them right now because of the jobs the Wind Daimyo is sending them lately."
Rasa stared at the woman hard, weighing his options.
On one hand, getting into a war right now did not favor Sand. They were at one of the weakest states they had ever been. They hadn't managed to produce any true geniuses in almost ten years. Ten years was a long time for a hidden village to not have someone rise to upper classes of ninja. Besides himself there was no one in the village that could hold the title of Kage. Wars between hidden villages tended to be decided by the people that could make names of themselves and everyone knew that. It was the reason people weren't sending jobs their way.
They needed new blood to make names for themselves, and all he really had for that was a psychopathic weapon that could barely be pointed in the right direction.
Which brought the other hand. Things like this was exactly how young blood made names for themselves and brought the attention needed. To accept something like this would be a gamble.
"So are you going to have me drink from the bottle? A tad un-ladylike don't you think?"
Rasa weighed the risks in his head. He didn't like the odds, but just letting things stay the way they were now wouldn't be good for the village. Someone, probably Iwa, would take them out if things remained the same for another decade.
"What would you offer in exchange for this?" Rasa asked.
"Fuinjutsu work to let your darling son actually go the fuck to sleep while not sacrificing any potential power he might bring to the table." The woman stated idly and Rasa's breath caught in his throat.
Rasa's gold surged forward and encased the woman in a coffin on metallic sand, leaving only the woman's face showing. A face that looked supremely unimpressed.
"You think we would allow you to touch our jinchuriki?" Rasa growled.
"The fact you didn't go with 'my son' is very telling." The woman responded and he contemplated finishing it right there, but she continued speaking. "But yes. The seal work by Sand to contain its tailed beast is atrocious. Always has been. You did not get the Uzumaki sealing methods given to all the other villages by the First Hokage because you already had your own tailed beast and you've felt the effects since. Your understanding of how to seal one is greatly behind everyone else. You need this."
Rasa kept his own poker face but inside his emotion stormed. A more stable Gaara would be the answer to his prayers. Gaara had genius to go with his supreme talent. Gaara already casually killed lower powered jounin. He was exactly what the village needed. Being able to sleep would likely not fix all of the jinchuriki's problems, but it would doubtlessly help.
"If it makes you feel better too, I won't even be altering the original seal. I'm going to be placing another one on top of it that can be dialed up and down to allow Shukaku more or less communication with Gaara as needed." The woman continued.
In a few more heartbeats the gold pulled away from the woman and he reached into his desk and pulled out a shot glass and slid it across the desk.
"What is it that you want Suna to do, exactly?" He asked as he poured the tequila into the glass for the woman, then produced his own bottle of tequila and shot glass from his desk to pour his own.
The woman smiled and downed the shot before speaking. "Nothing much. You just amass your troops a kilometer or two outside of Konoha's walls. Don't let the bottom rank people know exactly what's happening except for a few that will think you are meant to attack during the tournament part of the chunnin exams. I don't plan to attack, but I want all the other hidden villages to think I'm going to."
That was very little risk for them. Having a large troop movement near them during the exams could even be waved away. A small amount of rumor among the troops couldn't even really be blamed on them. If something actually happened it would be bad for them. They could be expected to make reparations even if they didn't actually commit to the attack but...
A more controlled jinchuriki would be worth whatever reparations they had to make.
"I would expect the sealing to be done before we take part in this." Rasa stated.
"Oh sure. I mean, it's actually done right about now." The woman said simply before taking another drink.
Rasa stopped dead.
"What do you mean?" The man growled.
"Oh this is just a Shadow Clone. The real me is applying the seal." She said before taking another drink.
"So sure were you that I'd accept?" He growled.
"Oh not at all." The woman said with a shake of head and a wave of her hand. "It would be very simple for me to remove my seal after all. If you didn't agree it would just have been removed."
The threat was clear. She could sneak in and get to both him and Gaara at her leisure and she could remove the seal. If he did not hold up his end of the deal she would remove her payment as well.
"Very well. We'll work with you, but you will not act without my say so like this again." He growled.
"Wonderful! So glad we could come to an agreement Rasa-san." She stated happily as she clapped her hands together.
Rasa felt he might have just made a deal with the devil, but the reward could not be denied. The power play was distasteful but held a message that she needed to be respected, which was played well enough that he was willing to give that respect, but he would make sure she didn't get too big of a head about it.
"What is your name?" He finally asked, never having received it before.
"Orochitama." The woman said, giving a wink. "Charmed."
"Orochitama, leave Sunagakure before I raise the alert and have the entire village hunt you down." He stated simply. Doing so wouldn't work, but it would be annoying for even someone of her stature.
"I'll get out of your hair then. Ta!" She stated before she disappeared, a glob of tequila falling to the chair as the clone turned to smoke. Rasa heaved a sigh and began to check for his guards when one burst into the room.
"Kazekage-sama! Are you alright!? Someone knocked-" The guard faltered and looked away.
"What is it? Speak." He ordered.
"You uh...you might want to check a mirror. If you need, um, private time with a woman in the future you can just ask without knocking us out."
Rasa pulled a mirror out of his desk and looked at his image. He had three lip marks made of lipstick. One on his cheek, one on his forehead, and one on his neck.
A chill went down his spine.
He likely didn't have a choice but to follow this woman. She could have killed him three times over.
Gaara looked so small. The manga had always chosen angles to make him look so imposing, but in person, as an adult, he looked so small and fragile and alone as he stared up at the moon on the roof top.
He also reeked of killing intent as well, but that was easy for me to ignore.
"Nice night, isn't it Gaara? Shukaku?" I asked.
A small tsunami of sand came in response.
The response was expected, but disappointing. The mud clone I'd sent was quickly crushed and the people of Sand hid away as they were certain the demon among them claimed someone else.
"Tsk tsk! Hagoromo would be disappointed in what you've done to this boy Shukaku." I said as I stepped around the corner. The sand around Gaara all vibrated as if electrocuted and Gaara clutched at his head.
"Mother." The boy gasped, "My mother demands to know where you heard that name." The boy said, almost confused.
"I read it in a book." I responded blithely before continuing. "There is a group looking to grab your tanuki and his eight siblings and combine them back into the Ten Tails once more. They already have the body from the moon."
Gaara's face grew even more pained and confused as he dropped to his knees.
I was throwing a lot of truth bombs at Skukaku here, but I needed Shukaku to speak about more than wanting blood to Gaara. This was the only thing I could imagine getting him to do that.
"I'm sorry Mother." The boy's small voice cracked. "I'll give you her blood. That will help you."
I rolled my eyes and casually used a wind ninjutsu to blow apart the sand coming towards me.
"Rude. Gaara, death is not always the answer and if you listen to your 'mother' you'll know they don't want me dead until after I answer questions."
"W-what?" Gaara asked as he again clutched his head and let out a growling sound of pain.
This wasn't going anywhere and it felt almost mean to have Gaara in pain while I make the point.
Thankfully, I came with a seal that would help with this and from everything I knew about how a jinchuriki is made I was reasonably sure I knew where his seal was. Plus the ninja of sound had recently made something that would disable him fairly easily.
Three kunai with seals landed in equilateral distance from Gaara. Then there was a dull vibrating sound that shook the house we stood on and the sand around Gaara vibrated apart. Gaara himself looked to be moments from passing out. I dashed in, lifted his shirt, and then placed the seal on top of his existing one.
The vibrations cut off and I gently lowered the redhead to the ground. That was a bit noisy and I'd have people coming to check out what just happened soon.
Best to make this quick.
"Shukaku. Be nicer. The reincarnation of Asura and Indra are to have their big fight soon and if the Tailed Beasts and humans can't learn to get along Kaguya is going to manage to come back, and no one wants that. You're ageless. Just put up with it for a few more decades and you'll move on to someone else where the fate of the planet isn't as on the line."
"You- huh?" Gaara asked, looking at me in confusion before slipping into unconsciousness.
I gently picked the boy up, wiping some flecks of sand off him, and then turned to go inside. In moments I had the boy placed in his own bed and tucked in. Then I left a purple lipstick mark on his forehead. Just to make sure my point was driven home.
I was going to apply this seal no matter what, though the conversation with him and Shukaku was not nearly as productive as I wanted it to be. Or at all.
I'd just have to come by some other time. Maybe when he had some sleep.
A smile tugged at my lips.
Maybe he'd like to see a play while traveling?