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The shock registered in Orochimaru's features was almost comical. The snake-like shinobi had always been one to think several steps ahead, but in this instance, it was clear he was at a distinct disadvantage. Koushin was playing chess while he was playing checkers. It was virtually impossible to outwit him.
"Speak now," Koushin commanded, his tone frosty and imposing, as if a chill wind had swept through the forest. His playful demeanor had evaporated, replaced by an icy seriousness that set even Orochimaru's nerves on edge. "Tell me what you have to say and pray to whatever you believe in that it is enough for me to not kill you."
Orochimaru swallowed, a gesture that did not go unnoticed by Koushin. The sly snake of Konoha was notorious for his relentless confidence and audacity, but even he seemed perturbed by the air of finality surrounding Koushin's words.
"After our last chat," Orochimaru began, the words slipping from his tongue with an uneasy sort of grace, "I...I went to destroy Madara's soul. Thankfully, we hadn't summoned him at the time, although Itachi ordered me to for Gedo Mezo. I was delaying, and after your warning, I decided to destroy his soul once and for all..."
His words trailed off, his gaze flicking nervously to the side. Koushin's unwavering gaze continued to bear down on him, his eyes as cold as the Hokage's head engraved on the mountains of Konoha.
"But Kabuto was onto me for a while," Orochimaru continued, his tone slightly strained. "When I was out to catch Yamato, they... they summoned Madara."
Koushin's smirk was a fixed mask, yet his eyes flickered momentarily with a hint of annoyance. "I already expected that. Too bad," he drawled. With a nonchalant wave of his hand, Kabuto suddenly fell to the ground, his body crumpled like a discarded ragdoll.
His gaze moved to Orochimaru, a hint of desperation in his eyes. But upon catching sight of the deferential manner in which the snake shinobi regarded Koushin, his body involuntarily shivered.
"You! You really broke out of Itachi-sama's control," Kabuto accused, a trembling finger pointed at Orochimaru.
A dry chuckle escaped Orochimaru's lips. "Long time ago," he admitted, his eyes not leaving Koushin's.
Nonchalantly, Koushin placed a boot on Kabuto's face, applying enough pressure to draw a wince from the broken man. "Cancel Edo Tensei now," he commanded, his voice devoid of emotion.
Laughing despite his discomfort, Kabuto replied, "It wouldn't work. Madara is too strong. He was never in my control to begin with. He will just revive himself before I can send him back."
Koushin's response was an amused chuckle. "I know. That's better than having an immortal body and endless chakra. Do it now."
The order took Kabuto aback, yet his fear of Koushin outweighed his surprise. He began to form the necessary seals, his hands shaking slightly under Koushin's piercing gaze.
Meanwhile, within the fortified headquarters of Akatsuki, two figures sat enthroned. Madara and Itachi, their poised postures suggesting an equal footing. Their eyes held a shared understanding, a united front forged by their mutual goals.
Suddenly, Madara felt a peculiar sensation, an intangible pull on his being. He quickly performed a series of seals, his cracked visage and dark sclera shifting back to that of a normal man. He had released himself from the shackles of Edo Tensei.
"Kabuto got caught," he stated, his eyes flickering to meet Itachi's.
Itachi merely nodded in acknowledgment, his gaze unchanging. "Doesn't matter. From the beginning, you and I were the real forces of Akatsuki."
Their exchange was brief, their expressions unchanging. Despite the shift in circumstances, they remained steadfast, their resolve unbroken. Their shared glance held an understanding deeper than words, a bond forged through a common purpose.
Back in the forest, Koushin watched Kabuto complete the necessary hand signs. His eyes glinted with a hint of satisfaction as the shinobi did as commanded. His gaze then slid back to Orochimaru, his smirk widening just a touch.
A small tendril of lightning left Koushin's finger, a lethal arc of violet energy that spiraled towards Kabuto's head. In the next second, the once formidable shinobi was no more. His body convulsed momentarily, then fell limply, life snuffed out with a single touch.
Koushin waved his hand, an almost dismissive gesture, and Kabuto's lifeless form vanished into thin air, sent to his inventory. He turned his attention back to Orochimaru, his grin broadening subtly. "The information you brought wasn't enough to save your life," he stated, his voice carrying a touch of feigned regret.
Orochimaru swallowed hard, the usually unflappable shinobi unnerved by Koushin's declaration. "Koushin, I was forced to. Itachi ordered me to. How could I refuse him?" he pleaded, desperation creeping into his tone.
Koushin's grin shifted, taking on a decidedly wicked edge. "Why did you go back in the first place?" he asked, his question laced with a clear challenge. Orochimaru, for all his cunning, had no answer to that.
Satisfied, Koushin tilted his head, studying the cornered shinobi. "I will give you one last chance, Orochimaru. This will be your last ever opportunity to stay alive. Would you like that?"
Orochimaru hesitated for a moment before nodding. "Yes," he managed, his voice barely above a whisper.
Koushin nodded in response, his grin remaining eerily constant. "Kill every single Daimyo before this war ends. Their heirs as well. When this war ends, I will reshape this world's politics. No more kings and subjects," he ordered, his tone oddly casual considering the gravity of his instructions.
Orochimaru's eyes widened, shock flickering in their depths. "All?" he echoed, disbelief seeping into his tone. The notion seemed preposterous, yet Koushin's unwavering gaze bore no indication of jest.
"All. Even from the smallest country. For every Daimyo that lives, I will take one of your limbs. You decide how many you want to keep," Koushin confirmed, his smirk deepening at the snake shinobi's visible disquiet. The way his gaze darkened, the slight tremble that coursed through his lithe form - Koushin drank it all in, taking perverse satisfaction in Orochimaru's discomfort.
Orochimaru shivered under Koushin's unyielding gaze, the realization of his predicament sinking in. He had always known Koushin was formidable, but he had grossly underestimated the extent of his audacity. It was a gamble he was now regretting. "I will do it," he conceded, his voice trembling.
Koushin's grin widened at the affirmation. "Good," he responded, "Before you go, cancel Edo Tensei. Take back all the reanimated corpses," Koushin commanded, his smirk never leaving his face. His tone was light and the words fell with a soft casualness that contrasted sharply with the gravity of his demand.
Orochimaru fixed him with a strained smile that felt more like a grimace. "I would love to oblige, Koushin, but there's a small... complication," he began, his voice laced with the same serpentine charm that was as fascinating as it was disconcerting.
Koushin arched an eyebrow, a spark of amusement flashing in his eyes. "And what might that be?" he asked, his tone amiable, yet tinged with a dangerous curiosity that echoed in the silence between them.
A brief chuckle escaped Orochimaru's lips, low and raspy. "Madara," he replied simply, letting the name linger in the air. The snake shinobi's eyes held a certain gleam, the look of a predator playing a risky game, but relishing it nonetheless. "After I summoned Tobirama, Madara revived him and broke free from Edo Tensei with his Rinnegan. Then Itachi took him under his control. Madara found it so... poetically ironic that Tobirama is now serving an Uchiha, that he relinquished control of all Edo Tensei to him."
Silence echoed in the room for a beat, two. Koushin stared at Orochimaru, studying the man before him with a look of mild interest. His gaze narrowed slightly, assessing the credibility of the snake shinobi's words, searching for any signs of deceit. After a few long, quiet moments, Koushin let out a small sigh, amusement dancing in his eyes.
"Well, that does indeed put a rather unusual twist in our agreement, doesn't it?" he mused, his tone light, but the underlying hint of authority was unmistakable.
He considered Orochimaru for a moment longer, a thoughtful gleam in his eyes. "Off you go then, before I rethink our deal," he finally said, waving his hand dismissively. He watched as Orochimaru, taking the hint, swiftly took his leave, leaving Koushin alone.
The gravity of Koushin's words hung heavy in the air, a promise that bore the weight of a death sentence. Orochimaru took a shuddering breath, the reality of his predicament sinking in. He was no longer a puppeteer; he had become a mere puppet, a pawn in Koushin's grand scheme.
Yet, as he disappeared into the forest, he realized that his path was not entirely dictated by fate. His survival was in his own hands. And for now, that was all he needed to cling onto, a faint glimmer of hope amidst the darkness of his predicament.
As Koushin watched Orochimaru retreat, a sense of quiet satisfaction settled over him. His scheme was a radical one, but necessary. He had always understood the fundamental paradox of power – to establish peace, one had to first wage war. The old order had to crumble for a new one to rise. It was a gruesome reality, but reality nonetheless.
And as for Orochimaru, he had been granted a last chance, a final opportunity to redeem himself. Koushin was curious to see how the snake shinobi would play his hand. Would he defy the odds and fulfill his directive, or would he falter?
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