Date: February 1, 2014
Meruin and Akane both keep the appointment they'd made two days previous and head towards the facility that their answers will be found within, dealing with whatever troubles crop up along the way.
"Losing Sight - A Step Towards Knowing"
Tunnels Beneath the Dark Caverns
Akane had left the Oasis with a pouch full of the Flamethrowers Meruin had pointed out to her among a few other herbs she'd recognized and returned to the inn she'd been staying at. Before she realized what she was doing she'd had every item she had packed and was preparing to disappear. She paused, rubbing her forehead as she tried to think this through again. She was fighting an instinct to simply flee. That voice in her head was telling her she'd only agreed to Meruin's 'deal' in order to escape, for certainly she believed the man when he'd said she stood no chance against him.
But then she stopped altogether and sat on the bed, head in her hands. What did she have left to lose, she wondered. What little sight she had left obviously, her life of course, but what was that really worth if she couldn't fight properly anymore? She couldn't even be used as a medic in the field if she could not see the wounds. Still, there was something about Meruin that made her uneasy. The way his hair seemed to have a mind of it's own had distracted her into giving out information she normally would not have. She'd shared the true events with the few medics she'd talked to and with the girl she'd met on the road. But never had she been specific that it had been the sharingan that had blinded her.
Briefly she wondered if this would mark her as a traitor to her village, sharing information with another village, though they weren't at war and there wasn't anything between them that she knew of…. But no matter what reasons that little voice could come up with, she still could not help but think that a blind shinobi was worthless to her village and that she was just a no name chuunin. No one would pay her much mind as few even knew how she'd lost her sight. Secrets had been kept before…. So she found herself making her way to the cavern entrance at the appropriate hour, approaching carefully, senses stretched to their limit. She sat on a rock with her back to a solid wall of rock and waited….
2 hours past midnight, Dark Cavern Entrance.
She is here…
Meruin could sense her. Smell the many toxins on her person, the slight scent of tension sweat and her particular feminine scent. As he stepped out of the darkness of the caverns, moving through the bushes hiding their entrance without touching them. He turns his head and looks to her, the mists of his eyes swirling a slow, shifting red. She looked much the same as when he'd seen her the night before, from what his enhanced vision could see. It seemed that this deal would go through, then.
"Come," slid his voice through the shadow.
Akane heard the bushes move and she turns her head in that direction. She could see his eyes had shifted to red and that seemed somehow quite fitting. This felt like a deal with the devil after all. Standing, she dusts off her pants and nods as she's issued the 'order'. She had brought only one backpack with her that contained most of her things and had paid the innkeeper to keep the rest of her things while she was gone. Of course, the old man had thought she was just wearing weapons for show… Sweet old man that he was. She had not done up her hair tonight, only braiding the long hair down her back and putting her ornaments in her backpack, the bound crimson brushing the backs of her thighs easily. But as she moves to follow she can't help but ask the one thing that had caught her interest since meeting Meruin. "If I might ask.. why does your hair groom itself?"
Meruin lifted a hand, strands of spider silk lifting from the palm of it. They came together, sinuously coiling themselves into what soon became a pale rope, the interwoven tendrils becoming lost in the whole. The man arched a brow at Akane.
"It does not…"
And then the platinum rope is dropped to the ground and the Kirigakure shinobi turns around, heading back into the darkness from whence he'd arrived. The coiled cable lay on the ground, its body following Meruin into the indiscernible.
Akane watches, fascinated as Meruin shows her spider silk forming itself into a rope before it falls to the ground. Her eyes lit up a bit in fascination but she kept her silence and simply followed the man silently after that, looking around her as they went, taking in what she could see in the dark. "Did you find anything interesting in that tonic I mixed up?" She couldn't help but ask, part of her was a scientist too as far as the herbs went.
His voice echoed some within the cavernous place, strong and smooth in its first moments but weaker and drier as time went on as though it were being drained of life by the stale air around them. "We found a surprising number of rare herbs within it," he said as he walked. "Some herbs that would either have had to have been purchased at an exorbitant price or required extensive travel to acquire. Each of the individual ingredients would, in and of themselves, improve your eyesight. And it is likely that it would have improved the vision of most. Whether it did anything for your particular ailment remains to be seen.
The most notable component of the toxin, however, is that while you may have improved your eyesight it may have been at the expense of your future. Four particular herbs — The Sunseat Eaves, Dew drops, Triller Extract, and Sickle moss, they interacted with eachother to add a toxic element to the tonic. We will be testing the fat within your body to see if it has bound to it as we believe it should have. If it has, then unless treated, you will fall ill should your body ever process too much of the adipose tissue, whether due to sickness, starvation, or increased exercise.
"Lastly," there was a quiet sound, a soft hissing whisper. "You were supposed to hold this." Akane would see something streak towards her and feel cool silk wrapping around her wrist unless she evades it. Meruin's voice seems quieter as he turns his face back towards where he walked. "There is no light through the route I will take you. This, attached to me, is the only thing that will keep you from getting lost in the dark and wandering aimlessly until something unfortunate happens. I am surprised that you can see more than shadows even now, to be frank."
The ground begins to slow downward.
Akane tilted her head as she listened to Meruin break down the tonic she'd created. It was amazing to her just how complex these herbs were and had she not been so focused on her goal she might have taken longer to dissect her methods herself. What he said made sense, though. She sighed softly. "This is why I don't share my creations. Normally I'm more well versed with the herbs I use. But you're right, it took quite a lot of travel and a bit of cash to get the herbs I'd used. Months in fact. But I'm sure you're aware of what I used."
The woman had been aware there was a possibility of the herbs interacting with one another but as a shinobi it would have been dangerous for her to continue her life without getting rid of the toxin. Assuming he was telling her the truth of course. When the thing snakes around her wrist she jumps, startled, but calms quickly when he clarifies that it was a lead for her to follow him. "Ah, sorry. I can't see anything actually. I was following your voice and movements."
"You did provide a list, yes," spoke the Okumo, a nod in his voice.
Her final comment did draw a sincere, "Interesting," from the man. "You do so very well for one who only recently had their sight damaged and still relies on it. Your steps were sure despite your need to rely on your less precise senses." The sounds of the occasional bat screeching, communicating or being caught within the webs of the giant spiders on the ceiling of the caverns, recede. A chill begins to set in, the unseen ground still sloping downward beneath their feet.
Akane smiles to herself int he dark as she follows Meruin still helping along her steps with the sounds she hears as well as the silken rope lead. "Thank you. I was on the road a lot and did not want to present a target for bandits so I learned quickly." Not the entire truth but there was no lie in her words either. She shivers a bit as they descend into a cooler part of the caves, still listening closely to everything around her.
This was the Okumo's only reply, whatever thoughts he may or may not have had kept locked behind closed lips. And there was silence for a while. Silence and darkness, the only constants the feel of the stone beneath the feet, the chill that has begun to radiate from them, the pull of the silken tether between Meruin and the woman following him into what one could only hope would be a brighter place. That isolation of sensation went unbroken until the Kirigakure Jounin's voice filled the space around them. With the exception of a slight rumble in the ground by those who were particularly sensitive.
"Fujikujo Akane. Are you prepared to run..?"
Akane followed the Okumo closely, allowing the tether to lead her direction as her feet found their footing. Her heart speeds up a little with an adrenaline rush as she was hit with the utter silence around her. The man ahead of her made no sound and she did her best to make little sound though her steps came down harder than she expected at times when the floor sloped down. When she's asked if she was ready to run she would answer,simply, "Yes."
"Good. We will have to."
Meruin's pace picked up, felt by the slightly more urgent tug by the tether. "Very soon, we will be assaulted from the walls surrounding us. We Okumo are not the only thing that resides within these caverns and tunnels." As he spoke, the silken rope slid smoothly up her arm as though it were a cool touched mouth beginning to swallow her down. But it swiftly shifted over to her waist, encircling it. "You will have to rely most on your sense of the tether to follow me through the caverns. If need be, tell me to retrieve and carry you. Be prepared for—" abruptly, the tether snapped tight as he began forward, the ground shaking dangerously underfoot.
Akane picked up her pace as Meruin increased his own, and she lets out a little surprised sound as the tether snakes around her waist instead. She wisely keeps her arms and hands in, not wanting to touch the walls carelessly. But when something large comes up behind her as she runs, she's startled enough and the pace is fast enough that she stumbles, the tether yanking taut for a brief moment. She growls softly to herself and picks up her pace but it's becoming obvious to her that while she was doing pretty good at the pace they had been going, running with real danger behind her and no light to see was going to be a bit much for her to adapt to. "Meruin-san, I doubt my ability to keep this up for long." Her tone betrays a hint of embarrassment at her failing.
Meruin's voice rose above the tumult of whatever was behind them piercing the stone of the floor and walls, of the sound of rubble being thrown about the enclosed, echoing space. He was loud but clear. Calm. "Run to me and I shall carry you. Be swift." The ground began to shake beneath their feet, the ceiling above their heads and the walls at their sides.
And run was exactly what Akane did. Her speed increasing as she homes in on Meruin's location in the dark. Her ears were sharp and she found her way to him easily, reaching out a hand in the dark to show him where she was, though as she does so she wonders if he could see in the gloom and if that was an ability of his clan or just for him. He was a curious, intriguing man. "Here."
As soon as Akane begins speaking at his back, Meruin's hand finds the sleeve of the woman's short jacket at the shoulder, gripping hold and jerking her forward and upwards. His body twists back to the front, catching her against his back as his arms loop under her legs to pull them around him and keep her firmly up. "Hold firm or fall," he warned half a beat before he suddenly leaned forward and picked up speed. Swift enough that the wind whistled in the air and blocked out the hearing of much anything else, the vibrations of the tunnel falling behind as he quickly outpaced whatever had been on their trail. Of course, in case she hadn't been resolved to grab hold quick enough, the tether around her waist would keep her from bending too far backwards.
Akane let out a surprised yelp as she was literally hoisted by her jacket, but she was not stupid enough to argue against such a position in this situation. So she obediently latched onto him, wrapping her legs around his waist, keeping them clear of his legs so he would be free to run, and wrapping her arms around his shoulders. Her heart pounded against her chest furiously. She felt the wind whipping around her and closed her eyes — an admittedly futile action — and just enjoyed the feeling of 'flying'. This was turning into quite the adventure. When she could no longer hear the thing behind them she spoke softly, not wanting to attract unwanted attention. "Thank you for the extra aid."
"Only a matter of course."
Meruin's voice. Still steady and smooth. Calm. The length of his platinum hair abruptly corralled itself, pulling over to the side and over Akane's shoulders to avoid flooding her face should she turn the wrong way. His pace was constant, regular, the sensation of the world flying by leaving one feeling light and…
"We are not yet finished."
To he whose feet continued touching the ground, the sensation of the vibrations returning began to grow once more. "They will adapt to our speed soon. We will need to kill them to save the time and energy of trying to outrun them. What are your combat strengths? How are you best able to fight a foe that travels primarily through the earth?" A stone streaks past them from one of the creatures breaking the surface, the rock's passage felt as it tears through Meruin's hair.
Akane nods and is grateful for Meruin's attention to details such as his hair. She felt the curious sensation of being free, though she was bound to Meruin and far from safe. It was exhilarating. But she would come back to reality when he speaks again. She hears his voice, still calm, explain that the things chasing them would adapt to their speed and that they would have to fight. When he asks what her strengths are her eyes narrow. Could he have contrived this to get information? She spared only a moment to think of such things, though, as she had little doubt that if Meruin /had/ created their little situation to gain information, he would have no problem allowing her to be killed and then extracting information about her eyes from her corpse. She gave the answer that best described her abilities. "I work with poisons…" She thought about the earth and thought of her lightning attacks but that required throwing as well. "I have little to offer an enemy i cannot aim at and hear. I usually throw my weapons."
"Are you swift enough to be bait?" The world abruptly turns upside down as Meruin launches himself forward, twisting in midair, his arms still firm beneath Akane, the tether pulling tight to keep her against him. There's an impact as his feet hit the wall and he continues running — downwards. Or upwards? Regardless, he continued moving, speed increasing even further. His breathing was slightly audible between his words now, structured and well timed. "They will respond to your vibrations. Make a lot, make -them- make a lot, and they will be drawn to you and out of the earth. When they try to consume you is when we can strike. Lastly, if you have any way of making very bright light behind us, do so now."
Akane blinks at Meruin's question about her speed. "Er… Yes I think I'm fast enough to be bait…" Not that she wanted to agree to such a plan but…. At his order to make light she focuses her chakra and draws a throwing dagger, making the chakra flow, turn into lightning… She throws the dagger behind them and the lightning spider-webs out away from the impact zone on the wall behind them. A bright flash of blue light explodes through the passageway. Then she takes the time to answer him. "I can do that." Perhaps it was adrenaline, perhaps it was stupidity or misplaced trust but she would do as asked in this situation…
"Then you have our plan. Do your best. They will surprise you."
The sudden burst of blue light brought out sudden, almost metallic screeches accompanied by flashes of long sinuous bodies sliding through the stone behind-above-below the pair, their forms colored cobalt by the lightning chakra. The Okumo's eyes were closed, not seeing their shadows briefly appearing before them, ignoring their features brought into vision once more. He did not travel these ways by sight and being exposed to light now would only harm his chances.
But the woman's resourcefulness soon bore evidence of its definite usefulness as the creatures from behind quickly grew out of earshot, falling behind. "Well done. You bought us time to prepare." Meruin picked up further speed now, hair whipping out over Akane's shoulders with cracking whips behind her. Soon… How soon is difficult to tell, but soon there was light ahead of them. In a matter of two seconds it grew from distant to all encompassing as they rushed through it.
They had entered into a cavern of crystals glowing a luminous blue green, their light gentle yet effusive. But there was no time to examine it as they fell — it seems they'd been moving downwards — at extreme speed. Abruptly, Akane would find herself… loosed from Meruin. No longer attached to him as he plummeted down below her. He hit the ground with a heavy thump to accompany his sudden roll that ended in him skidding back. A lashed arm sent webbing streaking towards the woman to catch her up and jerk her towards him. He caught and cushioned her, their impact making him skid back further and faster. Soon, however, they would stop.
Akane had been prepared for the lightning chakra and had shielded her own eyes as the lightning lit up the passageway, not interested in blinding herself with a flash-bang she'd created herself. And the light would have blinded her after so much time in absolute darkness. She accepts the compliment to her abilities stoicly. She'd had no intention of admitting to having knowledge of lightning ninjutsu when she'd talked to the man to begin with. And now he knew that she was a medic, a poison wielder and a lightning user… Not a good record, Akane, not good at all. She knew better than this.
Then there's light ahead and then all around her and she blinks several times as they fall, accepting the light more easily in asteady stream than in a flash as with the lightning. She feels the rush as she plummets to the ground. Somehow Akane stifles the urge to let out a cry, only to be caught by webbing — Yes! /webbing/ — and then flung heavily into Meruin's arms, making him skid backwards in the process. She blinks up at him for a few seconds before she flushes and looks away. "That was.. uh… wait, prepare? They aren't afraid of the light?"
Meruin's eyes were on the ceiling above when he had asked her question, but fell towards Akane soon afterwards. "They are sensitive to it. But there is not enough here to deter them." He tilted the woman, setting her down onto her feet before jumping onto the wall. "They will come soon, perhaps from above. They have tough hides protecting them from the stone the burrow through. Their especially weak points are few and difficult — small eyes, mouths, anuses and the joint of their two segments. You will need either strength or something corrosive to pierce their hides and do damage. So prepare yourself to ensure that you do not have to use any of that this information." That said, he ran further up the wall and leapt off of it, webbing shooting from his arm to suspend him in the air. He was very likely attempting to reduce the chances of being sensed through vibrations.
Akane sighs to herself when Meruin tells her that these things aren't afraid of the light. Well, they might not be afraid of the light but it certainly helped her.. As Meruin runs up the wall and spiders himself a web, Akane's pulling hairsticks from her backpack and sticking them randomly into her hair before drawing both swords. She watched the shadow that was Meruin suspend himself before she backed up a few paces and turned, eyeing her surroundings….She then leaps into the air, somersaults twice and comes down, leading with her blades. The result is a cracked crystal and plenty of strong vibrations as she lands then she skips forward and drops down to slam the hilt of one sword into the ground at her feet, staying low in a crouch, muscles coiled, waiting for any sign that she'd caught the things attention….
The sound of the steel of Akane's blades clattering against and hewing into the stone and crystal reverberated through the cavern, loud in the ears of those who stood near. The echo seemed to last quite a long time, fading off into the ether. And then there was silence… Nothing.
Akane frowns at the crystals around her and contemplates a moment before she stares at her swords…. And the crystals…. "Wait…/crystals/" She sheaths both her swords and draws a kunai — no use wasting another poisoned weapon after all — and she sighs, focusing her mind, her chakra, into the kunai, bringing a bit more light to the area around hers he stabs the kunai into one of the large crystals, keeping contact with the knife she draws one sword, still slowly adding more and more chakra to the knife, lightning chakra, and the crystal starts to glow a bit brighter as the energies are absorbed..stored, slowly to be amplified as it seeps into the crystals around it.. finally she channels the same kind of chakra into her sword and hits the kunai with the back of her blade. There's an audible ring of metal and the sound is only amplified and carried by the crystalline structure she's forced it into.
Meruin watches as Akane jabs her kunai into the crystal before her, knowing that she didn't have very much time before the burrowers were upon her. He only arched a brow at her decision to anchor herself like that, awaiting to see what would become of it. But just what that was soon became clear to him as the woman tapped her swords against the kunai, sending lightning chakra down through the knife and into the crystal itself.
The effect was sudden and drastic. A loud, piercing ringing filled the cavern as the crystal took the lightning energy and converted it into sound, sending shockwaves into the surrounding stone and filling the cavern with a burst of cacophonous noise. The single burst of energy didn't last very long and it soon faded back into silence.
But only long enough for the creatures to break it.
All around Akane rose thick pillars of large worm like creatures, their flesh a dull grey not unlike the stone that flew about from their sudden breaching of the ground. There were five of them, one even rising directly beneath the Kunai embedded crystal, tearing it from the earth. Very quickly, they converged on her, bodies bending to bring their razor rowed maws towards her, their heads competing for space to swallow her up.
Akane had figured the kunai itself would end up as a target since the emanations had come from it's location. She had not expected the sound to be so loud. But she knew that when a creature hunts using vibrations one had to be fast to avoid a surprise attack and since these were earth creatures, she'd figured they would come at her from the stone around and under her. She had been correct. The kunai was simply abandoned — and a good thing too as one of the creatures swallowed it as it came into the cavern. One of the creatures made for her and she twisted athletically, her feet sliding across the ground like an ice skater before she forces traction and leaps into the air, avoiding another attempt at devouring her, and somersaults once, but she does not come back down to the ground. Rather, she uses the chakra in her feet to attach herself to the wall of the cave. Unfortunately from her new vantage point she could only see dark shadows against the light that infused the room. It was enough, though, for her to attack. She still had her blade in her hand as she flashes through hand seals, turning the blade toward the nearest shadow and letting loose a powerful strike of lightning at the thing.
Meruin removed the thin caps of chitin that'd covered his ears once the harsh clangor rang throughout the cavern, restoring his hearing to perfection before he whipped an arm towards the ground. Webbing hit the earth and he pulled on it to send himself streaking down towards the earth at an angle.
He landed in a roll that took him into an immediate sprint, form blurring. The reverberations from Akane's lightning-crystal tactic should still be covering his movement some, but he didn't want to chance fate with simply slamming into the ground too hard. But by the time he'd truly thought of the roll, he was already running forward, a serrated blade of chitin extending from his hand.
It was just now that Akane's lightning strike lanced directly into the mouth of one of the creatures, making it loose a high pitched whistle as a screech. As it began to convulse, the Okumo vanished.
He reappeared with his chitinous blade halfway through the fourth of the stone burrowers. He clenched his teeth and ignored the pulse that pushed through his body as nearly every muscle within him flexed, taking a single step forward and forcing the blade through the rest of the creature's body to its loud protest.
The bodies of the creatures begin falling, the three behind him sliding apart just as that fourth had, having been cut in half in his speedy transit. The Okumo leapt away from them all, landing on the wall not far below and to the side of Akane. He examined the giant worms as they writhed in convulsions, one because it had been galvanized and the other four because they'd been cut in half. After a moment, he nodded.
"All will die. You've done excellent."
Akane saw the blur of motion that was Meruin streak past her vantage point on the wall and disappear into the shadows of her sight. But her ears were quite sharp, allowing her to hear the creatures scream from her lightning attack. Amazingly, as the platinum haired man streaked through the shadows on the floor, she watched them split apart. She hid her impressed expression, though, behind one of cool headed combat awareness. When he comes to land on the wall within her range of sight she looks at him sidelong, acutely aware of the power he commanded. His statement and following compliment sur her to sheath her sword, thinking that one kunai was a small price to pay to see even a fraction of the true nature of this man. "I seem to have done very little. But thank you."
Meruin shakes his head, eyes still on the creatures below, watching their struggles slow as death swiftly came into them. "You were of more important than you believe. Your sound amplification tactic, a brilliant maneuver to create on such short notice, saw them all rise in very close proximity to one another. They would normally never gather quite that close. And they are too dense to travel too far after slicing one of them. Even with them so near, I could only make it through 3 and a half of them before my movement was arrested."
He looked to Akane, "If you hadn't been so effective at corralling, I would've had to take them one at a time. The likelihood is that we would've went through, perhaps three, with a chance of you taking harm. And then they would've retreated and we would've been stalked on our way to the research facility, leading them back to the compound and likely being attacked in the darkness, en route, with you on my back. If you had not taken the last, we might still be in that situation. We are in a far more favorable position due to you."
The facts stated, he looked back up to the entrance in the ceiling of the place where darkness sat beyond. He raised a hand, two fingers beckoning. "Now come. We must still reach the compound, preferably soon. Lumbricus terrestris collects and creates valuable minerals within its body during its travel. I wish to send someone back to harvest them before they are lost to those that can feed on them." The chitinous blade in his hand sinks back into his skin like sand into water. "I will continue to carry you."
Akane listens to Meruin analyze the combat, emphasizing her role to the point she flushes faintly. But she did not want or need her ego stroked. She simply nods to him, accepting his words. The girl can't help but feel a slight apprehension at the term 'research facility', though. /It's too late now in any case, idiot./ She shakes her head to clear it. She stands, still attached to the wall by her feet. She crouches, her eyes on the floor of the cavern for a moment. She opened her mouth to ask something, then closes it deciding it was easier to ask forgiveness than permission. It only takes a short hop for her to land on the floor softly, her eyes focusing on the ground where the one burrower had come up through the ground and devoured her kunai. There she bent down and collected a couple good sized chunks of the crystal that had broken off which she deposits in her satchel. She turns on her heel and walks literally back up the wall like it was a paved road, the chakra control for such a thing almost second nature to her by now. "Very well." She nods to his statement that he will carry her, then she can't help but crack a joke with a bright smile on her face. "You'd think I would be of more help in the dark." She laughed at her own joke, thinking that since she was nearly blind she should be used to fighting things out of her sight by now. Then again she could just be hard on herself.