Date: January 11, 2015
The remaining members of team Sandstorm set forth to complete the task they began many months before. The trio manage to banish the darkness, protecting the lives of those trapped within purgatory and allowing them to pass on. Unfortunately, not all of the team return to Sunagakure alive.
"Shadows of Our Sins - Banishing the Darkness does not come without a Price"
Land of Wind, Graveyard
Akiko and Rikuto find themselves, once again, in the bleak lands in the North of the Land of the Wind's deserts. Once again, they brave a wind stinging with sand composed, no doubt, for a significant part out of ground-up bones, approaching the site where they managed to contact the spirit linked to Akiko's bow last time. Once again, they are greeted by the grizly scene of bones stripped bare of flesh, of the mocking grin of skulls littered about, and the ever-thirst, empty stare of dessicated bodies, mummified by the elements into flesh made memento mori. This time, they don't have Tsuchi, but they have purpose.
Akiko brought her bow. Both the one that was haunted and her newer one that she made so she didn't have to deal with that face all the time. The girl looks at Rikuto for a bit, saying, "Ready for this, RIkuto-san?" She had told him the plan on the way here, dragging him off to the graveyard area without much warning. It was simple, really. She just had to be as close to death as possible so that she could kill whatever was threatening these ghosts that asked for their help. A sort of 'final mission' before she retired from active duty, perhaps.'
Having no intentions of venturing far from Sunagakure, it wasn't until Akiko contacted him that he agreed to leave. The graveyard itself didn't seem to bother the young Miira with its scent or display, but it was easy to see something else was troubling him. "..yes yes. We need to finish this, once and for all. This is one of the last places I want to be right now." It was rare but the boy's sand visor was nestled within his satchel rather than being worn, causing him to squint most of the time from the sun's bright light.
The place seems darker, more oppressive since last time they were here, but perhaps that is simply the memory of dark tendrils reaching for them, trying to grasp and choke. However, the pair reaches the place of the ghost's previous appearance, a particularly large pile of bones, without incident. The wind goes quiet as they arrive, and all around them, there is an eerie silence, almost tangible and unbroken by so much as a critter's scurry.
Akiko's real bow is kept around her back, and she grips the haunted one in her right hand. Kotone comes down to land on the girl's shoulder, the two both looking a bit nervous. Also, Kotone hates Akiko's plan. "Okay… I think this is a good place to put the plan into action, Rikuto-san. So, give it your best shot, okay?" the girl asks, looking determined.
The young Miira presses his lips firmly together before looking around the graveyard. "This plan stinks.. What are you really trying to do? Genjutsu can only do so much but.. If I mess up you can actually end up in a coma. Are you sure?" Rikuto shifts his attention from Akiko to Kotone, looking towards the bird, almost asking her with a look to peck some sense into her partner. Even as he complains, chakra begins to swell within him.
"Well, I think it'll work out fine. Don't worry about it, Rikuto-san," Akiko says. Kotone looks quite unhappy with all this too, but she did try to convince Akiko not to. Apparently her advice is useless when Akiko is being extremely stubborn… "So… Go for it. Now. If we keep waiting, then more of the ghosts will be killed or whatever is happening to them," the Hayato presses.
Sighing, Rikuto slowly shakes his head before turning to look at Akiko. While Kotone watches the boy make several seals, Akiko would see something much worse. Shifting a hand within his cloak, the young Miira slowly draws out the blade he always keeps with him and aim it towards Akiko. "I'm wondering at times. Are you enjoying it when I hurt you?" was asked with a sigh before looking down at the blade in his hands. Breathing in, the young man spits onto it, coating it with black flames before turning to the girl and slashing twice in the air, each time the flames would surge forward, causing over lapping gashes onto Akiko's limbs before beginning to ignite her clothes and even her hair. A faint chuckle could be heard from the illusionary Rikuto as he continued his work, even though the real one grimaced.
The flame and wounds take their time, longer than real ones would, and Akiko burns that entire time. She experiences the pain of that heat for longer than even those really burning to death ever have. But eventually, the pain begins to fade, a distant something in a distant past. Rikuto simply sees her go limp. No detectable pulse, barely any breath. Akiko finds herself in what seems to be a featureless, white infinity, with at a distance that can't be called great, but cannot be expressed in any measurement she knows, a figure. She doesn't recognise the haggard figure, at first, but as he looks up, she realises that the human figure, or was, the old man. He seems to have been in deep meditation until Akiko appeared. Then, he looks up. She sees that roughly half of his body, around his wound, has become a ragged cloth of inky-black shadow, and the resth as the colour of dirty snow. It takes him a bit of time to recognise her, and his words are almost pointedly slow.
"I had feared, but also hoped, you would come. It has taken all I have to wait for your arrival." He sounds truly weak. "But here, you are, and I am sorry for the sacrifice you must have suffered to cross over here. You're not dead - none of us are. Not quite. We haven't moved on. I doubt I ever will… there's… not enough left. But at least I can lead you to the enemy you can defeat. I had hoped you would've brought friends, but we will have to put our faith in you…" with difficulty, he raises himself. His still-human parts look fragile, old, beaten and emaciated.
Akiko gets closer to the figure, frowning a vitas his speech is soooo slow. "Just lead the way, please. I'll do my best to help you guys out," she says, making sure she still has her bow and arrows on her, as well as some of her scrolls and tags.
They travel, for an unnamable distance and a time that can hardly be considered time at all, and Akiko sees a disturbance appear before her. She becomes aware of it without seeing or hearing anything, but soon she does see something: a blackness splattered over the white infinity, reaching out and corrupting all around it. It looks relatively small, yet feels immense. "He… is there…" the old man says. "I can't come closer, I'm sorry. This wound gets stronger as I get closer, and moving itself takes its toll. If I come closer with you, you will simply have another enemy to defeat."
Speaking of enemies to defeat, Rikuto notices a stir, a shift… something in a nearby pile of corpses and bones seems to have moved, although it was too deep and too brief to really notice what it was. A lost mouse, perhaps?
Akiko follows the ghost person, not too tired by the time they reach the spot of disturbance. She frowns, not liking what she sees, and sends an arrow down the road just in case something wants to pop out at her or something. "Thank you for the help, Ghost-san. Wish me luck," she says with a small bow, moving forward with several arrows nocked and ready. Kotone, since she's with Rikuto, goes to see what this disturbance might be.
Turning his head to the side, Rikuto didn't notice what made the sound but he didn't notice anything alive when they were approaching. Closing his eyes as he sat beside the comatose Akiko, he begins to focus, trying to sense anything around.. though with his focus littered with fear, he could hardly feel much beyond the chakra flowing through the girl. 'This is a stupid plan..'
The dark spot shivers as Akiko approaches and fires. It gets closer much faster than she'd expect it to by the rate she's going, and soon she's already very very close… Then, from inside its darkness, ragged, tormented figures that may resemble humans in some form tear themselves free of the fabric of this darkness, advancing towards Akiko in deceptive, jerking motions. They appear to have sharp claws and no good intentions whatsoever.
Kotone, as she approaches the pile, discovers what's wrong: the pile spreads apart, and a skeleton, covered with what appears to be some sort of slimy, black goo, floating off it in thick drops that then evaporate as they slowly fly upward, emerges from it, lurching towards Rikuto.
Akiko shoots an arrow or three at the clawed creatures, not necessarily afraid, but she doesn't want them any closer than they currently are. "I hope you guys are the only things I need to face here. Or at least tell me why no one seems to be able to pass on!" she grumbles at them.
The continued noise distracts Rikuto to the source, a corpse.. or more exactly, bones. 'This again..' Curling his lips faintly, the young Miira twists his fingers into a seal before moving them to his lips an exhaling in bursts twice. Two spheres fly from his lips before weaving in a pattern, each landing close to the route it was taking before exploding in a large area. "Don't worry Akiko-san.. You'll stay safe." Standing up, the young teen tenses as the air around him begins to heat up rapidly.
The shadows that Akiko shot at seem to disappear entirely as the arrows approach them, and then reappear again, very real and eager to slash at her with their sharp, cruel talons. And behind the three she can already see, two more separate from the darkness.
The gooey blackness covering the skeleton swells up into a bubble, and the explosions cause waves to spread over its surface, but fail to penetrate it. The bubble of blackness disappears again, evaporating into the air, and the skeleton, having finally reached Rikuto, takes a swing. Behind him, he hears another pile rustle.
Akiko manages to avoid all but one of the slashes, hissing faintly as they score a hit. She nocks a few more arrows, then sends them right at the shadows. A small mechanism springs a net from the arrows, hopefully capturing the shadows in its grip so she can either move past them or finish them off for good. Then move on. Kotone helps Rikuto take care of the skeleton, swooping at them and dropping explosive tags.
Squinting to see past the dust kicked up from the explosions only to breath out suddenly, holding his ground against the skeletal slash. Unfortunately the barrier of wind wasn't enough, though it did buffer the strike, only cutting across his midsection. Moving his fingers quickly, the wind the bow exhaled ignites not just in front of him but in a wide ring around them at the sound of other 'things' moving, planning to cook them all at once.
One of Akiko's arrows is, once again, dodged, but the other just barely manages to catch the shadow before it disappears. It lets out a tormented howl and stops existing altogether. In the distance, however, two -more- rise, bringing the total up to six shadows moving, in their unnatural fashion, towards Akiko from the depths of the darkness where, most likely, the creature described to them by the old spirit lurks. The ones already nearby crowd around her, trying to get a claw in.
In the real world, things are going better. Under the scorching wind and the tag's explosion, the bubble around the skeleton dries out and withers, and the skeleton itself is scattered over the landscape. The stirring skeletong has barely gotten up when it, too, is disintegrated by the wind. For now, it's quiet again.
Akiko isn't able to avoid a lot of the claw slashings now that she's surrounded, so she's forced to take a lot of the hits, which makes her frustrated. "Dang it…" she mutters, reaching into her pouch to set off a lot of explosions all at once, providing a distraction so she can get away and advance further.
Weaving his fingers together, Rikuto looks around briefly before clinching his hands together and breathing out. Turning his head as he does so, the wind surrounds him, and then Akiko before continuing outwards, surging rapidly outwards, trying to blast away any semi whole corpse form being near, preparing almost for another round of skeletal assailants. 'Just what are you doing over there?' was muttered but he was now focused on looking for any movements.
Akiko's explosion sends ripples through the crowd of shadows around her, and one does not rematerialise. She, however, makes good progress dashing through the blast and the temporarily unreal shadows, deeper into the inky blackness. Far behind her, she can still see a patch of white, but as she moves onward, both the darkness around her and a grim feeling of hatred for everything around her become stronger. This may or may not be a good sign… Whatever the case, the darkness continues to spawn shadows that, jerkingly, try to form an impeding circle around her again.
Rikuto's protective whirlwind disturbs some of the bones, rolling them along, but even in the violent spin of the wind, they find each other, linked by threads of oily darkness, drawing together into a new skeleton. That skeleton drops inside the barrier and swings its black fist at Rikuto.
Akiko speeds along, summoning what she can of memories of her falcon companion. It was weird not to have Kotone at her side, but the last thing she needs is for the falcon to die. Kotone is helping Rikuto, though, which gives her comfort. When the shadows lash out at her, she avoids them all deftly, spinning and jumping, doing a flip over their heads, even. As she moves, she shoots arrows at her attackers, the shots all arcing to hit the shadows.
In a instant Rikuto explodes with a gale of wind, appearing a meter away from where the skeleton struck. "More.. Great." Moving his fingers up to his lips, he exhales releasing a trio of small orbs, the first surging forward toward the creatures head, two others towards its legs, attempting to splinter the creature rather than just knock it back. "Don't have time for this."
Akiko dashes onward. She takes a bit more time to aim at the shadows, and this time strikes true, destroying each of the four creatures she aimed for… which does not take away that yet more are appearing and trying to stop her from advancing. As she continues, she can see something in the darkness now entirely surrounding her, an area that seems not just dark, but entirely -wrong-, something that has all the making of a trap, or perhaps her goal. The remaining shadows continue trying to impeded her motion with further slashes.
Rikuto's barrage weakens the skeleton's defense, popping the black, tar-like bubble that appears to its defense, but fails to stop it, and it strikes again. However, this time, it strikes not at Rikuto but at Kotone, smacking her out of the air with a suddenly extending glob of blackness.
Akiko continues forth, avoiding the attacking shadows once again. As she flips over their heads, explosive tags fall and explode on them and cause a distraction. "Dang it, what the heck is that…" she mutters, staring at the dark cloud. She rushes forward, not bothering to look back. Kotone, in the real world, looks nervous and fidgety, flying around in circles to watch out for Rikuto.
'A little stronger than the other one, huh?' Preparing to defend himself with another clone only to watch Kotone get attacked instead. Making a quick chain of seals causes the air around the bird, trying to protect it from a following strike. Raising his right hand, he clinches at the air and closes his eyes, the air mostly still while a massive heat wave pulses from Rikuto.
Akiko advances into the heart of darkness, and there, she finds a new figure. It resembles a human, in general terms: one head, two arms, two legs, although the latter are covered by what seems to be a long, black robe made of some sort of dark grey, smooth material. Its arms are spread apart, claws dug into the very darkness around him. But his head is what's remarkable: noseless and earless, with eyes that are just slits of glowing red, it is completely bald and entirely black, like the rest of his skin, the kind of black that makes it nearly impossible to see depth, and where it should have a mouth, ragged shadows hang, like tentacles. Overall, it gives him the appearance of having a leather bad with tattered edges for a head. The figure turns towards Akiko, and stretches a hand out. A flame erupts from it, burning crimson at its heart and black by the edges, and is cast towards Akiko. The few shadows she not yet eliminated -as well as two new one rising nearby- also claw at her.
Rikuto has to take another strike from the skeleton, but nearby he sees an even more worrying sight: the inky blackness concentrates into a dessicated corpse and begins splitting and fragmenting bones near it, covering him with a growing carapace, jagged and sharp.
Akiko attempts to avoid the attacks, but there are a lot of things happening at once, and it's a bit difficult for her to process it all. The burning flames hit her leg, though grazing so it's not entirely hopeless. "Dang it!!!" she grumbles, sending arrows at the enemy. The first explodes into a net to try and paralyze the shadow while the others just curve to try and hit all the attacking shadows.
Once again, the slash whips out and decapitates Rikuto only for him to explode with a surge of wind. Bringing his hands together, briefly, he sighs and rips them apart, letting a lance of blue-white heat appear in front of him. Glancing towards Kotone, he winces seeing the bird's broken state though he noticed it still showed some signs of life. Making a final seal, the lance raises before thrusting forward with surprising speed towards the 'creature' that wounded Kotone.
The shadows are handily dispatched, and even the net closes in around the mysterious figure, restricting its movements. He can do nothing but glare daggers at Akiko. Once again, however, shadows begin to rise.
Rikuto's blast finishes the skeleton, but he has a bigger problem approaching. The monstrosity that has been made out of armouring a dessicated corpse lumbers towards Rikuto. It has increased in size, between the coat of darkness covering it and the layers of bone embedded into it, to half again the size of a human being, and from that height it brings down a fist on Rikuto, trying to force him aside so it can pass to Akiko's unconscious body.
Akiko is glad she's not being attacked. It gives her time to focus on the one she trapped. The girl nocks a single arrow, aims, and fires it right at the shadows. It's specially made so that the arrow would, thanks to the force of being fired, have a spring mechanism that forces it deeper into the target to cause greater damage. Akiko lowers her bow slightly to eye the creature, but doesn't let down her guard completely.
The young Miira seems to be crushed with the massive fist through the creature wouldn't gain a satisfying crunch of bone or blood, yet another clone. Rikuto make his move quickly, he didn't move to strike at the creature again but moves to Akiko as quickly as he could. Moving low he grasp at the front of her tunic and pulls her up violently trying to bring her lifeless body other his shoulder before moving again, working his way over to where Kotone was laid out crippled. "Wake up already idiot! I need you on /this/ side!"
The Crawler's Shade can't escape Akiko's attack, it seems, but what do you have enslaved, half-consumed innocent souls for if not cannon fodder? So, the two newly-spawned shadows dive forward, in front of Akiko's bow, the arrow dissolving both of them as it penetrates one, then deploys its spikes and stops in the other. The Shade grabs the netting and sets it ablaze with the same red-and-black flame, burning off his body. Then, he dashes forward, lunging at Akiko with his claws, snarling.
In almost a mimic of the motion, albeit a slower, more lumbering one, the monstrosity assaulting Rikuto swings its jagged bone gauntlet at the Miira.
Akiko jumps back quickly to try and avoid the crawler's Shade's slashing, but she ends up getting a small scratch on her leg. She makes a face at the thing, fitting another netted arrow to fire at the main shadow while smaller arrows arc and curve to keep its cronies at bay. "Go away!" she yells at the shadows. "This is hardly your fight!"
Carrying a body while trying to weave jutsu, wasn't his brightest idea, but he wasn't going to willingly leave either of them behind. While the clone was formed, Rikuto hardly had time to move away, the blow destroys the clone easily and strikes the young man in the chest, knocking him off his feet and meter back, loosing his grip onto Akiko. Slapping his hands together his fingers work quickly, churning the air around the hulking mass before exhaling, spitting several senbons forward, igniting the air itself and bathing it in flames. "Die already"
The Crawler's Shade raises its clawed hand to summon a wall of flames, but halfway through the motion is knocked off its feet by a net deployed from an arrow, followed by another to the chest. Its shadows hurry to its aid, mindless but loyal, and are shot down mid-movement by Akiko.
Meanwhile, the flames char and crack the bone carapace around the monstrosity, and boil away some of the darkness. It raises its hands, however, and black tendrils shoot out to gather more piece of bone, replacing the lost parts. One of these tendrils, however, instead of drawing a piece to its armour, launches it towards the Miira.
It is at this point that the both of them start to notice a change in the area around them. Rikuto notices that around him, all becomes darker and darker, and the horizon seems to melt away into a meaningless concept. Conversely, Akiko notices shades and mirages of things around her that don't make sense in the afterlife: singular bones, littered about. And beside that, in the darkness, she sees something appear in a puff of white mist: a bird, pristine, great than she remembers her, but undeniably Kotone. Kutone shakes her head, trying to make sense of what this dark place is she's been brought to.
Akiko notches her bow once more, readying herself to shoot the Crawler's Shade. But then there's a sort of lightening to the area, and something appears. Kotone, even. She blinks, watching her partner, and takes a few moments to simply stare. "Wait… You're not supposed to be here…" she finally murmurs, drowning in thought. Then she remembers that she has a target to finish off. The girl makes sure she's aimed properly, then releases the shot at the Crawler.
Distracted by the darkness, Rikuto almost doesn't manage to form a clone and move out of the way, yet in the move he noticed just how much it had advanced. With one move, his efforts against the creature were redoubled, though with a second move the flames spread out far, wide.. and thinly, trying to blanket the graveyard in a weak bed of flames, trying to stave off the darkness.
Rikuto's blast of flame burns the bone-armoured desiccated corpse, but it simply reaches through the flames, and closes its still-smoldering fingers around his throat and shoulders, the many fragments of bone on its hands digging into his flesh as it triest to collapse his ribcage. At the same time, Akiko's arrow strikes true into the Shade's chest. It lets out of a 'ghurk' as it reaches for the wound, burning the net away around it… and then the spikes deploy. It contorts in pain.
The scenery continues to change between the two of them… to overlap, even. As Akiko sees the desert of the Land of Wind, the piles of bone, her friend Rikuto, and the monstrosity crushing him appear through the shadows, somewhat hazy but clearly there, Rikuto, in term, sees a deep darkness appear around him… and, slightly above the ground, a contorted figure lying, an arrow sticking out of it, its hateful red eyes glowing. Above it, bow in hand, stands Akiko, or rather a monochrome echo of Akiko, in all whites… in a way, she looks regal, much like Kotone beside her.
Between this apparition of Akiko and her unconscious body, the both of them see a series of red strings, like a spiderweb covered in a bloody dew. The threads shiver and pulse slightly, a link between the still-living body and the departed soul… until the dying Shade stretches out its hand, and a final flicker of flame appears, setting these strings on fire.
Immediately, Rikuto can sense the breath of the girl on his shoulder weaken, even as the monstrosity holding him loses power and his own returns. Akiko's sensation is worse: only now that it has disappeared, she becomes aware she had, very vaguely, felt the air on her face and Rikuto's shoulder below her. Now, that all is gone. And with the Shade's death, the two worlds begin to depart from each other once again, slowly but undeniably fading from view.
Akiko grins at seeing her shot hit. That means things were done, right? She looks to Kotone, still puzzled at seeing her companion on this side. But then she feels like a puppet as she notices red strings. When the Crawler sets them on fire, she flinches, a combination of the living and dead feelings assaulting her. She felt Rikuto, and then she didn't. The girl turns to watch the Miira fade from her vision. She knew she would probably die after all this, but it was still sad. "Good luck, Rikuto-san!" she calls, wondering if he can even hear her. "I wonder if you'd have ever beat me…" she then comments, shrugging a bit. "Maybe someday we'll find out." As she finishes speaking, Rikuto disappears from her sight and she ends up continuing on to whatever comes next, naturally with Kotone at her side.
The young Miira wouldn't notice until it was far too late that Akiko has truly crossed over. Struggling with the creature, the young man's form would flicker slightly before he just stayed within the weakening grip for a moment before.. Poof, a clone had replaced him. Standing not too far from the creature, Rikuto moves a hand onto Hayato's side as he carried her on his shoulder. "We're almost out of here.. what ever you're doing, it's working but.. we have to hurry."
Suddenly, the young man comes to a dead stop as he could hear a familiar voice, but it didn't come from where he expected it to. Glancing back to the girl on his shoulder he looks away to where he heard Akiko's voice, looking more than a little puzzled. "Akiko-san.. I think it hit me harder than I thought, hearing things.." Looking around for a time, the young Miira stays on edge as he circle strafes around the area, quickly trying to make his way to where Kotone has been left for a time while he distracted the creature though all he found was the mangled body of the now dead falcon.
Kneeling down carefully, Rikuto scoops up the bird within the cloak he wore, at first not sure, but once he was holding the body, he knew that she had died. "..I'm sorry Kotone. Akiko-san I-" then it strikes him, it had been a while since she moved as well, he couldn't feel her heart faintly not could he feel her shifting weakly to breath.. for some time now.
No longer speaking or even smiling at the success, the young Miira began the slow march out of the graveyard, heading back towards the desert before then the direction of the village. While he tried to keep his composure, it was fractured and lost well before he managed to make it to the gates of the village.