Date: April 15, 2016
The final battle against the Ghoul of the Desert is far from over.
"Blood Red Sandman - King, Knight, Queen, and Pawns"
Dead Sands - Northern Desert [Land of Wind]
The Three-Tails has just finished blasting the Ghoul of the Desert with a Tailed Beast Ball, creating a huge crater with a boiling lake filling it. The area is still freezing cold thanks to the unnatural chill the Ghoul brings, but the sky is at least not as clouded with miasma anymore. The stars and the moon are visible once more. But the feeling of foul energy in the air remains.
Rurohashi Ruri has been retrieved, Rurohashi Rinako and Kara have her, and a lot of ninja have just shown up, including Shemri. Itami is already here, and seems to believe the fight isn't over yet despite what just hit the Ghoul.
But for now, evacuating the injured and those incapable of fighting is a priority, and those individuals are on their way out of here. Leaving only those prepared to face any further danger behind in the Dead Sands at night.
Shemri and Shiikaa are on self-elected rescue duty at the moment. Being among the few with sharp enough senses to notice, they've found that not every ninja that fell prey to the grasping dead hands has been killed immediately. Pinpointing the faint signs of life, they dig up recently-buried comrades before they can suffocate.
Sousa has arrived at the point of the primary conflict. Who knows precisely what he was doing up until now, but it must've been important, right? And now he's going to lead the efforts to salvage the injured and — wait, no, he's waving some sort of measuring device around. Typical. e.e
Itami was relieved to see the reinforcements show up and raised up from her perch to meet them on the ground. "I'm glad you all were able to arrive," she spoke to some in passing, though she approached Sousa specifically once she caught sight of him. "Kazekage-sama," she began. "You've arrived with everyone else. This is refreshing, but I have some information to report…aside from what you can see already. Currently, there's a calm over the desert and activity has come to a standstill for now. The Ghoul, to my knowledge, took a direct hit from the Three Tails, but I am of the impression that things aren't over yet. In coming here on my own, I was assaulted by hands reaching out from the ground to slow my progress and likely drag me beneath the ground. I took to the sky and even above, things appeared to be out of order. There were many whisperings up there by who knows what…" She cast a glance at the sky momentarily.
"While all appears to be calm now, I do believe this is not over. I do not doubt the power of the Three Tails, but against the Ghoul, it may not be enough. It's quite possible something else is in the works. The way this calm happened was almost too simple," she explained.
With all that being said, she observed the reinforcements, keeping her attention on the surroundings and going so far as to employ her sense of smell in order to ensure she could gauge them a bit better. She was back on high alert now and couldn't afford for much else to happen.
Kara has loaded Ruri and the exhausted Rinako onto Pharaoh's Papyrus Reed Boat, and begun flying them all back to Sunagakure. Her Puppets have been stored away in scrolls as well, because most of them can't fly. Now, with the situation apparently not quite done, one of the ninja who accompanied the others, a Miira Konoda, is staying behind. The Kazekage, a Council Woman, and various other shinobi have all gathered to face something they thought didn't exist until recently… Though the stories had always had an inkling of truth to them.
It's not like the bodies left behind before Sunagakure was founded could be ignored. But now, the spikey-haired ninja is standing with others against something that is warping the world with its mere presence. She feels inadequate for the task. Yellow eyes scan left and right nervously, a kunai in hand, just incase she needs it. Searching for an enemy, as a newly-created crater boils and seethes.
Hiroto stands at the ready. He had arrived with the reinforcements in order to tackle the dangerous Ghoul of the Desert! He was not a prolific shinobi or well-known or famous oranything, but he had done plenty to help the younger generations advance their skills. Though rather old for the battlefield, he wouldn't let himself be deterred! He must save his comrades!
With a rather haggard Jounin being carted away on a flying boat, there are other ninja left behind, minus their greatest weapon. Though the Jounin herelf would argue vehemently against such a label for her sister. But she is not here to hear or argue against any hypothetical labelling. And she has been through enough as it is without an ideological debate.
Instead, down below, there's another ninja originally from the Land of Snow, who became an instructor in Sunagakure, taking care of students and the like. Onohara Meimei, also known under the alias of Hibiki Yoko. She adopted a little orphan girl named Risu, and has also cared for another student named Uzumaki Minako and another little girl named Harada Misayo… They're a loud lot. Very energetic. Exhausting. They argue a lot.
But she's glad to be with them. Especially Risu. And now, here she is, out in the darkness of a death-saturated desert, facing off against an undead monster for the second time. This time, it seems to be a lot stronger.
The monster, from what she recalls, is vulnerable to light. Which makes her potentially one of the greatest weapons against the Ghoul, thanks to her Light Release. But the hooded and cloaked Chuunin instructor doesn't necessarily WANT to be here. Everything inside of her rejects the sensation in the air. The feel of death clawing at her throat with every breath she takes.
This is not a good place. But it's where she needs to be right now.
As all the ninja gather around, rescue their downed allies, or attempt to retrieve the bodies of those who have not survived the onslaught of the dead, the sky is gradually clearing, it seems… It's still cold, but it will take time for the natural environment to reassert itself, and it's the middle of the night in the desert. It's going to be cold regardless.
But then the ground suddenly heaves upwards in a straight line for about a mile, right in the midst of the forces, hurling ninja up into the air with lethal force. No, wait, that isn't the ground that is raising upwards. Sure, the ground is part of it, but what is rising up from below the sand and dirt and unnaturally-formed snow, is something else.
It's a giant bone. A bone connected to other bones. A hand rises up from the end of the arm, at the wrist, and an upper arm rises up at the other end. The hand plants itself on the ground with weight and force that causes it to sink into the terrain, sending cracks outwards and cratering the area beneath it.
It uses this leverage to pull up the rest of itself, including a second arm several miles away. Boiling water and sand pours down from a pair of horns that erupt from the desert's surface, and the lake that was recently made by the Three-Tails. A giant beast-like skull emerges, with those horns connected to it. Empty sockets stare outwards at the ninja as the ground all around is destroyed simply by the act of this giant rising from the underworld.
It dwarfs even a Tailed Beast in scope. Its spine continues down to a giant bone cage, woven through with chains that extend down into the ground in turn.
It's like an earthquake is tearing through the area. The terrain is completely destabilized. And the air is now very, very, very cold again.
And the dead rise once more. Now including ninja who just recently fell as well, to face off against their comrades. The Ghoul has become something even more sinister. An embodiment of death that looms high above everyone, for thousands of feet.
And somewhere inside of it, unseen by all, there's a very old man, standing with his young little sister, and watching it all happen. Unable to change it now that it's begun.
"I share your appraisal," Sousa replies to Itami, frowning as he fails to collect any useful data with his device. "All capable shinobi, stand by for — " *GIGANTIC EARTH-SHATTERING UPHEAVAAAAALLL!!!* " — for that, apparently." Well, there's one good thing about enemies that big, they're an awfully hard target to miss. Sousa starts sending lightning chakra into the air, charging the atmosphere for a powerful bolt.
Itami watches the shinobi carefully as they continue efforts to recover the fallen around here. She still didn't feel right about all of this. Soon, her suspicions would be answered as the ground begins to churn and tumble, shaking all over while ice shatters and snow rolls in response to the quaking with the rise of an even larger version of that skeleton. "Of course…" She hissed to herself. "Alright! We have to change how we approach this. Right now, no part of the field is safe!" With something that size, any part of this ground is as good as lethal.
"Be mindful of that when you move!" She called out. "Further, I'll need a team gathered. One well versed in seals. We will need to find a way to immobilize the Ghoul to enable us to move in and launch attacks against it!" She watched the skies as the Kazekage's attack charged. "I need time to gather up my strength to move in and attack with all I've got. I'll need more willing to come with me to initiate their strongest attacks in order to launch a powerful offensive." She proceeded to take her dragon form. "A support team will assist with protection against attacks for the offensive team. I want this to be swift and effective. I've seen how this creature moves, I've no doubt it can still accomplish the same even now."
Konoda is caught in a hail of stone that she barely shields herself from when a giant ARM suddenly comes up out of the desert. She's bleeding from getting hit by the high-speed stones, even if small, but it's one of her allies crashing into her that knocks her to the ground. "Augh!" she lets out as she hits the desert sands on her back. She tries to roll her ally off of her, only to find another Sunagakure ninja setting upon her. He charges right at her and tackles her as she's getting up. She tries to fight him off, responding to him as an enemy by reflex.
But soon his rasping growls and his clawing hands become too much for her to deal with while half-prone. Trying to use Scorch Release to destroy her crazed attacker, she is too distracted to notice another ally with legs gnawed off by now-defeated undead crawling up behind her, and then seizing her shoulders, pulling her back. She screams as she feels teeth tear into the side of her throat, and then the enemy she was grappling with before bites off two of her fingers, causing her to release the jutsu she failed to form in the first place. She's still screaming as more dead people pile onto her.
With all the other chaos around, others suffering the same fate, she is likely missed. And she dies in pain and fear, as she's eaten alive, achieving nothing.
She really didn't belong here after all.
Old-man Hiroto watches in amazement as the giant skeleton thing rises from the ground. "W-well… Hopefully I look that good in a couple of years!" He cracks a quick joke and looks around for someone to help. He locates a poor, a mass of the zombie-ninjas coming towards them and moves in, staff twirling and cracking bones. Zombies wouldn't die from such, but they'd certainly have trouble moving afterwards!
He watches, sadly, as another shinobi falls nearby and struggles to reach them, hoping to save the poor guy in time, but when he arrives, its already over for him! "Sorry…" He mumbles, pegging an incoming zombie in the jaw with his staff, snapping its head back. He may be old, but he wasn't going to die just yet! Even if his back did hurt.
Meimei is caught completely off-guard by the explosion of earth, and the appearance of the giant monster, but she has the reflexes to evade, and eyes that see better in the darkness than anyone else here. It's part of her Kekkei Genkai. The Shoumeigan, that lets her see light more clearly… It normally leaves her practically blind in day light. But at night? She can see everything. She can see the Kazekage sending up Chakra into the sky, altering the atmospheric conditions to produce thunder clouds.
She can see Itami suddenly just erupt into a gigantic dragon, and charge forth to face this huge skeletal monster so unlike the nearly scarecrow-like corpse she battled once before.
She sees allies falling in battle. And as her eyes take on the appearance of clock-like gears, activating her Mastered Eye Of Time, allowing her to see past, present, and future simultaneously by tracking the paths of every light particle she perceives.
It's an incredibly taxing form to be in, straining her mere human sanity to have her awareness stretched across so many perspectives, but it also allows her greater tolerance for light itself, and enhanced abilities.
And it lets her see what's going to happen if she doesn't do something.
So what does she do to change everything? She unleashes laser blast after laser blast into the giant skeleton, all while trying to run around behind it. Running, running, trying to build up speed. Because there's something she has to do. She won't save the day. She isn't going to win here. But she can do something for the others.
And for that, she has to move much, much faster.
As Itami directs the troops, some falling to their own dead allies, others being distracted battling them or trying to rescue each other, and others still managing to follow Itami's orders while defending themselves in turn, assembling in preparation for a huge assault, the sky continues to build up an electrical charge as per the Kazekage's jutsu.
Hiroto disables the dead by snapping limbs, though they seem not the least bit bothered by it, only suffering impairment to their mobility. The Onohara ninja's laser beams scour the surface of the skeletal beast in places, but when some ninja try to attack it, they find the giant is oddly… Evasive. Despite its mountainous size, it seems to have move and shift out of the path of attacks, almost wisping aside like a dream creature (or a nightmare). Bits and pieces of itself trail its own movements, as kunai, fireballs, stone bolts, water jets, and wind sickles hit, miss, or are avoided… But very few of them are having any noticeable effect, even when they land.
At the same time, black chains of sharpened obsidian tear forth from the ground, shredding dozens of the living. The bladed chains rip off limbs, carve through torsos, split people in half, and leave those who survive the initial attacks vulnerable on the ground for the dead to pounce upon. Some manage to defend with walls of earth, water, and wind. Many skilled ninja notice the attacks and evade.
And aside from avoiding some attacks and soaking others, this lord of the undead… This… Dead King, has yet to directly attack. Unless the chains are its only method of assault, at least.
And still, standing within the monster, a ghostly pair stand and watch. And the little girl tugs at her big brother's hand.
"Yane, it's time to go." she says.
Misu Yane, formerly known as both the Ghoul of the Desert, and as Hone Nai, resists the tugging, and responds, "Not yet. I need to see how it ends."
Intriguing. Sousa runs through hypotheses for the being's phase-shifting movement. Gaseous composition. Awareness of and ability to travel in unorthodox dimensions. Genjutsu. (Sousa does a quick chakra jolt to check for that one.) Perhaps it won't be such an easy target after all. Still, it's not evading everything.
When the chains of dark dentition arise, Sousa flashes from his position, evading harm through a series of literal lightning replacements. Then, watching carefully for the ideal moment to catch the monstrosity right after it evades other attacks, Sousa pulses enough electrical potential into the sky to overload the balance he'd been maintaining. *KRACKOOOOOOOOOM!!!*
Itami flies through the air, twirling and rolling around all manner of attacks, weaving in and out of bodies flying into the air and the severed limbs that go with them. Every so often she ran into a head or two with an expression of utter dread and winced to herself. She knew that they would be rising back up soon as tainted version of their former selves. This had to end. With the troops advancing forward and preparing their jutsu to immobilize the Ghoul, she was preparing herself to concentrate enough of her energy towards the task of destroying the creature once and for all.
"KEEP PUSHING FORWARD!" She roared out to all present. "WE WILL SEE THIS THROUGH TO THE END!" When she found a good place to start focusing, she began to form a number of handseals to take the earth and change its composition. Her target of this is the Ghoul itself.
Things are looking quite dire for poor old Hiroto! He managed to save himself with a wall of rock that really only saved him because the debris knocked him over and out of the way of the dangerous chains that killed so many others. With a grunt, he pushes himself back to his feet and starts to back away, falling back to a safer location. Apparently he wasn't quite cut out for this sort of thing. That's when a hand grabs his ankle and causes him to stumble.
His first thought is another zombie, but it was a badly wounded ally - but not dead! "Come on…" He groans as he starts to drag them to safety. "If only I were five years younger…" Hiroto wouldn't likely get back into the action. He'd seen enough already. It'd have to be enough to drag someone to the medics.
Meimei knows how to control light. To use what's already there, to magnify it, as well as to create it from her Chakra alone. But laser beams, even the gamma radiation that she is unleashing upon the huge monster that had once before scared off the Ghoul of the Desert, seem to only be damaging it surface, not affecting what's inside of it. …Is there anything inside of it? As she accelerates further, and further, imbueing the Light Chakra Nature into her physical body to break the limitations of human flesh, knowing that if she is caught in the grasp of the dead, she can't keep fighting, she ponders whether this is truly the same enemy that those present have faced in the past.
She can see a few seconds into the immediate future and immediate past with her Kekkei Genkai, her eyes allowing her to both perceive and control light, particles, and radioactivity. But it's not enough. She can't see to the end of this conflict. Every action she takes to change the future spawns a new one that she has to deal with. It's a prediction that must be fulfilled at the same time it's being averted. She's already feeling tired from the heavy usage of high-level Ninjutsu. She is not a Jinchuuriki, or a Kage, or a monster like the Ghoul who breaks the laws of reality.
She is just a woman who is trying to protect her adoptive home. As her physical capabilities are not enough to avoid one of the attacks, black chains of obsidian tearing across her back, shredding her black cloak, and causing it and her hood to fall away (along with blood and flesh), she stumbles for a moment, before rolling aside.
The place she was on hands and knees a half-second prior is bombarded with shredding chains of stone. She has to keep moving. Her long, purple hair flows free. Her shining violet eyes bear the shape of gears or cogs within them, letting her see both her actions and their consequences before she takes them.
She unleashes a barrage of light bolts upon her the dead assaulting her allies under siege, to try to save those she can. As she pushes herself harder and harder, however, she is running out of energy. And she hasn't yet realized her Chakra is draining even faster than it normally would, or why.
Her skin is starting to glow, and the designs in her eyes are changing.
Sousa's attack tears down a lightning bolt from the sky that slams into the enormous monster, the Dead King, and seems to have some kind of effect… Though perhaps not the one that Sousa was expecting. As electricity cascades across its form, it seems that part of the Ghoul becomes more rigid. Almost reflective. And any theories about what the Dead King's defense method may be are likely to be cleared up for such a sharp, scientific mind.
The Ghoul used Earth Release, of course.
And this thing it has become was formed from sand. It is finally, literally, the Ghoul of the Desert. It is the very terrain upon which they stand. And extreme heat can turn sand into glass.
The animalistic skull that is its head splits down the middle, a monstrous secondary skull appearing within it, like two sets of crocodiles inside of each other, made entirely of bone (or sand, as the case may be). As Itami starts to prepare her jutsu, the Ghoul begins to focus a sphere of frigid blackness and whispering horror, drawn from the souls of those have died, both recently and in the past of this region. It seems to intend to stop or counter her, but it too needs time to prepare for whatever this enormous jutsu is, and with part of its body glass, it is not quite as evasive as before.
Other shinobi land hits, Hiroto is able to get the wounded away to safety, and treatment. The animated dead that have been swarming from the ground begin to collapse and become motionless as all the power used to grant them motion is being funneled into a single attack.
The air becomes so cold that breathing is painful, and frost forms on exposed skin. But Meimei buys time for others to escape, and her growing luminosity do not go unnoticed. One of the Dead King's shoulders forms into another pair of huge arms, which in turn spawn tendrils of sand and bone and crude blades torn from deep within the earth. And they target the Onohara ninja while she's busy helping others.
Sousa seems to be spared direct assault for now, aside from a few more obsidian chains that lash out at him, failing to catch his rapid lightning replacements. This leaves him open to do something more… To keep attacking the Ghoul… Or to save a ninja of his Village from an attack that her eyes aren't directed towards. That she can't see the future of.
He has rarely placed another human being before his scientific curiosity. Usually, it's been out of necessity due to his administrative and leadership role. He hasn't valued other people the same way, he hasn't empathized quite like a 'normal' person. He has his own set of priorities.
And the friendship that Hone Nai sought from Sousa and Sousa didn't give… COULDN'T give… Could all of this have been prevented if he'd gotten it?
If they win here today, could something like this happen again in the future?
Can Sousa take a stand here, and truly try to act to save Onohara Meimei, a ninja of Sunagakure, as the expense of efficiency and personal interest?
Or will his legacy as Kazekage be abandoning the emotional needs of those who look up to him?
Itami is focused on the Ghoul, the Ghoul is focused on Itami, and Meimei is focused on her allies, and the Sunagakure ninja are trying to help each other and bombard the Ghoul with all that they have…
Who will the First Kazekage focus on?
Sousa nods with satisfaction at the effect observed from his lightning bolt. That's encouraging…and it somewhat explains the construct's evasiveness. Not quite gaseous composition, but particulate. Apparently capable of temporarily disassociating its components and reassembling a short distance away, thus allowing many forms of attack to pass through with little resistance or damage. Hopefully whatever is animating the sand is trapped within when it is fused into glass…although even if it is, turning it all into glass would require far more energy than they likely have on hand. :/
So, with that established, Sousa's eyes dart across the battlefield, seeking a solution…and sees something surprisingly obvious. Not an obvious solution per se, but something that stands out in the maelstrom, literally a shining beacon. Crackling from his place, Sousa lands nearby Meimei and cloaks himself in a dual layer of lightning chakra. A black chain breaks upon him, the resulting halves flicking past both him and Meimei. "Ngh…Onohara-san, do you require any manner of assistance?" >.< Yep, Sousa's playing the hero for once…though it remains to be seen exactly why.
"…King's Knight to Queen six," Sousa whispers grimly.
Itami sat and focused all the energy she could into the jutsu that would turn the tide of this battle. Allies were falling all around her and she had to steel her mind enough to turn the fallen into inspiration to continue drawing in energy. Their lives would not be made forfeit this day…
The battle raged and chains whipped all around across the field as focus was drawn to her, those dead eyes looking her way let her know that she didn't have much more time left before she had to execute this jutsu. If she released it too late… No, she couldn't allow that thought to creep into her mind, though it was one of many whispers that were manifesting as the Ghoul changed the very air around her. It was cold. Too cold. She hated cold. The most basic functions were almost too painful. Movement, the lack of movement, breathing, thinking. 'Almost done…' She thought to herself. Just a little bit more.
She surveyed the field momentarily, taking note of Sousa's move to assist with Meimei. Inwardly, she smiled at his act and maybe that was the last push she needed to channel her energy into this jutsu. "Finished," she remarked to herself. Moving higher into the air, she began to take a dive, flying down to draw closer to the Ghoul and his current position to land this jutsu where it could radiate out and cause the most damage. She made certain to change her patterns and movements so as no to be read enough to be stricken from the skies.
It wasn't easy flying that kind of chill, listening and feeling the darkness grow stronger with her approach, but it would soon all be over when she made contact with the Ghoul, striking his body with such force that its frame would quake from the result. Left in its wake would be the glass jutsu that would radiate out and consume the entire body of the beast.
Meimei is surprised to find the Kazekage directly behind her, and even more so to find that he has just kept her from suffering what was likely lethal damage. She keeps her surprise brief, however. One of her eyes no longer resembles a gear so much as a clock's face. Lines of light shimmer along it, denoting hands, hours, minutes, etc. The other seems to still be transforming. Whatever she sees in Sousa, and in the Dead King when she looks up at it, she wastes no further time.
She watches as Itami's massive attack turns the entire monster to glass, seeing something… A future untangling. Diverging. Multiple outcomes. And the most terrible one she sees… "Make sure that thing doesn't move from where it is now. And tell Risu that I love her, and I'm proud of her." Then the Onohara ninja, both eyes bearing the outline of a clock begin to move. The light that dilenneates a second hand begins to move in both eyes. Ticking down. 60 seconds. Then Meimei begins to run. Seemingly… Away from the battle field? What else could be necessary here? The monster has been stopped. The day saved. Is she fleeing after Sousa endangered himself to save her? The man who gave her a chance, and let a fugitive not even from the Sand come to become a part of it? To instruct future generations at the academy? To adopt one of Sunagakure's orphans?
No. But the light trail she leaves behind for hundres and then thousands and then tens of thousands of miles as she speeds up more and more, racing away faster than human flesh can survive, eventually comes full circle. And about ten seconds after she seemingly ran away at incredible speed… A blast of light comes across the opposite horizon and punches through the glass Dead King. And then continues through, and beyond the horizon again.
The dead remains within it, the parts that are weak to light, have been shielded by sand. That sand is glass now. But if the glass is shattered, the undead flesh will return to the sand. And it will all start all over again. So she runs. And she begins her second circuit of the planet, after already leaving behind any possibility of returning to being flesh and blood once more.
Her mind and body are losing cohesiveness, starting to break down. But it isn't over yet. She has to destroy those photosensitive pieces inside of it… Even at the cost of her life.
But she's having trouble with accuracy, hitting the exact position of each bit of remains. She pierces the Ghoul again with her whole body, as a streak of light. And as she begins her third circuit of the planet, there are 40 seconds left on her jutsu.
Itami rushes down at the Ghoul, its sphere of death and destruction forming before its paired maws, as its sand-and-bone tendrils fail to kill Meimei thanks to Sousa's interference. In her wake, she leaves a trail of sand-turned-glass that spreads across the entire thing, even as it lifts its miles-long limbs as though to attack her physically as it loses control of its jutsu. Or so it seems. Because as the mountain-sized horror becomes frozen in a glittering prison of glass, the sphere continues to grow. It doesn't dissipate. It continues to feed upon death and destruction, and the echoes of tortured souls. If it continues to build power… Then it may grow to consume this entire area. And if the Dead King ever truly loses control… Sunagakure is on a direct path from the monster's attack.
It can no longer move, no longer act, thanks to Itami, and thanks to the discovery Sousa made of its true nature. But within it are the remains of a dead thing that should not have will and yet does. And those things, divorced from the being it once was, continue to seek out the objective of annihilating all life.
Until Meimei begins circling the globe as a person-become-light, blasting through the glass body and sending beams of illumination radiating outwards, destroying individual cells, but not the main body mass. Where is it? Where is the true Ghoul?
And is 40 seconds enough time to find and destroy it?