Date: March 30, 2012
The Kazekage is preparing things for his imminent departure from the world of the living, as planned between him and Councilwoman Watanabe. Itami is to resuscitate him under controlled circumstances, so that he can gain the information he needs from the Death-God, Shinigami, to avert the coming apocalypse. Sadly, Itami is away tracking down Hiroko, the niece of the Fire Daimyou, and Sousa is alone in the Records Department. That is when the one engineering the End of Everything pays Sousa a little visit…
"Blood Red Sandman - The Place You Return To"
Sub-Level 2: Records Department - Sunagakure
The administration of Sunagakure has been working with great smoothness lately, or at least that's how it feels to its members. Rather than issues simmering until the last possible minute, or having somebody get fed up and take responsibility for it themselves before then, things are going into the Kazekage's office and coming back out at record speed. Most of the people there don't consciously notice the difference, and simply go about their work with a vague feeling that things are pleasantly easy these days. Some do realize that the difference is thanks to an unusual diligence to administrative work on the Kazekage's part, but they usually just think it's about time and enjoy the benefits. Just a few are mildly puzzled by the change. It's as if the Kazekage is getting his duties caught up and out of the way in preparation for something…setting his house in order, almost. c.c;
Were anyone to voice such thoughts to Sousa himself, he'd probably just chuckle faintly and keep going without comment. In his own mind, even, he'd dismiss the implications of his actions. His reasons for doing these things have to do with living, he'd think. After all, to spend one's remaining days working for the benefit of others would be irrational; he's getting caught up on administrative work so that he can disappear for a while, and still reasonably expect to be hailed Kazekage when he returns. Whether he'll be able to return remains to be seen, in fact it's rather doubtful if Death-san's words from before are reliable. Still, the reward for such, another possibly 40 years or more living as a man with the resources and manpower of a Kage, makes the gamble of spending this time on menial things worthwhile.
Of course, the problem with this approach is that Sousa doesn't know precisely how long he has, and it's surprising how quickly a man of his faculties can catch up with things when he wants to. Without stopping to think about whether he's caught up 'enough' for his purposes, he's managed to burn through most of the documents on his desk and started scraping the barrel for important things to do. Which, in a moment of reflection, has led him down to the records rooms. Somebody will have to be appointed to take over the task of maintaining this storehouse of knowledge, of course, but to find an ideal candidate, Sousa must first understand the systems of this place, and in the meantime, he might as well tidy things up a bit himself. So he pulls out the nearest ledger and begins to peruse its pages for meaning…
Much had fallen into disarray in the Records Department with Nai's disappearance. Many are worried about this vanishing. Unlike previous times when he 'went missing', he has been gone for over half a year now. Many things have been misplaced or lost, ranging from birth records and personnel files, to index cards and scrolls of forbidden or secret techniques. The efforts of Sousa in Nai's absence have begun to restore order, but there is still clearly a lot of work to do, and some of the scrolls that went missing are particularly worrying…
Once Sousa is in the Records Department's first level, Sub-Level 2 of the over-all Administration Dome building, he picks up a nearby ledger and starts to read it. The removal of the text from where it lay causes a thin stream of sand and dirt to spill from its former resting place and onto the marble floor. The hissing of minute grains of erroded minerals sounds for several seconds before petering off. There really shouldn't be sand down here simply by accident or the conveyance by breezes or what-have-you. Someone was clearly very messy and didn't clean up first before making use of this area. Nai had a strict policy of cleanliness in regard to books and texts of all kinds when he was in charge.
Preserving knowledge in the form of reading materials was the closest thing to a passion that anyone had ever observed him pursuing. Now look at this place. All messy, disorderly, and with half the desert tracked in by those who hadn't bothered to wipe their hands or clean their boots before stomping in here. Is this the only legacy of the man once called Hone Nai? Years of work organizing, cleaning, and keeping track of the lives of others and the materials they needed to learn and survive into the future… All being disrespected by the same people he worked so hard for?
Very sad. Another stream of sand hisses down from a shelf somewhere further away from Sousa as a book settles. Then more sand from another location. More and more and more. Okay, this isn't just people tracking the outdoors to the indoors anymore. As waterfalls of sand rain down from the shelves that reach up to the vaulted ceiling, all spilling onto the floor and swirling together in unnatural ways, it should be evident that the reason why it was so quiet down here is that Sousa is alone with the former Head Recordskeeper.
The sand masses together in a mound in the middle of the main hall that passes the various shelves and tables and what-not. The electric lights in the area sizzle as the lightbulbs begin to frost over. The few flames allowed in the area turn a ghostly, nearly-supernatural cyan color.
The Ghoul of the Desert rises up out of the mound of sand, and doesn't say anything at all to Sousa this time. It just stands there and grins its skeletal grin, arms hanging loosely at its sides. While those features have never been prone to being expressive or emotional given their lack of ability to do so, as the only living being who has regularly interacted with Nai all these years and as one of the most skilled, intelligent, and accomplished ninja in the world, Sousa's nearly superhuman perceptions might pick up that this time around… The Ghoul is even less like Nai than ever before. Its expression, even without features, is somehow 'empty'.
The voice that was heard once before, in Sousa's office, sounds out in the otherwise silent room. A voice like the desert itself speaking.
"Ssssoouuusaaaa…" the sand and wind whisper and howl. "It isss tiiiime…"
Sousa flicks the remnants of sand from the pages of the ledger. So many irritating distractions like that…a shame they aren't all so easily brushed aside. And even when they are, they tend to come in steady streams. That's why Sousa usually just waits for them to build up, so that they become a pile which can be more efficiently…
Sousa closes the ledger and places it carefully back on the shelf. "Is it now?" he remarks. "You know, in an odd sort of way, I had begun to grow impatient." Sousa steps closer to the Ghoul, or at any rate to the humanoid representation of itself. "I take it the intentions you expressed at our last meeting have not altered? The eradication of life and deconstruction of everything? I'm fairly certain nothing is going to alter our present actions, but I imagine Itami-san would be pleased to know I at least asked. Speaking of which, it's a pity she isn't present. I had plans which involved her cooperation." The chamber begins to throb with the pressure of Sousa's chakra. "Ironically, though…the fact that you are here before those plans could be carried out may indicate a greater likelihood of my survival."
The dessicated corpse-thing speaks again in response to Sousa, this time in the Ghoul's voice: a deep baritone, with a cultured accent to it. For that moment, there appears to be something intelligent inside of the skull-and-rot features. "It is unfortunate that Itami-san is not present, true. And it is true that nothing we do or say here will alter the ultimate outcome. But the reason for these being true are not as you appear to believe. You see, I am not here for the goal whispered to me by the dead… Not yet, at least. To fix everything some further preparations must be made. I would kill Itami alongside you were she here. However, the dead are using this body as a vessel to ensure you make your appointment. 'Targets of opportunity' are beyond the scope of their mission. That being said, I will return control to them."
The sand begins to rise up from the floor in snaking tendrils, that swirl and streak through the air, seemingly defying gravity. The voice of the desert that is apparently also the voice of countless dead returns to the fore. "To ussss Sssoussssaa… Sssshinigami awaitssss…" Then the Ghoul raises its right arm and the arm stretches out instantly, lashing at Sousa with talons of bone and stone as it crosses the considerably distance between them very quickly.
Sousa tilts his head slightly. "Really…what an interesting statement…" Sousa makes a few handseals as the Ghoul raises its arm. A copy of Sousa appears in front of him, and thrusts out a palm crackling with electricity. The strikes meet and the earthen appendage scatters into streams of sand, gradually slowing until it halts. Spent by the action, the clone dissipates with a fizzle. "Am I to understand you now regard yourself as not only able to communicate with the dead, but under their direct influence? You'll pardon my skepticism, and I don't mean to imply that I can be absolutely certain of anything, but I find mental instability to be a far more likely explanation." Sousa lifts a hand and discharges an arc of electricity in the Ghoul's direction. "Were you indeed Death-san's emissaries, I would expect you to know of the manner of death he predicts for me. Your actions thus far are not particularly indicative of such." Another CRACK of lightning leaps out at the Ghoul.
The bolts of Lightning Natured Chakra strike the creature as it simply stands in place and takes the hit. The electrical discharges burnt and scatter the parts of the withered body that they strike. The body visibly reforms itself afterwards. "Ourssss issss not to claaaaim… Oursss issss to open the gatewaaay… It will be yooou who ssstepsss withinnnn…"
The air at the upper portions of the Records Department room had already been chilling to the point where light bulbs were frosting over. Now the bulbs shatter at the contrast of warmth and cold as the freezing air descends and rises simultaneously. Air pumps that keep oxygen flowing even in these below-ground-level rooms begin issuing forth a mix of dust and ice that quickly turns the air frigid and eventually numbing. Sousa is probably not dressed for the cold either. Standing and fighting is one option.
The available light sources are diminished, one by one. Torches at the far end of the room, where the Ghoul is, are extinguished as though by invisible fingers pinching them out… The book-filled hall is cast into deeper and deeper darkness that eventually engulfs most of the area. The Ghoul is already left unseen in the blackness, and it continues to encroach towards Sousa. If he hasn't backed up towards the stairs leading up to the Library on Sub-Level 1 by now, he is actually most likely well within the shadows. There are ways to make light of course. But as Sousa may recall, the last time he was trapped in the darkness with the Ghoul, he was at a disadavantage. Staying to fight may be one option. Not staying may be a better one. Especially if some help can be recruited. Then again, didn't the Ghoul say it would kill Itami if she were present? She's the one most trusted for this task, if she's even around. Decisions, decisions…
The air becomes so cold, in the meanwhile, that it hurts to breathe it in.
Oh drat, not that again. e.e Sousa is far more able to work in darkness than the average person, or even the average ninja, but sight is still his most useful sense. His instincts, and even his low-level intellect, urge him to seek a more advantageous battleground. Somewhere with light, and space to dilute the gathering cold, and allies to assist him. But he denies these impulses. As Kazekage, if others became involved, he would be forced to prioritize defending them, which would be much harder than just defending himself. No, better to settle this thing down here. In a way, it was the best battleground for them both.
Meanwhile, how to combat the dark and cold? If he had something for lighting fires, he could set the books ablaze, although that would be a terrible loss of knowledge. XP Lightning or explosive tags would blast the papers apart before they could begin burn properly. Looks like it's back to using lightning as a light source, and just try to tough out the cold. :P
Sousa lifts one hand high above his head. A brief flash, normally used for blinding opponents but quite handy for getting a glimpse of a darkened area when not looked at directly, lights the space. Then Sousa flings a kunai, charged with lightning chakra, at the Ghoul.
The flash of light causes some smoke to rise from scattered bits of flesh that have been locked in a state of perpetual decay for over a century. Most of the Ghoul, however, remains unharmed apparently. Quite unlike the time in the office where it was being visibly cooked by the lightning Sousa was producing. Maybe there's a range to it, as it did back up out of the light back then…
Either way, the flung kunai zips through the air trailing the neon colors of electricity through the darkness and right over the Ghoul's head as it sinks into the floor. Floor made of stone. Wonderful. The kunai lands wherever it does, whether it be thunking into a wall or clattering to the floor or what-have-you. But by then the darkness has returned and the Ghoul has gone silent. A pair of hands suddenly attempt to clasp onto Sousa's ankles and drain away Chakra with their touch, but even just jerking his feet away, let alone leaping or attacking them, will cause those hands to crumble away. Meanwhile, however, a high-speed projectile in the form of the undead monster is shooting under the ground still a couple seconds behind the pair of fragile stone hands. It erupts from the ground in an attempt to perform a flying tackle with claws extended, aimed at approximately shoulder-height on Sousa. If he tries to jump away then he needs to clear that height to avoid being slammed into like a fish being pounded by a leaping dolphin. If he leaps backwards, distance will be his ally. But given that the approach is silent up until the point where the Ghoul actually emerges from the marble, and those hands may fool the Kazekage into thinking the Ghoul is already nearby…
Sousa is probably making a mental note to devote some time to developing x-ray goggles or something if he survives to see another day. Fighting in the dark SUCKS.
Sousa raises an eyebrow, not that it makes much difference in the dark. He knew Nai's body (and thus the Ghoul's) was very much earth-based, but to be affected, even just a little, by a simple flash of lightning chakra from that far away? This could be easier than he thought…although it's far too early to take things lightly. Okay, so now the Ghoul is underground…light won't help much if there's nothing to see, and Sousa can probably manage to hear it when — gah! >.<; Sousa feels cold fingers wrapping around his ankles and pulling chakra from him. He charges his foot with lightning chakra and kicks the hands away. Huh, that was pretty eas — ohlookclaws. o.O; Spotting the coming assault by the glow from his foot, Sousa falls backwards. He catches himself in a crab walk position, then his lightning-charged foot shoots upward and connects with the Ghoul's trunk, sending him sailing past Sousa.
Sousa gets up and moves to retaliate quickly — time is his enemy in this freezing cold, after all. >.<; He extends one hand to send a stream of lightning chakra in a twirling loop to ensnare the Ghoul, then lunges forward and brings his other hand down in a sparking fist.
The kick shatters the Ghoul's torso, sending sand, dirt, and dust spraying everywhere. Sparks fly in the darkness, lighting up Sousa's battleground in brief, stark moments of too-vivid, strobe-like violence and horror. The Ghoul's upper body, arms, and head remain intact as it lands on the ground beyond Sousa after he avoids the tackle. It quickly moves its hands in circles over the marble floor, drawing up the stone and forming it into a boulder that the creature then crawls on top of. Even as the boulder begins to grind across the ground, ploughing up the tiles and the stone beneath, and creating an awful fingernails-on-chalkboard kind of noise, the lightning bolt lashes around the Ghoul and drains its energy while sending painful spasms through its Earth Chakra Nature-aligned form.
The monster is then punched with a crackling fist paired with mastery of Taijutsu and Southern martial arts styles. The boulder shatters as the hand passes through the Ghoul's left shoulder, down through its ribcage, and into the mobile platform it was sprawled upon. No sounds of pain or distress issue from the creature, so it's unclear if this is even hurting, but inside… Yes. The Ghoul is in some degree of pain. Minimal compared to the many other forms of agony it has experienced, but someone who has NOT been subjected to that kind of pain would find this discomfort of being nearly torn apart to be quite excrutiating.
"I suppose it was wrong of me to waste time in this manner," the Ghoul's voice says as its left arm reaches out in an attempt to seize the same arm that punched through its body a moment before. "I told the Dead to give me a chance to beat you with my own skills. But alas, it seems that you are too far beyond me. The hour is at hand… And so are YOU!"
Then the Ghoul tilts its head back, unseen in the darkness and the sound of straining, dried ligaments and the cracking of joints as its jaw stretches wide, wider, TOO-WIDE, resonates in the records room as stone, books, and other things crumble, fall, or settle. 'Unholy Release: Angel's Thanatos!' The Ghoul thinks inside its own mind. Then a swirling, spiral of blue-white stone rises from inside the Ghoul somewhere, lighting the area quickly as it expands, grows, into a huge statue of an angelic figure. Wings of glowing stone unfold from the statue's back, as she spreads her arms wide, and looks down upon Sousa with a kind, caring expression.
Then she begins to lean forward, clearly a woman now, clearly becoming more 'real', more 'flesh and blood' as she moves closer, and in her expression is not a blank statue's eternal smile but the love and devotion of a mother that Sousa never knew. "It's time to come home, my dear," a musically beautiful voice whispers from the angel. "I'm so sorry for not being there for you," she continues on as she attempts to embrace Sousa slowly… Gently… If this is an attack, then it's one extremely easy to dodge away from. But no harm comes to Sousa. Sensation may seem to be leaving his body, but that's only fair, isn't it? It's so cold in here. But the woman is so… Warm. The more contact she makes, if any, the warmer Sousa may feel, and the more harsh and unwelcoming the darkness that surrounds him and this woman becomes.
Who is she? "Home is the place you return to, Sousa. It's the place where someone is waiting for you. I've been waiting for you all these years there… And now, it's time to come home." So comforting, so caring, and the words sound real. There's even some of Sousa's own features in the woman's face. Features he inherited from her. Who is this woman? The answer should be clear, but thought might well be beyond the Kazekage as his mother attempts to hug him and take him home with her.
Home to the realm of the dead.
Oh junk. >.<; The cold is certainly Sousa's enemy, but nearly as dangerous is direct contact with the Ghoul. Having used too much lightning chakra to continue immediately without numbing himself, Sousa attempts to simply yank his arm out of the Ghoul's grasp. After a moment's struggle, he manages it…then, stumbling back a pace, looks up at what the Ghoul has done during that moment.
This…is very strange. He's using a technique which supplies light? Odd change of tactics…is this genjutsu? Sousa never knew Nai to be proficient with genjutsu, in fact his studies of Nai's bodily systems led him to question whether Nai could manipulate a normal chakra system that way. Well whatever it is, it's fascinating…it's as if it's stimulating senses Sousa didn't even know he had, making his ordinary senses less and less important. And what's this she's saying? Is she implying she's his mother? Something in the back of Sousa's head points out this is highly improbable, but he's more interested in the intriguing implications if it's true. He wishes he had his hands free to start taking notes, this is an astoundingly interesting experience, but somehow it feels as though things like pen and paper won't be need for much longer anyhow…
That little bit of Sousa's mind still thinking about his circumstances outside the statue's embrace makes one last important connection before closing up shop. "Severence of…spirit from…body," he murmurs wonderingly.
Sousa's form goes limp.