Date: July 13, 2010
While the Tao Shih are investigating the interior of Ankoku Cave, and facing horrors beyond imagining, a team from Konohagakure is performing their own investigations just outside…
"Broken Memories Pt. 2 - Despair"
Ankoku Cave - Land of Fire
"I don't know but I've been told!" "I DUNNO BUT I BEEN TOLD!" "Nights on march get mighty cold!" "NIGHTS ON MARCH GET MIGHTY COLD!" "If I see you nap on watch!" "IF HE SEES YOU NAP ON WATCH!" "I will kick you in the—COMPANY, HALT!" Akimichi Noab, at the head of a small team of Konoha nin, calls a sudden stop. "Looks like we're getting close," Noab says, pointing at some of the aberrations of nature sitting around, "and it's worse than last reported. Everybody stay on high alert! Kango-san, analysis?" The medic of the group takes a moment to feel out the area. "It's definitely not healthy around here, but brief exposure shouldn't hurt us too much." Noab nods. "Acknowledged. All right, let's press on, quietly now." There are a couple of eyerolls after Noab turns forward again, but everyone follows him closely, keeping a sharp lookout for any dangers.
As Noab's team proceeds closer to the cave entrance proper, they would similarly witness strange behavior from the animals. A wasp nest on the side of a blackened tree looks like it has exploded outwards and then frozen in place. It's the size of an adult male human's torso at least, and has wasps swarming out of it. But the insects aren't buzzing around looking for food. Instead they're… Fighting. Furthermore, they're fighting their >own nest mates<. Many wasps already lie dead on the forest floor, like a carpet of yellow and black. No scavengers of any kind have appeared to feed on the dead insects. They are simply left to dry up and rot — something that seems unlikely to happen given the moisture in the air, thanks to the foul-smelling miasma.
Noab halts the team to observe the wasps. That…is some seriously messed up junk. Noab's not one to care too much about non-sentient critters, especially bugs, but he decides a little bit of humane action is in order. A brief gout of flame goes out from his mouth to incinerate the nest and the cloud of in-fighting wasps around it. Noab glances back at his troop. "If any of you start to feel any strange animosity toward anybody on this team, report it immediately. That's an order. The result will be that we all retreat, not that anybody is singled out and subdued." With that, Noab signals to move on.
The wasp nest combusts nicely, the insects dying swiftly and mercifully(ish). Well, as merciful as burning to death can possibly be, at least. Moving on, the team continues to trek through the twisted forest. The foul stench is less than palatable, but other than being disgusting and the potential fear of being affected the same way the animals and plant-life apparently have been, it does not seem to be doing anything to the ninja so far.
Lying alongside the rough trail, a pool of spring water that probably should be clear and drinkable has instead been turned black and probably-not-a-good-idea-to-drink. It's not >that< dark here in the forest, necessarily, so it's not that the water >looks< black, due to the shading… It's just… Black. Whether it's still water or not is debatable. If there's anything living in it, it's not visible. And if there is something that even >can< live in it, it is probably not a form of life that one would want to encounter or even observe from a distance. It might be disturbing to look upon.
Curiouser and curiouser, as the saying goes…though 'curious' fails to capture the sinister aspect of this place. "Sir," pipes up the medic of the team, "permission to take a sample?" Noab eyes the pool dubiously. He'd rather not take too many chances, but if things keep going as they are, he may have to scrub the mission altogether…and it would be nice to have /some/thing to bring back, something that would help them understand the threat in this area. "Permission granted," Noab says, "but don't get /any/ of it on you. Everyone cover him." While the rest of the team watching the pool and the surrounding area carefully, the medic gets to work. He takes out a jar and dips the edge beneath the surface of the 'water', collecting just a little bit in the bottom. Then he screws the cap on tightly, and drops the whole thing into a water-proof biohazard bag and seals it. And with that, hopefully the team can move on…
Nothing emerges from the black spring to bite the medic's arm off or anything. The dark substance slides into the jar easily, and without incident. It doesn't dissolve the jar or the bag upon contact, so it's probably not acidic… Or if it is, it's an organic acid, rather than an inorganic acid. Moving along, the team eventually comes to a clearing. The dead grass crunches underfoot, the only real sound to hear at the moment, other than the occasional animal scream or extremely disjointed and somehow 'wrong' bird song. In the middle of the clearing, there are the bodies of two… Somethings. It's not clear immediately what they are due to their condition. They're quadrupedal, and appear to have some fur on them, but it would take a slightly closer inspection to ascertain the fact that these bleeding, ulcerous, scar-skinned, mangey, and all together >unhealthy< looking animals are >wolves<. Whatever has happened to the other life forms that inhabit this area, these two wild canines have suffered the same. It's almost like they're falling apart, piece by piece.
They are still alive, but they are lying still near each other, and do not appear to be moving much other than by breathing. One of the wolves is breathing more shallowly than the other, and more erratically. There are bleeding wounds in some of its bared skin where fur has fallen out, and they look recent. Further the wounds don't appear to have been inflicted by the other wolf, or any other large animal, though they are definitely bite-marks.
The last clue in this puzzling scene is that there are shards of broken glass lying around and between the two wolves, and half of a shattered vial nearby. Nearby is a cliff face with sickly black moss with red splotches draping over the entrance to a cave — or maybe just a hole in the ground — like a curtain.
Noab and the team take in the scene before them. It doesn't take a master tracker to deduce that somebody's been here recently, and was probably the cause of the wolves' injuries. Not that one can put much blame on anybody for that. Noab considers whether a mercy-killing is once again in order here. He's not really sure if the wolves' injuries are serious enough to be damning…but then, even if they could survive, would it be good for them to continue living in such a state? Shoot, this whole diseased forest probably ought to be torched. :P "Got anything to put those two out of their misery?" Noab remarks. The medic (gosh, he's getting a lot of action lately) responds by pulling out some syringes full of a strong sedative and hurling them with an expert flick at the wolves' haunches.
And then, there's the cave…with who-knows-what inside, and now who-knows-who as well. "Best case scenario, we've got somebody with too much curiousity already inside," Noab mutters. "Worst case it's a sworn enemy looking to tame whatever caused all this. Whoever they are, they obviously know how to take care of themselves." Noab trudges up to the entrance of the evil pit. "I'll take point. The rest of you, two columns, and stay sharp." The team falls in behind Noab and ventures carefully into the cave.
Upon entering Ankoku Cave, the general bad feeling about the forest outside would pale in comparison to the raw malice that seethes through the cave's interior. It's a very large amount of Chakra, yes, but it is also of a purely malevolent type. There is a sort of palpable darkness that permeates the cavern entrance, appearing to be some form of mist… And yet it is not as easily defined or as tangible as simple mist. A wave of despair crashes down on Noab's team. It is not their own emotions, but an emotion being projected >onto< them. This makes it no less potent, and no less horrible, however. Something is going on in this cave, judging by distant, inhuman sounds… But what that something may be is unknown from this location.
Noab grips his axe tightly and grinds the soles of his boots against the rock. It's almost as if he's being physically pushed down. Whatever this thing is, he doesn't feel very well equipped to deal with it. >.U; He could tough it out for a while, maybe, but who knows how strong this stuff is at the source, or what could be done with said source. Noab takes a look back at his team. Some of them are faring worse than he is; one isn't even looking ahead anymore, just staring with a glassy expression down at the cave floor. This is no good, Noab decides—they simply can't accomplish anything like this. They have to get out while they still can.
"'Ten-SHUN!!!" Noab bark snaps the others out of their varying degrees of stupification. "About face! Retreat, on the double!" The team turns around and half-runs, half-stumbles back toward the cave entrance. It almost feels like trying to claw their way out of a nightmare. Fortunately, though it feels like they're impossibly far from escape, they had really only gone in a short way, and they soon come back out into the sunlight. Choking though the air still is, it feels like waking up from a fevered dream to be out of that dark hole. Noab peers down the tunnel briefly, then gives the order for an immediate march back the way they came. He hates to leave when there's somebody in there who's probably up to no good, but he rather doubts they can accomplish what they intend to with that evil presence…and if they can, Noab certainly doesn't want to run into them down there. :P