Date: May 20, 2011
Jon follows a rabbit trail given to him by Lady Ryoko, and not surprisingly finds a trap at the end…but what sort of trap?
"Broken Memories Pt. 3 - Step Into My Parlor"
Hotaru Caverns [Fort Kyuusen]
These caverns should be full of firefly or firefly creatures. Basically, many little lights everywhere. Almost magical.
The paper given to Saito Jon by Lady Ryoko lead the Kumogakure Jounin from Kusagakure, north across the Land of Grass's plains and fields, and up into the mountains on the country's north border. He skirted the mountain fortress of Kyuusen, and then traveled east through the passes until finally he arrived at a non-descript cave entrance. The cave is really nothing special, but the Hotaru Caverns are well-known even so. They are shady, cool, dry… They do not smell bad, and do not have anything lying around that looks like it should not be there. If Jon ventures within, eventually the light dims enough that one may need to squint to see if no light source is available. There appears to be but one path, and though it may wind a bit at times, it is never too narrow to admit Jon passage, and it is never too confusing to be lead astray. It goes directly towards the back of the cave.
Why would the lady Ryoko send Jon way out here? What could possibly remain to be found in a publicly accessible, thoroughly explored, and by no means special cavern?
Nothing good, Jon expects. :P Jon practically said to Lady Ryoko that he found her suspicious, and she did plenty during their interview to validate that attitude. At best, this is a wild goose chase to get Jon off her trail; at worst, it's a trap of some sort. Actually, scratch that; Jon would prefer a trap to a wild goose chase, because at least that would give him something to go on. If it weren't for the faint glimmer of hope that it could provide another lead for the investigation, he wouldn't have bothered coming at all.
Jon's face pokes around the edge of the cave's mouth. Hmmm. No signs of anything strange…except maybe a bit less evidence of animal activity than usual. Hard to say. Jon slides around the mouth edge and makes his way into the cave, staying close to the wall. As he ventures into the darkness, he takes out a chemical glow-rod and cracks it. Sneaking up on anybody who might be in here would be nice, but odds are pretty good that if there is an ambush waiting, they've been attentive enough to discern somebody was coming long ago. And if it's just a plain mechanical trap, well, it's not going to be bothered by light or dark either way. e.e Best to grab the certain advantage of being able to see himself.
Jon advances into the cave, staying close to the walls, and basically doing his best to simultaneously sneak about and remain unsnuck upon. There does not appear to be anything out of the ordinary. There is very little loose rock on the floor, though there is dirt and such that has been blown or carried in from outside. Not a >lot< of dirt, mind you. Certainly not enough to betray footprints. But as this >is< a public place it is unlikely that no one has been here in recent times.
The deeper that Jon goes, the darker it becomes, though his glow-rod works just fine. Some traces of untended spider webs either hang motionless or waft about depending on what drafts and air currents reach this far back. Eventually, without any trouble at all, the investigator would reach the back of the cave. And >now< the weird stuff pops up. Tiny golden lights flit about the large, open area. Some hover, some dart, and others fly in crazy circles, seemingly chasing each other or maybe just showing off for the human that has stumbled into their midst. Are they fireflies? Fairies? Something else? Whatever they are, they are numerous, but move out of the way if Jon approaches them. Beyond the glowing creatures, there is a large, smooth stone surface. There are symbols painted on it that might be as ancient as the dinosaurs or might be from last year.
Most are a muddy red-brown, but others are pale-yellow or dark-green. They all depict a variety of spiders of different shapes and sizes, all apparently bowing to a woman on what appears to be a throne. To the right of the throne, there are symbols that might be words. Short, sharp strokes of some brush. They do not mean anything in any language that Jon may know.
This is really unexpected. Something that actually ties into the suspicions Jon had about Lady Ryoko? Why would she give him a lead like that? Why fuel his certainty that she had something to do with the Daimyou's murder, and possibly set him on the path to finding proof? It has to be some sort of gambit, and Jon doesn't like the fact that he can't see what she stands to gain from it. :/ But, he can't simply retreat, not when that would be the end of the game. He just has to make the best move he can under the circumstances. Stepping up to the stone, Jon pulls out his notepad and starts to carefully trace the letters written there. Maybe he can find somebody capable of translating it later…
As Jon busily begins to jot down the letters — though the only reason they can be identified as such is the fact that some of them repeat and there appears to be some measure of >order< to their arrangement — the glowing balls of light begin to drift away gradually. Something moves in the darkness high above the Saito man, silently shifting its weight and then creeping across the ceiling of the cave. Other such shapes do likewise.
Three of these watchers total begin a descent towards the floor of the cave upon thin threads of material that are nearly invisible if the light does not strike them just right. Lowering themselves as silently as ghosts, one to each side of Jon, and one directly behind, there is no visual evidence unless the ninja looks up, and no auditory evidence at all. There are not even disturbances in the air currents, unless he is so highly-attuned to such that he can detect where air is moving >around< an obstruction. No strange scents, and taste is completely out of the question.
Jon is about to be surrounded. There is only >one< potential warning… The fireflies or faeries or whatever they are suddenly scatter to other parts of the cave in agitation and dampen their innate bio-luminescence. If Jon does not take a look around to see that the creatures were more distant from him than before, or does not see them out of the corner of his eye, or otherwise just… Doesn't notice? There is no warning as three spiders, each as tall as an adult horse and far wider and longer, alight upon the stoney floor and watch Jon with eight glistening eyes each.
It's hard to explain just how a veteran of combat can intuit when something's about to go wrong. The human brain works in mysterious ways, processing information and drawing conclusions on the subconscious level before the conscious mind is even made aware that anything has changed. So as far as Jon's rational, deductive mind is concerned, there's no particular reason for him to turn around suddenly with his hand on his rod. He just did it.
And he finds himself faced with every arachnophobe's nightmare (shoot, you don't even need a phobia in the clinical sense). His reaction is…well, he doesn't scream or panic, but it would be a lie to say he remains as stoic as stone. A convulsive shiver runs down his frame, most likely keenly noticed by the spiders, though who knows whether they know what to make of it. Jon's mind wrests control back from the nervous instinct that made him turn around in the first place. Try for a nonviolent option first…that picture shows these spiders interacting with a human, bowing to her even it looked like. Jon swallows carefully and controls his voice. "Greetings. My name is Saito Jon, of the Land of Wind. I am here on an investigation. Do you understand me?"
The spiders do as spiders do, remaining primarily motionless, though with occasional small twitches of one leg or another… Shifting of weight, or 'feeling' the environment, more or less. Their mandibles, of course work however they wish, rubbing against each other and so forth. Eventually, as the silence hangs in the air aside from perhaps the breathing of Jon himself, the arachnid that is directly in front of Jon turns slightly as though to look at one of its fellows… And then repeats this in the other direction.
A high-pitched chittering noise issues forth from this central one, and it is clearly no human tongue. The one to Jon's left also chitters while it raises two of its forelegs into the air slightly, one at a time, waving them and making other subtle movements with the appendages. Well, if these two are 'talking' by means other than simple body language, then perhaps Jon's desperate hope is valid. Maybe they >are< intelligent!
The central spider silently considers the left-most creature's words (or so it can be presumed). Jon is left to stare at his own image as it is reflected in the eight glistening, convex, oil-black eyes set in the face of a thing that has plagued both the nightmares and waking fears of humanity as a whole for thousands of years.
Its right foreleg lifts slightly, only for a second, and then goes back down. The spider to Jon's left — and the central spider's right — turns immediately and swiftly, rotating in place to face the cave wall, and then walking >into< the stone. It is not as though the stone is an illusion, or otherwise false… It is just that the solid surface seems to respond like some sort of semi-elastic mud instead of granite, allowing the arachnid to push through what should probably not be permeable at all, until the last of its hair limbs vanishes within. The wall shows no sign of being disturbed, as it returns to its original texture and form almost immediately.
The central spider then proceeds to back up slowly and gradually, without even looking (though given the placement of its eyes, it can probably see behind itself just fine), and then stops right at the point where the tunnel that Jon passed through on the way here connects with this particular cavern chamber. Then it just stays right there, blocking the exit. The last giant arachnid doesn't go anywhere.
Ooo…kay. Well, at least they aren't attacking immediately. Jon releases his grip on his rod and lowers his hand. This could get ugly pretty quick…even if they're civilized enough to not attempt making a meal of Jon immediately, they're probably allies of Ryoko, considering that she sent him here, and she had all those spiders hanging around her residence…and hey, one of the big reasons the spiders made Ryoko particularly suspicious is because the Daimyou was killed with a very unusual kind of poison! This is kind of like walking into a building, finding out it's a yakuza den, then asking them, 'Hey, you wouldn't happen to know anything about that guy that washed up from the river recently, would you?' Jon uses the time to try and think up a good way to go about his 'investigation' without letting these creatures know what he's really investigating. c.c
Moments pass, but though it is, in reality, only a matter of minutes, the tension may cause it to feel much longer. Eventually, however, the cave wall behind Jon once more stretches and distends, though this time the stretching is >outwards< rather than >inwards<. The spider that went in before — or perhaps a different spider that looks the same — emerges, and takes up a position in a corner of the cavern to Jon's far-left. And then three other beings emerge, though they are not giant spiders.
They don't really look entirely human, if for no other reason than the distribution of musculature and where their bodies appear to be jointed… They are also wearing rather gothic-looking dark-red armor, including helmets, and wielding polearms of some kind. They march out and take up a formation that is essentially a 'wall of people' separating Jon from the left side of the cave. There are only three of them, and they are not super-tall, or super-bulky. But apparently they feel they are a sufficient barrier that whatever they are protecting is safe. And then it becomes clear that they are not protecting a thing but a >person<.
The woman is not overly tall. She is not especially intimidating. But she is apparently very important, as the young woman, with a long, fiery mane of red hair, is kept from being directly accessible to any possible attacks from Jon (were he inclined to attempt such). The 'wall' of guards moves with the red-haired woman as her heeled boots click on the stone floor, and she walks further out into the cavern, until she is a reasonable distance away from the wall with its writings and paintings. She looks at Jon with normal-looking human eyes. Rather vividly green, but they are otherwise not disturbing or special.
She looks Jon over with a glance from top to bottom and then up again. Then she says in perfectly understandable human language, "You came rather directly to this place, and not by accident. What does your investigation entail, and why did you think you would find answers on my kingdom's doorstep?"
Kingdom…hooooboy. This could potentially explain a lot. A secret kingdom of spiders (or so Jon presumes, nobody happened to mention anything like it) sitting in the middle of the Land of Grass? They could certainly benefit from civil war if they have any ideas of conquest. :P "I pray your pardon for the intrusion, Your Majesty," Jon replies, bowing low. "The matter I am investigating is…the cause of death of the Daimyou of the Land of Grass…" Gasp! Jon's going with the straight-up honest approach? :o "…that I may extend my nation's congratulations to those who accomplished it, and hopefully initiate talks of an alliance." Hm, maybe not so much. c.c Jon raises his head slightly. "I would not have been able to come this far had I not been fortunate enough to be granted a small measure of confidence by Lady Ryoko-sama. It was she who instructed me to seek out this place, though she was discreet enough as not to tell me precisely what I would find here."
The red-haired woman's eyes follow Jon's descent as he bows, watching keenly his movements, the tensing of muscles evident, and so forth. When Jon has completed his mix of truth and falsehoods, her ruby-red lips purse. "I see," she says simply. After several seconds of silence, she finally offers, "We know of no 'Lady Ryoko' in Jurei Amimono — the 'Life Web'. That such a person knew of my kingdom's location is an unpleasant piece of information. She shall be removed from a position to spread her knowledge, as quickly as possible. However, given the rudeness you have displayed so far, I must also assume that your story is one of fiction."
The Spider Queen raises a hand and points at Jon, but her head is already turned away and focused beyond the spider guarding the passage out. One of the armored pseudo-human guards lunges forward with enormous speed and grace, attempting to thrust its polearm through the Lightning Clone at an angle. "Kill him," she offers, before the guard has even touched the ground after its attack.
All the spiders immediately turn as-needed, whether this be rotating on two feet, or upon eight legs, and either skitter or run out into the tunnel, heading after the >real< Saito Jon with all the skill of a predator species that, regardless of size or shape, has survived for millions upon millions of years.
That's a fairly accurate assessment of the situation, yes. The lightning clone of Jon dissipates with a rueful smile on his face, leaving only a momentary sizzling in the air. Meanwhile, the real Jon, who had been following back in the shadows and observing, turns and dashes back up the tunnel. He may not have found out precisely what he wanted, but he sure did learn some interesting things regardless. Now to try and get away intact so he can tell the tale. c.c;
Speaking of which…Jon forms a quick handseal. *KABOOOOM!!!* A sizable explosion rocks one of the smaller passages behind Jon. He hasn't been sitting idle this whole time, knowing that he was likely going to need to make a quick escape; he applied a liberal helping of explosive tags to the walls and ceiling of the cave. With luck, it'll trap the spiders in their own nest of the time being; failing that, it should at least stun their front runners. "This is gonna look really weird in my case write-up," Jon mutters to himself as he flees.