Date: May 1, 2011
A mission to investigate rumors of an assault upon the false "hidden village" under the command of "Lord Rain" uncovers something completely unexpected.
"Broken Memories Pt. 3 - There Was A Town Here (It's Gone Now)"
Outside Higuregakure - Land of Rivers
This mission really should have been assigned to ANBU only, or perhaps a small team of highly-qualified Jounin. Given the strain placed upon Konohagakure and the Land of Fire in general thanks to the war with the Land of Water and its own resident Hidden Village of Kirigakure, sending out a team led by the Uchiha Clan Head to another country to investigate RUMORS may seem to be a foolhardy decision by the Hokage. After all, can the Leaf Village really afford to be sending out a Jounin of Fuyu's caliber when she should be training the younger generations, managing her Clan's business, handling paperwork, and similar? What about Nobu, who is by no means a slacker Genin? He is a full Chuunin, and there are surely tasks he could handle that are of greater importance. What about Hinotori? He is a Tokubetsu Jounin, and he should be doing important things both as an ANBU operative and as a skilled shinobi. What about Taji? With the recent revelations surrounding her true gender and her still-cloudy past, and the other turmoil resulting from this discovery — such as embodiments of the planet itself walking around in human form — is it WISE to send Taji out on expeditions to other countries? Shouldn't she be kept under careful observation right at home in the Leaf Village?
All of these are excellent questions. However, whatever the answers are they will have to remain undisclosed for now. Instead, an explanation of the mission is provided prior to departure from Konoha and in brief snippets during the journey to the Land of Rivers.
"Nobu, you have been fortunate enough not to have been exposed to Ankoku Cave. But Taji and I have both been there before, and I am sure that we can both state with great certainty it is a VERY BAD PLACE. Thankfully, we are not going there on this mission. However, there was something in that cave… Something, or someone, who was conversing with the criminal, Uchiha Yau, better known as the self-proclaimed 'Lord Rain'. I am not certain who or what was doing the conversing, but I have not seen Rain since he left Kusagakure towards the end of the World Ninja Competition. I think he may have gone back to that cave, but don't hold me to that statement. In the end, our mission is not directly connected to Rain. But it IS about the false 'Hidden Village', called 'Higuregakure'. It is more or less a neutral zone for various individuals to visit, live, do business, and so forth. But unconfirmed reports indicate that there has been a major conflict in or nearby the Twilight Village. Our mission is to confirm or disprove these reports."
That was the basic summary given before they left the Village. But Fuyu also said some other things as they headed through the trees. "Depending on who controls the Twilight Village, we have an ostensibly neutral but shady group allowing free passage from the Land of Fire to the Land of Wind and vice versa, or we may have a group that is friendly and more open in their dealings towards Konohagakure providing this same free passage, OR we have a new and hostile group — and possibly even a hostile one — controlling the Land of Rivers and denying us passage. Obviously the most desirable of these three is the friendly group, but we need to confirm who is in charge presently, not just sit at home and wait for a letter telling us what's what."
Fuyu lands on a sturdy branch with one foot for barely a second, resting her weight upon the wood so briefly and delicately that when she springs off of it and flies through the air it gives the impression that she weighs less than a feather to be able to hurl herself so easily. As she continues sailing through the air, she speaks conversationally on the subject of the mission. "Rain was supposedly in charge of Higuregakure. While we don't like him in the slightest, he is still preferable to some new group shoving its way in and taking over from him. If at all possible, try not to agitate anyone we encounter. Fights should be avoided. If we have to run to avoid a battle, that's what we'll
Fuyu looks over her shoulder briefly, and says, "Hinotori will be joining us later on. He was supposed to check something else out further north."
Taji has seemed a tad anxious lately, as this whole 'Gaia' thing has been quite confusing to her. Plus she's still doing her best to conceal her true gender from the rest of the village, which only complicates matters when dealing with her team who definately knows her true gender at this point. The cat is out of the bag as it were. Still, it makes things akward. She has gotten the hang of tree walking, finally, and is keeping up fairly well, hopping from branch to branch with the team while Fuyu gives the run down of the mission.
"Yes, very bad…" Taji echoes to Nobu, about the cave. She gives a bit of a wince at the thoughts of it but says little more about the adventures there. When the discussion turns to this 'Lord Rain' though, she looks thoughtful, pensive really. "So… we don't know if this guy is still in charge, but we're out to find out if he is and either way find out who is in charge and see if they will be friendly to us. And perhaps try to convince them to be friendly if they aren't inclined to be so right away?" She asks.
She nods as she asks if she understands about avoiding fights. "Sure thing, Fuyu-sama, avoid fights." It's almost comical for Taji to agree to such a thing considering she always seems to try to avoid fights, even spars, around Konohagakure anyway.
Nobu, for his part, sees no particular reason to question the mission or what his purpose here is. He's never really considered it to be his place to question orders in any capacity, and he's cautious about making judgements on orders when the orderer knows more about the situation than he does. That's usually the case, and it's certainly true this time, considering that he knows next to nothing about Higuregakure or its politics. The only part of this he knows anything about are the cave, from conversations with Taji, and Rain, from the time when Konoha was under his control. In any event, it seems that just following orders will do him well enough, at least for the time being.
He's following Fuyu through the woods, jumping from branch to branch, keeping an ear to Fuyu and another to the surrounding woods, just in case. "I understand, Fuyu-sama," he replies to the orders. Like Taji, he wasn't particularly looking for a fight, though less because of a non-violent nature and more because of what he just considers to be good policy: no unnecessary fighting. For this mission, though, it appears that he'll have to use a stricter than usual definition of 'unnecessary.' Not a serious problem.
Having been issued orders to check on something before meeting up with his team. The mission wasn't long, but to him a bit out of the normal. Dashing quietly through the trees as he did his investigation, he found some interesting events, well not really interesting but odd. Knowing that he didn't have a whole lot of time before needing to meet with the rest of his team. What he has found would be something that would deffienently be needed to be reported back to the others.
Sharingan activated, Uchiha Hinotori travels quickly, flickering through the trees as he moves to attempt to catch up and intercept his team mates. As he travels from where he was, he couldn't shake what was going on around him as he left the northern quadrent. As he travels, his eyes have grown accustomed to his sharingan and actually he has been using it more on a daily basis.
As he lands on a thick branch, looking towards the area where Higuregakure, he blinks a few times. Crouching down and continueing to use the enhanced vision he now has with his sharingan allows him to be able to precieve quite a bit now. Noting what he is seeing, and being very bothered by it, he knows he doesn't have a whole lot of time to think about this. Leaping forward to the next tree, Hinotori quickly picks up his pace, relying on his natural speed which is pretty impressive in it's own right, Hinotori reaches into a hidden pocket and looks at a map. Noting where he needed to go, he tucks it away and makes a slight change in his trajectory and soon is able to close within range of his team. "Sorry I'm late." Hinotori says as he jumps down along Fuyu's right and leaping again to another branch. Looking a bit confused and slightly troubled, "In the northern quadrent, it's silent." he says. "I'm not talking about just no foot traffic, I mean abosolutely silent. No noise from animals, no sign of anyone, basically no nothing." he states. His body is low as he moves through the trees with his team. "I also recommend slowing down a bit before getting to Higuregakure." he says. His sharingan is still active, but his tone belies something is off.
Fuyu nods slightly and offers an affirmative noise in the back of her throat in response to Taji's summary. "Hn!" Nobu, as usual, does not do a lot of talking. Being an attentive listener and a cautious speaker are both admirable traits, as far as Fuyu is concerned. As her ebony hair streams out behind her, Fuyu takes note of Hinotori's approach, turning her head slightly in the direction of the movement and watching until she not only sees Hinotori but can identify him as being the genuine article. Good-old paranoia at its finest. She listens to Hinotori's report silently, waiting until he finishes before turning her gaze forward again.
"Alright," she says after a couple seconds. "Let's slow down then," she orders in a tone so casual it sounds more like a suggestion than an order. But she follows her own command fairly quickly, and just remains crouched on her branch. "You said it was completely silent. Any sign of dead bodies lying around? Any strange odors on the air? Any discolored foliage or things glowing that shouldn't be?" Wait… That sounds like the part of the forest outside of Ankoku Cave… Does Fuyu think that…? "…Does everyone have some sort of air filter or equivalent? I am really hoping that this suspicion of mine is wrong, but it may be that some sort of chemical weapon or… Something worse may have been released in the area."
Furrowing her brow in concentration, Fuyu tries to recall if that hideous green miasma from the past mostly hugged the ground or if it was light enough to reach the treetops. Obviously air currents can make a difference, but generally a heavier gas tends to stick to lower levels. Fuyu discovered this the hard way during the Clan Wars. She does not hear anything at all in the area now that she is not speaking anymore. The only sounds are her breathing and the breathing of the others… The slight creaking of wood supporting the weight of four ninja… And any responses offered to her questions.
Speaking in a hushed voice that still sounds horribly loud and harsh in her own ears, Fuyu whispers to the others, "…I know Rain has a rather twisted view of 'justice', but I somehow doubt he is insane enough to release Ankoku Cave's poisons in his own country, even if he DID manage to gain control over them somehow. I'm probably worrying about nothing, but this level of quiet is not just 'disturbing' or 'strange', it's clearly unnatural. I'm going to take a look around for a moment. If I stop responding or begin acting strangely, or similar… Do whatever you have to to snap me out of it. If that means punching me, do it. If you have to stab me or break a rib, do it. Bruises and broken bones can be healed, but whatever was in that cave… It can do far worse."
Then she cautiously leaps down from her branch and lands on the forest floor below. Her steel-toed combat boots crunch the grass and leaves easily, adding one more sound to the oppressive silence. Fuyu rises slowly and then activates her Sharingan. Carefully, she looks around the area, turning in a complete circle and checking for any signs of animal life, people, or weird disembodied Chakra, or even hallucinations. How will she know it's a hallucination when she sees it? She's not sure, but hopefully the others will be able to tell because she'll stop responding or something.
Taji goes quiet as the news of the strange lack of anything ahead is reported. She frowns slightly then gives a slight shake of her head in the negative when it comes to breathing masks, something she just never thought of carrying. She eyes the ground worriedly then looks back to the others. Nothing really to add. The instructions to 'break' Fuyu out of a trance if it happens is rather disturbing. She slows down (or stops) with the group smoothly. And when Fuyu heads to the ground she waits a moment, to see if anything happens immediately or if there is any reaction, waiting to see if she's motioned down to join or not.
Taji spares a glance to Hinotori and Nobu, questioningly, to see if they have such 'rebreather' masks or anything. As well as to see if they are leaping down to follow Fuyu immediately or not. Taji looks nervous, uneasy. The idea of the cave's effect being used on an entire village is enough to make Taji's skin crawl, as she looks a bit pale at the idea.
"I don't have anything like that, Fuyu-sama," Nobu says, somewhat slowly as though he's thinking carefully about what exactly he should say. He really should have something, all things considered, but a gas mask is the only thing he knows of that would serve such a purpose, and that seems a bit too bulky for a ninja to carry around on a regular basis. "I might be able to use wind to blow anything toxic away from me," he volunteers, "but I'm not sure how well that will work exactly." To Fuyu's instructions, he has no response, but when she jumps down to the ground, he kneels down on his branch to watch her carefully, reaching one hand down to hold onto a senbon, just to be ready if something actually does happen to Fuyu.
Hintori did wonder why the others hasn't noticed the absence of sound, but at least now they are aware. As the question about rebreathers is asked, Hinotori shakes his head, "No." he says. But the further instructions of stopping, Hinotori lands near Fuyu and looks to teh rest of the group, something about this doesn't feel right at all. With Fuyu given commands to hurt her to break her free of whatever may effect her, Hinotori nods his head and swings himself down so that he is standing looking down at Fuyu as she lands on the ground.
Glancing to the others, "We better keep watch, while Fuyu-sama is searching." he says. Then looking back down to Fuyu, Hinotori didn't like the fact that there could be air containgent that could possibly effect them, but may be the reason why there is an absent of sound outside of what they make and wwhat also worries the Uchiha, is the mroe sound they make, the more they would stand out. "Also." he says in a more lowered tone, "Keep your movement quiet as you can."
Fuyu does not see any sign of Chakra… Maybe plants have Chakra or maybe they don't. But she is unable to identify it if they do, and she's not looking for plants, just animals or people. She sees… Some insects. Not a lot of them, but they're around. They are also generally hiding, stationary, or both. There are some small birds and rodents and the like as well, but they too are staying as hidden and still as they can. Larger animals are completely absent, and there is NO sign of human beings.
There's something wrong about this beyond the obvious, but Fuyu can't put her finger on it. It's just a sense of… Of… Well, she'll figure it out eventually. Hopefully before it kills her or anyone else on her team. Leaping upwards at an angle, Fuyu plants a foot on the side of the nearest tall tree's trunk, and then springs off of there in order to land on a branch on about the same level as the others. Her Sharingan is still active, but she does not seem to be affected by anything. She looks right at them, and just shakes her head.
Nothing. No one. It's still very quiet. But huddling in fear of the silence or fleeing an unidentified threat will not get any answers. It's time to move out. Fuyu makes a few hand gestures, using signals to indicate what they should do. Hinotori to the right, with Nobu behind him. Fuyu herself will stay to the left of Hinotori, with Taji behind her. The two individuals who can see Chakra will lead the way, but those who can snap them out of any Chakra-induced hallucinations with a quick action from behind will make sure those same oh-so-useful sensory tools do not become the team's downfall.
Once the team is in position, Fuyu holds her right hand up in a signal akin to 'stop', just waiting and looking around. Only when she is certain that everyone is ready and there really is nothing about to kill them all by some devious means does she turn her hand into a sort of 'chopping' motion. That means 'go'. If all proceeds according to this spur-of-the-moment plan, then all four will be heading towards Higuregakure in close to perfect formation. And hopefully nothing will go wrong.
Taji falls into line behind Fuyu and frowns as she looks around a bit. She narrows her eyes, looking around, but lacks the occular jutsu to see more than what can be seen with the plain eyes. She makes a few quick hand seals and attempts to use her chakra sensitivity ability to sense any large sources of chakra nearby, particularly anything that is not the group she's with. It may not let you see chakra but if there is a big back up ahead hopefully it might provide /some/ early warnings. She hesitates a moment to get a reading then follows up, keeping some distance between herself and Fuyu and the others just in case, but holding position where the leader indicated by hand signs.
Listening carefully, walking lightly and softly, Taji moves forward with the group. She's on edge, of course. How could you not be, trying to expect the unexpected. The term too quiet definately seems to fit here. For now all she can really do is keep an eye on the front two to see if anything happens to the pair. Taji carefully pulls out a hardened leather ball from a pouch just in case.
As ordered, Nobu falls in behind Hinotori, still ready to grab a senbon, just in case. The silence definitely is strange, now that he thinks about it. Something to be wary of, perhaps, but it could easily have an innocent explanation. Not that he's counting on that, exactly, it's just that he's usually cautious on missions to begin with. Whatever the cause, he's careful to look and listen for anything out of the ordinary as he moves along behind Hinotori once the signal has been given to move. And of course, he's careful to watch Hinotori as well.
With nothing else to be heard and the order to move out was given, Hinotori moves right and begins following FUyu as she leads them. Rubbing the back of his head a little, he focuses himself and with Nobu behind him he doesn't have to worry about being stuck in any form of genjutsu…..well almost any. Right now all he is thinking of is what to expect and find once they reach their destination. Thinking as they move Hinotori couldn't shake something, it was what he saw during his earlier mission, but he sighs. It could be a number of things but shaking his head the thoughts only just begin to annoy him. But he is almost too caught up in his thoughts that he almost miss Fuyu-samas order to stop. Having to really hold himself on his branch, he looks to her for a moment.
Looking to both Taji and Nobu who behind himself and Fuyu, his own slight nervousness is starting to show just a little, but taking a few breaths and then smiling a little, Hinotori turns to look forward and readying himself for the next big push towards the village.
After they pause for a brief moment, so close to where Higuregakure SHOULD be, to make one last check of the surroundings, Fuyu tries to figure out what has been nagging at her mind all this time… This entire place is rather… Hollow, seeming. Like an imitation of the real world, rather than the actual thing. It is somewhat like some sort of dreamworld… Or perhaps a nightmare. It just doesn't make SENSE. Eventually, however, there is no more justification for standing around. She once again directs the team to move forward. Just a short distance more, and the village should be in view…
Making her final leap, presumably with Hinotori perpendicular to her, and Taji and Nobu likewise perpendicular to each other behind the two Uchiha, they break through the last bit of foliage and discover…!
Where Higuregakure once was, there is Nothing.
Not a ruined village. Not a forest as it would have been if a village had never been built. There is not even a hole in the ground, though a hole is the closest comparison to what the team is seeing that exists within the limits of their minds.
Where Higuregakure should have been, there is simply a vast emptiness… As though someone had torn a massive chunk out of the universe and left only a gaping chasm… It defies logic, physics, and reality itself. The ground before the nothingness is simply the path leading up to the front gates of Higuregakure. But it terminates about 10 feet before where those gates used to be, because that is where the abyss begins.
So when Fuyu, and presumably the others, leap through the treeline and land on the ground, they would be presented with this impossible vision.
The edges of space-time seem to hang ragged about the perimeter of this… Anomaly. Something horrible happened here.
While the edges of the Void are blacker than anything that should exist in this world, blacker than the deepest cave or the furthest, coldest, deadest section of the cosmos, the eye tends to shy away from the center. 'Darkness' is something, after all… But at the very center, is something darker than darkness itself. The total absence of… Anything at all.
Taji keeps back a bit, and so isn't the first to spy this monstrousity by any means. But… when she does see it she freezes in place and stares for a moment, as if trying to wrap her brain around what she's actually seeing at the moment. She shakes her head slightly then glances to the Uchiha leading the group and gives a small little whisper, "Genjutsu?" The word is spoken so hopefully, as if that might make what she's seeing alright, if it is just an illusion of some sort, because if it isn't an illusion something is very wrong with the world itself. She blinks a few times then frowns and waits, not wanting to take action before someone else might have a better idea or explaination of what it is the group is looking at. Still, she makes no motion to move closer, in fact she inches away a few inches, but not really stepping back.
Needless to say, the sight of the village (or where it ought to be, rather) is profoundly shocking. Nobu looks at the aberration for a moment, then forces his eyes shut, turning his head away before he opens them again, as if he'd been staring at an optical illusion for too long. Even looking at it is a struggle, somehow. Instead, he turns his attention to the surroundings, something he can more easily comprehend.
For the moment, he figures, he should look for anything that might be dangerous. Perhaps the void is somehow influencing the surroundings? He certainly wouldn't want to be sucked into it, or be affected by some energy it's releasing or anything like that. Better to investigate other possibilities when he's sure it's safe.
Landing perpendicular to Fuyu, Hinotori looks around and is taken aback by what he saw. "I saw s…." he pauses as he does see the smoke of what was left of where the village should've been. How could there be nothing here like what the hell or who the hell could have this kind of power. Hinotori surprise starts to abate as he looks to Nobu and Taji, checking on them but as he does he gets an odd feeling, somthing possibly naggin him a little. Turning and starting to look towards teh void, but Taji is the one who draws his attention to her at the mention of Genjutsu. "No, I don't think it's genjutsu at all." even with the pull from that dark void, Hinotori manages to keep his attention on the others for the time being.
Fuyu wishes she could claim she had never seen anything like this before… But there was something SIMILAR that she encountered… Something DEEP in Ankoku Cave… But that was only a similarity. It was not… THIS — whatever 'this' is. She makes the mistake of looking directly at it and quickly regrets it as she feels as thought she is sliding forward somehow, or as though the ground is moving under her, even as she remains motionless.
Tearing her gaze from the void, Fuyu deactivates her Sharingan. "I don't think it's wise to have enhanced vision around this thing. Normal vision doesn't even seem safe. Try… Not to look at the center." No one should really need those instructions, as it seems instinctive to want to look away from it, but even so, voicing these instructions is her way of keeping her cool. She is trying to enforce some order on this situation that clearly has none. Taking a deep, calming breath, Uchiha Fuyu tries not to let it be evident how much this strange, bottomless, 'Nothing' has disturbed her. She has seen many terrible things. This does not make her immune by a long-shot, but to some degree she has come to expect horrible experiences. It's the story of her life. But this is… This isn't natural at all. This isn't just a horrific illusion or a psychologically scarring battle/experience/visual (such as that time with the acid pools disguised as hotsprings. But let's not bring that one up again), this is just… Beyond comprehension. Beyond the limits of what any shinobi can do. She wants to think this is a trick. Maybe some sort of hallucinogenic gas, or something. Maybe a Space-Time Technique?
That last one almost seems to fit, but somehow… She can just tell that space-time loses all legitimacy as a cosmic force somewhere around where the ground and sky trail off into the Void and do not come back out.
Fuyu shakes her head. 'Get a grip!' she tells herself silently. "Let's move away from this thing. I don't trust it for a single second, whatever it is. There's no Chakra in the area that I could see. I think that… Whenever this 'thing' happened… Any animal or similar lifeform with enough Chakra and perhaps mass was just… Sucked in. I saw some very small animals further away from here, but not many of them."
Sweating a bit, Fuyu shakes her head again and turns away, not caring any more about how loud her voice is in the otherwise silent surroundings. This place is just WRONG. And she needs to get herself and the others AWAY from here. "Let's move!" she calls out and then begins dashing off, expecting the others to follow. She'll probably make her way back into the treetops eventually, but for now… She just wants to get away.
The Void remains where it is, silent, terrible, motionless, lifeless… As lifeless as the area around it. Nothing comes back out of the Void. Not sound, not light, not even thoughts. If it is going to expand or suck more things into it, it would be wise not to be here when it happens.
For the moment, however, it seems to be content to stay where it is, like some enormous, utterly-black spider sitting in the middle of a web made of shadow. Why rush? What can make >nothingness< go away? How can you defeat that which >does not exist<?
There's no rush at all.
If the Void is going to grow larger…
Then it's just a matter of time.
Taji doesn't hesitate, but follows Fuyu's lead. Don't need to tell /her/ twice to move. There's a fight or flight mechanism, but with this thing what is there to fight? Flight remains the only real option at this point. With a moment of hesitation and a look back over her shoulder, Taji turns and follows Fuyu quickly away from the void. Mind racing. What can fight a void? What can shut out that which isn't even there? Or… maybe it is there but just sort of an inverted there? Thoughts go on loops as Taji does her best to keep up with the group leaving the area, trying to stay alert just in case whatever made that 'thing' happens to still be in the area. A lot of unanswered questions, to say the least.
Nobu has no problem with an order like that, and immediately turns to follow Fuyu. Whether they're actually in danger or not, he feels like he has about a thousand reasons to leave. And now, with the team leaving, the only reason to stay would be to continue investigating. And it seems pretty pointless to investigate nothingness anyway. Whatever's going on here, it's clear that the team isn't currently equipped to handle it. Fighting the urge to look back, he hurries on after Fuyu, back into the forest, feeling better with every step he takes away from the void.
Questions were still going off in his head, but when told to leave, Hinotori doesn't hesistate at all. Having already deactivated his sharingan, Hinotori follows behind the others as they begin to leave. He didn't know what was going to happen next with this hole in reality, but he hopes whatever it is nothing comes out of it and nothing else is sucked through it. But then he wonders if it's able to get bigger, as well as a few other things. Yeah he's hella nervous and with no answers to his thoughts only makes him even more nervous.