Date: October 14, 2016
While making their way north to the Land of Stones to learn of their summoning affinities, two members of Fall scout a possible location for another base in the Land of Wind
"Contract Assignment - Pt. 2"
Dead Sands - Northern Desert [Land of Wind]
Hakumei is not a big fan of the desert. Like, really not. But she likes spooky desert graveyards even less. What is with this group and going to scary places!? She had to gear up a bit more thoroughly than just protection from the sun for this trip, and has accompanied her shapeshifting companion north, north, north to a place called the 'Dead Sands'. She isn't sure why, just that it's the next place they're going to. There was barely even discussion of THAT fact until they were already have way there. Now, bundled up to prevent sand and dust from getting into her clothes, with tied down hood, goggles, face mask, etc. she feels like as much of a mummy as Kuchibiru. Or more so, even since, Kuchibiru left a lot of skin showing amidst her bandages.
As the sand storm increases in intensity, Hakumei decides it's time to ask some questions before they get too close to even hear each other. "So what are we out here for again?" Hakumei asks, hoping for a clear, direct response for once.
Still wearing the guise of Amaro Kuchibiru, the assassin accompanying Hakumei has taken at least basic steps to cover more of her body than when wandering around the Hidden Sand. She has wrapped her mid-section, tightened her bandages on her lower-half, put on actual pants over them and cinched them shut at the waist and ankles, and pulled on a shirt over her upper half with similar drawstring usage to keep sand and small rocks and whatever else from getting inside. Where they are going is nowhere the creature wearing Kuchibiru's form feels the need to be scantily-attired doing. That's for the benefit of others, because the original kunoichi did it. Nano itself prefers garments that provide protection.
Goggles were added, and a hood over Kuchibiru's stringy green hair. A face mask is also added despite its face already being wrapped up with bandages. This is not the kind of place to go into unprepared. Answering Hakumei after scanning the area, the shapeshifter answers, "Scouting the second site. There are also those beings I mentioned north of here, in the Land of Stones. Crossing here is more dangerous, but less likely to be noticed." Kuchibiru keeps trudging along as the wind picks up more and more.
Then she casually adds on, "Oh, and keep an eye out for ghosts. This place is said to be haunted."
"Wait, what? What do you mean 'ghosts'!?" Hakumei hisses in a mix of derision, panic, and anger. That's kind of an important detail to leave out! "Tch! I understand remote locations, with built-in threats, but this is a bit much! …Also, it's waaay too close to a Hidden Village. What we need is somewhere none of the ninja villages have any influence, you know? Like, some country without any of them. That's the best type of isolation we can get."
Hakumei squints through her goggles, the dark environment not aiding at all in seeing what's around her. There's lots of sand, a not-insignificant portion of it presently flying through the air, as well as signs of ruins, and… Large mounds of things she doesn't really want to look at too closely, because she's pretty sure they're remains of some kind.
Sigh. Well, nothing for it but to keep marching north.
Kuchibiru doesn't clarify anything further about the ghost comment. It's fairly prevalent regional lore. Though it IS odd that Reikoku would have selected the second site to also be one reputed for being haunted. That might keep out riff-raff, but there needs to be an actual real obstacle in place to prevent people not bothered by such superstitions from poking and prodding. Of course, if they're intending to set up their own defensive measures and obstacles, then she supposes that's less of an issue. Elaborate fortifications can draw attention all on their own.
Even so, aside from being inhospitable and having rumors surrounding it, if Kuchibiru and Hakumei can endure it, then so can other ninja. "While it does increase the chances of discovery to have a base in the 'back yard' of a Hidden Village, it also gives us a good place to monitor their activities from. With modifications of our own, we should be able to hide whatever we set up here… Assuming we determine the place to even be suitable."
Kuchibiru, as well, is having to raise her voice more to be heard over the shrieking winds. Her own sensor abilities tuned, checking for anyone following them. She can't shake the feeling of being watched, but she hasn't been able to detect any pursuers. It feels like the watchers are much closer as well…
Hakumei is not what one might consider a 'high level shinobi'. She does not get the power to engage in a lengthy monologues as a free action by bumping fists. She does not have super ultra awareness that lets her feel she is being followed when her pursuers are a mile or more away. But even she can feel that unsettling sensation of 'being watched'. She has much less idea of who or what, or from where, or even if it's an actual feeling or just in her imagination.
The wreckage of destroyed settlements and cities, ruins that just up out of the sand like monuments to the dead. She takes in what Kuchibiru says, whether she agrees with it or not… Also wondering why they need to hide from the Hidden Sand at all if they're trying to HELP them…
But her attention is increasingly on trying to spot some sign that they aren't alone. Even though she isn't sure which she'd prefer. To not find anything and not know, or to see something horrible and be very certain.
"Hey…" she calls out as best as she can over the wind while straying closer to Kuchibiru.
The bandage-wrapped kunoichi just responds, "Aah… <Yeah…>" She is fully aware of the sensation, and more keenly than Hakumei, though the fact that the other ninja can feel it too is good. It means that Hakumei's potential as a sensor is shining through despite her lesser experience. That will be useful in getting out of here alive. "Try to sense danger around us and keep your eyes out for traps. Things in the sand. Wires strung between pieces of wreckage. Anything like that. Especially if it might benefit from this low visibility. I'll keep track of anyone that makes a surprise appearance."
Kuchibiru can't be certain they're dealing with humans, of course, but that's the most likely answer. Bandits and ambushers. Scavengers and reclaimers. Possibly the ghosts she mentioned, though she has yet to see evidence of such existing at all. She isn't going to plan around the possibility of the supernatural at this point. Though if there are tomb wraiths or something, that would certainly help 'sell' the place as having a viable inherent defense.
The watchers have some sort of form, at least. That much is clear. Silhouettes that might be caught a glimpse of around the corner of a shattered stone pillar. Tattered cloaks fluttering wildly in the wind, clinging to emaciated forms. They might just be a trick of the imagination. Or there might be enemies here.
One thing is certain though. While there are traps that Hakumei locates, many of them are ancient. Centuries old. A rusted metal bear-trap-like device, also broken in half, might be kicked by her in passing, exposing it to the minimal light.
This WAS a battle field, and it may have ONCE been a place of ambush. But it's uncertain if the watchers are connected to such or not.
Hakumei does as she is told, deciding not to speak from now on unless it's to report her findings. She opens her mind to danger, and finds pockets of darkness deeper than the absence of light. Places where her life would be in danger. But nothing so dire as what she felt in East Mist Forest. That place was rife with Killing Intent and imminent mortal demise. This place, while dangerous, is navigable. Especially if all the traps are as old and non-functional as the bear trip she uncovered by kicking it.
That would have been unfortunate to get caught in. She continues trying to guide them, avoiding the places where stick-figures in cloaks lurk. Aware the whole time they are being watched, and possibly judged. If they're ghosts, then disturbing this place of their rest probably isn't earning them any reputation points. The sooner they get out of here the better, she feels, base or no base.
The beasts waiting for them to the north is their true objective, as far as Hakumei is concerned.
Kuchibiru detects the presences by mundane senses more than by Chakra. So either they aren't really there, potentially implying Genjutsu, or they're not alive. This is the Land of Wind… Might a Puppeteer be responsible? While that is less thrilling of a story to Nano, the story-telling assassin, it could be made to work. However, right now isn't the time to be weaving tales. Kuchibiru follows Hakumei's lead, taking the route she sets. It isn't their job to confront ghosts or puppeteers or anything else. Just to take a look along the way.
But this is a place Kuchibiru would like to come back to another time, with more of the group, to poke around.
And the whole time, she continues to feel she's being watched…
It is a long and twisting route through the Dead Sands, around a huge crater that was the site of a massive battle. A lake formed by the former Three Tails Jinchuuriki turned to mud by constant driving wind and sand. There is a lot of glass they encounter at one point, pelting them and likely capable of shredding exposed flesh with the speed the wind is moving at, had they not taken measures to protect themselves by covering up.
It's easy to see how normal people could continue to die here, lost in the dust storm, taken out by fragments of glass, buried or dying of thirst, or who knows what else. There's a reason this route is avoided.
But eventually, following the path that Hakumei sets, the duo pass by what seems to be shelter formed by… A building entrance? A passageway remaining from some ancient ruins, leading underground? It's definitely dark, but there's stairs, it hasn't been covered by sand, and it could give them someplace to wait and see if the storm gets any calmer.
Of course, they're also very near to the edge of this area. Almost right on the border with the Land of Stones.
And what Hakumei might feel passing by that alcove is an immense indication of imminent death if she descends. For Kuchibiru's part, the clattering and clacking barely audible over the sound of the wind may support the idea of puppets as they close in on the two kunoichi. Maybe staying is a bad idea…
Hakumei is initially glad to find a place to hunker down for a bit and get some shelter from the storm. But she has barely taken two steps inside when she feels her stomach drop, her skin go cold, and in her mind's eye, she is plunged into total darkness, with only the word 'DEATH' repeating in the void and within her own thoughts, emanating from below the ground. She steps back, eyes wide, shaking her head. She calls to her companion, "Not here." Then she turns and hurriedly leads the way back out into the storm and just heads north as fast as she can given the environment. There's less cover between here and the border, but also smoother terrain ahead.
And no more creepy creatures watching them. She distinctly feels danger is much less ahead of them than behind.
And she definitely wants to put distance between her and whatever that was. She's still pale and shaking when they exit the Land of Wind, a couple hours later.
Nano's sense for 'danger' is not as keen as Hakumei's. Kuchibiru, and thus Nano, can sense 'killing intent' just fine, but imminent danger to her life, almost precognitive in scope, is Hakumei's special talent. Kuchibiru, however, is aware of the clattering and clacking. Possibly puppets that are following them, or possibly… What? Skeletons? Revenants? Armored bandits? She doesn't know, but she takes one look at the shelter that Hakumei so swiftly abandoned, and memorizes this location.
This might be what Reikoku has been looking for.
She then follows after her companion, and puts some leagues behind her. The younger sensor has the right idea. This is not the time to tempt fate. They have a different date with destiny in the Land of Stones.
Somewhere deep underground, a figure in a cloak and hood, heavily bandaged, one eye covered with a worn hita-ite of the Hidden Sand, is seated with their back to an ancient stone throne. The throne sits on a platform, at the end of a stone bridge, extending out over a cavernous pit. All above and around is a huge, darkened space, with religious iconography indicating a temple of some kind.
Seated on the throne is a masked figure in an elaborate head dress and gauze white robes. The hooded ninja looks up as she senses something. An intruder encroaching upon one of the entrances to these ruins of a long-dead civilization. She does not even have to send a wave of killing intent towards her before the intruder seems to realize the inherent danger in lingering and backs out.
Someone with senses that keen… Well, good. She hopes they take the hint and don't come back. Ru has sworn to protect the figure seated on the throne. And any intruder who foolishly comes down here… Is doomed to die.
She lowers her head again and closes her sole visible eye, keeping her sheathed blade lying across her torso as she returns to meditation.