Date: September 16, 2016
The trio of ninja engage the spider monster in an attempt to analyze and dispose of the threat. They discover its gruesome nature and get a bit more insight into what they'll have to deal with if they set up a base in the Road of Fear.
"First Expedition - Pt. 2"
Road of Fear - Land of Water
The horror crawls towards them, disturbingly quiet despite its size. Only the slight shifting of shadows, the motion of spider webs from slight disturbances in the air, give it away. In this dark, in this environment, normal people wouldn't have noticed it in all likelihood. These three ninja are not 'most people'. Reikoku makes a motion with her wrist and a scalpel slides into her grasp. Reinforced specifically for combat usage, it's as good as a kunai or better. With it, she prepares for combat, keeping her cerulean eyes on the multi-legged thing above.
The thing pauses occasionally in its advance, evaluating its prey, trying to remain subtle and hidden… Not realizing they are already aware of it. Or perhaps realizing, but still intent on consuming them regardless, only now with more caution.
Shinrin's keen senses detect the approaching enemy. His sword leaves its sheathe by an inch or two, his thumb pressing on the guard, flicking the handle upwards so that his fingers can interlace the grip. The one-eyed ronin has both a warrior's perception and sensor-nin capabilities, making him aware of both the killing intent radiating from the monster in waves of murder, and the flow of power through its huge, alien form.
He tries to analyze its full scope. But it's a shadow against even deeper shadow. A silhouette barely distinguishable from utter blackness. And its form is too abnormal to find where it begins and ends with eyes alone.
And abandoning vision at this moment to scan its dimensions is simply not tactically sound. Instead, he waits, watches, and listens. It will not be sight that is useful in this battle, it seems, but hearing, feeling… And instinct.
Hakumei is less aware of the danger than the others. But even she can tell there's something wrong… If her companions drawing weapons wasn't evidence enough. Her senses, even her Ninjutsu-based ones, are less sharp than her ronin friend's, but she can see where he's looking… If only barely, in the gloom. So she directs her attention there as well, focusing her eye sight, and her Chakra sensitivity as well. Unless a major jutsu is used, she probably won't pick it up. But it might give her just enough warning to defend herself.
Honestly, the thing making the biggest impression on her is that killing intent. She has never known a predator to give off this kind of feeling. This is completely different from some random bear in the woods. Most animals she has little trouble befriending, especially birds. This thing? She can tell she has no chance of befriending it. It has no emotion. It has no recognition of her as anything but prey. Whatever it is, it WILL kill her if it can.
She swallows, and the sound of her own *GULP* is distressingly loud in her own ears. Especially when she realizes just how quiet it has become all around them. The forest is afraid of this thing.
The creature comes closer and closer. One step at a time, though with its multitude of legs it can makes several steps in sequence, touching down with one or more before the others have finished doing so.
Reikoku isn't sure she wants to face this thing right now. Infact, she isn't sure whether she should face it at all. And old comrade was a spider summoner. Should she try to use that individual as a bargaining chip? To use their name to try to parley with the thing before her? …No. The spiders had different kingdoms. Or queendoms, as it were. One Spider Queen was a rival to another, even if they were directly related. Further, the Spider Sage earning a summoning contract and the respect of the spiders of Fukaizan had nothing to do with Reikoku's actions. The spiders owed HER nothing.
On top of that… She isn't sure the horror they are facing is even a spider. That's certainly the implication, or the association that could be made from the visual evidence… But the Road of Fear is a place of twisted and unnatural creatures and environments. Even if it was a spider, it could be warped beyond anything that nature could produce.
So, they have two options here:
Fight or flight.
Reikoku is remaining calm and keeping a cool head. But she is a medic. A scientist. Not a military strategist. THAT member of their group is still in foreign lands. She doesn't have orders to give to the others, or a clever strategy. Instead, she falls back, gesturing for Shinrin to take the front line. He's better suited to it. Meanwhile, Reikoku molds Chakra and prepares to provide support the best way she can… With healing. And, if the spider appearance holds true, possibly with toxin removal as well.
Shinrin is to take the lead? …Very well. That does make a certain amount of sense, given he is the ronin, and Reikoku is the medic, and Hakumei is the… Whatever her job is. He's glad to see an employer with some common sense for once, who knows where her skills lie and lets him do the job he was hired for. She just seemed so confident, calm, and collected, that he thought perhaps she had greater powers than healing at her disposal.
Perhaps she does, and he is simply being tested. Perhaps she does, and she doesn't want to use them right now. Perhaps she does, and wants to keep such hidden. None of that is necessarily relevant, at least not to Shinrin the ronin. To the person behind the identity, the information or noted and slotted away for another time.
Shinrin's blade is ready as the monster approaches. The options are fight or flight. But fleeing might simply cause it to give chase, while at the same time running into all manner of environmental hazards or other creatures. This is not a forest to charge around in recklessly. This is, infact, not a place to charge around in, run in, walk in, sleep in, or do anything else in. The very fact they're here might prove to be a mistake.
But not, Shinrin believes, as big of a mistake as this predator is making by trying to make them its meal. He does not wait for the creature to make the first move.
He hurls a poison bomb with one swift movement of his hand, trying to stun the thing first, and make it easier to dispose of. Then he lunges up into the trees, keeping an eye out for any webs or other hazards, and slashes at one of its legs, in an attempt to injure it enough to limit its mobility.
Hakumei's job? Hakumei's job is to, uh… Do… Sensor things. Which both of the others are better at than her. But hey, she can do THIS thing! She forms hand seals as she sees Shinrin leaping into action, trying to ignore the gross spidery nature of the predatory thing, and then attempts to use Genjutsu upon it to… Make herself vanish!
…This totally helps her companions somehow, really.
But mostly, if it works, it just helps Hakumei with not dying, and possibly being in a position to ambush the enemy if the opportunity arises.
Shinrin's sword slash cuts into the creature's leg, but the unholy sound that emerges belongs to no spider, and the limb he cuts doesn't have the composition one might expect. It's like he just cut into solid bone. No flesh-covering, no exo-skeleton, just a single huge bone. The creature screeches at the ronin, pulling its leg away even as its forelimbs strike down at him, attempting to seize him so the skele-spider can bite him.
A clear image of what it is remains elusive in this dark, but it's a very unusual spider if it is one at all. And it's now attacking.
Whether it even notices Hakumei's Genjutsu or not is uncertain, but it doesn't seem focused on her presently.
Reikoku was prepared to focus on support via healing, but it looks like there might be a use for her in combat as well… But she'll wait until she gets confirmation from Shinrin. If this thing is really made of bone, somehow, then Chakra Scalpel may be useful in taking it apart. Which is about Reikoku's only option due to not being much of a frontline combatant these days. Those times are behind her.
Shinrin frowns slightly at the feel of his blade cutting into his target, and a lot more deeply at the unnatural noise that emanates from the beast. The consistency is different from what was expected. If it was just a hard carapace, he'd understand, but its density and how is blade slices into it is just a tiny enough distraction that he almost gets caught unawares by the counter-attack. When its mandible try to close on him, he just barely detects the imminent danger. In his mind, he perceives it as a giant hand trying to close on him.
Still in mid-air, he manages to escape by kicking off of the leg he damaged hard, both to get away and to try to throw the creature off balance. Hopefully he manages to put some distance between himself and his opponent, landing on the ground and skidding backwards on both feet, sword held ready, until he's back alongside his allies.
"That is unlike any spider I've ever seen," he dares to breathe out. "I do not believe a sword is the most ideal weapon for disposing of it either. A sword is not some crude axe for chopping with. Do you have anything corrosive? Acid might be more useful."
He has no idea what Hakumei is doing in all this, if anything, except hopefully staying out of the way.
Hakumei… Doesn't feel any connection with the creature's Chakra Network. It's not just that it resisted her, it's that it's like there's nothing there to manipulate at all. She moves back even further than she already was when she hears that creepy sound, and then backpedals even faster when Shinrin suddenly comes flying back towards her and Reikoku. It may have seemed like longer to the combat expert, but for Hakumei, it was as though Shinrin had leapt in and slashed and then got hurled back towards her in only a second or so.
And the news that for some reason swords don't work on this thing was not welcome news. "I, uh… Don't have any acid. But I'd like to suggest maybe getting the heck out of here could be a valid solution to this situation. Seriously, I know we wanted to test the dangers here, but we've tested them, and we aren't gaining anything by staying to finish this one off right now. If anything, coming back another time with the right weapons would be more practical, yeah?"
Also she really doesn't want to be here anymore fighting some kind of creepy spider that's immune to being stabbed.
The bone spider thing gets its leg weakened first by the sword and then kicked harder, cracking it further and causing the end of that leg to break off. The monster falls out of the tree tops and lands in a heap on the forest floor. It's still dark, so seeing well is very difficult, but the most it writhes and twitches and spider-walks its way, injured or not, towards them, the more nightmarish it appears to be and the less certain Reikoku is that it's any sort of arachnid.
Hakumei's suggestion is a salient one, as is Shinrin's as to armament. Reikoku has no such weaponry on her right now. She used to carry acids, some very powerful ones infact, in another life. But not anymore. She had to relearn a lot of things after the Land of Demons… It changed her in ways she was still trying to understand.
In a place where reality was broken down by the culmination of all human evil given form and a will, the loss of an entire skill set and the rewriting of her identity were apparently quite possible.
And now here she is, facing a situation that she could have handled if she was still Her instead of Reikoku. But She would have wanted to defy the monster before them. To overcome it, and prove her will than its menace.
Reikoku? Reikoku just wants to take it apart and see how it works. Just like she did to Kaguya Mitsuo to learn about his Shikotsumyaku. Ah, there's another branch of knowledge she accumulated that is now lost to her. So much potential, wasted.
Maybe she'll start over with this thing.
But then she looks to the other two. And then back to the monster. Hakumei, while her skills are presently weak, has strange moments of unique insight and clarity. In this situation, she's right. As much as Reikoku's lust for knowledge makes her want to finish what she started, she has to admit they really gain nothing by continuing right now.
And yet… She can't help wanting to at least get that piece of the leg that was broken off.
Chakra shrouds Reikoku's hands as she holds them out to her sides. "Shinrin. Get ready to back me up. I'm going to retrieve a sample. Hakumei. Try to feel out the path out of here that has the least amount of danger. Don't worry about sensing Chakra, just try to sense which path is the least frightening."
Shinrin doesn't have many thoughts about Hakumei's suggestion. Only he tunes her out most of the time. But it seems her reasoning was compelling enough for Reikoku to begin planning a retreat. He glances towards Reikoku, and says, "I assume you have some kind of plan." Then he hunkers down into an iaido stance, turning his both sidelong to obscure his hands — one on the scabbard, the other on the hilt. Or maybe only one hand is occupied with the blade and the other is doing something else.
From the perspective of this monster, that wouldn't be clear.
Shinrin smirks and lets out a 'heh' as he replies, "Fine then. I'll let you lead."
Then he says without looking to Hakumei, "Make sure you get this right. That thing doesn't look hapopy. Even injured, we don't know how fast it is on the ground. We'll need every advantage we can get to escape from something with that many legs that already knows the terrain."
"E-eehh!?" Hakumei lets out. Wait, Reikoku is actually listening to her? And Shinrin is encouraging her!?! She nods firmly and lets out, "H-hai!" Then she turns around to face behind them and tries to focus on just receiving sensory input from the forest, trying to navigate by the feeling of danger, of menace, in the environment.
Which path is the least dangerous? Her sensitivity to killing intent is stronger than her ability to search out Chakra. Part of why Reikoku recruited her, she imagines. She is able to feel sources of danger like dark spots in her mind's eye. The deeper the darkness, the greater the danger. It also carries with it a cold, body-suffusing fear to perceive threat this way, which can be difficult to cope with, especially with greater dangers.
But her allies are depending on her right now. So she focuses her hands in a unique seal that isn't really a seal as much as a way of focusing her senses. She opens flood gates of her mind, trying to identify which paths have the least dark spots. She has to try to find a way out of here.
But there are no dark spots for her. Just tunnels of pure blackness. A darkness so deep that they can only represent mortal danger or certain death. She feels a cold sweat break out all over her basically instantly. She fights the shivering in her body, trying to filter through the overpowering feeling of death and danger at every turn.
She has to do her part.
Reikoku doesn't intend to get into a protracted engagement with some kind of bone spider horror that is coming for them RIGHT NOW. So she doesn't bother using high level jutsu or delving into any risky powers. So she leans forward, one leg stretched out behind her, hands out to her sides, the Chakra shrouding them flaring out into shaped blades, and prepares to get in and get out. "Let's go." she says simply. Then she dashes forwards, charging right for the monster, forward-flipping over one of its legs when such lashes out at her, trying to pin her down, slashing at boney appendages as she runs along undernearh the thing… And discovers grisly things about its anatomy.
A quick glance up in passing reveals its entire body is a giant rib cage of some kind, stuffed full of skeletons, beast and human both. The monster has been eating well. And monster it is, finally confirmed. Some undead horror… Possibly created through a jutsu, more likely just… SomeTHING that came about through the unnatural circumstances of this forest. As much as she hates to admit it, there are some things she just does not understand about the world still, and some phenomena she can not yet begin to touch.
But that's what the sample is for, isn't it? She focuses now on obtaining that, making her way back towards where Shinrin injured it originally and hoping the ronin can keep it busy while she does so.
Shinrin charges alongside Reikoku, running ahead of her and then moving out to the side, dashing back and forth behind her. When she charges in, evades an attack, and slides underneath the monster, Shinrin is there slashing and cutting even hurling poisoned shuriken for all the good it will do against a skele-spider. You never know!
He isn't sure why Reikoku is putting so much trust in Hakumei to find them a path out of here. She must know something about the girl that Shinrin doesn't. But Reikoku knows things about Shinrin that Hakumei doesn't as well. So that's fair, he supposes.
Right now, his concern should be making sure all three of them get out of here alive and intact. If that means trusting Hakumei to find an escape route, then so be it.
There? No… There!? No, not there either…
As the other two fight for their lives to retrieve some bone leg thing, Hakumei tries to narrow down the choices of gruesome death to the one that seems the least 'death-y'. She's down to two now. She's stretching both her awareness and her threat-reception to their limits, trying to feel the menace as far down the road as she can… And eventually, she locates the terminus for one of those. Some kind of dangerous pit. They can leap over a pit. The other one, she can't even find the end of the danger.
So the pit it is! "I found it!" Hakumei announces. "There's a pit we'll need to get around or over, but it's the least dangerous path!" She looks over her shoulder as she calls out, "It's still bad though—" She sees a giant bone spider thing. It has a giant skeletal hand in place of mandibles and doesn't appear to even have a face, just a wrist connected to huge a spinal cord, with a ribcage-body stuffed full of other skeletons and, and, and…
She looks forwards again as Shinrin fights the thing, and Reikoku steals from it. Not looking there anymore. Nope, nope, nope.
"READY TO LEAVE WHEN YOU ARE."
Reikoku dashes, rolls, snatches up the bone fragment, and already has a scroll unrolling in her other hand as she's still skidding across the forest floor in a crouch, turning as she does so. Once she's facing back the way she came, she applies her Chakra to the scroll, and calls out, "Seal!" The chunk of bone vanishes from her hand and becomes just a kanji at the center of the scroll.
The scroll is then being rolled up and stuffed in her cleavage as she rises and charges back the way she came.
The whole time, Shinrin faces off against the skele-spider, which had started to turn towards Reikoku but gets distracted by the ronin slashing it, carving off one of its finger-mandibles, and chopping into it otherwise… There's no indication of whether it's effective or not, and as noted by Shinrin himself previously, a katana is not meant for chopping up bones. The poisoned shuriken thunk into it with little apparent effect as well.
But he gets the job of distraction done long enough for Reikoku to slip through, and then all of them to flee along the path that Hakumei identified. And then get chased by the skele-spider until they come across the pit she detected, leap over the deadfall, and land on the other side. The skele-spider, with its damaged legs… Fares not so well. It falls in. And while that's probably not going to destroy it, it does keep it from chasing the three ninja.
This has been a troubling first expedition into the Road of Fear. And this is only a scouting of the first of many possible sites for another headquarters. They're going to have quite the path ahead of them if the other locations are as dangerous as this one… And they have yet to even discover the true depths of terror that East Mist Forest holds.