Date: August 9, 2014
News of a series of disappearances within a little village outpost in the northern forests of the Land of Fire reaches Konoha. The elder of the village sends a request for a team of shinobi to investigate the cause and find the missing villagers. Inuzuka Atsuro with his ninken Taizen, Akiyama Kenta, Hyuga Taree (NPC) and Aburame Akiko (NPC) are chosen to perform the investigation. The team makes their introductions at the gates of Konoha and swiftly travels to the village in need. Once there, they meet the elder to find out more details about the disappearances.
"Flies in the Web - Part 1"
Shadewood Village (within a northern forest in the Land of Fire)
The request from the forest village of Shadewood Village arrived less than two days ago. Located about the same distance away for a shinobi in peak traveling condition, it's one of the smallest and least visited locations within the Land of Fire, barely more than an outpost. According to reports, it's populated by a little more than four dozen individuals. The village itself is mostly a few clusters of log cabins built within a cleared area carved out of the wild reaches of the northern forests. Most of the villagers are trappers or hunters that keep to themselves. About four times a year, a few of them would travel south by forest paths and river ways to trade animal products with the larger villages like Konoha.
The mission is a simple one involving members of the community that had gone missing. Normally, this won't be a cause for alarm, since the folks of Shadewood Village is a hardy bunch and often disappear for long lengths of time to do their trapping. What's alarming enough that the village sent out a request for aid is the fact that the missing individuals number in the double digits and disappeared from their own homes in the middle of the night. The details aren't very clear beyond that. A tracking team was quickly assembled; consisting of an Inuzuka for sharp senses, an Aburame for wide spread searching and a Hyuga for visual prowess has been assembled along with a single medic-nin in case the missing individuals are injured.
Disappearances in a small village? Atsuro has handled similar missions before, actually. There could be any number of causes, but he's not concerned yet. The most likely cause is some kind of plot by bandits or missing-nin, and with a Hyuuga and Aburame on hand, there's surely no way to miss what little his own heightened senses cannot detect. It's a bit worrisome, not actually knowing who these team-members are beyond their clan, but it seems like the range of abilities is good. And it's not as if he'd simply refuse for something like that.
So, he and Taizen have come to the gates of Konoha, ready to muster and get on with the mission. Atsuro is currently leaning against the village walls near the gate, while Taizen sits on his haunches besides him. They're both looking around, trying to spot someone who might be a team member.
A familiar face jumps out of a nearby tree to land next to Atsuro and Taizen. "Atsuro-senpai. Taizen-senpai." Kenta bows deeply to the both of them, seeming a little flustered to see them there. "You're the leader of the mission to Shadewood Village? I knew that the Inuzuka will be leading it, but not the two of you." The young medic-nin hadn't made any mentions of being greatly honored to work with such prominent shinobi, so maybe there's been some progress since his talks with Atsuro. Unless all the hero worshipping comes later. Kenta seems a little worried right now. "I hope that I brought enough medicine with me," he murmurs while he adjusts the straps of his backpack. "It's a slim chance that people disappear like this without injuries involved."
"I"m sure they'll be fine. We'll get there, rescue them from bandits or whatever has them, and get back here in time for Spring Deals day at the Ramen House," a cheerful male voice announces. The speaker comes into view through Konoha's great gate less than a second later. Pupil-less white eyes, pale skin and long black hair pulled into a neat pony tail indicate that their Hyuga has arrived. The young man is about the same age as Kenta, but towers over the medic-nin even though he's about two inches shorter than Atsuro. He's wearing a uniform similar to Kenta's except without the medical pouches. He smiles brightly at the other three shinobi and waves. "Hi! I'm Hyuga Taree. Genin. And this is…" Taree glances back. "Akiko-chan? Where are you hiding?"
"Umm… H-Here…" A tiny girl, even shorter than Kenta bare five foot height, slips out from behind the gate and gives everyone a shy wave. She's also in her late teens, but look much younger due to the way that she keeps trying to hide behind Taree. Like the typical Aburame, her garments consists of dark sunglasses and a sea-green jacket with a high, upturned collar. Despite the sunglasses, it's easy to tell that she's stealing admiring looks at Atsuro. "N-Nice to meet e-everyone. I-I'm Aburame… ah…" Taree turns around to whisper something to her. "Aburame Akiko!" She disappears completely behind Taree, except for a single hand, which holds out a map for Atsuro from around the taller teenager's torso.
Atsuro pushes off the wall the moment Kenta lands beside them. "Oh," he says, "So the, you must be my med-nin." That, or Kenta has discovered that he's also a Hyuuga or Aburame, but that seems like a long shot. He grins, "Well, I rolled at least one six. But the other two dice are still in the air." He glances at Kenta, trying to get an idea of how much he can carry on his person. "Tai or I could carry some extra," he suggests, "But if we don't know what's got them, we could need a lot of different supplies…"
He suspends that thought as the other two team members show up. Two people he definitely doesn't know. Taree is a genin, and Akiko… well, she seems like a genin too. "I like your overconfidence," Atsuro tells Taree, "I'm Inuzuka Atsuro, and I guess I'm leading this team." Taizen wags his tail, "I am Taizen." Atsuro continues to look the new team members up and down for a couple seconds, then says, "So, they tell me I'm in charge of this mission. You're unlucky to have your fates in the hands of someone like me, but I'm sure this won't be too painful. Anyway, it's nice to meet you both." He accepts the map from Akiko and looks it over for a moment. "Okay," he says, once he's determined how the journey should go. "If nobody has any problems, we'll head out now. If we get separated, Kenta is officially second in command." If there isn't any further ado, he heads out of the village, and starts to lead the team to Shadewood village, almost immediately turning onto a barely used country road — or path might be the better word. It's going to be a long trip…
The weather is surprisingly cooperative for the two days that it takes to reach the village. A scattering of rain mists down on the first afternoon, but barely lasts longer than half an hour. Since the trees are only showing the smallest clusters of new leaf growth, everyone gets slightly damp, but bear branches also means that sunlight reaches deeply enough to dry them quickly. The environment slowly changes as they travel along the route that the map shows them. By the second day, the trees have grown tall and densely packed together enough that the way ahead is nearly always shrouded in deep shadow despite the lack of a meaningful leaf canopy. Many of the trees are also old enough that there's a covering of slippery moss on the trunk and branches to make traveling a little more dangerous. Taree quickly proves himself a useful addition to the team by calling out observations that he makes with his Byakugan.
The team also learn a little more about each other. Kenta, Taizen and Atsuro have already worked together before. It turns out that Taree and Akiko knew each other very well also. They grew up together, graduated the academy at the same time and both tried out for the previous Chuunin Exams. Interestingly enough, Taree didn't make it, which he attributes to eating a bad bowl of sushi before his final match, but Akiko had KO'ed both her opponents and showed enough gumption to become a Chuunin despite first appearances. She soon proves to be much more confident out in the field, at least when it the surroundings gets dark enough that only Taree can see her easily.
Near the evening of the second day, the team finally breaks out of the darkness of the forest into a dusk orange sky. A three man tall wall constructed out of weather aged logs block their progress. A wooden gate is set into the wall, but it's currently closed tight and two rough looking guards stare suspiciously out at them. "Who are you? State your business," one of them, clearly the leader, calls out.
The trip doesn't seem to be much trouble at all for Atsuro and Taizen. It makes sense, certainly. As scouts, it's probably not a surprise that they're seasoned woodsmen, and travel through the wilderness comes even more easily to them than even most other ninja. On a more personal level, they're plenty willing to talk about themselves as well, and don't mind answering questions about themselves.
Despite their comfort with the situation, it comes as something of a relief to them when they finally start to see the sky properly again. As they approach the wall, Atsuro takes a moment to inspect it. Then he steps forward and answers the guards. "We're ninja from Konoha," he answers, "We're hear to investigate the disappearances." He pauses for a second and adds a dry, "Or is this not Shadewood village? It seems like you weren't expecting us…"
The lead guard stares at the symbol on the forehead protectors sported by at least some of the Konoha shinobi. "You're the ones that Konoha sent? What a relief! I wasn't sure at first and we have to be careful considering what's going on. I'll take you to Elder Masao right away!" The lead guard whispers to his companion and the second guard runs off, presumably to inform the village elder about the new arrivals. Then, he winds up a mechanism build into the other side of the wall to open the gate. "Right this way. Please watch your step." The lead guard waits for everyone to enter before he locks the gate tightly again. He gestures for everyone to follow him after waving over another guard standing at a post further down the inside of the village wall.
The inside of the village isn't very impressive. The guard leads them along a winding path that cork screws from the outer wall towards the village. True to what the reports say, the place isn't very big. The dwellings are all cabins build from rough hewn logs with mixture of pine pitch and tree bark to seal the chinks against precipitation. There's obviously no indoor plumbing, since shared outhouses are erected between every few cabins. The villagers are already gathered in their homes for the coming night, so the typical sound of conversation, shadowy movement and lamp light can be seen through many of the shuttered windows. There's a hushed quality to all the conversations that speak of brittle tension. About a quarter of the cabins are completely devoid of any signs of life.
They finally reach the village square at the very center of the place. Besides a public well, it's just large enough to hold four or five stalls on market day. Right now, it's empty. The guard brings everyone towards the first proper building that they've seen since arrival. The three story building is used as both the town hall and the elder's house. It's bracketed by a general convenience store on one side and a tiny shrine on the other. A wrinkly old man leans on a cane outside the building. His wizen form looks tough despite his advance age and he inspects the shinobi with very sharp black eyes. "Shadewood Village welcomes the Leaf," the old man greets in a surprisingly strong voice.
"We understand," says Atsuro simply, now adopting a more respectful stance. Can't be too antagonistic, now. Once the gate is open, he and Taizen enter, waiting for the rest of the team to come through before they carry on into the main part of the village. The two of them take in the sights of the village carefully, though without breaking their pace as they walk through the village. They're not just taking in anything that might be relevant to the mission itself, but any resources that might be available for whatever twists and turns the mission might take… guards, defenses, supplies.
Once they reach the town square, Atsuro steps up to speak to the old man. "Thank you," he replies to the greeting, "My team and I are at your service. Please, tell us anything that might help us investigate."
"Please come inside. I have tea prepared," Elder Masao says with a grandfatherly smile on his face. The guard had already slipped away again. the old man pushes his way into the building. His cane makes a distinctive tapping sound on the wooden planks that line the floor beyond. Instead of heading straight, which would bring them into the village meeting room, he turns to the left and starts ascending the stairs swiftly with only minimum aid from his cane. The hard length of polished oak is probably more for show and for protection that a necessity for the old man's navigation. While Elder Masao leads them up the stairs, he starts explaining the situation.
"There isn't really much that I can add to what we already mentioned in the letter to you village. None of us are completely sure what's happening. This has always been a peaceful place. There's always danger living so deep in the forests and our work can be risky, but nothing like this has ever happened before. Every single man, woman and child here have forest survival skills rivaling the best of your shinobi. The problem is that the disappearances are happening inside the village…"
Elder Masao pauses as they reach the second floor hallway. The stairs wind around towards the third floor, but he opens the door at the end of the hallway instead. It leads into a cozily appointed, if rustic, living space. The wooden floor is covered by layers of soft pelt rugs. There's cushions on the ground for seating in addition to regular wooden furnishings, including a little round table with a pot of steaming tea on it. A small fire crackles merrily in the fireplace and a fresh, pine-scented breeze wafts in from a window open to the twilight skies beyond. There's also a faint scent of rot on the wind that only Atsuro and Taizen can detect, but it's so hard to get hold of that it's easy to think it's only in their imagination.
"Where was I?" Elder Masao mutters as he heads over to get the tea. "Ah, yes. The first disappearance happened nearly two weeks ago. A child disappeared from her bed in one of the dwellings closest to the north side of the village wall. Her parents thought that she wandered off by herself at night, but a thorough search of the surround air didn't give us any results. Two nights later, the parents themselves disappeared. The next night, it was a family of two on the opposite side of the village. We started get worry when the third disappearance occur, especially since it was a man living in the middle of the village. Everything just started escalating from there. It sometimes happen on nights back to back, but the longest was a three night gap. After last evening, there are eighteen villagers missing." The old man's voice grows hard. "I don't know how you're going to find everyone, but we have to get to the bottom of this before there's no village left."
Atsuro follows Masao into the building, gesturing for the others to follow as well. Once they're in the living room, he takes a seat in one of the chairs. He and Taizen sniff at the air for a moment and exchange glances. It's hard to detect, but it's a little surprising that it would make it into this room at all if it were just an old log or something like that. Atsuro keeps it in mind. Who knows if it will be useful later?
He listens to the rest of Masao's explanation. "So," he concludes, "There's no pattern to the locations of the abductions themselves. But, it seems that families are being removed bit by bit. And it's happening fairly rapidly, with incidents always at night, and fairly close to one another." He rubs his chin, "I have a few questions. First, do the victims just disappear without a trace? There's no sign of struggle, or forced entry, anything like that? Second, what sort of patrols or other security would someone have to slip by to get into the village? Third, do you have a map or something like that of households that have been abducted?"
"Don't you worry, Old Man Masao!" Taree speaks up. He taps himself on the chest and flashes a brilliantly white grin. "With me… I mean us… on duty, we're going to get to the bottom of your mystery in no time." The tall Hyuga stays standing as he slaps both hands together and veins pop up around his eyes. "Byakugan!" His white eyes dart left and right as he stretches his visual jutsu outwards in all directions to search for suspicious entities.
Akiko is much more silent about what she does. She has grown increasingly skittish with so many unknown people around her again. The tiny girl steps softly towards the open window without fanfare to peer out into deepening twilight. She sticks out her hand to release a stream of kikaichu beetles into the wind. Then, she moves away to step behind Taree with her standard shyness around strangers.
Kenta obviously feels a little useless, since he keeps shifting his weight from one foot to the other. When he notices, that the young medic-nin grabs a seat next to Taizen. He frowns as he listens to Elder Masao's words and tries to glean some clues from the information provided. It really isn't much information at all.
Elder Masao gives Taree a strange look. A hint of doubt appears on his features, but it disappears when he focuses his attention back on Atsuro. "We haven't been able to find a pattern except that the disappearances are at night. I do have a map with the cabins marked down, so you can take a look around in the morning. We tried to disturb as little as possible. The best of our trackers looked for signs of forced entry and struggling, but they didn't find anything like that at all. It's almost like the missing villagers just walked off on their own. That's also impossible, since we've doubled security since the disappearances started. There's always at least eight or nine guards on ground patrol every night. We're only a village of sixty-nine now, so that should be more than enough."
Atsuro considers apologizing or explaining Taree's behaviour, but thinks better of it. Masao seemed only mildly affected by it, so there's no reason to make a bigger deal out of it. Instead, he continues to make deductions. "So whoever or whatever's doing this, they're either perfect in their attacks, or they're actually getting the abductees to move themselves for at least part of the way. And whatever method they use, it's not noticeable to the guards — either very stealthy, or bypasses them entirely." He nods, "The sooner you get the map to us, the better. Checking the homes out is probably an important first step in the investigation." He glances out the window at the night sky. "But it seems like we'll have to wait until tomorrow for that. Do you have any accomodations for us in the meantime?"
Elder Masao's gaze sweeps over the motley crew from Konoha. He nods his wizen face slowly. "There's two guest rooms upstairs. We sometimes get a trader or two that travels through the village. They're not big rooms, so you'll have to figure out how to split your party to fit." The Elder grunts softly as he levers himself to his feet. He walks briskly to a desk against the wall near the fireplace. The old man takes a roll of paper from the pile of documents sitting on top of it. He returns to offer it to Atsuro. "And here's the map of the village. The cabins of the missing villagers are marked with an 'X' and the date or dates of disappearance."
Taree has been silent since he activated his Byakugan. He finally stirs, but it's to blow out a long breath and slump his shoulders. The veins disappear around his eyes. "Nothing," the tall Genin announces. He brightens up quickly enough. "But I'm sure that I'll find something in the morning when we start searching all the houses. Don't underestimate the power of the Hyuga clan!" He jerks and arches his back when Akiko quietly gives him a sharp poke at the base of his spine for repeatedly speaking so brashly in front of an honored elder and their team leader. Even Kenta lets out a soft sigh at this display. Thankfully, Elder Masao still doesn't appear to be too bothered by it.
Atsuro accepts the map from Masao, carefully folding it up and putting it in his pocket. "Thanks," he says, "I'll take good care of it — this could be vital evidence." He'll definitely be reviewing this in the morning, if not tonight. But he has another idea for some sort of overnight investigation. "Thanks," he says, "But aside from the guest rooms, is there a balcony somewhere with a good view of the village? My team is equipped for superhuman perception — I was hoping we might be able to take watches and see if we can spot anything out of the ordinary." He glances over at the rest of the team. "That means everyone except Kenta will have to put in an extra hour or two tonight. Sorry, guys."
Kenta opens his mouth to protest, but he quickly shuts it again. He takes a second to think about Atsuro's comment before slowly nodding his head. He states in a somber voice, "I won't be much use when it comes to noticing oddities in the dark and it's best that at least one of us get a full night of rest. I'll prepare a tea for the rest of you to help ease a little of your fatigue from tonight's traveling. It might not help very much, but it'll be better than nothing and it's the best that I can do with the supplies that I brought with me."
Taree does look a little crestfallen that he won't get a full night of sleep, but he's not the type that stays glum for long. "Don't worry, Atsuro-san. I can keep awake for hours, especially if Kenta-san's magic tea works even a little." He grins and steps aside to reveal Akiko. "What do you think, Akiko-chan? Isn't this just like some of our very first missions? Brings back memories."
Akiko looks like a deer caught in headlights. It's impossible to see the state of her eyes behind those sunshades of hers and her long jacket hides much of her body language, but she visibly freezes. It takes two attempts before she manages to answer. "N-No problem. I-I already sent some of my b-bugs out with i-instructions to report back in t-t-two hours," she stammers. She quickly sidesteps behind Taree again.
All this display of oddness makes Elder Masao shake his head. Who knew that shinobi are such a strange bunch. "I'll leave it to you people then. A few of the cabins have balconies, including this one, but the best view is at the north and south ends of the village. I'll send for someone to bring you to whichever one you want to use."
Atsuro reaches over to clap Kenta on the shoulder. "It's just not your specialty. And on the plus side, you'll get a proper sleep." He looks over at Taree and Akiko, then nods. "Seems like everyone's fine with this arrangement then." He looks over to Masao, "It shouldn't be a problem for us to travel between here and some better lookout spot. Well then, if you don't mind, would you show us the rooms?" He looks back to the team, "We can figure out who sleeps where once we see the rooms… and that'll be a good time to decide on the watch order. We'll have to see if there's some way to make sure that nobody is ever sleeping in a room by themselves. We don't want one of us to end up disappeared…"