Date: August 17, 2014
Atsuro, Kenta, Taizen and Akiko (NPC) travels to the spider den that Atsuro located on the day after the failed kidnapping attempt. Akiko scouts the inside with her Kikaichu beetles and verifies that all the spiders are asleep. The team finds the kidnapped villagers wrapped in cocoons. Four of them have died from being used as incubators. They discover a scrap from a journal that suggests the queen spider is a summoned creature whose trapped in the area by a seal that her summoner painted further inside the cave. Atsuro decides to try to remove the seal with Taizen and Kenta to watch his back while Akiko frees the comatose villagers from their cocoons. Atsuro inadvertently wakes up the sleeping spiders and the team's attacked, but manages to send all of them back to their original land by destroying the seal.
"Flies in the Web - Part 3"
Shadewood Village (within a northern forest in the Land of Fire)
The afternoon of the day after the attack on Elder Masao's house comes sooner than one might expect. There were no more disruptions during the night, despite the uncertainty whether the strange spider-fly creatures would return or not. Is unlikely that most of the village's residents have slept more than a wink. By morning, almost everyone knew enough details to deduce that the kidnappings that occurred in the last few weeks must be the work of spider-flies paralyzing and dragging people out their bedroom windows. It doesn't make for comforting news.
Akiko proclaims that her insects are finally ready for the task at hand shortly before noon arrives. The short Aburame is noticeably tired despite a few hours of snatched rest, since speeding up the evolution of the kikaichu beetles inside her body is a chakra taxing task. Nevertheless, she seems very determined to bring her wrath down on those that had injured her friend and kidnapped so many villagers.
Kenta is probably the most well rested out of the entire group. He had to spend time mixing up more antidotes and tending to Taree, but none of that actually look as much energy as patrolling and fueling a jutsu for hours. The latter will rest under the care of the village healer during the retrieval mission while the former occupy an easy to reach medical pouch at Kenta's left hip.
Although they each spent a shift keeping lookout for more spiders, Atsuro and Taizen seem to have successfully taken their sleep where they can get it and are at least reasonably well-rested. It certainly helped that the spider-flies left the village alone for the remainder of the night. Once Akiko announces that her kikaichu are ready, Atsuro calls a meeting of the team (minus Taree) in whatever room happens to be available.
"Okay," he announces, once everyone's assembled, "We're down one man, but we've still got a job to do. We're going to find that nest again, figure out what happened to the kidnapped villagers, rescue them if we can, then either destroy it, or kill all the spiders. Akiko, you said you're ready to go? Kenta, it's okay for you to leave Taree here and help us out there?"
Kenta nods his head solemnly at Atsuro. "I've made Taree-san as comfortable as I can. He woke up for a few minutes before the healer arrived, so I'm not worried about his recovery at all. I'm more worried about those that were missing for more than a few days. They might not be in good condition…" The young medic-nin's voice trails off. It's left unsaid that they might simply be dead after all this time. Planting eggs aside, what else would giant spider-flies do to prey besides eating them.
"I-I also th-think that we should hurry, Atsuro-sama," Akiko utters in a determined voice. "You s-said that it takes two hours to get there. W-We have almost s-six hours of daylight left, b-b-but you didn't enter th-their lair and it might be hard to f-find them once inside. W-We should try to catch th-them by s-surprise."
"I know," says Atsuro. Not much more to say, really. Even if the spiders are being relatively slow about their business with their captives, some of them must have been in that nest for two weeks now. Atsuro will be quite happy if even a handful are still alive and relatively well. He looks to Akiko and nods. "That's right. The sooner we get there and deal with this, the better. I'm ready to move out now. Anything else before we go?"
Once any other concerns are taken care of, he leads his team out of the village. He knows the general direction his clone followed the spider in, and he and Taizen can still find some traces of the scent the clone followed in the first place. Theoretically, they should be able to make it to the nest in time. It's just a matter of finding the tree the clone marked, then entering the nest itself. Once they're inside and have a better idea of the situation, they can figure something out.
Kenta and Akiko follows Atsuro and Taizen's lead without a single complaint. They remain silent throughout the journey. Kenta's exceedingly worried expression doesn't go away and he keeps fingering the syringes of antidote through the outer coverings of his medical pouch. There won't be enough for everyone that they find. Assuming they're not all used up during a potential conflict, only the worst off can be treated until another batch is made. Akiko's expression is no less worried behind her sunshades and high collared shirt. Kikaichu keeps flying away from her and back. The insects are being used to scout the area around them while they travel to decrease the chances of running into an ambush along the way. Having the Byakugan to add to insects and sharp noses would be nice, but currently impossible.
It feels like a long time to Atsuro, but eventually the group comes to the tree marked by the shadow clone. Atsuro runs his fingers over the kunai slashes, then looks around. Spotting the hole in the ground, he walks over a ways, then stops and kneels down. He sniffs the air, just to confirm what the clone smelled during the night. Then he looks over to Akiko. "Your bugs are safe if you send them to scout around in there?" he asks, "There's only so much I can tell with my sense of smell here, and I think it would be a baaaaad idea to go in their blind."
Akiko no longer good so confident. She walks carefully around the tree before coming back to a stop in front of the hole. It's been covered with a new layer of webbing, which would prevent intruders from getting inside the den by virtue of the substance's steely strength and sheer stickiness. The old layer was scraped off the sides of the hole, but not well enough that the Aburame girl can't see the bodies of a few dead kikaichu still sticking there. "Th-They should be fine," she says to convince herself as much as her team mates.
Akiko steps back and releases her breath in a slow gust. Darkness starts to trickle out in wispy tendrils all around her as kikaichu beetles exit from various openings in her clothing. The girl holds her breath when the insects approaches the webbed opening like so many questing tentacles. The bugs land and crawl around on the sticky substances with no problems. Then, they begin to chew until the strands break apart and the covering slumps to expose more of the hole. The same thick medley of smells from the previous night. waft out to confirm that Atsuro has the right location. Then, the beetles are pouring silently inside to do their scouting.
"Ugh," Atsuro mutters as the smells reach him once again. "There are definitely people down there. But… I don't know if there are any alive. I think some are dead for sure." He stands up and folds his arms. "The less we have to fight the spiders directly, the better. If we determine nobody's alive in there or we manage to get all of them out, does anyone have a way of just destroying the whole nest from here?" He'd rather not have a second Taree if he can help it.
Kenta shakes his head. "If I set all my tags inside and release them, I might be able to flood the place with poison. But I don't know how well they'll work on the spider-flies and I'll also need to be very close to the tags to make them work. I can't trigger seals from afar yet…" The admission of his incapability makes the young medic-nin hang his head for a second. "Maybe we can use smoke to asphyxiate them. Umm, assuming there aren't more entrances elsewhere that they can escape from."
"My insects aren't very h-helpful for th-that type of work," Akiko adds in her own soft tones. "I can try, b-b-but— Oh!" A trickle of darkness snakes out from the opening to fly around Akiko's head. She instantly starts translating. "Th-There's a s-series of tunnels underneath, maybe p-p-part of a small cave s-system. The passages are cramp, but we s-should be able to walk through them s-single file. Th-There are several branches and only one leads to the s-spiderflies. My kikaichu found t-two chambers at the end. Th-There are many cocoons hanging in the f-f-first. The s-spiderflies are sleeping in the second." She pauses to listen to the faint buzzing of the beetles. "The t-two from yesterday. Many s-smaller ones. A much b-b-bigger one at the very back of the group and… they f-found a pattern painted on the wall behind the biggest one, b-b-but can only s-see part of it."
At Akiko's signal, the kikaichu cloud around her head breaks apart and spread out. They come together to create a black pattern in the air that looks like half a circle with a ray of spokes extending from the center. Both the Chuunin looks mystified, but anyone that's seen the summoning jutsu would recognize it.
Thinking about what Kenta has just said, Atsuro nods, "I can make smoke or fire, but I doubt it's enough to fill the whole nest up." He stays silent as Akiko tells them about what's inside the cave. It's a lot to think about, but fortunately he /has/ seen someone use summoning techniques before, so he recognizes the sigil. "I don't know a lot about it," he says, "But you see that kind of thing in summoning techniques. What it's doing here, I don't know. Maybe someone summoned these things?" Then he walks over to Taizen and grabs two ninjato from the dog's vest. "I think that's all the scouting we can do from here," he says, "I'll go in first. Akiko is directly behind me, then Kenta, then Tai. Akiko, tell me how to get to the cocoons first. If they're like other spiders, I think we've found the missing people." He goes over to the hole and enters. Taizen stands by until Akiko and Kenta have entered, then draws a katana and heads in after them.
"My insects will l-lead you, Atsuro-sama," Akiko announces as she gets behind the team leader. The majority of the kikaichu flows back into her form, but a cluster the size of a ping pong ball flies four feet in front of Atsuro's face. Kenta reaches into his backpack to pull out a few chemical sticks, which he breaks and shakes to generate a smokeless light before passing it to the members of the teams with hands. He falls in behind Akiko with a kunai held in his left hand.
The tunnels are exactly as cramp as Akiko indicated. The group can walk through them, but there are places where the ceiling is low enough that someone Atsuro's height can easily scrape the top of his head on the rough stone. It's dank, fetid and dark even with the help of Kenta's glowsticks. What little airflow there is simply serve to blow gritty dirt into everyone's faces. Akiko is twitching from mild claustrophobia by the time they've gone in as little as fifty feet. The surprising length and number of branches makes the entire system feel like a dizzying maze. Webbing lashed across the way often create nasty traps, but the kikaichu beetles are quick to dismantle the sticky menace each time.
It feel like ages before the tunnel that they're following opens up into a more comfortable width. Less than five minutes later, the team walk into a small underground cavern. There's a sharp intake of breath from Kenta. The cave is about the size of a small house with a tall ceiling, which is too much for glowsticks to illuminate, but the cave walls themselves glow with a ghastly greenish-gray light. Large patches of bioluminescent mushrooms sprout from the rough surfaces like cancer. The cave must have been in use at some point. A decaying pile of bedding and a tattered backpack lie discarded on the ground. Rusted metal implements, mostly ninja tools, are scattered across the ground among shards of broken bone and scrapes of torn scrolls.
Perhaps the most alarming thing is the webbing that wreathes the top half of the cave. It's draped everywhere like swaths of silk. There are eighteen missing villagers, but there's closer to two dozen cocoons hanging from thick silk ropes. Atsuro's nose can detect deer and wolf among the scent of humanity. A closer look shows that most of the ones that smell different are the oldest ones and actually empty of life. The middle of those cocoons had split open a long time ago, as if something burst out from within. Bones still cling to the inside of the thick layer of webbings and they've been picked clean. Unfortunately, four of the newer cocoons with human scent on them had suffered the same fate.
Even with all the experience in the wilderness which has made him resilient, Atsuro is only barely tolerating the conditions in this cave. He hopes that there are some wonderful baths available back in the village. Nevertheless, he forges ahead, following Akiko's guiding kikaichu without complaint, doing whatever he needs to do to navigate this cave. "There were ninja here," he whispers as they come across the implements from someone here before. He kneels down by one of the scrolls and holds his glowstick over it, trying to see if it has anyting useful written on it.
Once they reach the cocoons, he nearly gags, and even once he's recovered from the smell, the sights to be seen in this chamber are pretty grim. "The moment of truth," he whispers back to the rest of the group, "If they're still able to be saved, we find out now." He walks to the closest cocoon with a human still inside — hopefully living — and nods to Akiko. "Can your insects open it up?" He quickly adds, "And quietly? I'd rather not wake up the spiders yet."
Most of the scrolls are too far gone to be of use. Dampness, insects and rodents did a thorough job on them. There are few pieces of parchment bigger than a grown man's fingers and the ink is faded even on those. When Atsuro starts to inspect the cocoons, stoic Kenta takes over the task of rummaging through the debris on the ground. He's not a squeamish person, but there's not much that he can do except search the place until the villagers are freed from their wrappings.
"It'll take s-some time," Akiko whispers. She looks worriedly towards the most shadowy part of the small cave opposite of the direction they arrived from. Some of the darker shadows turn out to be another opening. "I-I'll hurry as much as p-p-possible, but I don't want to wake the s-spiders either." The Aburame girl swallows down her nervousness and lifts her arms. A cloud of kikaichu beetles lifts from her body to swarm the two closest cocoons and start eating away at the sticky silk.
Suddenly, there's a tug on Atsuro's arm. Kenta's voice whispers at the Jounin's side. "Atsuro-sempai. You have to read this." The young medic-nin offers a scrape of parchment to the team leader. He holds his glowstick close, adding it's light to fungi's to make the faded words easier to read.
"…no choice. She mustn't know that I'm working on a way to keep her with me always. Assisassi has shown herself to be capable and steadfast, but she's still her own creature. I won't trust my life to a subordinate that can dismiss herself and leave my back unprotected when danger grows too intense. I must find a way to control her loyalty absolutely. The first step is to cut her off from all other attachments that can compromise this. I fear that I'll have to sedate her the first few weeks until she gets over her grief of being unable to return to her own forests, but a shinobi must learn to make regrettable choices. In time, she'll have new offspring. The back wall of the inner cave is flat enough for me to paint the binding jutsu's…"
"I'd prefer to get the villagers out of here before we start trying to deal with the spiders," Atsuro whispers back, "How long do you think it'll take to free everyone?" Of course, if it turns out there's nothing to do for the villagers, they'll just carry on to the spiders. It would save time in finishing this whole thing, ghastly as the idea might be.
When Kenta gets his attention, he simply reads. He nods slowly once he's finished. "So the symbol wasn't for summoning," he whispers, "It's for keeping a summoned creature there. You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you? Maybe we can just free this Assisassi and she'll leave on her own. A lot easier than fighting. And, well, it seems like /she/ doesn't want to be preying on the village like this either. Actually, I wonder if they turned to humans out of desperation or something. They were only going after wildlife at first…"
"I th-think…" Akiko hesitates and considers Atsuro's question carefully. "Maybe an hour. It c-could take longer, but my insects want to g-get out of here as s-s-soon as possible too." So does she by the sound of her voice. Her entire body's taunt underneath the concealment of her garments. Her legs also keep twitching, but she doesn't move much for fear of stepping on too many bones.
Kenta's eyes keep flicking towards the opening that leads to the second cave. "I don't know enough about the seals used for the summoning technique. The best that I can think of is to remove the one that's used to 'bind' her." A frown mars his serious face. "But what happened to her partner? His things were left here a long time ago to fall apart. It's almost like he abandoned her after going through all the trouble to keep her here," he whispers to Atsuro. The young medic-nin has to get on tip toes to put his mouth as close to the taller shinobi's ear as he can. "He probably won't approve of her kidnapping humans, except…" Kenta pauses before offering his idea. "Those eggs in Taree-san was sucking up chakra. Maybe they eat meat, but the eggs need chakra to hatch."
"Okay," whispers Atsuro, "See if you can concentrate on getting just one person out. If nobody has a chance of surviving, then there's no sense in… continuing." He's reluctant to say it. Then he goes back to speaking with Kenta, "I doubt he's still here," he agrees, "His stuff looks really old." He holds back a sigh, afraid it might be loud enough to wake the spiders over in the other chamber. "I wonder if there's anything preventing a summoned creature from killing the summoner. Just because he kept her here doesn't mean she couldn't have gotten him. And a ninja would be a better source of chakra than a wolf or a villager." Of course, that might make them tempting targets too. "Too bad that seal is at the back of the cavern. I think it would be a worthwhile risk to try and just destroy the seal and let the problem deal with itself…"
Akiko turns her head to look back at Atsuro. "D-Don't give up hope, Atsuro-sama. It'll be hard, b-b-but we'll f-find a way to get all the villagers out s-safely after we cut them down," she whispers to him. It's a thin hope to do it before the spiderflies all wake up. It took the shinobi two hours to reach the place near top speed. There's four more hours until sunset and it'll take at least one hour, maybe more, for Akiko to get rid of all the cocoons. That leaves three hours at most to carry the fourteen still living (hopefully) human captives back to the village.
Kenta's about to add his own encouragement when a scraping clacking sound reaches their ears from the inner cave. He freezes and his owlish eyes widen in nervous anticipation of an attack. The noise continues for about ten seconds before dying away again. "Maybe we can seal off the inner cave and starve them to death," the medic-nin suggests quietly once he's sure that they're not under attack. "Umm… or maybe not. None of us know earth jutsu that'll resist digging. It's up to you, Atsuro-senpai. If you think going in there is the best option that we have, I'll follow you."
Atsuro exhales sharply and leans against the wall of the cavern. For a moment, he remains silent, eyes closed and chewing his lip a little bit. "Rescuing the villagers and dealing with the spiders are both important," he says finally, "First, I wanna get the first person out and see if they need medical attention right when they get out of the cocoons. If it can wait, we'll go to the spiders. If not… well, I would have preferred to have someone watching Tai's and my backs. But we'll figure something out if it comes to that. We can decide once we know more, though."
Another few minutes and the first pair of villagers, a middle aged woman and a boy child, tumble out of their chewed up cocoons in a spray of torn webbing. Akiko makes a gesture and both clouds of kikaichu whirl underneath them to cushion their fall. Kenta instantly hurries to over to make his inspection while Akiko gets to work on the next pair. Two down, twelve to go. Kenta presses his fingers to each of the unresponsive bodies by turn. The ghastly lighting make them look like corpses already, but the young medic-nin blows out a sigh of relief. "They're not doing well, but not critical yet, Atsuro-senpai. It's the same poison that paralyzed Taree-san for sure. The eggs have grown large inside" The boy child's belly looks oddly lumpy. "so that's worrisome. Yet, they don't feel like they're about to hatch anytime soon. We can remove those surgically when we get them back to the village."
Having given his orders already and not having any expertise in this area, he stays silent and lets Akiko and Kenta continue their work. When he's heard Kenta's assessment of the situation, he nods. "Okay," he says, "In that case, Akiko keeps getting through the cocoons and Kenta, Tai, and me will deal with the spiders." He stops for a moment, then looks between Taizen and Kenta, "If they're still asleep when we get there, we have the advantage. So we go in quiet." He nods to Kenta, "If we can, let's try and remove that seal thing. The possibility of getting rid of the spiders nice and easy is worth the risks, and… well, we still need to be prepared if it doesn't work out. If it comes to a fight, take care of yourself first. Tai and I can handle ourselves. Okay?"
Every head nods grimly to Atsuro's orders. There's no time to second guess things now. Akiko throws herself into her work while Kenta leaves the two villager's sides to stand besides Taizen. The young medic-nin sucks in a breath and stifles a cough when the fetid odor of the place assaults him. "I'm ready," he whispers to Atsuro after he shoves his glowstick into his medical pouch with one end sticking out. Kenta obviously wants his hands freed in case he needs to defend himself. The young medic-nin also checks to make sure that the antidotes are exactly where he put them earlier.
"Let's go." Once they've gotten some kind of directions from Akiko, Atsuro crouches down and gets on all fours. Odd as it may seem, his movements are totally silent and stealthy in that position. Chalk up one for the Inuzuka, apparently. Taizen waits until Kenta follows after Atsuro, then follows them into the passage, bringing up the rear. They move quietly through the cramped confines of the tunnels, Atsuro and Taizen matching whatever speed Kenta requires to stay stealthy.
Atsuro's nose is working the whole time, and when the scent of the spiders becomes strong enough, he signals for Kenta and Taizen to stop for the moment. Then he creeps up to the opening of the chamber and peeks inside, looking for that sigil, and to see if the spiders are active. If the spiders are all still asleep, he'll gesture for the others to approach him again.
Kenta's not nearly as stealthy as Taizen and Atsuro, but he's a shinobi, so he's better than your average villager. Even with that in mind, his footsteps still sound a little too loud sometimes in the tight confines of the short passage to the inner cave. Kenta obediently presses himself against the wall at Atsuro's signal. He also wraps a hand over the exposed portion of his glow stick to dim down the light. There's barely enough fungal bioluminescence to see by, but the glowstick's light is too distinctive different from them not look odd.
The decay and dusty cold smell of the spiders nearly obliterate everything else that Atsuro can smell when he sticks his nose through the opening. It takes a few seconds for individual distinctions to register. The creatures are close enough in scent that there isn't much variations, but there's still a good dozen intermingled threads to pick up. Then, the contents of the inner cave, which is about four times the size of the previous one, open to Atsuro's sight once he gets used to the brighter, yet no less ghastly glow of the fungus covered walls.
The two large winged spiders that attacked Elder Masao's dwelling are flank the opening from only a few feet away. It's close enough for Atsuro to detect the stiff, individual hairs on their legs. They hang from a crude hammock of webbing with their eight large eyes glued on him. Thankfully, they make no movement when Atsuro appears, so they must sleep with eyes open. Another two dozen smaller spiders, each the size of a three year old child, dangle from long threads stuck to the ceiling throughout the rest of the cave. None of them are nearly as impressive as the black-carapace shape at the very end of the cave.
Assisassi is an enormous specimen that would dwarf an elephant in her girth. Her segmented legs are each as thick as grown man's torso with stiff hairs spiking out to sharp points. A shiny black carapace serves to protect her soft innards from blade and flame… likely the hundreds of eggs that must be stored inside that bloated belly too. Her bladed mandibles touches her thorax while she lies all curled up in front of a flat stone wall that's been scraped clean of fungus. The half of the seal that the kikaichu discovered can be seen behind her, placed there in a thick paint that glows faintly blue with chakra.
Once his eyes have adjusted, Atsuro stares out into the cavern, his eyes flicking from one object to the next. Then they remain fixed on the seal on the back wall for a moment. Using gestures to communicate once again, he signals for Kenta and Taizen to take up defensive positions by the entrance. Then he signals that he'll be right back before creepinginto the passage, back the way they came. Once he's sure the smoke from the technique won't be visible to the spiders, he makes a seal, and a shadow clone appears. The original Atsuro sneaks up again and crouches down near Kenta and Taizen. The clone continues forward though, carefully stepping his way through the mass of spiders, stepping over bodies and even getting up on the wall or ceiling if he has to, slowly and carefully making his way back to the seal.
Atsuro's clone quickly finds that the way to the rear of the cave isn't so easy. The ground is littered with debris that would clattered and crunch, mostly old bones, if he steps the wrong way. The cave walls are a little better, even though bioluminescent fungus makes slippery footing and emits a foul slime when bruised too much. The main issue are the strands of webbing spun in such a way that a few stick strands constantly crisscross the clone's path. It doesn't take much imagination to realize that they serve duo purposes. One, to alert the spiders of an intruder via the vibration of struggles. Two, to catch said intruder until it can be torn up into little pieces or bundled into a cocoon. Neither is a good option right now. And if an intruder does get deep enough, a close range inspection will show that the space in front of Assisassi is covered by a more traditional and nearly invisible web.
Even the sure-footed Atsuro's clone has a couple of close calls in avoiding stepping on the bones or tripping over the strands of webbing. The original is still crouched down near the back of the cave, watching with deadly seriousness and trying to control his own breathing so as not to wake up a spider with a gasp or choke. But the clone creeps along, using only his own body and the surfaces available to him to make his way past the obstacles.
It feel like hours, but in reality, only minutes have passed when he finally gets close to Assisassi. He nearly walks into the web, but catches himself at the very last moment and stops dead. He looks back behind him to make sure that hasn't alerted any spiders, then carefully crouches down to inspect the web further, trying to figure out what it's for, or if there's some way past it.
The web barring the clone's path is an intricate one. There are eight attachment points to the walls, floors and ceilings. Lines of silk stretch from point to opposite point and creates a starburst frame for the weaver to layer the following lines. Despite the impressive size and intricacy, the basic pattern itself is that of a common cobweb. The tight spacing of the cells are no more than two feet by one foot, leaving no room for something larger than a mouse to squeeze through. When Assisassi suddenly shifts in her sleep, the motion generates a brief breeze that makes the center of the web billow out a few inches before stretching taunt again. Luck keeps the sticky strands from slapping into the clone's body. At the same time, the movement of the web exposes something to him. While the gap between the inner lines of silk is very narrow, there's a much wider up at the very two between the points where the web is attached to the ceiling. Some of the upper strands had deformed just enough to leave a four feet wide and three feet vertical stretch of uncovered space.
It isn't clear what the purpose of this web is, but the clone doesn't want to risk simply walking through it or breaking the strands. The blowing web catches him off guard and he falls back, only preventing a total disaster by reaching back and pushing a hand against the floor to steady himself. It was a close call, but it's shown him the trick to getting through here. Carefully, he steps onto the wall, then walks up to the ceiling. He crouches against the ceiling, making himself as small as possible, then starts to edge through the wider hole here. Slowly, carefully…
The ceiling in this part of the cave has also been scraped free of fungi. Something must be sprayed on it too to keep the fungus from regrowing. An Inuzuka's keen nose is the only thing that can detect the faint shreds of chemical scent that had clung to the rough rock throughout the years. The paint used to create the seal also grows thicker with proximity. Assisassi shifts three more times during the clone's attempt to get through the gap at the top of the web. Each time, the strands of sticky silk deforms and forces him to stop moving to avoid getting stuck. Eventually, he's able to slide through to the other side. Things get much easier at that point. There's a gap between the back wall with its seal and the enormous brood mother's bulk that's just big enough for a human to move around freely.
It's almost agony for the clone to have to crawl through the webbing like this, so carefully. Especially when he has to stop several times. But with painstaking care, the clone makes his way through. But finally, he's through. He crawls along the ceiling until it's safe to get back on the floor. Then he creeps along until he finally, finally reaches the gap behind Assisassi, where he can get a better look at the seal. Now, time to figure out if this was all worth it.
The clone takes a moment to inspect the seal and paint. Then he takes a kunai and starts to gently scrape at the paint and try to remove it from the wall. Back at the entrance to the chamber, the original Atsuro is holding his breath, his eyes fixed on what little of the clone he can see from here.
The paint is old and hard and clings to the smoothed out stone wall with great tenacity. The scraping of the clone's kunai lightens the paint to a degree, but serves more to dull the blade edge than to remove the glowing seal. In fact, the paint is closer to some type of rock-hard varnish instead of traditional oil or ink. The strokes of the seal itself is raised from the wall that it's attached to and looks stronger than the surrounding stone too. As the sound of scraping filters out from behind Assisassi, it bounds off the cave's sides and ceiling to produce an hard echo. The enormous spider and her brood begins to stir restlessly in their sleep.
As soon as he hears the stirring of the spiders, the clone flattens himself up against the wall, staying frozen until he's determined whether or not the spiders are actually waking up, and if they might figure out where he is. On the other side of the chamber, Atsuro tightens his grip on his swords. Not willing to risk making more sound by whispering, he gestures to Taizen and Kenta, signalling for them to be ready to attack, but wait for his signal. But he watches the spiders carefully to see what they do. Hopefully it won't come to that.
The shifting of the spiders begin to die down as soon as the scraping stops. Several of them continue to twitch their legs for a good minute while others reposition themselves in their silken hangings before going still again. At first, it seems like the clone's in the clear. Suddenly, Assisassi herself rolls her huge bulk over to pin him with an alert gaze. A clattering sound of rage booms from her and she rises to her feet with such force, that her abdomen tears through the guard web. Her legs slam into the ground hard enough to make the whole place tremble and knock some of the smaller spiders out of their sleeping spots. Chaos quickly follows with the rude awakening of all her children. Mandibles as large and sharp as scimitars dart forward with the intent to snip the clone in half.
With so many spiders after him at once, the clone realizes, his chances of actually escaping this are actually minimal. Rather than use the moments he has left in a futile attempt to dodge the attacks of numerous spiders, he turns his attention to the seal once more. With speed and strength fueled by desperation, he strikes at the paint as hard as he can. If he can't scrape it off, maybe he can crack or break it off.
At the entrance to the chamber, Atsuro brings his hand down. There's probably no chance of them avoiding detection now, and whether or not the clone succeeds, they need to be ready with a full-on assault. "Tai, beside me," he order, "Kenta, stay behind us." He strides out into the chamber towards the nearest spider. The instant he's in range, he lashes out with a vicious slash, swinging his sword with all his strength. He remembers how much force it took to kill the spider back in their bedroom.
The clone's strike rebounds off the chakra hardened seal and nearly tears the kunai out of his hands. There's only a split second to see that a few hair-fine cracks had spread from the area of impact. The chakra imbued inside the careful paint strokes flicker erratically from the sudden disruption before steadying again, although with an uneasy faded intensity. Then, Assisassi rips him apart like a piece of paper. The clone's memories and experiences blazes into the real Atsuro's mind.
From the entrance, all that the three shinobi see is the way that Assisassi's bulk darts forward and the puff of smoke that follows it. Her head scrapes the weakened seal and a burst of chakra instantly sends her reeling backwards. The other spider-fly creatures that had charged forward to protect her quickly parts, lease she accidentally crush them beneath her mass.
Due to the suddenness of everything that's occurred, one of the remaining two large spiders falls easily to Atsuro's slash. It had been turned away when his sword slices opens up its belly. It lies thrashing violently while foul fluids spill from its ruptured guts. Hundreds of black eyes turn towards the warm blooded intruders. They surge forward at once to stop the Leaf shinobi from penetrating any deeper. While the remaining bear-sized spiderfly launches itself through the air at the group, dozens of smaller spiders swarm them from all sides in a biting frenzy.
For a second, Atsuro thinks that Assisassi has realized what the clone trying to do. Unfortunately, it seems like it might have been a case of so close yet so far. With the other spiders preparing to swarm them, he knows that there's only going to be more violence. But, he came here to get rid of the spiders one way or another. He trades glances with Taizen, and the dog springs forward to deal with the other spider-fly, slashing his katana, using both his great mass and strength to power the swing. Atsuro turns to face the juvenile spiders and makes a seal as he takes in a huge gulp of air. There's a short pause, then he expels the breath as a great stream of fire. Using it like a flamethrower, he swings his head back and forth spraying flames all over the attacking group.
Kenta stays behind Atsuro to guard the taller shinobi's back. His tricks aren't as impressive, but he touches one here and one there to temporarily paralyze them with medical chakra. He flinches when some of the smaller spiders pop loudly as their roast inside their own carapaces and the pent up steam causes them to explode at the seams. This brings another scream of rage from Assisassi, who scuttles through the wall of flame like an avenging demon. Her side knocks into Taizen and the largest of her remaining children, knocking both into the cave's fungus covered walls. Two firm, yet controlled sweeps of her front legs knock aside the swarm of smaller spiders to give her a clear shot at Atsuro and Kenta without risk of killing her offspring. She fill their entire vision. When Assisassi lift her abdomen off the ground and jerks her head forward to fire several leg thick barbs at them, Atsuro briefly sees the seal on the back wall. The cracks had growing a big larger and the heat of his fire attack has melted an edge of the pattern. The blue glow of chakra flickers like the light of a dying bulb.
Taizen lets out a bark of alarm and pain as he's smashed into the wall by Assisassi, his claws scratching across the floor of the cavern as he tries uselessly to resist the force. Shakily, the nin-dog gets to his feet again. He dropped the katana he was holding in his teeth, but he quickly reaches back into his vest and grabs another sword. Knowing that he can't afford to waste another second, the dog aims another powerful strike at the large spider, then turns and hurries over to Atsuro and Kenta.
As for the barbs, Atsuro handles them fairly easily — he's used to that trick by now, even if these ones are much bigger — and strikes them out of the air. "Move back against the wall," he orders Kenta and Taizen, stepping backwards himself. Then he starts to slowly step to the side, leading the team around the perimeter of the room in the direction of the seal. He and Taizen both remain alert and ready to fend off attacks, Taizen to strike down any barbs or individual spiders that come at them, and Atsuro to blow fire at any swarms that might come their way again. They just need to get to the seal and give it a little more.
The denizens of the cave are wise to Atsuro's fire jutsu now. They keep well out of the way when he makes his hand seals, leaving Assisassi herself to harass them. The mother of the brood stays out of reach from the sword strikes. Her armor's thicker and harder than her offsprings', but not completely invulnerable to a slash that can cut through thick steel with ease. Sprays of webbing, darting slashes from her forelegs and flying barbs continue to hammer against the group's defenses. Kenta's panting softly by the time Atsuro manages to maneuver them close enough to the seal to get a clear shot. While the Inuzuka takes up the front line of defense, he provides healing whenever an attack manages to break through and tosses the occasional tag at Assisassi to distract her.
By now, even Atsuro's starting to wonder if it's worth the effort to be going after this seal so single-mindedly. But even if they'd been focusing only on fighting the spiders, would they have made much progress? It's been hard even keeping the onslaught at bay, much less fighting back against it. For now, Atsuro decides to stay the course. He has a Plan B if he needs it.
But right now, he just needs the right moment. He parks the group right in front of the seal, still beating back any attack that comes their way. He just needs the spiders to relent, even for a couple of seconds. Finally, he spots the opportunity. He drops his swords, letting them clatter on the ground, then quickly reaches into Taizen's vest. The sword he pulls out is a nodachi, huge and nearly as long as Atsuro is tall. But the treatment Atsuro subjects it to might be enough to damage even this great sword, for he immediately turns, leaving Taizen to man the defences, and unleashes a series of punishing strikes on the seal, hitting it with all of his strength and skill as a swordsman, over and over.
The seal flares once, twice, three times when Atsuro pummels it with powerful blows from the nodaichi. On the fourth blow, all the chakra caught within the seal explodes outwards with concussive force to knock both warm and cold blooded creatures to the ground. The timing is lucky, since Kenta had just lifted a hand to throw a poison tag into Assisassi's face and she had just been about to remove his arm from his torso with her mandibles. A horrendous crack spreads across the painted wall. After one more weak flicker, the seal goes dead. Assisassi hisses in surprise, maybe even shocked pleasure, before she suddenly disappears in a huge gout of odorless smoke. Her children flinch forward, but each of them also disappears one by one in a similar manner before taking more than two steps. The chamber is empty except for the two humans and single ninken.
For a second, Atsuro just stands there, holding his now horribly bent nodachi in one hand, the end of it lying against the floor. He takes a minute or two to catch his breath, not even minding the dank, reeking air. Finally, he looks down at the sword and sighs, then does his best to sheath it in Taizen. Then he goes around the room and retrieves the several swords that he and Taizen dropped on the floor.
Once they're away too, he finally speaks. "I was worried that wouldn't work," he admits, "I feel a little sorry for the ones we killed now. Thanks for having our back." He claps Kenta lightly on the shoulder. "You alright?" he asks, "We should probably get back to Akiko. If it's not urgent, I don't think you should worry about them 'til we're back in the village. You deserve a break after that."
Kenta staggers to his feet. He looks a little dazed and a great deal tired. "This wasn't exactly what I was expecting when I said that I wanted to go on more missions, Atsuro-senpai. I think that I would rather fight enemy shinobi than nearly get eaten by gigantic invertebrates again." He pats the grit off his clothing as best as he can, wincing when his hands slap against bruised portions of his body like his posterior. A new urgency suffuses him despite his fatigue. "You're right, Atsuro-senpai. We should bring the villagers back to the village as soon as possible. This type of environment is no good for them. I'll try to conserve my strength and build up chakra, so that I would be able to treat them properly. My reserves are so low right now." He grimaces and wobbles slightly on his feet before righting himself again.
Despite the situation, Atsuro manages a chuckle. "Think of all the people you've just helped," he says, "And in the end, it wasn't /that/ bad. What we were really fighting was the seal." He gives a nod as he starts to head out of the chamber. "If I could, I'd give you a full day of rest. But the mission's not over yet. C'mon, let's see how things are in the other chamber." He considers offering Kenta a ride on Taizen or piggybacking on Atsuro himself, but he has a feeling it would be an empty gesture, with Kenta refusing immediately. He leads Kenta and Taizen back to Akiko and the cocoons. This time, happily, they can just move at a normal pace.
A cloud of Akiko's insects meets the small group halfway through the short passage. The kikaichu buzzes around them a few times before zipping away, presumable to report. Thus, it won't be a surprise when Akiko is waiting for the group when they exit into the smaller chamber. "A-Atsuro-sama! You did it!" she exclaims with relief in her voice once they appear. She's too shy to run up to hug everyone, so she hugs herself instead. "I-I still have a f-few more to go, but m-most of the villagers are f-free and alive. Only th-those four that w-we checked earlier w-were eaten." The Aburame girl had dragged the prone bodies of the villagers into neat rows. Three still hang in their cocoons with one of those nearly unbound. Kenta instantly starts moving around them to check vital signs, although he doesn't expend any energy to do more than that for now. He seems to find nothing too alarming.
"So did Taizen and Kenta," Atsuro says, leaning against the wall so suddenly it looks like he's fallen for a moment. He slides down the wall and ends up in a sitting position on the ground. He wants some rest, even if it's only for a few minutes. "The spiders are gone," he says, "So all we have to do now is get the villagers outta here. Then we hope that the other villagers are grateful enough they'll give us somewhere to sleep for the next twelve hours." He looks to Kenta as he starts checking the live villagers. "Will they be able to walk back themselves?" he asks, "Between me and Tai, we can probably carry eight of them."
Kenta shakes his head at Atsuro. "I have enough antidotes for half of them, but it'll take time to undo the poison. It'll still take them a few hours to wake up and then several days to recover their strength. You probably need to make two trips." The young medic-nin sighs softly and lifts his shoulders. He had been hoping to return to the village quickly like Atsuro planned, but forgot just how many villagers they need to handle. "I'll stay here to watch over the ones that's left behind. I'll concentrate on building up chakra and rest up a little here. It should be safe enough with those spiders gone. Don't worry about me, Atsuro-senpai."
"Okay," says Atsuro, getting to his feet, "We'll take them to the village healer. I'm sure he'll be happy to get so much work just before his bedtime." He starts picking up villagers, loading four onto Taizen's back, then slinging four over his own shoulders. "We'll see you two soon," he says, heading out of the chamber, "Try not to overwork yourselves. We'll be back for the second load in… four hours, I guess." With that, he and Taizen leave, heading for the cavern's exit, and eventually the village.