Date: December 6, 2010
To combat the infection, the group must go down the proverbial rabbit hole, into the mind of the infected. What they find there may not be anything like what they had expected to see.
"Infection - Nevermore"
The day was cloudy and overcast, with dark rainclouds huddled low across the horizon as far as the eye could see over Uzushiogakure. The air was thick and muggy with the promise of rain soon to fall outside. Birds were silent, animals and insects alike huddled in their nests and burrows, waiting patiently, bunkering down against the water that nature was so close to throwing at them. Few people wandered outdoors into the somber atmosphere. As with most rainy days, the general mood of the public was one of quiet contemplation and melancholy, especially for those stuck out in the weather on guard duty for the village.
The day was the perfect physical representation of the physician's moods that kept watch over the drugged blonde. To say she was sleeping would not be accurate, despite the fact that she appeared to be doing so peacefully. The woman known as Datura was still heavily sedated, but as near as anyone could tell, was still fully conscious. Caught somewhere between dreaming and awake, the doctors had since determined that the young Tao Shih member was trapped within her own mind, and whatever was happening there must be truly horrifying. REM sleep was denied to the patient by whatever was infecting her, and it was doubtful she was getting any rest at all with the rate her vitals and chakra signature were fading. The only thing the doctors could do for her was administer regular sedatives to make her physically comfortable (she would begin screaming and clawing at herself if they did not) and feed her intravenously.
Uzumaki Mino, however, had been working steadily for several days straight, with little to no rest. After his debriefing of the local Kage, Mino had seen to Datura and began using a variety of seals related to the mind to determine just WHAT was happening. It seemed progress was not being made until one day all of the Tao Shih members who had brought the young woman in were summoned with the nebulous claim of 'urgent news regarding your friend.' The Uzumaki Jounin stands near Datura's bed, a chart in one hand, a carefully-aligned tray table with several tags and scrolls behind him, wearing a white lab coat as he chews on the non-furry end of a calligraphy pen, staring intently at the patient.
Datura's appearance hadn't changed for the better, but she had at least stopped wasting away thanks to the medical care she was receiving. It was internally she was dying now. Once those who have been summoned, or alerted, have gathered, the Uzushio Jounin takes the pen out of his mouth and turns to face the assembled group, clearing his throat as he looks each of them in the face. "I believe I may have a way to help your friend. It's experimental, I haven't perfected it, yet. But whatever is killing her is doing it from inside her own mind. Now, it's not genjutsu. If it is, it's a very advanced technique that no one in this village has ever heard mention of before. I've checked all the sealed scrolls, even the forbidden archives. There's nothing like this in there. It may not even work, it might backfire. But if we're going to fight this…"
His voice turns grave as he returns his concerned gaze back to the dying teenager. "I have to send you inside her mind."
Today was most likely that the rain would come, Shinji who has been staying near where Datura was being kept. He didn't feel that he should leave her alone even with people who are presently helping them. He isn't a doctor, hell he barely knows the woman, or any of the others on his team, but that hasn't stopped him before from coming to their aide when it was needed. This is something he hope would change, something he plans on changing. For now that, he worried about Datura.
When the summons come for the Tao Shih to meet with Uzumaki Mino, Shinji looks to one of the other guards and just nods his head. Leaving to go meet up with the others, Shinji looks a bit tired, but still ready and capable of doing whatever is called for him to do. As Mino tells them of what needs to be done, "Alright." he says. "If dis is da only chance for her, then I'm in." he says with finality.
Kanami was quick to return to Datura's side when called upon. When the situation was explained to her, that this Seal Jutsu was completely experimental… Well, she was not very pleased. She had thought perhaps that this Uzumaki Mino could simply 'fix' Datura and that would be the end of it. But this man… Is hedging Kanami's companion's life on a LONGSHOT? That is not acceptable.
She stands alongside the bed, thinks carefully on the matter, and then speaks shortly after Shinji does. "I am not entering her mind." Now that she has said it, she has to try to think of an excuse as to why that she can tell everyone else. Because right now… All she can think of is that she is not going to put herself at the mercy of another. Not when she is the Goddess. The universe is empty. The only reason it exists is because of her. All is illusion, except what she makes real. But it is not a conscious act. She does not dictate reality by her will. It is an automatic process that occurs as a side-effect of her existence.
Nothing can objectively be quantified, therefore, nothing necessarily exists. That is her theory. She has taken the Stage Theory practiced by many of the more advanced Nogakujin and twisted it to her solipsist point of view. But what happens if she's wrong? What happens if she is entering another's mental space by doing this? What then? Will she no longer be the goddess? Can she be made to not exist anymore?
"…After all, can you guarantee that Datura's affliction will not spread to the rest of us as well by entering such a… Contaminated area? The life of one versus the lives of four. It seems not to be much of a choice."
Mune has been doing her best to treat both Mino and Datura since they returned. Mino should be as well as he can be by now, but in regard to Datura, Mune has failed to make any progress. "Dammit…" she had muttered to herself one night. "Why didn't I study Chi more? I could HEAL her if I could just FIND the infection…" She has spent much time pouring over charts and books and scrolls and anything else she has in her vast inventory of medical documentation she keeps in her scrolls.
And now they are to this point. Mino can send them inside of Datura's mind to try to find the infection in person. And possibly… Kill it? Mune sighs. She wishes she had known this would be the result. She has already sought outside aid, in her desperation. Initially it was just a warning that Kimigumo might know more about the Tao Shih than was previously imagined. But then she found herself spilling all the details over the Seal that connects her to him. The only one who can make things right. Or so she thought.
It might not be too late to tell him that the problem is fixed and that he doesn't have to come here. She is dragged out of her worried thoughts by Kanami's words. "I am a Medic-Nin. I know all too well about infections. But this is… Not a normal disease. I do not think it can spread to others directly unless it has completely corrupted Datura. And she might die before it can accomplish that. It has fused with her very soul. I am not an expert on souls, but from what I have been able to determine we should be safe." Then she looks at Datura for a moment and says, "I'll go in."
Kimigumo was not happy with being excluded, but he was told by Mune that it would be best if he kept watch for a 'specialist' that she had called for that can help Datura. Which is where he was now, over on the edge of the Village, looking for some mysterious late arrival. He wonders if the specialist will be a woman also. Most of Datura's friends seem to be female.
Kimigumo is looking in the wrong direction, however. He is looking to the west. The specialist is arriving from the south. Running across the water, a towering man in a mask who is wearing a black mantle with red clouds has just come speeding along across the island that makes up the Land of Whirlpools. He barely slows down when various ninja leap up to stop him. He just informs them of why he is here and that his name is Amuro, and that he needs to be escorted to the hospital. They are free to accompany him, but he asks that they not get in the way. The life of Yamanaka Datura is at stake.
Though likely suspicious, he is allowed entrance to the hospital, and eventually to Datura's room. His arrival may be a bit of a surprise, since none but Mune was expecting him. But he still acts as though he belongs there. "When will you be ready?" he asks in his deep voice, as though the nature of this 'procedure' had already been told to him.
The Uzumaki male gives a single nod towards Shinji as he accepts, but a long, stone-faced glance towards Kanami before replying. "…No. I cannot. This is your friend, madame. You all came to me for help. She is running out of time and there are simply no other options. I won't lie to you, this is precariously dangerous. The only other time this procedure was tried, the one attempting to enter the mind of the other died. This jutsu was being developed by me as an interrogation technique. I don't know why it failed, all of my calculations and studies tell me that it should have been a success. Perhaps the mind he entered overwhelmed his own. Maybe his mind never made it into the other volunteer's. Maybe it made it, but never made it back. Ultimately, it's up to each of you what she means to you and if your friend's life is worth risking your own. If it's not… best to tell her family the news. She doesn't have long left."
Again, the male nods, this time in Mune's direction. "I can't say if this thing can spread. We have too little information about it, I'm no doctor like the lady here. And moving your mind into another's is dangerous, a closely-guarded secret of her clan and not many outside of it know any specifics. But given she is a Yamanaka, well, her will is likely to be overpowering within her own self, she may resist in ways we can't know about. But I'm also counting on that, on her familiarity with travel outside of her own body. That may have been the missing component before, that our volunteer simply couldn't find his way back to his own shell. But if you can get in there, if you can find out what's causing this and somehow stop it, then your friend just might be able ot make sure you all get back to your bodies in one piece, so to speak."
Amuro's late arrival and unusual appearance are taken in stride by the Jounin. A veteren of many battles between clans, he'd seen just about every type of person out there, and considering the young blonde woman had large sentient spiders as companions, the addition of a towering, masked man did not seem quite so out of place. Especially since the rest of the group seemed to have no objections to his presence. "In a few minutes." He replies, motioning towards several other bed-on-wheels that had been placed about the room. "I'll need everyone who is going through with this to pick a spot and lie down. Your body will be comatose until you are able to return. Our medical staff will monitor your vitals and look for warning signs of danger. If we detect anything that is amiss, we will attempt to force your mind back into your body."
Just how he plans to 'force minds back into bodies' he doesn't say. Perhaps an unrevealed technique? Or maybe just empty words of false security. Either way, he leaves the others to choose their beds as he bends over the prone form of the dying kunoichi, dipping his calligraphy pen into a small inkwell on the tabletray. Then, he begins to draw a seal upon her forehead, the unmistakeable tingle of a shinobi's chakra filling the room as he starts the mind-transfer jutsu.
With Amuros presences here, Shinji just cast him a slight nod as Mino speaks to all of them. He isn't a genjutsuist, nor has he and much expereince with just how the mind works. But right now they all are needed, he couldn't help but worry about what is plaguing Datura possibly infecting them as well. "So the important thing is while in there, we all be mindful of whats going on and do whats needed to be done." he says in a manner of just walking himself through what they need to do.
When they are told where to lay or pick a spot. Shinji moves to the first bed avialable, sitting down upon it then laying down. He looks to the rest of the assembled team, "Lets get this done." he says as he looks up at the ceiling, waiting for whatever is to happen to them.
Kanami closes her eyes. "I am aware." She sighs as Mune and Mino both discuss the issue further. "I suppose I am just thinking things through too much… Looking at the long-term ramifications… Because if it spreads and infects the rest of us… I do not want anyone else to have to risk his or her life to save us. Make sure no one tries to join us within, if we fail, please?" She opens her eyes when Amuro arrives. She looks upon him in mild surprise. "Oh, I was unaware you were joining us. With your aid, our chances will improve significantly--" then she stops. She removes all three masks from her obi, and then lies down on a bed. She sets one mask to the left of her head, one to the right, and one lying above it. "Please do the others first, if there is an order to this. I will need some time. I can call upon some additional assistance… 'Resources' that may aid us." Then she settles herself, hands folded across her belly, and closes her eyes.
'Mother… Ringuu… Inoue… Rei… I need your assistance,' she thinks into the silence. The masks of the woman's face, the mask of the White Serpent, and the mask of the woman with the black hair hanging in her face, all begin to glow faintly. And all the way in Kusagakure, a woman identical to Kanami, but dressed all in red, looks up from the paperwork she is performing for the Evolution Agenda, and closes her eyes as well. She will have to send her aid to the true Kanami, it seems.
Mune nods. "I understand, Uzumaki-san." She looks at Datura one more time. More than just 'losing herself', as Kanami apparently fears, Mune fears death. She fears not-existing by virtue of no longer being alive. Death means the end of her research. It means she is gone forever. It means she has failed in her quest for immortality. This carries more risk than simply losing Datura. And now it's HER turn to get cold feet. "…."
Clenching her hands into fists she looks down at the floor of the room, and tries to think about what she could possibly do to increase her chances. This is not medicine, however. This is… Something else. Something beyond the science she works with, or the mysticism she has studied. In some ways it is like the latter, but in other ways… It is just out of her league.
She should have told Amuro not to come. But instead she just told him what was planned. Then she hears the heavy foot falls of his boots and his almost inhumanly-deep voice speaking from the doorway. Looking up, she nods to him. "Greetings…" she considers what name she might want to use here. Then she decides on simply, "…Shishou." Maybe Amuro can fix this without needing to risk anyone else. She waits for him to give an indication. But his words only indicate that they will proceed with Mino's plans.
Resigning herself, she lies down on her back on one of the beds. It seems that Amuro is confident enough in the success of this procedure that he is willing to risk his life. Or maybe he is confident HE can get out, at least. No time for worries like that. She just waits, even as she realizes that what Shinji said and what Mino said are completely vague and unhelpful. 'Do what needs to be done'. Which is what? No one knows what is going on here. No one knows what is going to happen. Mune is a woman. A mortal. She has fears, just like everyone else. She just does a good job of hiding them. And she is afraid right now.
Amuro's inner thoughts and worries are left untended to, if they exist. He came for a specific purpose. He is not leaving until that purpose has been accomplished. The fact that one of the things he seeks found its way back to the place where it all begun for Amuro is a great irony -- an irony that Amuro is very aware of. He moves to whichever bed is closest to the door and lies down upon it as well as he can. It might not be long enough to accomodate him. He does not remove his mask, if asked to. Instead he would hold up his right hand and display the kanji on the surface. For a moment, the kanji would vanish, leaving his palm blank. "Just write it here," he would instruct, if necessary. "My Chakra Network is more heavily focused on my right arm than any other part of my body."
Then he simply lies still and waits. Whatever he might be planning to do to help is left to the imagination.
"Correct." Mino replies to Shinji as the Tao Shih male moves to take a spot on one of the beds. "I have no way of knowing what you will find in there, what it will be like. And there is no telling what her mind will have become during these last few days. Judging from the screaming I heard, it can be nothing good. Be prepared for anything."
A distracted nod is all the assurance that the Nogakujin gets from the male Jounin as he goes about his work that he will send her last. The beds are not designed primarily comfort, but rather for functionality, being little more than thin mattresses placed on top of gurneys, but they are sufficient to lie in for many hours without significant discomfort. He does manage a grim smile even as his brow furrows in concentration, making sure each mark upon Datura's pale skin is flawless. "If none of you return, it is most likely that all research into this technique will be sealed in the forbidden archives, never to see the light of day again."
And then the seal upon Datura is done, Mino standing straight and leaning back, inspecting his handiwork with a critical eye. Everything had to be perfect. These people were entrusting him with their very lives, and the life of this young woman. People he owed his own life to. The fact that they were strangers didn't matter, nor that they had helped him in his own most desperate hour. They were simply people who needed help. He moves to Mune next, dipping the brush in ink once more as he leans over her with what he hoped was a small, reassuring smile. "This might be a little cold." He says as he touches ink to skin.
No sooner is the seal complete than Mune would find chakra fighting its way into her system very suddenly, in an abrupt, invasive manner. Her very consciousness being smothered, a feeling of being unable to gain oxygen despite her chest drawing breath. The feeling does not subside, only increases as the senses in her body slowly begin to fade, and then leave her one-by-one until only emptiness remains. A dark, floating void. There is no sight. No sound. No touch, smell, or feel. There doesn't even exist color, a vast empty nothingness through which she floats, with only a vague feeling of being cold for company.
Abruptly, the world slams into view. Or rather… a world. Mune is deposited roughly onto stone granite beneath her feet despite having no momentum. A quick survey would reveal emptiness all around, but not the same as before. Lights twinkle off in the distance, above, below, to every side, distant gems like stars, every bit as bright, but with no moon. She is upon an island floating in this spacious void of stars, a flat level surface upon which she can stand, no more than four feet across at it's widest, jagged upon the bottom. A look down would reveal just more star-filled emptiness, as if one could fall forever. More inspection would reveal more islands all around, each likely too far to leap to without some jump-aiding jutsu. Some are as barren and flat as the doctor's own, others have twisted, gnarled, stunted, and barren trees upon them, blackened and dead. Some have stone archways or pillars across them, as if they had once formed a natural rocky horizon.
One by one the others would appear on similar floating islands of granite mass of various sizes, none more than ten feet across. The next to arrive would be Shinji, deposited in the same manner, then the man known as Amuro, and finally Kanami.
But other than the four of them and various, sparse floating isles, there is nothing.
Having finished the last of the lines along Kanami's pale-skinned forehead, a stroke that ended just above the bridge of her nose and would send her mind hurtling on it's journey through nothingness, Mino stumbles a step backwards before slumping into a chair. His chakra was nearly exhausted. Jounin though he might be, this technique was in it's infancy, with years of work ahead of it it it could even be made to work at all, and was thus taxing beyond belief. Begrudgingly, he still manages to force himself out of the chair, moving to Datura's bedside before slipping to his knees and folding his hands before him. He was not a religious man, but he figured the four who were traveling into their young friend's mind would need all the help they could get.
His mind going blank as he lays on the gurny, Shinji had no clue of what is about to happen. He didn't know what they will find when entering Daturas mind, but they all needed to be one hundred percent and aware of what they will find there. Darkness…starlight…."Ummph" landing upon a hard granite surface, Shinji doesn't move, trying to take in all that he sees. A small isle, lights in the distance, "Hmmm…." walking along the hard surface of the isle, Shinji looks all around him, "Everyone sound off!" he says loud enough for everyone to hear him and possibly be loud enough for them all to hear one another. He doesn't want to progress until he at least get some sort of sembalance of where the others are and for them to group up.
Kanami falls through nothingness for awhile. The entire time she is terrified. Terrified because it is just like that time in Ankoku Cave. She is alone. She is surrounded by void. There is nothing. The world is fake after all. She had begun to doubt. But then she strikes the ground and nearly falls over. She gasps aloud, eyes wide, and tries to make her heartrate return to normal. But she can not will her heart to do anything. Not even if this were HER mental space. But, no, this is Datura's mental space. Is Datura real too, then? Or is even the mental space of another merely an illusion her mind has generated in response to her fear?
She doesn't know, but she is unhappy with the idea she has lived by for so long. The idea that she is the only real person… That everyone else is fake… That is no longer as comforting as it once was. To know one is ominpotent is one thing. To know one is also completely alone is another. So she has created all these fake people. So what? She is still alone. They are toys. They are not people. They are not worth the emotional investment.
But she has invested in Datura. Kanami doesn't want to be alone.
And abruptly… She isn't.
'Kanami,' a soothing female voice says from Kanami's right. She looks over and sees her basic Mystic Noh-Men hovering in the air beside her. From it is coming the voice of her mother. The mask glows white. "Mother," Kanami responds calmly, bowing. Then the Lady Aoi Mask floats over, glowing dark-red, and the Doujouji Mask, glowing emerald. 'Why do you call for ussss?' the mask of the White Serpent asks. The mask with the hair hanging in its face remains silent for a moment, then says, 'This is not a good place, Kanami. You should not have called me here.' Kanami gazes around the island, and the infinite sea of stars. There are other islands all around. "I need your assistance in extracting a spirit from the cloak of death… And for ensuring I do not die in the process." She turns to the Lady Aoi Mask and says, "My apologies, Ringuu. I would not have called for you if the need was not great." All three masks go silent.
"Hm. I do not see Rei here," Kanami says, then wanders over to where Mune and Shinji are. "I suppose the first thing we should do is call out to Datura. Perhaps she will hear us."
Mune's breathing becomes difficult. She tries to analyse why it is happening, and what is causing it, so she can repair it. But nothing shows up. And then she loses her senses, one by one, until she is floating in an empty void. No notion of the passage of time manages to get through to her. Then she lands roughly on a stony surface. Her legs buckle slightly, but she manages to remain standing when she realizes there is no momentum per se. So she straightens up and looks around. "Well… Of all the things I thought the inside of Datura's mind might look like, this is not one of them." She moves to join Shinji when he appears, and then Kanami walks over with… Floating, glowing masks? She also looks a bit paler than usual. If that is even possible. "Call out to her? Yeah, we might get her attention that way. Or we might just call the infection to our location." She shrugs. "But I don't have any better ideas." She cups her hands around her mouth, even as the high-collar of her coat conceals it, and shouts, "DATURAAAAAAA!"
Voids are nothing new to Amuro. Neither is mind-scape exploring, really. So he makes sure that the 'him' that appears in Datura's mind is the one everyone expects to see, rather than his true self. Because he does not feel like answering the questions that would result otherwise. He focuses his mind even as he approaches the other three. "No, you are thinking the wrong way. You are allowing Datura's subconscious to shape our environment. We must try to shape it to >our< needs."
He then simply stands and focuses his thoughts on his needs… 'A DOOR.' he thinks into the void and envisions a door. Then again, this jutsu is not the same as his own Sealing jutsu. That should not matter, given that they share the same origins, but it might be different enough that he cannot do as he would normally.
No answer, not even an echo, replies to Mune's attempt at communication. There is only the floating, vast emptiness which grabs the shout and does not return it. The tall male's will likewise goes unheeded, with no portal rising out of the ground, falling from the sky, or shimmering into existence from nothing. There is only the vague sense of something foul and unkempt pressing back against his own will. Until…
Without warning, the granite beneath everyone's feet shifts, beginning to move slowly, but deliberately, towards each other. The four islands begin to approach the other occupied ones, seemingly intent to converge in the rough center of their locations. Height differences are adjusted as they smash ungently into each other, creating a small rumbling sound, until all four shinobi are standing upon a single, larger platform, slightly uneven.
More slamming sounds can be heard in the distance, as one after the other, each island within sight begin to smack into the others, creating a narrow walkway just wide enough for two people to walk abreast. The islands all converge, coming from above, below, and all around, some coming from just beyond the edge of sight in the darkness, each forming the next step in a single, solid footpath that leads… only into more starlit darkness, floating isles continuing to come together to form a rocky, uneven path as far as the eye can see.
The path stretches on for miles upon miles with seemingly no end. It twists and turns, forming bends, dips, and rises, occasional dead, blackened trees twisting the landscape, stone archs spanning the walkway, and pillars rising up every now and again. The path winds near a few of the 'stars', light sources which seemed to give off no heat, a faint murmuring coming from the nearest one some several hundred feet down the 'road' through space.
As the islands come slaming and crashing together, Shinji watches as the others begin coming towards him, nodding his head to them as they all stand with him. Adjusting his stance as the islands continued to create their pathway. Shinji didn't like this one bit, though he had no one of being able to choose how this was going to happen, they are in Daturas mind and whatever is going on in her mind was happening either by her will or the infections. Closing his eyes for a moment, focusing on himself then opening his eyes and looking to everyone, "We better be careful. I can take point if neccessary." he suggests. Not liking ot admit when he was scared Shinji just keeps it bottled up, he will do what he must to make sure everyone comes back home.
Kanami listens to Amuro's comments on how they were allowing Datura to dictate their environment. That strikes her as very odd. How could Amuro possibly know about fake worlds and real worlds? Isn't he fake too? She could just relegate it to a byproduct of her own mind as she normally does… But this time, the coincidence is too great. "How do we--" she begins to ask, but then the islands begin to fly together, forming a walkway up into the sky. They seem a bit large and the walkway a bit long to actually traverse it. But they really have no choice. This is being done intentionally. It seems Amuro has everything handled if he created this for them.
"Very well. I suppose we will ourselves up there now? Or do we travel the 'normal' way?" The three masks that float around Kanami turn their gazes upwards.
Kanami listens to Amuro's comments on how they were allowing Datura to dictate their environment. That strikes her as very odd. How could Amuro possibly know about fake worlds and real worlds? Isn't he fake too? She could just relegate it to a byproduct of her own mind as she normally does… But this time, the coincidence is too great. "How do we--" she begins to ask, but then the islands begin to fly together, forming a walkway up into the sky. They seem a bit large and the walkway a bit long to actually traverse it. But they really have no choice. This is being done intentionally. It seems Amuro has everything handled if he created this for them.
"Very well. I suppose we will ourselves up there now? Or do we travel the 'normal' way?" The three masks that float around Kanami turn their gazes upwards. If the answer is 'normal', then she begins the arduous journey along the massive stone bridge, headed towards the stars above. She may not be strong, but she has enough leaping power, at least.
Mune gets no response to her yell. Not even an echo. Amuro's suggestion on how to handle things sounds logical… Or as logical as being trapped in someone else's head can actually be. And when there is a chance a short time later, she naturally assumes this is Amuro's doing. Either way, however, she says, "I don't know about you, but if we could just 'will' ourselves wherever we wanted to be, I think we would have done that instead of making the bridge in the first place. So…" She then begins dashing and leaping right along after/beside Kanami.
Amuro feels the malign presence rebelling against his attempts to force a door to appear. Interesting… But then he would expect no less of the Yin Beast's power. It is fortunate that he brought along a little insurance, then. Because he cannot afford to use the level of energy needed to simply defeat this infection right from the outset. He would die in the effort.
"Stay in the middle, Shinji. I will bring up the rear. You can follow directly behind the girls and be ready to react to anything that threatens them, incase they miss it." Once Shinji has done as instructed and started off after Kanami and Mune, Amuro follows after. He is as fast as Shinji. But showing off his speed is not going to accomplish anything, and at his age he should not be pushing himself.
"I did it! I did it, Nee-chan! I… I think I did it." A young girl's voice comes from the nearest star as it draws closer, the group rushing towards it. Looking directly into the light proves no trouble at all, even for the most sensitive of eyes. It wasn't a ball of burning gas at all, giving off no heat, more of a soft glow that didn't actually seem all that illuminating. Yet it was somehow bright and dim at the same time. What's more, there was an object inside of it, a round object that appeared flat, and yet gave a perfectly circular view no matter which angle it was seen from. A hand would pass through it as if it were water, causing minor ripples in both the picture within and the sounds emanating from it, yet the limb would remain dry, with nothing clinging to it and the vision undispersed.
Two little girls. That was what the flat sphere contained. Two little girls sitting on a grassy field, one perhaps eight, the other maybe ten, each with blonde hair and pale blue eyes, both of them grinning at each other. The older one speaks. "That's great, Ryoko-chan! I knew you could do it. A little more practice and you'll be able to actually swap bodies."
"But… what if I don't come back? I don't like floating out there in nothing, Riku…"
"Hey, hey." The older one slides over to the side, sitting next to the other girl and comforting her with an arm around her shoulder. "I'd never let anything happen to you. If you ever got lost, I'd just come out and find you!" The image shifts and swirls as the older girl begins tickling the younger amidst squealing protests, before resetting to loop the images and sounds again.
It's mere moments before they pass by another, this one showing one of the girls from before, but perhaps a few years older. Several other girls the same age are in a group with her, most of them smiling and talking amongst themselves. But their voices are distant, muted, taking backseat to the voices of the blonde and the brunette that was speaking to her. "Your sister's so amazing, Ryoko! I wish my brother was like her. Is it true she's already being considered for battlefield duty? She only just completed her training a few months ago."
"Yeah. I heard Mom and Dad talking about it the other night. They're proud, but they're worried."
"I wish I could be that strong. I heard she even landed a hit on one of the veterans during training! And all the boys are always talking about her. I bet she could even-"
"Hey, shouldn't we be getting ready for practice?"
"Huh? Oh yeah. I guess we'll have to practice hard if we want to catch up to your sister!"
"Yeah… I guess."
Many of the twinkling stars are out of reach, most of them in fact not coming anywhere near the stone pathway. But as they pass by another one, more voices reach out, along with the visions of the same blonde-haired preteen, this time talking with a boy several years older than herself.
"Oh hey. You're Riku's little sister, aren't you? What's up?"
"Um… y-yeah. Ryoko… I-I wanted to ask you-…"
"Ask me what? Man, your sister's something else! I went on a mission with her last week into the Land of Rice. She's so ho- Er, ah, has she said anything to you about me?"
"I don't… I just wanted to-"
"Oh crap! Listen, I have to go. Hey, could you ask Riku to meet me out by the cliffs later? Thanks, Riku's Little Sister!"
"…It's Ryoko…" The blonde girl murmurs even as the boy waves at her over his shoulder as he dashes off. The image resets as the girl's brow draws down angrily, her face red and her chin quivering.
And still the stony path ahead showed no signs of ending.
Kanami dashes along, paying vague attention to the lights with their voices and images… Or so it seems. She is, infact, listening and watching very closely. She just does not want to be obvious about it. Who knows what mental defenses Datura might have? If she is perceive as an intruder or invader…
…Also, she just does not want to violate Datura's privacy for some strange reason even she does not understand. It all goes back to not wanting to be alone, possibly. She is torn between the desire to verify that Datura is 'real' by observing parts of her past that she cannot possibly have known about beforehand. And at the same time, she does not want to drive Datura away, even if she is 'fake'. Spying on her could cause such a division between them.
So though her search for truth causes her to pay attention to the events shown, her fear of what she might find out if she DOES find the truth makes her act oblivious. To those around and behind her? She appears to just be leaping ahead, paying no attention at all.
The last Mune heard about Datura's sister from the other blonde's own lips was that she missed her sister. What Kanami had revealed about Datura's sister when it was discovered Datura was a Yamanaka had further added to Mune's knowledge of the deceased woman. But these memories… Well, the first one definitely fit with what she knew. But the other two did not. They were, infact, a bit worrying. Because she could see where they might be leading. Then again, a feeling of being neglected or of having to match up to an accomplished older sibling was common. Maybe it's nothing serious at all. She just hoped that it was not what she suspected…
Because she suspected the reason that Datura -- or 'Ryoko' now -- left Konohagakure and her Clan was that she had a rivalry with Riku, and when Riku died… Well, the details won't be known until they reach that point in this… 'Chain of Memories'. But Mune thinks that Ryoko realized how much she loved her sister once she was gone, and blamed herself for not making ammends with Ryoko before it was too late. Obviously she is in the realm of conjecture with this hypothesis… But she is also more literally in the realm of imagination. Every aspect of her environment appears the way it does as a result of either Datura or Amuro's attempts to force her subconscious to behave how he wishes it to. Even so… That is all mental. All of this is some sort of psychic emulation of physical components of the brain -- presumably, at least.
She wonders for a moment… What would happen if one were to alter these memories? If she was translated exactly into this environment, her chemistry and alchemy equipment should be present. She could modify the memories so that Ryoko remembers only good things about her sister… Possibly, she could even make it so that Ryoko remembers her last moments with Riku as good ones. Such might be possible.
But though on the surface that seems like an act of mercy, she knows fully that she would not dare to experiment in such a manner, regardless of her hunger for knowledge. This is a woman she knows and works with. She is here to heal, not to tinker. She is mostly just distracting herself from the sanity-threatening environment she finds herself in, rather than actually planning anything.
Still, the questions continue to float in her mind. 'What if…?' they ask. Mune continues to leap alongside Kanami, making no secret that she is paying attention at least.
Having moved into position once Amuro instructed him. Shinji looks at the balls of light that show the memories of Datura. 'Ryoko and Riku?' he wonders. Her memories, well he didn't know her all that well, but maybe there is something within the memories that could probably help them piece together what caused the infection. Looking ahead and above himself, Shinji now keeps a look out for the ladies ahead of him. As he walks along, he really hopes that none of them would need to go into his mind like this, and honestly he felt that they were looking into memories that Datura probably didn't want them to see, but then again there was no choice, now it's neccessary for them to look at them. Keeping his guard up, Shinji glances back to Amuro to check on him. He may be powerful, but still Shinji was going ot guard them all.
Amuro says nothing. Even as he uses strong leaps to send him hurtling through the void, landing upon a new island, and then springing off again, his thoughts are turned inwards… And outwards as well. "Oh, look… That boy… I think poor Ryoko had a crush on him," a woman's voice says from Amuro's left, and slightly behind. Amuro does not respond. A woman with shoulder-length red hair, in a sea-green jumpsuit, and the Clan crest of the Uzumaki on the shoulders, is leaping along at Amuro's side. She turns her attention on Amuro when he does not respond. She says mockingly, "Oh, but you already knew all about this, didn't you? This is not the first time you have seen her memories, is it?" Amuro continues to remain silent, and then mutters, "Not these. Only surface recollections when we first met."
Shinji is just ahead of Amuro, but he may be too focused on the memories being displayed to hear the quiet words from Amuro some dozen feet behind him. The woman hmphs a bit. "You shouldn't have been in her head at all. She's just a girl! She doesn't have Machiavellian plots to replace you or whatever other foolish thing your paranoid mind came up with!" Amuro shakes his head. "Iie. <No.> I just had to make sure she had not been tampered with by another already. It was a scan for mind seals, nothing more." "But the same can not be said for Mune-chan, can it? You checked over almost every inch of her memory before 'hiring' her." "That was necessary due to the level of trust being placed with--" "And Tomoyo-chan? When you wiped all memory of her birth from her own parents' minds and then planted false memories of--" Amuro turns his head towards the red-haired kunoichi and interrupts with a sharp hiss of, "Natsu!"
It may be just loud enough that Shinji may hear, but if he turns to look back at Amuro, he is looking straight ahead and will even ask, "Is something wrong?" as though he had not said anything to draw attention.
Natsu just sighs in disgust and stops leaping. She lands on one of the islands and calls out, "You can't just ignore me forever! I know where you live!" Then she is lost in the distance. Amuro gives no response.
The pathway continues onwards, a sharp curve bringing the group close to yet another of the strange light sources.
"You are not to use your Genjutsu on your team mates, Ryoko!" An older male in a flak vest with a cloth covering the lower half of his face was berating an older version of the young girl seen previously, now in her early teens. She stands before him with her head bowed, an angry, determined set to her features.
"I don't want to hear it! He's nearly delirious with terror at night because of you! There is no excusing these actions. You will be punished for your actions. I hope it will teach you some discipline." The man sighs, his righteous anger apparently spent for the moment. "Why can't you be more like your sister? I can't believe you two are related."
Ryoko's features only foul more with anger at his words.
"Imouto-chan, tell me what's wrong." Even as they leave one light behind, a sharp dip in the road has them passing beneath another. "Come on, something's eating at you." This one had the sisters again, both blonde-haired and blue-eyed, the younger in her early teens, the other in her middle teens.
"Nothing, Riku. Just go away." The area they were in may or may not be recognized by anyone who had traveled through Kadomai, a sharp cliff overlooking a dark, lush forest of trees as far as the eye could see. The younger sat on it's edge, the elder moving to kneel beside her.
"Ryo-chan, you can tell me anything. If there's something I can-"
"I said just go away!"
A tense minute of silence hangs in the air as one girl looks out at the setting sun, the other studying her profile. Then the older blonde tries again, a hand reaching for her little sister's shoulder. "Hey, I'm here for you. If you don't want to talk, we can just sit-"
"YOU NEVER LISTEN!" The younger girl's voice is high and shrill with rage as she swats the hand away, shoves her sibling hard in the shoulder, then pushes herself to her feet, backing away several paces as if expecting a fight. "You'll never understand, Riku! Never! Your life is just so… so… perfect! Everything's just perfect in your world and you'll never know what it's like!"
Riku's expression is stunned, though she quickly recovers, showing no anger as she gets to her feet, only concern. "Know what what is like? Please, Ryoko, talk to me!"
"'Riku's little sister!' That's all I am! That's all I'll ever be!"
"And you can't fix it and you can't understand what it's like because you don't know!" Now in tears, Ryoko flees back down the path, leaving a worried-looking Riku behind.
As one is left behind, another appears in the way, this own so close and low that the group must step around or over it, sitting like a shining beacon in the middle of the gray granite path. The picture inside was that of a home, a girl near her middle-teens sits upon the stairs in the dark, moonlight fighting with the candlelight coming from the room downstairs for dominance of illumination. The girl was Ryoko, unmistakably by now a younger version of Datura, a blonde-haired man and woman are seated at a low table, bearing a strong resemblance to the teenaged girl.
"I don't know what else to do, Kazue. Ryoko has been acting out in dangerous ways. She compromised a mission by controlling one of her team mates and almost got him killed. The Clan Heads aren't just going to let this go."
"I know, Isao, but sending her to another village to do manual labor?"
"It's to teach her humility." The male bows his head, regret and worry fighting for control of his features. "She's a Chuunin of Konoha now, she can't keep behaving like this. Maybe some time away will do her some good. No one knows her in Uzushiogakure, she can have a fresh start. And when she comes back…"
"Maybe… Maybe you're right. Still, I can't stand the thought of losing my daughter, even temporarily."
"I know, I know. But what else can we do? The others wanted to put her in confinement and seal her abilities. This is the only way we can save her from herself. …I wish she would take after her sister."
In the contemplative silence that followed, only the girl crouched upon the stairs moves, her hands forming into white-knuckled fists. Closer inspection would reveal fists clenched so tight that the nails were gouging flesh, a few droplets of blood beginning to stain the wooden stairs.
On and on without end the pathway goes, with nothing but different memories passing by to break the monotony as the group nears the first stone archway in the road.
Kanami is fighting an internal war that changes who is winning and losing with each memory they come across. She passes alongside the low-flying memory sphere/disc/whatever it is. The concept that these memories might be displayed for a REASON never crosses her mind. She is too busy worrying about what this all means to her personally. If she were to take others inside of her mental space--But aren't they already there? Isn't everything 'outside' of Datura's mental space actually inside of her own? Isn't THIS mental space ALSO her mental space? She doesn't know. The logic and laws of reality she has believed in and lived by for almost her entire existence are crumbling in here. She is doubting everything. Doubting her convictions. Doubting her very SELF.
A shadow passes over her features as she lowers her head so as to darken her eyes in the view of any others that might see her face. 'Kanami, you are finally seeing the truth, just as I had hoped.' the Mystic Noh-Men says. Her voice is quiet, but definitely audible to others. The glowing mask is a spirit not a… Whatever Amuro's companion was. "Hm?" Kanami asks, feigning incomprehension as she looks upon the mask that channels her mother's ghost. 'The truth about the world. The truth about reality. I would have said something when you forged this Mask, but you were not then ready. Now you have formed a bond with Datura, and you can--' "Mother? Be silent," she says with a smile on her lips and her eyes squinted closed. 'Shut up. ^_^' basically. The mask says nothing further, and just floats at Kanami's right. Ringuu, the Lady Aoi Mask hovering above, chuckles darkly but says nothing. Inoue, the Doujouji Mask, continues to glow green at Kanami's left side. She says, 'I hope thissss doessss not continue much longer. Death isss not charitable in regard to those who have gone beyond the veil returning to parlay with the living.' Kanami nods. "I will make this as short as possible when we arrive." Arrive where? She doesn't know yet.
She just knows she will have to make a decision when they reach their destination. If Datura is real, then that means Kanami's life has been a lie, and she can no longer remain seperate from others. If Datura is fake then that means she is truly alone in the universe, and there is no hope of ever having anyone to truly care about or to care about her in return. Damned if she does, damned if she does not.
"How annoying," she mutters.
Mune finds it odd that she does not feel the slightest bit tired, even after running and leaping all this distance. She has plenty of stamina, of course, but she does not feel any 'burn' in her muscles. That's her attempt to analyse the situation and provide some solid scientific logic to everything. It's a distraction from what she's seeing. The torment suffered by Ryoko as she is treated as inferior to her older sister, even by her own parents. The compassion that Riku continues to show even as she is treated poorly by her sister. And then Ryoko lashing out at others for the way they treat her. A vicious cycle, but one which should have been broken up to some degree by Riku.
So this is all building towards what Mune suspected. Riku died and Ryoko never got the chance to make up for what she had said. Thus her depression and abandonment of her Clan and duties. It all makes sense.
Mune is pulled away from her thoughts when she hears Kanami speaking to those masks. She looks over and notices she is conversing with them. The half-Yotsuki woman can even hear the masks responding. She wonders how they work briefly, before turning her attention back on the memories at hand.
Leaping with ease, though feeling like things are moving to slow, Shinji is able to keep pace of the events that are being showed to them. He too felt it odd that he wasn't tired nor did any of the others look tired from all the travelling they've been doing. Hell how much time has gone by since they've arrived here? A few minutes, a few hours? Hard to tell, when this isn't normal reality. Looking away but listening to what is happening in the memories, Shinji looks over the group, though he does hear Amuro behind him as his last comments were picked up. When he glances back to see how Amuro is doing, he is asked if something is wrong. "No." he says. "Just checking on everyone." he says simply.
Shinji did hear Amuros last words, but it isn't his place to speak on it for now. Looking ahead Shinji hears more voices and leaps to his side, his arms still swept back behind him. He hears a little of whats going on with Kanami and her masks, 'What the hell is going on, everyone got things they are talking to?' he thinks to himself. Though if Kanami and Mune look his way he simply is looking at the memories or checking the distance and their surroundings. "Jealousy (sp), and feeling as if she isn't as good as her sister." he says more to himself. "Though even if feeling like this, one should still try to better themself if not for others but for themselves." he says. Hearing that he is speaking a bit loudly, he goes quiet.
Amuro keeps his own council on the memories for the most part. But someone else is anxious to be loose. He can feel her pain as she witnesses the events shown before her. He can feel her own emotions of guilt. It is not Natsu this time. It is his 'insurance'. He holds up his right hand and looks at the Seal on his palm. He says nothing, just lowers his hand back to trail out behind him as he runs and leaps in ninja style.
Kanami's conversation with the masks does not go unnoticed by Amuro. He can hear her -- and the masks -- even from back where he is. At least his senses have not dulled with age. Shinji speaking up is more of a priority, however. And easier to answer, due to his closer proximity. "No," he states plainly to Shinji. "It is simple for you to look at her memories as an observe and say what she should have said or done… But you are not her, and you did not experience what she experienced. If you were her, and did not have the memories of >your< life that you possess, can you really say you would have felt or acted differently?" He turns his head to look behind the group at the memory they have just passed by. "One can never truly know another."
He then looks forwards again. "Not even one's own family."
The first ones to pass beneath the archway are Kanami and Mune, and the shift is instantaneous. There is no sign of a doorway passed through, everything is simply… different! The change is less instantaneous for those running behind them. For an instant, it seems the two women have simply disappeared, only to then have the surrounding landscape rush forward to meet them at an impossible velocity as if they were suddenly looking at it through a sniper scope.
There is no change in momentum, the group would simply find themselves running across grass in bright daylight. And if they continue running… finding themselves not getting anywhere. They will simply find that they have somehow looped back and come out behind the others. Whatever this place was, it was apparent there was no immediate escape from it that was readily available.
A more thorough inspection of the surroundings would indicate that this was somewhere within the Land of Fire, given the abundance of trees all around the sunny clearing. Few clouds scudded past in the sky overhead, and birds chirped gaily, unseen within their perches in the many branches. Forward, behind, and to the right, all densely-packed forest. To the left was a collection of rocky boulders, soft soil and grass giving way to hard-packed earth and stone, before rising up a hundred feet or more into a sheer drop-off cliff. Atop the cliff can be see a ways back the canopy of more trees, showing that the forest continued past the top of the bluff.
Soft, muted voice can be heard coming from up there, before silence falls. And then a scream. A woman is falling.
Some ways down the clearing a blonde-haired teenager, somewhere around the age of Datura herself plummets to the ground, arms and legs stretched out as if to catch herself. Nothing abates her fall, however, and the impact upon the stony ground at the cliff's base is final. The woman lies mangled, one arm broken, both of her legs twisted at unnatural angles. From the way she lies on her back, it's clear her spine has been snapped by virtue of having landed on a rock, a fate not even her flak vest had been able to prevent. Her breathing is labored, pained, a few wretched sobs escaping her body as the reality of what has happened begins to sink into her tortured form. Her unbroken arm tries to move, to grasp for something, anything to hold on to, to pull herself away. Riku can't even lift her head. She apparently doesn't see the newcomers into the area, and from the way her blue eyes search desperately about, it's unsure if she sees anything at all.
Another form approaches, another slim blonde, a bit younger than the broken Riku and with similar features, jogs down the cliff at a semi-hurried pace, heading down the path off to the side that would take one up to the cliff if they were headed in the opposite direction. She, too, seems unaware of anyone else in their midst.
Kanami stops as soon as she jumps through the archway. The sudden shift in lighting and location is more than enough to have her prepare herself for… Whatever might be about to happen. But nothing happens. It's just a peaceful, brightly-lit day in the Land of Fire. Straightening up, Kanami folds her hands together at her waist and cautiously inspects everything. Once everyone has arrived, she starts to speak, only to stop when she hears something. Quiet voices from above, atop the cliff? She can't make out what is being said. The Lady Aoi mask floats above Kanami's head and chuckles in that same dark, malicious manner again. Kanami sighs and looks up at the mask. "You find something amusing?" She does not really want an answer, just for the mask to be quiet so she can hear what's being said. 'You will see,' the mask says cryptically. Kanami has to wonder for a moment how Ringuu can know what is going to happen in advance… Then she recalls that Ringuu is dead. Perhaps, as a spirit, she can see further in time and space, or has knowledge that Kanami does not.
She has accepted by this point that not everything was crafted from her will and imagination. Maybe some things exist independently. But she has not decided what or WHOM may be real yet. For the moment, she just wants to hear what those voices are saying. But they seem to have gone silent…
Then there is a scream! Kanami jolts as she sees a girl looking a lot like Datura falling from above. It's over in seconds. She crashes on the ground, right on top of a rock, and lies there, mangled. She is not dead. She just struggles to… To do anything at all. She probably does not even know what she is reaching for -- or trying to reach for, since she can't really do much with her spine like that. Kanami feels like she should do something, but she doesn't know what she possibly CAN do.
She stands and stares, and though her skin is as pale as ever, she does not appear to be as horrified as she feels. She just stares at the mangled young woman, until she hears the sound of footfalls coming from the path. Then her gaze snaps up to see Ryoko running down to ground level. She says and does nothing yet. What can she do?
Mune likewise stops when everything changes, though not quite as swiftly or agilely as Kanami. She stumbles for a moment before turning swiftly to look around. The sudden change is disorienting. "Amuro-sama, is this your doing?" she asks once Amuro arrives. Then she turns when she hears voices above. Kanami bickering with her mask drowns them out, however, and she has to strain to hear. Then a scream! She sees a blonde-haired, blue-eyed woman falling from above! She reacts without thinking.
She dashes towards where she has calculated the girl will fall based on her current trajectory and velocity. She should arrive with about 1.8 seconds to spare and be ready to catch her. Instead, when she gets close enough, she is suddenly standing on the OTHER side of the rock, facing the same direction she was when she was approaching. She skids on her feet, only her nearly superhuman reaction time enabling her to process the change in location and turn in a panic to try to see if she's too--*whump-SNAP*
The sickening noise of breaking bones is almost as bad as the sight that awaits Mune as she stands within a few feet of the broken body of Yamanaka Riku. Mune has been exposed to plenty of blood and gore as a doctor. That's not what gets her this time. What gets her is the knowledge that she couldn't stop it. Something prevented her. Her dark-toned skin pales slightly as she feels the weight of some hideous gaze set upon her. It is just like back in Ankoku Cave. JUST like it. That creature… That abomination… It KNOWS SHE'S HERE now. It is looking at her and trying to warn her away from messing with things further.
The warning is a potent one, and quite likely backed up by the ability to act if she ignores it. But… Looking at the sight of poor Riku… The fear for her own life is temporarily overridden by a sense of strength and determination she has rarely known before, and never to this degree. Even with that incomprehensible evil bearing down on her, telling her, 'LEAVE IT ALONE', she just… Can't. She WON'T. If she always listened when people told her she shouldn't do something, where would she be right now? So she begins to advance towards Riku's position hands already prepared to send so-called 'Medical Chakra' through them. First she has to stabilize the woman, then she can worry about fixing the rest. If she even can.
Dimly, in the back of her mind, her own thoughts whisper to her that this is just a replay of past events. She cannot possibly help here with her jutsu. But she just retorts that she won't know until she tries. Further, if the infectious presence wants this to be left alone… Who knows what healing Riku might do in terms of ridding Datura of the infection itself?
Overall, this is an extremely foolish thing she is doing but also very brave, and it may possibly be the very salvation of Yamanaka Ryoko. Maybe.
Shinji nods his head to Amuro, "You are right, I'm outside looking in. I should be more mindful." he says as he continues to run. Keeping his watch over the group as they near the archway, Shinji is a taken aback as both Kanami and Mune are both simply gone. "What the hell!? Sir be…" he is cut off as he too finds himself skidding to a halt. The sunlight hurts his eyes a little, but at least now they were somewhere with better scenery. Seeing Kanami and Mune ok, it doesn't take him long to gather where they may be at. "Hmmm…" Shinji looks about for a moment as the others seem to be doing teh same. Hearing the whispering, Shinji turns in that direction, the talking of Kanamis masks do intrigue him, but he pulls himself to the now when he hears the scream and already has started his run.
Passing Mune possibly by a few seconds only to find himself standing on the other side of her. As he starts to turn around, he feels an evil that he's never experienced before creep up all around him. Turning and assuming a fighting stance, Shinji is scared. First and a long time has he ever allowed him to show fear. He couldn't describe what the evil is, but it's breathing down his neck like it doesn't want him interferring. He hears the sound of a body impacting behind him and as he glances back behind him, it's the form of Riku. Shaking his head as he watches the barely living form of Riku try to reach out for something or anyone only made the situation worse, but what could he do. This evil would probably try to kill him if he intervened, but watching Mune as she tries to do what she can. He grits his teeth and moves close to her but not touching anything. Guarding her, possibly trying to give her some time before whatever it is comes to try to stop her.
Amuro could have stopped before passing through the archway, but since everyone else had already vanished through it, he just decided, 'What the hell' and went with it. Now they are in the Land of Fire. He knows this cliff. He has seen it before. The others seem disoriented, so Amuro takes a moment to say, "No. We are meant to see what goes on here. It is likely that Datura is showing us how to--" then he breaks off when he detects conversation above. He can seperate it out from what Kanami and her mask are saying, but only by sheer concentration.
Thus when Mune and Shinji dash forward, he snaps his head down and calls, "Stop!" But it's too late. They both blink out of existence only to reappear in the exact same second. No time passes. They just are somewhere else suddenly. He can see how shaken Mune and Shinji are. Something other than passing through a spatial anomaly occurred. He has a fair idea of what it is, but is distracted for a moment by his insurance acting up again. His right hand tingles and itches as something tries to fight its way out of the Seal on his palm. "Patience," he mutters. But apparently the sight of Riku smashing into the rock like that, and then Ryoko coming down the path is more than this other presence can stand. It is compelling him to act. To do something. To block the sight from the others. He can not do that, but he can do >something<.
Amuro flickers into position behind Mune and Shinji and attempts to wrangle them away with a combination of strength and height. Simple-put, he tries to put an arm around each one and just lift them up off the ground before backing away. Either way, he advises, "It is best not to interfere at this point. As painful as it may be, we must watch this unfold. It may grant us insight into the infection's weaknesses." If it even has any.
Despite Amuro's interference, the feeling of being watched by something does not abate, even if they manage to wrangle free of his grip and approach Riku. The closer one gets to either girl, the slower they seem to move, as if the very air that is around them is become solid. It becomes a struggle to breath, to hear, to see, even touch or smell, as if a darkness were trying to descend upon one's senses and smother them the closer one gets to the blondes. And always the watching, the waiting. It is perhaps akin to having a bleeding wound while swimming in the midst of a pool that one knows to be filled with thousands of ravenous pirahna. One knows what is coming, but does not know exactly when.
The form of Ryoko soon becomes much more readily readable as she nears the crumpled body of her sister, slowing down to a measured, though determined walk. There's an expression on her face that's been seen by the other members of the Tao Shih quite often: narrowed eyes, a small, tight upturning of her lips in malicious glee. Ryoko was smiling at Riku. Smiling at her dying sister.
"R… ryo… ko… help… me…"
Blood trickles from the side of Riku's mouth as her sky-blue eyes settle onto her younger sibling's face, her arm crawling across the grass as if trying to reach for the other blonde imploringly. Confusion and pain laced her features and each labored breath looked to be an agony. Ryoko's sandals come to a stop several feet away, looking down on the older teen's body with that same delightedly malignant smile, a smile that didn't seem as if it belonged on a human face. Slowly, she reaches up and undoes the clasps on her own Chuunin flak vest, shrugging out of the garment to let it slip into the grass behind her.
The girl who would become Datura looks around at the ground, turning first one way, then another, as if searching for something, before taking a few steps off to the side and bending down.
"…ryo… ko… what…? …help… me…" Riku's voice was wracked with pain, choked in blood, and interrupted by desperate sobs.
"You still don't get it, nee-chan. You never did." When Ryoko stands once more and turns to face her twisted sister, she's no longer smiling, instead wearing a mask of hate. And she's holding a rock. "I never loved you!" The younger blonde hisses, raising the stone the size of her own head above her with both hands as she advances on her sister's prone form.
"Ryoko… what are…?" The question never finishes before the first wet crunch of stone on flesh fills the air. In pain and fear, Riku finds her last dying surge of energy, trying to fend off her death with her one good arm. "RYOKO! STOP! STOOOOP! NO!" Her cries are animalistic, shrill. A second wet crunch is heard, Riku's beautiful face rapidly becoming unrecognizeable, disfigured as Ryoko slams the stone down again through the other girl's pitiful defense. "STOP IT, RYO-"
Riku's arm falls and her cries are silenced with the third strike. Ryoko, breathing hard, only lifts the stone, and then brings it down again. Lifts it, and brings it down, over and over again. Eighteen. Eighteen times she smashes her sibling's face. Enough for gray matter to spill out of the top of her shattered skull and to coat the murderous Yamanaka's hands, arms, chest, and face in her blood.
Even as Ryoko allows the rock to slip aside from her grasp, breathing raggedly with exertion and adrenaline, blue eyes wide and unbelieving, as if the act before her had just been done with another, the sky begins to darken. The Yamanaka teen is in the process of pulling off her dead sister's footwear as the trees begin to melt away, the cliffs and rocks to obscure. The murdered girl and her sister fade, fizzle, and then vanish. The grass beneath everyone's feet begins to wither and die, revealing coarse granite beneath. And in the distance comes an inhuman, abominable wailing sound. A sound which is drawing closer.
And now that feeling of being watched by something hateful, something angry and hungry, would be felt by all.