Date: October 3, 2010
In the wake of the recent ghoul attacks, Hone Nai requests a clandestine meeting with Kokoroe Sousa, to discuss a matter of…psychological health.
Catacombs beneath Sunagakure
The city structure of Sunagakure existed before it was called Sunagakure. It was once 'The City of the Sands', and it had a sizable population — relatively speaking. Deserts are not the most hospitable environments in the world. It also had a network of underground tunnels that were originally dug for the storage of the dead. These catacombs were limited at first, and restricted solely to the honored or otherwise important dead. But eventually the catacombs were not large enough to house all those that died over the decades and then centuries. The catacombs were expanded, and each family that could afford such was granted a crypt for those of their bloodline that died.
Time passed, and though the exact reasons are forgotten, people began to store things other than the dead down there. Preserved food stuffs, armor and weapons, supplies, clothing, wealth… The catacombs had previously been the domain solely of the dead, remembered with fondness and honored regularly by their descendants. But when they began to use the tunnels as mere storage space, the catacombs were expanded even further, adding several lower levels into which the remains were interred — in the case of important deceased people — or merely dumped in pits of dry and dusty bones in the case of those no one felt like moving properly.
Gradually, the catacombs became less a place for the revered ancestor and more for the hiding of ill-gotten goods, stolen wealth, and the spoils of war. Indeed, conflict had come to the City of the Sands in the form of the Clan Wars. The city was used as a base of operations for various Clans, and was laid siege to and conquered multiple times over. Each time it was either rebuilt by the new owners. Each one added more dead to the bottom levels of the catacombs.
Each one made their marks upon the domain of the dead. And eventually, Bad Things began to happen. The details may never be known. But those who went into the catacombs seeking to pilfer from the dead and living both, or to develop secret and forbidden Jutsu for use in the Wars, or for a myriad of other foul purposes, began to meet their ends. At first people were just going missing. Not that unusual in a time of war, with ninja lurking in the shadows. But then people started FINDING those that had gone missing. And there were no known ninja who would have killed other human beings in such a fashion. They were quite literally torn apart. Ripped to shreds, gutted, reduced to flayed skins that were then bolted to the walls as though they were warnings, and WORSE. The catacombs were sealed off. None were allowed in. None WANTED to go in. For a time, that seemed to curb the mysterious disappearances.
But scarcely three decades later, around the time that a boy named Misu Yane was born, someone broke the seals and ventured inside. The City was under siege again, and there was a NEED for certain forbidden jutsu that might lie down in the catacombs. The small group that went into the tunnels emerged more or less intact, but they were said to have been behaving completely abnormally by those that knew them. Almost as though they had been driven insane… Or as though they were no longer their original selves. Shortly after that, rumors of a PLAGUE began to spread. And then it was no longer a rumor but an undeniable fact. An epidemic had begun, and people were dying by the hundreds every day.
The siege broke when the attackers discovered that the defenders had stopped defending. An investigation revealed the entire city was dead. The plague continued on to spread to the attacking force. They fled in all directions. More died. But eventually, people learned to stay away from that Clan that were now all infected, and to stay away from the City. And eventually, the plague had no more hosts.
Even more than a century later, when the abandoned City of the Sands had become Sunagakure, the Catacombs have been treated with the utmost caution, kept locked and sealed at all times, except under the authority of the Kazekage himself. Few are permitted to enter those dark tunnels. Fewer still would even want to. And yet that is exactly where it has been requested that Sousa meet with one who was born over a hundred years ago…
An intriguing history this place has. Terrifying to most, though Sousa generally doesn't pay much attention to his emotions. Even still, basic self-preservation suggests that this is an area which could stand to be placed late on the list of mysteries to investigate. As late as "Stuff I'll probably never get around to," even. Disease is something that not even a Kage's power can easily conquer, after all. Yet despite the potential dangers, Sousa now finds himself with sufficient reason to venture down to this place of nightmarishly unknown menace. Hone Nai may not be a man of great authority or influence in the village as a whole, but when he makes a request, Sousa knows that it must be something important. He knows of his nature.
Sousa steps into the cool, stale air of the catacombs and looks around. "I do hope this proves worth the effort," he remarks. "It's difficult enough to evade my retinue at ordinary times, doing that /and/ getting down here without raising any questions practically took a building-wide genjutsu."
There is no immediate sign of Nai's presence to MOST people, but Sousa likely at least knows that Nai is somewhere nearby. He ordinarily would not bother hiding when he is expecting to meet someone somewhere, but when it is down HERE and with SOUSA… He would rather not be spotted by an unexpected interloper. The Kazekage's voice echoes in the passages, eventually coming back to him in a distorted form. How long will the words echo? Sousa probably can calculate it, or at least form a good approximation.
But right now there are more important matters to attend to. A hissing, not like a snake but more like the hiss of sand in motion, precedes the response to Sousa. The hiss is actually part of the response. It is the voice of the one speaking. Dry, raspy, Nai says, "My apologies, Kazekage-sama. This is a matter of utmost importance. If you are certain you are unaccompanied, then we may begin and I will attempt to make this as brief as possible." Begin what exactly…? Ah, there's Nai now. He is emerging from a nearby wall as though it were made of air or water instead of solid stone. Garbed in his usual clothing — because even down here he does not feel it prudent to appear in his 'natural' form in the presence of Sousa — the head recordskeeper stands in the barely-lit tunnels with the most powerful man in the Village above them both. The last time that Sousa had a meeting with Nai specifically he was still suffering from the side-effects of his transformation into what he now is. His Jutsu repertoire and ability to make use of it were both greatly diminished. Being able to walk through walls is thus a new capability.
Nai pulls the piece of cloth over the bottom half of his face down to expose his missing nose and jagged teeth, with fleshless lips and withered flesh. He inhales a few times, though he has no need for air, and then says smoothly, in a much different voice — a rich baritone that sounds like it would belong to a nobleman and a normal human being — "We are alone. The nearest living things other than yourself are the guards up the stairs behind you. No rats. I got rid of those already."
Nai does not say how he 'got rid of' the rats. That might be for the best.
Sousa nods slowly. "How thoughtful of you. It does decrease my trepidation to know that there are no likely vectors for disease nearby. The history of the catacombs, you know." Knows better than Sousa does, likely enough. Sousa gestures back the way he came. "We are indeed quite alone. I made very sure that nobody will venture within quite some distance of the catacombs entrance. I must say, I am quite curious what could be so very important as to necessitate this venue for our conversation."
Nai nods slightly as he recovers his mouth and nose. "There are many ways to conceal one's presence. But it is very hard to hide the fact one is alive within my detection range these days… I can smell blood. Hear blood in veins. See it more clearly, flowing beneath flesh…" He seems to realize he may be sounding a bit too detailed on that front, and changes the topic. "The explanation of my senses can wait for another time. For now, there is something we need to discuss."
He turns and begins walking. Though he is moving away from Sousa, it is slow enough and directionless enough that it does not seem he is really going anywhere or expecting to be followed. Instead he thinks to himself as his hands lie behind his back, beneath his cloak and robe. Then he says, "I am not sure why, but it appears I am… 'Corroding' somehow. Not physically, but my actual sense of self. I am feeling urges and impulses and emotions that I have never felt before." He comes to a stop and then turns to face Sousa. "And they are not good urges, impulses, or emotions. I am attempting to ascertain what is causing them, but so far I have not been able to identify the source of the problem. Is it a breakdown in my Preservation Technique? Some other factor that I am unaware of? I do not know. But thoguh we have had an agreement for years now as to where I will obtain what I need to stave off the pain of hunger…"
He pauses and trails off. After a few seconds he says, seemingly on a different topic, "A caravan bringing aid to Sunagakure was ambushed on its way in. Its leader contracted an illness from a bite on his ankle. They thought it might be a snake bite at first, but then determined it might be a brown recluse spider, due to the necrotization of the flesh. It was neither. Then, the entire caravan was attacked. All of its members would have been killed if Sunagakure ninja had not arrived shortly beforehand to escort them."
A pause. "There was only one attacker, and that attacker was I. Even knowing that I am to prey upon bandits and villains who would harm Sunagakure only, I attacked that man and that caravan in my search for food. I could have kept it a secret temporarily, but no doubt Council Member Itami will tell you soon enough, if she has not already. I thought it best to tell you directly that I am losing my focus and my inhibitions regarding who and what will suffice as food. I do not like this. I imagine you do not like it either. So I come to you now not as the Ghoul of the Desert, nor as a recordskeeper, nor as an interesting specimen. I come to you as a friend and fellow citizen of Sunagakure. You spared my existence once before. Help me to retain my sense of self and find a cure for this problem. Please."
Sousa taps his chin thoughtfully. Yes, this certainly is a nuisance that'll have to be dealt with. A citizen going missing here and there wouldn't really bother Sousa that much, except that the people would expect him to do something about it. e.e Besides, if Nai is being controlled by his hunger /this/ soon after a /major/ conflict, the deterioration must be pretty severe. Of course, maybe his gorging is the cause. It's not hard to see how something which Nai feels he so painfully needs could be addictive to him and increase its addiction due to large consumption.
"That will be a tricky problem to address," Sousa remarks. "To study your condition openly would no doubt reveal your identity as the Ghoul, and once that got out there would be widespread panic and a demand for your destruction." Sousa folds his arms. "Of course, with your…capabilities of movement, it might be fairly simple to arrange a special laboratory area which only you and I could access…but I'll need something to study which would excuse the creation of such a space. Something which would explain why I need the isolation, and merit my absence from administrative duties in this stressful period…and which I could produce significant results in while really spending most of the time working with you. Hmmm…"