Date: October 5, 2016
Kenta and Biwa finally leave Konoha to search for the tree that serves as a passage to Biwa's home valley. The two of them pretend to be giant fireflies to sneak pass the manticore flies guarding the tree.
"On the Wings of Friendship - To Reach the Tree"
Land of Fire
Biwa has been living with Kenta for a while now, but it's finally summer and even the cold mountain passes around this area of the Land of Fire are warm enough to travel. Still, the delay has given Biwa time to recover and Kenta time to prepare. That's good, because without official support from Konoha, there's only the two of them to fightor perhaps finessetheir way to the tree that Biwa needs to get home.
As they approach the site of the tree, though, it becomes apparent that the manticore flies have been preparing too. There's not many here (so at least they haven't reinforced or reproduced), but the manticore flies have draped webs all around the area—thick cords of silk stretch between every rock and tree, threatening to trip up anyone careless enough to walk or fly into them. There are even a number of victims here too, the twisted forms of deer and foxes, bundled in heavy silk for the spider flies to feed on. Biwa huddles down in the cover of a large boulder. "Almost home!" he declares, "Once I get to the tree!"
"Umm… don't let your guard down too quickly," Kenta whispers to Biwa, hiding behind the same boulder with his butterfly friend. "It was a long journey getting here, but this is going to be the hardest part. Look at all the webbing… it's like the manticore flies woven a fortress here. I really wish that we were able to bring a fire user, except I bet that webbing is at least a bit fireproof too. I hope that we prepared enough for this…" The young back hooks his thumbs into the straps of the large pack strapped to his back. He had to bring extra medicines and traveling items due to the length and nature of the journey. Besides the pack, Kenta also has a medical pack strapped to the small of his back, and is bristling with pouches, sheaths and pockets everywhere.
Kenta chews on his bottom lip for a second, a sign of worry from the young man. "Ummm… Let me see if I can figure out how many of those things are guarding the perimeter around this spot." The medic-nin takes a deep breath and closes his eyes. Then, he starts to send out weak pulses of medical chakra. The chakra bounce off the living organisms that it encounters and returns as an echo with biological information that Kenta works hard to decipher.
Kenta's observations about the webbing are quite right. In some ways, the silk has been distributed randomly about the area, but there's still enough of it that it's likely to catch the unwary simply by the amount of it. Still, whether or not it's fireproof, it doesn't look so strong that it can't be cut. Around some of the mummified deer lie frayed strands, snapped loose by the animals' death throes.
Just like the web, the manticore flies don't seem to be behaving in any special or organized fashion. From Kenta's jutsu, he can tell that some are flying about, some skittering around, and a handful sit on areas of the web, perhaps simply sitting and waiting to feel any vibration—these seem to be the biggest concern, as the rest are distracted with other tasks.
"Umm… Can you think of any type of creature that the manticore-flies won't eat, Biwa? Maybe we can use a henge to get pass. I'm worried about using too much chakra from the start, because there's a -lot- more of them than us…" Kenta asks without opening his eyes. He continues to send out chakra pulses for at least ten more seconds before he ceases to fully process what he detected. "I don't think there's any way for us to navigate through this area without running into at least one manticore fly ever few minutes. That really does leave a disguise, an alternative route, or invisibility. Like I mentioned, the first option is likely the least chakra intensive."
"Hmmmmmmm…" Biwa thinks to himself for several long seconds. "Oh!" He flutters his wings slightly, "I know. You've probably never seen them before, but in the valley, there are other insects called fireflies, and manticore flies can't eat them, because they're poisonous." He shakes his head. "It's too bad, I used to be poisonous, back when I was a caterpillar. But you probably don't know what that looks like either."
Kenta blinks several times. "Are these giant fireflies and caterpillars? I don't think we'd be able to henge ourselves into anything very small in an efficient way. Umm… here, why don't you show me, Biwa?" The young man makes the Yamanaka clan's special seal and concentrates. Due to all the practicing that he's been doing, the mental link that he creates between his and Biwa's mind are almost instantaneous, even though telepathy with non-humanoid creatures tend to be tougher too.
"Giant?" Biwa repeats, "No, they're normal size." He freezes for a moment as Kenta makes the link with his mind. «Oh yeah,» he thinks, «I forgot about this! Well, let's see…» Images of fireflies and caterpillars appear in Kenta's mind, and they look much like the kind one would see anywhere. The insects themselves get more detailed as Biwa recalls their appearances, then the images even get their backgrounds, and it looks like that firefly is big enough to knock over that magnolia tree it's eating pollen from. Looks like Biwa's idea of giant is different from Kenta's.
Kenta presses his forehead against the boulder. «"Ummm… that's a pretty big caterpillar…"» the young man replies to his friend. He closes his eyes again, so that he can focus better on the images that Biwa's sending. «"That might actually be -too- big for us to duplicate, unless you secretly learned some jutsu from the Akimichi clan while I wasn't looking. Umm… Maybe if we disguise ourselves as juvenile versions of those fireflies? That way, we won't have to try to make it look like we're much bigger than we really are."»
«Well, there are ones smaller than him,» Biwa sends back, «I was smaller than that. Here's what he looks like now.» Kenta gets an image of a Cecropia moth—no wonder that one looked so big. «Maybe I can introduce you when we get back home.» His wings flutter for a moment. «I think what makes the firefly poisonous is the same stuff that makes it glow… oh, did you get that from the pictures? They glow. Hm… here's one at night…» Another picture. That firefly has no trouble lighting up the entire clearing it occupies.
«"I think that visiting your valley is going to be a very interesting experience. Umm… I just hope that we manage to get there. We might have to rally your people to help clear this infestation out. At least Atsuro-senpai knows where this place is. If I don't make it back, he'll know to bring shinobi here too. Umm… Alright, let's try this."» Kenta sucks in another deep breath - he's doing that a lot - and lets it out slowly to calm his rapidly beating heart. He keeps a image of a giant firefly, abide a human sized one, fixed firmly in his mind as he forms the hand seals for a henge. A firefly looking pretty close to the one that Biwa showed him suddenly hovers in place of where he was, but again, human sized. It even has a glowey abdomen. Hopefully, the manticore flies won't notice that the glowing affect doesn't light up anything else close by. «"What do you think, Biwa?"»
"Oh!" Biwa quickly looks around to make sure no manticore-flies heard his outburst, then adds in thought, «You look so real! Almost like I could touch you!» Fortunately, for Kenta, it's still sunny out, and everything being covered in webs means that a lot of leaves have been tamped down and cast less shadow. Of course, if one of them /should/ spot Kenta in a shadowy area, the game might be up. «What now?» asks Biwa.
Kenta goes through the various possible outcomes of the foray in his mind. «Umm… ok. I need you to also Henge into a firefly. We'll start moving through the webbed area and hope the manticore flies don't look through the illusion. If they do, I'll have cloaking seals ready to turn us invisible. The webbing puts us at a bit of a disadvantage, because they'll still be able to track us while we're invisible if we leave a trail of broken or disturbed strains… or get caught in them. If worst comes to worst, I'll fight them off. Umm… your chakra is needed to manipulate that tree of yours, so you'll need to hold back and conserve as much of it as possible.»
«Okay!» Biwa lowers his wings down around his body for a moment. There's a few seconds pause, then a puff of smoke, which quickly dissipates to reveal a big firefly—not surprisingly, about Biwa's size. «Maybe we should still try sneaking,» he adds, «They don't eat fireflies, but I don't think they really like them a lot either… But they'll be scared of us a little too, so…»
«"Definitely sneaking. Umm… careful, sneaking…"» Kenta agrees. Too bad sneakiness isn't one of his fortes. On the other hand, he has speed and cunning to make up for some of that. It just might not be enough to fool the manticore flies. «"Here I go…"» Kenta warns Biwa. Then, he slowly begins to creep out from behind the boulder. The young man tries to remember exactly how most fireflies move and copy the meandering pattern he's seen before. This unfortunately doesn't include any up-down motions, but the amount of webbing that he's approaching actually provides a good cover for that, since hovering close to the ground is the best way for a giant firefly to not get tangled.
Curiously, Biwa's henged abdomen actually /is/ glowing. «Oh, see? It worked. If the manticore flies get close to us, you should get behind me and maybe they won't notice. But I still have to save my chakra for the tree." He follows Kenta out into the clearing, trying to stick close to his human friend while also imitating a firefly convincingly. In this respect, he has the advantage of actually having the same number of limbs, and wings. The manticore flies haven't noticed them yet, but they've still got a ways to go until they're at the flower tree.
<"That's a clever way to use your clan jutsu!"> Kenta thinks at Biwa. He smiles broadly, but this shows itself as a warm intensification of light from his illusionary form's abdomen, since fireflies can't actually produce human facial expressions. The young man makes sure to stick close to Biwa as the two of them navigate through the enormous communal web that the manticore flies created. «"Umm… this really reminds me of what happens in some parts of the forest when thousands of spiders come together to create a single web. Very effective at catching prey."» Kenta carefully lifts a leg over a low slung strange of webbing. He glances up at the flitting forms of the manticore flies above, just to see what their reactions are so far.
«I hope it works…» Biwa shivers slightly at the notion of being caught by thousands of manticore-flies, then continues to carefully pick his way through the webs. Up above, a couple of manticores have started flying lower near Kenta and Biwa. At this point, they seem to still be somewhat calm—perhaps more curious than alarmed. There's still no question that they've noticed, though, and it doesn't seem like Kenta and Biwa will attract any less attention going in.
«"They've noticed us"» Kenta comments needlessly to Biwa when he sees that several manticore flies are hovering lower and lower. The young man forces himself to continue moving along at a steady pace, even though the urge to start running grows stronger as the giant predatory insects gets ever closer. He almost stumbles over a rock and into a patch of webbing, but catches himself moments after his foot snags. The one man silent removes several cloaking seals from a pocket, which makes his henge form look like it's wiggling its legs a bit. «"Biwa, get ready to run if they attack. Umm… you won't be able to see me if we have to use these tags, but I'll direct you with our mind link."»
Biwa continues to follow Kenta through the webbed fortifications, glancing up occasionally as the manticore-flies hover by. There's no obvious change in the flies' behaviour when Kenta stumbles, but they gradually come close and closer as the two of them continue towards the flower tree. «Will you be okay?» Biwa asks, concerned that Kenta is planning on sacrificing himself. One of the manticore-flies hovers in real close now, until it finally alights on a net of webbing not far away from them, watching the two 'fireflies' as they move along.
«"Umm… I'll be fine, Biwa. Don't worry."» Kenta tells his friend. The good thing about his Henge is that it also keeps the butterfly from seeing the tightness in his expression. He just has to keep a firmly grip of the telepathic link to also prevent nervousness from bleeding into their mental communication too. Kenta keeps a wary eye on the manticore fly that has landed nearby, but doesn't deviate from his meandering, yet purposeful path through the web enshrouded area. It's getting harder and harder to avoid the sticky strands as they get deeper inside. «"Can you sense that tree of yours at all? Any idea how much further?"» Kenta glances at their closest watcher again.
«Will you be able to run away?» Biwa presses. The manticore-fly scuttles along the web, taking a few steps toward them, then another few as they move along. Biwa stops for a moment to look around. «That one,» he says, using one leg to gesture. The tree he points out seems to stand out from the rest. Covered in denser webbing than the others, it also stands taller and thicker. Only a single purple flower, flapping lightly in the wind like a flag. It's roughly in the center of the area occupied by the manticore-flies. Another fly lands nearby.
Kenta nods his head, but stops when he realizes that firefly head bobbing motions probably don't look much like nodding. «"Umm… don't worry, Biwa. We'll find out if we need to run, but I'll do my best to keep them from catching us."» The young man hops over the trunk of a fallen tree and one of his legs brushes the web covered obstacle. It catches for a second, but not enough that he couldn't tear free. «"Ick! This stuff is really sticky and I only brushed that strand lightly… Umm… there's more of them landing. That's not a good sign. We should hurry."» Kenta quickens his pace as much as he can without making it look like he's fleeing - not a good move in front of predators - and adjusts his trajectory towards the moonflower tree.
«Wait!» Biwa moves up closer to Kenta. «We should stay close together,» he explains, «They won't want to attack as much that way. Oh, and! It would probably be better if we move slowly, instead of moving fast and getting stuck.» In other words, they really do need to be thought of as wild animals, even if they obviously have some rudimentary intelligence. The two flies on the ground have moved in a little closer, and the ones in the air seem to be getting closer all the time.
Kenta slows down slightly, but his shoulders remain tight from tension. «"Alright, Biwa. They'll attack anyway once we reach the tree and you start to open the passage, but the longer it is before they get aggressive, the better for us. Umm… how long would it take for you to charge the tree with your chakra?"» he asks. The young man palms several pills of multiple colors from various pouches and gulps them down. This makes it look like his firefly henge nibble some leaves on his way pass them. Even though the cloaking tags become rapidly less useful the closer they get to their destination, Kenta keeps them in hand just in case.
«Um, I never really timed it before… uuuhhm, more than thirty seconds, less than a minute…?» The words are barely transmitted before the first manticore-fly darts forward, straight at Kenta. Biwa jumps at it, landing as hard as he can so that the webbing around him stretches and bounces. The fly stops and takes a step back, either having only intended a bluff-charge or been cowed by the aggressive counter-move. «They're still a little scared of us,» says Biwa, «But I don't know how much longer…» Indeed, a couple more flies have landed. By this point, nearly all other activity has stopped. All eyes are on the two intruders.
«"Umm… that's not too bad, but a minute is still plenty of time for them to use those pinchers and poisoned tails of theirs on us."» A bead of sweat forms on Kenta's forehead as they come within several steps of the tree. «"Ok, Biwa. It's now time to hurry. I'm going to blanket the immediate area in sleeping mist and follow up with a cloud of choking smoke. You get the passage open. Ready?"» Kenta starts forming hand seals and molding the required chakra for the first of those.
«Okay!» Biwa flutters over to the tree. While the manticore-flies don't seem to notice any difference between his manner of flying and that of a normal firefly, they do become very agitated as the two of them finally reach the tree itself. While the ones that were flying around start dropping out of the sky, those already on the ground buzz their wings angrily and start racing across the webbing towards the two of them snapping their stinging tails at the intruders—bluffing or attacking!?
Biwa braces his two front legs against the tree and the abdomen of his firefly disguise starts to grow more strongly. The tree give a shudder and several cords of webbing snap and fall away from its trunk.
As soon as Biwa lands on the tree, Kenta plants himself in front of his friend and whirls around to face the manticore flies. He drops his Henge to conserve the small amount of chakra that goes into fueling it, which reveals himself as a human once more. The young man makes the final seal in the series and leans forwards. A wave of white sleeping mist blasts forth from his pursed lips until the immediate area is completely blanketed with the soporific substance. Kenta immediate starts to pull tag wrapped spikes from a leg holster and sends them flying into the trees in every direction.
When the mist clears, all enemies in the first wave of attackers have either been knocked out or forced back, but more manticore flies are gathering, and a couple more have already charged forward, snapping at Kenta with their mandibles. Those behind them start coming in for the attack one by one. Behind Kenta, the moonflower tree starts to shudder again. The earth shakes beneath Kenta's feet and great coils of webbing break away and peel off from the tree, revealing silvery bark beneath. «Almost there!»
"More incoming!" Kenta exclaims. He stops tossing spikes and stamps on the ground while forming another hand seal. A wall of chakra blazes up around himself and Biwa to head off the charging manticore flies. "Kai!" The medic-nin slaps his hands together firmly. The tags wrapped around the spikes that he tossed earlier suddenly erupt, each one releasing a spreading cloud of black smoke thick enough to obscure almost all sight.
The smoke fills the clearing. It seems to have dissuaded the bulk of the attack for now, but one is still close enough to fight. It snaps its tail at Kenta, while a chorus of buzzing wings sounds from withing the smoke. The ground shakes again as the moonflower tree gives a great heave, finally casting off the last of its webbing, revealing a profusion of all different colours of flower. The base of the trunk has somehow come apart like a rope untwisting. Its glowing wood dimly lights a narrow passage leading into the ground.
Kenta tosses a kunai right at the manticore fly that's trying to sting him. The tag wrapped around the kunai's handle activate to form a short lasting chakra wall to blunt the attack, but it still comes close enough that Kenta can feel the air caused by the whipping tail. No time to dwell on that. "Biwa, you go through first, but don't rush too much! There could be danger on the other end too!" Kenta counter attacks once those instructions are given. He inhales deeply, forms a hand seal, and expels the air from his mouth in a huge blast that splinters nearby trees, send debris flying and strips away a wide swath of webbing.
"Be careful!" Biwa calls back to Kenta before he lets his henge drop and slips into the passage. Kenta's burst of wind clears away the smoke to reveal that the manticore flies have been knocked back for now, but most are quickly righting themselves and readying to attack again. «Hurry,» says Biwa, «Both ends of the tunnel have to stay open! Don't let them get in before you, okay?>
«"I won't!"» Kenta sends to Biwa. He sends another blast of wind into the knot of manticores forming up and drops to his knees. The young man stabs three tag wrapped kunai into the ground in a row before he darts into the passage. The tags activate behind him to block the opening in layers of seal walls. «"I'm coming!» Kenta tells Biwa as he runs through the passage, doing his best to fight off the disorientation of traveling in what's essentially a strange time-space tunnel.
Even inside the passage, Kenta can hear the sound of many manticore-flies slamming into the seal walls, at first all at once, then as a cacophony of thumps and rams. Biwa is waiting ahead of Kenta and he picks up speed as he hears the man's footsteps. "We're almost through!" Behind them, the first seal wall breaks and a manticore fly squeezes into the passage to pursue.
"I just hope that there aren't more on the other side!" Kenta exclaims aloud as he races along the passage. The young man knows that the likelihood is pretty high, since the predators would clearly want to establish control of both ends. The main difference is that Biwa's clan is also on the other side and provide a strong counterbalance against the manticore flies' power. The telltale buzzing of wings behind him makes Kenta whirl around before the first of their pursuers can gut him. He tosses several poison tags right at the creature and resumes fleeing at the very moment that the tags activate in multiple clouds of caustic green mist.
This time, Kenta's countermeasure doesn't seem to have much of an effect. Whether it's because the manticore-flies are themselves poisonous or just some quirk of insect physiology, they pause only briefly before they charge on through the poison mist without any apparent harm. They continue despite the narrow confines of the tunnel, racing and scrabbling to try and pass one another in pursuit of their quarry. "Almost to the end!" Biwa calls back.
Kenta doesn't realize that his counter didn't do much damage and is caught by surprise when one of the creature's wicked appendages catches him in the arm and nearly sends him tumbling. Blood wells instantly, but the wound luckily isn't too bad. Biting back a wince, Kenta whirls again and spits out a blast of wind that fills the entire passage behind him with pressured air. Then, he whirls around and keeps running. By this time, the medic's starting to breath heavily from the exertion.
Fortunately, Kenta was caught by the manticore-fly's mandibles, not the stinger. The creature clicks its mouthparts together, perhaps pleased that it was able to strike the young man. Fortunately for Kenta, the other end of the tunnel is in sight and the flies have been staggered once again by his blast of wind. "Once we're out, I'm going to close it," says Biwa, "It'll close really fast, so maybe we can trap them in here!"
"I really hope that you're right about that. There's too many of them for both of us to handle!" Kenta replies between deep breaths. His legs are beginning to ache, even though he trains his endurance daily. "Ummm… How long have we been running? It feels like we've been doing it for hours, but that can't be the case. This place is so strange…. Ahhh!" Kenta ducks as the buzz of wings warns him of another attempt to take off his head from behind. He doesn't even look back this time when he retaliates, since that just slows him down. Instead, Kenta chucks defensive seals backwards and brings up more seal walls to slow down their enemies.
The seal walls are enough of a delay for Kenta and Biwa to exit the tunnel well ahead of the manticore flies. They emerge into a landscape of total green; lush vegetation of all kinds abounds wherever one looks. Biwa turns to face the moonflower tree again. "Okay," he says, "Keep a watch for them. I'm gonna close the passage!" He places his front legs against the tree and it starts to glow again.
The wonders of the other side has to wait. While Kenta would love nothing more than to study the unusual flora and fauna, it's more important to not die. That would make studying anything hard. Kenta removes more defensive and offensive tags from his vest pockets, which he holds at ready in case they get attacked again. At least it doesn't look like this side of the passage is overtaken by the manticore flies. Biwa's people must still be succession at preventing a nest from getting started at the location.
The clicking of dozens of legs echoes from the tunnel. It gets closer, closer, closer… then it's drowned out by the creaking of the moonflower tree as its forking trunks twist together into a whole. Then there's only the sounds of the rainforest around them. "We did it!" says Biwa. "Oh, but we're not home yet. Um, it's right this way."