Date: April 8, 2013
A bi-annual gathering of poisoners holds Akina and Meruin. All desire the Sayishi plant, but acquiring it proves to have it's own set of difficulties.
"Suffocating Dreams pt. 1"
One of the many tunnels within the Shiren Caverns.
North Shiren Caverns [Land of Wind]
Welcome to the Shiren Caverns. This place is a maze of tubular tunnels, carved out over the ages by natural forces, some of them of the living variety. As desert locales go, the caverns are a hotbed of life, providing shelter from the merciless sun and collecting moisture. All manner of creepy-crawlies, reptiles, rodents, and even large predators like sand cats can be encountered here.
This area of the caverns features mostly small tunnels in great abundance, enough that exam participants can be sent into the network at different entrances and quite possibly not bump into each other for quite some time. Running and jumping about are limited, but opportunities for stealth and ambush abound.
Recently one of the smaller tunnels leading to the entrance area has been drastically expanded, almost perfectly circular in shape and twice as wide. Burn marks on the rocks themselves indicate this was caused by a great battle.
South - (S) [South Shiren Caverns]
Southeast - (SE) [East Shiren Caverns]
Southwest - (SW) [West Shiren Caverns]
North - (N) [Outside Sunagakure]
Meruin stands at the end of one of the many tunnels filling the Shiren caverns, the young man's back against the stone. He lifts his torch, glancing towards the metal door that stood as the only obviously manmade part of this underground hallway. But his gaze soon sweeps to the other people in the small group assembled here, face impassive as he mentally calculate the best methods of exterminating the others with their new positions, should they prove aggressive.
All were gathered for a bi-annual event. Herb picking. The Sayishi plant is known amongst the more knowledgeable of those who practice the poisoner's art. Discovered initially by the puppeteers, it's come to be known as an amazingly fickle plant. It's only known to bloom here, twice a year, at a specific time of the night, and it's petals won't open in the presence of too much oxygen. Thus the
door. But despite the difficulty in acquiring it, it's often sought due to the fact that it's a necessary ingredient in many of the more toxic or potent venoms known to be crafted. And it tends to be a pilgrimage of sorts, made as proof of one's mastery in the poisoner's art.
There are perhaps a dozen here. Half may take something home with them.
The number that has gathered for this rare occasion was more than she expected, though Akina knew she shouldn't be surprised. The ingredients used for poisons were a specialty of Sunagakure, let alone this one flower, the Sayishi plant. She could only hope that she might have a chance to gather some of the plant for herself.
The light of the torch Meruin holds flickers and glows against the shadowed tunnel as she silently approaches, her gaze narrowing subtly under her smooth porcelain mask against the light. With a small breath she rolls her slender shoulders, slowing her steps at the edge of the torchlight.
Meruin's misted gaze flickers over towards the sound of a new arrival, the motion hidden by the lack of pupils. He examines them for a spare few moments, the spiders ons his shoulders shifting slightly. They'd chosen not to arrive until it was nearly time to enter. Which meant that he had to change his plans slightly. It was inconvenient, but not mission failing.
The Okumo's eyes slide closed, his long hair spreading out of it's own volition as he turns his face away from the torch, lifting it. A few moments pass with him simply standing this way, body still, long tendrils of his hair slowly shifting in the air about him as though subject to the currents of the deep sea. And then the fire is smothered, webbing having leapt from his arm to the top of the torch.
Sudden darkness is cast throughout the area. No doubt many would need to take time to adjust to it. But with the coming of another, it upset the gentle balance he'd had. He wanted to get as much of the oxygen out of here as possible to allow as much as the Sayishi plant to bloom as possible, but he didn't want to lose so much of it that they'd all die. It was counterintuitive. And so, they would contend with darkness until they adjusted to the small skylight letting in small amounts of
moonlight, and shadows thereafter. But it would soon be time to enter, regardless.
Nearing close enough to see the sway of his long, pale locks, the young girl stares at the gentle motion as his tresses move on their own. Just long enough to see something (perhaps webbing?) snuff out the fire in the torch. Beneath her mask the corner of her lips tugs with a slight smile of amusement. Being plunged into sudden darkness the others might have some difficulty, some mumbling could be heard, but for Akina she could see with more ease with the darkness. Silently slipping into the line that's forming, she gives the pale-headed boy another sideways glance, curious. "So how far have you traveled?"
Meruin seems to have little difficulty sensing in the dark as well, his gaze moving directly towards Akina as the girl begins approaching past a few steps. It remains on her but for the split moment it took to check the position of the moon. As the question is asked he looks, instead, towards the line of people before settling on the door. "Not far enough," is his only answer as he steps away, moving to the metallic entrance to the Sayishi's resting place. He crouches down and grips the latch, eyes turning upwards to the skylight. Less than a minute, now…
Behind her mask, Akina lifts a brow at Meruin's curt reply, watching for a moment longer as he moves away. She isn't really surprised though. Most shinobi aren't particularly friendly to those outside of their villages, but she tried. "Hm." Her dark eyes blink slowly as she turns her head to glance at the others, seeing some of those gathered becoming apprehensive. "I guess its time." Rolling her shoulders, Akina leans away from the cave wall, casually slipping by other shinobi to near the door.
Meruin's eyes are fixed to the small hole in the roof of the cavern, watching. Waiting. The seconds tick by and the tension rises. Palms grow sweaty and are wiped clean, breath grows swift and then controlled, the sound of cloth against cloth hisses quietly before being replaced by silence as all cease their shifting. And then the moonlight sines a single, clean beam down, the pillar of luminescence encircling Akina. It was time.
Meruin stands, lifting the metallic door up from the ground until the tunnel on the other end is fully opened. It is pure darkness at first, but a moment later it burst into a brilliant, if gentle green light as the oxygen enters the area for the first time in two years, bioluminescent mosses celebrating their brief moments of glory.
Rather than step inside as soon as the door is opened and rushing to the Sayishi plant, Okumo Meruin simply steps to the side, allowing anyone who wanted to go by to do so. The line of people begins pushing into the glowing caverns, rushing towards their rite of passage and one of the rarest poisonous herbs most of them would ever see.
As the moonlight floods over her, Akina lifts her dark eyes up at the skylight for but a brief moment before the door is pulled on, metal ringing as its pulled upwards. The gust of air released from within was stale as it floods the tunnel, though it isn't even an instant later that she's pushed to the side as shinobi from all over try to get inside first. The girl makes a face beneath the mask, but is quick to slip inside before she's completely run over. They may be rushing, but she saw now reason to hurry. Not when it could risk losing her cool and possibly ruining her chance to find the plant for herself. Better be nonchalant about it.
Meruin's eyes tracked the people that rushed past, taking in their urgency and excitement. The doors had been opened. The oxygen let in. Harvest must come with the utmost swiftness. He stepped away from the wall, lifting a hand. It seemed that everyone had decided to run in after the plant. Well enough, then. He smoothly draws the door back down, closing it over the entrance of the tunnel.
He moved over to the side, crouched down, and began to wait.
Within the tunnel itself, everyone's forward momentum slowed as they came to the first fork in the path, their steps lit by the green mosses covering the tunnel. There was a tunnel to the right and a tunnel to the left, the latter branching off into a pair of tunnels itself, one rising and the other falling. The group began to split, making their own decisions and finding their own way. Five chose the path to the right. Three chose the path on the left, then the leftward descending path. Two chose the left, then the rightward ascending one. And two stood in the beginning, thoughtful.
"Hm." Two paths, the left one splitting again down the line from where Akina can see. And the moss was thick on the dirt floor. Turning her head to glance at the one remaining person that had stayed behind, the boy from before, she watches him for a moment longer before returning her attention to the moss. Bending her knees she inspects the moss, her fingertips light as she brushes against it. "Moss only grows where there is water. If we follow this, it should lead us to the Sayishi plant. And if we get turned around, the insect life could provide additional direction."
The two people who'd stayed with Akina at the first split in the path nod to the girl. "Yeah," says one, a young man about the age of Meruin. "That seems like sound logic to me. Good tip. Have to remember to keep our heads in here." He gestures to the left, walking down that path. "It looks like the brightest glow is over here, the path on the far left. That's probably our sign. Come on." The other person, a little younger than the other simply stood there, a thoughtful expression on his shadowed face. Perhaps he simply couldn't see the difference in the glow and was indecisive. Akina, as it were, couldn't make out any specific path that had more moss than the rest. But she had decisions to make.
One of the two people that had hung back branches off after, choosing the left tunnel. And despite her eyes working better in the dark, Akina herself was having a bit of difficulty deciding which side the moss was glowing brighter. "Hm." she hums once, narrowing her gaze on the moss under her fingertips. If she can't tell the difference, she'll have to gauge the moss against the local life. Namely, insects and spiders. With both of those as an indicator, she should know which way to go.
The thoughtful boy looked towards where the other had left before looking down at the girl closely examining the moss for whatever it was that she was looking for. Examining texture, maybe. Searching for bugs, perhaps. Regardless, he eventually simply shakes his head, gives a light cough and starts walking back the way he'd come. He pauses a moment, looking to Akina in his hesitation… but he soon simply keeps on his way, heading back to the entrance.
As for the Shibata girl, she would find that, with a certainty, the moss actually didn't get any thicker or thinner depending on which path you went on from here. The other one was either an idiot or seeing things. There seemed to be a larger amount of small life on the upward leading path on the left side, however. The route the fewest people had moved to.
With her discovery, a small smile tugs at her lips from beneath her mask before Akina straightens and rolls her shoulders, keeping her eyes sharp on the cavern floor as she follows the direction of scurrying life to the left tunnel that then turns upwards. Moments pass, and every now and then the girl double checks her steps, making sure that she keeps on the right path and always in sight of the insects that lead the way.
This upward rising path continues on for a small distance, the moss limning the walls and lending it's suffusing light to the girl. But as she'd continue on further down the path she'd notice two things. The first was that she was beginning to breathe kind've hard. Perhaps the upward inclined path was not the best to take. The second thing she'd notice is that the moss began thinning out the further along she went. As she continued on, the tunnel began to favor the darkness more heavily, shadows eventually filling more space than the light. She'd come upon a section where taking another step would mean making contact with water. A spare 30 feet from shore to shore, the waters holding small, pale fish in their deepest parts that languidly swim about.
Besides the fact that the light was noticeably dimming, the second thing that Akina would notice is that she was having difficulty breathing. Both a good and a bad sign. She'll just have to tough it out for now. Shifting her dark gaze to the moss once more, she notes that its thinning at her feet before the ground becomes moist, soon becoming water. With measured breathing Akina uses a small bit of chakra to walk across the surface of the water, making sure to make as little noise as possible until she finally reaches the other side. Then she takes another moment to pause and look for insect life again, keeping in mind that she has little time.
The water barely suffers a ripple as Akina steps overhead, traveling along it's surface until she reaches the other side unmolested. There's still plenty of insect life around here on the other end of the subterranean pond. Breathing is still somewhat difficult, but feels no harder than it had before.
Akina makes sure she paces her breathing, her shoulders tensing subtly as she pushes forward through the comfortable shadows. Always keeping an eye on the insect life, always quiet and listening in case there was either someone up ahead or someone following her through the tunnel. Either could be troubling in the wrong circumstances.
As she continues along her chosen path, she'd find the moss continuing to grow sparser and sparser — the same also being said about the dwindling evidence of insect life. She'd begin to feel a bit light-headed and a tad detached. As she walks, though, something that'd appeared nothing more than a blur of shadows on the floor would have some substance. Closer examination would show it to be the body of a young woman about 14. She was wet, passed out and struggling to breathe. She'd probably been the one who'd swam through the pond not far back.
The moss was growing thinner, the insect life sparser with each step she took, and her head begins to swirl enough times that Akina had to support herself against the cavern wall if only to make sure she doesn't fall over. Eventually she does notice the wet body of the girl that had swam through the water before her, collapsed on the floor. And it took her a moment or so longer to realize that if she didn't turn back, she could end up like that as well. Through the haze Akina decides that it would be best to go back, get a lungful of oxygen, and decide on a better strategy to get the plant. One where she doesn't kill herself in the process. If she had the breath to do it, she would have grunted in distaste as she turns back, hurrying over the water and through the tunnel once more. The upside, she knows the direction she needs to go now. Its more than she knew before.
The more she pushed herself to get back to the entrance, the more her lungs burned for oxygen, gasping harder with every moment spent inside the tunnel. By the time the tunnel converged with the others, the shadows really did begin to fade into a darkness that she couldn't see through, her thoughts becoming spotty with disorientation. With another gasp, Akina hits the door hard with her
body, pressed against it for a moment as she lifts a hand to knock on the surface, though she can already feel herself growing limp when she begins blacking out.
It seems like darkness always swallows, in the end. All return to it's depths and it's comfort, that of weightlessness and thoughtlessness and eventual nonexistence. But the sudden lifting of the metal doorway and the soft light of the moon say that the time has not yet come for Akina. Meruin stands on the other end of the doorway. "You made it," murmurs the young man as he reaches down,
grabbing the girl around the shoulders and pulling her into the cavern proper, letting her lay before the entrance as he slides the door closed. "Good." The other boy who'd left in the beginning stood, looking both ashamed and pleased at seeing Akina make it out alright. The Okumo simply steps away to let the girl breathe, leaning back against a wall.
"We'll need your information when we go in."
It felt like an eternity before the door opened, and even then Akina could hardly feel herself being moved and pulled back in. Lain against the wall sitting up, the girl struggles for her breath but makes sure that she does it steady instead of gasping for air all at once. When her surroundings become more in focus, she does note the two boys, the ones that had stayed behind. Everyone else are probably still in the tunnels. Her dark eyes glancing up at Meruin behind the mask, it feels as if another long moment or two passes before Akina feels the smirk tug at her lips. "I almost made it." the smirk could be heard in her voice. "I was going the right direction too, I know it." Despite the lack of oxygen, she couldn't help but chuckle to herself with some triumph.
Meruin watches the girl after she begins rousing, his gaze a placid thing, clinical in it's observations. Soon, it's clear that she'd not come to any permanent amount of harm and was recovering fairly swiftly from her suffocation. Swiftly enough for her to have the focus to make eye contact with him, and to hold it. A moments pass and the girl's words come, a smirk as much a part of them as the words that formed them. As she gave her victorious chuckle, the Okumo finds his impassivity cracking as a small smirk curves one side of his lips, a quiet sound marking his brief breath of laughter.
"Kirigakure." He shakes his head. "I've traveled from Kirigakure…"