Date: January 15, 2016
Murmurs and whispers fill the streets of Sunagakure in idle gossip and concern of people that have gone missing in the village. No one knows what has happened to them and it's beginning to stir up emotions and wandering thoughts in the village. An investigation has been launched in response in hopes that some information will turn up, but it seems the only thing doing any turning are dead bodies completely torn asunder. The only information to answer to these crimes is…a pen straight from the Kazekage's desk.
"Tatsumihito Chronicles - Dragon's Epitaph"
Can it snow in the desert? The answer is yes and no. While it has times where it can grow cool enough to produce snow, by the time it reaches the ground, it's mostly water. There have been records of times where it was cold enough for the snow to last on the ground, but today is not one of those days. Even still, it's a welcome sight against all the sandstorms and dust that frequent the land this time of year.
However, this sight has been met with some activity that has Sunagakure whispering of more issues taking place within its walls and the disturbance is enough for the Kazekage to take action. So far, she's wanted nothing spoken of it from her office until an investigation led to further information, but as it stands, it appears people have gone missing lately and turned up later looking exhausted. Their health appeared to be in good standing when observed, but they seemed to be incredibly drained. A good rest seemed to be all that was needed to get them back up and going again.
The investigation has led to the catacombs, a place often filled with mystery, rumor, and legend. There was always difficulty in sorting out which was which, but most, if not all, agreed that they were meant to be stayed away from and with good reason. The missing persons is one good reason why. "There's a reason why we're out here so early. Naturally, we don't wish to draw too much attention to ourselves, but for a village like Sunagakure, sometimes that can be inevitable. So, we will come here to see if we can find a source to what's taking place down here and act accordingly to handle the issue," Itami explained to the shinobi gathered here. "Be mindful about where you are going. While I am more than confident in your abilities, there is still a potential to lose yourself inside the catacombs. I'd much rather minimize the missing bodies to this place." She looked down at the hatch that would lead to the underground. "Any questions before we enter?"
Hiroto had Tenshi relaxing on his head and both were looking around the area. First scanning this area on the outside before then looking at the hatch and keeping a close eye on it. He frowns a moment before looking up at Itami and sighing. "Well…do we know what exactly we should be looking for? Or just anything out of place should be recorded down and brought back as evidence if we don't solve the whole thing here and now?" He pulls something out which happens to be a small note pad and with it is a small pencil of sorts. "If it is something specific I can have Tenshi look for only that while I keep an eye out for random other things." The cool air seemed to have him a little relaxed actually and he was in a calm mind set for once the past few days.
Shinta would listen and nod his head slowly as he took in what Itami had to say. By the time she was done, the boy had a scroll out and a small brush along with it so he could start drawing into the scroll and enscribing a simple map of the catacombs as a basic way of keeping track of the area. Crouching down, Shinta would run his fingers through the sand on the ground near the catacombs and then stand and withdraw his arms into his poncho once more with only his dufflebag of a supply bag strapped to his back revealing that he infact had arms at all. "Is there something that is suspected to be the cause of this issue? Perhaps a strange item that was stored withink the walls of the catacombs or one of the missing persons having gone mad in their confusion?" Shinta questioned as he tilted his head a bit. The information given had him guessing at a few causes of the issues but nothing solid enough to make his own assumptions known just yet. The most he could do was plant a thread to be used as a guide line if they needed to turn back at some point.
Jiro is there of course and he looks rather disheveled at the moment. He had been…'busy'…last night and was not pleased to have awakened so early. As he hears what they're going to be doing and why he just yawns widely, seeming generally uninterested for the moment. "Are we gonna ge' a nap?" he asks as the round of questions goes. Most of them make sense and have to do with the mission. So does his! In it's own way.
"We don't know what we should be looking for yet, unfortunately. Those that we have asked about the catacombs had little to say other than expressing not to go in there or wander around at night," Itami explained. "So, I imagine that we will need to establish a curfew based on that. If it will keep people from going missing at night, then it must be done," she opens the hatch to the catacombs and leads the way down the stairs. "So, unfortunately, I'll have to ask you to keep an eye out for random things until we can piece something together," she offered to Hiroto. "As for the cause, we're blind to that as well. While the catacombs host a number of things and haven't fully been explored, we have reason to believe they're largely empty save for the occassional wildlife that may make its home there. No one appears to have gone mad and seem to recover well from their nights spent down here. Reports regarded victims experiencing high levels of stress and fatigue, but otherwise normal. Their main focus was the wish not to be back down here again if they could ever help it. If it's enough for them to speak about not being back down here, I have reason to believe there is /something/ or /someone/ here, I just don't know what," Itami proposed to Shinta. "And naps can come later. For now, we need full focus on this mission," she added at Jiro.
While heading down the stairs, she gestured for the last to enter to close the hatch behind them to ensure security as they went to explore down here. The catacombs weren't much to look at. A bit musty and dry, a place to house the dead, both intentionally and unintentionally. Yet, it was also of cultural significance. This was Sunagakure before it became what it is now. Their current entry point is a large corridor, lit with torches to provide lighting through here. "Let's move this way…" She pointed out the direction they were to go in.
Hiroto made sure to be last so he could close the hatch, and upon entering quickly began to take in the area. All of Itami's words had been taken in and his response was a simple and silent nod as he just made his way towards the walls. "Maybe we should grab some torches? Just in case?" He offered to the others and if Itami agreed he would do just that before continuing on. The whole time they walked Tenshi was just staring at every little thing. Little scorpion there and small crack in the wall here. Didn't seem like anything yet though was out of place. "Interesting place down here though… Just makes me wonder what could be causing people to be so drained."
Shinta could only nod slightly at the answer that Itami gave him though it seemed to only place the boy's caution a bar higher due to the unknown nature of the enemy at hand. Shinta made his way after Itami but made sure he didn't drift too far from where Jiro was in case there was danger. He was sure that the Kazekage could handle herself though he also guessed she'd have an eaiser time fighting whatever might be causing the issue in the catacombs while Jiro would have an easier time detecting issues and, as usual, saving Shinta's hide as per usual. The boy was still a bit grumpy about needing to be saved all the time but he could only improve so much at a time without revealing too much so it would have to do until he was a bit stronger. "If you stay awake through this mission then I'll buy you whatever you want to have, Jiro. I was given my allowance for helping in the clinic and the hospital paid me a small portion for healing a female some days ago."
Jiro follows Itami into the catacombs and lets his hands drop to his side as he starts to look around the entrance area curiously. His gaze shifts over to Shinta at his words and he offers the other boy a toothy grin. "Goo'! Cause 'm 'ungry. So you c'n buy me dinner." And boy could Jiro eat! A lot! He glances back to Hiroto a moment before looking ahead to where Itami is having them go. His hands remain near his sash though he doesn't seem to be too concerned about much of anything at this point. People were probably just getting lost and walking a lot and getting tired.
"Yes, please do. Any sort of light…" Itami's voice trailed off for a few moments. "On second thought, just…basic kinds of light will work. These torches will do. I was about to say any, but then had to rethink the consequences that would come from that," she shuddered. "Anyhow, each of you grab a torch as has been suggested. We'll need all the light we can get in certain areas, but we have tried to be diligent in keeping it well lit just to be on the safe side." Itami grabbed a torch off the wall and held it up in the air.
"This place is interesting, I must agree. Long before Sunagakure was established, there were people here who dwelled in the desert. Many of the people here are few in number now, but you can find remnants every once in a blue moon. Their descendants live in Sunagakure, but the bloodlines and clans associated with them have long since faded into obscurity. Those who have studied the history here have reason to believe that these clans dwell elsewhere in smaller and more private settlements." She thought sharing a bit of lore would lighten the mood of the mission.
As the group moves forward and further into the catacombs, a haze fills the air. It isn't unusual for dust to be in various parts, but the problem is…this isn't dust. It's smoke and there's the scent of charring to accompany it. "I think it my be best to use whatever is available to you to cover your mouths and noses." Guess there isn't much use for these torches here. Just down the way, light is dancing along the walls, showing that something is still burning in here.
Hiroto grabbed his own torch until the fire was noticed. Finding a place to hang it then he sighed and pulled his mask out. With it being a mission within the village he didn't feel the need for it, but if there was smoke well..this would cover his nose and mouth a bit to control the smoke that could reach him. He aslo brought a cloth out to cover it somewhat, and if any others needed some cloth he would hand it out. He listened to the story well enough, but didn't comment because of the upcoming smoke. Once a small cloth that was made just for Tenshi had covered his face as well he set the bird down before it waddled a little to take a peek over there.
Shinta laughed a bit at the comment made by Jiro concerning food but had been expecting something along those lines after the last time they talked about Shinta's mission. The boy gave one of his pouched a light patting to check that his money purse was still inside but didn't bother with going into the pouch. If Jiro traded for it in the mission he'd just have to use it to buy the dinner himself after all. No problem there. With the onset of the smoke, Shinta shifted his arms beneath his poncho and soon enough was pulling his funnel neck of the poncho up so he could use it to filter the air for himself. A hand dipping into one of his pouches would offer a cloth to Jiro in case the boy needed one as well to keep from breathing in too much of the smoke.
Jiro grabs a torch as bade though as Itami tells her long, long story, he yawns widely. And loudly. Yep, she was boring him to death! Didn't she know better? When smoke started to come the boy just grumbled as he set the torch in a holder briefly to pull out a blue cloth, much like his sash in all but color, and tied it over his nose and mouth, letting the exra cloth hang down his back on either side. A small shake of his head to Shinta and then he grabbed the torch again.
Catacombs aren't anything new to Akina, who is more than a little used to the Shiren Caverns just south of the village. This particular maze of tunnels were unfamiliar to her however, and she had been down here for some time before finding what appears to be the burial grounds for some long gone villagers. The masked girl makes a note to check for any triggers or traps that might be hidden before setting to work, carefully collecting samples of moss and plant-life that grow even in the darkness. So involved in this task that she doesn't notice the smoke.
Itami tied a cloth around her face to protect her as they drew closer to the flames. At the very least, the smoke wasn't dense within the corridor, so there's some form of escape it's using to keep it down to a minimum. These catacombs may be old, but they're absent of well thought architecture. "I need for signs of life to be checked for around here. This fire is not much of one now, but it once was…" Itami entered into the large room that hosted the flames.
Carved into the ceiling was a hole that was leading the smoke away. There were torches here, but they were weakened to some degree by the smoke in the room. Much of the air was taken up by the fire that was in its end stages. The walls were scorched in some places and in others, claw marks were present. At the center of this all looked to be a bit, filled with blackened material. Whatever it was is unidentifiable now, but what's clear is that it was burned heavily. "You didn't have to yawn at my words. You should know these things by now. It's not brand new," she huffed at Jiro. "Anyway, let's check into this."
Hiroto was walking along now and Tenshi moved a bit off to the side to scan on both sides of the area. Tenshi eventually flew up now onto Itami's head to stick with her as she watched the nearby fires and leaned down like he was stalking some sort of prey. Hiroto just sighed a bit once more and kept on moving around the fire. "Guessing you see these marks as well huh?" He glanced at Itami and raised a brow. Claw marks and fire huh? But seriously he didn't know what could of done this. He walked a little further only to see someone down the corridor, but with the smoke everywhere he couldn't tell who it was. He pulled an arrow free and placed it on his bow before speaking. "Hey. Who is that down there?" He blinked a few times as he tried to focus on the masked figure….masked figure. "Akina?"
Shinta watched the movements of the others in the catacombs, not approaching the claw markings or the fires more than he needed to while he looked things over and looked down the the loose earth of the ground for signs of tracks that were surely left to some extent. He couldn't comment on his guesses of what it might be living in the caves for the moment but without some lasting proof he couldn't jump to any conclusions beyond what was obvious to all and not worth mentioning. As Hiro grew interested in someone Shinta took note, thouhg only as long as was needed to see if the female was clawed and intelligent.
Jiro squinted into the smoke and fire once they reached the area, pausing only long enough to give a grin to Itami, though it's hidden behind the cloth. "I do, tha's why I yawn'd," he informs her before turning his attention back to examining the area. A fire down here was bad because it could spread easily on old bits of clothing and who knew what else. Rats? He walked over to the mess in the middle of the room, squatting down to look at it, squinting his eyes to try and see through the smoke.
Akina blinks her dusky eyes once with some surprise as she hears her name, instinctively glancing up over her shoulder. She's surprised again when she sees Hiroto here, of all places. There's a slight pause of hesitation before she pushes herself to her feet, rising and glancing back past him at the others. Or the apparent flames she so carefully avoided. "Are… you guys treasure hunting? Because that might be a bad idea."
"You hush," Itami grumbled at Jiro's words. Her eyes move to meet Akina after Hiroto identifies her. Another familiar face here. There was some comfort to be felt, considering the situation. At least it wasn't whatever caused the problem they're facing. "No, not treasure hunting. We're attempting to identify what the cause of this fire is and the markings that were pointed out."
She set about using a wind jutsu to put out the flames. The markings on the wall show that they extend to another part of the catacombs. There are no prints, but there are signs of moved earth leading in the same direction the markings point. "Have you seen anything in here that could have caused this?" She inquired.
Hiroto moved to ask the same questions and say the same things as Itami, but got beat each time and he just lowered his head some. Though he did walk over to where Akina was now and just smiled..though it was hidden by his mask. "What you down here for anyways Akina? Can't be the same reason we are." He thinks for a moment and says more. "Oh and I suppose you could help us." He chuckled some.
Shinta would squint against the wind for a moment before he'd reach into a pouch and tip his head back. With the fires out it would be easier for him to use the eye drops he carried. They worked quickly to make the boy's eyes burn but also to ease them toward dilating so he could take in more of the low light levels and use it to effectively see in the dark. There was little need to speak with the female since the Kazekage and Hiroto had managed to say everything that needed to be said so Shinta merely used the brief moment to adjust his hand and test the thread he'd set up at the entrance of the catacombs to ensure it was still secured. Once finished with that check, Shinta adjusted his fingers and took up the trail with a fress spool of the thread.
Glancing Itami's way, Akina blinks slightly before looking back to the fire and mentioned markings. Again, she hadn't really noticed. That's how absorbed she was with her work at the time. "Huh. Maybe a dragon?" she suggests, as that was the first thing that came to mind. Shifting her weight forward Akina begins her approach. "I haven't seen anything, no. And I was searching for moss or plant life that thrive around human remains. Though I suppose any sort of remains would do for the plant."
"I suppose that would be the normal conclusion to this, but…" Itami rubbed her neck. "We'll have to leave that open as a suggestion." A smile spread across her face as she directed with her torch to move away from this area. "Alright, I think we might just about be done here. Let's see where the rest of these markings take us." And there's still the issue with the earth here. It appeared to be recently turned.
"Do you all still have your torches?" She hoped so. They were going down and deeper into the catacombs. The air began to change down here as more humidity crept up and bathed the corridors and open spaces around this massive complex. They did have a path to follow, however which made their investigation all the more easier. The torches began to flicker at this depth, though there was still plenty of air to work with the moisture was taking its toll on the flames. Drawing further into the catacombs only revealed more about Sunagakure's past as this section opened into structures that were clearly carved into the earth itself. Looks like this used to be a village itself from long ago. Largely untouched until recently.
"I have to admit, even I haven't been to these parts…" Itami offered. "We should proceed with caution. I don't know what to expect here. The markings appear to lead to a building nearby." She raised her torch higher to light the area. It was fairly dark in these parts, if only because this section of the catacombs was large enough to obscure most of what was here in shadow. Highly unsettling, really.
Doesn't seem like they'll need to dwell on much as they'll soon be arriving at their destination. The turned earth continues onward and into a sizable structure. The musky smell of the catacombs above is now replaced with the scent of metal hanging in the air.
Hiroto moved to grab his torch and another nearby one that he brought to Akina. "Got torches here Itami." He frowned a moment as he walked further down wards and he pulled out another cloth. THis cloth he started to wrap around the piece of the torch to use as an extra fuel if need be. Not using it yet though. He stayed close to Akina to whisper to her as they walked. "See anything?" He himself was having a little trouble, but he could see a little better then most here probably.
Shinta remained a fair distance back from the others, watching quietly over their backs as well as he could while keeping his arms tucked away within the draped form of his poncho. A brief moments work and the funnel neck was tightened a bit more on the boy's face while he adjusted his headwrapping to cover his head as a whole the further they moved into the catacombs. As the moisture built in the air, no doubt did the insects and whatever else might dwell in the caverns of this area. There was no need for the boy to end up getting them lost in his pale locks to tease Gojira with later. He quite liked his head without venom running through it.
Akina hesitates to take the offered torch at first, then eventually she reaches out and wraps a hand around it. If only to help the others see a little bit better with one more lit torch. The little bag with her freshly picked plant disappears into her knapsack, and silently she begins to follow, her night vision enabling her to glance at the others for a fleeting moment before returning down the length of the corridor. "Nothing immediate, no." Akina murmurs back to Hiroto. "But with all this moisture in the air, I wonder how likely it is for there to be fire too."
The scent mentioned from earlier is starting to grow more into a stench as the group draws closer to the structure. With the path lit with all the torches, red spots dot the ground and increase along the pathway to the building. Once inside, the scent is almost unbearable. "…" Itami meets the scene with silence, being the first to enter inside. There's pieces of human bodies all over the place, completely torn apart and picked off of. Flesh is left hanging from muscle and if not that, muscle is completely torn from the bone and left to hang as if severely flayed. Claw marks and more charring from flames match the scene that was observed earlier in the upper levels of the catacombs.
"This is heartwrenching." Is this what the people experienced? But if so, why didn't they mention something so horrendous? "This may be difficult, but we will need to sift through this…unfortunate visual to find anything to identify people with, if at all possible. We'll need to give these people their proper rest and respects." It appears a dragon may very well have been at fault here. The how is something Itami hasn't determined yet, but maybe there's something to be found in here that can tell more. At least, she hopes. She also fears.
Hiroto frowns a bit as they stumble across this scene and with no help he tries to cover his nose through the mask. "Ummm… I can see about finding something." He walks over to Itami for a moment and looks at her. "Dragon huh? You don't think?" These words would be whispered to Itami. Then he looked back at Akina and his eyes seemed to be frowning for him. "Akina…. I am sure you planned to anyways, but if…if anything is moving down here I think it would be good to know. I will start looking around." Tenshi stayed with Itami on her head as Hiroto started walking towards the bodies to examine them even closer.
Shinta would move about until the scent grew strong enough that even his nose wrinkled a bit beneath the funnel of the poncho that he wore. When he began looking over the bodies, the boy would tilt his head and keep his hands away from the flesh but at the same time, shifting the bodies as well as he could without touching them. He didn't need absolute proof, just enough to see that the had the same claw markings as the walls did. "It is possible that due to the high levels of terror their minds blocked out the memory however it seems unlikely that it would be so similar across all of the cases. Still, they returned where these people weren't as lucky.." There wasn't enough left to be sure of it but he could at least assume what he said next to give some comfort after Itami's comment of it being heartwrenching. "I do not believe they felt pain."
Akina brings up the rear, with her night vision eyes keeping watching behind them, and so is the last to see the scene within the building. Her eyes visibly widen beneath her half mask, her pale skin becoming almost sheet white as she quickly flits from one side of the building to the other. "No…" she nearly whispers. While others were grieving at the sight of so many dismembered and torn apart, Akina had realized something else entirely. "This is a lair. A nest. Whatever made this, if it isn't here now it's only a matter of time before it gets back! We need to get out of here!"
"I would hope not…" Itami admitted truthfully to Shinta. While she wouldn't have put her sentiments in that fashion, she knows where they stem from and in this case, that was the best kind of well wish.
She walked around carefully in the area, treading lightly over the bodies on the floor, cringing softly at every soft patch of earth she stepped in as it mashed underfoot like mud from all the blood soaked into it. Trying to sigh the stress of this situation wasn't helping her find relief as she'd catch the fullness of the blood hanging in the air. Still, she wished to do something about what happened here and so she gathered up her resolve and began picking up the body pieces to arrange them into piles of similar pieces.
"That…may be the case. You make a good point," Itami pointed out to Akina. "But this doesn't give us any indication of what did this. We have to be able to find something. We can take samples of the claw marks and draw them out, examine the bodies for anything and maybe then we can leave. I'll keep my eyes out and senses open just in case and you all should do the same."
Speaking of examination, there appears to be a glint coming from the far side of the building.
Hiroto looks at Akina and sighs a bit before walking over to her. "Akina. If it shows up here get to a safe place so you don't have to fight it any. It probably is…very dangerous." His mind drifted to the possibility of it being a dragon, and his mind drifted to Itami again. Dragons didn't exist…at least not in dragon form all the time. The Watanabe though were famed for their dragon blood and their skill in fire. And he has saw what they can become. His mind drifted for a bit until he saw the glint off to the side. "Uhh… Do you all see that?" He pointed it out and readied an arrow.
Shinta took to reaching out his hands and helping ITami with the bodies, mumbling quiet prayers each time he touched a fragment or adjusted the flesh of one to make them more presentable. He didn't wish to bring any anger beyond the catacombs if he could help it, but all the same, the boy was trying to watch the bodies and examine their wounds for more scratches and punctures. He was against using the dead in such a manner but if he could get an accurate idea of the size of the wound and the pattern he could at least find out if there were bite wounds among the clawed remains. "If I can manage to get enough of a view of the wound then I can recreate the cause of it easily enough..
Despite Akina's alarm, Itami begins to make her way through, stepping lightly over bodies. She winces and quickly glances over her shoulder, stepping back through the doorway to make sure they were actually alone. "I don't like this…" she murmurs softly to herself. "You shouldn't mess with anything with a nest, not dive into it… this is common sense…" Her gaze glances to Hiroto out of the corner of her eye, listening. "And leave you here? You think I could do that?…" Akina asks softer. Still she casts a worried glance back to the building.
"See what?" Itami tried to see what Hiroto saw. "Ah, I see it now." She silently thanked Shinta in passing towards the glinting object. She kneeled down to claim whatever it was and retrieve it from the torso it was jammed into. She raised the object to the light to inspect it more clearly, but her eyes dilated as a result. It was a pen, but one she was familiar with. It was the pen she used to sign documents. "This isn't what I expected to find here," she spoke drily.
"We should conclude our work here and this investigation. I think we've found all that we were going to find here." She didn't show it, but her grip on the pen was growing weak. She didn't like where this was going.
Hiroto frowned and walked over to Akina. "Yes. Because you staying could be bad whether we live or die. And the likelihood I die with Itami here is not high… No matter who it is. She would let herself go before us." All of this was whispered to her and then he looked at Itami. "Oh…well then… Alright.. We need to go while we can huh." He pointed to the exit. "Tenshi obviously doesn't want to be here any longer anyways." Caves plus all the bodies was making him stick very close to Itami's head.
Shinta remained with the bodies for a while longer, inspecting them as well as he could and shaping his chakra in his free hand until he was satisfied enough to form one of the claws. Nodding his head the boy would close his ahnd and let the chakra return to him before following after Itami and the others to peer at whatever it was they seemed to have found. Shinta didn't get to see what it was just yet but since Itami had handled it, he didn't seem bothered by it. No doubt it was harmless if she handled it so easily.
"I'm not worried about who. But 'what'…" Akina murmurs softly, still watching Itami through the open door. There's another long pause before she glances over her shoulder, still worried. "Yeah, I couldn't agree more. Maybe we could take whatever is down here with more shinobi, but right now…" she trails off. Yeah, it's about time they hightail it out of there. Just a bit paranoid.
Itami tucked the pen away on her person and nodded. "I don't want to keep us down here for much longer than what we need to be…I apologize. I was just eager to have this situation resolved, but it appears it won't be. Let's be off. Our torches are all still working, yes?" She asked while checking hers over for any changes. Hers was still in good condition, but the moisture was eating away at it at a steady rate. She imagines it's the same for the other torches as well.
She didn't ask anymore questions as she led the group out and away from this structure. She now has full awareness of what caused the problem here, but she's certain it wasn't her. Who, then? She'd have to ask her family if they knew more.