Date: February 7, 2015
Atsuro leads several team of shinobi to a location that their Lady Feather tracking device pointed to. The main team of Atsuro, Taizen, Hige, Konsho and Kenta finds a hidden hatch door after scouting the location. The door leads into an underground hideout of many twisting tunnels. After avoiding many traps, the team discovers the dead bodies of almost all the Fledglings (minutes the two youngest, Takato and Hageshi) and hundreds of birds. Lady Feather had sacrificed her own people to activate the immortality jutsu. After more exploration, they discover that Takato and Hageshi are still alive due to being hidden away by Natsumi for the Uzumaki Fledgling's own death, but they're in critical condition. While Kenta performs healing, the rest of the team finds Lady Feather's bed chambers. She's already gone, but left the sensing orb behind, which is what the tracking device was pointing to. They also discover a list that gives a clue of what her next plan might be.
Poster's note: foul language filtered in obvious places.
"This Immortal Coil - Out of the Grave"
Land of Fire
Two days. That's how long it takes for the teams led by Atsuro to reach the location where Lady Feather is supposed to be. The spot is almost directly due north from Konoha, as indicated by the tracking device that Kenta and Konoha's seal experts had devised for the task. It consists of a metal box with a glass face on one side that shows a pool of mercury surrounded by a seal circle. Right now, the mercury is all balled up and vibrating hard in the direction of a small group innocuous rocky hills. The hills are covered by a bit of snow and hardy early year plant life that had started pushing up as the weather warmed slightly again. There are very few trees in sight. The area around the hills is mostly flat and rocky as far as the eyes can see. It doesn't look like the best place to put a hideout, due to the lack of substantial cover.
"Looks like this is the place." Atsuro turns and signals the ninja in the area to stop and stay low, then turns back to look up at the hills. "Really hope this isn't a trick," he mutters as he and Taizen sniff the air a bit for any sign of… well, anything. Then Atsuro holds his hand flat against his forehead and squints as he takes a closer look at the hills, looking for any sign of concealed watch points or peepholes. Then he gestures to one of the other jounin here, the one with the best sensing ninja on his team. "Take your team and scout around the back. Try to stay out of sight." He nods to the other jounin, "I'm going to take my team up the front and see what we have. Be ready to move."
Hige journies with Atsuro and the rest, staying near his sensei and of course with Konsho by his side. In the smaller groups he tends to hang towards the rear and be their guard, but in big groups like this he has to stay with Atsuro and so he does. When they arrive he keeps low and says nothing. A few sniffs in the air are given while he waits for Atsuro to decide what he'll be doing. And of course…he's silent.
Kenta is also staying with Atsuro, being part of the "core" team. The young medic-nin is completely recovered from his recent hospital ordeal, but he's been even more silent and gloomy than he normally is. The only reason that he had joined the mission is because Atsuro himself has asked, so Kenta had pushed all his misgivings to the back of his mind… for now. He glances at Hige and lowers his eyes again as he stands behind Atsuro, listening to the Jounin Commander's orders.
The other teams obey Atsuro with respectful, professional efficiency. Most of them stay spread out enough to keep a suitable watch for danger, but close enough to quickly regroup. The team that Atsuro picked salutes him and starts moving around the hills to get into position.
Atsuro turns and nods to Hige and Kenta. "Okay," he says, "We're going to go in carefully. We don't know what they might have for us, so be ready for anything. If we run into Lady Feather, I'll fight her and try to get some blood or something from her. If I do, I'll try to toss it aside or something and keep fighting her. Kenta, how quickly can you mix it up if I get something to you?" He's aware that Kenta has lost his confidence lately, but he also needs him here. He's hoping that if he treats Kenta as professionally as a usual mission, he can simply settle the chuunin back into his usual attitude. "Hige, you keep an eye out too. If it comes down to it, I want you to cover Kenta while he deals with the poison. We'll signal the other teams to reinforce us if it's a big group. Either way, be careful. These guys can surprise you." He looks from Taizen to Hige to Konsho to Kenta. "Any questions?"
Once the briefing is taken care of, he has them start moving up the face of the hill, himself and Taizen on point, Kenta in the middle, and Hige and Konsho bringing up the rear.
Hige listens to Atsuro's instructions and nods once they're complete, looking over to Kenta. He gives the medic a very neutral look a moment before returning his attention to Atsuro. He just doesn't know how to act around people anymore. Surely it's partially his fault for not knowing how to help Kenta. The boy shakes his head at the questions question and then waits for the others to preceed him before he and Konsho take their normal position as rear guard, keeping an eye behind and around them.
"I have most of the poison prepared. Some of the ingredients are very rare, but we had enough in the medical store rooms to make one batch. Umm… I think it'll take me five minutes to incorporate that last piece in. If you can keep her off me for that long, we'll have a good chance of taking her down completely," Kenta says, sounding more than a little nervous. He's greatly looking forward to killing that woman, but the fact that success might hinge on him is enough to make him turn pale from the worry. When the team starts moving, Kenta gets into position and goes along with them, silent once more.
Nothing looks out of the ordinary at first. As the core team approaches and then enters the hills, all that they see is rock, snow and a little bit of plant life. There's no house nestle against the gentle slopes. There's no obvious holes in the ground or cluster of tents. It's possible that the tracking device is wrong about where Lady Feather is after all… But then, Atsuro and Hige smells something. A series of scents that don't match the environment tickles their powerful Inuzuka noses. The only source of metal around should be on the shinobi themselves, but they smell a large mass of iron close by. It's coming from the largest of the hills, which is a little to the left of the group. When the Inuzuka looks closely, they also occasionally catch a distortion in the air from the corner of their eyes. Something isn't what it seems.
"Okay," says Atsuro. He thinks for a moment about how to express with faith in Kenta without putting pressure on him. "We'll do it," he promises. "Let's show her what we're made of."
As they make their way up the hill, Atsuro pauses and sniffs loudly. Taizen, too, sniffs lightly at the air, nostrils flaring slightly. "Something iron," he says. And… what was that? He glances off to the side. Weird. "Some kind of genjutsu?" he suggests, "But I think I can pin down the scent." He continues to creep up the hill, following the scent until it leads him to an ordinary-looking patch of ground. He was worried that the iron smell would prove to be a blood smell, but he simply bends down and puts his hand through the ground. "A hatch," he says. "You guys see any sign of seals or traps?"
Hige and Konsho catch the scent as well but since it seems Atsuro already has it neither of them bring it up. Instead they return to their guard duties and keep an eye on the surrounding area for any signs of danger. At Atsuro's question the boy looks towards him, then where Atsuro is before a stray scent catches his nose. "Wait!" He says just loud enough to be heard by the group before he darts towards Atsuro before he does something silly and grabs his wrist. Konsho remains behind to keep guard as if they had this kind of thing worked out if Hige needed to do something. The boy looks down at the the area and gives another sniff. "I smell something strange." And then he catches sight of something else as he finally spots the hidden door. "Seals."
"I don't…" Kenta starts to say hesitantly as he follows the others. Then, he tilts his head slightly and tries to focus his eyes in a different way. There's a shimmer and… "Oh, I think I do see it now." He can't completely make out the hatch door even though his attention was brought to it. The illusion covering the entrance to Lady Feather's hideout is still holding fast. Kenta steps up next to the rest of the team members and carefully leans forward. He's not going to touch the hatch door like Atsuro was about to, but he needs to get a better look.
When Kenta's face is about a foot away from the metal, he finds himself finally able to see the door clearly. The illusion doesn't work that close up. "Umm… I see what's happening here. There are some seals for cloaking, similar to type that I use. There's also some seals to drain energy from a person and it triggers… Umm… Good thing you didn't touch the door, Atsuro-senpai. It's set to blow incapacitate and then blow up anyone that doesn't do it the right way. There's a pattern here…"
Kenta silently studies the seals for a few minutes. Then, he steps back and starts weaving hand signs. After a sequence of third two, he slaps his palms together, focuses chakra and reaches out to touch the handle. The illusion instantly dissolves, revealing everything for what it is. The hatch door also clicks open and flips inwards to reveal a dim tunnel lit by wall holders with chemical lights. The air inside smells like loam and dust.
Atsuro glances up to Hige. "Thanks," he says, "Two seconds in and I've already had a near-miss." He stands up straight and steps back, waiting for Kenta to do his thing. Once the hatch is open, he nods. "Thanks, you two," he says, "Saved my bulbasaur. Despite that embarrassing episode, I think I'll still take point. There anything else that looks dangerous in there?" He walks to where he can see the area they came from clearly, then waves to the other Leaf nin there, gesturing for them to come up. Then he walks to the other side and does the same for the group he'd sent around the rear. "Keep an eye out up here," Atsuro orders once they're there, "If anyone tries to enter or leave, take them down as quietly as you can. If you could keep someone with good ears listening near the entrance, that'd be good too. We might need reinforcements." Then, assuming that they didn't discover anything else nasty in the entrance, he takes a ninjato from Taizen and jumps down into the hole.
Hige gives Atsuro a flicker of a grin in response to the thanks before he returns to that neutral look. Trying to be a good little shinobi. He steps back as Kenta opens the hatch before quickly peeking over the edge to look in. Assuming there's nothing there he will again revert to silent Hige and step back with Konsho. Once Atsuro and Kenta both drop in the boy will follow.
Even though there's lighting inside the tunnels, Kenta doesn't take a chance that they might be rigged to blow out. He takes out a chemical stick of his own and shakes it until it starts to emit an eerie green light reminisce of some varieties of glowing mushrooms. The young medic-nin silently jumps in after Atsuro and keeps his place in the middle of the group, with Hige and Konsho bringing up the rear again.
The combination of ghastly violet light from the holders on the walls and Kenta's green chemical stick makes shadows stretch and jump in strange ways. It's very easy to imagine that there are ghosts and ghouls trailing the team of shinobi within the dimly lit tunnels. Black stone tiles line everything, so their heels click softly against the ground when they walk. The returning echoes adds to the illusion that their being followed. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the tunnel is sloped downwards, so it's clear to say that it leads deeper into the ground. It's also goes as straight as a stick for a long distance before it turns sharply to the right. A less observant team might miss it, but as this group of five approaches the turn, they notice that three lines of tiles on the ground is a very subtly different shade than the rest. It's set in a way that someone that doesn't notice them is bound to step on at least one.
Having nearly blown himself up and actually embarrassed himself, Atsuro is even more cautious as they make their way down the spooky hallway. He's on the alert for anything that might be useful or dangerous to the team, and so is Taizen. As they notice the tiles there, Atsuro holds up a hand to get the other Leaf nins' attention, then points to the tiles. He and Taizen carefully step over them, then Atsuro creeps up to the corner, listening and smelling for anything before carefully peeking out.
Hige's attention is spread mostly behind them, especially since the strange echo makes it very difficult to catch if there's any sounds that are not their own. However he's still trying to be observant up front as well and though he doesn't see the tiles right away he does see when Atsuro draws attention down to them. He nods slightly to show he understands before returning his attention behind them. Konsho and Hige both avoid the weird tiles, the only time their focus shifting when they walk.
Kenta freezes when Atsuro gestures at the tiles. He had also noticed the off color, but wasn't completely sure whether that meant it's part of a trap. The fact that a more experience shinobi found it something to be wary about is enough confirmation that he needs to be extremely careful. Kenta's legs aren't as long as the Jounin's, so he hops over the three lines of tiles instead of trying to step over them.
As the team turns the corner they find… another long stretch of tunnel just like the last. It has stopped sloping downwards now, so the team must be on level with most of the hidden base. They haven't walked far enough to be out of the hills, but they must be on the edge now. The turn in the tunnels means that they're doubling back for a distance. This time, it's only a few more minutes before the team hits an intersection. The tunnel splits into three identical ones, forming a cross shaped section. As the team approaches it, they feel a tingle through their bodies, as if they had just touched something infused with static electricity.
Instantly stone slabs come down a little ways into the tunnels in each direction. The barriers completely trap the team within the location. At the same time, the lights in the holders flicker out. Atsuro and Taizen are sharp eyed enough to see slots open up in the ceiling, which begins to pour out a ugly green mist. Kenta also notices the same thing, since he's holding a light of his own and has a little to see by. All three of them have enough time to cover their mouths or hold their breath. Unfortunately, Hige and Konsho are unable to do so in time and gets a lungful of noxious gas, which makes it feel like their lungs are set on fire.
As soon as he knows he's safe from the gas, Atsuro picks the nearest barrier and rams it with his shoulder as hard as he can, again and again and again. Even in the low light, he can see cracks spreading through the stone surface with each strike, so he's sure it's just a matter of time. Finally, the door crumbles away, only for a gout of fire to come blasting in through the hole Atsuro's created. Atsuro immediately raises his sword and spins it around in his hand, sending it around and around like a fan blade, which actually does somehow blow the fire away. "C'mon," Atsuro calls and pushes through the hole, mowing all the rubble away so that the others can follow him.
The path behind them slams shut and Hige blinks in surprise. Well, don't have to worry about anyone coming from the rear I guess. But with the lights suddenly out it takes too long for his vision to adjust even with the better eyes and he inhales some of the gas. He'd expected something more physical-ish, not this. He starts to cough, raising a sleeve to his nose before grabbing Konsho and tucking him under his clothes despite the burning in his lungs. He has priorities after all. When Atsuro clears them a path he will shove Kenta through first if he has to before he steps through. Once through he lets Konsho out while he continues to cough and breathe in fresh air at the same time. Even while he's recovering he motions for Atsuro to keep going. He's not going to hold them back. He'll recover on the move.
Kenta stumbles forward when Hige pushes him. The medic-nin follows Atsuro while choking and gasping through the fabric of his right sleeve. His eyes are watering, but at least he didn't get a lungful of the gas. Kenta keeps his left hand lifted with the glowstick in it, providing what little light it can to illuminate the dark tunnels. He couldn't see where they're going at all. Even if he can look pass Atsuro and Taizen's larger frames, the tunnel beyond is pitch black. The medic-nin does glance back once to check on Hige and Konsho. What he sees brings worry to his face. "Come on! I'll give you something after we get away from here," he mumbles through his sleeve.
The green mist spills into the tunnel after the team from Konoha as they flee from the trap. It trails them a surprising long way until it finally grows thin enough that the shinobi can breathe properly without fear of damaging something inside. Meanwhile, the tunnel is twisting and turning in a way that causes a great deal of confusion regarding exactly where they are in relationship to above ground. Thankfully, the tunnel doesn't branch anymore either.
Suddenly, the group bursts into a larger area. Darkness illuminated by a tint chemical green light gives way to a brilliant purple. They've entered an enormous chamber that must be at least the size of a small hill, proving that Lady Feather's people had hollowed one out from the inside. Many flameless lamps in holders provide more than enough light to see by. The walls taper upwards and everything's paved with the same black stone tiles. At the very top is a flat sheet of metal that's similar to the hatch that Atsuro found earlier. But it's what's on the ground in the center of the chamber that would catch everyone's attention.
Pale. Still. Lifeless. Male. Female. None old. Sixteen bodies are sprawl in a circle around a large bronze brazier. Atsuro, Taizen and Kenta would recognize many of the faces from their adventures in the Land of Snow. Now, those same faces lie on the ground, features all waxy and relaxed, sleeping the longest of sleeps. Mixed in among the young teenagers are children of even more tender age. Their limbs make oddly graceful, yet broken lines that almost speaks of artistry. Another circle of bodies, -many- more bodies, surround the dead Fledglings. The corpses of birds in every shape and size also litter the ground. Some no larger than a small dog, while others are as large as horses, although none reaches the bulk of the enormous creatures that had attacked the Temple of Embers and carried Lady Feather to the Land of Snow. There must be hundreds of them.
"Squirtle." Atsuro clenches his hand into a fist as he looks from body to body. It takes him a moment to calm himself, then he releases the fist. The initial shock gone, he quickly scans the Fledglings, hoping that Natsumi and even more so Takato aren't among them. "When I'm done with her, she's going to be begging for us to kill her." He examines the bodies for anything that might be useful (or dangerous) to them. "On the plus side," he says with a sigh, "She had to give up a lot to get the jutsu to work. She sacrificed a lot of her resources thinking it would be worth it for her. We'll see about that." He starts to walk around the perimeter of the room, skirting around the bodies all laid out on the floor.
Hige waves a dismissive hand at Kenta as he coughs some more. He can feel the crap inside of him but right now he doesn't really care. "I'm fine." He says between coughs. It doesn't seem like it's going to kill him at the moment at least and they have other things to be worrying about. As they can apparently see when they reach the larger room. The younger Inuzuka stares on in surprise, eyes wide before he has to cough in his sleeve a few more times. Okay, think he's good now. Good thing he'd gotten Konsho under cover in time since the pup seems completely fine. As he scans the bodies all laid out the boy chews his lip as he tries to fight back his own anger. Trying to be a good little shinobi. He looks around carefully while Atsuro moves forward, trying to see if there's anything waiting for them from above or to the side. Atsuro can look ahead well enough on his own.
Kenta freezes when he sees all the bodies. The chemical glow stick in his hand drops to the ground with a sharp clatter. He begins to take slow, unsteady steps forward. The young medic-nin weaves around the dead birds and drops to the ground next to an unfamiliar child of around eight. He touches her forehead with a trembling hand. A moment later, Kenta jerks away. "She… she feels like Sakura did. No signs of life at all. Very little bacteria activity…" The medic-nin swallows several times, as if he's trying to prevent himself from throwing up. He closes his eyes and start to breath rapidly.
(GM To Atsuro: You find Natsumi among the Fledglings. She's dead like all the rest, but she also show signs of struggle while the others don't. There are some bruises on her wrist and blood on her lips. Something else you notice is that there's no smell of dead or decay inside the room… except from her. It comes from Natsumi's mouth. If you pry it open, you see a small rotting chunk of meat with white hair attached.)
(GM To Hige: When you look around the location, you smell no signs of death or decay. It's almost like the event happened right before the team arrived. But when you look around some more, you notice that there's dust on most of the corpses, which indicates that they've been lying there for days if not weeks.)
As he makes his way around the room, Atsuro happens to notice one of the Fledglings in particular. "Natsumi," he mutters. He stops and starts to tiptoe his way through the cluster of bodies, until he finally reaches the girl's body. "So much for the kimono idea," he says with a sigh. Then he frown and sniffs. He puts a hand to his mouth as he gags, then he kneels down and opens the dead girl's mouth. With a disgusted look on his face, he reaches in and pulls out a piece of flesh with white hair still attached. "Kenta," he says, turning his head away from the disgusting chunk of meat, "I think we have what we need for the poison."
Hige trails after the other two as he continues his rear guard, despite there not really being much that can come from behind. So he devotes his attentions to the surrounding area instead, both he and Konsho sniffing at the air in different directions before frowning slightly and looking down at all the bodies. "Atsuro…I don't smell any death here." A strange way to phrase it but then death does have it's own rather distinct scent. And with this many bodies lying around even Kenta should be pukin-…oh wait he almost is. Despite the confusion he still feels at addressing Kenta the boy slips forward quickly to crouch next to the medic. "Kenta, you alright?"
Kenta opens his eyes and waves Hige off. "I'm… I'll be fine." He blinks several times and it looks to the younger shinobi as if the medic-nin's eyes might be gleaming a little more moistly than usual. "We just need to find Lady Feather and kill her. This will all end if she dies." Kenta makes the statement sound almost like a plea.
When Atsuro announces that something had been found, the medic-nin jumps to his feet and runs over. He tries not to look at Natsumi's lifeless face. Or any of the faces really. Instead, Kenta pulls out a small bag for Atsuro to drop the piece of rotting flesh in. "This really might be what we need. Lady Feather had white hair." There's an attempt to sound enthusiastic, but he's not succeeding. "Do you think she's still in here somewhere? The triggered traps should have alerted her."
Now that he's pretty sure these bodies have been as useful to them as they ever will be, Atsuro does his best not to think about how they look, smell, or feel. Relieved, he puts the chunk of flesh in the bag Kenta offers. "Thanks," he says, sounding thoroughly revolted. "What's the shelf life of that poison?" he asks, "If we were to make it right away, would we just have wasted it if it turns out she's not here?" He glances at the hatch above, at the hall behind them, and anywhere else there might be an exit. "Because, well, it seems like there's more of this place to explore." He pauses for a second, then takes out the tracker to see if it's changed at all.
When Kenta says he's okay Hige doesn't ask again. He's not going to bother or push him. The boy simply stands and walks over to check first on some of the animal 'bodies' before moving in to check on the children. His face is even more of a mask than it was before which probably means he's trying to hide a charmander load of anger. He reaches out to gently touch the forehead of one, waivering there a moment before he stands again and looks back to Konsho. The pup comes over and sniffs around a little, then hops up to a place he's not usually allowed anymore - Hige's head. But there's a reason as they talk softly to eachother. No need to be yelling. Of course they are still watching for a possible attack…and trying to figure out why these things don't smell dead or look decayed.
"The poison will keep for a while," Kenta tells Atsuro in a soft voice. He still avoids glancing at the Fledgling's bodies with his haunted eyes. The young medic-nin kneels and removes his backpack. He keeps his attention focused on a very narrow area around his knees while he takes things out. One of the items is a large glass flask wrapped in a metal case. It contains a vicious murky black liquid inside, which just happens to be the partially completed poison that Kenta was working on. The medic-nin also takes out a pair of tweezers and uses the little tool to rip out a small fragment of rotted human flesh out of the lump that Atsuro gave him. He drops it into the flask, which causes the poison to start bubbling. "We only need a little of the flesh. The rest can be taken back to Konoha to be frozen, just in case. It'll take five minutes for the genetic material to incorporate into this batch of poison."
When Atsuro checks the tracker, he'll see that it's still indicating that the team is close to their target. The mercury under the glass face has shifted slightly, so that it points back the way that they came from, but slightly to the side. Wherever the target is, it's not quite down the tunnel they came from. The tracker points at the wall. Some backtracking might be needed.
Thankfully, Hige and Konsho might have saved everyone hours of searching. The younger Inuzuka pair soon discovers drops of dried blood near two of the youngest children. It's really less drops and more like tiny scraps of dried flakes that's mingled with the dust. It leads towards one of the wall sconces with a purple chemical light in it.
"Okay," says Atsuro, "I really hope that's actually from her." He shudders a little, still finding the whole thing gross, even aside from the fact that they're standing in the middle of an array of dead bodies. He looks down at the tracker. "She's still in here," he says, "Unless she's somehow fooled the tracker, I mean. If we go down that hallway, then pick another hall, it should lead us to where this is pointing." He glances to Kenta's flask. "So the poison takes five minutes to brew… Once it's ready, how should we go about administering it?"
Hige and Konsho are still whispering to eachother while they search and they both stop at the same time as they see the blood. Hige's eyes sharpen as he follows it away from the other three and towards the wall, stopping just short. He looks up at the wall before exchanging glances with Konsho. The boy pokes the pup off of him in case something bad happens and then steps forward to check the wall, pushing against it a few times to see if it just…moves.
Kenta furrows his brows. He keeps his eyes trained on the bubbling liquid in the flask. "She needs to drink it, breath it in or have it come in contact with her blood. This poison won't just get absorbed through skin. Umm… that means the two of you should smear a few kunai and swords with the poison. I'll keep the rest to use with my poison related jutsu. That might be enough…" The young medic-nin chews on his bottle lip. He looks pale and haggard under the strangely colored lights.
Meanwhile, Hige's prodding produces some results of its own. The boy's search doesn't show anything odd about the stone wall, but the wall sconce makes a soft creaking noise when pressure is put on it. A little experimentation shows that it can be pushed directly into the wall. At that point, there's a mechanical rumble that comes further down the area from where Atsuro's tracking device is pointed. The section of the wall that the mercury keeps straining towards falls away to reveal a dark hole.
Atsuro nods. "When it's ready, we apply it to our weapons. Then we'll take her down and this will finally be over." He claps Kenta on the shoulder. "It's probably a couple minutes into it already, right?" he asks, "If we get moving now… um…" He looks up as Hige triggers the hidden door. "Huh. Well, I mean, it's not like I want to stay in here for very long." He glances down at the tracker again. "Looks like this'll lead us right to her. Maybe we should wait and have our weapons ready."
Waiting sounds like a really /really/ good idea. That's probably why once the path opens Hige goes over to grab another torch out of his sconce and heads back to the path to start walking down it. Just because he's hiding his emotions on the outside doesn't mean he's any calmer on the inside and right now he's ready to rip someone apart for what is in the other room.
Kenta nods tightly. "Three more minutes," he mumbles in a barely audible voice. He sloshes the poison gently in its container. The young medic-nin should really be looking around for signs of danger, but he just couldn't bring himself to do it. In fact, he seems to forget where he is for a second. About another minute in, Kenta rocks forward slightly and leans his forehead against Atsuro's right calf with the bottle of poison cradled protectively against his chest.
It seems to take forever until Kenta finally pulls away and announces that the poison is ready. "Umm… we only need a thin layer, so let's try to waste as little of the poison as we can. We have enough flesh to make more, but some of the other ingredients are hard to get too." Kenta sets down the bottle and removes a few kunai from holders at his side. He carefully presses the blades against the mouth of the bottle and tilts just enough that the liquid touches metal. Then, the medic-nin rubs his kunai sideways to get a film on the edges. After four kunai, Kenta holds up the poison without looking away from the ground. "Now you two do it."
"Woah!" Atsuro, with jouninly speed, zips over to Hige and takes him by the shoulder. "Hige. We don't know for sure what's waiting at the end of this passage. And we do know that you'll need the poison if you end up fighting her. I know that room is… what it is, but we can't let that affect our performance. People are counting on us. Someone from our clan is counting on us." Assuming Takato is still alive, which would feel like a miracle at this point.
He goes back to wait with Kenta. It really does feel like forever, with all this death surrounding them. He reaches down to pat Kenta on the shoulder. Finally, it's ready. Once Kenta's finished with the poison, he takes it and applies it to his weapons, coating a number of swords and kunai with it. Once they've all coated their weapons, he points to the passage. "Let's go."
A deep, low growl escapes Hige when Atsuro grabs his shoulder and the look the boy gives the man is a deadly one. His dark eyes are shadowed with anger but when Atsuro leaves he doesn't move again. Like, he actually just stands at the entrance to the passage and watches while Atsuro goes back to Kenta. He doesn't coat his own kunai until they come to him and then when Atsuro says it the boy starts forward with the torch. Pikachu taking the rear this time. There be some death needing dealing!
Kenta quickly places everything back into his pack, except for the bottle of poison, and shrugs on his pack. The young man hops to his feet to follow everyone else, but he keeps his eyes trained on the new opening in the wall instead of the corpses all around them. He's breathing a little too quickly again. "We have to be careful," he says, echoing Atsuro's caution. His voice cracks in the middle of the statement. "Try to hit Lady Feather with the poisoned weapons first before you try to use an attack to kill."
Having a raging Hige at the front of the team might not be the best idea. The younger Inuzuka nearly blunders into several traps, but keeps from killing the group thanks to Atsuro detecting the state of matters in time. Kenta himself is currently pretty useless at being observant. The young medic-nin is still in a shell shock state. He just follows along with a haunted expression and the bottle of poison tightly clenched in one hand.
Eventually, the group comes to another intersection. This one leads in six directions. One of them lead upwards towards the surface. One leads back the way they came. Three is on the same level, but branches at different angles. One slopes deeper underground. Atsuro's sharp noise catches faint scents from each of the, but two in particular is of great interest. There's traces of Lady Feather's scent down a tunnel on the same level, while the one going down carries hints of Takato and Hageshi. All the scents are so hard to identify that they must be weeks old. Only the low amount of moving air within the hideout keeps them from dissipating more quickly.
By the time they reach the intersection, Atsuro is definitely pretty worried about the state of his team. Of the five of them, one is nearly out of his mind with anger, and the other is falling to pieces with grief. It's all Atsuro can do to keep them from getting themselves killed when they /aren't/ fighting Lady Feather. How will they do in the final confrontation?
The scents give him pause. They're old — Lady Feather and the captured Inuzuka duo could both be long gone. Or Takato might be still here… Atsuro shakes his head. "Takato and Hageshi are down this way," he says, pointing, "Or they were." He checks the tracker again as he considers the situation. Fighting Lady Feather with Kenta and Hige in this condition would be stupid. And considering how things have gone so far, this might be the very last chance to save Takato and Hageshi. "Let's find Takato first," he decides, "Maybe we can get him out of here before this all goes to jigglypuff." Please be here, Takato. And please be alive.
Hige's eyes flash as he looks back at Atsuro with his decision. The boy does not look very interested in searching for people except the one who caused all the chaos and death. But in the end he doesn't argue and just gives a little nod, holding his torch still and motioning for Atsuro to take the torch and the lead. He knows he's blundered a few times already and he needs to try and get himself under control. Which when he sees Kenta in his state it doesn't help. If he wasn't still so angry he'd let it go but for now Kenta's even worse off than he is. Need to make it better. But probably won't. The boy walks up to Kenta after Atsuro takes the torch and he motions to the poison. "Let me see that." He says, making like he's going to coat another kunai. But when he gets the poison he instead tries to sucker punch the poor medic to snap him out of his misery. "Come on Kenta, we need you." He growls. Yeah, he's…failed at being a good little shinobi.
Kenta looks towards the team leader and there's a faint glint of hope in his eyes. "Maybe we can still save them, even though we can't save the others," he says. The young medic-nin quickens his pace enough that he nearly manages to surpass the speed given by Atsuro's longer legs. Kenta tries to squeeze pass the Jounin to get to the tunnel, but merely gets caught in the space between Atsuro and Taizen. It's probably the safest location to be at the moment.
"Umm… ok," Kenta says, soundings lightly disappointed. Why do Taizen and Atsuro have to be so bulky? He gives the poison to Hige and starts to turn around again, but finds himself on the ground with ringing ears. From the looks of it, Kenta has no idea how he ended up there. For a few seconds anyway. But then, he looks up at Hige's angry face with sad, sad eyes and asks softly, "Are you ok, Hige? You're all red." He rubs at the bruise on his face.
Atsuro's jaw drops along with Kenta. "Hige," he whispers angrily, "What the meowth are you doing?" He holds out a hand to help Kenta out, if the mednin will take it. "This is an important mission. I know that what we saw in that room was… horrible, but I need the both of you to be in top form. If you need it, I will talk to either of you after the mission is over, or I'll get you counsellors, or anything you need. But right now, the only choice I'm offering is for you to stay focused on the mission. People are counting on us. Lives are at stake. We do not have time for drama. I need you both. Do you understand?" He looks from Hige to Kenta.
Hige just growls softly at Kenta but he says nothing. It's useless. Hige can't help. /He's/ useless. There's is no verbal response to Atsuro and he doesn't even look at the man. He simply nods slightly that he understands and holds the poison back out to Kenta, looking past the medic nin down the path they're going to go.
Likewise, Kenta gets up silently and takes the bottle of poison back. He hangs his head, knowing that he had somehow done something wrong. Maybe he should have hit Hige back? But from the sound of it, that wouldn't have made Atsuro happy either. With all the emotions roiling inside of the medic-nin, he's not entirely sure -what- he should be feeling or doing right now. "Umm… I guess we keep going then…"
As the dysfunctional team resumes their trek along the downwards path, the scent of cold earth starts to fill their noses. There are less of the chemical torches in holders in this direction, which makes everything extremely dim again. The walls and floor also begin to showcase hard-packed earth instead of black stone tiles. It's still strong, but dirtier and less sturdy. The risk of getting buried alive feels more likely.
The team eventually reaches short flight of stone stairs. Walking down it leads them into a depressing dungeon area. Small cramp cells dug directly into the earth line a narrow hallway, with iron bars keeping in the contents of each cell. Right now, none of them look occupied. On the other hand, one of the cells hold soiled straw bedding, some dirty rags and a chamber pot that hadn't been emptied yet. The waste inside that last object is completely dry and crumbly. This particular cell still smell very strongly of Takato and Hageshi. But where are the two of them?
(GM To Hige: You smell a hint of lacquer coming from the right-hand cell at the very back of the dungeon. It's the same lacquer scent from the seals on the hatch door that admitted entrance into the hideout in the first place. Deeper investigation shows that the smell comes from the backwall in the cell.)
Well, that did almost nothing. "Guys," he tries again, "You're not in trouble. I just need you at a hundred percent. This is important, and I need all of your attention. I chose you two for a reason. I know you're both upset, but you need to forget those feelings for now, because we need to do our jobs. If whatever's bothering you right now comes up again, ignore it. You can take care of it after we're done here. But right now I need you to think of the mission. Think of the task ahead of us. Think of what you have to do."
As they walk into the holding area, Atsuro looks around. It doesn't take him long to find the cell where Takato and Hageshi were being held. "Pidgeyit," says Atsuro, "They were here recently." He looks around the cell for anything that can explain the two being missing. If he doesn't find anything, he shakes his head. "We're wasting time then. We have to get to Lady Feather."
Hige looks up at Atsuro and states in a flat monotone. "I'm fine." He's focused now, he's spent some of the anger and shelved the rest of it as much as he can. As they enter the dungeon area Hige looks to the cell Atsuro goes to before giving a few sniffs. Something catches his attention and he looks down the dungeon further before starting to walk that way. "Ojii." He calls over his shoulder as the smell gets stronger. Yeah he's done being a good shinobi, deal with it. When he reaches the last cell he steps in and heads right for the wall, looking at it. "There's something here. Might be a trap though. Smells the same as the hatch we came in."
Kenta inspects Takato and Hageshi's cell closely through the bars. The hopeful expression on his face had returned again, only to be dashed away by only very old signs of the missing Inuzuka Fledglings. "You're right, Atsuro-senpai. They're not here… Maybe…" He bites off the words, unable to complete the statement. "There's only Lady Feather left now. If we can at least kill her, we'd have completed our goal and made things right again…"
Kenta's head snaps around when he hears Hige's voice echoing from deeper in the small dungeon. Something there? The young medic-nin pushes away from the metal bars that he's leaning into and jogs quickly towards the cell that Hige's in. "Let me check," Kenta says in an urgent voice. If it smells like the hatch, maybe there's another sealed door, right? He places a hand about an inch away from the wall and focuses. If there are seals there, he might be able to sense them. It's a tricky thing to do, especially since he has no innate ability to see chakra like the Uchiha and Hyuuga can.
Eventually, Kenta start to get a sense that there's definitely an illusion on the wall. He takes a deep breath and starts to go through a sequence of seals. The wall suddenly shimmers and a Taizen size dark hole appears in the hard-pounded earth. The dark hole is covered by a chakra barrier, but Kenta places his hands on it slices at the barrier with a strong pulse of medical chakra. It parts away. Air that smells -heavily- of Hageshi and Takato rushes out. The same air also smells heavily of waste products, sweat and rot.
Atsuro freezes as Hige tells him he's found something. He whips around and nearly sprints back to the cell. "Vulpix," he says, "How did I not notice that?" And yet, his voice sounds relieved. He bounces on his heels slightly as he waits for Kenta to deal with the seals once more. Finally, the illusion falls away and the way has been cleared. "Thanks, you two," he says. He looks into the darkness of the hole. "I really hope they're alive…" He ducks down and enters, covering his nose with his hand. Please be alive, please be alive, please be alive…
Hige steps back once Kenta comes over and deals with the seals and blockade. With that done and Atsuro already disappearing Hige turns his eyes to scan the rest of the dungeon a moment before he motions for Kenta to follow Atsuro. "Might need your help." He says in that same monotone voice before turning back to play guard for now until he hears otherwise.
Kenta pauses only for a second before he follows after Atsuro, but he stows away the bottle of poison first. The medic-nin is a small guy, so the opening is much easier for him to squeeze through than the much larger Inuzuka. When they both manage to squeeze through the chamber, the thickly foul smell inside is enough to make Kenta gag. It takes a few seconds for the two shinobi's eyes to adjust. Then, they see that they have indeed found Lady Feather's prisoners.
The small chamber is nothing more than a hole that's been hastily dug into the hard earth. A weak chemical light lying to one side show bare walls without a single straight line, but a lot of scoop and scratch marks. The space isn't high enough for even Kenta to stay up straight and is longer than its wide. Hageshi and Takato already take up most of the space on the ground. In fact, Atsuro might have stepped on at least one of them going in. The two unconscious Inuzuka smell extremely bad, having sweated all over their prison clothing and soiled it too. A very family seal-covered kimono covers their still form entirely. They must not have started out unconscious, since piles of waste (which both Atsuro and Kenta couldn't help avoid stepping on) have been shoved into nooks and crannies in the space. There are also many empty bottles, bags and other small containers that must have contained food or water at some point.
Kenta quickly bends to place one hand each on the unconscious Fledglings. "Atsuro-senpai, they're in -very- bad shape! They're dehydrated, probably haven't had water for days. No food even longer. Their blood pressure's low and there's an infection raging through their bodies. Almost every bit of resource is burning away to fight the illness. Umm… that barrier must let in air, because they didn't suffocate to death and they must have been here for a very -long- time. We can't move them. I have to conduct emergency healing right away."
What little help the hand over his nose gave Atsuro isn't enough. Several muffled chokes can be heard from him, especially when he feels his sandal land in something squishy. When Kenta explains the situation to him, he nods and backs up out of the hole, relieved not to be breathing in such foul air anymore — or at least the same amount of it. "I just wanted to be sure they were alive," he says. "Please, whatever you can do." He glances out of the cell for a moment. "Natsumi must have helped them," he realizes, "There'd be no reason for Lady Feather to keep them like that, and they had food and water." When they return the body to Ushiogakure, he'll make sure she gets a good burial. It's the least he can do.
Hige's ears can still hear the other two and relief floods him at hearing the two are alive. With the smell he'd feared the worst. He slips off his small backpack and pulls out a water bottle that he sets next to the whole. "Ojii, here, see if Kenta wants to drip some water on their lips." He'd had it done to him before when he'd been knocked out a while. Water is important. With that done he slings the pack back over his shoulders and returns to standing guard silently, eyes watching the rest of the dungeon while Konsho keeps his nose in the air.
"Oh, yes! The water will help a lot!" Kenta exclaims. Hope and excitement is back in his voice. Sure, a lot of bad stuff is happening, but the team had found a silver lining. Takato and Hageshi are still alive. They can still be saved. Kenta waits for Atsuro to pass him the water. Then, he uncaps it and begins to spill small drops of water into the unconscious individual's mouths. The fact that both of them are pretty disgusting doesn't make Kenta back off. In fact, the medic-nin had just kneeled right down onto some very squishy stuff himself. "I can't give them too much now, or it'll be too much of a shock for their bodies…" He places his hands on the unconscious Inuzuka again. After a moment, he moves both palms over Hageshi and the glow of healing chakra surrounds them. "Hageshi's worse. Ninken needs more protein and the little food they've been eating isn't enough. Atsuro-senpai, what should we do about Lady Feather? I can't leave the two of them here like this. They're in critical condition. They're -very- lucky that we arrived now. In another half an hour…" That statement doesn't need to be completed.
That's just the question Atsuro's been worried about. He can't abandon leave Kenta here by himself, otherwise he might get killed by a very powerful (and currently unkillable) missing nin. But to actually let Lady Feather escape… It can't happen. If only he could be in two places at once, he could take Hige and go hunt down Lady Feather without the worry that she might slip by and find Kenta.
But actually, he can be in two places at once. Not enough to fight Lady Feather, but enough to ensure that Kenta is okay and still have a decent shot at getting Lady Feather herself before she can escape. "I'm going to get the other teams," he says, "One of them will keep watch over the exterior. One of them will stay here and guard this area while you heal Takato and Hageshi." He makes a seal and his Shadow Clone appears. "Make sense?" he asks. If there are no objections, the clone leaves the room to go back through the complex, smash the wall leading back to the entryway, and guide the other ninja team back here.
Hige crouches down to pet Konsho while he waits in silence, watching Atsuro's clone go away before letting his attention continue to rest on the dungeon at large. "How long will the poison hold?" He asks quietly up to Atsuro without actually looking at the man, his voice still that same flat sound.
Kenta bites his lips and nod. Most of his concentration is on the two critically ill individuals. "I'll be fine here until they arrive, Atsuro-senpai. If you and Hige need to leave now, don't worry about me." He reluctantly removes his hands from Hageshi to pull a tag out from a vest pocket. He holds the tag towards the team leader. "Stick this tag above the hole and activate it. It'll cloak the wall in an illusion similar way to what Natsumi must have done. It's not as strong, but it'll pass a inspection unless someone looks very closely. I'll also put up a barrier from this side to keep people from entering."
Kenta's seal for the hole seems to satisfy Atsuro. He nods to the clone, who takes off, speeding through the complex back the way he came as fast as he can. Then the true Atsuro turns and places the tag over the hole and activates it before he steps back to look at it. "It'll work," he says, "The other team shouldn't be here long. Thank you, Kenta." He turns to Hige and nods. "It's time we finished this. Let's go find her." He starts walking out of the cell area.
Hige lets out a soft growl of approval at Atsuro's statement of finishing it. He's seen more than enough and he's ready to make sure whoever the psyduck did this doesn't do it again. He hasn't seen this Lady Feather yet but he's ready to. Initiate badmew music here: Hige walks next to Atsuro and Taizen, Konsho trotting along next to the boy as they head out of the dungeon area.
It's pretty easy for the four remaining members of the team to make their way back to the six way intersection. The tunnel that smells slightly of Lady Feather hadn't changed since they were there. The scent is as faint as it was earlier with no new ones mixed in, except their own. No one else had headed down this way. Once again, the Konoha shinobi end up traveling through some rather dim areas before they reach the end of the tunnel, which is capped by an iron door. The door's open.
A quick look through the door shows a relatively lavish room. It's still a chamber carved into the earth, but this one's paved like most of the hideout, except for the dungeon. Many wall sconces make the area almost as bright as day. The light illuminates furnishings that must have been brought in by fuinjutsu, since many of the pieces are too large for the narrow tunnels. A large feather bed with a canopy takes up a good chunk of the chamber. It's loaded with plump cushions and silken sheets. Rugs cover most of the stone tiles on the floor, all of them in jewel tones. The back wall is completely lined by inset book cases, all of them full. There's also a dressing area half-hidden behind a silk screen that also sports a wardrobe and drawers. A round wooden tub big enough to hold two people sits nearby, but there's no visible pipes for flowing water. A final section of the chamber is set aside for a large writing table that's still covered in papers. Everything is pretty dusty, just like it is back in the "sacrificial" chamber where all the bodies were.
The condition of the room seems to suggest that Lady Feather has been gone for a while now. Atsuro narrows his eyes and scans the room before he starts to slowly walk around the room, on alert for any kind of ambush and visually inspecting any furniture or other notable features of the room. "She might have left weeks ago," he realizes, "It sure doesn't seem like she's been around recently. But that would mean…" He takes out the tracker again to see how it's reading right now.
Hige has a poisoned kunai out as he walks into the room behind Atsuro. A glance down at Konsho and then the two begin going to the side of the room opposite the older Inuzuka. Eyes flick here and there as he watches for anything that might spell trouble or indicate where the person is they're looking for. Noses sniff every few seconds to keep a good scent on what remains…something he can store for later. While Atsuro does his thing with the magic compass the boy walks further along, checking the bed area before moving on to the next. Every part of the room will be searched!
The mercury in the tracking device had done something that it's never done before. It broke through the circle seal containing it inside the metal box. The silvery liquid is still pointing in one direction, but as it leaks through the circle, it's also starting to slosh everyone outside the confinement area. The seal experts in Konoha will have to repair it again, assuming it'll even be useful still. The main problem is that the tracker leads Atsuro towards the dressing area… and behind the silk screen is a huge glass globe full of water. Swirls of color move inside the water, often resolving into different symbols and shapes. The sensing globe that the signaling orbs are linked to? There's also a thin layer of dust on the globe.
Unfortunately, Hige doesn't have any fancy devices to help him search the place. The bed contains no secrets, except some female under things under the covers. They hadn't been washed. Next up, the papers on the writing desk looks like they might be interesting, but turns out to be nothing more than some poems that involve dead children and the yearning for love again. If Lady Feather wrote them, she's one sad woman. As Hige keeps searching, he keep not finding anything. Then, his hand knocks a book off the shelves when he's searching them. The binding comes loose, spreading sheets of paper all over the floor. One of the sheets drifts over to where Taizen and Konsho are poking around, catching the former's eyes due to a label at the top of the sheet: "To-Do List".
Figures — Atsuro was starting to get the feeling that the globe didn't point to Lady Feather herself. And now that all (or all but a handful, at least) of the Fledglings are dead, there's not much reason to hold onto the signalling system. He sighs and puts the device away. Maybe it'll be useful somehow in the future, but there's not much point in using it now. "That about confirms it," he says. Taizen pokes around the room, sniffing in each nook and cranny. "You two find anything?" he asks Hige.
Hige is about ready to know the whole bookshelf over by the time he gets to it so it's no surprise he hits one, if not many, of them. When the pages fall out the boy looks down and scans them briefly, about to continue walking when Konsho goes sniffing around and spots the page near Taizen. He lets out a couple of yips to alert the rest as the pup moves around to read it. Hige is there in an instant and looks down over the pup to see what it is, "Ojii…"
The list is in a feminine writing and has been torn in half at one point. It's the bottom half of the original and shows the following:
* <strikethrough>Where's the second half of resurrection jutsu?</strikethrough>
* Find Hageshi and Takato. Natsumi may have deactivated their curse seal.
* Neutralize the Temple of Embers. Knows too much.
* <strikethrough>Find suitable bodies</strikethrough> Youkai and Nanami will do
* Need big chakra source. Bijuu power enough? Identify Jinchuuriki.
* Which hideout safest for resurrection?
* Kill the Inuzuka buffoon and his friends.
Atsuro walks over and takes a look at the list. "It's not quite up to date," he notes, "She hasn't crossed out attacking the temple. Unless our interfering means she wasn't satisfied." He frowns, "There's a lot of items on the list. It's hard to tell where she might have gone. I think she plans to somehow resurrect her dead children. So she's kept two of the Fledglings alive. She wants to find a Bijuu, then use it to carry out the jutsu. In one of her hideouts." He pauses, "We know the location of some hideouts — the Fledglings told us a bunch. We can check those, but maybe there's some indication of the other ones aroud here…" As for the one about the Inuzuka buffoon… they'll just have to see about that.
Hige takes the To Do list and scans it over with Atsuro before he nods slightly and slips it into his pouch for safekeeping. "So she's not here is she?" He says after taking another look around, a pained expression sneaking through the neutral face he'd rebuilt. He's one unhappy boy. He was ready to do some slaughtering of stupid people.
Atsuro shakes his head. "No," he says, "But this has gone way better than just about every mission we've done so far. She's slippery, but she's running out of places to hide. She's not slithering her way out of anything next time." Unfortunately, further searching of the room doesn't turn up much else. "Let's go and see how Kenta's doing," Atsuro says, sighing slightly. "We know some of her hideouts, and when Takato recovers, maybe he can tell us something we can use." He starts to head out of the room, "We can search those and see what Takato has to say. And if it comes to it, we can try and lure her into a trap. She /does/ need a Jinchuuriki." Time to see how Takato and Hageshi are recovering.
Hige's hands clench into fists as Atsuro answers him. It may have been better but this was the first one he'd been involved where there were so many kids just…dead. It brings his anger to a whole new level. Once Atsuro starts to leave there's a lot of cracking wood and crashing sounds as Hige basically tsuga's through everything in the room in no time flat. By the time he's done he's breathing a little heavily but it helped with his anger. That done he stalks out of the room. He might have a slight problem.