|Red Sky at Night ||[Dec. 31st, 2016|06:41 pm]|
[Afternoon of June 14, Yondaime Year 5, following Soldiers Take Warning]|
The rest of the morning passed uneventfully, except for Kasumi kicking Usagi in her sleep, and Kuroda scaring them all — by looking dead — until Genma pointed out that the Vice-commander was known for sleeping with his eyes open.
As planned, they struck out for the surface just before midday. Raidou kept an eye on Genma, who kept an eye on Kuroda. Sleep had done them both good: there was color in Genma’s face again, and Kuroda moved with reasonable ease despite his sling.
As before, Fukuda took point. This time flanked by Kakashi and Satomi, with Kurenai close behind to buffer the three razor personalities as needed. It didn’t escape Raidou that Team Thirteen’s commanding officers were sticking a lot closer to their rookies. Or that Ryouma was shadowing Genma’s footsteps and carefully giving Kakashi space.
Raidou trusted that time and distraction would settle them all back down.
The first breath of outside air was sticky, humid, and smelled like wet dirt. Daylight followed shortly after, as the tunnel curved up and out to an entrance hidden in a bleached thicket of dead trees.
“It’s hot,” Abe said, surprised.
“It’s summer,” Usagi said.
Ryouma shoved sweat-damp hair off his forehead. “What happened to ocean breezes?”
“They’re less common in marshes,” Genma said, with a trace less irony than Usagi.
Raidou could understand the confusion. Kiri conjured images of salt-blasted cliffs and frozen mist, not lush wetlands and — he slapped the side of his neck — mosquitos. But they were far south and east of Konoha, and several hours inland from the coast. And, as Usagi had said, it was summer.
“Watch out for biting turtles,” he advised.
Ryouma and Kasumi gave the nearby reeds a wary look. Ginta was already on high alert, blue eyes scanning distant trees — for shinobi and traps, Raidou presumed, rather than cantankerous fauna.
Kuroda made an impatient sound. Fukuda glanced at him, eyes faintly narrowed, then turned east, forging a path out of the grove. With varying degrees of caution, the Konoha ninja followed her.
As an experience, Sugizawa Marsh was mostly wet and bug-filled. The silty water started at shin-height, but hidden sinkholes dunked more than one of them unexpectedly up to the armpits before they resorted to chakra-walking. Swarms of tiny black insects targeted any open skin. Trapped under low cloud-cover, heat and humidity clung like bath water.
“I’m starting to miss the caves,” Raidou murmured in Genma’s ear, after a particularly foul-smelling branch smacked him in the head.
Genma slapped a mosquito away. “At this point I’m almost missing the Forest of Death.”
“Next team training,” Raidou promised him.
“I’m not missing it that much,” Genma said hastily.
The next few hours passed in a sweaty haze of slip-sliding and mud, until they reached a broad sweep of brown water dappled with floating mossy plants. Fukuda paused at the edge. Next to her, Kakashi balanced on the low, bone-white limb of a dead tree.
“Problem?” he murmured.
“What do you smell?” Fukuda responded, never taking her eyes off the water.
“Mud,” Kakashi said. “Rotten plants. Marsh.”
“What’s the hold up?” Kuroda demanded.
“We need to go around this stretch,” Fukuda said.
Raidou glanced over the water. It was placid as a lake, and utterly silent. There was no birdsong.
“Oh gross,” Abe muttered, to one side. He peeled a long brown leech off the side of his neck, unleashing a thin red trickle.
“Blood,” Kakashi added.
Fukuda whirled around and snapped, “Cover that!”
The water’s surface trembled. A slimy, undulating shape, as thick around as Raidou’s thigh, broke the surface. It arched like a cobra and turned an eyeless head towards them. Rings of ivory teeth formed concentric circles around its open mouth.
Giant leech, Raidou thought. Okay.
“Back away,” Fukuda hissed.
“We can take that,” Kasumi said scornfully.
A thin, inhuman sound crawled up the air, like a fingernail scraping over glass. The lake’s surface boiled with rising shapes. Usagi grabbed Abe by the back of his shirt and hauled him back. Barely feet away, more leeches rose, focused on the group of blood-containing prey, and charged.