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Soldiers Take Flight[Jan. 15th, 2017|03:56 pm]

[Early morning hours of June 15, Yondaime Year 5, following Red Sky at Night]

Before the sound of the first explosion had died, a second shook the air, raining dust down on them from the tenement’s swaying beams. The baby’s sudden cries were muffled against Kakashi’s chest. Kimiko jerked against the straps of her sling.

“Go!” Raidou hissed.

“With me,” Genma told Fukuda. “Tousaki, you take our six.”

They emerged from the door to the wail of sirens, but a surprisingly empty street. Lights shone behind previously dark windows, but their doors were still firmly shut. A civilian populace in fear for their lives, Genma guessed.

They ran east, sticking to the darkest corners and crevices, emerging into a dank court of even more ramshackle tenements than the one where they’d found Kimiko. Sirens continued to wail, and searchlights flared to life, playing over the faces of the steep ring of mountains surrounding Kirigakure. Clouds of dust and smoke rose where the blasts had shattered whole sections of stone and set trees ablaze.

Genma gestured to the others to stay hidden, and climbed a leaning power pole to get a better view of their way out. In almost the same moment, a thundering shock wave rolled through the village, emanating from the top of the aqueduct. It was answered by a second, even louder explosion from the south peaks. Flame flashed across the sky, hellish orange through the mist. An entire cliff face began to shear away, crumbling into a landslide that poured down on tall, cylindrical buildings Fukuda had flagged as grain silos. They were swallowed instantly.

At the top of the aqueduct, something had gone terribly structurally wrong. Dust billowed, and the few trees that had clung to the cliffside were bright spots of flame. The aqueduct itself listed to the side, swaying precariously. Water sheeted over the edge where one whole support column had buckled.

Under the searchlights, swarms of shinobi raced up the mountain side to shore up the crippled aqueduct. Scores more were already converged on the buried grain silos.

Genma dropped to the ground. “We have a clear shot to the east pass,” he said. And from there down a steep, seldom used trail that Fukuda had sketched for them. “It looks minimally guarded, but we should hurry.”

Fukuda nodded agreement, and they set off at an even faster pace. The baby was mercifully quiet, although as they entered a more prosperous section of the village, there was enough confusion in the streets that a wailing infant would have been little more than background noise.

The road broadened, paved with cobbles and well lit, and started climbing towards the checkpoint. Fukuda led them into an alley at the back of a row of shops. There were shouts and running footsteps from behind them. They crouched in the lee of a large refuse bin, and Genma took the scout position again, shimmying up a drainpipe to spy on their exit path.

“They’re bringing in more guards,” he said, when he was back on the ground. “At least eight just now, and more are on their way. I could take Tousaki with me and try to eliminate them, but we’d definitely be noticed.” He met his teammates’ eyes. “We need a new plan.”

Fukuda was the first to speak. “There’s the sewer.” Her face was grim with tension. “I didn't want to take Sango in there, but— The system's old, it's walkable in parts. There's an entrance a street over.”

“Two streets,” Kimiko said. “It’s in block six, halfway up.”

Genma didn’t like the idea of taking an infant into a sewer, either. But possibly infected was better than definitely tortured and killed. He nodded. “Taichou?”

Raidou didn’t hesitate, although his eyes said he wished there was any other choice. “Sewers. Move fast.”

“Of course it’s sewers,” Ryouma muttered. He let the others move past him and took up the rear-guard position again.

Fukuda led them through another alley, this one narrower and darker, to emerge between two buildings, one with a tiny walled garden enclosing someone’s home, the other a restaurant specializing in eel.

There was a storm grate with a round, slotted cover, partly hidden under a wisteria vine at the edge of the garden wall.

Genma had the cover off in seconds. The hole was barely large enough to admit a single climber. Ryouma and Kakashi helped untie the sling holding Kimiko to Raidou’s back, so they could go down one after the other. Genma took point again, descending into an echoing, brick-walled hole with a damp stench that rose like the arms of a demon trying to drag a soul into one of the Hells. This time there was no genjutsu expert to deaden it for them.

He snapped a lightstick, lighting the man-made cavern with eerie green. The tunnel was almost perfectly circular, more of a pipe than something meant for human travel, but there were painted arrows and a few signs high on the brick, pointing in the direction of the next access point. The water level — if you could call the thick sludge at the bottom of the tunnel water — was only ankle deep, but black stains climbed the walls to Genma’s shoulder height where previous torrents had filled the sewer nearly to capacity.

Raidou came down next, followed by Kimiko, then Fukuda, Kakashi and the baby, and Ryouma at the last. He dragged the sewer grate back into place with a metallic scrape and a dull clunk.

It was almost impossible to be sure they were going the right way. Smaller tunnels fed into the larger one, and the main line itself bifurcated more than once. Faded signs painted at every junction on the tunnel ceiling mirrored the streets above. With only Kimiko and Fukuda's knowledge of the village, and a compass showing they were heading more or less east, they forged on into the dark.
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