The morning sun rose all too soon. Kuno had been on last watch, so he was already awake. He wandered from tent to tent kicking people awake. Vorian and Kross awoke and got dressed, as they made their way out of the tent they saw Kuno dashing out of the girls' tent laughing as he dodged a flying chunk of ice.
A furious Asuka came barreling out of her tent clad only in a pair of small shorts and a tank top. Her skin was wet and covered with goose bumps, yet her face was red with heated rage. "KUNO UTO!" She raged, "I swear, if you ever fill my sleeping bag with snow again, I will kick you so hard that you won't be able to stand for a week!"
Kross fell to the ground laughing as Vorian rushed up and grabbed her in an attempt to calm her down. He held her tight and tried his best to quell her rage, "Asuka." She ignored him, "ASUKA! In case you forgot he was specifically requested for this mission. It's going to be awfully tough to complete the mission if you cripple our teammates." Asuka wrestled free and barged back into her tent. The boys looked at each other and laughed.
Kaza stepped out from his hiding spot inside his tent and gave Kuno a high five. "You know, why is it that you are the one who gets to pull all the pranks?" He joked.
Kuno shook his head, "Maybe because snow is funny, lightning would kill the girl. Did you ever think of that?" The two bickered back and forth meaninglessly as the girls exited the tent, towels in hand.
Asuka stared them down with a murderous glare, "We are going to the waterfall to freshen up. Think you boys can keep yourselves out of trouble till we get back?" They silently acknowledged with nervous nods and the girls turned and walked away.
Hikari looked back with a lighthearted laugh and a playful wink added, "And no peeking boys." then skipped off after Asuka.
Vorian turned away and started packing up his belongings. He rolled his sleeping bag and as he began breaking down the tents he caught sight of Kuno sneaking towards the edge of the camp. Without looking up he said, "No Kuno, we are not freezing their towels." He smirked as he heard Kuno's exasperated sigh. A twig snapped and he added, "We aren't boiling the pond either Kross."
Kross turned back and began packing his things. He chuckled and jested, "You're such a buzz kill Vorian."
"Not really, normally I am all for this kind of stuff. I just do not want to see Asuka kill anyone before we enter the cave today. This is our first mission as Jounin, Kross. You should take it more seriously."
The boys finished packing up the camp and sat upon their packs doing a final inventory check on weapons and supplies. Kross looked up from counting shuriken and asked, "Since I am sure you were up all night strategizing and making some amazing plan, why don't you fill us in?"
Vorian smirked, "Of course, as soon as the girls get back."
He had barely finished his sentence when Asuka's voice flooded the camp, "We're back already, good grief." They turned to see the girls walking back into the camp, fresh and clean and ready to go. "So what's the plan?"
They all gathered around as Vorian began drawing plans in the dirt. "As you guys know, our mission is to investigate the source of a strange energy signature. We know that this energy is not a natural occurrence, and that it is coming from a cave just to the north of where we are now. We have next to no info on this cave. And any intel we do have is next to useless since supposedly the cave collapsed nearly two decades ago."
Kaza rubbed his chin curiously, "So our mission is to explore the remains of a collapsed cave? That seems simple enough. But isn't a joint village mission being lead by two Jounin a little overkill for playing in the dirt?"
Vorian spoke seriously. "Normally you would be correct. But for some reason, our collapsed cavern . . . isn't collapsed." Kaza raised an eyebrow but said nothing. Vorian continued, "Konoha sent in a small advance party already. However, they haven't reported in since then. It is safe to assume something prevented them from doing so."
"Are you saying that they died?" Kaza inquired.
"I don't know. From what I was told, there simply has been no report. I would suggest being prepared for anything." They all nodded. Vorian began scribbling a series of Xs and Os in the dirt. "This is the formation we will be taking for the initial entrance into the cave. Things may change depending on the situation so be prepared. I need a scout in the front and back of the formation for security. Kross, you and I have the keenest eyes for this situation. I'll lead from the front with my Byakugan, and I want you to watch our backs." Kross nodded. "Asuka, you are our main muscle, you will follow behind me in case we are attacked from the front. Kuno and Kaza, you two protect Hikari. You three are the experts requested for this mission so I want you in the center of the formation." They nodded. "Alright, does anyone have any issues with this plan? Questions?"
Kross interjected, "Yeah, since when was Asuka the muscle of the group?"
Vorian ignored him, "Does anyone intelligent have a question?
"I have something to add." They turned to see Hikari raising her hand halfway up timidly. Vorian smiled in acknowledgment and she continued. "I-it's a-all," She cleared her throat and spoke again with confidence, "It's all well and good that you and Kross have superior eyesight, and it's a good plan to have you two watching point. But we won't be walking completely in the dark." Her hand tightened its grip on the staff she clutched between her fingers. "Temple priestesses are trained in the art of light manipulation. I can create my own light source."
Vorian's eyes widened, he was pleasantly surprised to hear this. He had fully expected to be walking blind into the cave. "Really?" He asked enthusiastically, "That is awesome! Visibility will make this mission so much easier." He stood excitedly and slung his pack over his back and started checking his area map in an attempt to get his bearing. Hikari's face was a bright shade of pink; she turned away and began gathering her things before anyone noticed.
The group gathered their belongings and began the final hike to the cave. The friends exchanged idle chitchat as they traversed the final stretch. As luck would have it, they had made camp much closer to the cave than initially anticipated and soon arrived at their destination. The day was still young. They quickly found a hollow in the cliff side where they stowed and camouflaged their baggage.
The group began making final preparations once more. Vorian reached into his pouch and began counting kunai and explosive tags. Kross, impatient as always, stood in front of the entrance to the cave. "Everybody ready?" he asked anxiously.
Vorian turned and spoke sternly, "Kross we have to make sure we are ready."
"We did that not even an hour ago. We have all of our equipment. We even have a human light bulb." Kross nodded jokingly at Hikari. "So what are we waiting for?"
Vorian began to talk, "Kross we don't know wh-"
". . . what we are going to see in there. We have to quadruple check our equipment as if the number is going to mysterious change." Kross mockingly finished Vorian's sentence. "Bored now. Going in!" Kross turned and entered the cave, the others soon followed.
Vorian stood and proceeded into the cave. As he did, he saw Kross standing by the entrance of the cave. He looked him in the eye and said, "You are a liability to the mission and likely to get someone hurt."
Kross smiled jokingly but his eyes reflected a deeper seriousness. "Vorian, you need to calm down. This isn't you." Vorian rolled his eyes and Kross rested a hand on his shoulder, "I understand your desire to prove yourself, I really do. But think about it, they made us Jounin. That is no small feat. They did it for a reason, because we are the best. To top it off we have a virtual dream team for our first mission." He felt the tension in Vorian's shoulder disappear. "Besides," he smirked, "If the big bad cave is too scary for you, I'll protect you little Vorian."
Vorian smirked sarcastically, "Oh, whatever would I do without the big strong Kross Uchiha to protect me from the monsters in the scary cave and in my closet at night?" He paused and rolled his eyes, "Alright Kross, I get your point. I really have been over thinking things. Thanks for bringing me back to reality brother." He smiled again and started walking into the cave to rejoin the group. As he passed Kross he reached up and smacked him upside the head. "But you are still a hopeless dimwit," he laughed "so get to the back of the line where you belong!"
Vorian and Kross were laughing as they rejoined the group. Vorian looked to Hikari who then thrust her staff into the ground in front of her. Her hands made seals similar to those used in ninjutsu, she chanted softy in a language that he couldn't understand. As the words softly and monotonously left her mouth, the light around them began to condense into a glowing orb just above the tip of the staff. He held his hand up in front of his face to shield his eyes. The chanting stopped and the light split into six smaller orbs.
Hikari reached forward and placed her hand underneath one of the orbs. Slowly retracting her arm the orb followed suit, floating inches above her palm. "This is a fairly simple technique to maintain. It functions much the same way as your water walking technique. Just maintain a constant flow of chakra to the orb and it will continue glow even in the darkest of places. Supply more to make it brighter and less to dim it. It's pretty simple right?" She said with a smile as she began distributing the orbs around the circle. She approached Vorian and placed the orb in his hand. As she did her hand brushed his; embarrassed, she pulled away her face was bright pink.
Vorian looked over at her, "Are you okay Hikari? Your face seems rather red." He asked out of concern for his teammate. She spun around quickly, grabbed her staff and began walking deeper into the cave. Vorian was puzzled and turned to Asuka and asked. "Is something wrong? She isn't sick is she?"
Asuka let out a heavy sigh and rolled her eyes, "God you are an idiot." and she quickly followed after Hikari.
"Women are weird Vorian, nobody understands them. My sister is the same way." Kaza stated, "Maybe it's her time of the month or something." He flinched as Kuno punched him in the arm.
"Tactful as always, Fushima." Kuno rolled his eyes then stared back at his light. After a moment a devious smirk came to his face. "Hey guys. Do you think you can freeze light?"
Vorian laughed, "Lets not find out." He said sternly, he was somewhat distraught at his own words. But curiosity would have to give way in lieu of time constraints. "Alright let's get this thing started. Everybody get in formation and let's go." The group began their descent into the cavern. Cool dank air filled their lungs and chilled their skin as they walked through the cave. After roughly ten minutes the tunnel opened up to a small empty chamber. Hikari lifted her staff and illuminated the room. They were shocked at what they saw.
"It's empty?" Kaza expressed in disbelief. "Well that was rather anticlimactic."
"No. . ." Hikari shivered, "That energy I spoke of is stronger here than anywhere so far. There must be something we are missing. Something isn't right."
"You're right!" Kuno smiled his famously devious smirk. "It isn't cold enough in here! Let's freeze it!" He joked.
"Are you kidding me?" Asuka interjected as she rubbed her arms, "I can practically see my breath in here. Are you completely insane?"
Vorian thought for a moment. 'She can see her br. . . ' "That's it! Kuno you are a genius!"
"I'm a what now?" Kuno asked surprised
"Vorian have you lost your mind?" Asuka asked, "Kuno is never right. Besides, it's freezing in here."
"What you just said Asuka," He spoke matter-of-factly, "You can practically see your breath."
"Yeah. . . And?" she raised her eyebrow.
"Well the reason we can see our breath is because the difference in temperature between the air coming out of our bodies and the air in out lungs is so drastic. Then theoretically, if another tunnel exists behind one of these walls, then the air in there should be approximately the same as it is in here if not warmer."
"Oh, I see what you are getting at." Kaza finished Vorian's thought. "So if there is a hidden door here then there would be air seeping through the crack. So, if we lower the temperature in here then we should be able to see where the door is."
Asuka asked in an irritated tone, "Couldn't you just use your Byakugan to look through the walls? That would be a lot warmer of an option."
"I've already tried that. The walls here are flowing with chakra, there is a strong genjutsu cast here to prevent us from seeing the door. And if it is strong enough that I can not see through it, then it must have multiple layers to the illusion. And judging by the fact that Kross is still standing here, I am guessing he can't see through it either. Can you?"
They looked to Kross as the red glow of his Sharingan eye faded. He shook his head and replied, "Whoever or whatever cast this illusion doesn't want anyone, to get in there. It would take hours to dispel a technique of this level. Kuno, the floor is yours. Can you handle it?"
Kuno laughed heartily, "Who do you think you are talking to?" He smirked and folded his hands into several complicated hand seals. Gathering his chakra he closed his eyes and exhaled slowly. A cool burst of wind blasted outward from his body. Icy white chakra flowed from his body as the air in the room began to chill. Snowflakes began to form midair and swirl around the room.
Vorian placed a hand on Kuno's shoulder, "That should be enough my friend." His eyes focused as he activated his Byakugan. The air was now saturated with Kuno's chakra. He watched for shifts in the flow. He noticed something and laughed, "Oh come on now. Now that is just lazy" Kross' Sharingan flashed once more and he joined the laughter. The remainder of the group watched puzzled as Vorian and Kross walked through a solid rock wall as if it weren't there. A moment later he poked his head back through the wall and looked at their confused faces. "It is only a visual illusion; there isn't even a door here. Come on through."
The group passed through the wall and into another tunnel. However this one, strangely enough, was illuminated. "How nice of them, to be so welcoming. They even left the lights on for us." Kross joked.
Vorian smirked, "Well if they are going to invite us in, then we might as well come past the front door." The group returned to formation and started walking down the tunnel once more. The corridor twisted and turn for what seemed like miles. Eventually they reached a fork in the tunnel. The group paused for a moment.
"Hikari, which way is the energy coming from?" Vorian asked as he gazed at the walls of the cavern which were now beginning to look a lot more like finished walls of a manmade structure.
Hikari closed her eyes. Her mind was attuned to constant meditation so she was able to sense the flow of energy around her. She felt out with her mind, the entire cave seem to be flooding with energy, but there was no doubt in her mind which direction the majority flowed from. Her eyes still closed, she pointed down the left hallway.
Vorian nodded and thanked her before looking at the rest of the group. "Alright everyone, let's split up," He said, "Hikari, Kuno and myself will check out the left side. Asuka and Kaza go with Kross and check out the right."
"Actually don't do that." Kross interjected, "Keep the group together. If the source of the energy is coming from that direction, then we have no idea what to expect." He looked over to Vorian, "I'll check out the right side and if I don't find anything within half an hour I will turn back and meet up with you guys."
Vorian could see the serious look in Kross' eyes and merely responded with a nod. Turning back to the group he motioned for them to follow. "Let's go everyone. Be careful Kross." He unsnapped the buckle on his kunai holster and started running down the hall. His team followed close behind.
"Will do!" Kross shouted after him and headed down the right hall.
The group reached the end of the hall and with it a large ornate door. After inspecting it for signs of a trap, and finding none, Vorian pushed the door open and stepped through.
The group walked out into a large elaborate room that greatly resembled the atrium of a temple. The walls and ceiling were made of neatly polished and elaborately decorated sandstone. Several large columns surrounded the circular room. Ancient glyphs and elaborate murals of oceans, ships and sea monsters, decorated the walls.
The group scattered about the room examining the illustrations in awe and wonder. Vorian chuckled to himself as he examined some ancient texts engraved upon a great stone alter in the center of the chamber. "I guess it's a good thing we brought Kaza and Kuno, these symbols are of a language I have never even heard of." He raised his eyes towards the ceiling. To his surprise on top of the pillars was the tail of an enormous serpentine beast made of stone. His eyes followed the tail as it spiraled around the chamber. Higher and higher it rose. His mind could hardly fathom how intricate the craftsmanship was; such a creature would take decades to carve from stone, let alone mount in such a fashion. He followed it higher and higher admiring its fins and reptilian legs.
The creature spiraled up revealing its incredible size. Finally reaching the top he could see its head, serpentine, yet not all at the same time. It almost resembled a dragon. In the beasts mouth was a large stone tablet, circular in shape. There was something in the center of the tablet but it was hard to make out. He focused his chakra once more into his Byakugan.
Vorian's mouth widened in horror, "There is a man in its mouth!" he shouted. The group spun around and looked at him as he pointed toward the ceiling. They ran to the center of the room and looked up.
Vorian spouted orders quickly, "Kuno, Kaza, start translating these runes and see if you can find a way to get him down. Asuka and Hikari help me search the room for a pulley system or a manual drop of some sort." The team sprung into action.
* * *
Kross stepped out into a large room, awed at the sight he could now behold. The room was dimly lit by the flickering of regularly placed torches. Taking one in hand he examined the room. Gigantic stone statues decorated the chamber. An enormous male figure with a beard that extended down to his chest towered over the center of the back wall, its hand grasped a trident large enough to topple a small building. Around the room at perfectly placed intervals were several other statues, smaller in stature, yet still enormous. Each was clad in an intricate suit of armor; they were most likely the guardians of the Godlike figure at the head of the chamber. His eyes rested on one of the "guardians" which appeared to have taken a couple steps out into the center of the room. Questions as to how or why it was placed as such were immediately replaced by questions of why its upper half was missing, or more accurately, shattered and scattered about the floor.
Kross climbed up the leg of the statue and examined the damage out of curiosity. To his surprise the back edges seemed to be melted. "What kind of fire is hot enough to melt stone?" He thought out loud. His only answer was the sound of footsteps behind him.
The young ninja flipped off of the statue and drew a kunai from his holster as a figure in a dark cloak walked slowly out of the shadows. Kross readied his stance. "Who are you?" he asked in a loud and demanding voice.
No answer left the stranger's lips.
"I said who are you and what are you doing here?" Kross shouted once more.
The cloaked man reached into his cloak and slowly drew out a katana. No sooner had Kross shifted his stance to a full combat stance when the man dashed at him with blinding speed. Kross barely had time to deflect the killing blow aimed for his midriff. He leapt back and regained his balance. He looked up to see the man vanish before his eyes, instinct took over causing him to dodge quickly to the left before his brain even realized he had sensed a presence behind him.
'He's fast. Too fast, I can barely keep up.' He thought to himself. He couldn't keep running, he dashed at the man at full speed. He swung his kunai; the man swiftly sidestepped and counterattacked slashing Kross' side. A flesh wound. He leapt back tossing a barrage of kunai at his opponent. They were easily deflected but just enough of a distraction, Kross' hands moved swiftly forming seals as fast as he possibly could. "Fire Style: Fireball Jutsu!" A large blast of flames burst forth from his mouth. The man moved like lightning, swiftly evading the perfectly timed blast. Kross gritted his teeth and leapt towards the center of the room narrowly avoiding another katana strike. His seals formed again and another fireball burst forth. Dodged, again, dodged, again, dodged. Kross' barrage continued as he blasted fireball after fireball each time barely missing the target. The cloaked man ran circles around the room dodging the young ninja's seemingly endless jets of flames.
Kross changed tactics, this time running directly at him. "So I can't hit you at range?" He shouted as he tossed a barrage of kunai, he ran behind them forming seals with his hands once more. The man parried the kunai with ease and Kross dashed up close, "Well how about point blank?" His foot pinned the cloak to the ground as he shouted, "Grand Fireball Jutsu!" A massive jet of flames burst forth, the cloaked man opened his mouth breathing an equally large blast of his own. The two fireballs collided and exploded sending both fighters flying backwards, their clothes smoldering.
Blood fell from his chest as Kross tried to pick himself up off the ground. 'He counter attacked in the middle of the explosion? He must have just nicked me as we were flying backwards.' He thought to himself. His eyes rose to see the man standing unfazed, smoke rising from his smoldering cloak. He picked himself up slowly trying to keep his balance, and his consciousness. He spoke weak, but loudly. "I know who you are."
The man's head, still hidden by the cloak, tilted slightly. He tightened his grip on the crimson handle of his katana.
"There is only one man who could summon a flame technique without the use of hand seals. A man whose speed and his skill with a blade were unmatched. But that man has been missing for over ten years." Kross fell back to a knee but never broke his gaze. "That man was the pride of our village, The Red Dragon of the Waterfall. Or should I call you. . . Sano Ryuutatsu."