Date: April 30, 2016
Tatsuo goes into the forest to pick some herbs for Kenta, but ends up helping a mother save her child from an angry bear instead.
"Mothers By Any Name"
Land of Fire
It's another bright and sunny summer date at the Land of Fire. Things have cooled down slightly after a few very hot days in a row. Now the warmth of the weather is at the perfect level for comfort instead of being sweltering. There's some shade from a few big puffy white clouds overhead, but it's the overhead foliage in the forests around Konoha that keeps the sun out of hiker's eyes.
The conditions are pretty good for the growth of herbs. Kenta had intended to do some foraging in the woods, but sudden emergencies at the hospital had him burning off his free time with patients instead. Thankfully, Tatsuo is on hand and an experienced enough medic to recognize the types of herbs that Kenta wants.
The boy has been sent out to a deeper section of the forest where several small streams converge together to harvest them. The trees grow bigger in this area, their topmost branches almost seeming to touch the sky itself. Not many people visit this area, so only a few hiking trails thread through the wilderness and undergrowth chokes much of the space between trees. The plants that Tatsuo is looking for will be growing among the undergrowth.
Tatsuo certainly didn't mind helping Kenta. Ever. He was always happy to do what he could for the older medic nin if for no other reason than he owed Kenta his life. Well, more or less. He wouldn't have a home without Kenta after all. Finding some herbs was no big deal and since he knew the quailty that Kenta looked for before picking any herbs it made sense for him to go. Part of him wished he'd stayed to help at the hospital instead but, well, priorities. As he hiked down one of the paths he pulled out the list of requests herbs to skim it once more as he walks.
The list of herbs isn't that big, only five. The first three are plants with very distinct features, which includes the flowers from a sprawling bush, the dark purple berries of a vine that tends to twine around tree trunks and the roots of a fern that grows in big clumps. The last two on the list will be harder to find. Those two are mushrooms that could easily be mistaken for poisonous varieties or vice versa. Tatsuo woukd have to head off the trail and deeper into the trees in order to forage for any of them.
After scanning the page one last time Tatsuo puts the paper away once again before he looks around to try and decide which way to go. After a few moments he heads off the beaten path down towards what appears to be a little brighter area so that he can try and find the leafy herbs first. He'd hunt darker areas for the mushrooms after this had been taken care of.
Things go surprisingly well from the very beginning. Tatsuo quickly finds the second item on the list growing. The vines grow thickly on the trunks of the trees that ring a tiny patch of exposed sky caused by the collapse of an ancient forest giant. This relatively higher level of light from the sun and moisture from rain allowed the vines to grow more thickly, while still protected from the harshest of weather by. There's more than enough berries on the vines, although Tatsuo would have to be careful if he intends to pick them by hand, since the juice has properties that'd irritate skin.
One doesn't go picking herbs and other various medicinal items without being prepared. In a pouch Tatsuo has a pair of gloves and, now that he has found the berries, he puts down his segmented basket in order to pull the gloves out and put them on. Only once this precaution has been taken does he finally start picking the berries, briefly examing each one before he pulls it from the vine to make sure it's in the right condition for what they need.
Tatsuo's preparations pay off, since many of the berries are overripe or partially eaten by insects and smear juice all over his gloves when he starts to pick them. The purple juice smells wonderfully sweet, but that hides the fact that it'd cause a rash it if had ended up on his skin or in his mouth. With the gloves on, the task becomes rather pleasant. Birds are singing overhead. The slightly thicker beams of sunlight that breaks through the canopy here feels nice and warm on Tatsuo's back. Even the scent of the nearby fallen giant's crumbling trunk has a soothing, musky scent of earthiness to it.
Soon, the boy has enough of the berries to satisfy more than one Kenta. A clump of ferns growing on the other side of the trunk, at the edge of where his vision reaches, might be one of the items on his list, but it's hard to tell from where he's standing. A noise in the distance reaches Tatsuo's ears before he can go investigate the plants. The sound is hard to make out, but it's not naturally part of the forest.
It actually can't be too bad of a day if one is out berry picking, can it be? Even if they are mildly-dangerous berries. One Tatsuo has enough of them in that section of the basket he looks around again and spots the possible-plant. He starts towards it, but pauses as he hears the strange sounds in order to look around again, albeit a bit more slowly this time and with a faint frown. What was that?
The sound resolves into words when Tatsuo concentrates on it. "Koinu! Koinu! Where are you, Koinu!" It's the panicked calls of a woman that reaches Tatsuo's ears. Whomever's making them sound pretty close to tears. The person must also be pretty close, since they words are audible despite being faint with distance. "Koinuuuu!" This time, what -might- be a soft sob follows the cry. It's definitely coming from a southeasterly direction.
Tatsuo is a bit surprised someone is wandering so far out in the forest but, from the sounds of things, they and someone else could very well be lost. He's not going to just leave them to it or anything. That's definitely not his way. The young Nara closes the top of his basket before he hops up into the branches and starts making his way quickly towards the voice to see if he recognizes the owner.
Tatsuo comes upon the woman within a few minutes. Perhaps late twenties or early thirties, the woman's dressed in sensible hiking clothing - sturdy boots, tough trousers, form-fitting shirt with a leather vest over it. A pair of sap-stained gloves on her hands and a gathering basket similar to Tatsuo's is strapped to her back, which goes a long way to tell why she's in the area.
"Koinuuuuu!" the woman cries out again. Her voice is slightly hoarse, as if she had been calling for a while. It also exhibits the shrillness of someone at the end of her wits. As the woman keeps calling out, she wanders in a seemingly aimless pattern through the shadows of the trees, almost tottering with every step.
Tatsuo drops from the tree branches just out of sight behind a trunk before he steps into view, not wanting to scare the woman. "Um, excuse me miss, is everything okay?" He sets down his own basic though leaves it in sight so she would know why he had been there. "My name is Nara Tatsuo. I'm a medic nin from Konoha. Are you hurt?" He tries to seem as harmless as possible and considering he looks really harmless it's not hard to do.
The woman lets out a strangled scream when Tatsuo steps right out of the trees. She claws at a sheath at her side and draws a knife that she points at the boy with shaking hands. Thankfully, his words get to her despite her agitated state. "A medic-nin? You're a shinobi of Konoha? Thank goodness!" The woman charges at Tatsuo with knife in hand, but her motions doesn't indicate that she's about to stab him, though that might be a trick. Thankfully, all she's trying to do is grab the boy's shoulders. The woman almost kicks over Tatsuo's basket in the progress too. "My son! He was with me, but he disappeared when I turned my back! I -told- him to stay close to me! I -told- him! Please, you -have- to find him!"
Tatsuo pays little mind to the knife really. It would take a lot more than a knife to concern Tatsuo after all. His body would heal such a basic wound almost instantly. "It's okay, I'll help you look for him ma'am. Where was the last place you saw him? Can you show me?" He gathers up some extra chakra as he prepares for a search. But first he just prepares to follow the woman to the last place she'd seen her son so they can start.
The relief on the woman's face is almost painful to see. "This way!" she says and tries to grab Tatsuo's arm to drag him along with her. To her, every bit of speed is of the essence, never mind that the boy had already agreed to help her search and isn't likely to tarry. Ironically, it wouldn't even be hard for Tatsuo to follow the trail on his own. The signs of the woman's passage is clear from where she blundered around in her panic.
"Thank you -so- much for helping me. I'm Oda. My son, Koinu, is my reason to live. I don't know what I'd do without him… if… if…" The woman blinks back tears, which she doesn't even bother to hide. She sniffles slightly and redoubles her efforts to shove her way through the undergrowth. It's clear that Oda would have shoved right through the trees too, if she had that power.
Tatsuo barely had time to snag his basket before he was being pulled along, not that he minded really. He could understand why she was so distressed. "Um, try not to worry Oda-san, I'm sure he's just fine. He probably stopped to look at something and you didn't notice. Um, the forest can be tricky and easy to get lost in if you don't know the way around. He is probably looking for you just as much as you are looking for him." Even as they follow the woman's trail back Tatsuo's dark eyes are already searching the area for anything. Signs of the boy, signs of animals, even signs of other humans.
"He didn't respond when I called. I think… I think something terrible could have happened to him," Oda wails despite Tatsuo's assurances. The woman's bottom lip trembles in a decidedly unattractive manner, not that she's likely to care about that at the moment either. Her whole world's entirely focused on finding her son. She keeps dragging Tatsuo down the way that she came from, which turns out to be mostly a northeasterly direction.
As they travel through the forest, the boy sees more and more signs of disturbance - broken twigs, disturbed pebbles, bits of cloth or hair caught in the undergrowth. Oda must have been even more wildly panicked in the beginning, only to calm down during the search and then becoming progressively worse again when her search returned nothing. They eventually break out into a small opening in the woods that's very similar to where Tatsuo harvest berries from those vines.
"It could be he didn't hear you Oda-san. The trees are thick in this area and sound doesn't travel very far." Tatsuo is doing his best to keep her calm for the moment! "What were you two gathering? Is there something he might have seen to go and try and gather by himself?" Once they reach the opening he looks around it carefully, searching visually for any clear signs of other directions someone might have gone or any signs of a possible scuffle in case someone had nabbed the boy. "Is this where you last saw him?"
"Yes, this was where I last saw him. He was right -there-" Oda says, pointing to one of the trees. She points to a spot deeper in the tree line, but not too far, where the ground begins to grow dimmer from shading. "I was there with my back turned away from him. There are medicinal mushrooms that sells for a high demand to some medics in Konoha." The woman's arm lower and she sucks in a deep breath. She looks completely lose standing there in the middle of the tiny clearing, next to a downed tree near its last stages of decomposition. "I don't care about mushrooms anymore. I just want my son back…"
Meanwhile, Tatsuo notices something that Oda must have missed when she first started searching for her son. The area around the tree she first pointed out is over in leaf litter and lots of gnarled roots. It's not the best place for tracks, but the soil's slightly more exposed and softer a little beyond. There's a foot print, half of one really, only the front half and very faint. It points deeper into the woods.
Tatsuo draws away from the woman, setting down his basket at the edge of the small clearing again. He starts to explore a little in the direction she'd pointed, going to the tree she had indicated. Once there he crouches to look things over. "Um, there's a small partial footprint here…" he says, looking in the direction the footprint points before straightening and moving in that direction slowly, keeping an eye out for any other signs before he resorts to the mists.
"But that's opposite the way that I searched!" Oda exclaims, completely dismayed by this information. "I went in a different direction while my son's out there scared and alone… What kind of mother am I?" The woman clenches a fist into the fabric of her shirt. Then, she sucks in a deep breath and hurries after Tatsuo. This time, she doesn't try to grab him or crowd him at all. She stays back to let the shinobi do his job, afraid that she'd mess things up again.
As Tatsuo looks around, he finds more signs of the boy's passage, or at least signs that someone a boy's size was around. Another small print a little further away. Some disturbed leaf litter. This faint trail meanders deeper into the forests to the northeast, but quickly starts to veer northwards and then northwest, as if the child's starting to go in a circle. The tracking is slow going and each second makes Oda more nervous. Eventually, they reach a wide, shallow stream and the trail breaks off. The boy could have gone in any direction. It'd be hard to tell without searching along the opposite side of the stream bank, maybe both sides too.
"Um, it's okay Oda-san, it's not your fault. Sometimes kids go in a completely different direction than you think they might." Tatsuo is doing his best to keep the woman calm. Until they come upon the river. This just made the tracking ten times harder. Where was an Inuzuka or Hyuuga when you needed one? He looks up and down the river, walking out onto the water to see if he sees anything at all. In the end he chews his lower lip a bit before he looks to Oda. "Um, stand still please. It might get a little hard to see. With that he makes a single seal and a thick mist quickly forms and expands out over the area.
Oda makes a sound of unpleasant surprise when mist starts to fill the area. It billows up from the stream, rapidly thickening until nothing can be see except for a blanket of writhing grey-white tendrils. In this state, the trees, bushes and everything around takes on a ghostly cast. Tatsuo's the only one that can sense what's around, since he has become part of the mist to a degree. His senses stretches further and further as the mist spreads. Soon, he can sense the birds hiding in the trees and squirrels in their burrows. As the mist keep stretching, Tatsuo can also sense a greater disturbance very close by to the west. Some kind of extremely large animal is prowling around and around a tree.
Tatsuo extends the mist further and further out, looking for the youth or at least something out of the ordinary. And he finds it. "Oda-san, please stay here," he calls back towards her, letting the mist dissapate as the water under him rises in a small, thin platform that suddenly shoots off in the direction he'd sensed the creature, moving faster than most shinobi can even run. Eyes narrowed, he's focused on the task at hand and ready to do what he needs to.
Tatsuo can hear loud growling sounds as he closes in on the spot where he felt the disturbance. When he gets close enough, he also sees what's causing it. An enormous bear is prowling around a tree, it's bulk barely fitting between the space between its target and the other trees. The ground is somewhat torn up nearby, moss and clumps of dirty ripped off by huge paws. Dirt imprints on the thick tree trunk also show where those same paws must have struck it with brutal force. As Tatsuo watches, the bear lifts on its hind legs to tower a massive twelve foot height and slaps a paw into the tree again, which creates a sound of heavy impact. The entire tree shudders.
A frightened whimper comes from further up in the tree. On the third lowest branch is a little boy that couldn't have been more than seven. Koinu cries softly to himself while he presses his thin body against the tree trunk with all his might. "Mommy… Moooommy…" he keeps whimpering between hiccupping sobs. Koinu isn't the only one in the tree either. Even further up are two very frightened looking bear cubs that are clinging to the trunk almost as hard as Koinu is.
Dark eyes take in the situation in an instant and Tatsuo moves forward. He actually ignores the bear below for the moment as the small platform of water carries him up to the tree. "Koinu-kun? I'm Nara Tatsuo. Oda-san asked me to help find you." He reaches his arms out to gently try and grab the boy from the branch so he can hold him. "Here, come with me so we can not anger the bear any further."
The bear roars in fury when it sees another intruder. It smashes it's paws into the tree even harder, enough that the branches shake and drop some of their leaves. The cubs up above squeak and cling harder to the quacking trees. Their fear feeds right back into their mother, who attempts to climb, but only manages to make terribly deep gouges into the trunk due to her unwieldy bulk. Shredded bark fall to the ground in curls.
"M-Mommy?! M-Mommy sent you?" Koinu sobs in relief. The little boy starts to release his grip on the tree trunk, but screams in a high pitch voice when the shaking begins. "I'm scared!" the child sobs. Nevertheless, he gathers his courage and unpeels his hands from the tree. Koinu launches himself unsteadily at Tatsuo, nearly knocking the Chuunin off the platform of water in his haste.
Luckily the water is an extension of Tatsuo at this point, so it moves easily to keep him place. He holds onto the boy and gives him a smile. "That was very brave. Now hold on okay? I have to get the little bears down." Still holding Koinu, Tatsuo makes a hand seal and water forms out of the air. Watery bubbles encircle the cubs as well as the branches they clung to, snapping the latter so that the bears could still hold on while the water itself kept them from falling if they did let go. Once that was done the bubbles would quickly lower to the ground, releasing branches and cubs a few inches above the ground.
Koinu clings tightly to Tatsuo and buries his face into the older boy's shoulders. Tatsuo can feel his clothing start to get damp with the frightened child's tears. "I want mommy… Where's mommy… I want to get out of here…" he whimpers in a tremulous voice. Koinu's arms tighten until it feels like Tatsuo's ribs might crack.
Unlike Koinu, the cubs are much more troublesome upon being confronted with all the strangeness of water jutsu. They make high pitched cries of terror upon getting wrapped up in water bubbles. This spurs mother bear into an even greater rampage. She throws her bulk against the tree until faint cracking sounds can be heard. The tree's too big to knock down, but it's going to have some damage to repair after this too. Thankfully, all of this stops once the cubs are within reach. The enormous she-bear grabs them from the bubbles of water and drops them to the ground. Then, she ushers them into a scampering retreat towards the north with her plate-sized paws. The enormous creature follows afterwards, using her body as a shield against the strange beings that attacked her cubs.
Tatsuo might be a little uncomfortable with the clinging monkey boy but he knows he'll survive. The cries of the bear cubs causes him to wince a little however as does the bears attack against the poor unfortunate tree. He knew it was just concerned but still! Where was a Yamanaka when you needed one. After the cubs are with the mother Tatsuo's platform carries them back to where he'd left Oda and the teen sets the boy down on the shore.
"Mommy! Mommy!" "Koinu! Koinu, my baby!" The little boy and his mother rushes straight into each other's arms as soon as Tatsuo lets the former down onto the ground. They hug each other so tightly while babbling rapidly that the squeezing that Koinu gave Tatsuo early look like a softly pinch. Both mother and child have fresh tear tracks on their cheeks by the way they manage to tear themselves away from each other's arms. Oda straightens while Koinu clings to her hip. "How can I ever repay you?" asks the tearful woman.
Tatsuo watches the mother and son with a small, almost wistful smile as his mind briefly flashes to his past. He blinks and shakes his head quickly when Oda speaks to him. "No, don't worry about it Oda-san. No repayment necessary. Just be more careful from now on when you're both out here, okay?"
After much thanks, Oda and Koinu departs. A lot of time was taken to find and rescue the little boy, but it's unlikely that Kenta would begrudge that, even if Tatsuo doesn't return with all five of the items on the foraging list. Thankfully, there's still a few hours left before it grows dark enough for the Chuunin to head back. Time for Tatsuo to resume his work, now with the satisfying knowledge of the good deed he did to accompany him.