Date: December 21, 2016
While hunting for a ninja underwear thief, members of Team 13 runs into a wandering merchant, who finds himself in quite a pickle.
Poster's note: foul language filtered in obvious places.
Land of Fire
Bright sunshine, blue skies and a clear day. The weather this morning is what the Land of Fire is known for. Heck, even some birds can be heard singing in the branches of the thick woodlands! If it wasn't for the warmer-than-normal temperatures, one could say it was nigh perfect.
There are few clearings and open spaces this deep in the forest, so when one comes up, travellers like to take it as a sign or opportunity to have a good rest. Which is /exactly/ what Goh is doing right now. The travelling merchant, complete with his horse-drawn wooden cart, sits on a fallen branch. With a food basket in front of him, the pickler idly picks at some of the foodstuff inside and pops it into his mouth. Some nuts. Dried fruits. Cheese. That sort of thing. There is nothing really drawing his attention, as his gaze lazily shifts from the ground, to the horse, to the sky. The horse itself looks pleased to be resting, his head tilted down to graze at some of the grass it stands near.
"Don't eat too much Hajime," Goh drawls with a smirk. "You'll get fat and be the butt of all the jokes from your horse buddies." The horse idly looks at Goh, perhaps understanding. But probably not.
The fact it was cold and raining in Konoha when Team 13 left on their mission last night, and it's now a warm and clear morning, during autumn, really is one of the nicer things about living in the Land of Fire. Though sometimes rain and cold can be nice too. Just not to the extent that the Land of Rain endures. The mission they have been contracted to handle is a depressingly common one though.
'Underwear thief, last seen traveling in the guise of a merchant through the forest.' They had a very general sense of the area the thief was in, though given the last few victims hit by the panty-pilfering pervert, he is not doing a very good job of concealing his trail. The fact no one has caught him yet, though, indicates a beyond-average level of skill for such a thong thief. Something about this mission bothers Tsugumi though. The name provided for the criminal on the contract, and the picture… Something about it was familiar…
Still, eventually the Jounin and her team, leaping through the trees, begin to close in on the trail, until a sun-dappled clearing comes into view ahead. And there, Tsugumi raises a hand, indicating for the other two with her to stop as she waits and watches.
Suzu complained and griped a bit during the trip, but kept most of her railing against the fact they're still doing crummy missions like underwear thief apprehension at their level confined to her internal monologue. The younger Uchiha kunoichi is glad to receive the signal to stop, thinking maybe they've finally found their target and they can finish this STUPID mission and get back to the Village for something meaningful.
Seriously, she has to prepare for a possible promotion exam, as well as continue her training to join the Uchiha Police Force… AND she has her eye on ANBU like Hinotori. Being sent out to eliminate the enemies of the Hidden Leaf proactively instead of just sitting around and waiting for people to come mess up her home, friends, and family is an appealing concept. Though she also understands there will be other duties entailed, even though she's no fan of killing, she's come to accept this is something she'll be called upon to do sometimes.
And she'd rather it be for the right reasons. Glancing across to her mother, and then back to the last member of this squad's make-up, she checks to see if their Byakugan-user can ascertain the presence of any traps. Though the fact that they got this close without Sharingan or Byakugan identifying such indicates that if there's any traps, they aren't ninjutsu in nature. Or very well-hidden.
Hyuga Aru takes just about every mission seriously as part of her ninja duty. Even the lame ones. She'd rather not underestimate the one they're after and instead focus on successfully completing the mission, adding another tally to her success count. Even so, this is like the second or third one of these jerks. Forest-green scarf worn about her neck and trailing out behind her, Aru's Byakugan is already active and seeing their surroundings quite clearly. She doesn't even need to turn her head after they've come to a stop and Suzu looks to her. She can see Suzu looking at her while facing the opposite direction if she needed to.
Focusing her vision on seeing through the trees, out to hundreds of meters, she searches the clearing as well as for any sign of wire traps, seal tags, pits, or similar things. "A cart, horse-drawn. One man. No sign of abnormal Chakra levels. One horse. No sign of abnormal Chakra levels. No sign of anyone else in the area aside from us. No indication of traps." she whispers to her comrades.
"If he has loads of underwear on his cart, then it's hidden in a way I can't see." she adds on.
There are no traps. No wires. No seals. Nothing at all to protect this man from any potential harm. While he stands tall at a few inches over six feet, black cloak tied about his torso, there is no real 'strength' radiating from him. He's just… well, pretty normal. And given he hasn't reacted to the presence of hidden shinobi? It probably suggests that this is going to be an easy grab.
Lifting a leg after he consumes a bit of cheese, Goh farts loudly. The horse shakes his head in disgust, though it's met with a loud laugh from the pickler. "Oi oi," Goh points a finger to Hajime. "You're not allowed to look at me like that. Riding behind you all day gives me some of the worst smells I've ever encountered in my LIFE." Picking up a bottle of wine from the basket, the pickler takes a few sips - then belches loudly. "Seriously. You eat GRASS. How do your farts smell so bad?" Goh smirks, before standing up slowly. Stretching out his back with a groan, he slowly strolls over to the cart to load the item back in.
"We better start heading off." He intones simply. "These pickled veggies won't sell themselves." Then, slowly, he looks around. A hand lifts to scratch his head. "…uh. Which way is east again?"
After married life for seventeen years, Tsugumi is no stranger to the habits or bodily functions of human beings, and as a human being, occasionally exhibits them herself. So while not impressed with the merchant's behavior when he thinks himself to be alone, she isn't going to judge him for it. Still, it sounds like the sooner they announce themselves the better. Given what Aru has reported and what Tsugumi herself has been able to discern, it seems like it would be prudent to ask some questions and then be on their way. This probably isn't their target.
As the pickled vegetable seller is preparing to leave, suddenly, a curvaceous Konoha Jounin zips into view after bounding from one branch to another, directly in the path of the horse and cart. She holds up a hand, and says, "Wait one moment, please. We're looking for someone, and wanted to ask you some questions about whether you might have seen him." Then Tsugumi blinks upon seeing the man up close. She frowns, and draws forth a scroll from a pouch at her waist, unrolling it and looking it over.
"We're from the Hidden Leaf," she says once the other two have joined her. "You can call me Tsugumi. Are you aware of any disturbances in the area?"
Suzu is even less impressed than Tsugumi, frowning and almost not wanting to show herself in favor of just moving on their way. But pretending to be normal and unaware, concealing one's strength, those are things an elite shinobi might do. How better to throw others off the trail than to seem like a totally normal (and gross) civilian? So she can't pass this up. Police work, and ANBU work no doubt, must be thorough.
When her mother shows herself, Suzuha isn't far behind, flickering into place on the left side of the wagon, one hand on her hip, the other toying with the draping ties that lead to a bandage-wrapped bundle on her back. "Suzuha. Nice to meet you. We appreciate your cooperation," she says dully. If not for her voice, shorter height, and much more feminine figure, the combination of her hair, her attire, her facial features, and her cold demeanor might make Goh think initially that he's looking at Uchiha Madara himself.
The similarity is striking. Enough that it would be reasonable to think there might be a blood connection of some kind.
Aru has no impressive blood relation beyond 'Head Family of the Hyuga Clan', which is kind of a big deal, since most Head Family Hyuga don't go out on ninja missions. Especially not unattended by Branch Family protectors. Aru took note of neither Tsugumi nor Suzuha providing their family name, though that may not be entirely useful given other factors. But even if she were to conceal her own surname, her appearance is hard to mistake. She is obviously a Hyuga. It's in her eyes.
She is not as fast as Suzuha or Tsugumi, so she arrives last, on the right side of the wagon and slightly behind, forming a triangle with the three of them that surrounds the merchant. She bows her head briefly, saying, "Hyuga Aru. Sorry for the trouble." No reason to bother hiding her Clan.
She glances away seemingly to check the surrounding area, and maybe reduce the amount of pressure this man feels from suddenly being surrounded. Make it seem more like they really are looking for someone else, you know? If she were in his position, suddenly being accosted by ninja in the middle of the woods would be a fairly disturbing experience.
Things happen out in the forest, after all. People go missing, and don't get found again, no matter how much they screamed. For someone like Aru, whose eyes are considered very valuable, that's the kind of horror that she was taught to fear, and why she's glad to have company out here. Whether she is personally strong or not doesn't matter. There will always be someone stronger, smarter, faster, more experienced, and they might have a whole lot of friends.
"I think east is that way," Goh offers to Hajime the horse, jetting his thumb over his shoulder. "Trust me. I'm not lost." His comment is met with a dubious look from the four legged creature, though it settles once Goh lifts a hand to rub the horses neck with some affection. "Come on, bud. Let's hit the road."
It's at this point when Tsugumi flashes before his eyes, the older woman appearing so fast that Goh actually jumps in some fright! This leads to an actual jump-scare when Suzu flashes in. For a brief second he thinks he is actually looking at Madara, though the female bust quickly dismisses that notion. The Hyuga's arrival is the one that makes the least effect on him, though he does turn to look at her with some worry. Fortunately, she seemed a bit less aggressive. At least by physical appearance. Regardless, in only seconds he was surrounded. He reels just a smidgen, before swallowing audibly. Whenever ninja wanted to see him like this, it was rarely because of something good. "Uh, sure…" He replies nervously, biting his lip. Then, it clicks.
"Wait. Tsugumi?" He asks, head tilting to the team leader. "/Uchiha/ Tsugumi? Is that you?" Putting hands on his hips, the frightened pickler immediately relaxes. He even leans forward to study the Uchimom's form carefully. "HA! It IS you! Don't you remember me? It's Goh. Akuu Goh. We were founding Chuunin when Konoha was formed. Remember? We did a few missions together with Ken." Goh beams a toothy smile. "Pickler Goh! I didn't know you were still doing missions. Last I heard you retired to look after your daughter."
Walking back to his wagon, perhaps a little protectively so, he rests a hand on the edge of it. "Always happy to help Leaf shinobi. What are you guys looking for?"
It's not unusual to be recognized for Tsugumi, though the degree of recognition tends to vary from 'reputation' to 'rumor' to 'actually knwoing her'. A look of dawning realization appears on Tsugumi's face, though, when Goh starts explaining. "Ahhh… I thought the name and face were familiar. Nice to see you again." She smiles and holds up the scroll, turning it around so Goh can see… A picture of himself. Kind of. The face is kind of stretched, and narrow. Like Goh seen in a funhouse mirror. "Akoo Goe. Wanted for serial underwear theft."
She shakes her head sadly, "How low you've fallen."
Of course, not being stupid, she figures this is some really unlikely and absurd coincidence of similar names and faces, because of course it is. But she'll tease an old comrade for a bit. "I'm afraid you'll have to come with us. Please don't make this difficult."
Suzu, never having met this guy in her life, does not have the insider info to make the determination of mistaken identity that her mother has. She scowls, her Sharingan activating with a dull red coloration, indicating a low Chakra flow, that nonetheless smolders with aggression like an ember burning in the dark. If her former demeanor was cold, her current is downright bone-chilling. "So, it was you after all. Either you've let yourself go or you're using a Sensor Nin technique to conceal your true strength. I wouldn't bother resisting either way."
She draws the bandage-wrapped object from her back, holding it in a way that indicates it is probably a weapon of some kind. Unfortunate that her mother didn't clue her in on the joke before running with it, but hopefully it will be cleared up shortly.
"Ah, a comrade of the Hidden Leaf?" Aru asks as she turns about to face Goh. And he seems to know Tsugumi as well! And Ken! What a lucky break, maybe he… Can… Help wait is that him on the scroll. The drawing is a bit off… But sketch artistry isn't an exact science. Without an accompanying photograph, some details might be wrong. Same name though, right?
Aru steps back, appalled, looking kind of standoffish at the merchant. "To think… Such a friend of my team leader and mentor and he's resorted to such activities… Where did you go wrong in life that you felt you had to stoop to such a loathesome act? I knew you looked kind of skeevy, but this…!"
If this is a ninja from that far back, and capable of concealing his true Chakra level even from her Byakugan, she doubts she's a match for him. But there's also the possibility he's a faker, it's true. She'd rather not chance it though, and settles into a Juuken stance, her Byakugan returning to full power, veins pulsing on the sides of her head near her eyes.
"Please don't make this difficult. I'm certain we can get you the help you need for your terrible sickness if you cooperate and return the stolen goods."
Goh lifts a hand to cover his face when Tsugumi reveals what they are hunting for, trying to hold in a snicker. Or at least cover it from view. As Suzu so seriously wields her weapon and activates her sharingan though, he looks to her for a moment. Then to Aru, who has dropped into her Gentle Fist style. "Y…you're serious." He finally cracks. His lips sort of twitch, before he takes in a huge breath to throw his head back and laugh.
And laugh. And laugh. "BWAHAHAHAAHA!" He laughs long and loud, and so hard that he has to rest upon the cart to stop himself from falling over. For moments it looks like he has stopped, though it's only to take a breath as he continues. "T-T-Th…" Goh tries to speak, but it's interrupted by more laughter. "THIS is what Daisuke has you doing now, Tsugumi? Oh, man." The pickler lifts his hand to wipe away the tears that have formed in his eyes. "I guess this isn't like the old days, where we have enemy shinobi to trap and catch. But UNDERWEAR thieves? That's who you guys are hunting? Oh man. That is just too good."
Lifting a hand, he waves it dismayingly at Suzu and Aru. "Relax. I haven't stolen panties in my life, and I'm not about to start now. I'm a reputable merchant, you know. You think I'd do something so stupid to throw my career all away?" He's still snickering in bursts and fits. "Tsugumi is just playing. She knows this isn't me."
Sniffing loudly, his nose having run from all the laughter just earlier, he seems to finally start to stabilise himself. "Oh, thanks Tsugumi. I needed that laugh. Oh dear." Smirking, he shakes his head. "Look, either two things have happened here. One, there is some poor fool living in my shadow called Akoo Goe. Or two, someone feels like I have ripped them off and wanted to get me back." Clearing his throat, he digs a hand into his pocket.
"Sorry for laughing. I know that you guys have to do what Daisuke gives you, but this… Sorry. This seems way, wayyyy beneath you guys. He didn't even have any cats for you guys to catch?" He looks around, sizing up both Aru and Suzu quietly.
Tsugumi sweats a bit as her daughter and her pupil take it so seriously. She's glad Goh didn't react too badly though. That will help calm things down a bit, though she imagines the younger kunoichi may not take it as well. "It's fine, it's fine. It's not him. The last thing I heard, Goh the Salamander is a war hero and wandering agent of the Hidden Leaf. The only way he'd be stealing underwear was if it was to get in with some kind of criminal underwear smuggling ring or something, so he can inform on them undercover."
Tsugumi is busy tucking the scroll away when she gives Goh an arch look and says, "Which he definitely is not doing, yes?" Her attention is soon turned to the other two, as she explains, "I was just joking around with him. Don't worry." Then the smile fades from her face slowly as she says, "The last mission we were on involved mysterious attackers murdering large groups of civilians along the border of the Land of Fire. Trying to stir up war sentiments with all the countries that share a border with us, and inspire lack of confidence in our ability to protect them. It was a pretty gruelling mission, and the 'clean-up' was horrific. And we still don't know who was really controlling the killers, though we've put a stop to the immediate problem. Maybe it was just felt we needed something a bit lighter after that."
Tsugumi looks to her daughter, young, but already having become so hardened by the shinobi world in just a few years since starting actively engaging in higher-ranked missions. "There's only so many charred bodies one should have to see in one life time. I know I've exceeded that amount, but I would hope that these two have to see no more." Then she shakes her head and says, "Ah, that reminds me." She gestures to Suzu. "Meet my daughter, Suzuha. I retired around eight years ago to live the quiet life, but the Leaf needed me back in action."
She then looks around the area and moves out of the path of his horse. "Sorry, I'm going on about everything and here we are blocking you. If you have somewhere to go, we can catch up another time."
Being laughed at just makes Suzu narrow her visible eye a bit, the other covered by all that spiky hair, except when she moves her head. When her mother calls a halt to everything though, explaining things, Suzuha just feels even angrier. "Ah. Thanks so much for keeping us in the loop, leader." To be honest she's more bothered by the reminder of her father than being made a fool of. She doesn't enjoy being embarrassed, but the fact she is wasting her time on stuff like this when she could be hunting down the one behind those killers is a definite sore point that was already on her mind.
She can handle more horror. The priority is finding the enemy and stopping them before they can produce anymore. Why can't the Hokage see that? She doesn't NEED a 'break'. She spins the bandage-wrapped weapon and slots it back into the straps on the back of her armor, before turning and heading away. "I'm going to see if the actual culprit is anywhere around here. The sooner we capture him, the sooner we can get out of here. And if it's a fake contract, then I want to report that so I can get back to REAL missions."
What a grumpy kunoichi. Very serious. A lot like Tsugumi in that respect, though she started off as goofy as her father, or Hinotori. Or Goh.
Maybe that's another reason why she doesn't want to be around this guy. Too much similarity.
Without waiting to be told she can leave, she leaps up ino the trees and heads off on patrol.
Aru's face reddens as she discovers what's really going on. Also a rather serious ninja, she at least doesn't throw a fit, just relaxing and allowing her eyes to return to normal as she bows her head apologetically. "My apologies for calling you skeevy-looking, and a terribly sick pervert who is a reprehensible bane on society." W-wait, she didn't call him all of those things, did she!? As Suzu runs off, Aru looks after her briefly, then steps back so as not to crowd the wagon. "It was nice to meet you. I should go after Suzuha-san before she gets too far." She bows formally, demonstrating the manners of a Head Family princess, and says, "If you will excuse me."
Then she is dashing off into the forest after Suzu. It's not healthy to be a Kekkei Genkai-bearer alone in the woods.
"Close enough." Goh replies to Tsugumi about the wandering agent. "When Daisuke took over from Hashiramko, my official ties to Konoha ended. I represent Konoha as much as I do Sunagakure, now. Or Kumogakure. Or even Kiri. The only alliances I have currently lay with the merchant guild, up to the north." His hand pats the wagon.
As Tsugumi regales Goh with a short run-down of their last mission, he 'aaaahs'. "That's exactly the sort of stuff that made me want to get out of that business. Too much blood." The man finds himself nodding in agreeance with Tsugumi, lips pursing together as he looks to Suzu carefully. "Is the Madara obsession real?" The question is to either Suzu or her Mother, as his gaze shifts between the two. "Or just a coincidence? You look exactly like him. Outside of the normal girl parts, I mean. Regardless, it's nice to meet you, Suzuha. That was some ferocious pressure I felt from you just before. Enough to jump even the most cold blooded animal." He smiles. "We never met when you were younger, but I heard all about you from your Mum. Your Dad, too. Jeez, he would never shut up about you. Speaking of, how is old Ken these days? I still owe him a jar of my pickled carrots." Obviously he's quite unaware of his present circumstance. He asks the question very casually, hands beginning to strap the horse up to the cart in a bid to soon make his departure.
Then, Suzu leaves. The look he gives to Tsugumi says it all, really. It's a look given from a man who has seen too much battle, to a woman who has gone through the equilivent experiences. A 'watch out for her' sort of look.
Aru's departure has him tipping his head in respect, the mannerisms of her politeness picked up and understood. "It was good to meet you too, Hyuga Aru." Good to always reply with the politeness shown to you. Especially to someone who is from a clan so entrenched in tradition. "You represent your family well. I hope to see you again."
Now left with just Tsugumi, Goh mounts his horse. Hajime shakes his head. "I'm sorry to hear you're back in active service." It's a strange apology, made from one vet to another. "I'll be in Konoha in a few days time. If you like, we can meet at the ramen stand?"
There's a bit of an uncomfortable silence from Tsugumi until after Suzu and Aru leave, the latter getting a nod of acknowledgement at her plan to depart and keep Suzu from being alone out here. Strong as Suzuha may be… There is always someone stronger. "Ken passed away earlier this year." She says, going straight to the point. "He died on a mission." She doesn't elaborate beyond that. "It's something that Suzuha is still taking rather hard." And Tsugumi, but she is coping thanks to help from her co-captain.
She folds her arms under her chest and says, "Suzuha definitely is modelling herself after Madara in a lot of ways. I'm not sure she understands what it means to do that. But increasingly, I'm beginning to believe that it doesn't matter to her. I'm trying to help keep her anchored, and be a moderating influence. But the harder I push, as her mother I may just be pushing her further away from the balance she needs." She shrugs a bit and looks towards Goh.
"It's difficult to know what to do with her. She's 18 now. I can't keep expecting her to listen to me as my daughter, and need to find a way to talk to her as an adult. But she's related to Madara himself on her father's side. And more of him seems to show in her every day." Her voice lowers as she looks after where Suzu and Aru went. "Too much." she mutters to herself. She used to be worried her daughter was too much like her, and might make the same mistakes she has. Now she worries that there might be more of That Man in her than Suzu's own parents. But even so…
"But even so, she is my daughter. I'll always love her." She sighs and says, "I've stalled you long enough. I'll see you in Konoha in a few days. It was good to see you again. I'll let you know what comes of this 'Akoo Goe' business, if anything. This 'downtime' isn't having the therapeutic effect it might have been intended to, so it'll probably be back to business sooner."
She nods her head, and then, after hearing anything Goh has to say in response, hurries after the two Genin. Terrible things can happen in the forest after all.
Goh is stunned. Stunned beyond words to hear that Ken is dead. His mouth hangs open, where he tries to form some words. In the end, he just hangs his head. "Oh, Tsugumi…" He mutters, lifting a hand to rub at the back of his neck. "I'm sorry, I… I had no idea. That must be… well, really tough. I can't even imagine what that must be like to lose someone so close to you." Slow nods of understanding are given to her following her words regarding her daughter.
"I wish I could offer some advice, but I don't have any kids." He taps his chin idly in thought, still struggling with the news that Ken was gone. "I've travelled long and far across many countries over my years. And everywhere, without fail, I have noticed that people at her age? They begin to change into the people they are going to be for the rest of their lives." Said quite philosophically. "And that's shaped by a lot of different things. At the very core, you'll always be her Mother. I'm sure she has other support networks too which can help keep her grounded. Try not to put as much pressure on yourself." With a huff, he lifts a hand to wave as Tsugumi departs.
"Good luck with it. See you soon." Left alone again, Goh rolls his head back to stare at the sky with wide eyes. He watches a cloud pass overhead. Then? He belches SUPER loudly. Hajime turns his head to look at him annoyingly. "I've been holding it in this whole time they were here!" Goh protests to the horse, before kicking Hajime in the sides to start their trot. "Can you imagine if I burped with Suzu here?" Goh asks the four legged creature. "She'd kick my **** in two seconds. And then what would you do, huh? You'd just be a confused horse with a cart. So you see, you need my wisdom…" His ranting continues, the pickler just talking continually to this poor creature as his travels begin again.