Squirreled Away


Eremi, Kenta

Date: December 17, 2014


Eremi's sent on his first mission since he rejoined Konoha as a probationary shinobi, with Kenta supervising as Team Phoenix's second in command. The mission? Eremi has to retrieve an old lady's missing bracelet from a bunch of squirrels.

"Squirreled Away"

Southern Land of Fire

"Ummm…" Kenta utters after he finishes looking at the assignment report. He glances back at Eremi's, who's standing behind him. Then, his gaze moves to the little old lady smiling at him, a little old lady that's even more diminutive than his own five foot height. A chill wind blows through the trees surrounding the old lady's cabin and makes Kenta shiver despite his warm kitten-print scarf. "So you're saying that our mission is to… find a missing gold bracelet?" he asks carefully. This wasn't what the young Chuunin expected when the note arrived at his house earlier that morning. The note mentioned that a mission is being assigned to the probation shinobi known as Eremi and it needs to be overseen by the leader of Team Phoenix, or the second-in-command should the leader be unavailable. He had heard that Eremi's only allowed to take D-Rank or sometimes C-Rank missions until his probation period is over, but Kenta hadn't really thought out what that meant.

"A very -important- bracelet," the little old lady replies, still smiling broadly enough to turn her face into a mass of wrinkles. "My husband, may the dear man rest in peace with the ancestors, gave it to me for my birthday before he passed away last year. I was wearing it two days ago while I was feeding the squirrels that live in the clearing down that path—" She points a withered finger at a trail winding through the trees, opposite the one they arrived from. "One of the cheeky little darlings grabbed it from my wrist and scampered off with it. The nice young man I talked to at Konoha yesterday told me that someone will help me find it. I didn't expect -two- someones. What darlings, helping an old lady in need like this."

Knowing this was most likely the Hokage's way of punishing him for leaving the village in the first place, all Eremi could do if he ever wanted to get any where in the Shinobi hierarchy was to grin and bare it. "Squirrels you say?" Questioning the old ladies statement while his hands rose to cross over his chest. The chainlinks that hung from the shackles on his wrist, jingling as they moved. "We'll do our best to find it, but that item may very well be lost for some time. Squirrels are notorious for burying what they take." A shame Kenta wasn't an Inuzuka at this point. Could sniff the item out in no time.

"Well, if it's still out there, we'll find it." Hopefully, "Did the gold bracelet have any identifying marks on the off chance we find more than one? Inscription or the like?" If the two of them can't find the bracelet, they could always just buy a new one…At the thought, Eremi's emerald eyes shifted slowly to Kenta, wondering how the other would feel about pulling one over on the old lady.

"Such a darling boy," the little old lady comments. Her eyes almost disappear when she smiles even wider. Despite her age, she's surprisingly quick and totters pass Kenta before the medic-nin has a chance to react. A wrinkled hand reaches up to pay Eremi's chin. "I know you'll find the bracelet. Don't worry if it takes more than a day. I'm staying home to do my mending for the rest of the week." She makes a raspy chuckling sound and steps back to regard both of the shinobi. "You'll recognize my bracelet right away. There's nothing else like it. My dear departed husband commissioned it specially from a famous goldsmith up north. It's gold with each link shaped like a oak leaf, one overlapping the other, and a little dangling charm of a squirrel curled around an acorn. I'll have tea and cookies ready for you when you find it, or want to step inside to warm up." The old woman totters towards her cabin, but not before giving Kenta a cheek pat on the way there.

Kenta watches until their client's safely inside her house before he turns to Eremi. "Umm… I really thought that this is something they'll send a Genin to do. I don't think that I'll be able to help you much, Eremi-san. Atsuro-senpai want me to keep taking things easy for a few more days. He was so upset about my accident and I don't want to worry him anymore. I won't be much help digging or climbing trees."

At the woman's description of the bracelet, Eremi nodded with a smile even though on the inside he was a little upset as it meant finding the real bracelet was the only way to complete the mission. "Tea and cookies will only make us search even harder." He offered with a wave before turning about to make his way toward the clearing. "I'm technically a genin if that makes you feel any better. Which means I have to be supervised on missions. Also, you're a medic, so you can help treat the wounds when I get covered in squirrel bites."

Kenta doesn't look very happy, but he nods his head at Eremi. "Let's try to do this quickly, Eremi-san. It's going to get colder throughout the day and I don't want either of us getting sick." He looks over the assignment sheet again and sighs loudly. Then, he leads Eremi down the trail that the old lady pointed out. "It sounds like Sachi-sama-baba feels these squirrels regularly, so they probably all live close to the clearing to take advantage of the food source. If we're lucky, we won't have to look far. Maybe the squirrel that grabbed the bracelet took it back to one of its nests. The leaves are falling now, so it'll be easier to find nests and hollows. There can't be that many—"

Kenta's stops talking when he reaches the end of the trail and exits into the clearing that the old lady was talking about. It's only a small clearing like he expected, not much more than a house sized gap between the trees. What he didn't expect are the other details. The ground is littered with red and orange leaves from the trees' autumn molt, which creates an incredibly thick and soft layer of leaf litter that's probably several inches to a foot deep at some places. Not an inch of bare dirt can be seen, probably because the leaf litter shifts with the wind and with rainfall, causing any old gaps and holes to be covered up shortly after they're created. The trees themselves are old giants, with the smallest being taller than a four story building and wide enough at the trunk to require four people clasping hands to surround. The tree's branches crisscross overhead so many times that beams of golden sunlight struggle to shine pass, except directly in the middle where the biggest gap in the canopy opens up. There are squirrel nests cluttering the crook of almost every branch and cementing many branches together where they cross. There's at least one hollow stuffed with grass and other dried plant matter in every trunk. There must be over a hundred nests and at least half that amount of squirrels perched on the branches right now.

(Eremi sees that about a quarter of those nests haven't been disturbed recently, at least not within the last week or two.)

"That's the plan…" Eremi offered as he followed along with Kenta. Since rejoining the village, the former missing-nin has wanted nothing more than to quickly advance through the ranks of Shinobi. Unfortunately the tasks laid out before him have not been of the simplest. Even these D ranks can be more complicated than a C rank or even a B rank. A village of thugs is easier to deal with than playing hide and seek with squirrels. Something proven more true once reaching the clearing.

"Seems the plan might need to be changed." Peering about the area, there were several nests scattered about and while less than half seem to be abandoned, there was always the possibility the necklace is buried in the ground or hidden within a tree. "Uh, I guess I'll get started." As he moved toward the nearest tree, he bent down to pick up an acorn that managed to catch his eye. Holding it between two fingers, the man would make his way up a tree and amongst the thickly intwined branches to search the nearest nest.

Kenta searches for a spot to sit and eventually locates an exposed root that's in the direct path of a beam of sunlight. He settles down on it with his face at an angle from the sun, so that it won't blind him. Then, he leans back against the tree trunk to watch Eremi work. The young medic-nin obviously want to help, but that would involve a lot of climbing and he's definitely not allowed to do that yet.

When Eremi starts climbing up one of the trees, about a dozen of the squirrels scampering around the tree tops converge on a branch above the tree that he's on to watch him. The squirrels seem at least half tame, probably because of all the human feed that they've received. They watch Eremi curiously while he sticks his hand into the closest nest, which is woven from a collection of grass, dried leaves and old newspaper. The material is prickly against his skin and some of it keep snagging on the cuff that he insists on wearing around his wrists. There's no sign of metal or anything like it… Snick. Something that feels like a knot of barbed wire rips a small bleeding cut on the back of his hand while he's moving it around.

(No bracelet in the nest being searched. The squirrels watching Eremi seem curious about what he's doing. Some are eyeing the acorn that he's holding. One of them's watching the way that stray bits of sunlight is reflecting off his shackle with interest.)

The cut to the back of Eremi's hand would cause him to quickly pull his hand away. "Ow.." Eyeing the cut, it didn't look too bad, but still… "Medic!!!!" Shouting out for Kenta while waving his injured hand in the air dramatically. Doing so catches some of the sun light off his shackle and elicit's some chittering from above. "Huh? Do you like my shiny bracelet? I'd give it to you, but the weight would crush you little buddy. Would you like an acorn instead?" Holding the one he had found out to those above him. "Find me shiny and I'll give you this nut." Jingling the shackle on one wrist while holding up the acorn.

Kenta instantly pops off his feet and jogs to the tree that Eremi's in. "What's wrong, Eremi-san?" he calls up in a voice full of worry. He doesn't try to climb the tree yet, not until he's heard Eremi's response. But the dramatic yelling from his charge had already petered out into something more coaxing and Kenta watches curiously while Eremi waves the acorn around.

The squirrels on the tree are cautiously climbing down towards the acorn being waved at them. Most of them don't seem to want to approach too close to the probationary Chuunin, despite the lure of food. He's not a familiar face or scent, unlike the other human that always arrives with some goodies. And the acorn would be tasty, but something that they can find lying around if they don't mind expending the effort to look…

Suddenly, two of the squirrels race down the tree. One grabs the acorn and the second, slightly slower one, tries to tackle it. An explosion of squeaks and cries fill the area when the rest of the tiny pack also blurs into motion. As the first two squirrel runs down the tree to the ground and around Kenta, most of the other watching squirrels surge after them. They leap onto Eremi, using his head as a springboard or scampering down his back in their haste. At least one set of tiny paws and a few bushy tails slap into his face. Then, he feels a tug at his hip. The squirrel that was looking at his shackles at yanked out an equally shiny kunai from Eremi's holster and is awkwardly retreating up the tree with it.

As a few squirrels start climbing down toward him, Eremi lowers himself and while holding the acorn outward, begins clicking his tongue as if communicating with the squirrels."Yes, that's right. Come get the acorn." For a moment he was sure this was working, until in an instant the acorn that was in his hand was suddenly gone. "Hey, I said trade!" Shouting after one only to be ambushed by a few others. The sudden assault to his head and face forcing Eremi to lose his balance and fall to the ground, landing on a pile of recently fallen leaves. "…medic…" Gasping out.

He'd lie there for only a few seconds before feeling a tug at his hip, "The wounds not in my pants, perv." Sitting up slightly to see what Kenta was doing, but instead catching a chunky squirrel running off with his kunai. "…" Eyes would shift to Kenta expecting the official chuunin to stop the critter before it could get away. "Uh…hello?" Gesturing to the squirrel that was already climbing a tree in the distance. "Fine." Rising to his feet, Eremi went after the squirrel, yet kept a bit of distance to see where it would lead him.

Kenta steps back regretfully. "I'm really not allowed to climb trees yet and risk another major concussion so soon after falling off that cliff. If Atsuro-senpai finds out, he'll probably be upset and angry with both of us…" The medic-nin gives Eremi a pat on the shoulder when the probationary Chuunin gets back up to chase the squirrel. "You don't look like you're really hurt seriously. I can tell from looking at the way you move. I'll take care of your bruises when… Ah! It's getting away!" Kenta stabs a finger at the air.

The chunky little squirrel with the kunai is having trouble getting up the tree trunk with its normal grace. Its burden is heavy enough that it keeps wobbling, especially when the point of the kunai snags momentarily against bark or a twigs. But it quickly notices Eremi trying to follow from a distance and makes an alarmed squeak. The creature grips the handle of the kunai more firmly between its strong teeth and claws its way upwards as quickly as it can. Under branches, around several nests, only a thick branch and then across it. Soon, the squirrels scampering along the crisscrossed branches above, a natural environment for one of its kind, but not a human. The distance between it and Eremi is increasing rapidly.

"Mmhmm.." Was the only response given to Kenta as Eremi quickened his pace after the squirrel. He didn't bother following the same path the creature was taking, that was impossible. Instead the probationary chuunin was following on different branches from above or dropping below if need be. Using the chakra he was extending out his feet to help him follow from underneath branches if need be. The squirrel would go through spots to tight for Eremi to follow after, so he'd take a different path that would take him the same direction while doing his best to keep eyes on the thief or at least glimpses of the sun reflecting off his kunai.

There's still some leaves left on most of the trees, even though all has lost at least seventy to eighty percent of their foliage. Eremi's making good progress trailing the squirrel, but between one blink of an eye and another, he loses the little critter. The last that he sees of it is that it disappeared under a mass of red and golden leaves still clinging to the top ten feet of the tallest tree in the clearing. The closest leaves shutter from the squirrels passage and sunlight still glints off the kunai a few times, but even those signs stop reaching Eremi's eyes when the thief flees further upwards. On the other hand, there are no other trees that tall, so the squirrel won't be going anywhere else unless it's able to jump off the top and tumble at two dozen feet onto a shorter tree while burdened by its prize.

Eventually and probably not surprisingly, Eremi loses sight of the squirrel and even the kunai itself. He wouldn't stop though and try a new route, he just kept moving in the direction he believed the squirrel to be moving. Something that would lead him to the tallest tree in the area. A glance would be given below, wondering if Kenta would be there to catch him should he fall. "Medic…" He mumbled under his breath before starting his ascent upwards. Eyes would scan through the branches and leaves for a nest or some sign of which way the squirrel went.

Luckily for Eremi, he finds a section of the squirrel "crossroads" that's sturdy enough to handle his weight and can be taken as a shortcut from the tree he's climbing to the tallest. Twigs snag at his clothing and leaves break off to catch on his hair when he starts going up the one that the squirreled disappeared into. The intact bit of canopy hides everything from sight until he finally manages to climb pass it into the last dozen feet of trunk or so.

The little thief's sitting on its hunches on the last branch before the tip, where it's trying to figure out a way to stuff the kunai into the oddest looking nest that Eremi has ever seen. It's not a squirrel nest, not being woven from clumps of leaves. Instead, it has the distinct shape of a type of pendant nest typical of those made by a sunbird, but a bit larger. It's an elongated sac of woven materials, mostly grass and plant fibers, that's suspended from the middle of the branch. Interspersed with the plant materials are strips of yellow paper that must have been pilfered from somewhere else. A glint of gold reflects off or something deeper in the nest when the squirrel pokes at it with the stolen kunai.

When Eremi's about six feet away, the squirrel notices him and squeaks in alarm. It grabs hold of the kunai's handle in its mouth again, so that it can tear off tiny pieces of twig and other loose material from its surroundings, including loose pieces of the nest. Several twigs, strips of bark, an acorn and even a few dead beetles bounce off Eremi's shoulders. The agitated squirrel quickly realizes that the projectiles are too small to do any discouraging damage. It has to make a touch choice at that point. Finally, it opens its mouth and lets the kunai drop point first towards Eremi's face.

"Squirrel! You stole my kunai and didn't even leave me a trade. I'm coming for you." Climbing through the branches that blocked his way, Eremi's focus was on the thief and the thief alone. He didn't even notice the nest the litte bugger was trying to stash the kunai in. The litter of twigs, bark and other loose items that fell from above making it difficult to look away. A hand would raise to prevent anything from getting in his eyes, but it's when the kunai drops to stab him in the face that Eremi reacts by using the shackle attached to his wrist to swat the kunai away with ease. Leaving it flying through the air before sticking in a branch several yards away.

"Too late to give back what you stole. I'm coming for you." He expected the squirrel to run away or even attack in panick, but Eremi didn't back down. He continued ahead until the glint of something gold catches his eye from the 'nest'. "Tell you what. Give me the goods from their." Pointing a finger, "And I'll let you leave."

The little thief chatters at Eremi, obviously saying some things that's not fit for human ears. It scampers back and forth across the branch that it's on in an attempt to find a way to escape. It could try descending the tree too quickly for Eremi to catch it, but that's a big risk. The trunk is slender enough so far up that even running down the opposite side would give the shinobi a chance to reach it with its hands. The chattering grows louder and louder, alternatively aggressive and panicky. It's not a very smart squirrel. The deal that Eremi throws out there just goes right over its poor little head.

As the squirrel scampers along the branch, it keeps shaking the pendant nest that must be holding the missing bracelet. Eremi's might notice that the woven strips of dried grass used to hold the odd construction in place is fraying from all the movement. The nest begins to swing slowly. Then, harder. On the squirrel's fourth pass, the anchor snaps completely and the nest tears loose. A lucky gust of wind throws it against the tree's trunk, so that it bounces off and starts tumbling downwards, but close enough for Eremi to snatch if he's quick about it.

The frantic movements of the squirrel made Eremi frown slightly as it was clear he wasn't going to be able to bargain with it. "Ah, whatever. Get out of my way." He'd start moving higher only for the nest to come loose and start falling his way. Extending a hand out, he'd luckily and quickly enough catch the nest before most of its contents spilled out to disappear along the forests floor. "I'm out of here squirrel. Got a delivery to make."

A salute with one hand would be given while he moves toward the ground. He'd look for Kenta on his way to be able to give him the nest so the two could return to the old lady for cookies and tea. A well deserved reward after all. "Medic!" This time the call was actually warranted unlike the previous.

What a lucky turn of events! After such a harrying chase, it seems like things are finally going Eremi's way. As the probationary Chuunin descends the trees, the glint of gold from the opening of the nest catches his eyes again. It's not enough to distract him from the climb, but enough for him to see that the missing bracelet really is inside and that the glint comes from the tiny pendant that the old lady described earlier, which is dangling out of the opening.

By the time that Eremi's halfway down and on the level of the crisscrossed branches, something else catches his attention. The yellow papery substance woven into the nest is really very familiar. Most were torn up to mix in with the rest of the materials, but one intact piece is directly plastered to the bottom. His hand hides most of it, so only a few inches can be seen at a glance. There's black writing on it, also familiar… Explosive tag! Some bird must have picked up a bunch of them to use as nesting material! Good thing they tend to degrade overtime, even though a rare few percentage might go unstable. Since the ones woven into the nest hasn't reacted after all the jostling, they must be inert.

The tag that Eremi's touching warms up and start to smoke.

Considering that Eremi already had the prize in hand, his descent back down was rather slow. He hadn't even planned on pulling just the gold bracelet free and leaving the nest behind. Figured he'd leave something for Kenta to do and maybe get scratch or two as well. Be a part of the mission that way and deserve some of those cookies that waited the pair instead of Eremi eating them all for himself. Still probably eat most of them.

"Medic!" Another shout as his previous attempt had not garnered a response. Not like he had been crying wolf the entire time. It was a thought that lingered briefly until the smell of smoke catches his attention. Was something on fire? A glance about the area would reveal nothing, but as the smoke was still present his focus would finally shift to the nest in his hand. Gasp!
Panic stricken, Eremi would reach into the nest, grab what looked like the gold bracelet and drop the ticking time…nest before using what time he had left to leap to safety.

KABOOM! The nest explodes, spraying the entire location with its innards. More importantly, the concussive blast of force shatters nearby tree branches and tear squirrel nests off their moorings. The edge of the blast clip Eremi midleap, hitting him just hard enough that it throws off his balance slightly. It sends him face flat into the ground beneath instead of landing in a graceful crouch. At least he saved the bracelet before it's destroyed.

"Eremi-san! Eremi-san! Are you alright?! You kept calling for me, but I couldn't see what you were doing! Did the squirrels attack you?! Did you throw an explosive tag at them?!" Kenta's slightly panicked voice grows louder as the medic-nin rushes towards the fallen shinobi. Hands turn Eremi over and he can see Kenta's equally concerned face staring down at him in dismay. He can also see a smoking gap in the canopy above, where the explosion had been close enough to affect the trees. Thankfully, the damage looks pretty minor compared to what it could have been. "There's blood on your face." The medic-nin peers closer and breathes out a sigh of relief. "Just a scalp wound. How's your head? Do you feel dizzy or have trouble focusing your eyes?"

Even after tossing the nest, the reach of the explosive tag was greater than Eremi had predicted or maybe it was exactly how he had figured as it only managed to throw off his own trajectory. Landing on his feet instead replaced with landing on his face. Can't make himself look perfect afterall. "Ugh.." The response given to Kenta as he's rolled over. Sustaining minor injuries wasn't a concern for the man, but hearing something about a scalp wound is enough to get Eremi to sit up, thrusting the golden bracelet into Kenta so he can check his hair, "Is my hair still fine? Nothing damaged right? I've never cut my hair before."

Kenta heaves another sigh of relief. "You sound fine, Eremi-san. Ummm… your hair's slightly singed at the ends, but that's it. We might need to shave off a bit on one side of your head to stitch up the cut, unless you prefer sealing it with medical chakra instead." The medic-nin straightens and lifts the gold bracelet to get a good look at it. Links in the shape of oak leaves. Check. Little golden squirrel hugging an acorn. Check. "The squirrel that you fought to get this must have been very nasty if you had to throw an explosive tag at it." A big smile spreads across Kenta's face when he offers the bracelet back to Eremi. "Good job!"

Kenta looks over his shoulder. Downed squirrel nests, branches and shattered bits of wood litter the ground. Not to mention that hole in the canopy. "Ummm… I think I better clean up here after we get your blood to stop bleeding. You can take this bracelet back to Sachi-sama-baba and start on your share of the cookies. You need the rest after all that climbing and fighting. It shouldn't take me too long here. None of the litter's too heavy for me to handle, so I can justify the exertion to Atsuro-sempai."

Shaking his head, "No, I'm fine. No shaving or stitching needed." Taking the golden bracelet in his possession, he'd rise to his feet and stretch a bit before looking about. "What do you mean you're going to clean up? It's a forest. Aside from a bit of scarring from the explosive tag…Which I didn't throw by the way. This is what they look like some times. Cleaning it up would be like using a broom on the dirt or trying to mop up a stream." A hand would lift to wipe the blood off his forehead before dripping down his face. "Mission success. Unless I'm mugged by a squirrel on the way back…"

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