58 CH_2.27 (058)

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Takuma breathed out a shaky sigh as he hobbled out of the medical tent. Whatever Shady Guy had given him had dulled the pain, but his body felt stiff like a wooden plank. He would be as good as a standing target if he entered a fight like this. He needed to regain functional combat mobility before the fight started.

"You have been busy the last two months," Takuma said to Maruboshi, who accompanied him out. "I haven't seen you once since I've been in basic training."

"A mission took me and a team outside the village. We were posted on a trade route with reports of being targeted by bandits and thieves targeting cargo caravans. What was supposed to be a quick string of arrests turned into rooting out a cartel hiding deep inside a forest."

"That sounds exciting," Takuma said, stretching his torso.

Maruboshi shook his head. "It was not. We had to ensure not to make our presence known. If the travelers got to know that shinobi were hunting down bandits, they might take a different route to avoid any problem, which would affect the toll fee collection on the route. The patron didn't want that. We pretended to be travelers and went back and forth along the route, waiting for a bandit to target us. When we got one in the trap, we found out about the cartel growing in the forest. Then we had to plan how to root them out with the numbers we had. It took a lot of time in the jungle to find them. What was supposed to be a somewhat long C-rank mission turned into an almost B-rank mission purely on the scale of the problem we ended up dealing with."

From Maruboshi's sigh, Takuma felt he shouldn't have asked.

"How has your time as a genin been?" Maruboshi asked with a smile.

"I have been punched, kicked, slashed, stabbed, thrashed, had my bones broken, and anything else you can think of, more in these two months than in my entire life," said Takuma. "On the other hand, I learned how to tree-climb, so I guess that balances things out," he had multiple times pretended to be Spiderman in his home by scaling the walls and ceiling, friendly neighborhood vigilante style.

He appreciated Maruboshi's company. He didn't like to think about tests, presentations, and interviews on the day they were supposed to happen. His preparations would end the day before, and the day itself was for relaxing before nervousness kicked in at the last moments. This kept his mind off the fight.

"I would've never expected you to choose a Raiton(Lightning) jutsu for your first. I had pegged you to have chosen either Katon(Fire) or Futon(Wind) as your first," said Maruboshi.

"Maybe I should've gone that way. Shokku is weak," Takuma clicked his tongue. He had to use the jutsu thrice on a prone Arisu, and she could still overpower him in the ending tussle. If not for the lucky dagger, he might've not won the fight. "I visited your home when I was deciding, but you had already left," he sighed. He wished he had chosen one of the alternatives. Even then, he hadn't chosen either Katon or Futon as his second jutsu.

"Did you check your affinity before choosing your jutsu?" asked Maruboshi.

"Affinity? How do you…."

Takuma trailed off when he noticed Yoshio walk towards them. He glanced behind Yoshio and saw that the shinobi had returned for their lunches.

"Is it time?" he asked.

Yoshio nodded and walked into the medical tent.

Takuma turned to Maruboshi. "I guess this is it. Wish me luck." The time for nervousness had arrived. He felt his body temperature rise as it would always in moments of high stake.

"You have worked hard. I believe that you will win. Do you believe you will win?" asked Maruboshi.

Takuma nodded.

"That's all you need."

The tent flap was pushed apart, and Yoshio stepped out, followed by Nenro, accompanied by Ai. Their eyes met, but neither said any words and chose to observe the other.

Takuma smiled dryly. Nenro was wearing a fresh set of clothes. Except for bruises on both sides of his jaw and the black eye on the right eye, Takuma couldn't see any visible injuries. This meant that if he wanted to hit somewhere it hurt, he would need to find it through Nenro's reaction. On the other hand, Takuma was wearing the same set that had shredded, ripped, and torn all over from his fight with Arisu, readily showing the bandages underneath.

"Any of you want to forfeit before we head over?" Yoshio asked.

Both shook their heads.

They had fought to fight this particular fight.



There were more people in the audience than before lunch. The line around the field had thickened, and many more shinobi were perching in the trees to observe the fight from a distance. A few people went around the crowd, collecting money for the rampant betting that was the main attraction of the tournament.

The announcer walked to the middle of the field and stood at the center for a moment until he had everyone's attention.

"Every year, a new batch of genin joins the shinobi, pledging their services to the Hokage, the village, and the nation. To protect those who need safety, help those who need assistance, and strike fear in the hearts of our enemies," said the announcer, and the shinobi around them replied in agreement. "We put these genin through training, and at the end of that, we chose the best, and they participate in this tournament to prove themselves. The one who prevails gets rewarded.

"Yesterday and today, we saw these genin fight, and now two of them remain," the announcer raised his arms, pointing to Takuma and Nenro, who stood on the opposite sides. "Takuma and Nenro, both of them fought valiantly. Even now, they're injured, coming straight from the medical tent. Isn't this what being a shinobi is like? Facing danger when you've just barely got out of another with your life?"

The response from the crowd was the loudest.

"I think I have said enough. What remains is for these two shinobi to decide the victor," said the announcer before stepping back.

Takuma didn't hear a word that came out of the announcer's mouth. His attention was focused on Nenro, who had his eyes closed. When the announcer finished his opening speech, Nenro opened his eyes, Takuma stood from his kneel, and both walked into the field.

Takuma observed Nenro— was there a limp in his leg, which side was he preferred, was there an asymmetry in his arm movements, or anything that would tell him where to focus his strikes. But Nenro seemed to come prepared or had been healed well because he gave nothing away.

As they approached closer, Nenro's stride fastened until he was running towards Takuma, who silently pulled out a kunai. Nenro, racing into range, leaped for him, and Takuma feinted with a kunai throw before raising his leg to kick, catching him somewhere in the side. The power in Nenro's jump and the angle of Takuma's kick took them tumbling to the ground, and then they were rolling and fighting, with Takuma trying his best to batter or stab Nenro.

He jabbed a senbon into Nenro's calf, pulling it out immediately to draw blood, the heavy smell of blood no longer made him retch. They scuffled a little more, and Nenro got his legs around one of Takuma's thighs and pushed off.

Takuma screamed, pain assaulting him. Desperate not to get body-locked, Takuma thrashed around and caught Nenro's chin with his foot. He scooted back, scrambling to his feet, his left knee ready to give out from under him.

Nenro dipped into his weapons pouch, and as the arm pulled to the front, Takuma caught the sight of something red. He was already sprinting before he even completely processed that Nenro was pulling an explosion tag.

Surprised by Takuma, Nenro's arm holding the tag-added kunai froze for a moment too long. He couldn't throw it now without getting into the explosion's range. The hold changed, and he slashed it at Takuma, who twisted out of the way, but not without pulling the fluttering explosion tag away from the kunai.

Both realized that the position had switched. Takuma tried to pull back, but Nenro stuck to him. It took one fist to the face and two to the chest for Takuma to realize that holding the tag had essentially handicapped one of his hands. If Takuma couldn't use the tag, he needed to get rid of it. So, he let Nenro tear it.

Nenro grabbed the tag the very second it came into his rage. As his eyes went to the tag, he missed the elbow of Takuma's other hand smashing into the side of his head. The tag was ripped in half, but Nenro stumbled only to get a spinning hook kick to assault his face. Takuma then completed the combo with a straight kick into the chest that sent Nenro flying several feet.

Takuma, not wanting to exploit the opportunity, chased after Nenro, but as he took one step forward, his leg exploded in pain. His knee buckled so badly that he was forced to kneel. It was the foot that Arisu had sheared with her fuma blade and the same foot that Nenro had gotten a hold of. He must've torn what Shady Guy had patched up.

"FUCK!" he screamed.

That was all the time he had to acknowledge the pain spike as he somehow stood up and started to weave hand seals. If he couldn't stab, he was going to shoot. Takuma's hands moved sluggishly as it took an ungodly amount of effort to direct the chakra with the pain clouding his focus.

Nenro looked like an undead zombie when he got up. He looked like he couldn't stand in one spot with the amount he swayed. When Takuma shot the lightning bolt, it took an ugly jump to the ground for him to dodge.

Takuma screamed in frustration as he readied another Raiton: Shokku(Lightning Release: Shock). But as the lightning bolt formed in front of his palm, Nenro threw a bunch of shuriken at him. Takuma bit his tongue as the shuriken flew toward him. He couldn't hold the lightning bolt and shoot at command as it only zapped forward the moment the orb was complete.

He waited till the last moment, hoping for the jutsu to complete before the shuriken poked holes in him. He dropped to the ground to escape the wide spray of shuriken, and the lightning bolt, finally ready, shot toward the sky

The pain in his leg made Takuma dizzy. As he got up, his vision blurred, and he almost fell back down. By the time his vision was back up, Takuma was watching Nenro forming hand seals.

"That's not how you do that jutsu," said Nenro as he aimed his open palm toward Takuma. Arcs of lightning snaked around his arm, concentrating into an orb in front of his palm. "This is how it is done."

Takuma's eyes widened as the orb turned into a lightning bolt. Everything was different— the speed, the power, the intensity— Takuma's version was outclassed in every single way. He tried to get away, but his leg betrayed him, and the lightning bolt struck his shoulder.



Nenro watched as Takuma dropped to the ground. He felt drained. He had used Genjutsu Shibari(Genjutsu Binding) twice and Katon: Enbu no Jutsu (Fire Release: Mist Waltz Technique) once against Masaaki and now using Raiton: Shokkuagainst Takuma had used too much chakra.

If he was in his top condition, he could cast another Enbu no Jutsu or Shokku— but right now, with the injuries he had, he knew that a single weak cast of Genjutsu Shibari would be a stretch for him.

He dragged himself towards Takuma. The fact that the announcer hadn't interrupted meant that Takuma hadn't been declared unable to fight. He took out a kunai to end the fight with a 'fake' stab.

He had won. In a few seconds, he would've proved he was the best among his peers. And he would've established that in front of a crowd of chunin. They had bet money on every fight, and in doing that, they had seen his name, spoken his name— and they'll remember that name. If the chunin considered him valuable, they would choose him when they assembled teams for higher-ranked missions. He needed that to rise quickly in the ranks. His plans for getting selected by a jonin hadn't been successful. If that had succeeded, he wouldn't have tried so hard— but in the Genin Corps, where the mandatory service as genin was thirty months, he needed positive looks for higher-ups with power to fast-track it.

He looked down at Takuma, shaking while grabbing his shoulder with painful groans. There was no competition. Takuma had fought well, but Nenro knew from the start that as long as he survived Masaaki, he would win.

"I will treat you to lunch later," he muttered and knelt to end the fight.

Takuma stopped shaking, and the next thing Nenro knew, dirt was thrown into his face.

Nenro hurriedly squinted his eyes and started rubbing them to get the dirt out of his eyes in alarm. It was a beat later, he realized that Takuma had been pretending to be prone. He was in danger.

'I need to get away!'

But it was too late as he heard a painful roar before Takuma's hands slammed into his ears. Nenro didn't need the ringing in his ear and the urge to puke to realize that his eardrums had just ruptured. He kicked on instinct and his foot made contact.

Nenro scuttered away and stood up as he continued to rub one eye as his other hand held up a kunai. He felt exposed and scared. He couldn't see anything, and neither could he hear anything. His sense of smell didn't help him at all.

He managed to painfully open his eyes to see Takuma standing in front of him. Pain marred his face, and he looked absolutely terrible. But that wasn't Nenro's focus. His one eye was fixed on the hand seal formed by Takuma's eyes.

What was that jutsu?! How had Takuma managed to hide another jutsu till now?!

The sunny day with a clear sky suddenly turned into winter without cold as thick mist suddenly invaded the surroundings. Within seconds, Nenro went from being able to see the horizon to not seeing what was a few steps in front of him. He couldn't see in any direction. Even when he looked up, the mist was all he saw.

Was this genjutsu? He immediately tried to interrupt the mental energies to break the genjutsu, but the mist didn't disappear.

This wasn't a genjutsu.

It was then he realized why Takuma had damaged his ear rather than when he could've used that effort to stab him.

He couldn't see anything. He couldn't hear anything. He had been trapped.


Nenro felt a thud in his back, and he knew he had been hit with something. A grunt escaped him, and three more things pierced his body.

Nenro closed his eyes. He couldn't take it anymore. The fact that he could feel sharp pain despite having been given medicine that dulled the pain told how much damage had been done to his body. If only it wasn't Masaaki that he had fought.

But he couldn't give up.

He could win this. He always did.

He just needed to push through….

And those were Nenro's thoughts as he collapsed down to the ground with four kunai sticking out from his back.



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