88 CH_3.29 (088)

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Seeing it three times didn't make Tsubura's office and his face any less ugly or gaudy. One would need to be either blind or willfully ignorant to disregard the obnoxious tackiness.

"At least the chairs are comfortable," Takuma thought as he sat down across from Tsubura and placed his mask on the table between them.

"People are talking about you now," Tsubura's mirthful gaze had a flash of amusement in them. "Kids are beating bags for other fighters, and an easy-to-palate one-sided beatdown for everyone to enjoy…." Takuma didn't hide his displeasure—the connotation was clear; they expected him to be a 'beating bag' when he was signed. "… but look at you— Scars, the kid with a rookie record that is compared with the greats, as they say. How much was it? 41-31? It's great—"

"42-30," Takuma interrupted. His record wasn't the cream of the crop, but his record told a promising tale for a rookie. As for the so-called greats, there were many. The Ring was an underground fighting scene for genin— who knew how many of them made it to chunin.

Tsubura cackled deeply, "And I thought you to be a fool to reject the Troupe, but it seems to be working for you. Scars with no friends. He comes into the arena, fights, and then leaves. So boring, but gives you a kid like you a particular charm."

Takuma was again reminded that the unbearable man in front of him was the Ring's boss.

"You so unexpectedly defeated Ironbull. It was a great upset and, thus, a brilliant fight! Many eyes will be looking at you now, and I'm sure it will bring similar offers as that of the Troupe, but if you rejected the Troupe, I don't see you accepting others." Troupe was one of the oldest and most successful crews in the Ring. For many, rejecting them was a fool's choice.

"My contract is officially over," Takuma swerved the conversation to the point. He didn't want to make small talk with Tsubura.

"Let's talk business then," Tsubura rapped his meaty, gold-ringed fingers on the table. "Looking at your performance, I say that the standard second contract will do good. It'll increase your payout per fight, but for it, you'll have to commit for an entire year, and I'll have you stay in the weapons category as you're doing well in it."

"I want to move into the ninjutsu category," Takuma said.

"I can't give you that," Tsubura rejected promptly. "You have to be in the Ring for a certain amount of time and build a reputation worthy enough to be in the ninjutsu category."

The ninjutsu category was the Ring's most prestigious category. It was the place where the top talents gathered. The shinobi fighters could use their complete skillset during the fights in the ninjutsu category. It was also the category with the most spectacle and, thus, the fights that the audience was most interested in watching. And for Takuma, most importantly, the ninjutsu category paid by far the most.

Takuma said, "I'm not asking to join immediately."

He knew he wasn't ready for the ninjutsu category because Ring's ninjutsu category had special rules. Two of those special rules that concerned Takuma were: no genjutsu and no jutsu that obstructed the audience's view.

The no genjutsu rule was because it made the fights boring for the audience. Similarly, jutsu that obstructed the audience's view made watching unfeasible. Those two rules eliminated two of Takuma's D-rank jutsu—Genjutsu: Mist Servant Jutsuand Water Release: Hidden Mist Jutsu.

Without Water Release: Hidden Mist Jutsu, Earth Release: Earth Tremor Sense Jutsu was mostly useless.

Lightning Release: Shock was his weakest jutsu, something he wasn't proficient in. His only offensive jutsu being his weakest wasn't optimal at all.

Leaving him with one good option in the form of Earth Release: Earth Dome.

"I want you to give me a chance at the ninjutsu category at the six-month mark," said Takuma. He wasn't ready now, but he could be in six months.

Tsubura's fingers rapped on the table again. The sound of gold hitting wood echoed in the room. "...What will you give me for it?" asked Tsubura. This was a negotiation; if Takuma wanted something, he needed to give something back.

"Five fights every two weeks," said Takuma. The three-fights-per-week contract was exploitative; it made a Ring fighter's life tough with injuries and time management, which was why the fighters reduced the number of fights to two fights per week during the second contract. Takuma was offering 26 more fights in the one-year commitment that Tsubura was asking of him.

"Not enough," Tsubura said.

"...I'll participate in the 2v1 category."

Takuma's words seemed to do the trick as Tsubura leaned forward.

The 2v1 category was widely unpopular as no fighter was winning much more difficult with double the opponents. And losing didn't give any mission points or ryo. So it made no sense for Ring fighters to participate, and thus it was close to a dead category—nothing was to be said about 3v1 and the desolate 4v1 category.

2v1 was yet another type of spectacle, and from what Takuma had gathered, another fighter in the category would be very good for the Ring as it would bring in more people to watch, make risky bets, and lose money—and that was his offering.

"I'll only give you this if the 2v1 fights are a minority, and I mainly participate in the weapons and taijutsu categories," said Takuma. He still wanted to earn mission points, and he wasn't delusional enough to believe that fighting in the 2v1 category wouldn't decrease his winning percentage.

"Oh, you beautiful child, you have yourself a fabulous deal," Tsubura smiled.



"Here, here," Ai raised a glass of cola and gathered the table's attention. "A propose a toast to Takuma and his first mission outside the village. The baby bird is finally leaving home."

Takuma raised the glass, as did Nenro, Masaaki, and Taro. In celebration of Takuma's upcoming C-rank mission, Ai threw a party at the trio's house. The house was their meeting location when they didn't want to go out—Taro's home had his parents, and Takuma's was small (and had the product).

"I'll bring gifts for you children," said Takuma with a smile.

"So, what's the mission," asked Taro, picking up a chicken drumstick from the spread.

"Bandit clean-up in the Land of Frost," said Takuma, piling the food on his plate.

"Land of Frost is far, isn't it?" Nenro asked. "And they have their own Hidden Village; I wonder why the client asked our village."

"That's right, actually. If you think about it, isn't the Hidden Cloud a better option for them?" said Taro. Land of Frost shared a border with Land of Lightning—while Land of Fire and Land of Frost had Land of Hot Waters between them.

Takuma took out the mission briefing scroll he had been carrying around to read in his free time and tossed it to Nenro. Taro leaned to look at it as well while Nenro opened the scroll. Unlike many B-rank missions, and all A-rank missions— C-rank missions didn't have confidentiality clause attached to them.

"… Information trade?" Nenro muttered.

"Oh, so it's a cover mission for another objective. That's a good mission right there," said Taro. "This double team situation is also interesting."

"It's neat, right?" grinned Takuma. The mission actually sounded like a shinobi mission.

"You'll get to meet foreign shinobi as well," said Ai, who was reading from over Nenro's shoulder. "I saw a convoy from the Hidden Sand last month from a distance. Their gear was different from ours, just like it said in the textbooks." Genin like them didn't get to see foreign shinobi.

"Any idea what kind of information you're going to trade?" asked Nenro, still reading through the mission scroll.

Takuma shook his head. "That's the chunin's business. The genin are on a need-to-know basis. And I'm not curious—it might be above my pay grade, and I don't want to get into trouble by poking my nose somewhere." His aspirations with the mission were to complete it as smoothly as any other and do some sightseeing on the way.

"Masaaki, what do you think?" Takuma asked Masaaki, who was shoveling food in his mouth.

Masaaki looked up and gave a thumbs-up. "You get to beat up some bandits, nice!"

Takuma shook his head. Of course, that was what interested Masaaki the most.

"Looks like you got a nice chunin to serve under," said Taro.

Takuma nodded in deep agreement. As a team leader and mission provider, Iruka was a great option. He glanced at Nenro, who had told them that he was working under three chunin as all of them had too big of rosters and couldn't provide C-rank missions on a consistent basis—as such, Nenro had to get them from multiple sources.

The fact that Takuma didn't have to seek another chunin showed how well he and Iruka worked together.

"I'm lucky to have come into contact with a new chunin," said Takuma. Iruka had only been a chunin as long as Takuma had been a genin. "I was literally the first addition to his roster. Things could've gone differently if he had been more experienced and had an established roster."

Ai said, "Don't cut yourself short like that. Fortune favors the prepared—you got a chance, and you grabbed it. Give yourself some credit. Don't you think so, Nenro?"

"Huh, what?" Nenro looked up from the mission scroll. "A young chunin is a great find. Umino Iruka, was it—he isn't from a clan, correct?"

"His parents were shinobi, but he doesn't come from a clan," answered Takuma. Parents that had died in the Nine-Tail attack.

"You were really fortunate then. If he had been from a clan, the roster would've been his clanmates. Four of the chunin I know solely work with their clanmates," Nenro sighed.

"Don't worry, guys; when I make chunin, you all will be on my roster," said Masaaki, raising a drumstick.

"Cheers to that," Takuma raised his glass.



Takuma turned onto the street to arrive at the decided meeting place and saw a group of people already there. He saw Iruka, Yumiko, and Dai, along with four others. He was on time, but it seemed he was the last one to arrive.

"Good morning," he greeted as he joined his fellow genin.

"Let's do a basic introduction before we leave," Iruka struck a conversation. "We will have a lot of time to get to know each other on the way."

Iruka started, and his genin followed. As they were introducing themselves, Takuma noticed a flash of displeasure in the other chunin's eyes. It was barely noticeable, but he was able to clock it. It made him wonder if they did something wrong.

"Shimura Raiden," said the other chunin. The man had shaggy black hair and a resting mean face. He didn't wear a standard uniform and was instead dressed in a black muscle shirt, baggy grey pants, and a set of matching wrist guards.

'A clan chunin,' thought Takuma and looked at the genin to see if they bore a physical resemblance to the man, but they looked different.

"Izuno Aya," said the girl who looked like a lithe cat with pale skin and dark hair.

Takuma recognized the clan's name. Izuno was a low-level clan in the Leaf village that practiced a special form of taijutsu.

"Onikuma Yuko," said the next girl. She was a brunette tomboy with green eyes.

Takuma was surprised. The Onikuma clan practiced a hiden-jutsu that was said to give them a tremendous boost in physical capabilities. He didn't know the exact details as he had never witnessed it.

"Aburame Susumu," said the final genin. Takuma didn't need the name to recognize that the guy in front of him was an Aburame because every single person from that clan wore some sort of eyewear.

'… All of them are clan shinobi,' thought Takuma.



AN [1]: I'm writing this because it came up when I first released this chapter on Patrèon, it raised some questions. C-rank missions don't have a confidentiality clause agreement attached to them due to the fact that they're a level above D-rank missions, which are just essentially odd jobs and such. I added a line in the chapter itself, but it felt strange— but, it's there now.

AN [2]: So… the release had been slow for the past two weeks. It's because of the slow start to ARC-04. It's a different setting, and I'm not able to give it depth as quickly as I'd like— which makes writing slow because I don't know where I'm heading. The moment I have the new setting fitted in my mind, the writing pace will increase.

AN [3]: Most jutsu will be now in English, except for those with with iconic names. It was lowering the readability with how it was before.



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