Takuma watched through the two-way mirror as Kano battered Gorou into a purple-and-blue pulp. The man had bruises so ugly that even his mother couldn't love the swollen and bloody face. Kano had been going at the man for a few hours already, and Gorou had already fainted countless times under the interrogation, woken up, and then thrashed again— but the man refused to speak up.
The Hirano murder case proceeded swiftly after Gorou's arrest. They had blood from under Hirano's fingernails and after matching it to blood samples procured from the man himself, it was clear beyond any doubt that Gorou was the killer. They had the neighbor as an eye-witness placing Gorou on the scene, his blood on the victim, and a charge sheet in the Police Force records telling a history of involvement in the drug trade— they didn't need anything more to put Gorou away for a good few years.
Capital punishment existed in the Hidden Leaf Village and Land of Fire, but the value of life was much different in a world strife with war fought with superhuman mercenaries. Gorou killing one person didn't warrant putting him to death.
No, Gorou had something else planned for his future. If he were lucky, he would spend time in imprisonment, but that was unlikely. Gorou was once a shinobi, and possessed a body strengthened by chakra. Letting an able body be idle in captivity was a waste. Instead, Gorou would be sentenced to a few years as an unpaid 'slave' down in the mines, digging for coal or whatever mineral that needed to be mined out.
Takuma didn't envy Gorou one bit. He had heard stories about how criminals were treated down in the mines. None of those stories had the word 'pleasant' associated with them.
Kano left Gorou alone in the room and walked into the viewing area. She removed her blood-stained leather gloves and slumped down in the vacant chair.
"He isn't opening his mouth," Kano clicked her tongue.
They had already got Gorou for the murder, but they wanted more from him. Kano wasn't beating the life out of Gorou for the fun of it. They wanted Gorou to name someone in the Haru group and implicate them for ordering the hit. But Gorou had kept his lips zipped.
"I would've taken the deal we offered him before," Arisu commented.
They had offered Gorou a lowered sentence, less time in the mine, but he had rejected it and kept his mouth shut, which had led them to use force. They knew the Haru group higher-ups behind Gorou, but they needed Gorou's willing word to create a tie to them so they could progress the matter.
"He's scared," Takuma stared at Gorou. "He knows we won't kill him, but that can't be said about the people from the Haru group…. If he opens his mouth, even going to the mines for a few years won't be safe."
The problem was that Takuma didn't know how to exploit the fear. He didn't know how to either overshadow Gorou's fear of the Haru Group or relieve that fear on a condition.
"We'll try again tomorrow," Kano sighed as she stretched her arms and legs, "and if he still refuses, we move on."
Technically, they were already 'done' with the case with Gorou— getting their hands on someone in the Haru Group was them trying to make something extra of the situation.
"Alright, it's getting late; get out, both of you," said Kano. She turned to Takuma. "Just one last thing. I don't care how you apprehend a suspect resisting arrest as long as you don't damage public property. A portion of the repair costs go out of our budget, and we already don't have much of that. So, let's try not to drain our wallets."
"Yes, ma'am." Takuma understood and did a mock salute.
He wholeheartedly understood where Kano was coming from. The Hidden Leaf Village was always in a state of damage and repair due to the presence of shinobi. Things broke due to careless use of chakra and strength, which made the government spend a significant chunk of the budget towards the maintenance of the village to keep it livable.
Takuma sighed. Of course, in the real world, disparities existed. In impoverished areas such as where Takuma lived, funds often didn't make it through, and when they did, they were insufficient and needed to be stretched, which led to the usage of poor construction materials. The roads around his house had new potholes whenever it rained.
He could kick down light poles, crack walls, dig holes in the ground, and it would be months before anyone would move their ass to fix stuff.
Takuma shook his head and took his leave. He changed into casual clothes in the locker room before heading into the town.
Being a shinobi often turned distance into displacement. It was like marking a spot on the mini-map and heading toward it in a straight line. Takuma avoided roods by jumping roof to roof, avoiding stepping on roads, and occasionally watching the people below him. Watching people go about their lives as he leaped over them was one of his favorite sights.
He soon reached his destination and threw a black ski mask over his face before entering an old diner from the back entrance. The diner was manned by a mother and her son in his early twenties. The back of the diner could be seen through the kitchen but not by the dining area. Both of them saw Takuma enter, but neither gave him a second glance and went back to work.
Both of them were civilians and ran a legitimate diner, but they also hosted one of the entrances to the Ring exclusive to staff members and fighters. He didn't know what deal they had made with the Ring, and he didn't care.
Takuma entered a back room with a huge well-sized hole in the middle. He stepped over the shallow wall and jumped inside. The depth was around twenty feet, and it opened up to a rough tunnel with yellow bulbs lining the ceiling that opened to the familiar corridors of the Ring. He went straight to his single-person locker room that had his gear.
There was a knock on the door, and Scars exited the room to meet the Ring employee.
Takuma nodded and slowly walked to the arena entrance.
Being rough and heavy-handed with Gorou wasn't just to finish things swiftly; it was also to ensure that Takuma himself didn't get injured. As it stood, Takuma's most important asset was his body; if he got injured, it was an annoying hassle until he got fixed. He moved around a lot these days. Furthermore, he already had an occupation that risked his well-being— he didn't want to add another one.
Takuma ran out of the tunnel and entered the cage to the crowd's cheers. He turned a full circle to look at all the people around the arena; it had grown double in size since his first contract days. It no longer came as a surprise to him. His fight spots had improved, making the audience improve naturally— plus, he had a nine-fight win streak, attracting the gambling audience to him.
Takuma stretched his back and rolled his shoulder as he turned to face his opponent, only surprised to see a young teenager standing across from him. Ninety-nine percent of the people he fought were young adults and adults, and there were sometimes people on the cusp of adulthood— but he hadn't had someone as young as the guy in front of him. From the looks of it, his opponent couldn't have been older than sixteen years old.
The question was, why would they pit someone as young against him? This was the 19th fight on his second contract, and he had won 14 of them— a stellar record. And if you include his 42 previous wins, he was still cruising on a sixty percent win percentage.
"… and going against him is the Fall Hornet with a record of 13-15."
'Not even 36 fights,' Takuma frowned.
Takuma put the thoughts aside as the announcer exited the arena and turned his attention to his opponent, Fall Hornet. The fight was in the taijutsu category, which somewhat explained why someone like Fall Hornet had been matched against him due to Fall Hornet still being an inexperienced fighter— but it still didn't why against him.
The moment the doors fell down, Takuma shot toward Fall Hornet, who assumed a stance instead of creating distance between them. If Takuma was Fall Hornet, he would've made a distance between them, given the gap in their record, but seeing that Fall Hornet assumed a stance, he was either confident or inexperienced.
For a moment, Takuma wondered if there was something strange with Fall Hornet and that the guy might be one of the prodigies— perhaps even someone who was in a jonin team. But he put that aside almost immediately. He was on the attack, and hesitating while on offense was the last thing one should do.
He planted his foot on the ground as he pivoted and lashed out a spinning hook into Fall Hornet's side, who went for an arm block. Fall Hornet's legs couldn't keep him on the ground, and he went flying to the side.
Takuma stepped on the pedal and chased after Fall Hornet as he tumbled and rolled on the ground while trying to regain his balance. Fall Hornet regained control and slid back on one knee and one foot. But when he looked up, Takuma came down at him with a punch that knocked him down despite having a block up.
Takuma didn't miss beat mounted Fall Hornet on the waist and rained down strikes on his face while Fall Hornet tried to raise his joined arms to block, which didn't go well as Takuma got in most of his punches.
Fall Hornet's mask cracked… another crack appeared… and another… until the bottom left quarter broke away, exposing the black ski mask beneath it.
Perhaps it was panic from part of the mask coming off that Fall Hornet's arm shot up and grabbed Takuma's hands. The fight slowed down as Fall Hornet gripped Takuma's wrists as the latter tried to push his fists forward.
Takuma stared into Fall Hornet's brown eyes, one of which had almost closed up due to the swelling caused by Takuma's beat down. Takuma felt Fall Hornet's arms shake; he put a bit more force, and the arms buckled as Fall Hornet groaned under pressure.
"You should be careful with your hands," Takuma said, his voice modulated with chakra. The next moment, Takuma opened his fist and grabbed Fall Hornet's wrists as he jerked the grip off his wrists. "You'll be in dire trouble if you lose one of your main weapons."
Takuma gripped Fall Hornet's wrist tightly and twisted them the wrong way. Fall Hornet's one eye widened. He began to shake and push underneath Takuma while trying to free his hands in desperation. Takuma felt the bones move underneath his grip before he felt the snaps.
Fall Hornet screamed as he felt his wrist break.
Takuma let one of Fall Hornet's wrists go and launched a brutal elbow strike down on Fall Hornet's face that knocked the lights out of him.
"Scars! Victory!" the announcer screamed.
Takuma stood up and frowned down at his opponent. The fight was easy, which was good for him; it meant more money, mission points, and he didn't have to hire Sango for healing sessions— but he couldn't help but feel a bad taste in his mouth. Now, after the fight had ended, it was clearer than ever that Fall Hornet shouldn't have fought him.
At that moment, he felt like he was Bishop and Fall Hornet was him.
"With this victory, Scars has established a ten-fight win streak, showing why he's one of the rising stars!"
Takuma stepped out of the arena while the announcer hyped him up. He didn't like to participate in the hype as it didn't serve a purpose for him, as he didn't need his ego stroked after every win. But he couldn't lie that the ten-fight win steak felt pretty great— so great that he wondered if he should go out to celebrate.
"Ah, Scars, my prized boy."
As soon as Takuma entered the tunnel, his mood soured upon hearing Tsubura's voice greet him. His mood worsened when he saw the Ring's boss' fat face. He wanted to punch it, but Tsubura's two bodyguards prevented him from making a move.
Why was Tsubura here?
"I must commend you for your stellar performance, boy," Tsubura said with his greasy smile. "You're making people very happy with your fights."
'You mean I'm making you happy with my fights,' Takuma snorted internally.
"Which is why I think it's a great time to take things to the next level," Tsubura continued. "It's time to make good on your contract, boy. It's time for you to breathe some new life into the 2v1 category."
Takuma's eyes narrowed. It had been three months since Takuma had started his second contract with the Ring, and in that time, he had jumped between the taijutsu and weapons categories, accumulating wins on his record. The opponents had gotten tougher, but so had he. The cream-of-the-crop record was proof of it.
Takuma attributed most of it to fear. He had become cautious now that he was in the Leaf Military Police Force; he had become more critical about his safety. He didn't want to walk into training rocking a visible injury and get questioned about it— he could use the training excuse a couple of times, but if it happened repeatedly, it'd be nothing but suspicion.
He believed that the raised stakes had made him better at fighting.
But now, with 2v1 introduced into the fray, Takuma felt the stakes rise once again. He felt the stress grow inside him, but he took it in.
He could do it; he had gotten better.
"It's fitting, don't you think? 20th fight and a ten-fight win streak on the line at your 2v1 debut," said Tsubura. "… I'm glad that the planning went well. Your next will be a memorable one."
Takuma's eyes widened behind his mask.
He realized why he had fought Fall Hornet today.
He glared at Tsubura as the bad taste in his mouth worsened.
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