Naruto: Tales of a Ninja Magician - Chapter 1019 - CptClaymore (2024)

Chapter Text

"Oh no!" Rajul bawled. "Contestant Yenisel Saturona is skidding and rolling toward the edge, and if he goes over–the match and his dream are over!"

Yenisel skidded and vaulted over the edge, disappearing from Hit Boomslang's point of view, as well as the view of the audience members who observed the battle from the western side of the arena. However, while the spectators in the eastern wing gasped and shuddered in bewilderment, those who had the edge of the fighting ring obscure their view of the action could only scratch their heads about why they couldn't hear the splash.

Hit's one open eye bulged, and the spy gritted his teeth through his rugged, full beard, tensing his body up from the physical effort he had to put into staying on his feet. It was only when the sunlight reflected off of the tense strand of steel wire, part of the same complex web that tangled around Yenisel's ankle and dragged him down, to begin with. The glide-baller rolled back onto the edge of the arena and began panting on all fours so that those on the western side understood what had occurred.

With a bright red flash, Hit Boomslang slashed through the steel wire he became tangled in after Yenisel quickly devised a salvation mechanism from the same tool that nearly guaranteed his elimination earlier. Even when the spy tried relaxing and letting the loosened steel wire prove insufficient to keep Yenisel suspended above the lake's surface, dragging both competitors, albeit with Hit Boomslang being the second one to hit the lake, the tangled wire didn't let that happen until Hit severed the tangled mess completely and let the wire rest on the chipped sandstone and mashed gravel floor.

After spinning the flat, military-style knife in the palm of his hand, Hit Boomslang allowed the laser-heated, bright red blade to cool down before slipping the knife back into his pouch. With a light fumble and struggle to straighten his back and unable to fully brush off the damage he'd suffered this far, Yenisel Saturona stood up and examined the situation for the dire predicament that it was.

Behind the athlete laid elimination in the shape of a rustling surface of an artificially pooled lake of water. Before him was a crafty and hardened spy who completed every mission without questioning its objective and was one of a handful of skilled individuals spiraling spies to the plateau where they could rival ninja in terms of their professionalism, skill, and discretion. If Yenisel was to glide off to the sky–he needed his glider, which now rested behind the incredibly nimble and deadly spy, who flawlessly transitioned into the field of mercenary work and felled ninja and trained soldiers of the Feudal Lords alike.

"I'd hurry if I were you, kid," Hit Boomslang warned his opponent by pressing the tip of his index finger to an empty and dull line stretching in a decorative pattern across his Stealth Suit. "When this line here lights up white, the stealth function of my Stealth Suit will have cooled down and will be available to be used. When it flashes red–the forced dehydration function will be once again available for use."

"I'll take that gamble," Yenisel Saturona stared the man who granted absolute death to countless people in his life back at his eyes. "The only reason you're telling me all this is because you're luring me into a rushed decision. By rushing recklessly, I'll be diving straight into disaster without weighing in all my options more carefully."

"Not bad, kid. You could've made an alright merc with that head on your shoulders. Too bad you wasted your life kicking a ball around and flying on glorified kites," Hit Boomslang smirked, admitting his deception.

"Glide Ball, and sports in general, are not a waste of time!" Yenisel lashed back at his opponent with a passionate objection. "It's exactly because I've dealt with shady agents who would rush me into making questionable contracts that I've learned this lesson. I'd much rather learn it by losing out on a couple hundred thousand ryo than by putting my life at stake."

"Well then, show me how the lessons you've learned while kicking a ball around will help you get your hands on your precious glider and ball," Hit Boomslang issued his challenge while cracking his knuckles with a hard, rubbery grunge to his mashed suit Stealth Suit fiber.

Yenisel smirked, rolling forward and making the hardened mercenary twitch with tension. While the veteran spy assumed his opponent would attack or try to rush past him, the athlete shot his right arm forward and stopped himself from planting with his face down into the arena floor. Grabbing his shirt with his free hand, Yenisel allowed gravity to do half the work after a hearty yank, while he pushed himself in the opposite direction, flipping backward while swinging his shirt over his head and bloating it like a balloon.

"What the…!?" Hit Boomslang exclaimed before hearing sharp howling in his ears and feeling the warm breeze brushing against his bloodied face. "The wind!" he realized and barked out loud. True to the spy's realization, the blowing desert breeze flung the airborne athlete forward, not too much, but just enough to bring him with a bombing dive from a higher elevation and a tougher angle for his opponent to cover.

"Damn… He realized way too soon!" Yenisel gritted his teeth and winced, realizing what a struggle this would be. Even after he timed it just right with a one-in-a-thousand chance to catch the desert breeze and give him a little push in the right direction, it would still be a tough shot.

"Not a chance!" Hit Boomslang called out, dashing onward and throwing something out in front of him. The gadget he had flung revealed itself to be a blow-up landing pad, which Hit Boomslang kicked off of like a trampoline to bring him at around Yenisel's level of elevation in a cannonball-like rolling shot. The hardened spy straightened his body out with a soaring dropkick, hitting Yenisel straight in the chest and forcing him to shoot back and away from both his glider and his ball, slamming against the ground and nearly skidding over the edge of the arena again.

Instead of flipping over it and taking an embarrassing swim, Yenisel grabbed the edge with his fingers and even bit into it, wrapping his body around the edge and putting his lower body to work to bend in a way that would leave his rear end dangling just a few centimeters of the rustling lake's surface. Stressed with shaking fingers and bleeding from the mouth with a few teeth chipped, Yenisel pulled himself up and over and returned to the miserable all-fours position while he panted from the pain and frustration of his failed plan.

"I guess now you've lost your shirt too," Hit Boomslang cracked his neck left and right before rolling his left and right arms by the shoulder joint as a warm-up exercise. "Just as ordered…" he noted after the blank patterns on his stealth suit rippled with white and red lights flashing quickly in succession. The suit's message attracted the spy's attention, though wasn't even luminous enough to shine in a way that'd pierce through the darkness of the night or a pitch-black room. It was more than likely that someone who didn't know what they were looking for, who wasn't looking right at the spy himself when this happened, wouldn't have seen the lights gleaming.

The audience gasped and reeled back in jolt when the athlete sat down on his butt and slipped his trousers off, spinning them around by one leg to wrap them a bit around his right wrist while throwing the polyester and reinforced spandex material around like some makeshift whip. The athlete's hair obscured his eyes for the most part, making it tough to determine what he was thinking standing before the audience in just his underpants. Based on his stiff lips, he wasn't all too pleased by the depths to which this battle had pushed him and the means it made him resort to.

"Not bad, kid. When in war, you have to utilize everything available to you and spit in the face of embarrassment, love, disgust, or any other emotional baggage that'd get in the way of you and your mission," Hit Boomslang nodded in approval as his body rippled and vanished from sight. While the spy didn't have his head covered up by the mask he wore earlier, with his body becoming more transparent, the veteran took an evasive dive and vanished somewhere between one moment of it and another, regardless of his flowing mane of hair, his bandages, his exposed face, and bloodied mug.

"Heh, heh…" Yenisel cracked a manic laugh, pulling his hair out of the way to focus and scan the arena grounds for telltale signs of his opponent who concealed himself with some kind of combination of ninja arts stealth training and hi-tech Stealth Suit camouflage mode. "It's funny, you know. When all this kicked off, I looked around you guys and thought you were all crazy. Spies, swordsmen, conquerors, people dressing up as birds, serial killers, flying mountains, and telepathic statues. But right now… Look at me, man… I'm standing in my under oos, hoping to block an attack from an invisible opponent. You're right, man… I AM just like all of you."

Despite the horrendous odds, Yenisel Saturona stood pantless with a smile, facing an unperceivable wall of creeping oblivion. His opponent could have been anywhere and Yenisel hadn't the faintest clue where or how the spy would attack. And despite all that, somehow, being laid bare and stripped to his bare essentials before the audience of spectators felt liberating. It felt right. It wasn't like he was pretending to be a part of this world; he was a part of it.

It didn't matter that he had to expose himself; it didn't matter that he was struggling. Yenisel would have torn his underwear off and felt the breeze if it meant victory and the guarantee of the World Sports Games. It was only for that one goal, for an acknowledgment of what Yenisel truly was and what he identified as that the athlete was ready to strip it all away and be the fool that everyone saw him as.

But nobody in the audience saw him as a fool. Standing alone before certain, unknowable, and untraceable oblivion, this was one thing that still baffled Yenisel and kept him grounded. Nobody in the audience mocked him or laughed at him. They stared at the procession of the match with their mouths shut, some of them shaking and panting in excitement. Nobody dared chant or cheer, afraid that they'd miss the decisive strike.

Nobody expected too much from Yenisel from the get-go. He was just a funny little experiment. A neat diversion of sponsorship investment. He even felt like it ever since he stepped into the arena for the battle royale. It felt like he had more in common with the audience members sitting in the spectator area. At least at first. When they started chanting for all the insanity, when they cheered for murderous children and people's heads being caved in, losers being dragged out never to come back the same way they stepped into the ring, Yenisel felt like he lost them too.

They say that everyone feels like the main character of their own story. With everything that Yenisel managed to survive, he almost started to believe it. Even worse still, he started believing in himself. Even now, being cornered, pantless, and oblivious infuriated the glide-baller. If he was to be struck down, caught from behind, or the front, and thrown out, what was all that struggle, all that hustle, and all that defiance of the odds for? Why did Yenisel sacrifice his sponsored rocket glider, his ball and kite glider, even his shirt and pants, if his fate was to be the same regardless?

No! There's been too much fortune, too many sacrifices, and too much struggle to quit now. Instead of standing with his arms up, shuffling his feet in preparation to employ his flawless footwork and move him out of harm's way, Yenisel leaned forward, as if looking to fall face-first to the ground. Falling. Falling… Everything around him, the audience, Hit Boomslang, wherever he was, faded away into obscurity. There was only his fall.

A jolt!

Yenisel stiffened his body. His left leg shot forward, the right tensed up and kicked him into an uncontrollable dash with so much force that the glide-baller nearly blew his right thigh and snapped the joint out of place outright. There were two saving graces lying around in the ruined stage. The discarded glider. The ball. It was one or the other, inevitably Hit Boomslang would pursue him. He'd catch Yenisel again if he guessed it right which one Yenisel was gunning toward. But how could he if Yenisel himself didn't know yet?

No matter how many steps separated Yenisel from one of his precious objects, from reclaiming what he had shed for the sake of survival, for a chance to fight his way through and earn the World Sports Games, the dashing athlete put surprisingly few steps down. In the moment, it almost felt like he was flying for a time. Yenisel closed his eyes, gnashed his teeth, and willed every ounce of his body, every cell to squirm and squeeze if only a few millimeters further. A few millimeters closer to his goal.

A blast ripped through the arena. An immediate handful of interconnected fireballs, spewing black smoke from all sides and expelling a pillar of debris directly up. A weightless, almost bare except for a pair of underpants, athlete hurled out from the blast zone, bruised and lightly burnt, eyes closed. Yenisel plunged into the water, making his way to the bottom without as much as a twitch, like a bag of axes. It took a few seconds for the plunging contestant to stop drowning to the bottom. By that time, the veiled healers sailed their way to the splash zone and began pulling him out with a looped rope.

Atop one of the rocky mounds of debris, a halo of light washed down the fit, masculine shape of a perched spy who sat beside a supported mortar barrel with his fingers in his ears. A subtle trail of smoke still smoldered from the edge of the barrel with the spy, realizing he had won his match, sitting down and slipping a cigar from his pouch into his mouth. Pulling out a lighter, Hit Boomslang lit it up and drew a hearty puff in before hearing the official declaration.

"It's over! The second round is over! Hit Boomslang won the match, moving on to the next round!" Rajul exclaimed. Just as his voice dimmed down, the cheers and whoops from the audience came alive, creating a wave of cacophony surpassing the ruckus of an active war zone. Seated atop the mound pillar of rock where the victorious mortar still smoldered beside him, Hit Boomslang let a puff of smoke out his mouth, staring off at the desert sky as it crossed over the category of cold colors and began treading noticeably into the territory of warm colors.

Pushing off the side of the debris, still clenching his cigar in his teeth, Hit slid down and pocketed his hands, beginning to walk off toward the edge of the arena. If one were to study his expression, there was not a single hint of joy or triumph in his expression. In the mercenary's face was just the look of a man at work who was told that his work hours were now over and so he trod back to wait until the need for him would come again.

Laid out on the stretchers, the veiled healers carried Yenisel Saturona backstage to tend to his bruises, fractures, and burns. The athlete's lower lip whimpered in despair. It was difficult to see in the shade, but crystal streaks of running tears extended down his cheeks and dripped off to the ground once in a while. It was only when Yenisel felt the choking whiff of tobacco in the air that he opened his eyes, seeing Hit Boomslang with his back pressed against the wall, enjoying what was left of his cigar in his free time. The healers stopped as if the spy was blocking their passage, expecting trouble.

"Go ahead then!" Yenisel wept out, resigning himself to his end.

"I intend to," Hit Boomslang answered after pinching his cigar with his fingers and liberating his mouth, spouting smoke as he spoke. "Though I'd prefer to finish my cigar in silence if you don't mind. It's just that I'm used to solitude."

Still suspicious of the smoking spy, despite his relaxed body language and clear sign he had absolutely no interest in finishing the job he started in the arena, the healers began slowly inching the injured combatant through the hallway, while observing Hit Boomslang carefully. If harm was to come to him, that would violate the promise that the Sheikh made to Gunshi Aspen.

"Wait…!" Yenisel exclaimed, prompting the healers to stop and patiently hold him stretched out while Yenisel spoke what was on his mind. "I meant my life, not your cigar!"

"I'm not paid to take your life. In fact, you're just a background attraction," Hit Boomslang puffed out again, turning his eyes at the dim light blinking on the ceiling. "If I wanted you dead, I'd have killed you in the arena."

"You should have…" Yenisel winced, squeezing his face to try to force the tears back down the drain they poured down from. "My life's worthless now. You shouldn't need to get paid to take something that costs nothing. All those things they say about athletes, that we're freeloaders, man-children, parasites, and a plague on society… In my defeat, all of those things came true."

"If that were true, what's the point of claiming something that has no value?" Hit Boomslang calmly continued to enjoy his cigar, replying to the wounded athlete without even looking back at him. "Make something of your life. Something worth taking, live a little, make some enemies, then you can meet me on the battlefield and ask this again."

After a brief pause, the healers took this as their chance to rush the bruised and battered glide-baller back to the infirmary. What they didn't expect, however, was a spine-tingling "Wait!" that prompted all those who knew better to freeze solid and obey everything that this grave and husky voice asked of them. Yenisel lifted his head, realizing that this time it was Hit Boomslang who wanted to ask something of him.

"Back then, in the arena, you stripped yourself bare. Even facing complete defeat, you still rushed toward that damn ball. It was easy to read–you athletes love playing with your balls. It's as if rushing after them is hard-wired into you. What's interesting to me is why you remembered that. Why you kept that part of yourself close when the rest of what you were: your uniform, your gear, your dignity, were all stripped from you?" Hit Boomslang asked, finally meeting Yenisel's eyes with a turn.

"I've made it through so much sh*t. Those Cursed Warriors, Sky Warriors, serial killers, Salvari, that whole battle royale… I didn't attract too many sponsors, but after the battle royale, they all came knocking… In the arena, during our match, I stripped my shirt, my trousers, I broke my rocket and lost my glider, I've thrown away what little dignity an athlete has, just for a chance to win. I felt right, I felt powerful, I felt like I was gonna win. If I stuck to my guns and did what I always did, that is…" Yenisel explained after letting his heavy head lean back onto the pillow.

"I see… I see it all the time on the battlefield. Young men feeling like they're the hero. Like they're going to be the ones making a difference and winning the war. Mistaking their survival for proof of fortune's favor, feeling like they're immortal because they haven't died yet. It's just that I never got a chance to ask what that feels like of one of those guys," Hit Boomslang finished his cigar and crushed what was left in his hand, scattering the ashes and the cinders to his side with a flick of his suited hand. "Maybe one day I'll feel like that too. Then I'll know it's my time to go, at last."

Not feeling like meandering around any longer, the healers rushed off with the stretcher while Hit Boomslang turned to follow them. He was headed in the same direction, though he walked slower to let the healers gain some distance on him. After a few slow steps, the Stealth Suit flickered with light passing around it like water washing off the swan's feathers. When Hit Boomslang walked into the shade, he disappeared completely out of sight.

He still needed to contact his client and ask for clarification on his objective now that the Cursed Warriors were no longer a threat. The only reason he lingered here was because he suspected the client still wanted him to take care of the pilots, some of whom were still alive and present in the infirmary.

Naruto: Tales of a Ninja Magician - Chapter 1019 - CptClaymore (2024)


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