7 CH_7

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The sky was blue at five in the morning, with a tinge of orange and yellow peeking at the horizon. The air felt cool with a hint of dew suspended in it, bringing a slight weight to the lightness of the early mornings.

Takuma stepped out from between the trees into the clearing. He hadn't spoken much last night, mostly thinking about his first official session with Maruboshi. Yet, he didn't feel a single wink of drowsiness. Maybe it was because he was now a kid or perhaps because he was simply excited.

Walking through the dew-laden grass made him sigh; he didn't like walking on wet grass. The boy only had two types of footwear— two pairs of open-toed shinobi sandals and one set of indoor slippers, none of them providing full coverage— his feet always ended up wet no matter what. He would need to save for a while to afford a good pair of shinobi-grade close-toed boots.

"I am not late, am I?" Takuma asked, shaking his feet by the ankle in hopes of getting some wetness out. He didn't own a wristwatch, so he woke up at four, got ready and was out of the house, knowing that even if he strolled, he would reach on or before time.

Maruboshi sat on the same rock he had been on yesterday, wearing the same style of clothing, working on the wooden block with a kunai. The carving, whatever it was, was still in its carving stage. He wore similar clothes to the day before, only in different colors. Takuma wondered if Maruboshi's old age was why he didn't wear the traditional Leaf shinobi gear like most of the shinobi population did. Maybe it was a generational thing, Takuma thought.

"Aren't there wood carving tools better suited for the job?" Takuma asked.

"Good morning," Maruboshi said and smiled. "There are indeed better tools, but I will never be as used to them as I'm to this one," he said, raising up the standard-issue Leaf kunai. "And that's the first lesson we will learn today— know your tools well."

Maruboshi put his carving aside and stood up from the rock. He played with the kunai in his hands— spun it by the ring on the end, twirled it between his digits, balanced it by the tip of the blade on his finger— he handled the kunai with such dexterity that it was fascinating to watch.

"On the field, in dangerous moments where life and death are on the line, your tools will save your life," he said. "Knowing what they can and can't do is of utmost importance. Knowing the capabilities within your reach will allow you to plan and adapt to the situation. Adapting is what will allow you to survive."

"Tools? I thought my mind or body would be of utmost importance," Takuma questioned.

"Why yes, your body and especially your mind are things that will keep you alive. But just like your kunai and explosion tags, your mind and body are tools for you to utilize." Maruboshi straightened his back. "Everything is a tool— even external entities such as the ground beneath you, the sky above you, and the trees around you— everything within reach is a tool. It's the ability to utilize them that separates a shinobi from a roadside bandit."

The words made sense to Takuma. It sounded similar to what he had heard once before. Complete knowledge of the situation allowed one to make the best decision possible.

"Did you bring your arsenal with you?" asked Maruboshi.

Takuma nodded, bringing the backpack to the front. He set the frayed bag with considerable weight down on one of his feet in the hopes that it would not touch the wet ground. He would hate if his only bag got wet— he used the same bag for fetching groceries.

"Show them to me."

Takuma promptly unloaded enough weapons and gadgets to cover up the ground between them. He had half a dozen kunai, a dozen shurikens, a bough of senbon, a survival knife, a thick jute rope, and half a pack of flash bombs. The kunai and shurikens were old and chipped, the senbon were all different lengths, the survival knife looked like it had seen better days, the rope was frayed and bent as if it had been tied and untied a hundred times, and the smoke bombs looked as cheap as they could get.

Maruboshi was frowning as he looked down at the weapons.

"Why, because they're old?" Takuma asked, frowning as well.

"No... not because they're old. I'm frowning because you carried everything in a backpack. You will be dead before you unslung your bag, forget about ever getting to the zipper. You need your weapons ready to be used at the twitch of your reflexes. This bag of yours," he picked up the big double shoulder strap bag, "is too big. If you wish to carry a carrier, it needs to be smaller and lighter and easier to access. Opt for multiple ones that can be attached around your body without hindering your movements. That also eliminated the risk of losing all your supplies all at once if you lose your sole big carrier."

Takuma's frown eased for a moment before coming back up again. "I don't have the money to buy them," he said. He was going to make sure that Maruboshi knew he had no money to spare.

"It matters not," Maruboshi waved him off as he squatted to get a closer look at Takuma's equipment. "You will make them on your own. Repairing your equipment is a skill every shinobi must know. You will learn it by making your own equipment. You will use ones you make until you can afford ones made by master craftsmen. Always take the best equipment you can procure to the field."

"O-Oh, okay," Takuma didn't think something like stitching would be added to his curriculum on the very first day. "What else?"

"I need to know your height and weight," asked Maruboshi.

"I don't know," Takuma hadn't had the need to measure either. He looked down at himself, and he had no relative sense of measure to make an estimated guess.

"... I would say 150cm and... I would like to say less than 35kg," Maruboshi said after staring at Takuma for a moment. "I think the academy's medical room will have the scales in there. Get yourself measured the first chance you get. Alright off with your shirt."

Takuma pulled off his shirt without a thought, but only after he realized what the situation looked like. He was a shirtless minor in front of an adult— the picture shouted misdemeanor from every angel. He looked at Maruboshi with hidden suspicion and brought the shirt clutched in his hand a little close to him.

"... If you don't mind, may I ask what happened," Maruboshi said.

Takuma was confused but when he looked down, he realized Maruboshi was talking about the scarring on his body. He had forgotten about that for a second. He looked at Maruboshi and shrugged. "They've been there since before I can remember," he said. He didn't have an excuse for the scars and this was better than coming up with one on the spot.

Maruboshi stared at the scarring before he finally moved on.

"You've not been eating properly," said Maruboshi. "We will need to put some meat on your body, or you'll be too weak. Muscle not only gives strength, but it grants speed and stability as well. What do you eat throughout the day?"

Takuma proudly told him his new diet plan was full of protein. When Maruboshi raised his brow suspiciously, Takuma said as he put his shirt back on, "I just changed it a couple weeks back."

Maruboshi nodded and told him to add a serving of fruits somewhere in the middle of the day.

What followed was a series of questions about Takuma's knowledge. What he knew, what he didn't, what were his expectations from the mentorship— and so many pointed and specific questions that made Takuma feel nervous as if all of his secrets were being unfolded. By the time the questions were done, Takuma was sure Maruboshi knew him better than anyone in this world.

"Hmm... I fear we have our work cut out for us," Maruboshi sighed and looked at Takuma with what he thought was pity. "Child, it's as if you know nothing taught in the academy. As though I will need to teach you everything academy students need to be taught."

Takuma gulped, for those words were the real truth. He needed to be taught everything from scratch. At least he was older and would learn quicker than children who weren't even ten... or that was what he hoped for.

"Did you know... my parents were one of the first ones that settled in the village who were not from a shinobi clan? My father was a humble woodworker and my dear mother was the best seamstress in the Land of Fire," Maruboshi softly smiled as he recounted memories. "My parents didn't need me to help with their work or wanted me to learn their craft, so I was one of the first civilian children to join the academy, which had been only recently founded by Lord Second. There were only three of us in my year; the rest were from shinobi clans."

Takuma didn't know why Maruboshi was sharing it, but he listened with great attention and interest as the only history about the academy he knew was that Lord Second had founded it to standardize the shinobi training for children to strengthen the village's military strength.

"In those days, the academy only used to be three years..."

The new piece of information overwhelmed Takuma's fascination with history. That was two years off the current curriculum was a huge difference, especially when the children hadn't even reached puberty.

"... And we have ten months now. I don't know what has changed since my time and now, but I believe what I learned in the academy was enough of a foundation for me. So, here's what I propose— I will base my coaching on what I learned in the academy and modify it using my life experience as a shinobi and what the academy teaches currently. For that to happen, you will need to bring me your academy books and scrolls. What do you say; should we go ahead with this?"

Having no opinion on the matter, Takuma was ready to give his agreement. But he reigned in that impulse and gave the proposal some thought. Takuma didn't know how old Maruboshi was, but it must've been at least three or four decades since he was in the academy. What all could've changed in that time. He doubted the academy had stayed stale for such a long time. What if things were done differently now?

'But he did say that he will include his experience as shinobi, so maybe it will be alright?' Takuma thought. 'Do I have something to add?' No, he did not. He was going to take anything provided to him.

"I will follow your lead. As for the books, I'll have them here tomorrow," he said.

"We meet once a day in the morning. I will instruct you in the mornings. I believe you'll have time after school; in that time, you must complete whatever I ask you to do," said Maruboshi. "As for theoretical knowledge, we—"

"I read those during the class," said Takuma. He shrugged, "I don't listen in classes because I don't understand what's being taught. Lately, I have been reading from books and scrolls. I will cover subjects such as history, mathematics, finance, and physics on my own— but for subjects like politics, strategy, and tactics, I hope you'll instruct me however you see fit."

While they could be learned through books, Takuma believed that someone like Maruboshi could help him understand the realities related to applied subjects like tactics and strategy. There was a point where ideal theoretical knowledge needed to be translated into executable practical stratagem. That's where actual field experience came in handy.

Maruboshi looked suspicious and unsure.

"You can test me if you like," Takuma said, taking no offense. He hadn't given Maruboshi any reason to trust that he could handle his studies without supervision. Trust needed to be built, and Takuma was ready to build that from the ground up without complaining.

Maruboshi agreed to let Takuma study things independently if he passed regular testing.

"Enough talking and planning; let's train— we will discuss more when we take a break," said Maruboshi.

"What are we doing?" Takuma asked excitedly.

Maruboshi beamed his usual kind smile. "Why conditioning, of course."

By the time they were done, Takuma had added conditioning to the list of his most hated things in the world.



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