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Mushoku Tensei (LN) - Volume 13 - Chapter 13



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Sharpening the Mad Dog's Sword

THE SWORD SANCTUM, in the far west of the Northern Territories, stood on land that had known many battles. At present, it was the home of the Sword God Style, but there had been a time when the Water God Style held sway here. 

A mere century ago, the leaders of the two styles had dueled here, and the Water God had won the Sanctum from its owner. That Water God was later defeated by a different Sword God, and lost the Sanctum in turn; but ever since, it had belonged to the single strongest swordsman of each successive generation, who earned the right to teach those of their school here.

The students who secured a place at the Sanctum were tutored by the greatest possible teacher, and had a chance to supplant them as the strongest. This was a fact that drew many ambitious young swordsmen and women to this cold, isolated place, if only to see it with their own eyes.

At present, however, two visitors of a more unusual sort were approaching its main hall.

One was an elderly woman, perhaps in her early sixties. The expression on her face suggested she was something of a curmudgeon; otherwise, she was the picture of a gentle, harmless old lady. At present she was dressed for the road, but it was easy to imagine her in more casual clothes, leaning back in an easy chair while knitting something out of yarn.

Only one detail seemed incongruous: The old woman wore a slightly shortened sword at her hip. In addition, a swordsman of particular skill could have seen that her relaxed bearing was only a façade, and that even their swiftest attacks would fail to touch her.

But enough beating around the bush. The woman’s name was Reida Lia, and she was the reigning Water God. She had perfected her style’s ultimate technique, the Blade of Deprivation, and ranked among this generation’s strongest warriors.

Accompanying Reida was a youthful woman, perhaps twenty years of age, whose face bore a certain resemblance to hers. She was also dressed for the road, and also carried a sword at her hip.

“Is this the Sanctum proper now, Master Reida?”

“That it is, my dear. Take a good long look—this here’s the den of beasts you’ve been so eager to visit all these years.”

“Oh, now I’m getting nervous…”

“Have some confidence in your skills. Unless they put you up against the Sword God, you’ll manage just fine.”

“Thank you, Master Reida.”

Speaking quietly to each other, the two of them set foot in the Sword Sanctum.

At a glance, this “holy” place resembled an ordinary town. There was an inn, a weapon shop, and an adventurers’ guild. In the streets were the usual adventurers and merchants, bustling along on their own private errands.

There was one unusual thing about this town, however. Virtually everyone who resided here was a trained member of the Sword God Style. In this place, a slender village girl was sometimes stronger than the burliest of adventurers.

“Should we take a room at the inn first?”

“Won’t be necessary. We’ll just stay at Gal’s place.”

Reida trudged forward steadily, making a beeline for the far end of the town.

After a certain point, the adventurers and merchants grew less common, and they began to pass more people in martial arts uniforms who carried wooden swords. At the same time, the shops gave way to training halls.

Reida’s young companion looked around at all this with obvious curiosity. In particular, she seemed intrigued by the thin uniforms so many wore, despite the biting cold.

“Master Reida…everyone’s dressed rather lightly here, considering how chilly it is.”

“Well, the Sword God Style folks have to zip around in combat, or they’re sitting ducks. They don’t like wearing anything that slows them down, no matter how cold it gets.”

“That’s the exact opposite of us! We bundle up even when it’s warm, don’t we? How curious!”

“Nothin’ curious about it, if you ask me.”

Without sparing so much as a glance for the various training halls, Reida pressed onward. 

Before long, the houses, training halls, and uniformed novices all disappeared entirely. 

The only thing ahead of them now was a vast plain of snow with a single road running through it like a valley. At the end of that road was a single sizable building surrounded by a wall.

This was the core of the Sword Sanctum, and the headquarters of the Sword God Style—the great hall where the Sword God himself held court.

***

Just as Reida and her young companion reached the entrance to the compound, a young woman happened to emerge from within.

The woman had a strong, dignified face, and wore her long dark-blue hair in a ponytail. Judging from the bucket in her hand, she was heading out to draw water from a well.

At the sight of Reida, however, she instantly tossed the bucket aside and reached down for the hilt of her sword. “Do you have some business with our hall, madam?” she asked, her tone openly wary.

Reida studied the young woman’s face closely. And after a moment, the grumpy expression on her face softened significantly. “Oh my. Is that you, Nina? Look how big you’ve gotten.”

The young woman just looked at her dubiously, keeping her hand where it was.

“Ah, you don’t remember me, do you? Well, I guess it figures. You were awfully little the last time I was here…”

There was a nostalgic light in Reida’s eyes, but the young woman—Nina Falion—had no memory of her whatsoever. The only thing she was sure of was that this little old lady was a fearsome threat.

The girl at her side was no slouch either. Nina sensed that she was at least on her own level.

“Well, I’m here because your boss called for me, dear. Mind taking me to him?”

“My boss?”

“Yep. Gall Falion.”

Nina hesitated at these words.

Many came to this place seeking to meet Gall Falion. But the majority were cocksure fools who had convinced themselves they could strip his title from him. Driving such people off was one of the responsibilities assigned to Nina and her fellow pupils. 

“First, would you be so kind as to tell me your name?”

“I’m Reida. Reida Lia. Don’t think I need to elaborate, do I?”

“M-my apologies. Please come this way.”

The instant she heard the old woman’s name, however, Nina bowed to her respectfully and invited her inside the compound. 

Only one person in their world could introduce themselves as Reida Lia. It was a name reserved for the leader of the Water God Style. No one else was permitted to claim it.

For the briefest of moments, Nina entertained the possibility that this woman was an impostor. But she had sensed, on an instinctive level, that the old lady’s placid surface hid unfathomable depths, so she pushed the thought from her mind. Even if the woman wasn’t who she claimed to be, she was no doubt a force to be reckoned with.

Reida and her companion followed Nina inside the Sword God Style compound. Nina led them straight to the main hall, which they had to step up to enter—a feature common to most buildings in this snowy region.

In the entryway, they paused to brush the snow off their clothes, then proceeded along the creaking wooden hallway.

Watching Nina from behind as she walked, Reida spoke up in a thoughtful voice. “I must say, dear, you’re quite sharp for your age. And polite, for that matter! Have you made it to Sword King already?”

“No. I’ve still got quite a way to go, I’m afraid.”

“Do you, now? I’m sure you’re the strongest of the young ’uns, at least. No need to be too modest.”

“Well, I might be the fastest, I suppose. But not the strongest.”

“Oho! That’s a good attitude you’ve got there, dear. It’s a pity the other youngsters of your style aren’t more like you.”

As they spoke, the three of them had arrived at the Ephemeral Hall.

A single man was sitting within it. His eyes were closed, as if in meditation. The mere sight of him, however, made Reida feel as if a naked blade was at her throat.

Reida was the Water God, and the leader of a Great Style—one of only three such people in the world. Despite her advanced age, she felt herself no less powerful than she’d been in her heyday. She could turn any sword aside effortlessly. 

But this man was the one and only exception to that rule. His name was Gall Falion, and he was the reigning Sword God.

“Master, I’ve brought Reida Lia here to see you.”

“Ah. You’re here.” Opening his eyes slightly, Gall Falion studied Reida’s face. He also glanced briefly at the girl beside her, but seemed to lose interest in her quickly. “Thanks for trudging out all this way, Reida. Can’t have been easy with those tired old bones of yours, I’m sure.”

“It certainly wasn’t. Still, it isn’t everyday you come asking me for a favor, right? You piqued my curiosity, I suppose. Whoof…”

Reida approached the Sword God and sat down in front of him. Despite the undignified whoof she emitted as she did so, her movements were as clear and natural as the flow of a mountain steam.

Nina, as well as Reida’s travelling companion, sat slightly further back in a gesture of humility.

“So, who will I be teaching what to? You want me to teach that girl the secret Water God techniques or something?” As she spoke these words, Reida jerked her chin back to indicate Nina Falion. “Seems like a kid who knows how to listen. She might be a natural Sword God type, but I’m sure I could beat a few Water God skills into her head as well.”

The letter that brought Reida to this land had been brief.

In essence, it read only: I want you to come train one of my students.

Reida had very nearly torn the thing to shreds the moment she read those words. And yet, she’d found it intriguing that Gall Falion had bothered to write her a letter of any kind. The man hated asking anyone for anything.

That wasn’t the only reason she’d come, however. Mere curiosity wouldn’t have been enough to make her to walk up here from the capital of the Kingdom of Asura.

“In any case, I’ve got one condition.”

“What’s that?”

“You want me to teach one of your pupils a few things, yes? Well, I want you to show one of mine the Sword God Style. No need to actually teach her, though.”

Reida had been worrying for some time that her star student had grown too self-satisfied. The Water God Style was the official style taught in the Kingdom of Asura, meaning it boasted many pupils. But it was rare for them to refine their talents past a certain point.

The girl Reida had brought along today was one of the exceptions, but she had no students of comparable skill to test herself against, and her confidence had grown excessive. She kept at her training earnestly enough, but with no true rival to drive her forward, she’d failed to make real progress over the last year or so.

Reida had brought her to this place to give her a taste of defeat, convinced that this would benefit her enormously in the long run. Even if the youngsters of the Sword God Style proved to be inadequate to the task, if she had the chance to spar with Gall Falion himself, the experience would still be a deeply valuable one. The nature of the Water God Style was such that the stronger your opponent, the more you would improve by training with them.

Reida thought it likely that Gall Falion had called here for the very same reason—for her to crush some uppity pupil with the Water God Style’s most vicious counterattacks, motivating them to improve further.

“Oh, is that all? Sure thing.”

“Heh heh. You know, we could even have my pupil face off against yours, if you’d like.”

This wasn’t a spontaneous proposal, of course. Reida was hoping to have Nina teach her pupil a lesson in humility. Throwing her straight against the Sword God was one idea, but she figured it would be more humiliating to lose to a girl her own age.

“Why not? Nina, go get Eris for me.”

“Yes, Master.”

At these words, however, Reida tilted her head curiously. From the moment she’d met the girl at the entrance to the compound, she’d assumed Nina was the student she was here to teach.

“Um, Master…” Nina said.

“What is it? Hurry up, kid.”

“I was…hoping you’d give me the opportunity to spar with our visitor as well. I’m very interested in seeing what the Water God Style can do.”

“Huh? That was always part of the plan.”

“O—oh! Thank you! I’ll go get Eris at once!”

A happy, relieved expression flashed briefly across Nina’s face before she hurried out of the hall.

***

The instant she saw the girl, Reida felt goosebumps on her back. It felt a bit like she’d just encountered a wild monster on the roadside. She very nearly reached for her sword on sheer reflex. The only reason she avoided that particular embarrassment was that her pupil beat her to the punch. 

Practitioners of the Water God Style were supposed to stay calm and collected at all times. Getting this jumpy was a failure in and of itself.

“Hey there, Eris. This old lady’s the one who’s gonna teach you all about the Water God Style.”

“…Nice to meet you.”

Eris made no effort to hide the scowl on her face, but still bowed her head.

Good lord, the girl’s some kind of wildcat…

Intense emotion smoldered deep inside Eris’ eyes. She had all the spirit and fury of a starving animal. The Water God Style was a passive, pliant approach to combat. Even the best of teachers couldn’t hope to teach it to a girl with eyes like this. No one like her ever sought out their style to begin with.

“Hate to disappoint, Gall, but this girl’s not cut out for the Water God Style. It’d be a waste of time for her to try.”

“You think I don’t know that?” said Gall Falion with an emphatic nod. 

“What am I supposed to teach her, then?”

“You don’t have to teach her anything. Just spar with her using your style.”

“Hmm…”

This brief exchange was sufficient for Reida to discern the Sword God’s intentions. He wanted this Eris girl to learn how to fight the Water God Style in the most hands-on possible way. Reida didn’t understand why, however. It couldn’t hurt for the girl to get a bit of experience against a different style, but calling Reida here for that was just excessive. 

A talented, seasoned student of the Sword God Style could launch an attack too swift for your average Water God practitioner to deflect. Compared to learning the intricacies of Reida’s style, the girl would be better off simply mastering her own.

Unlike the Water God Style, which required an opponent even to practice, the Sword God Style was all about landing the first blow with overwhelming speed and power. There was no need to know your enemy if you cut them down before they could react.

The way Reida saw it, the only reason Falion would want the girl to gain experience against the Water God specifically was if he expected her to face a truly powerful practitioner of the style—one too skilled to be overwhelmed by speed alone.

And there was only one such practitioner who came to mind.

“Bit confused here, Gall. You planning to have this little beast assassinate me, or what?”

“Oh, please! You’ve got one foot in the grave already. Why would I even bother?”

“Well, enlighten me, then. Why do you need me to teach her how the Water God Style works? Who are you planning to throw her at?”

A ferocious smile spread across Gall Falion’s face. “Our girl Eris here wants to take down the Dragon God.”

“What? You mean Orsted…?”

Reida was genuinely shaken by the mere thought. She, too, was very familiar with Orsted of the Great Powers. She knew of his strength—and that he used the Water God Style freely.

“The Dragon God, is it? Well, well…somebody’s certainly, er, ambitious. You think she can do it?”

“Yeah, I do. And so does Eris.”

“Ah. Well, that’s nice. Glad you’re confident, at least.”

It was hard to say if any of this was true. The Dragon God ranked second among the Seven Great Powers. The idea of trying to defeat him struck Reida as totally ridiculous. And yet, there was confidence on the Sword God’s face, and the girl Eris looked as if she had no doubts whatsoever. That was strangely compelling in itself.

Reida found herself thinking this might be entertaining, at least—assuming they were serious.

“But here’s the thing, Gall. I’m not interested in spending time on someone who doesn’t have the talent. Let’s start her off against my pupil here, all right? I’ll play with her once she manages to overwhelm the kid. And if she holds her own with me, then I’ll think about teaching her a few things.”

It was a “three birds, one stone” kind of plan.

Her star pupil’s pride would take a hit, but she’d also get plenty of practice against the Sword God Style. And Reida would get to take part in something very…interesting.

For the first time in a long time, she could feel her heart dancing with excitement. She was a master of the Water God Style, yes—but she was also an ordinary swordswoman at heart.

“You heard all that, Isolde? Go ahead and fight these two.”

At the sound of her name, Reida’s disciple rose to her feet. “I believe I understand the situation. My name is Isolde Cluel, and I’m a Water King. Pleased to make your acquaintances.”

“I’m Nina Falion, a Sword Saint. Nice to meet you.”


“…I’m Eris Greyrat.”

With these brief introductions complete, the three young women walked silently to the corner of the room where the wooden swords were located.

As they took their weapons, Isolde put a hand to her mouth and whispered so that only Eris and Nina could hear. “I’ll play along since my master asked me to…but if you’re only Saint-ranked, I’m afraid this won’t be much of a fight.”

“Maybe not. I guess we’ll have to see what happens.”

“Hmph…”

It was a cheap attempt at provocation, granted…but it never took much to get the young prodigies of the Sword God Style fired up.

An hour later, Eris was lying on her back in the middle of the hall.

“Haa…haa…”

Her eyes were open, and she was gasping loudly for air.

Isolde had beaten her down completely. Her sword hadn’t so much as grazed her opponent.

At present, Eris’ blade was among the ten fastest in this entire hall. Her strikes, honed by years of solitary practice swings, boasted speed and power approaching that of Ghislaine’s, and the peculiar rhythm of her attacks made them particularly difficult to avoid. She also threw in a few tricks from the North God Style, making her all the more unpredictable. All in all, she’d grown far more fearsome than your average Sword Saint.

However, Isolde had warded off everything Eris threw at her, and answered them with sharp counters. In the course of their bout, which had lasted less than thirty minutes, Eris had “died” nearly a hundred times.

“…”

And yet, Isolde was also lying on the ground, right alongside her.

Her delight at crushing Eris had been short-lived. Nina Falion had defeated her in turn.

Isolde had always believed that the Sword God Style was nothing more than a brutish, thoughtless reliance on speed and momentum. She’d thought it posed no real threat to an expert practitioner of the Water God’s refined techniques.

Nina had exposed these thoughts for the arrogant nonsense that they were. Isolde had been unable to react to her very first attack, and it had struck the side of her head with enough force to knock her unconscious.

The fight had ended before it even began.

“Well, isn’t that an interesting outcome!” said Gall Falion, seated in the hall’s place of honor.

Without responding, Nina bowed deeply to the Sword God.

The word he’d used was interesting. That suggested he hadn’t expected Nina to be the last one standing. She felt some disappointment at this, but it was outweighed by her pleasure at demonstrating to her master the progress she had made. She lived for the thrill of victory, no less than any other in this hall.

“Can’t say I agree, Gall,” said Reida in an indifferent tone of voice.

She had anticipated this very outcome from the start. A raging beast incapable of concealing its emotions was the easiest possible prey for an expert of the Water God Style.

Eris was strong, to be sure, and she held enormous potential for growth. But strength wasn’t enough. A ball of pure fury stood no chance whatsoever against the Water God’s approach.

Reida had expected Nina’s victory as well, with no less certainty. The girl was profoundly skilled for her age, but she hadn’t let it go to her head. Most likely, the presence of this Eris child had kept her pride in check. Nina, in her humility, had devoted herself to her training. And Isolde, in her pride, had neglected hers. That was why she’d lost the fight.

Nina’s attacks hadn’t been particularly fast compared to those of Eris. In fact, they were very slightly slower. And the force behind Eris’ swings had been far greater.

However, there was no emotion in Nina’s strikes. There was no hatred in her eyes, no hostility on her face, not even a reflexive movement of her cheeks. To Isolde, it was like a bolt from the blue. She’d probably been unconscious before she even sensed the girl was coming at her.

“Still, it seems like a favorable start. What d’you say, dear? Want to learn a few Water God tricks from me?”

Nina considered the offer for a moment, but eventually shook her head. “No. I want to keep my focus on mastering the Sword God Style.”

“Good, good. You’ve got the right idea,” said Reida with a pleased smile. “All right then, Gall. How’s about we have these three train as a group for a while? That ought to sharpen them up a bit.”

“Yeah, sounds about right. No point wasting your time if Eris can’t handle the likes of a Water King.”

“Yep. Should do wonders for my pupil’s motivation, too. The girl’s been needing someone to chase after.”

The Sword God and Water God discussed the matter for a little longer, and arrived at an agreement: Eris would be tasked with defeating Isolde, and Isolde with defeating Nina.

Until that happened, the three of them would train together as equals, pointing out each other’s deficiencies. In theory, it would prove beneficial to all of them.

“…You all right with that, Nina?”

Nina nodded easily at her master’s proposal. “I don’t mind.” 

To be sure, she’d joined in this session out of nothing more than curiosity. Still, the opportunity to practice extensively with a talented Water God student sounded valuable indeed. Nina had defeated Isolde decisively. But she didn’t think of her, or Eris, as beneath her level. And she’d learned from first-hand experience the value of competing closely with her peers. 

If not for Eris’ presence in the Sword Sanctum, Nina was certain she would have fallen short against Isolde.

“All right. Let’s go with that, then. You’ll work with your usual teachers in the morning, but in the afternoon you three can group and train each other.” 

Nina nodded quietly. And Eris, too, responded from the floor.

“Yes, Master.” 

“…Got it.”

Isolde was still unconscious, but Reida had no intention of allowing her to decline.

From that day forward, Eris began her lessons in fighting against the Water God Style.

A month later, the three of them had settled into a peculiar three-way deadlock. Eris consistently beat Nina. Nina beat Isolde. And Isolde beat Eris.

The three of them kept up with their individual training schedules, of course, but also took the time for several practice matches every single day, and exchanged their opinions afterward.

It hadn’t taken long for Isolde to identify Eris’ weaknesses.

“Eris, you just radiate hostility. The practitioners of my style are quite good at picking up on that sort of thing. It tells us exactly when you’re going to attack, which makes it trivial to react.”

“Okay, right. But what am I supposed to do about it?”

 To Isolde’s mild surprise, Eris readily accepted her criticisms. Most people seemed to think of the girl as a violent, obstinate maniac, but she was genuinely hungry for ways to improve.

“Let’s see… Nina, you don’t give much of anything away before you attack. How do you control your hostility so well?”

“I’m not sure what to tell you. A duel’s just a matter of moving your sword faster than your opponent, right? I can’t see what hostility has to do with that.”

In all honesty, Nina had always found it strange that Eris’ default mood was “furious.” Was there some point to staying constantly agitated, even when you had no real enemy to fight? Relaxing when you had the chance felt like the smarter move.

“Well, I don’t know either,” grumbled Eris.

“Okay. Why don’t you try changing your daily routine, for starters? Take a long bath, eat a good meal, get in a nice warm bed, and think about that beloved boyfriend of yours until you fall soundly asleep.”

“Excuse me? What does Rudeus have to do with anything?”

“Oh, come on…that part was just a joke. Try the rest of it, though, seriously. It doesn’t look like you take that good care of yourself, to be honest. Sometimes it’s kind of alarming.”

“…All right.”

Eris would have preferred to maintain her current state of constant tension. There was a reason for this: The more she trained here, the more she came to understand just how unbelievably powerful the Dragon God Orsted was. 

He had used the very same techniques that Isolde did, but his were far more precise and skillfully executed. And she was a Water King, while he wasn’t even a member of their school.

Nina let out an exaggerated sigh. “Honestly, why can’t I ever beat this ridiculous girl? It’s starting to hurt my self-confidence…”

She spent every single day following an efficient, logical system of training devised by the Sword God himself. She strengthened her body in the most efficient possible way, ate carefully calculated meals, and maintained a well-regimented schedule. 

And yet, she couldn’t beat Eris—whose routine was decidedly not rational.

“…It’s because I’m making you move after me.”

“Huh?!”

Nina hadn’t been expecting the girl to actually answer her question. The Eris she knew was the definition of selfish. She’d never shown any interest at all in helping anyone but herself improve.

“Ruijerd taught me how. You can use stuff like eye contact to make people jump first, or hesitate just a little.”

“Ruijerd…? Who’s that?”

“My teacher.”

Nina was mainly just puzzled by Eris’ words. She didn’t understand what the girl was talking about, but the technique was, in fact, a highly advanced skill Eris had learned from Ruijerd. It had been developed by the warriors of Demonkind as a conscious application of certain subtle actions that truly seasoned swordsmen performed reflexively.

Of course, this meant Eris couldn’t begin to explain how it worked.

“In other words, Eris, you’re deliberately guiding your opponents’ actions?”

“That’s right.”

“…”

Isolde’s clarification helped Nina get her head around the basic concept. She understood the idea now, but that only made it harder to believe. She found herself glaring at Eris dubiously. From all appearances, the girl had been raised by a pack of wolves in the forest. Nina never would have suspected she was capable of using such a sophisticated skill.

Isolde, on the other hand, found the idea much more comprehensible. The Water God Style was primarily focused on counterattacking, so it had its own set of techniques meant to encourage an opponent to attack first.

“I see. And have you been using the same techniques when facing me?”

“Well, yeah. But you never move.”

“Yes, that’s how I was trained. Next time we face off, perhaps you should stop bothering with that, and focus on suppressing your hostility instead. That might change things somewhat.”

Eris furrowed her brow, but nodded. “I’ll give it a shot.”

She was willing enough to attempt this, but she still didn’t know how to “suppress” her hostility. Controlling her feelings wasn’t something she’d ever really done before.

Of course, she’d heard comments like this plenty of times before. However, Ruijerd had encouraged her to make use of her natural aggression, and his training methods had taken it into consideration. As a result, she’d never felt the need to change.

While her hostility might ordinarily be a handicap, she had more of it than most people. She preferred to use it as a resource, rather than pretend it wasn’t there.

“I wonder what I should try, then,” muttered Nina. “Isolde, how do you deal with her?”

“Let me see. In the Water God Style, we train for this sort of thing by covering our eyes and learning to sense when an attack is really coming, but…I believe Eris’ technique is fairly common among the warriors of Demonkind, so I imagine the Sword God Style has its own way of coping with it. Why don’t you ask your master about this?”

Isolde was both talented and profoundly clever. The Water God Style tended to attract patient and studious types like her.

“I’ll try. This does get frustrating sometimes… Oh. Looks like the sun’s about to set.”

At these words from Nina, the day’s review session came to an end.

“I suppose I’ll see you both tomorrow, then,” said Isolde with a smile. “You know, I’ve been enjoying myself very much recently. This is the first time I’ve ever had the chance to talk things through with anyone close to my own age.”

“The feeling’s mutual, Isolde,” Nina replied.

She meant it, too. Now that Eris was actually speaking to her, Nina had come to realize that the girl had a vast and varied knowledge of combat. Apart from her practical experience, she evidently had a smattering of North God and Demonkind techniques at her disposal.

It was hard to shake her overall impression of Eris as a wild dog in human clothing, but she’d gained a grudging respect for her abilities. The girl wasn’t resorting to “cheap tricks”—she was simply using skills from other schools of combat.

“…Hmph.”

Eris’ attitude hadn’t particularly changed. Normally, she wouldn’t have even offered her opinions in a group like this, even when forced to attend it. But this evening, she’d found herself remembering the period when she was learning the sword with Rudeus as a child. The two of them had often talked about their progress and figured out new ways to improve, just as Nina and Isolde were doing now.

This can’t be a bad idea if Rudeus used to do it.

The logic was very simple, almost childish. But for Eris, it was powerful enough to convince her to actually communicate for once.

“Well then, I’ll be on my way now. I have more training with my master tonight.”

“Thanks for your help today, Isolde.”

“Don’t mention it, Nina. You’re helping me as well. I can feel myself improving day by day.”

As the three of them approached the point where the path to the guest rooms diverged from the one leading to the lodging house, Isolde and Nina paused for some final pleasantries.

Eris, on the other hand, kept right on walking down the path to the lodging house.

“Thank you as well, Eris,” called Isolde.

“…I’ll land one on you tomorrow.”

“I look forward to it.”

“Hmph.”

Without even turning around, Eris marched on forward. With one final nod to Isolde, Nina hurried after her.

“Eris? I’m assuming you’re going to keep training for a while, but once you’re done, remember to at least rinse yourself off.”

Normally, these words would have passed through one of Eris’ ears and out the other. Nina wasn’t expecting her to listen, but she said this nearly every day regardless. The girl did get terribly smelly, after all.

Today, however, Eris didn’t just ignore her. Instead, she turned back to glare at Nina with a slightly irritated expression on her face.

“…Is what you said before really true?”

“Hm? What are you talking about?”

“You said I could hide my hostility if I took a long bath, ate a good meal, and thought about Rudeus in bed every day.”

“Uh…”

Nina found herself at a loss for words. In all honesty, she’d mostly said that in an attempt to trick Eris into acting a bit more civilized. But in theory, the ability to relax was a crucial part of controlling your emotions. And so, she decided to double down.

“Y-yes, that’s right! And for another thing, that boyfriend of yours won’t stay interested in you for long if you’re constantly this smelly.”

“That won’t be a problem. I used to catch Rudeus hugging my sweaty old shirts all the time.”

“Uh, what…?”

Remembering the young man she’d briefly met once before, Nina tried to picture him burying his face in this strange girl’s stinky clothing. It was an appalling mental image. However, she saw that Eris was growing increasingly irritated at her reaction, and wisely opted not to comment further. 

“Look, forget it. All I know is men don’t like filthy women, all right?”

“Hmm. Well, I guess Rudeus was kind of fussy about keeping things clean…”

“There you go! And that’s why you should pay more attention to your hygiene.”

Eris paused to think for a moment. Memories of Rudeus flooded through her mind. She usually made a conscious effort not to reminisce about the past…but when she let down her guard, she’d always end up thinking about him. And when she thought about him, her lips would quirk into a smile all on their own.

As she considered this, Eris realized something interesting.

I’m probably not emitting any hostility right now, am I?

“All right, then. Guess I’ll go wash myself off.”

“Yes, I wasn’t expecting any better from you. Don’t worry, I’ve nearly given up at this— Wait. What did you just say?”

Eris strode off toward her room without responding to the question. 

And Nina just watched her go, a look of stunned disbelief frozen on her face.

It took another year for Eris to reach equal footing with the Water King Isolde.


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