There wasn’t a single cloud in the sky. In the back alley behind Sea Anemone, laundry hung from a rope, fluttering in the wind. Not too far away, Nick was warming up.
“Uwah, you’re flexible.”
Yelled Reina as she watched him.
Nick was standing up and leaning forward, touching the ground with his hands.
“Having flexible joints prevents injuries you know.”
Reina responded with genuine admiration to Nick’s bragging.
“My daughter’s pretty good at that too.”
“But not as good as Nick.”
“Hey Nick, hold back a little, she’s a kid.”
“We’re not competing!”
Ada pat Reina’s head as she looked at Nick with an annoyed expression. She meant it as a joke, but she was actually over-protective. Her face was beautiful and looked younger than she actually was, but at that moment, she looked very motherly.
“Karan’s pretty flexible too.”
“I can tell because we go out adventuring together. You wouldn’t be as agile as you are if you weren’t flexible.”
Said Nick, and Karan turned away in embarrassment.
“D-don’t stare too much.”
“Oops, you’re right.”
Nick felt he was rude and apologized, but Karan glared at him, seeming even more displeased and embarrassed.
“Hey now, stop flirting.”
Ada interjected and clapped her hands.
Nick tightened his expression. It was time to do some serious training.
“I’m sure you know, but I can use four kinds of magic. 《Magic Response》, 《Sense Strengthening》, 《Light Body》, and 《Heavy Body》. We’re going to focus on Light Body.”
“Still, my leg is hurt, so don’t expect me to demonstrate. Not that there’s much point in watching someone else, it’s better if you try it yourself and fall down.”
“You’re already assuming I’m going to fall.”
“Now follow me and recite the spell.”
Nick recited the spell quietly, as he was told.
“Relax. Think of yourself as a feather or a scrap of paper.”
“Like that, not too much magic energy. Relax your muscles. Use as little strength and magic energy as possible… Take one step forward.”
Nick slowly put his foot forward, and the ground felt soft and unreliable. It was like walking on straw.
“It feels like I’m going to fall.”
“The fact that you haven’t is good enough. I mean…”
“…Nothing. Now walk forward normally.”
Nick walked as he usually did.
He had gotten used to walking in this manner. The fighting techniques his old leader taught him were not just about how to punch and kick. Nick also learned how to breathe, walk, stand, and more.
Nick had to learn all about how to move his body, and could now overwhelm even monsters with his whole body.
[This is so nostalgic… No wait, I got my ass kicked back then didn’t I…]
“Don’t get distracted!”
Nick lost his balance when he heard the scream.
Nick had a complete grasp on his height and weight, which was part of why he was such a good fighter. Because of this, he noticed right away his weight changed, and corrected his senses accordingly.
This however, was lost when he stopped focusing.
“…This is pretty hard.”
It had been a while since he trained while someone yelled at him.
Nick thought back to the days when he was still learning.
Argus was Nick’s leader, and the leader of All Martial Arts. His training was by no means soft, but he was a kind man.
He learned all sorts of martial arts, and was capable of slaughtering monsters with his human strength alone, without relying on magic or the god given robust bodies that dragon people and other demi-humans had.
Many people were willing to pay to be taught by him, but Argus took an orphan without any relatives and taught him his techniques.
When young Nick became an orphan, Argus asked him a question.
“You’re not going to be tall, and it’s going to be difficult for you to build muscle. I can tell by the way your parents were.”
Nick thought they were going to talk about his future after his parents were killed by bandits… He did not understand what Argus was talking about, and could only nod.
“You’re not going to be using a longsword.”
“I can teach you how to use a spear, but that’s a weapon for the field of battle. You’re not going to have many chances to use it in a labyrinth.
You could also join the order or become a soldier. That’s not going to fill your stomach, but you’re not going to go hungry either.”
“Not the order.”
“Then take this.”
Argus said while handing him a short sword.
“Think of this as one of your legs or arms.”
Nick thought about his father. He never carried a huge weapon, but was by no means weak.
He even took down bandits, so surely Nick could do it as well. No, he would have to be able to do it.
“Yes sir, I understand.”
The short sword he accepted that day was used a lot, and was broken, but Nick treasured it and kept it stored away.
He never told anyone about it, not even his partners.
“Don’t say ‘yes sir I understand’.”
“It’s ‘got it’ or something. If you’re going to be in my party, you’re going to leave that uptight etiquette at the door.”
“Because we’re partners, and partners are equal. If you don’t feel like that’s true, work hard to make it so.”
Said Argus as he ruffled Nick’s hair.
For three years, he trained as hard as he could.
He worked on his body.
He softened his joints.
He sparred with his bare hands and with his short sword time and time again.
He worked on his body.
“Work on your body, but loosen up when it’s time to fight.”
“Watch your breathing.”
“Keep working on your body.”
“Hammer that into your body.”
“Don’t strain yourself.”
The words he heard over and over again were burned into the back of his mind.
His paths had diverged, but he no longer felt frustrated over having to say goodbye to Argus as an adventurer. He still respected him as his master.
“…That’s great Nick.”
Karan was impressed, and Reina looked up with pure wonder in her eyes.
Nick was focused, and continued training for a while.
Just like when he was trained by Argus, Ada’s words were burned into his body, and as a result…
“It only took you half a day to be able to walk on a clothes line… Even I’m surprised.”
Nick hopped from the rope and lightly landed on the ground. His movements were silent, like those of a feline.
“No… It’s not enough… The magic is broken unless I focus. I need to be able to maintain this while slashing and being slashed.”
“It’s not like you have to use it at all times. Actually, if you leave it active it makes your light body easy to be blown away by a blow.”
“…So I have to be careful to use it and stop using it at the right times? That’s even harder.”
“You’ll get there if you keep practicing. You’ll get used to how it feels too, and eventually you’ll be able to control it freely as you fight.”
“Was it like that for you too?”
“Yes. This is the kind of magic you can practice pretty much any time you want, even when you’re just walking around. That’s how I learned it too.”
“So it’s all about practice… That’s good then, it’s simple”
“But it’s going to take quite a while until you’re able to move like Stepping Man. Well, I’m sure you have something in mind anyway… That’s it for today. I’m tired.”
“Sorry, I know you’re still recovering.”
“You got that right”, mumbled Ada as she went inside Sea Anemone. She still wanted to work as a guard, even though she was injured, and asked the staff if any weird customers had come in.
A moist towel came flying. Rather than trying to dodge it, Nick caught it and placed it on his head.
The cold towel felt nice on his hot body.
“Amazing. You were like Stepping Man.”
“I’m not there yet. He’s pretty skillful to be able to control something like this while fighting.”
“But he’s not invincible.”
No matter how strong someone was, when they lost they lost. That was not just something that happened to oneself, the enemy could fall into the same trap.
Humans being powerless was not always a reason to despair.
“Do you want to learn too much, Karan?”
“No… They said it’s hard to learn if you’re not a regular person. I’ll stick to training my own techniques.”
While Nick was training, Karan was with Reina.
Karan was surprisingly good at taking care of her, putting Reina on her shoulders to wave at Nick while he walked on the rope, and helping prepare food in the bar together.
“You’re pretty good with kids.”
“…Is that weird?”
“No, not weird. It’s nice.”
Nick wiped the sweat from his body with the towel, while laughing at an embarrassed Karan.
He felt he hadn’t worked such a nice sweat in a while, and definitely did not hate being focused on his training like that.
“She’s a nice girl.”
“…Kids around here are sly. They’re kind of scary.”
A lot of children around those parts worked.
If there were children that worked with taverns and merchants, there were also those that carried luggage for adventurers or became carriers.
Since they were still young, they did not earn much, and because of this many ended up with a habit of stealing when they could.
But the only way to get good at stealing was to actually do it. There were two kinds, the ones that were blessed with the ability to become good at it without a lot of practice, and those that weren’t. Some had the ability, but could not bring themselves to do it, while others did not have the talent, but were drawn in by the idea anyway.
Even though she lived in this environment, Reina managed to avoid joining a group of thieving children, and instead had an honest character.
Her mother’s behavior was questionable, but her love for her daughter was not.
“It must be hard for Sem, if even a kid like her is enough for him to freeze completely.”
“Yes… It can’t be helped.”
Nick hoped it could be cured some day… Sem was pretty popular with girls, and even little girls, so he would probably get dragged into more trouble in the future. Sem’s trauma was probably a self-defense mechanism.
Karan was probably thinking the same thing, and both had the same dry smile.
“Well, there’s nothing we can do about it. They’re pretty late now that I think about it.”
“They’re in the abandoned area, it probably takes some time to walk around in there. Why don’t you ask?”
Nick was recognized as the owner of the Sword of Bonds, and apparently his soul was connected to it. This made it possible for him to talk with Bond even when they were far apart.
Hearing bond’s voice suddenly echoing inside his head scared him, so Bond usually refrained from doing this, but they could talk if they really had to.
This time it was Nick’s turn to contact Bond, so he pictured his face in his mind.
“…Bond, can you hear me?”
“Yes. We are in the middle of something. We will be here all day so we will not be needing lunch.”
“What? Sounds like you’re going to be there for a while.”
“Yes. I will contact you if there is an emergency.”
Said Bond, and the connection was dropped.
“Sounds like they’re still busy.”
“Then what are we going to do?”
“I guess we’ll have lunch, then we’ll go…”
Karan asked where, and Nick knew where they had to go.
“Visit him again. Now that I think about it, he asked to bring something if I ever went there again…”