Nix walked confidently toward Amira, but when he tried to speak to her, he found himself at a loss for words. Until now, he had been speaking to Amira politely despite being older than her because he had felt that the relationship between them was distant at best. And now that he was approaching Amira again, he saw that she looked the same as before, and his legs trembled a little as he recalled the day he had spent working with her.
Back then, the strongest Attacker was the one who would have the highest authority, so Nix had seen Amira and her ability to transform as superior to him. Things were different now, however — and they were not even in the same Clan anymore. Nix steeled his resolve and called out to her,
“Hey there, Amira.”
“Ah? Oh. Hey, Nix. You wanna go for a round?”
Nix was a little suspicious of how Amira’s immediately unexpectedly quick response, but still proceeded to ask a nearby White Mage to cast a powerful <<Barrier>> on both of them. Amira prepared her greatsword, and facing her, Nix held up his rapier.
Nix thrust straight ahead with his rapier to counter Amira as the latter rushed at him.
Although his vendetta was not as bad as Leleia’s, Nix had always wanted this chance. Back then, he had been the Clan’s second-in-command — meaning he would be yelled at the most, and also the one most often killed by accident whenever Amira used her uncontrollable <<Dragon Form>>. Therefore, he had been studying Amira’s fighting style, thinking that he would one day take revenge.
The greatsword was a difficult weapon type to handle in a fight against humanoid opponents. If an enemy was too close, one would not be able to swing the sword, and the fight would quickly become one-sided. As such, Nix intended to close the distance between them and deal the finishing blow as quickly as possible.
Amira seemed to have trained to counteract this vulnerability, however, as she did not leave many openings. She maintained a comfortable distance, preventing the rapier from reaching her as she swung her greatsword wildly.
[Damn, if she hits me, I might actually lose an arm!]
In the face of the terrifyingly swift swings of the greatsword, Nix felt his fighting spirit waver, yet he pressed on to try and score the win. His time as a member of Amira’s Clan had supplied him with an unhealthy dose of misery. He had been fine — thrilled, even — when he first lost to Amira, a girl younger than him, in a combat exercise. Drawn by his desire to follow Amira’s lead, Nix joined her Clan, and most of the other Clan members likely joined under similar circumstances.
But then, as it would turn out, Amira was selfish, her command over her Clan was dictatorial. Despite all her faults, though, they managed to progress through the layers for a while, so everyone stuck with her. What broke them was the brick wall that was the fiftieth layer, before which they found themselves completely stuck. It was at that point when Amira started finding fault in everyone around her.
It would be no exaggeration to say that, among everyone, Nix had suffered the worst abuse due to his position as the second-in-command. Criticized thoroughly by Amira, coupled with the fact that she had a unique skill, caused him to rapidly lose the confidence he once had in himself. Still, being the second-in-command set his mindset apart from those of most other members — He felt compelled to excel at what he did.
From then on, he found himself caught between Amira and the other Clan members — a predicament that endured until a boycott unfolded on the fiftieth layer. By the time he opted to leave the clan, his spirit was in tatters, but fortunately, he was soon taken under the wing of Ealdred Crow, and his self-confidence was restored. All things considered, however, it wouldn’t have been at all surprising had he crumbled away back then.
He believed he was no longer anything like his past self. Amidst comrades of Ealdred Crow, Nix had tirelessly honed his skills through dedication and diligence. Therefore, even in a mere mock battle, he held steadfast conviction in his ability to match Amira.
Nix’s swift advance followed by a precise thrust landed a solid hit on the <<Barrier>> around Amira’s chest area, shattering it and leaving only <<Barriers>> around her abdomen and legs. For Nix to snag his win, all he had to do was destroy those.
On the other side, Amira, after displaying a face of astonishment at the successful hit, let out a light click of her tongue.
Her red hair began to gleam a deep scarlet, and the scales along the nape of her neck shimmered. This transformation was a unique skill bestowed only upon the chosen ones. Suddenly, a massive greatsword came swinging at Nix, sending him hurtling away like a swatted fly.
Just like Amira previously, Nix’s <<Barrier>> around his chest was shattered. As Nix was taken aback, Amira cracked a sly grin.
Nix approached with a raging determination, his movement an unwavering, straight trajectory. Amira swung her greatsword as if aligning it along that very line, striking Nix squarely in the abdomen.
The <<Barrier>> shattered, but Nix kept pressing on, tracking the path of the greatsword. Amira, having let her guard down after feeling confident in her attack’s success, had to hastily pull back her greatsword so that she could parry Nix’s rapier thrust.
From there, Nix continued his ceaseless assault, like pricking with needles. Even as Amira’s <<Dragon Form>>-enhanced physical abilities allowed her to back away quite quickly, Nix relentlessly closed the distance between them and always struck with preemptive blows. To attack before being attacked — this was the strategy Nix had devised to counter Amira.
Nix now prioritized rapid strikes, cornering Amira thoroughly, as if his emotional outburst just moments ago had been a lie. Amira had a tendency to become frustrated when things did not go her way, in turn causing her movements to become more linear — more predictable. Having been aware of this, Nix intended to manipulate her into a corner.
This tactic had also been employed by Amy, however, and Amira had already devised a countermeasure. Amira, having recently learned to properly breathe fire, started spitting out puffs of burning air as if they were saliva. Though not as intense as Camille’s, they were powerful enough to inflict burns.
Caught off guard by the flame breath, Nix hastily shielded his face with his hand and scrambled away. The knowledge Nix had gathered for his counter strategies did not include the fire-spitting ability that Amira had just acquired through her mock battles with Amy.
“Think you can get away, huh!? Not from me!”
And now that she had regained the right distance for her greatsword, the stage was Amira’s. She had engaged in mock battles not only with Amy but also with Garm, Daryl, Leleia, and others. Each of them was stronger than Amira, and she had tasted defeat numerous times.
However, Amira had not simply been living with those losses. She reflected on her performance and worked to constantly improve herself. All in all, she had practiced just as diligently as Nix.
Nix was still weaker than Garm and Amy. Amira’s assault started becoming more one-sided as it went on, and eventually, her greatsword, swung like a hunk of metal, lifted Nix’s feet off the ground. His vision inverted, and as his shoulder slammed onto the ground, Nix could not help but let out a moan.
The White Mages came over to administer treatment, healing the cuts on Amira’s arms and legs and fixing Nix’s dislocated shoulder. Even for Nix, who had been at one point accustomed to getting killed by the <<Dragon Form>>-empowered Amira, the treatment process was rough enough to get a scream out of him, suggesting that it came with its fair share of pain.
[Still can’t beat her, huh…]
Nix, his eyes brimming with tears from the fixing of his shoulder, ground his teeth as disappointment painted over his face. He had prepared so much for this. However, Amira had grown stronger than he had anticipated, and there were even unexpected factors like her fire-spitting ability. Still, a loss was a loss.
Seeing Nix like that, Amira spoke to him, her expression resembling that of an adrenaline high.
“C’mon, Nix, let’s do a best of three. You’re not gonna just walk away now, right?”
“…Hell yeah. Let’s go.”
Swayed by Amira’s provocation, Nix proceeded to fight another ten matches with Amira. In the end, he managed to score only a single win. As today’s training session came to a close, Nix sat down on the spot as if in acceptance of total defeat, while Amira received treatment from one of the White Mages on standby.
“Shit… You can do this all day or what?”
“Heh. Still got a long way to go, eh, Nix?”
After the ten matches, Nix was quite clearly out of breath, while Amira seemed only slightly winded. Observing Amira’s triumphant expression, Nix cast his eyes down. Being able to win once was an improvement from the past when he could not even stand a chance, but it was still frustratingly far from satisfactory.
“But you’ve gotten real strong, you know… Well, actually, I guess you’ve always been…”
Hearing Amira’s words and seeing how she awkwardly averted her eyes, Nix was genuinely surprised. Amira had just praised someone — that someone being him — which was an occurrence he had always thought impossible.
“Really? Haven’t you been bitching about how weak I was that whole time?”
“Yeah, that’s what I actually thought back then. But I was projecting real hard, really — I felt that I wasn’t as strong as I could be. I mean, look what happened after all that — Ealdred Crow dropped me like a hot potato, and picked you guys up.”
Amira’s gaze shifted uneasily, and as she saw Nix’s astounded reaction, she halted momentarily, startled. Then, ruffling her red hair with one hand, she lowered her head abruptly.
“…Sorry. By now, I know I was a real asshole back then — never stopped to think about the people ’round me.”
Nix had never even dreamed of receiving such a straightforward apology from her. He got up to his feet with a mix of fear and doubt, and meeting Amira’s line of sight as she lifted her head, he found himself unsure of how to proceed with the conversation.
Nix had to admit that, ever since he had been promoted to a spot in Ealdred Crow’s third best team, his animosity towards Amira had considerably waned. While he had been angered at the time, she was the Guild Master’s daughter, barely sixteen years old. Though considered an adult by the world’s standards, she was still younger than Nix.
Engaging in this mock battle had been a small way of getting back at her, and he hadn’t harbored deep-seated resentment beyond that.
“You know… I never thought you’d ever say that. I dunno what to say, but… you’ve changed, Amira.”
“You know what, you gotta come see the others! Say that to them, too!”
Nix, struggling to gauge the distance between himself and Amira, attempted to smile before turning away. The other former Clan members who had been waiting watched on with a restless air about them. Amira seemed similarly uneasy as she followed Nix.
Amira proceeded to offer an apology to the two others for her previous behavior. The two men initially regarded her with suspicion, but over some subsequent rounds of sparring, they gradually warmed up to her each other
“Damn, when’d you become such a nice girl?”
Leleia observed the four people — Amira and three of her old Clan’s members — and narrowed her eyes.