Chapter 10:

Student and Teacher

Chained Regalia

“Hmpf!” A strange sound ejected from my mouth as I slammed into the ground. Instead of getting up, I decided to just groan.

Regret. Yes, regret. I thought I understood what that emotion was, but I was wrong. Only now do I understand.

“Come on, get up. We’ve barely started.”

“Your voice is so upbeat right now, it’s sickening.”

“Agh, come on already.” Something grabbed my hand and pulled. Resisting would probably make things even worse, so I reluctantly got to my feet.

I continued to groan and held my back in pain. I probably looked like an old man right now, desperately struggling to stay standing.

“You know, it’s really been a pleasant journey. I mean that, but I think I’m ready to retire now. It was very nice to get to know you.”

Lucia had retrieved my wooden blade for me—though it was blunt enough so as to not really qualify as a ‘blade’—and was in the middle of handing it over as I whined. She sighed. “You seem to think you can get out of this situation with incessant complaints and jokes. Despite having failed to find any success with that tactic, you keep trying. Your perseverance is as admirable as it is pitiful.”

“You know, I think that reply hurt a lot more than the swords, actually.”

“Oh, so you would prefer we get back into that instead, then? Good.” She lightly tossed the sword in her off-hand over to me.

“Please, no.” In contrast to my verbal cries, I still caught the sword.

I took a few deep breaths in an attempt to steel my resolve. Sure, I’m getting the absolute shit beat out of me now, but, someday, I’ll be cool! I better be, or else this won’t have been worth it at all. I fixed my gaze onto Lucia, trying to look as coolheaded as possible.

“I hate to say this after you finally got a serious look on your face, but we can take a break now if you need to.”

I dropped the sword immediately and clasped my hands together as if praying. “Your mercy is much appreciated. I’ll never forget this gracious act of charity for as long as I live.” I immediately took the opportunity to sit down at the crude wooden bench a few steps away. She went about fiddling with something on her belt, but I didn’t bother focusing my attention on it.

She had taken me to some kind of training yard, it seemed. All around the large swathe of land, dozens of people participated in similar activities: some sparred, some practiced archery at distant targets, and some even appeared to be practicing magic. I wonder how many of these people are actually Chains. Lucia had made it sound like Nerush was full of them.

“Ack!” Just the simple act of moving my body to look around caused it to hurt. Yesterday, my body had ached from a gradual buildup of light fatigue, but today was different. The exercise was far more strenuous, and, unsurprisingly, getting repeatedly whacked with a stick was quite painful. For someone as apparently unathletic as I was, it was pure suffering. She claimed this was all purely psychological, and that I would eventually get over experiencing false fatigue and pain, but it certainly felt like it was a product of my body rather than of my mind.

I felt hot, and I was covered in sweat. I’m manifesting this sweat subconsciously too, I guess. I was still struggling to internalize the reality of my ‘body’. During the first encounter with them, I had thought that the Lishkarn seemed like puppets, but maybe that description actually fit Chains better. Our physical bodies were the work of the crafter’s—my—imagination; they had no true, objective form like real people did. The pain and exhaustion I felt, the sweat rolling down my face, even the clothes I wore…

It was all artificial. A product of my imagination. This body was not a body; it was a construct made to mimic one. It imitated biology, yet its lack of ordinary biological limitations proved it wasn’t truly alive.

… What even am I?

Suddenly, something slammed into my chest.

I hadn’t been asleep, but I felt as if I was just jolted awake. “Huh? What?”

Lucia’s face was extremely close to mine. Considering I hadn’t noticed her approach, I must have been completely out of it.

“What’s wrong? You looked lost in thought, and you didn’t even hear me talking to you.” She had a concerned look on her face, and her tone matched the expression.

“Oh, uh, nothing. Just tired. In a lot of pain, too. You’ve definitely given me more than a few bruises.” I tried my best to sound convincing.

She looked suspicious of my response, but she drew back and plopped down next to me on the bench. She was holding something in her hand, and presumably it was what she had hit me with.

“I will not force you to tell me; I understand that we may not be close enough yet for that. However, if you are ever troubled with something and willing to speak, I will listen. I was the one who brought you to this place where you know nothing and no one, so it’s the least I can do.”

“That’s pretty sweet of you, but it’s a little hard to believe coming from the same person who just spent an hour smacking me around.” Her offer was so sweet, in fact, that I could only manage to give a joking reply. I wasn’t capable of properly replying to something like that with the pure sincerity it deserved. Nor was I capable of taking her up on that offer, at least not for some of the most pressing things on my mind.

She didn’t seem to mind, though, because she laughed at my response. Upon regaining her composure, she handed the object she was holding to me. “I almost forgot. Here, I brought some water.”

It was a canteen, it seemed. I graciously took her offering and popped the top off. For water hailing from an ambiguous source and extracted at an unknown time, it was surprisingly cool and refreshing. Even if I didn’t need to drink, technically, I was still glad to have it.

“Hey, can I ask you something?”

She had a canteen of her own and was drinking out of it, so it took her a moment to reply. “What is it?”

“I want you to be completely honest: how bad am I? At this fighting, I mean. You said you’d go easy on me so I could get a feel for things, and compared to when you fought in the forest, it feels like you’re moving in slow motion, yet I still can’t manage anything against you.”

Lucia looked up to the sky for some reason before speaking. “I have two things to say to that. First, you are, in fact, very unskilled. It frankly surprised me a little bit how bad you were.”

“… I know I said to be honest, but can you be a little less honest from now on?”

She laughed. “Sorry, sorry. I gave you exactly what you asked for, though, so don’t be too mad. Besides, the value of innate talent is always overestimated. I see no reason to be distraught with your skill level at the moment, when you just started practicing.”

I couldn’t help but smile. “It amazes me how easily you can jump from scathing criticism to encouragement.”

She looked down from the sky and at me. “Is that a compliment?”

“It is.”

“I see.” She returned her gaze to the sky. Wondering if she was looking at something, I followed suit. I was greeted with a clear, blue sky. There was nothing specific to see, but the emptiness was calming, in a way.

“What was that second thing you wanted to say?”

“Oh, yes. About your training, I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing.”

“Huh?” I looked towards her, and she lowered her head to look back at me.

“I have nearly zero experience teaching anyone anything. I have always been the one to be taught.”

“So what are you saying?”

“My teaching methods are likely highly flawed and not the best approach to go about this.”

“Is that why you had us directly spar on the first day? Instead of practice swings or something?” I had no idea how this kind of thing was taught, either, but I would have thought that sounded like a more reasonable first step.

“Oh! That’s a brilliant idea! We should try that instead! I believe I started with similar technique-building exercises when I was first taught, as well. I cannot believe I forgot.” She had a proud look on her face, like she was the one who thought of it.

I sighed. This is going to be one hell of an experience, isn’t it?

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