Lucia is extremely motivated nowadays. Ever since I figured out what drove her to do things, getting her to train was no longer like pulling teeth, but she does complain a lot. Her goals seem to be similar to Roland’s. Roland wanted to be the strongest in the world for the sake of Cottontail. He wanted to spoil her by being able to do whatever he wanted without being impeded. Lucia wants to grow strong … for me. Or my praise, at least.
“I memorized them all!” Lucia bounced to my side and stared up at me with big, round eyes. Her ears and tail twitched as she pursed her lips.
“Good job, Lucia.” It really was. It only took her a week to memorize the thousands of movements between the 81 positions of the Steady Mountain Footwork. “I’m proud of you.”
Lucia closed her eyes and smiled as I ran my fingers through her hair. It was nice that she was such a simple person who could be persuaded by praise. Some people moved only for glory or wealth.
“Perverts,” Bouncykins said from the side. He’s just jealous Snow’s tail isn’t as fluffy or soft as Lucia’s.
“Hey, Lucia, Durandal, what are your future plans?” Snow asked. He was sitting by the campfire near the field of wooden spears, grilling a chunk of flesh. A large pile of bones lay by his side—Lucia’s previous snacks and motivation.
“Become a legend!” Lucia nodded and tackled me, clinging to my torso. She peered up at me with a twitching tail. “Right?”
“Right.” Though I already was a legend. “And the most important thing to becoming a legend is?”
“Good looks!” Lucia nodded.
“No. It’s your foundation. Now, you’ll have to circulate your qi during those movements. And the difficultly will be stepped up.” I glanced at Snow while Lucia hung her head. “Did you make it?”
“The bow? Yeah.” Snow patted the long-ranged weapon by his side. “Is this for Lucia?”
You could say that. I picked up the bow and retrieved the blunt arrows lying next to it.
Lucia’s eye twitched. “Uh, Durandal?” She took a step back and raised her arms in front of her chest. “Are you … going to shoot those at me?”
What. It’s not fun if she figures it out before I start. I mean, it’s a good thing Lucia’s intuition is developing. I’m not doing this for enjoyment or anything. Only a sick person would derive pleasure from someone else’s pain. “It’s training.”
“Don’t look at me,” Snow said and turned his head away. Lucia was staring at him as if she wanted to cry. “Bouncyki—I mean, Lucifer! Lucifer did a lot worse to me while I was learning my Wind Shadow movements.”
“Did you just forget my name?” Bouncykins asked, glaring at Snow, who was beneath his feet. “The Mighty—”
“Yeah, yeah, we get it,” Lucia said, cutting Bouncykins off. I’m a bit proud of her for that. “The more important issue is Durandal’s trying to shoot me with arrows! This is abuse!”
“You said you wanted to grow stronger and you’d stop complaining.”
“How long are you going to hold that over my head!?” Lucia took another step backwards.
“Until it stops working.”
“I’ll give you a massage tonight.”
“I’ll do it! Shoot as many as you’d like!” Lucia scrambled up the wooden spears and hopped to the centermost one. “What exactly am I doing?”
“Smash apart the arrows and try not to get hit. The only movements your feet are allowed to take are those of the Steady Mountain’s.” It sounds simple, but I didn’t tell her I was going to imbue the arrows with her qi. “Ready?”
“Yes!” Lucia brandished my weapon body and exhaled while narrowing her eyes. Oh? It’s been a while since I’ve seen her serious face. Maybe a massage was too grand of a reward to bring out just yet? I nocked an arrow and let it fly, letting Lucia adjust to the speed of the projectile. She twisted her lower body and stepped on a nearby spear while swinging my weapon body. How do the spears not sink into the ground despite my weapon body weighing over two tons? …Don’t worry about it.
“Good.” I fired 81 arrows, guiding Lucia’s body through the foundational footsteps of the Steady Mountain Footwork.
“Why couldn’t you have been this nice when you were teaching me?” Snow asked the rabbit sitting on top of his head.
Bouncykins shrugged. “I’m not familiar with footwork. I’m a hare, remember? Why would I need humanoid movements?”
“I guess that’s fair,” Snow said and crinkled his forehead.
I ignored the chatter and focused on guiding Lucia with the arrows. There was one time when she slipped and nearly pierced herself on a spear, but she managed to catch herself with her tail. I didn’t realize it was that flexible or strong. It was a shame there weren’t any fighting techniques tailored for beastkin in Roland’s library. A few of his weapon and armor spirits were beastkin, but none of them were squirrels. “How are you holding up, Lucia?” I’ve been expending her qi constantly, and she should be struggling right about now.
“I, I can keep going,” Lucia said and swallowed the phlegm built up in her throat. “For the reward!” Her eyes gleamed, and I thought I felt her qi reserves replenishing. I should’ve saved this reward for something more difficult. I didn’t think a massage was that valuable.
Well, it was time to pick up the pace. I fired arrow after arrow, aiming for the flaws exposed when Lucia took steps. The easiest way to teach her where her flaws were was to hit them repeatedly until she instinctively guarded against them. Despite the qi-reinforced arrows striking her body, she didn’t cry out as she struggled to stay on the spears.
Only after 500 arrows were fired did she finally fall off. By that point, the spears were slick with her sweat and the moon shone overhead. Snow was panting for breath too. He hadn’t made 500 arrows; instead, he had to retrieve the ones I fired and return them to me. It’s good that he’s an obedient lackey, but I’m not quite sure what he wants. He’s decided to follow us, but even if he left, I’d have no intentions of killing him. With Bouncykins at Snow’s side, the secret of my retrieval wouldn’t spread.
“How, how did I do?” Lucia asked. Her arms and legs were splayed as she stared up at the sky.
“You were amazing.” She really was. I kneaded her muscles, causing her to groan and relax. When I was done with the massage, she stared at me with a strange expression, her face bright red.
“There’s no happy ending?”
…Is that what she was after this whole time? “No…”
“What!? Then what did I work so hard for!?”
“To become a legend.” Despite the lack of sun in the sky, my body was unusually warm. “Don’t forget your goals.”
Lucia grumbled as she sat up. “I feel cheated.”