I’ve already had that discussion with Lucia. The age of martial arts and weapon spirits is over. But Lucia doesn’t care; she believes in me and my ability. I won’t disappoint her. That’s why I have to strike harder, faster. The spear in my hand blurred, its form becoming more fluid than solid as it struck towards the flaws in Lucia’s stance.
Sweat flowed from Lucia like rain from a cloud, and her blade managed to keep up with my spear, deflecting every strike. The beast core she had absorbed was beginning to take its part. All of her physical attributes would rise as the energy of the moonlight wolf was assimilated into her body, including her reaction speed and dynamic vision. Lucia may never move as fast as lightning, but I’ll be damned if she doesn’t get close.
I drew my spear back, focusing my (Lucia’s) qi into the tip. With a short shout, I thrust forward, performing a Breaking Blade with my spear. Lucia’s eyes widened as she brought her blade in front of her chest, holding it horizontally and bracing both ends with her hands to block my thrust head on. Like a boulder hitting the surface of a pond, my spear sent ripples into Lucia’s body, causing her to fly backwards. She hunched forward and managed to remain standing as her feet left two long lines in the earth. Maybe I should make my weapon body heavier. There’s three ways to deal with an oncoming force: redirect it, apply an even larger force towards it, or dodge it. I feel like Lucia would like the second option the most.
“It’s over?” Lucia was gasping and her arms were trembling, but I had to applaud her for remaining upright. “D-don’t you usually continue until I collapse?”
“Do you want me to?” Right. Didn’t she have some masochistic tendencies? “The core has been fully absorbed. If you absorb cores without expending the energy afterwards, impurities will build up and bring more damage to your body than benefits.”
“Oh.” Lucia nodded before collapsing onto her back. She sprawled out her limbs and exhaled while closing her eyes. She wasn’t wearing armor like usual, only having Snow’s dress on instead. It was part of an exercise to teach her how to reinforce parts of her body with qi. Armor would remove the sense of desperation, and everyone knows desperation fuels growth the fastest. “I feel smarter.”
“Smarter?” That wasn’t supposed to be a side effect.
“Like everything is clearer.” Lucia opened her eyes. “Sounds are sharper. The ground is rougher. Snow smells funnier.”
“It feels weird,” Lucia said and nodded as she sat up. “Like everything was improved by a little bit.”
“Do you see why the cores are worth so much money now? Beast cores are used for everything, but the enhancement effect is the undisputed reason why people want cores.”
“Not anymore.” Bouncykins was here to once again lower my image in front of Lucia. I’m going to stir fry him one day. Or I’ll make Lucia do it because I can’t cook. “Nowadays, beast cores are used to recharge magic tools to remove the waiting period. You know how you can only caste haste three times a day?” Lucia nodded. “Beast cores can remove that limit.”
“Then I should save some beast cores for that?” Lucia’s tail twitched as she tilted her head. She glanced at me.
“No. Magic tools are supplements. They aren’t your own strength. Wouldn’t it be better to use the cores to improve your strength to the limit?” It’s not that I don’t like magic tools. I’m not bitter or anything. Stupid imposter weapons.
“You’re right.” Lucia nodded.
“You think anything Durandal says is right.” Snow rolled his eyes. He really did look like Cottontail when he did that. I wonder what happened to her after Roland died.
“That’s because he is!” Lucia chased after Snow with her sword. “Don’t think I forgot how you threw that at my head!”
“It was an accident!”
Snow and Lucia vanished into the forest. Bouncykins and I were left behind by the fire. “It’s true that magic tools are supplements, but if everyone is using them, Lucia will be at a disadvantage if she doesn’t.” Bouncykins stared at me. “There are some magic tools inscribed with ninth-circle magic arrays. Do you know what that means?”
“People have reached the ninth circle?” Back in Roland’s time, fifth-circle magicians were considered geniuses and sixth-circle magicians were considered to be at the peak. A lot has advanced in 80 years.
“Cain’s reached the tenth. He’s the world’s first tenth-circle magician.” Bouncykins sighed. “Not only that, but the weapons that were called legendary in Roland’s time have been demoted to unique. The dwarves achieved a higher level of smithing, and newer, stronger weapons exist. It’s possible you and I are only on par with unique equipment these days.”
“I see.” I’m not sure what I’m feeling, but it’s not very pleasant.
“And the elves have gotten better at inscribing enchantments. They’re almost on par with magical tool arrays.” Bouncykins shook his head. “The only people who haven’t made advancements are martial artists. Their standards have dropped instead.”
“Is it possible Roland reached the peak of martial arts, so no one could surpass him?”
“There’s no such thing as the peak. There’s only a peak. People can only climb higher than their predecessors. They’re starting at a higher ground. But no one wants to pursue martial arts. Why go through the suffering when an enchantment can boost your strength? Why torture yourself to learn techniques when magic tools can provide them?” Bouncykins stared at me. It was annoying how dark his eyes were—I could see my reflection in them. “You have to adapt, Durandal. Those who can’t adapt can’t survive.”
“I’ll think about it.” A weapon spirit … adapt? Not possible. That’s what differentiates us from humans. My purpose is to teach and protect Lucia. Even though Lucia doesn’t treat me like one, I am still a weapon spirit. I will always be a weapon spirit. But I will still make Lucia into a legend.