Has it been six hours now? Eight? It was hard to tell, I hadn’t been able to keep track of time. If not for the sun having only just set, I would have thought I had been at this for days already. My hands were kept constantly clenched into fists at my side as I surveyed my surroundings warily.

After decapitating me, every strike Tsubaki delivered seemed to aim for lethal injuries. At least, lethal if I were still a mortal. One time, she ripped open my chest, or crushed my back. My head has gone flying dozens of times already, to the point where I have grown numb to the sight of my headless body falling in front of me.

I’ve even had to start taking back some of the divinity that I was using to make up the new divine world, thanks to all the damage I’ve taken. Needless to say, I was not looking forward to what Tsubaki had planned for her night-time ambushes.

If there was one good thing that came from all of these ambushes, it was that I had started to get used to the sudden fighting. I didn’t have to focus on taking a stance anymore. Rather, I was able to lash out with at least basic attacks even from an almost relaxed position. Not that she ever let me fully relax…

As I was thinking about that, I felt her rushing in again at the edge of my World Sight. My eyes narrowed, and I spun to face her, already throwing out a ki-infused fist. I could see that she had something in her hands, but I couldn’t let myself be distracted by that. All that mattered was hitting her.

Seeing that I was punching early, it seemed like Tsubaki wasn’t going to use her ninja footwork to appear right in front of me. Instead, she charged over like she had done at the start of the trial, moving in a jagged pattern. At this rate, there was no way that my fist would connect with her.

Despite that, I was determined. All I had to do was hit her once, and I felt like everything would have been worth it. As soon as my punch seemed to have reached the end of my reach, Tsubaki took advantage of the time when I would be off balance to rush over.

Got you. I thought to myself, my lips crooking up into a small smile. Just as her hands were lashing out and severing my legs, a phantom fist of ki appeared, punching forward. I could see Tsubaki’s eyes widening slightly in surprise, quickly rushing backwards.

Although it looked like she had dodged the strike, I could still feel that my ki had connected. A delayed punch like that won’t work a second time. She’ll be making sure to avoid running along any path I’ve punched. But still, I managed to land a blow on Tsubaki.

Even as my body fell, and I had to reattach the now-severed legs, I felt like I had made at least a little progress in these few hours. Though, by the time I managed to pull myself back to my feet, I saw a pair of pistols laying on the ground. Their bodies were black with gold highlights, and the weight of the pistols was enough to cause them to sink slightly into the hard ground.

They already got my guns? Were they working that fast, or has my sense of time gone awry? I asked myself internally, reaching to grab the pistols. As soon as I picked them up, I could feel a reaction from my ki, as if these were specifically made to focus ki, with their grips perfectly sized for my hands.

He’s learning faster than I thought. Tsubaki thought to herself as she watched from a distant tree. She brought one hand down to her abdomen, where she could remember the feeling of being struck. The wound was far from a fatal one, and it wouldn’t even inconvenience her in a fight, but this was the first time that he had landed a counter blow.

Is it really that good? I mean, that was little more than a light slap to you, and he had to overexert his ki to make that punch. If this were a real fight, he’d be dead. Keliope protested. After she began to step up the intensity of the trial, some of the others from the Greater Pantheon began watching the event.

Although they said that they just found it interesting, Tsubaki was well aware that they were watching as an insurance policy. If she started to go too far, all of them were ready to descend and protect the Keeper. To be honest, she was thankful for that.

She was too new to her martial wills, and sometimes had trouble suppressing it. In between her ambushes against the Keeper, she would lightly practice her new abilities in the forest, learning how to activate it and deactivate it at will. Although she had accidentally infused her martial will through her fist in one of their encounters, it seemed like the Keeper hadn’t noticed. Thankfully, her fist did not carry as absurd of a property as her sword will.

You’re wrong, Lady Keliope. What he did was the correct judgment. If this were a real battle, he would have had no hope of survival with his present abilities. Choosing to risk everything for a blow, even if it wasn’t a decisive one, is the best that he could hope for. I could even feel a small trace of will in that punch.

Martial will, already? Keliope asked in surprise. Does that mean he’s almost done with his training?

Not even close. Accalia responded. I’ve been looking into the subject. Martial will can be divided into two categories. We’ve been using the terms ‘will’ and ‘intent’ interchangeably, but it would be better to clearly differentiate them. The first stage is ‘martial will’, and the second is ‘martial intent’.

Uhm… what’s the difference? Keliope asked in confusion, clearly having not studied as deeply into the matter as Accalia.

Martial Will is the basic ability to harness the will that exists within ki. Tsubaki’s fists can be said to be at this stage. With martial will, you can exert your full strength at a reduced cost of ki, purely with your willpower. Right now, Dale’s only touched the threshold of that.

On the other hand, martial intent is a far more terrifying ability that delves much deeper into the spiritual aspect of martial will. Here, you hone your will towards a specific concept, which that will begins to embody. This is the level her sword is at. The ‘intent’ of Tsubaki’s sword is to sever, and so it carries the property of severing anything she cuts.

It took a moment for Keliope to process those words, and even Tsubaki found them enlightening. Then.. should I extend the trial to last until he has developed an intent? She asked tentatively, the observing deities answering unanimously.

Absolutely not!

After Tsubaki winced from their shouted reply, Terra spoke up in a firm tone. The hard part is unlocking martial will. Once he has that, he’ll be on the path to train his intent. That training can be handled more conservatively. This method of training is good for awakening a martial will, forcing him to focus everything into combat, but he won’t be able to properly awaken an intent without time to think.

I-I see, my apologies. Tsubaki nodded her head. Now that Accalia had defined the differences between a martial intent and a martial will, she could clearly think about her different abilities, and classify them accordingly. It seems like my best weapons are swords, guns, and needles. She thought to herself. After her experimentation, those wills carried the ‘intent’ of severing, homing, and piercing.

However, that made Tsubaki furrow her brow. According to her original plan, she would begin using a gun now that the Keeper had his pistols. Lady Accalia, could I trouble you for a bow? I don’t want to risk firing a gun in my current state. Tsubaki naturally had her own bow, but… she had left it back at the Sky Citadel due to planning to fight with her rifle instead.

That’s probably for the best. Accalia responded with a nod, and a longbow soon appeared in Tsubaki’s hands. Are you going to fight right away, though? Like Keliope said, he had to use a lot of ki in that last punch.

It’s fine. Tsubaki answered calmly, standing up on the branch of the tree. An orange string manifested along the bow, which she began pulling back. He should have two more blood heart gems right now. As long as he uses those, he can fully recover his ki. Lady Scarlet, I’ll have to trouble you again. Please convert the third arrow I fire into a ki gem where it lands.

Now that they were incorporating ranged attacks into their battle, it was harder to direct him where she wanted him to go to ensure that he found the gems she had scattered around. Tsubaki took a deep breath, a wispy arrow appearing nocked on the bowstring.

While I was testing the weights of the pistols, and making sure that I’d be able to accurately wield them, I felt a chill down my spine. Without hesitation, I jumped to the side. Immediately afterwards, it felt as if a line had been pierced through my World Sight, an orange streak flying through where my chest was just a moment ago.

Already?!” I asked in alarm, having expected her to give me at least a moment to adapt to having new weapons. Gritting my teeth, I reached into my pocket to absorb the blood heart gems that she had left me before, allowing them to replenish my ki.

As I was doing so, two more lines shot out, one piercing through my right shoulder and the other my left knee, severing both. Oh no… my adventuring career…

With a grunt, I stumbled back, falling down to the ground while firing a quick shot in the direction the arrows had come from. It was highly unlikely for me to hit, but I wanted to at least have her conscious of the chance that I might hit if I shot enough.

After firing, I focused on reattaching the two missing limbs, and then felt something hard against my back. It didn’t feel like a root, but rather a sharp stone. Looking back, I found a condensed ki gem. That was definitely not there a second ago…

I pursed my lips, pocketing the gem and pulling myself to my feet. My eyes were focused in the direction that the arrows had come from, enhanced with my own ki. I could see a gently shaking branch off in the distance, over two kilometers away from my current position. On the trees around it were various marks that looked like combat, but I knew that our battle hadn’t extended in that direction.

Is that where she’s been watching me from? Since this was a ranged battle now, Tsubaki would need to stay mobile to prevent me from locking onto her position. Sadly, my Scout levels weren’t high enough for my minimap to extend that far, unless I dipped into my Keeper levels. If I did that, it would be easy for me to find her, but also violate the rules of the trial.

Keeping my ki in my eyes, I slowly began to turn, looking for any distant paths, any evidence of movement. I saw something shifting in a bush roughly a kilometer away, and lifted my pistol to quickly fire a shot. My aim was… okay, so I haven’t had a lot of training with pistols. Even if it was Tsubaki, my shot didn’t land within a dozen meters of the bush.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t even her, and I saw a small beast rush out of the bush in terror after my shot landed. How can I increase my accuracy? I muttered internally, continuing my slow scan of the area. While these guns were specialized to handle ki, they also rejected other energies. So, I couldn’t do something like use a spell to attach an external sensory object to the gun to act as a scope.

Would I need to control my ki after it’s fired to help it hit the target? That was easier said than done… though all things considered, probably the easiest part of this whole trial.


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