I heard the ping of a system message, alerting me that I had received a level in the swordsman class. As I had only been level five in it before, that wasn’t too surprising. The fact that my spirit tamer or hunter classes didn’t level up simply showed that the system didn’t think this kill was worth much at my overall level. Still… I remembered back to when time seemed to slow down for me.
It was obvious that the cause wasn’t some strange system or anything like that. My body should have been able to react at that speed for a long time, at least with my Keeper stats. It only never happened before because I hadn’t felt any intense danger. And now that it was over, things had already gone back to normal.
Ashley, the scorpion’s taken care of. I sent the mental message out, taking a deep breath. I thought about visiting the dragon, and seeing if there was any way to start a peaceful dialog, but… Ashley had said it was pretty young right now. If its mind hadn’t matured, it might just see me as a tasty snack. Better to visit it when it’s grown a bit.
Now that I was done here, there was no point in waiting around for the other scorpions to come back. I jumped from the ground, pushing my ki into my feet as I began my trip back to the Sky Citadel. When I arrived, I was surprised to find Tsubaki standing on the edge of the front garden, her eyes calmly watching me approach.
“Welcome back, my Keeper.” She spoke with a polite bow as my golden dragon armor shifted, the smoke leaving my body to reform Leowynn. “And welcome back, Leowynn.”
“Heh…” Leowynn chuckled slightly, averting her gaze. “You noticed we were gone, huh..?”
“Of course. It is my duty to keep track of such things.”
“You tried to send me a message from Vision Expanse, right?” When Leowynn asked that, there was a small twitch to Tsubaki’s ears, the kitsune refraining from answer.
Instead, she quickly sought to change the subject. “My Keeper, may I ask what the purpose of this hunt was?”
“Another disaster appeared here, and Ashley asked me if I’d get rid of it for her.” I shrugged my shoulders as I responded, though Tsubaki’s eyes briefly widened.
“You could have asked me to handle this matter for you, my Keeper. Cleaning up dangers to your world has always been one of my tasks.” It was almost funny how she seemed to be pleading with me to let her handle jobs like this, but I shook my head.
“I needed the proper combat experience. I don’t get too many chances to test myself in fights like this. Besides, it looked like you were having fun.”
When Tsubaki heard that, her ears bent, pressing against her skull as she had a complicated expression on her face. I was just about to peek into her thoughts when her ears straightened up and she looked directly at me. “My Keeper, would you like me to help you in this regard?”
I must admit, I was taken about when she all but asked to be my combat trainer. However… unless I went to the goddesses directly, she was perhaps the most suited to play this role. And if I did go to Keliope, Aurivy, or even Accalia, their methods of training are… each specialized for their own fields.
Accalia will pit me against monsters at the same level as myself, and make me taste defeat again and again until I realize the errors in my strategy. Keliope is far more straightforward, but she’s also more of an instinctive fighter, so she isn’t so good at explaining her methods. As for Aurivy, she dabbles in every field, and is actually pretty good at explaining things. But she prefers to just give me the basics, and the start of a few techniques to let me explore the rest.
“Sure.” I finally nodded my head, though it seemed that Tsubaki was as surprised by this as I had been by her asking. “If you’d like, we can start tomorrow. But for now… I think you left Aurivy waiting for you, right?”
There was a guilty look on Tsubaki’s face at that, one that I doubted she even realized herself. She gave the briefest of nods, glancing back towards the citadel. “Then, sir, do I have your leave to return to Lady Aurivy?”
“Of course, Tsubaki.” I smiled, glad that I was able to see more visible reactions from the typically stoic fox.
She walked back into the citadel, with Leowynn joining her, while I simply looked around. It seemed like I’d have another bit of training before the game released after all.
“So, what happened?” Aurivy immediately asked once Tsubaki appeared in front of her in a flash of blue light. She was still standing over the corpses of the demon bandits that had tried to ambush them just before Tsubaki had to leave. It looked like Aurivy had opted to not loot the bandits and instead waited for Tsubaki to return.
“Sorry, he went on a hunt.” She said with a shake of her head. “I had to at least be there to greet him when he returned, and ask what he was doing. Also… it looks like I’ll be training him for a while.”
Aurivy could tell from the tone that Tsubaki used that she wasn’t entirely sure how to feel about training the person that she was supposed to devote her life to. “Really? Well, I guess it’s your turn, huh?”
“My turn?” The kitsune blinked in confusion.
“Yeah! Your turn to be his trainer. I did it last time. Then before that it was Accalia and Keliope. Then Terra before them. Honestly, I thought he’d pick Bihena next. But, I guess when it comes to manipulating energy, you’re probably better than her, right?”
Tsubaki had a slight panicked expression when she heard that, her eyes instinctively glancing around. “Please don’t joke about that, Aurivy.”
“Aha! You dropped the title.” Aurivy beamed a happy smile, before letting her expression relax again. “But yeah, don’t think too deeply into it. This is just another way that you can help him, right? And you’re probably the closest thing to a worthy sparring partner he can get without going back home.”
“Can we change the subject, please?” Tsubaki pleaded, looking down at the bandits. “Did they drop any information or anything?”
“Oh! Right, actually they did.” The halfling was easily distracted once the topic turned back to the game, reaching into her pocket to pull out a piece of crumpled paper. “Just like the last ones. They’re here on orders. It looks like the Mad King recruited the bandits, or one of his generals did.”
Tsubaki gave a brief nod, taking the paper and reading over it. “How long until we hit the next major city? We’ve almost crossed into the dwarven hills, right?”
Aurivy huffed, puffing her cheeks up at that. She knew that Tsubaki was trying to rush her to the next starting zone, and had been doing her best to take the scenic route to have more fun. “We could be there in a couple weeks… but this quest is right along the way! Can’t we clear out the bandit camp before we hit the mountains?”
The kitsune maid gave Aurivy the barest hint of a smile. “Once the game has officially released, we can return here and take care of it together. Until then, this is all content for the players to be able to explore later, right?”
Aurivy visibly deflated at that comment. “Fine, fine. But I’ll hold you to that! We’re taking your second account for a spin when you aren’t partying with Dale.”
“It’s a promise.”
The next few days were… well, I couldn’t say that I was bored anymore. When Tsubaki trained me, she took an entirely different approach from any of the goddesses that I had trained under before. If I had to compare it to anyone, it would be sort of like Terra, though she explained things far more completely than the felyn goddess.
First, we started every day with a spar. Contrary to my expectations, we didn’t go until there was a clear winner or loser, but instead only exchanged a few moves, with Tsubaki doing something different each time. The first day, she brought out her scythe, which had honestly made me worried. The second, she used spells on me. And on the third day, she attacked with ki.
After every spar, she would take the time to explain each move that she used, whether I already knew it or not. In her words, there was always something new to learn by hearing another perspective. And then we would spar again, her using variations of the same moves until I was either able to match them or create a counter.
Gradually, I began to feel as if she were testing me. Adjusting her speed and strength to try to find what I was comfortable with. Sometimes, she would explode with a monstrous speed that made me once again enter that slowed state. However, just like with the scorpion, I found myself just barely keeping up with her.
From what Tsubaki said, this was a technique known as ‘Battle Time’. Normally, a person’s mind adjusts automatically once they level up, allowing them to perceive events at the same speed that they are used to. Battle Time is the release of that adjustment, and requires both a high dexterity and a high wisdom to achieve.
She noticed that I was sluggish when using that technique, my body clearly not used to acting so quickly, even though it should have been more than capable of it. And once she noticed that… well, our training took a different focus. She spent weeks teaching me to control this state, to enter and leave it freely and to allow my body to properly move.
Once she had done so… I was actually able to keep up with her fairly easily. I felt like the protagonist in a movie, suddenly able to move my body so fast that it became a blur to block high speed attacks with ease. Tsubaki said that I should be able to get even faster, but that this was as much as she could help me with in that regard, since she herself wasn’t able to surpass that level.
Only when we had finished that portion of our training did we go back to learning new techniques. And when I wasn’t training with her, I was training on my own. I had to practice my divine soul, and continue my normal chakra thread training.
At least, until I received a message from Terra, her voice sounding surprisingly tense. Dale. Our next match has been set. We’re on the offense this time.
When I got that message, I was sitting in my room, a network of blue strings hanging from my fingertips. My eyes widened not at her words, but her tone. Who is it?
The Keeper title is Vanity. Beyond that…
I know, I’ve got to talk to the guild. As our conversation concluded, I sent a message out to Leowynn, recalling her back to my body. It had been nice spending a few months down in the world. While I felt like my own personal training had taken a great leap, it also felt like the world itself hadn’t been able to grow at all. But then again, I suppose that’s the problem with handling affairs in real time.
I knew I’d be back down soon, but first, I had something to do. Once Leowynn was back in my body, I ascended to the Admin Room, and immediately sent a message out on the guild chat.
EarthForceOne: Anyone familiar with a Keeper named Vanity?
MeatLover: Explain. Are you on the offensive or defensive side? The purpose of your question should be due to the assignment of the system’s matches, correct?
EarthForceOne: Well, you’re not wrong. And I’m attacking.
MeatLover: This is fortunate. I am familiar with Vanity. Rank One Monster Keeper. His army invaded my world six months ago. It was a difficult fight.
I couldn’t help but wince when I learned that I would be fighting a monster Keeper. Though, perhaps in the course of a year, he might have been replaced? It was unlikely, though. Just the fact that I had someone in my own guild that had information was a good thing. It stopped me having to pay the Gilded Branch for the same knowledge.
EarthForceOne: Can you give me any information on the type of monsters he uses?
MeatLover: This is possible. Keeper Vanity displayed a preference for armored, nocturnal creatures. Their shapes varied, as did their abilities, but all skirmishes were conducted at night, unless I discovered one of their nests. They possess a high level of intelligence for monsters, bordering on sapience. However, what other creatures he has on his own world is unknown. At the very least, the ones he showed had no magical capabilities.
If he was a monster Keeper, then I had a decision to make. Do I send a group to attack, or pass the round? If I attack, how many troops do I send? Because, this would surely be a hard fight.