“Nope, not happenin’!” declared Hilda the instant Keira made her request.
The catgirl in question could only let off a stupid noise in surprise.
“Ya can’t go demandin’ a new Job like that willy-nilly, ya know!” said the elderly dwarf while crossing her arms.
Okay, perhaps, ‘Hi, miss Hilda! Please teach me how to Warrior!’ was not the best way to frame her request. Especially not when she made it the instant she saw Hilda enter through the fort’s gates with her patrol.
“Er, that is, the training fee-”
“It ain’t about the gold, ya bloody fool!”
The two’s high-volume conversation was attracting the bemused glares of many soldiers and adventurers alike. Something neither the dwarf nor her would-be disciple seemed to be conscious of.
“Yo, Boss Lady!” called out one of the people watching. His blue tunic marked him as a member of the Knights of Elena, which made him Hilda’s colleague. “You’re doing the thing again!”
“Huh?! Oh, right. Oi! One of you lot go grab Jessie and tell ‘er to come at the usual spot!” she shouted and someone ran off somewhere. “You there, kittyface - come with me!”
The fully-armored Hilda motioned for the catgirl to follow her to a slightly more private space than the middle of a courtyard. The two of them made their way through the space between the fort’s inner and outer walls and onto the large, flat training field next to one of the soldier’s barracks buildings. They went over to a corner between the building and the fort’s wall, where Hilda finally took off her helmet. Her face was wrinkled, her hair was gray and her skin was rough and craggy, but her piercing green eyes held enough vitality to make the undead lose motivation and willingly return back to their graves.
“Alright, lassie, first of all, who are ya?”
“Ah, uhm! Decanus Keira Morgana of the 1st Scouting Battalion!” she answered with a salute.
“You been playing soldier a bit too much, methinks.”
“... I’m Keira, an adventurer from the Hidden Arrow guild.”
“And don’t ye forget it! Ye need to have some self-respect for yer roots if ye don’t wanna lose yerself out there! Now then, ye’re one of Faehorn’s lot, right?”
“Then ye should know full well Ranger and Warrior Jobs have the worst compatibility with each other.”
Hilda was talking about how it was practically impossible to act in both capacities in the same battle. Attributes, Skills, Martial Arts, weapons, armor - everything one Job demanded was useless for the other, and vice-versa. The roles they played both in and out of combat were also completely disparate.
“I do but- Okay, I think I misspoke. The thing is I’m actually looking to learn how to use this.”
She unsheathed the beautiful mithril rapier from her belt. Hilda wasn’t surprised in the slightest as she’d pretty much guessed that was the cause of that ridiculous line she was greeted with upon the return. It wasn’t like the catgirl was trying to hide it, and the dwarf already had a habit of picking out every sword, axe, dagger, spear and mace in her vicinity. Sort of an occupational hazard.
“Yer conviction is lackin’, lass,” she said in a damning tone. “Ye don’t go around gettin’ a new Job just ‘cus you got yerself a new toy to play with.”
“No, but see- I’m no good when something gets up close to me. I mean I got claws and stuff, but that won’t work on trained soldiers… What I’m saying is, the sword is secondary. Defending myself is the primary.”
“... Okay, that’s better. Yer still not cut out fer a Warrior, though. Yer better off learnin’ a Rogue’s trade.”
“That won’t help me take down opponents that come at me head on, though. I want to be an all-rounder, not a specialist.”
Besides, Rogue Skills had too much overlap with what the Mimic was already capable of.
“Aight, fair ‘nuff. Still, ya don’t really need a Job if it’s just swordplay.”
It was an undeniable fact that the Sword Mastery Skill could be learned by anyone, even monsters.
“Miss Hilda, please stop testing me!” said Keira indignantly. “We both know a Mastery Skill by itself is rather meaningless!”
Even if one knew how to swing a sword around, it was hardly enough to qualify them as a swordsman. They’d get demolished instantly by someone who had the right Attributes and Skills to support their fighting style.
“Fine, fine!” said the dwarf while throwing her hands up in the air. “Leave it to that old shoestrap to get all the sharp ones,” she mumbled.
“Nevermind that. Listen ‘ere, kitty-”
“Keira, right. I appreciate yer enthusiasm and all that, but yer just not cut out fer it. Ye don’t have the right build- the right foundation to be a Warrior. Yer arms are too noodly and yer body’s too light.”
While Attributes could help close the gap, it was impossible to overcome what one was born with that easily. Even in a world where theoretically anyone could become strong, it was all relative to where they started with. An ant would never be able defeat an elephant, no matter how high its Status went up. Well, not unless it Ranked Up into some fire-spitting super-ant, but that was besides the point.
“Then what about being a Berserker?”
“Same thing. Actually, that one’s an even worse match for ye. Yer way too happy-go-lucky to work up the right sort of temperament one needs to really master the Job.”
“I can get angry when I need to!”
“Do not lump a Berserker’s unyielding rage with your petty tantrums, child!”
The dwarf shouted with a voice dripping with bloodlust. It carried this supernatural weight around it that would made one’s blood freeze over. Although Hilda was a Warrior instructor, that didn’t necessarily mean she was one herself. She knew pretty much everything there was to know about the Job, but she didn’t actually have it. Her actual occupation was that of a Level 100 Berserker. Something that, as she was currently demonstrating, was not just for show.
“It is fury that burns as brightly as the sun, yet is also as black as the darkest abyss! It rises up from the depths of our souls, tryin’ to consume us, beggin’ to bathe in the blood of those around us - friend and foe alike! In some ways, our worst enemy is ourselves!”
Boxxy legitimately felt a degree of fear and pressure it hadn’t experienced in a long time. Needless to say, Keira’s form amplified this feeling tenfold, and the catgirl was shivering and sweating profusely while shrinking away from the scary old lady.
“But we don’t just let that side of us run wild! We cannot let it. So we harness it, control it, nurture it and direct it! It’s a grim and violent path that muddles the line between man… and monster!”
The oppressive atmosphere slowly waned away as Hilda reigned in her boiling rage.
“Think ye can manage that, girlie.”
That was the truth from the bottom of its heart. Even if Boxxy knew anger, the sheer pit of malice it just saw allowed it to gain new insights into Kora’s perpetually violent nature. It would seem being a Berserker was something that ran far deeper than it thought. Well, at least as far as people are concerned.
“Aye, didn’t think so. Anyway, on the opposite end of the spectrum are Monks. But ye lack the sort of discipline and peace of mind to make good use of that, either. Being a Paladin is right out.”
“I- I see… So I guess I’ll have to seek out a Rogue trainer after all…”
Well, not really. The Mimic would just need to adopt a disguise for just long enough to obtain the Warrior Job, at which point it would-
“That won’t be necessary lassie.”
Hilda’s words threw its scheming mind completely off-track.
“Ye see, I had a feelin’ this is where we’d end up. Fortunately fer you, I know a Job that’ll suit ye just fine!”
The dwarf turned her head to the side and beckoned over the woman who had been standing nearby like a sore thumb for the last minute or so. She had auburn hair, brown eyes, a very slim and downright flat figure, and was clad in extremely light armor that bordered on plain clothes. She bore a large scar on her right cheek, and her otherwise plain face placed her somewhere in her late 30s. She was also human, which immediately prompted Boxxy to start releasing calming pheromones to counteract its Butcher of Humanity Perk. It didn’t seem to work on her too well though, as she still eyed the catgirl with a sharp glare. The Mimic once again silently wished for a way to turn that blasted effect off, but as expected, it didn’t work out too well.
“This here’s Jessie. Ah, don’t mind that mean look of hers,” said Hilda. “She can’t help it.”
“Oh, so she’s actually nice once you get past it?” asked Keira hopefully.
“Nah. She’s still a giant bitch, but it’s best if you try and ignore it.”
“Watch your mouth, you old bat!” growled the woman in question. “I’ll rip your damned tongue out if you don’t!”
The dwarf rolled her eyes at the befuddled catgirl as if to say ‘case in point’ before turning her attention back to the human. Well, at the very least her demeanor didn’t seem to be because Boxxy’s Skill was failing.
“Anyway, she’s like that, but this one here can teach ye just the Job yer lookin’ fer.”
“Oh, what’s this?” asked Jessie after turning her attention to the catgirl. “You want training, you gotta pay up.”
“Ah! If it’s money, then-”
Keira reached for the coin pouch she had prepared in advance, but the woman snatched it out of her hands in the next instant. She dumped the numerous coins inside onto her palm, picked out a total of 200 GP and then haphazardly tossed the noticeably lighter pouch at the catgirl’s feet.
“I appreciate your patronage!” she said with an obliviously rotten smile.
She had no idea just how close she had gotten to getting herself killed. It had taken every last drop of Boxxy’s self control to keep it from lashing out, ripping her arm off, beating her half to death with it and then eating her still-twitching corpse whole. While it was congratulating itself on such matters though, the dwarf had moved in and punched her colleague in the gut, forcing her to keel over and drop the gold in the process. As expected, being struck by that heavy-looking metal glove was no different that being hit by a hammer, and had very nearly knocked the woman unconscious.
“Oi!” shouted Hilda. “None of that! Shame on you!”
She then bent over, picked up the scattered gold and returned it all to Keira with an apologetic tone.
“Sorry ‘bout that. She’s a bit of a twat, but she’s still the only Blade Dancer trainer we have on hand at the moment.”
“Ah… thanks…. What’s a Blade Dancer, though?”
This was not a Job Keira had heard of before.
“Well, it’s probably best if I show ye. C’mon Jess, let’s have a little spar fer yer new disciple’s benefit!”
“Koff, koff! I’ll get you this time, ya old bat!”
The woman called Jessie scrambled to her feet while coughing profusely. She stabilized her breathing and pulled out one of the two swords on her left hip. It was a sabre - a type of one-handed sword with a long, thin, and slightly curved one-sided blade. It was quite similar to the rapier that started this whole thing, except that particular treasure of a weapon was straight, and more needle-like. Jessie assumed a one-handed stance with her right shoulder pointed forward and her left arm behind her hip. It almost looked classy, if not for the sour look on her face.
“Adagio Variation,” she chanted, and her body glowed with a soft, blue light, which gradually faded away for a few seconds.
“Right then, come at me,” beckoned Hilda who had taken one of the dull training swords from a nearby rack.
Jessie answered those words by lunging forward with a vicious stab aimed directly at the dwarf’s unarmored eyes, but was avoided with a tilt of her head. The human clicked her tongue and stepped abruptly to the right while swinging her sword diagonally, but her blow was effortlessly deflected by the dwarf’s sword. She kept making sudden, deliberate and calculated movements as she tried to poke holes in Hilda’s guard, but all of her attacks were effortlessly dodged or parried. The dwarf didn’t just stand idle, and struck back with speed that matched Jessie’s, which was surprising given her stature. Then again, Boxxy was sure the ‘old bat’ was holding back immensely, probably for Keira’s benefit.
However, those attacks were still as sharp and deadly as Jessie’s own. The Blade Dancer avoided them with minimal movements, either by stepping back or to the side. It seems she didn’t want to even try parrying or deflecting them with her weapon, which was probably a good idea since she’d likely be overpowered by brute strength. She also tried to use the gap between her opponent’s strikes to counter with a stab or slash of her own, but those mostly just bounced harmlessly off of Hilda’s thick armor.
“C’mon Jess, this can hardly be called a demonstration,” said the dwarf in a bored tone. “Get a bit serious, will ye?”
No, she’s already serious. Seriously trying to kill you, that is, noted Keira inside her head.
Each and every one of the Blade Dancer’s attacks were aimed at vital areas such as the eyes, throat or the tiny gaps between Hilda’s armor plates. And unlike her opponent, she was giving it her all and not holding back in the slightest. Or at least, that’s how it would appear at first, but the Blade Dancer stopped her feet abruptly at those provocative words.
“Alright, you asked for it!”
It seems she was indeed holding herself back somewhat. Jessie lowered her stance into a far more relaxed one while drawing the second sword on her hip. It was a sabre, just like the first one, only it seemed to be slightly shorter. She twisted her body around, positioning her left blade over her head and the right one parallel to her hip. If one didn’t know any better, they’d say they were metal ribbons rather than weapons.
Much like before, her body briefly glowed with a soft light, only this time it was a green one. The exact effects of those Skills were unclear due to the weird words mixed in, but they were definitely a type of body strengthening technique.
The next Skill she used caused transparent copies of her weapons to appear out of thin air. They floated around her unnaturally, as if manipulated by invisible strings, but were definitely guided by her will.
At those two words, Jessie renewed her assault, but her movements were far too different from before. Rather than thrusts or short slashing motions, she made wide, grand swings as she twirled in and out of Hilda’s range. Her weapons left behind faint blue trails as they swung through the air, and left a thin layer of frost whenever the collided with Hilda’s armor or her sword.
Her speed was also noticeably higher, almost incomparable to what it was before. It was at the level where Keira would normally see her as a blur that quite literally danced circles around her stationary opponent. Of course, the catgirl was anything but ‘normal’ and was able to easily track her movements, though she doubted whether she could move at those speeds. Even Hilda seemed to have trouble keeping up with them completely.
The Dancing Blades performed similar movements to their owner, forcing the dwarf to bring her large shield to bear in order to properly defend from the countless strikes coming at her from various angles. However, neither the floating blades nor the physical ones could get a clean hit on the veteran combatant. A few accurate swings of Hilda’s weapon quickly destroyed those flying annoyances, but it created a tiny opening for the Blade Dancer to launch her next attack.
“Fouette en Tournant!” shouted Jessie as she decided to change her approach. Both her blades abandoned their blue glow, and instead shone with a brilliant red light typical of most Martial Arts. As for the woman herself, she spun around like a top on one leg, becoming a quite literal whirlwind of steel. Her attack let off a barrage of sparks and a chorus of screeches as her swords and Hilda’s shield collided, but the latter didn’t budge in the slightest.
In fact, she found a gap and swung her sword down onto the spinning Jessie, who had to abandon her twirling in order to dodge it by a hair’s breadth. The dwarf took a few more swings with her blade, but her opponent kept avoiding them by swaying gently like a leaf of grass swaying against the wind. During one particularly wide vertical swing, she arched her upper body backwards and used that momentum to spin herself around while bending her knees.
The clearly unnatural movement that seemed to ignore the way joints worked flowed wonderfully into a sweeping strike at the sides of the dwarf’s knees. There was a clanging noise as her right blade finally drew blood by aiming at the gap in Hilda’s armor. Jessie then brought her body upwards while swinging diagonally with her other sword, but that blow was deflected without much issue.
“Flamenco de Fuego!”
Jessie suddenly switched strategy once again. Her movements became completely different yet again. This time she moved with rapid side-steps and made short, fast jabs and slashes at her opponent’s face and joints while her blades were coated with a thin layer of fire. She came at the dwarf from various angles while constantly shifting her position, and actually seemed to finally put a strain on the veteran’s iron-tight defenses.
She overlapped whatever she was doing with another Martial Art. This one caused her right hand to launch a barrage of stabs that made it look like her blades had multiplied. A few of the thrusts successfully penetrated Hilda’s guard, putting a scratch on her cheek and singing her hair slightly.
The dwarf then suddenly charged forward while swinging her shield arm. The mass of metal slammed into the Blade Dancer, interrupting her performance by sending her flying several meters through the air. She landed on the hard-packed ground, rolled over twice and ceased movement altogether. Well, she was probably alive since her chest was moving up and down, but she wouldn’t be waking up anytime soon by the look of things.
“Fuuu,” exhaled Hilda as she turned to the blankly staring beastkin. “Well, there ye have it, kit- I mean, Keira. As ye can see, Blade Dancers are a melee-oriented Job that relies on swift movement and pinpoint strikes rather than brute force.”
The dwarf put away her training sword and patted down the singed and frosted parts of her gear before continuing.
“They also get some basic body reinforcement magic that they can use on themselves or others, and a number of other tricks to confuse and befuddle opponents. Them dances ye saw let them imbue their attack with various elemental effects. Well, they’re kinda weak since a Dancer’s INT is pretty low, but ye can still nail a monster’s Bane with ‘em so they’re far from useless.”
The dwarf glanced over to the still unmoving Jessie and turned her attention back to Keira.
“Well, we got a bit of time before her Royal Twattiness wakes up, so I can answer any questions ye got fer me.”
“Is… is that okay?”
“Aye! I may not look it, but I know quite a bit about that prancing prat’s Job. I was actually plannin’ to have her give you the Job itself, but I’d be the one overseein’ yer actual training.”
“Oh! Then, uhm, do Blade Dancers have any specialties?”
Besides being grossly out-Leveled, of course.
“‘Course they do. I mean, it depends on the individual, but generally speakin’ they’re at their strongest in one-on-one combat. They can deal with lots of small fries fairly easily, too. They can also use those stances - or ‘Variations’ as they call em - to raise their speed even further, but their stamina and MP will disappear in a flash if they overdo it.”
“What about weaknesses?”
“Being outnumbered by opponents of equal strength is bad. I mean, that’s normally the case for everyone, but Blade Dancers have it extra-rough, and something they wanna avoid at all costs. Fightin’ stuff with long-range attacks or heavy armor also puts ‘em at a significant disadvantage, but ye can probably deal with those by using yer Ranger tricks.”
“So one Job covers the other’s weak points! I see, I see!”
Mobility and precision were a Ranger’s strong points, but it was a Job that was entirely focused on projectile-based weaponry. Bows, crossbows, slingshots, throwing knives - that sort of thing. By themselves, they were completely defenseless in close quarters combat, so it went without saying they’d lose if caught by a Warrior, Rogue or the like at close range. Avoiding them was easier said than done, because they all had ways of closing the gap between them and their target. Lola, for example, could use a Skill that launched a harpoon-like projectile made with magic, which could be used to pull people and monsters towards her.
In other words, ‘I will be fine if I don’t get hit’ was a foolish sentiment among adventurers and monsters alike. Therefore, having a melee-oriented Job that was highly compatible with a Ranger’s natural strengths made for a very attractive proposition. Blade Dancer was more or less perfect for Keira. In fact, it was actually better suited to her than Ranger given the Mimic’s natural affinity for close-quarters combat. It might have even picked this Job for its alter ego in the first place if it knew about it at the time. Unfortunately, even Boxxy recognized the catgirl’s apparent build was ill-suited to being a Warrior, so it didn’t even try bothering the Knights of Elena. It might have kept being ignorant about this tasty Job if it didn’t decide to ask Hilda for advice. As expected, the insight and knowledge of one who has lived a long time was scarily impressive.
There were still a few nagging thoughts regarding that Job, though.
“How I’ve never seen a Blade Dancer around before?”
The monster was quite sure it would remember them if it came across them. Of course, trying to remember each and every person it has killed was like counting the number of breaths it had taken, but it was sure a fighting style like Jessie’s would stand out.
“Dunno,” said Hilda with a shrug. “It’s not like it’s a weak Job or anythin’ like that, but it never really caught on ‘round these parts. Maybe it’s a culture thing or a race thing, but I just think that very few elves or humans have the natural aptitude fer it. Dwarves like me are right out. It’s pretty popular among yer kind to the far east, though, so it’s likely yer compatibility with it is good.”
“Ah, so that’s how it was…”
“Anything else on yer mind?”
“Well… was this spar really necessary?”
The dwarf was obviously knowledgeable about the Job, and her words explained it much better than her actions, so this entire demonstration was rather pointless. It just seemed like harassment or bullying, to be honest.
“Nah, not really,” admitted the dwarf. “It was mostly an excuse to smack that twat about a bit.”
So it was bullying after all. Boxxy quickly filed Hilda under its ‘Impressively Violent’ mental category and proceeded with its final decision.
“Then, I want to try being a Blade Dancer!”
“Good choice. Well, I think it’s a bit early fer yer 2nd Job, but time isn’t a luxury we have right now, aye?”
“Well, technically… it’s my 3rd Job…”
“Yeah, I got the Artificer Job like 2 weeks ago from a friend.”
“Ohhhh! So ye’re the Merry Popper I’ve be hearin’ about!”
“Aye! The wee lass that blows shit up with a smile on her face! That’s you, ain’t it?!”
It would seem Keira had already gotten somewhat of a questionable reputation around the fort. Well, it was an undeniable truth she spent a lot of her spare time making and testing various explosives with Fizzy’s help, but it was hardly worthy of such a nickname, was it?
“Say,” said Hilda in a low, almost conspiratorial voice. “Ye think ye and yer mate could hook me up with an exploding mace?”
“I, err, what?”
“Ye know, just something that goes ‘boom’ when ye swing it just right, yeh?”
“Well, uh, that- I mean, it’s definitely possible, but you’d get caught up in it too, you know?”
Even Boxxy was wary when using bombs and grenades. Metal shrapnel had a habit of flying unpredictably far, not to mention bouncing off hard surfaces such as rocks or shields. It didn’t matter how high her Level was, there’s no way Hilda would get away unscatched from an explosion like that.
“I know! That’s what makes it fun!”
For the briefest moment, Boxxy felt something that might be called a genuine pang of sympathy for Faehorn. Regardless of their species or motives, that elf still said some good things that Boxxy could genuinely learn from. It suddenly made sense why he never got along fully with this woman, despite spending untold decades as adventuring companions.
Well, none of that was really a reason to deny her, though. In fact, Keira had nothing to lose from getting on her good side.
“T-then, uhm, as long as you provide the materials-”
“Nice one, lass!” cheered the dwarf with a heavy slap on the catgirl’s back.
You have suffered minor blunt force trauma. HP -29.
“Oops, sorry ‘bout that! Got a bit too excited!”
‘A bit too excited’ she says. That strike was strong enough to turn most house pets and even some bottom-tier monsters into paste!
“Anyway, just send the list of stuff over to me later and I’ll take care of it!”
“S-sure thing, miss Hilda.”
“While we’re at it, think you can make me a matching exploding helmet? You know, to give some real ‘Oomph!’ to my headbutts!?”
It was at that moment that Boxxy’s classification of Hilda instantly rose from ‘Impressively Violent’ to ‘Batshit Crazy.’