Currently, we were all sitting at a low table, cups of jasmine tea set in front of us. The familiar scent brought back memories of family gatherings for the occasional Sunday dim sum.
After I had shown the crest on the scroll to Lau, his eyes widened in surprise.
“Where did you get that?” He grabbed me by the shoulders.
“I was told to locate someone that knew of this crest and tell them that Narika sent us.”
Immediately, Lau raced through the gate to find someone. He returned with two elderly women that were dressed in long, elegant dresses. Putting aside their attire, their faces contained traces of familiarity to the Faulkner family cook.
“Is it true? Were you sent here by Narika?” they impatiently asked.
I nodded in confirmation. “The person who said it refers to herself as Carina. But if you are referring to an old lady that can manipulate mana very well, then we are probably thinking of the same person.”
Thinking about it now, Carina was just the syllables for Narika backwards. It seemed like both husband and wife had a knack for giving themselves lazy nicknames. After leading all of us inside, we ended up in some room for entertaining guests. The two ladies and Lau sat across from the three of us.
“Excuse us for asking. My name is Neiya Kinkou. Beside me is my youngest sister, Kanade. And you have been introduced to Lau Ki Young, Kanade’s husband. The Narika that you know happens to be our middle sister.”
The three people in front of us were part of a family that practiced heavily in the arts of mana manipulation in the past. However, circumstances had led to their downfall and withdrawal from aiding and training the people of Sanshiro in their technique.
One such event had been due to Narika’s defiance of their country and subsequent exile.
“That is a story for another time, but it is good to know that she is alive and well.” Neiya gripped the front of her dress as she spoke, breathing a sigh of relief.
I told them that she had been living as a cook with a swordsman turned butler at the Faulkner home, which was headed by the girl who had summoned me.
“Ah, that swordsman that gave you so much trouble, Hubby.” Kanade turned to Lau, who grimaced at the memory of their meeting. I could feel a fire re-ignite from him.
Apparently, there had been some great conflict, resulting in the swordsman stealing Narika away and causing a large uproar in this country. I had no idea that they had that kind of history. That could’ve been how they ended up in hiding.
“Can you tell us, why have you come to Sanshiro?” Neiya interrupted before Lau’s aura got any more intimidating.
Having decided that we could trust Carina’s estranged family, Katsys and I began to reveal the truth of our escape from Sistina. Ludmila silently listened while sipping her tea.
We revealed as many details as we could – about Katsys being a princess, the rise in my master’s influence on the kingdom, the Chancellor’s mind control and framing me for murder – anything that would help us understand how we got into this mess.
“Sounds like a political insurrection. People dissatisfied by the sway that you may have on the country,” Neiya said with a hint of disgust.
Katsys stood up as Neiya’s claims struck her. “By who? The crown is supposed to be turned over to my brother soon. Why would he and the Chancellor want to get rid of me, get rid of Claude? I have no wish to rule!”
“That may be what you think, but have your actions shown otherwise? Actions speak louder than words after all,” Lau said while sipping his tea.
“We have been setting up plans to improve the country. There were many ways that we believed could improve the state of the general public,” I said, thinking about what had been done recently.
“I merely had the desire to help our kingdom after seeing the advanced state of another.” Katsys bit her lip.
For the past weeks, we had been quite active in gathering support for Katsys’s inventions. Harnessing the momentum of our successes in Macali, the Faulkner company had gained a lot of traction in the business operations throughout the kingdom.
“That may be how you perceive it, but what of the people? Wouldn’t that, too, contribute to a push for rule?” Neiya interjected.
Had we inadvertently fallen into the same role that Duke Charlemagne had tried to pursue? Especially with the support of Princess Katalina, did the Prince see this as an act of gathering power against him?
“Shoot… wish I could’ve run this through Dengel. But I can trust him to keep Eryn guided in the right direction,” I mumbled to myself.
That’s right. Eryn had many capable people on her side. Now that the initial move had been made, they would likely move forward with caution. Dengel, Pietro, Carina, Cornelius, all of the trading company staff – they weren’t going to let anything happen to her. Eryn promised that she would let me know when she got to the bottom of it. I just had to believe in her!
“Guess we have no choice but to hide out here until things blow over. Protecting Princess Katalina is what we should be doing right now.” I smacked my fist into my palm.
Lau finished his tea and stood up.
“Boy, follow me.”
I looked up at him in confusion. “Okay? Why?”
A feeling of déjà vu swept over me.
Lau and I ended up in a large, paved courtyard. The others followed along, curious as to what he had in store. This wide-open area that he led me to raised an internal flag. Just as I predicted, Lau turned towards me and got into a low stance.
“Spar with me, boy.”
“Because I feel something off about you. Something that I can’t shake the feeling of. Protecting your princess seems to be your goal, but I can’t see you succeeding as you are now.”
Ack, what was it with people and their tests? I wasn’t auditioning to be the princess’s hero. I just planned to protect her as one of her friends. However, it didn’t seem like Lau would let me go easily until I took him up on his challenge.
I drew my knife and got into position. So far, I had only shown him that I could cut through things easily. In that case, the best thing to do was to distract him with my knife swings, and then go in with a disabling poke.
I jabbed my knife a few times toward him, but Lau easily stepped to the side. Stepping in to close the distance, I followed up with a horizontal swing towards his torso. With a quick movement, Lau smacked my elbow with his palm, which caused me to continue rotating.
Moving with the momentum, I spun around while swinging my knife. The baggy sleeves of his robe fluttered in the air, disguising his movements. Activating my skill, I saw weak areas along his clothing in which I could tear away. Among the fast swings that I continued to dish out, one of them caught the robe in the right place and created a long tear down the side of his arm. His left arm was now exposed.
Changing up my tactics, I kept swinging while he dodged, our eyes fixated on each other. I made it seem like I was going in for a ‘decisive strike’, bringing the knife swiftly toward his chest. Once again, Lau batted my knife hand away, but that was what I was counting on.
Letting the knife fly loose, my open hand approached Lau’s bare arm. My fingers were too close to his arm for him to move it now.
Yet, my expectations were betrayed. As my pointer and middle finger met his arm, I felt like I had just tried to stab a solid block of concrete, causing the joints in my finger to jam painfully.
What had gone wrong? I was so sure that I had hit one of the standard pressure points that would paralyze his arm. Yet, the skin felt impenetrable like I had been trying to stab a block of metal. Then, it came to me. It was the same feeling that I got when I hit a magic shield. Instead of creating a barrier in front of him, Lau had formed it around his body.
“Confused, are you? I sensed that you were about to do something, and I was right. For being a Crit Electi who relies on weak point attacks, your movements are too straightforward and predictable. You rely on the element of surprise to overturn your situation. But what happens when that fails? What else do you have to fall back on?” He said with a smug look.
From a simple exchange of attacks, Lau had nailed my fighting style down. He had sensed how I had gone after weak points and guided me into pulling out my trump card, the pressure point techniques. I was astounded by how easily he was able to shut down all of my attempts. I never stood a chance.
“I have…nothing else that I can use. I’m not a fighter, just someone with a horribly unbalanced build. What else can I do but work with what I have?” I sighed in defeat.
There wasn’t any point training to get better if I had such obvious flaws to begin with, was there?
“What if I told you there was a way?” Lau bumped my chest with his fist. “A way to compensate and become someone that can stand up to a broken system.”
“You sound like you’ve been through something like that yourself.”
“I have. Here, take a look.”
Lau showed me his status window. The first surprise was that he had reached level 99, which was seemingly the level cap. As often with video games, there was a limit for how far one could boost their level, but to see it in a real setting was a bit strange.
As I scrolled through the rest of his parameters, the number ‘999’ popped out at me. It was attached to the line for Dex.
“An Electi also, kid. Been in this world for about 30-some years now.”
Lau had been summoned a long time ago and had lived in this world for most of his life. He had settled here and used his abilities to carve a place for himself, just like what I had been hoping to do.
I looked back at the rest of his stats. Since he was an Electi, there was something that he would be bad at. My eyes quickly found the line with the number that was a digit smaller than the rest.
Lau turned towards the princess and waved her over.
“Miss Princess, you have a tool that throws out some pretty strong magic, right?”
Katsys nodded in response. Taking her magic gun out of her Item Box, she brandished it.
“Good, shoot that at me,” Lau confidently said.
“But won’t that be bad-“
“Just do it. I promise that it won’t even scratch me.”
Hesitantly aiming it forward, Katsys pulled the trigger on the ‘Min’ setting. Even still, the magic that was launched from it could incapacitate low level monsters in a single blow. Was he going to dodge it since his stat was low? After all, if it didn’t hit, then defense won’t matter.
As the ice spear quickly approached Lau, he remained firmly planted to the ground, showing no sign of movement. Alarms of panic shot through Katsys, Ludmila, and me at what we were expecting to see, but our fears never came to be.
At the very last moment, Lau casually flicked his wrist at the ice spear, deflecting it straight upwards. We watched it continue to soar vertically into the sky until its mana supply finally ran out, the attack dissolving into nothing.
“Once more, with feeling. Give it all you’ve got.” Lau smiled.
With that cue, Katsys turned her gun to the ‘Max’ setting and shot again. The resulting ice spear was several times the size and thickness. Even still, Lau smacked it away once again like someone had shot a toy dart at him.
I tried to wrap my head around this amazing technique. How could he so easily do that despite having a weakness against magic? As if answering my thoughts, Lau told us his secret.
“I was a juggler in my past life. Maybe that is why I was summoned as the Dex Electi. Using mana to coat my hands and my high dexterity to deflect various things, I have learned to overcome my weakness… And you can, too!”
Lau pointed at me with a voice that was meant to instill confidence.
“Don’t you want to overcome your weaknesses?”
“Don’t you want to cut through your enemies attacks and defenses and show them you’re a man?”
“Don’t you want to protect your princess and be the knight of her dreams?” Lau yelled while flexing.
“Don’t you want to cultivate your body until you can split the heavens and challenge the Gods?” Lau shouted to the sky, making another dramatic pose.
“Not really… I could do without the trouble.” The last thing I wanted was an aura that would make my hair stand straight up and possibly turn it blond.
“Oh, I guess I went a little overboard.” Lau stared at me blankly, his previous excitement dulled. “While you’re hiding out here, might as well get a bit stronger. That goes for you two as well.” He looked over at Ludmila and Katsys. “I see promise in the two of you also.”
Kanade walked over and smacked her husband. “That’s enough showboating from you. Training them is fine since you are obviously bored, but don’t go overboard.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Lau rubbed his head meekly.
What had we gotten ourselves into? Did we fall into the training arc before a final boss or something? I guess the Chancellor would be considered as such at this point. Still, it didn’t hurt to see what he had to offer.
I would soon learn much more than I had ever dreamed of, about myself and about the nature of this world.