The first impression that Lau had of the man named Claude Evers was that he was a complete mess when it came to combat. Likely owing to the strange abilities that he had and his occupation as a chef, the way he fought was terribly dangerous, both for himself and for others.
Like a child waving around a deadly weapon, it was quite a wonder that he hadn’t done something drastic. The power of an Electi was not something to take light of. Those that possessed it were certain to affect others around them. From what Princess Katalina had told him, he already made quite the mark on her country, despite limiting himself from confrontation.
Claude would certainly have to change if he wanted to fight for what he believed in.
From his brief spar with Claude, he could tell several things from his exchanges.
The straightforwardness of his attacks indicated a lack of experience with intelligent opponents. Though he had the ability to fight and respond accordingly, a subtle depth of strategy and deception of high-level exchanges was devoid from his strikes. Often, Claude’s attacks focused on breaking through one’s defenses to reach a weak point. This strategy worked well for monsters and novice fighters that have limited attack patterns, but veterans would soon pick up and take advantage of this single-minded approach.
Due to a lack of long-term training, Claude did not have the stamina for drawn-out battles. When it came to fighting one-on-one without help from others, he exhausted a lot of his strength trying to keep up with both attacking and defending. Such a situation happened when one was constantly on edge and uncomfortable weaving attacks in between gaps in an opponent’s defense. Furthermore, the transition of his movements did not flow well into each other, further wasting more energy and forcing his body to switch gears at inopportune moments.
These were problems that were easily fixed with the proper training. Therefore, Lau had started Claude with the basic course of body strengthening and battle sense.
By having him train on the obstacle course, he would learn more about how to use his body in various ways. Self-correction of one’s balance was crucial in a fight where attacks could crush your defenses and jar your footwork. The momentum and mid-air body movement as one swung from hold to hold would transition into fluid motions as you dodge through attacks. The focus needed to properly aim and readjust for mistakes under a variety of conditions was necessary to keep you from overthinking things and hesitating.
By working through the obstacle course until Claude could flawlessly make it through, his body would be primed to react to anything thrown his way, while also gaining the needed strength and endurance to continuously move as needed.
Coupling this basic training with live sparring, Lau used his Syphon Rod to teach Claude’s body about the holes in his defense. The development of muscle memory that subconsciously corrected one’s mistakes was better than telling someone his faults. Since the brain has to think and decide what to do before sending signals to the muscles to act, a fighter’s reaction would be delayed ever so slightly.
If Claude didn’t want to fall into a heap of exhaustion by the Syphon Rod, then he would have to learn to guard out of reflex. He would have to feel the subtle shifts in Lau’s attacks that would knock his guard away and leave him open. He would have to learn with his body how to instinctively deal with craftiness and trickery.
These were, of course, basics that any fighter would have to learn to become proficient. However, this type of training wasn’t enough to compensate for the weaknesses in Claude’s combat abilities and make full use of his ability to destroy weak points.
Lau had been rather surprised when he was first shown his strange ability. How did one manage to slice through an object so cleanly without encountering resistance?
After the sparring sessions, Lau had asked Claude to demonstrate his skill for him to analyze. Tired from the day’s training, Claude would sometimes miss his mark, in which the knife would just be repelled from the object’s surface like he had struck something unnaturally hard. However, when his aim was true, the knife slid through seamlessly.
When asked how he knew where to aim, Claude pointed to his eyes which glowed with a tint of purple, allowing him to detect the places in which mana leaked out.
Lau studied the two halves of the object that was cut carefully. The slice was so sharp that it appeared as if the separation was meant to be. Moreover, the edges had not be created perfectly in a straight line but showed a slight gradation that seemed to indicate that his knife had been guided naturally.
He took those pieces to Neiya, who was the family expert in mana manipulation.
“Amazing. That Claude boy cut it straight through the ‘Mana Grain’.” Neiya placed a hand over her mouth in surprise.
Just like how objects could develop a grain-like structure when forming, the Mana Grain was a pathway in which mana would flow through. Cutting along a Mana Grain would indeed cause detrimental harm to the object in question, but this was not something that was easy to achieve.
How could someone with virtually no training be able to cut perfectly along this grain? The answer to that question was most certainly due to Claude’s Crit stat.
As the Elect of Dexterity, Lau found it naturally easy to juggle and parry an opponent’s attacks. However, since his stat was not maxed out at 999, he still needed to place his hands close to the pivoting point to shift the object’s momentum. What would happen if it were maxed out? Would he be able to sweep away everything at a touch without regard to technique?
That certainly seemed to be the case for Claude, who could cut through the grain as long as he touched the starting point. Yet, it was more interesting that he could use literally anything to achieve this effect. Without regard to the Defense stat nor the inherent toughness of a material, even a worthlessly weak chef knife could do the job. However, he had quite a bit of trouble under certain situations, especially those that he wasn’t used to. There was something more to this ability that he had to examine.
Therefore, Lau continued watching Claude slice through objects, looking for the answer. After scrutinizing over the course of several days, Lau noticed something about Claude’s swing. A moment of intense focus occurred only at the moment when the chef knife impacted the object, like a switch had been turned on in that instant.
“Why do you cut like that, Claude? I’ve never seen any knife technique like it.”
“Huh? Uh…I guess it’s how I use my knife in the kitchen. It’s what I’ve found most comfortable. You know, when I feel the tip dip in, and I just instinctively flick my knife to cut.”
Lau carefully traced the movement of his knife as Claude ‘flicked’ it through a practice dummy. As the knife exited out, a very faint trace of mana lined the tip of the blade.
A realization flashed in Lau’s head. What if Claude had subconsciously injected mana into his strikes, using it to guide his knife through the Mana Grain?
He asked Claude to demonstrate his other abilities. Shattering objects with a hammer and poking pressure points that would cause a strange effect, Lau noticed a thin veil of mana employed each time at the instant of impact.
Though it was weak, Claude had used mana control without realizing it. Lau’s training course happened to be designed for the improvement of mana control, but he had never told Claude about it. Connected to the obstacle course was a device used to syphon mana. With the press of a button, the device activated, causing the surfaces of the obstacles to slowly drain one’s mana upon contact.
When he saw Claude stumble badly upon the start of his second time through the course, the cause of it had been the device draining his mana in the process. The amount was too small to be noticeable like the Syphon Rod used in sparring but enough to produce extra burden on one’s body.
The only way to prevent the drainage was to control mana coursing through the points of contact, willing it against the device’s pressure.
As the weeks went by, Claude had unknowingly concentrated his mana at his hands and feet, creating a thick barrier that halted the leakage as he moved through the course. It no longer mattered whether the device had been on or off. His body had started responding to the stimulus that had tried to distort his mana balance.
Sparring with the Syphon Rod had an extra effect in which Lau kept secret. Though Claude’s rapidly developing mana defenses were not strong enough to block the power of the tool, the repeated draining of mana from his body triggered something.
Normally, the body would naturally recover mana by absorbing it from the ambient environment or by replenishing it from food or medicine. Having been forced repeatedly into a state of mental exhaustion, Claude’s body counteracted it by taking in the surrounding mana more readily.
A fighter was taught to gather mana from the environment to supplement his attacks, but this took quite some time to learn. Instead, it was better to trick the body into taking in mana like it was starving for it.
Because of this training, Claude’s mana manipulation abilities had developed quite far in the span of months. Training the body to house more mana and training the senses to develop control – This was the way Lau and the Kinkou family trained their practitioners, which created drastic improvements in a short time. Little did their guests know, their training methods were a secret that produced quite powerful warriors. However, certain events had caused them to lose their place in society.
Regardless, nobody had to know that they had decided to train a few foreigners…
Though Lau had seen a great amount of progress in Claude’s development, one thing bothered him.
‘Why did he insist on specific motions?’
No doubt, Claude was able to manipulate mana after two months of training. Yet, he did not actively draw upon it unless he used specific motions. He always ‘cut’ with a knife, ‘smashed’ with a hammer, and ‘jabbed’ with his finger. When asked to cut a boulder with his knife, he couldn’t manifest the proper result.
In principle, injecting mana into an object through the Mana Grain was independent of the tool in one’s hand. Because of that reason, Lau rarely ever used weapons. Why inject mana into a weapon when the purpose was to transfer it into the next object? Direct transfer through one’s bare hands was more efficient. He scoffed at some warriors and their shiny swords that made it more difficult. Those were only needed as a crutch in place of weak mana control.
However, Lau had developed his abilities under this mindset, which was vastly different from the chef’s background. Had Claude simply fallen into a trap of his own making?
Lau wondered as he watched the young man bound through the obstacle course, finally confident of his own capability. Though he had complained about his own lack of talent, it took him less time to overcome it than most people. He was even able to consciously form mana into a specific shape, the last requirement needed to complete the course. Lau had also gained his skills much faster than others, and from what he heard, so had the young girl named Ludmila.
Perhaps, Electi were given the ability to learn quickly for a reason. It seemed to be the case for all examples that he had heard of.
As Claude finished the course flawlessly, Lau felt like it was finally time for the next step. In order for him to succeed, he would have to make a leap of faith and discard his previous misconceptions.
Only then, would he be able to control the flame that was slowly growing within him, within all Electi that were summoned to this world.