No matter how many times Vahn recovered, he was never able to track Tsubaki’s movements. As the spar progressed his [Will of the Emperor] was constantly being pushed to new heights, but even with the increased parameters and perception each of her movements was instantaneous and a blur. Even when he thought he could react, the direction of the attack would suddenly change before he was able to adapt. This continued for nearly half an hour, and during that time Vahn had grown intimately familiar with the ground.
“Even though you’re so small and cute, you’re actually quite tough aren’t you? I’m surprised you’re able to get up after being knocked down a few dozen times. Nice guts!” Tsubaki was laughing loudly with both arms akimbo.
Vahn slowly stood up from the ground yet again. “57…” He spoke the words silently, but Tsubaki was able to hear him. “Eh, what was that kid? Speak up, go ahead and shout if you want!” Vahn grits his teeth and assumed his stance. “You have thrown me 57 times…”
Hearing his words clearly, Tsubaki nodded her head and laughed out loud. “Hahaha, that’s right! I was trying to be nice and make the number sound smaller. Who would have thought you were keeping count. Come, Vahn! How about you try to attack me and have your revenge?”
Vahn stared at her and weighed his options. He was trying to find the best way to attack, but everywhere he looked his instincts seemed to scream against taking action. The laid-back appearance of Tsubaki standing before him looked as if it was full of flaws, but every gap, every avenue of approach was entirely invalidated by the status and skill difference.
“Why stand if you’re going to hesitate? It’s good to be cautious of your opponent, but you’ll never make progress if you don’t move. If you can’t find an opening, MAKE ONE! Now come at me, Vahn!”
She stepped forward and motioned Vahn to attack while gesturing with her hand.
Vahn used the moment when she took the step to charge at her. He tried keeping his body low to the ground and aim for her abdomen with a palm strike. From above, he could sense the presence of a shadow which pressed into the back of his head and caused him to faceplant into the ground. Tsubaki used the momentum of his charge to knock him off balance before sitting on his back and laughing.
“Nice momentum! But overcommitting to an attack leaves you open to your opponent’s counterattack. You’ll have to do better than that if you want to put your hands on me~” Her words weighed heavily in Vahn’s mind, as he had previously said something very similar in his spars with Lili. He began to realize he had been grossly overestimating his own capabilities since he made the same mistakes against stronger opponents.
He laid on the ground in contemplation until Tsubaki pinched the side of his waist. Vahn flinched up and tried to buck her off of his back and escape the pressing of her ass against his body. “Haha, what are you spacing out for Vahn? See, aren’t you still quite lively? Come on, you can knock me off! Fight, Vahn, Fight~!”
From the side, Hephaestus was presently facepalming. She knew Tsubaki had a habit of teasing people, but she seemed to be uncommonly interested in Vahn. After their conversation about Vahn’s lineage, she noticed that Tsubaki became very interested in the prospect of helping him polish his skills. Unfortunately, Vahn would have to suffer quite a bit before he was able to make any real progress.
“Tsubaki, make sure you’re not too harsh on him. I have other matters to attend. Make sure to let me know if anything happens that you’re unable to deal with on your own.” Hephaestus had already made a lot of time to accompany Vahn, but being one of the most prolific and sought-after blacksmiths in the City kept her busy most of the time.
Tsubaki heard her remark and just waved goodbye as she continued pinning the still struggling Vahn.
Several minutes later, Vahn had ceased his struggles. No matter how much he tried, it was almost like Tsubaki was able to anticipate his movements and maintain her balance. As soon as he thought he might regain his freedom, he would be firmly planted back into the ground. Now, he just lay on the ground as Tsubaki’s weight pressed against his back. In the stillness, he noted that the sensation of her body was both firm and soft, which created a contradiction in his mind that confused him.
While he lay there, Tsubaki once again pinched his waist, but Vahn just flinched and bore the pain. Seeing that he had ceased playing along, Tsubaki finally got up from his body. “You lasted a lot longer than I expected. I can see you trained yourself seriously and you even possess a fair amount of theoretical knowledge and skill. The biggest problem is the fact your foundation is severely lacking. Tell me, have you ever fought a human opponent before?”
Vahn recalled that he had never really used his skill to fight against opponents that were his equal or stronger. Though he had ‘fought’ humans before, they were much weaker than him and it was a one-sided slaughter due to his enraged state. “I have, but they weren’t skilled. I also spar with another person daily, but it’s mostly me teaching her some basics.”
Tsubaki nodded after hearing his explanation. It seemed she expected something similar since Vahn seemed to overestimate himself and possessed a bit of confidence common in young boys. “Well, from now on I’ll be helping you improve. Knowledge is a powerful tool, but when it comes to real battle you can only rely on experience to protect yourself and guarantee victory. Come, stand, it’s time for our real lessons to begin.”
Tsubaki helped Vahn rise from the ground and burst out laughing after seeing his disheveled state. “Brown doesn’t suit you Vahn. You need to get stronger quickly or you’ll get teased by women.” Vahn looked at his mostly dirt covered body and gave a helpless sigh.
For the next few hours, Tsubaki had Vahn demonstrate all of his combat related skills and abilities. She also tested the efficacy of his domain to get a better understanding of its functionality. Seeing the enhancements it provided, Tsubaki was actually very surprised at the power of the domain. At present, she expected Vahn would be a match for anyone under the peak of Level 2. Of course, she also knew that the skill wouldn’t provide him many benefits against specialized or significantly stronger enemies.
“That pseudo-divine state of your’s is pretty terrifying. It allows you to fight nearly an entire class above your current Level. However, it has some pretty big flaws that will end up costing you your life if you don’t correct them.” Vahn was currently using his [Will of the Emperor] and the area of influence had expanded to nearly 60m. Though Tsubaki couldn’t ‘see’ it, she was able to sense it’s presence.
Tsubaki approached and stopped a short distance away from Vahn. “The biggest problem is actually the size of the area. Though it enhances your perception and allows you to track things within the sphere of influence-” While she spoke Tsubaki suddenly sent a palm towards Vahn’s face. The moment she got close to him, Vahn was already on alert so he moved to block the strike. Tsubaki altered the trajectory of her palm and gently placed it against his chest without any power.
“You are too reliant on the perception afforded by the skill. Though you’re able to respond in time to attacks, you trust your initial senses too much and are unable to respond to feints. For opponents that are much faster or stronger than you, they can use your preliminary response to create gaps in your defense. You need to hone your own senses without relying on the skill or else you won’t even know how you died in the future.”
She opened up the distance a bit and allowed Vahn to process her words. Once he appeared to be ready, she continued. “I know you can alter the size and focus of your domain, so I want you to decrease it to a size where you can immediately respond. It shouldn’t be much larger than the range of your instantaneous striking distance.”
Vahn followed her instructions and reduced the size of the domain while compressing it slightly. The smallest size he could get it to was 3m, similar to when he was forging with the ‘eternal flame’. Tsubaki seemed to be very impressed with the domains current state. Though it was still somewhat abstract, she was able to vaguely see the outline of the domain around his body.
“Three meters is a pretty decent size, but you shouldn’t give up on trying to improve it further. You’ll also need to work on reducing the visibility of the aura or people will be able to easily adapt to your range.” The moment her words finished, Tsubaki vanished from his vision and Vahn drew in a cold breath. This was the same phenomenon that had led him to eat dirt 57 times previously.
From the left, just outside his periphery, Vahn sensed an incoming blow and moved to intercept. Unlike all his previous attempts, he was actually able to, very briefly, brush against the incoming strike. However, before he had time to be happy his vision began to flip and he was reunited with the ground for the 58th, no, the 59th time…
Tsubaki dusted off her hands since they had gotten a bit of dirt on them while throwing Vahn. “As expected, with the reduced size of the domain you’re able to work around your shortcomings a bit. Since you don’t respond as quickly to the incoming strikes, it makes your defense more solid since your opponent has less time to change the trajectory of their blows. This should be the most practical use of your ability until you improve your techniques and senses.”
Vahn just lay on the ground recovering, but he was still a bit happy to make a little bit of progress. “Stand up, Vahn, I want to see if it was just a fluke. Come on, at this rate, we might even be able to get to one-hundred tosses before lunch!” Tsubaki was in high spirits, but Vahn was lamenting his misfortune once again. Though he was thankful she was helping him improve, he still wanted to get revenge of some kind during one of the exchanges.
Vahn continued getting tossed around like a ragdoll by the cheerfully laughing busty blacksmith. At this point, she was loudly shouting each successive throw and the number had reached 98. She seemed determined to reach 100 before concluding the training, a fact Vahn felt very disheartening. For the last few throws, he hardly resisted and just allowed her to freely toss his body. His focus was on trying to rebound from the impact, since no matter how hard he struggled he was unable to deflect the incoming strike.
After the 99th throw, Tsubaki was literally cheering with excitement. “Hahaha, only one more throw remaining. Come on Vahn, you can do it! Don’t give up right at the end!” She was enthusiastically encouraging him to stand. From her uncovered eye, Vahn could see a happy and expectant gleam within its depths.
He grits his teeth and literally made his last stand. The reason he had been compliant for the last few throws was to make her drop her guard and conserve his strength. Though Vahn didn’t believe he would be able to get the better of Tsubaki, he was determined to make one last-ditch effort. Seeing him stand, Tsubaki loudly shouted, “Haha, well done Vahn! I knew you had the backbone! Here~I~Come!
Vahn brought his focus to the absolute limits as Tsubaki’s form disappeared from his sight. He could sense her approach from behind, and he directed all of his intent in the most concentrated burst he could manage directly towards the approaching figure. He then twisted around as quickly as he was able and tried intercepting the blow with a palm strike only for his brain to register an incredibly soft and pliant resistance instead of an impact.
The two stood there and blankly stared at the hand Vahn had used to ‘counterattack’. Firmly planted within the palm of his right hand existed Tsubaki’s left breast. Due to the size, his hand had visibly sunk into the pliable flesh leaving an indentation against the sarashi. Vahn began to feel a cold sweat drip down his back as he looked into the gleaming eye of the woman before him.
After a brief pause, Tsubaki began beaming at Vahn who was accidentally taking liberties with her body. In response, Vahn removed his hand and tried to apologize, but Tsubaki prevented him from doing so by hugging his head into her chest similar to their first meeting. She began to loudly laugh while smothering him. “Hahaha, you cheeky little kid. Is this your idea of revenge?”
Laughter echoed in his ears as Vahn slowly lost consciousness due to asphyxiation.