I found Elysium leaning out over the railing on the side of the rooftop, looking down at the street. Without glancing back, she addressed me the moment I set foot on the rooftop.
“Hey, Glint. Sorry you had to see that.”
“You know she meant well, of course.”
“Naturally. Doesn’t mean I can’t be angry.”
I sighed, taking in Elysium’s gloomy form. It was a rare sight – the woman was usually chipper and upbeat, even when feeling the stress of an upcoming performance. That she bore such an air of melancholy showed just how much she objected to Rosalind’s acceptance of the job, as well as betrayed her concern for her friend’s well-being. Knowing that nothing I could say would make her feel better, I instead opted to toss the bundle in my hands over by her feet, its contents spilling out as it landed, revealing a number of blunted metal weapons. Elysium glanced down, then turned to me, her face impassive.
“Hey, you’re clearly dealing with a ton of worries right now. What better way to work through it than to beat the shit out of me, right?”
What I was proposing was one of our sparring bouts. Since arriving at the capital, we’d had fewer opportunities to spar, leading to our morning routine only occurring every three days or so. That being the case, I figured it would be a good way to let Elysium beat down her worries, while also serving as valuable training for me.
Sensing my intentions, Elysium’s expressionless face broke into a slight smile, and she selected a weapon from the group in the pack – a one-handed sword. Ordinarily, there should have been a shield to go along with it, but Elysium had neglected to include one in the package of training equipment, so she simply used the sword and nothing else.
“Still not using a spear?”
Elysium laughed at my taunting query.
“Sorry, but you’re not quite good enough yet to match me when I’m using a spear – if I went with that, the match would likely be over instantly, and that would hardly prove an effective means of working through my doubts, no?”
I grumbled under my breath at her assessment of my abilities, but did nothing else. It was, after all, an accurate assessment. I had improved to the point where I could match Elysium in a fight if I employed my magic in tandem with my normal attacks – but this was contingent on Elysium using a one-handed sword, which she proclaimed was her least favorite weapon. I doubted I could last ten seconds if she decided to use her specialty, the spear.
Still, it didn’t mean I could let my guard down – Elysium was ambidextrous, and a large part of her swordfighting technique relied on transferring her sword between her hands to strike in unexpected ways. I narrowed my eyes and watched her closely as she took up a relaxed, forward stance.
Elysium had the advantage in speed and strength. She had physical abilities that far surpassed those of a normal human. However, she could not use magic.
I, on the other hand, had magic as my sole advantage. Whereas Elysium was limited to attacking with her physical body, I could attack her from various directions, or even multiple directions at once. I had, indeed, proposed this bout as a way for Elysium to clear her frustrations, but I still intended to win. And my only chance at victory was to fully maximise this magical advantage – I had to pelt her with attacks from all sides, without giving her the time to recover and aim for my head. In other words, if I let her force me on the defensive, it would be my loss.
I seized the initiative with a full-on dash, blurring my outline with three projected images of myself. At the same time, I materialised a legion of light swords, surrounding Elysium. I sent them flying in on her position at the exact same moment as I reached striking range. With this, I had her trapped. The light swords from all directions left nowhere for her to dodge, and if she tried to block them or fend them off, she would expose herself to my physical attack. The battle was decided.
Or rather, it would have been decided if my opponent was anyone other than Elysium. Her arm moving faster than I could follow, she destroyed half of my encirclement – she parried the swords into other swords, destroying both, or otherwise she flat-out cut them down with a swing. With the encirclement broken, she was able to freely step into my guard and intercept my dagger with the flat of her blade, diverting it and throwing me off balance. While I struggled to regain my footing, she swapped her sword from her right hand to her left and struck at me in an arc, an attack that I just barely managed to block by bringing up my second dagger. Although I’d managed to avoid getting hit by the blade, the force of the blow sent me flying, tumbling across the rooftop. Without missing a beat, Elysium kicked off the ground and appeared ahead of me, preparing her sword to arc down on my flying body.
I hastily constructed a barrier of light around me as I passed under her arm, and the downward swing promptly shattered it. Thankfully, even though it broke, the barrier had blocked the strike, and allowed me to roll to a stop, quickly getting to my feet with my daggers at the ready. Immediately, Elysium appeared before me and began to attack, forcing me back. Her attacks were erratic and dangerous – what started as a downward swing could easily turn into an upward slash from the other direction. Fending her off took all of my concentration; her attacks were unrelenting, barely leaving room to breathe.
Feeling myself becoming faint from a lack of air, I desperately materialised four swords of light directly behind her and drove them in. She glanced back and parried them all in less than a fraction of a second, but that short period of time granted me a much-needed reprieve. In the brief instant after she had parried the attacks, I kicked her, using her as a springboard to open some distance. At the same time, I reached to a holder on my thigh and retrieved a set of six knives, throwing them in her direction. She knocked them all away, but they stayed midair, embedding themselves into a set of six blocks of solid light, surrounding her. This was a technique I had worked a long time to develop, and I could only maintain the blocks for about twenty seconds before they dissipated. I hoped that would be enough.
In the handle of each dagger was embedded a small Resound Jewel, and all six were pointed at Elysium. I held up an additional Jewel, attached to a bracelet around my right hand, and poured mana into it, sending twenty light swords through it. I had configured the swords to always aim at a random other Jewel, and the result was that Elysium was buffeted by a barrage of twenty swords moving in completely unpredictable patterns. Furthermore, I was able to move the blocks of light that held the daggers, and I moved them in arbitrary, random fashion, making it even harder to predict where an attack was going to come from. The downside of this technique was that I was unable to enter the fray of swords myself due to the unpredictable nature of it, but I hoped this would wear Elysium down enough for her to show an opening.
She blocked and parried sword after sword, but at around the fifteen second mark, I managed a surprise attack from under her and knocked her sword away, leaving her unarmed. She then turned her efforts to dodging the attacks, using minimal movement, and eventually the twenty second time limit was up. The blocks of light lost their form, and the daggers clattered to the floor. Elysium was left standing in the middle of the rooftop, breathing heavily. Her back was turned towards me. She was unarmed. This would be my best chance.
I leapt towards her, poising my dagger for a downward stab. However, just before it could land, she reached up and grabbed my swinging hand. Then she threw me on the ground and disarmed me, placing the dagger to my throat.
“Looks like it’s my win.”
“…Again. I don’t even know why I try, to be honest.”
I sighed, defeated. Elysium smiled and helped me up.
“Give yourself some credit. That last attack was pretty effective. I was actually a little worried for a moment.”
“Hey, I figured that since you can read all my attacking intent, I might as well attack with no intent. I wasn’t expecting it to actually work.”
“It’s a sound theory. It’s harder to defend against something completely random than it is to defend against something with killer intent behind it.”
“Good to know that it wasn’t a complete waste of time coming up with it, I guess.”
Elysium strode over to the edge of the rooftop, where she had been leaning out. I joined her, leaning out next to her.
“A bit, yeah. You were right. Physical exertion was just what I needed to take my mind off things.”
“So does that mean you’ll make up with Rosalind?”
“…Yeah. I’ll go apologise later. It’s not like I can’t see where she’s coming from. She’s right. This isn’t a job we can exactly turn down, given who’s offering it. It’s just… her life could be at stake, here. Her position. Her career. Her future. I don’t want her to throw that away just to help me.”
“Even if that’s what she wants to do?”
“Even so. I came into her life suddenly, and she took care of me when she had no obligation to. I owe her so much, and I don’t want to see her come into danger for my sake. I’m okay with accepting the Emperor’s request if she wants to do it, but I want her to do it for her own sake, not mine.”
“Elysium, she cares so much about you that anything done for your sake is basically the same as something done for her’s.”
“I’m aware. Doesn’t mean I have to accept that.”
We lapsed into silence for a bit. Then I decided to bring up something that had been on my mind for some time.
“Elysium, why do you think Rosalind cares so much about you?”
“Because we’re close friends, and have been through a lot together.”
“A friend? Is that really all there is to it? Is that really all she sees you as?”
Elysium didn’t answer, turning her head away. I opted to continue on this line.
“I’ve seen how she looks at you. And if I’ve noticed, it’s impossible that you haven’t as well. She’s in love with you, Elysium.”
“I know that.”
“So why do you pretend not to notice?”
Elysium remained silent and turned around, leaning backward rather than forward over the railing.
“…It’s because I treasure what we have now. Our friendship. I’ve never had a friend quite as important to me as Rosalind. Well, more accurately, I’ve had very few friends in general. But at the same time, that’s all I feel for her. Friendship. I don’t harbour any romantic feelings for Rosalind, even if she holds some for me. And if I let her know that I’ve noticed, that will lead to her asking me for my answer. And when that happens, I won’t be able to reciprocate. I want to avoid that situation for as long as possible. And so I pretend not to notice.”
“You know that she’s going to ask you anyway, eventually, right?”
“I do. And I dread the coming of that day.”
The two of us fell into a shared silence, watching the stars in the night sky. Then Elysium pushed herself off the railing and tousled my hair.
“Thanks for coming to find me, Glint. That session really helped me sort out my thoughts. I’ll go apologise in the morning.”
I grumbled and avoided her hand, then helped to retrieve the training equipment. As we descended the stairs to our room, Elysium spoke up one more time.
“Well, we’re going to be even busier from now on. I hope you’re ready to be overworked, Glint?”
I was tempted to respond with a snarky comment about overwork being the norm, but thought better of it.
“Of course. Let’s make this last performance a success.”