Several long spears made of ice struck down at Iris. Reacting quickly, she took two steps back, staying comfortably within the boundary marked by a metal circle in the center of the deck. The ice spears shattered harmlessly as they contacted the metal, causing a frustrated Prei to complain.
“Uuuuuuu… stop moving so much!”
Iris smiled and admonished her.
“Now, Prei, that was a bad attack. It was a lot of icicles, but they were all targeted at the same spot, so it was easy to avoid. Try to force me into a spot where I’m guaranteed to take a hit. Let’s try again.”
Iris calmly stepped back into the perfect centre of the circle and stood completely still, beckoning at Prei to attack. At the side, seated down on a chair with a glass of water in her hand, was Lily, watching the practice session with interest. Next to her, Tate was seated in another chair, keeping a close eye on Iris to make sure she would be protected if any of Prei’s attacks seemed likely to hit their mark. Given Prei’s naturally high levels of mana, and her unfair Affinity, Lily had decided it would be best to see how well the girl could control her magic, but her worry was unfounded: Prei was a genius. She knew instinctively how to use her magic, and had all of it under perfect control. She did not, however, have any experience applying it in combat situations. Iris had therefore suggested training her in the use of magic for combat.
Lily had initially been reluctant at the thought of teaching her young, sweet foster daughter how to use her magic to fight and kill, but had thought about it: if Prei intended to follow their group – and she certainly seemed to have no intention of just letting Lily walk off without her – she would need to be able to defend herself. Lily’s party was heading to Azoria, the city that was the first to fall to demons. That their journey would carry danger was an unavoidable truth. Lily had therefore decided that teaching her how to fight would be in Prei’s best interests, as well as Lily’s own: it would lower the risk that she would need to watch out for Prei’s safety while fighting.
That said, Lily – having only been able to use one type of magic all her life, and a primarily non-combative one at that – had never undergone combat magic training, and had no idea of where to start. Thankfully, Iris happened to have various combat magic training routines stored in her archives, so Lily had left the programme to her. The metal disc that Iris currently stood on was made of the leftover scrap metal from fixing the ship, which Lily had cut and smoothed at Iris’ direction. The goal that Iris had set for Prei was for the girl to force Iris to move out of the circle. It had been three days, and still Iris showed no signs of moving out of the circle. Still, Prei had improved tremendously. At first, all her attacks had been single, high-power hits from directly above the circle which, while dangerous, were easily avoidable by sidestepping, or even – as Iris had demonstrated when Prei had attempted using a pillar of ice- by jumping over them. By this third day, she had learned to use a large number of small attacks instead, alternating between them and changing the direction from whence the attack had come. Still, Iris showed no signs of being forced out of the circle.
Iris jerked her head, signalling Prei to attack. Prei swiped one hand in front of her, causing more than twenty spears of ice, of identical lengths and size, to materialise in front of her. Due to the waterborne nature of their venue, the training was limited to Water and Wind Magic. There was not enough land nearby to be able to properly practice Earth Magic, and Fire Magic held the risk of burning the ship. Iris had decided to hold off on training Light Magic, as Prei had the most difficulty controlling that branch, and Light Magic was primarily supportive or defensive in nature and therefore required a seperate training programme.
Without warning, half of the ice spears flew at Iris’ position, the other half aimed three steps behind the first wave. Iris smiled and sidestepped to the right, only to quickly jerk and step again to her left as another set of ice spears hailed down upon the place where she had intended to escape to. The moment the first wave of ice spears had been fired, Prei had created more to replace them, allowing her to keep up an endless barrage. Again, ice spears struck the place where Iris had intended to escape to, a split second after she abruptly changed direction. This time, ice spears also simultaneously flew towards the spot in the opposite direction, cutting off Iris’ escape route. Iris did a backflip over a set of ice spears that flew at her from her blind spot, landing neatly along the edge of the metal circle. Lily felt a chill, sensing Tate tensing up next to her. Suddenly, Iris’ eyes widened and she quickly tilted her body sideways, causing an invisible blade of wind to rush past her, causing her hair to billow around. Using the momentum from the tilt, she let her body fall towards the inside of the circle, supporting herself with one hand, in an awkward position with her body low to the ground. As she did, another blade of wind cut just centimeters above Iris’ navel, causing her dress to flutter. Without giving Iris any time to rest, taking advantage of the immobility caused by her current position, ice spears flew at her from every direction, with no room to escape.
Tate stood up, prepared to set a barrier around Iris, but as she did, all the icicles disintegrated. As the mist cleared, Iris was still in her awkward backward position, but her free hand held one of her shooters. Taking advantage of the lapse in attacks, she pivoted on her supporting hand, flipping herself up and around, landing neatly in the perfect center of the circle. She flashed a grin at Prei, who was panting hard, sweat beading her brow.
“This is impossible! Iris, you’re way too good!”
Iris could only giggle at Prei’s complaint.
“Don’t say that. That last attack almost got me. That was the first time you used two types of magic at once. Good job.”
Prei blushed at Iris’ praise, and looked about to respond, when Ragneil’s voice cut across the deck.
Iris looked towards the source of the voice, then looked to Lily, who nodded. Iris turned to Prei.
“Well, let’s end here for today. Well done.”
Lily got out of her chair and strode over to Prei, patting her sweat-soaked hair.
“Good job today, Prei. I’m proud of you.”
“Ehehehe. Thanks, Mama.”
Prei’s pre-existing blush deepened and she began fidgeting on the spot at Lily’s praise.
“Well, let’s go get ready to get onshore, huh? I can’t wait to be on land again.”
Prei followed Lily and Iris into the captain’s cabin, starting to pack. Tate excused herself and went down to the armory to say goodbye to the shields. Lily giggled slightly at this, reminded of herself back when she was a simple girl, aiming to be a machinist. She had loved her creations, cradling them to sleep and kissing them goodnight. It was a fond memory.
Struck by a wave of nostalgia, she sat on the bed and grabbed the white bundle on it that housed Hina’s katana. She unwrapped the bundle and stared at the weapon, her heart a complicated mixture of fondness and grief. She still had not completely accepted that Hina was gone – no, she did not truly believe that Hina was dead – but gazing at the signature color and shape of the katana reminded her of the happy, untroubled times of her childhood. A tear formed at the edge of her eye.
“Mama? Is something wrong?”
Noticing Lily’s pained expression, Prei – who had, with Iris’ help, been diligently packing the clothes which Tate had given her to wear – trotted over to Lily’s side and curiously looked at the item in the bundle.
Then she screamed. She screamed and started sobbing and crouched down, hugging her knees.
Panicked, Iris hurried over. Lily, equally panicked, rapidly wiped away the tears from her eyes and started looking for a place to stow the katana. Iris met her eyes and turned her back towards Lily, a long rectangular slit opening up along the left side of her back, revealing a narrow compartment. Lily gratefully placed the katana in the slot and knelt down beside Prei, bringing her into a tight embrace. She soothingly stroked Prei’s hair, whispering calming words into her ear.
“It’s okay, it’s okay, mama’s here. What’s the matter? It’s okay.”
Prei looked up with teary eyes, then threw her hands around Lily and cried into her shoulder.
“I-I don’t know. I just feel… scared and sad. I’m scared mama. I’m scared.”
“Shhh. No need to be scared. I’m here. I’m here with you. No need to be scared.”
Lily continued hugging and comforting her foster daughter, until the sobbing subsided somewhat, the hiccoughs becoming softer and more infrequent. As Lily continued to stroke Prei’s back, she shared a glance with Iris, who held her gaze steadily. Prei had certainly broken down because she saw Hina’s katana.
The question was, why?