Chapter 42 Essence Of Combat
Nephis looked at him and contemplated. This time, she remained silent longer than usual.
Sunny felt a bit nervous under her gaze, knowing that he was being evaluated. With Changing Star's skill and insight, it wasn't hard to imagine just how much she had gleaned from his battle performance. Both his current level and future potential must have been pretty much laid bare in front of her. Were they enough to make teaching him worth her while?
After some time, she took the soul shards and nodded.
Sunny smiled, congratulating himself on a successful deal. Not only did he receive a lot while not losing much, but he had also managed to create a bit of a favorable impression of himself in the eyes of Nephis and Cassie. As far as performances went, this was a great one.
"So when do we start?"
Sunny glanced at the sun, which was already almost gone. Were they going to train in complete darkness? It wasn't really an obstacle for him. Changing Star, however…
"We will start with some words. That will be enough for today."
After hesitating a little, she added:
"Cassie, you listen too."
Sunny and Cassia turned to Nephis, listening to her like two obedient students. Despite the fact that their age was more or less similar, both knew that, in terms of martial prowess, their companion had authority that was as beyond theirs as a dragon's might was beyond that of a worm.
Nephis thought for a while and then said:
"Mastery of combat can be divided into two aspects. One is body, and the other one is mind. Training the body is not easy, but it is rather simple. All you need is repetition and experience. In a fight, things happen too fast to consider every detail in the moment. That's why your technique must exist in your muscles and bones, so much so that it almost becomes an instinct."
"You can achieve initial results through repetition. Then, it must be cemented through experience. The more battle experience you have, the deeper a technique will be assimilated into your body. There is no other way. A thousand hours of training won't be as impactful as one real fight. Only those who survive countless battles can be truly in command of the body."
That simultaneously made a lot of sense and no sense at all. On the one hand, the principle of improving through practice was quite logical. On the other hand, Changing Star's statement made it seem like all those lofty Legacies with their years of training were nothing but harmless children. After all, no matter how good their tutors were, they had no real battle experience.
But then again, she did wipe the floor with every one of them — excluding Caster — with no apparent difficulty. So maybe her statement was true. That, however, posed a question of its own… just what kind of life had Nephis led to possess rich battle experience at the tender age of eighteen?
'Should I stop calling her "princess"?'
Meanwhile, Nephis continued:
"Training the mind, however, is not simple at all. That is because, once you reach a certain level of skill, the mind is where the true combat takes place. The outcome is often decided before your body begins to move. And to master the mind, the first step is to understand the essence of combat. However, very few people truly do."
She looked at them and asked:
"What do you think that essence is?"
Sunny hesitated. The… essence of combat? What might it be?
If it was some other Legacy, he would have been tempted to say something stupid like "honor", "valor" or "duty". But he already knew that Nephis did not fit into the image of a noble aristocrat he had in his mind. She wasn't someone who followed empty words.
After a minute or so, Cassie finally answered:
And almost at the same time, Sunny said:
Changing Star shook her head.
Then she rubbed her neck and pierced them with a cold, fierce gaze.
"The essence of combat is murder."
Cassie flinched and opened her eyes wide. Sunny frowned a little. Nephis, however, did not seem to care. In the same calm tone, she continued:
"At the core of it, there is only this: you are trying to kill your opponent, and they are trying to kill you. In the end, one of you will be killed, and the other one will be the killer. Everything else is just noise."
Her words sank deep into Sunny's heart and reverberated there, causing something inside of him to resonate and awaken.
"Style doesn't matter. Weapons don't matter. Reason and intent do not matter. The only thing that matters is to be the last one standing. In this way, anything you do in combat must be viewed as only serving one of two purposes: either to kill your enemy or to prevent the enemy from killing you."
Nephis lowered her eyes.
"If you can understand that, you will have enough clarity to master the mind."
After that, Sunny couldn't fall asleep for a long while. He lay on the cold stone, looking into the darkness and thinking about what Nephis had taught them.
'Repetition, experience, clarity.'
These were the three keys to becoming a fearsome warrior. All three were important, but the last one was the most vexing.
Was it really how Changing Star had said? Was there nothing at the core of being a warrior than a cold will to kill? Intuitively, he felt that it was indeed so. This ruthless truth was, in a sense, an amalgamation of all his life experiences.
After all, for someone like him, life was nothing but a constant battle for survival. Someone always won, and someone always lost. The former got to live for a few more days, the latter… no one cared what happened to them.
Of course, life was life, and combat was combat. To most people, they weren't one and the same. But what about the Awakened? The sole purpose of their existence was to fight against the Nightmare Creatures. Very few could escape that fate.
After coming to the Academy, Sunny allowed himself to think that he had escaped the fate of always having to struggle at the edge of survival. But now, it seemed like he had just exchanged one battle for another.
This was an uncomfortable thought.
However, if he looked at it from a different perspective… did it actually mean that he always had a crucial advantage? Most of those chosen by the Spell were forced to somehow adjust to this merciless way of life. But he had always lived like this.
Was he actually one of the few perfectly suited to be an Awakened?
With this thought, Sunny fell asleep.
… In the early morning, he was awakened by a piercing scream.