Half a year had passed since he came to the village of Seirei no tami. Rio was currently having his spirit art training in the plaza at the outskirt of the village like usual.
「I’ve already taught all I can teach to you regarding spirit art. There’s nothing left for me to teach.」
Arthura muttered in admiration at the figure of Rio perfectly executing spirit arts before her.
「This is also due to Arthura-dono’s help」
With a light smile, Rio said his gratitude to Arthura for coaching him on spirit art.
「Even so, in less than one year, to reach the point of freely using spirit art at will, it must be due to Rio-dono’s overwhelming talent. I only gave a little advice. You also become versed in many types of spirit art. My, my, the spirits really showered their affection on you. 」
Receiving the gratitude from Rio, Arthura smiled at him.
According to Arthura, Rio’s aptitude matched all spirit arts.
He could manipulate every natural phenomenon such as fire, water, ice, earth, wind, and thunder. In addition, he can also cause various phenomenon.
Arthura could manipulate those phenomena too.
However, it was impossible for her to freely manipulate each of them to similar degree.
They could not come close to the fire element spirit art and witchcraft[genjutsu], her strongest arts.
「The remaining subject related to spirit arts is Rio-dono’s unidentified contract spirit.」
Arthura was referring to the contract spirit in Rio, which remained unidentified till now.
「Is there no way to know about the contracted spirit？」
Adhering to Arthura’s direction, Rio had left that topic alone until now.
「Uhm, someone who knows… the spirit sleeping inside you. I am not sure. Maybe there’s one person, but……..」
Arthura spoke in an unclear manner.
「Is there some problem？ 」
「Uhm. Well, just a little actually」
Rio tilted his head, not quite understanding what “Just a little” meant.
「It’s a person that lives in Seirei no tami, right? 」
「Nay, this person is actually a spirit itself. Moreover it’s an exceedingly high ranking existence. In other words, a Quasi High Ranking Spirit. It’s the spirit of the great tree, Dryad-sama」
「Spirit of the great tree, could it be……」
Rio looked towards the majestic figure of the gigantic tree, that towered over it’s surroundings.
「Uhm, the living place of Dryad-sama is at that great tree in the center of this forest」
Arthura arbitarily answered Rio.
But, there was one thing that Rio couldn’t understand.
「Can’t the other spirits see through the true form of the unknown spirit inside me？ 」
Rio considered since all of them were spirits, there was no need to go as far as asking the Dryad.
「It’s a matter of fact that spirits can perceive the existence of other spirits. But, ordinary spirits can’t speak in words despite having intelligence. They act by reading their contract partners’ intention, and can point something out to them, in ambiguous way; but they aren’t able to talk about something clearly with the partners. Only top class spirits can perfectly convey their thoughts to people」
Rio nodded his head on hearing those words.
「I see ………….. Can I go to the great tree? 」
「That’s the problem. That place is something akin to a sacred place for seirei no tami. With the exception of the spirit festival that is held once a year, even seirei no tami can’t just boldly enter that place. An approval is necessary for entering it other than that time」
Rio’s intentions were already grasped by her with those words.
「In other words, they didn’t know whether to let I, who is an outsider, enter it or not? 」
Rio guessed rightly to Arthura’s worry.
「Uhm, for our benefactor Rio-dono, it should be ………….. it’s just like what you said. I’m sorry Rio-dono, since there’s still members of the elder council that don’t trust Rio-dono yet, even now」
Arthura slightly frown and said that with an apologetic face.
The news about a human boy staying in the village −as benefactor of a girl of the seirei no tami− had already spread throughout the village. But, with the exception of a few seirei no tami, Rio’s had lived far from contact with others.
It was already a fact that the seirei no tami didn’t have a good image for the human race, that’s why even the elder council of this village… no, it’s because they were the elders that they stubbornly remained wary of Rio.
The elder council’s approval was necessary to go to the great tree, that was why it was necessary to gain their trust.
「I will try to arrange it, so that you can somehow enter the great tree. Till that time, please wait patiently. Well, besides that, there should be a great number of things that Rio-dono needs to know. That fellow, Dominique, seems eager to teach his dwarf knowledge to Rio-dono. You will also be able to take pleasure in having Syldra as your personal tutor about elves.」
To wipe away the anxiety from the current situation, Arthura spoke cheerfully about Rio’s good fortune.
Rio could ask for lessons directly from the elders of the seirei no tami.
Besides the problems between races, some people may also took offence with teaching Rio knowledge of seirei no tami. However, Rio dismissed his concern on it and took it as a good opportunity.
「I think it’s good to finish here for today. Shall we go look at how Latifa’s doing right now? 」
Arthura let out a bright smile once she recalled her cute great-grandchild.
「Hehh. I also want to see how she has grown」
Rio accepted Arthura’s proposal, together they went to the plaza that was used for Latifa’s spirit art training.
In that place were five people: Latifa, Oufia, Sara, Alma, and Uzuma.
「Thi-this, greetings Arthura-dono, Rio-dono……」
Though Uzuma was the first one in those five who noticed Rio and Arthura, she gave her greeting while lowering her head, as if being ashamed by something.
Rio awkwardly returned her greeting in the seirei no tami language after seeing her like that.
Uzuma became surprised at how well Rio was in using the Seirei no tami language.
「Could it be, you can already speak in the seirei no tami language？ 」
She asked with eyes full of curiousity.
「Yes, thanks to the lessons that I received constantly from Arthura-dono, now I can handle it if it’s a daily life conversation. But it’s still a way to go, as I still feel awkward when using it」
Rio continued his study of their language with hands on training by spending most of his everyday life conversing using the seirei no tami language.
Thanks to that, his proficiency in the seirei no tami language reached a level where it wouldn’t be a problem for him to converse with it in his daily life.
「Even so, that was still an incredible learning speed……」
Alma whose beside her voiced her admiration.
The others in the group also sent him their admiring gazes, it made Rio felt itchy.
「Thank you very much.」
After he shyly gave his short gratitude, Rio turned towards Latifa, who was eagerly waiting for him to finish his conversation.
「Latifa, are you studying properly? 」
「Un! I got better in using spirit arts! We had a Mock Combat just now. Uzuma-san’s really strong! Next, I will fight against Sara-oneechan」
Latifa clung to Rio as she was talking.
After burying her face into Rio body, she then looked up at Rio.
「Is that so? Then, can Arthura-dono and I watch Latifa’s Mock Combat? 」
「Um~, Okay! Sara-oneechan! Come on let’s fight!」
Latifa dashed towards the center of the plaza in high spirits, wanting to show off her skills to Rio.
「Geez, that child is really… She get into high spirits just because Rio-sama came」
Sara chased Latifa’s back, expressing her feelings that it couldn’t be helped.
After those two arrived at the center of the plaza, Oufia signalled the start.
Strengthening their bodies and physical ability at the moment of the signal, those two started to move in an instant.
Since Latifa had also already learnt spirit arts, the physical and body strengthening magic she was using was also from spirit arts.
Rio was surprised by that speed.
Latifa’s speed increased by leaps and bounds when compared to when she first met Rio.
The only grace of『Body Strengthening Magic (Hyper Physical Ability)』 was strengthening physical ability; it was different from spirit arts reinforcement, which also strengthened the user’s body and not just physical ability.
But, it was the same for Sara, who was also strengthening her body and physical ability with spirit arts.
By Rio’s observation, their speeds were almost equal.
If that was the case, then it was left to their skill.
In that regard, right now they were testing the water by executing feint attacks.
Both of them were using wooden knives as weapons.
Rio stood next to Uzuma and silently watched their match.
However, a little while later, he noticed that Uzuma was struggling to calm herself.
Though quite a long time had already passed since he came to the village of the seirei no tami, Uzuma still had that attitude, as if she was avoiding Rio.
Although no hostility could be felt from her, it still felt awkward for him.
「I don’t mind about that matter anymore. Uzuma-dono, you don’t have to worry about it.」
Thinking that their relationship had been stiff all this while, Rio resolved himself and said it out.
Uzuma reacted with a surprise look at Rio.
「Eh? Was I mistaken?」
Rio had thought that maybe Uzuma was still regretting her misunderstanding, which caused her to gravely injure Rio.
But, from Uzuma’s reaction, it looked like it was due to completely different matter, that she was acting like that towards Rio.
If that was the case, then what was the cause of her behaviour? When Rio worried how he must converse with her, Uzuma began to speak first.
「……No, you’re not wrong. Part of the reason is also that⎯ it’s just that Rio-dono is completely different from the image of the human race that I had, and… I am also troubled on how to face you. I’m really sorry. All of this happened due to my lack of manners.」
It turned out that her awkward manner toward Rio was related to the problems between races.
Maybe her feelings of gratitude toward Rio for saving a girl of her brethren clashed with her guilt for severely wounding Rio from the misunderstanding. Then there was her unease towards Rio due to racial issues, all of that jumbled together in Uzuma’s mind.
Because of deep historical origin, her prejudice towards his race was hard to remove with just his one or two small actions.
「I understand that it’s not easy to change that bad image about humans. I will not try to change that. Instead, I would be grateful if you could just be yourself around me. You’d feel worn out, right, if you continued to try and force yourself? 」
He shrugged his shoulders when saying that, while letting out an awkward smile.
「……I wish to express my deepest gratitude for Rio-dono’s consideration toward me」
Uzuma lowered her head towards Rio with a movement that made her look like a natural born military man.
Arthura, Oufia, and Alma looked at those two from the side with great curiousity.
On the other hand, while those two were in the middle of their conversation, Sara and Latifa’s match was almost at its climax.
Latifa gave her best shot but, Sara was still way above her.
Rio also thought that Sara herself was a truly talented fighter, despite there also being an age difference, her combat ability surpassed Latifa who was trained as an assassin.
Though maybe Latifa could stand on the same ground as Sara when she grew up, as she continued her training. Most likely she would be chasing after Sara’s back, who is her senior, for a while.
「U~~u, I was also defeated by Sara-oneechan」
Latifa said that while looking down with a frustated look on her face.
「That’s only natural since I’m older. Since I have continuously learnt the basics for a long time from the soldiers of the seirei no tami. With Latifa’s age, this is already good enough for you to become a soldier of the seirei no tami」
Sara coaxed the bitter Latifa, who was slumping on the ground.
「Yeah, you really are strong. I can’t do anything at all」
Oufia also tried to coax Latifa.
「That was because Oufia-neesan is a rearguard and spirit art user type; it’s only natural that you can’t win against a vanguard type like Sara-neesan or Uzuma-san in close combat 」
And here, Alma added her tsukkomi.
Maybe due to her honest personality, or was her own trait that she speaks what she thinks.
「But, Onii-chan is still waaay stronger than Sara-oneechan and Uzuma-san！」
Latifa said that with complete belief for Rio’s victory.
「Mu, my pride as a warrior won’t just let that line be, but……」
Uzuma’s pride as the warrior chief got ignited by the [of course he is] in Latifa’s tone.
「I couldn’t do anything against onii-chan at all！Uzuma-san is waaay more powerful than me but, you still have yet to defeat onii-chan! 」
「Latifa, Uzuma is the strongest young warrior in this village. Even if he excels in spirit arts, for Rio-sama, a child of the human, to win against her is just……… 」
Sara, who was very familiar with Uzuma’s strength, said a different opinion to Latifa.
「Then, we will find that out with combat. Right, Onii-chan? 」
Latifa looked at Rio with upturned eyes, fully believing in Rio’s power from the bottom of her heart.
He really wanted to reject her request, seeing that it was turning in a really troublesome direction but, Rio wasn’t inconsiderate enough to betray the innocent expectations of Latifa.
「Want to try it？」
While smiling bitterly in his heart, Rio proposed a Mock Combat challenge to Uzuma.
Uzuma replied instantly.
It was as if she was really eager to do that.
After choosing their weapons for the Mock Combat, those two took their places at the center of the plaza.
The rule was the same as before, only physical and body strengthening spirit arts were permissible in the match.
Uzuma, with her wooden spear, versus Rio, with his wooden sword.
Uzuma dashed toward Rio, right at the start of the match.
Her speed, with the added driving force of her wings, was basically like an arrow fired toward Rio.
Despite her calm face, her spirit was ablaze.
Maybe it was due to her extreme confidence in her own strength.
Rio was smiling lightly at Uzuma’s straightforward manner.
Uzuma instantly shortened the distance to Rio and stabbed her spear at Rio; naturally her body and physical ability were strengthened with magical power.
Rio warded the disorderly thrust from Uzuma, which come at him like an avalanche.
Uzuma showed an astonished face at Rio, who parried her attack easily without any wasted movement.
Uzuma distanced herself from Rio for an instant and then lunged at him from a low stance, almost like crawling on the ground. She struck at his chest with her spear from below, like the fish jumping against the rapids.
Though Rio stopped the blow that came from the front, Uzuma exerted more force into the strike.
Rio’s body lightly floated from the impact.
With the her heels stomping hard and wings flapping powerfully, Uzuma sent Rio flying with her charge.
The distance between them opened for a brief moment.
Uzuma leapt toward Rio, who was thrown in the air, as if to not let him escape, and then accurately sent four thrusts, aiming at Rio limbs.
Rio parried her spear with his sword and evaded her attacks by twisting his body and shifting his limbs.
Then, using the recoil, he sent a horizontal slash towards Uzuma’s body.
Uzuma instantly dodged his counter by flapping her wings to drive herself backwards.
Matching her in a aerial battle was really difficult.
Both of them landed on the ground while keeping their distance.
It lasted but an instant. In one single step, Rio suddenly shrunk their distance.
The offensive was reversed. Rio’s figure disappeared from Uzuma in that split second.
However, due to her natural instincts, she barely managed to block Rio’s attack, which also destroyed her stance.
Uzuma tried to separate from Rio and fix her stance.
However, without letting the chance go, Rio rushed at her. He erased the space that was needed for her to manipulate her spear; his sharp thrusts came one after another towards the gaps in her defence.
Now it was Uzuma’s turn to find herself in a disadvantage situation.
Though she could still barely defend herself from Rio’s attack, Rio was already superior from the number of attacks.
If it was using real weapons, Uzuma’s body would already be full of small cuts.
In that constant barrage, Uzuma made a slip and Rio unleashed a powerful blow at that opportunity with a large swing of his sword.
Uzuma stopped the blow which sent her body flying backwards a little.
Uzuma warded the impact of that attack by flapping her wings, then slowly descended to the ground.
「……With this match, I recognize you as a warrior. Looks like I need to fight you at my full power」
Uzuma said that with a different tone than she normally used.
At the same time, Uzuma’s stance changed.
[Biku], a chill ran through Rio’s body.
Then, she instantly closed their gap and threw a fierce stab, aimed at Rio’s body.
Rio immediately side-stepped to escape, as he could not block that crushing pressure.
A prickling sensation suddenly felt his neck⎯ he turned his neck sideways.
In the next moment, there was the sound of something passing through the air; it was Uzuma’s kick, which was aimed at where Rio’s head was, just a moment ago.
「Hoou, Good. You managed to dodge that. But, how about this! 」
She blasted a heavy strike at Rio , along with those words.
But, Rio had stopped that blow.
His expression distorted as he received it, the one-handed sword he used was gripped with his both hands; Uzuma pressed at him with a nonchalant expression.
Rio retreated backwards a great distance from the clash to ward the power in that strike.
「Isn’t this already a little surpassing the level of a Mock Combat?」
Rio said that with a wry smile.
「Of course! There’s no reason for me to hold back my joy against this kind of strong opponent! 」
Uzuma exclaimed that loudly while letting out a ferocious smile.
Rio thought that it couldn’t be helped, since she was a little bit of a Battle Junkie.
Rio could only smile lightly.
He couldn’t rebutt her since somehow or another he was also similar to her.
Rio felt a little delighted. It had been a long time since he found an opponent on which he could go all out.
It was a good idea to spare his thoughts and go wild like this, once a while.
But, Uzuma greatly surpassed him with her current physical ability.
At this rate it would be a thin line separating winner and loser.
（Then, let’s get ourselves equal）
Thereupon, the ODO overflowing from Rio’s body rised, it also flowed with great density.
「Mu, what’s with that kind of ODO density」
Uzuma opened her eyes wide at the armor of ODO that was enveloping Rio’s body.
He was strengthening his body and physical ability with spirit arts, and rose it to the next level with a quantity of ODO clad his body like armor.
Even if his base strength fell behind Uzuma, who was a beastman, he just needed to strengthen his body and physical ability with his ODO till he surpassed her.
That kind of realization had just come to Rio.
But, just realising it was not enough.
Whether or not his body could cope with that massive quantity of ODO all at once was another story.
It was necessary for him to control the massive amount of ODO and find a suitable amount for him to be clad in.
「Could it be that, till now, you did not went all out?」
Uzuma said that while smiling lightly.
「Nope, I was going all out. Maybe it’s embarrassing for me to say it, but, I have never had a chance to strengthen myself to this level 」
「I see. Though it doesn’t seem that you’re using all your power yet」
Uzuma wielded her spear, and suddenly appeared in front of Rio.
「Not at all, I’m almost hitting my upper limit, you know」
Rio said that while stopping Uzuma’s direct frontal blow, just like that .
「And you say that with nonchalant expression！ HAAAA！」
Then she send wild thrusts with random tempo to Rio.
Rio evaded those attacks, each one after the other, with minimum movement like flowing water. Then, matching the with flow of her breath, he closed in to Uzuma’s bosom as she was thrusting her spear and swung his sword at the exposed chest.
When she stopped Rio’s attack with emergency posture, rotating her spear using the part that was hit by Rio’s sword as its center, she use Rio’s own power to launch a sweeping strike at his face.
Rio dodged that attack by turning his head sideways.
Immediately followed by countless of their attacks countering each other.
If those had been metal weapons, spark would have flown in every direction along with the clanking sound of weapons.
A series of heavy blows rained upon Rio.
However, Rio warded all of those attacks without moving even a single step.
「AMAZING！ No matter how I hit, none of it is getting through!」
Uzuma said that with a delighted face.
With resolution to put her life on the line, Uzuma then launched a surprise attack, a daring spear uppercut as she sprung at Rio, just to force Rio to inch from his spot.
Rio avoided that attack by side-stepping for a half step, and launched a counter.
Rio’s wooden sword finally struck Uzuma’s body.
Though he stopped his blow just before it landed, Uzuma’s expression was vexed, as she knew that she had been completely unable to protect herself from that blow.
「……It’s my loss. Thank you very much. It was already beyond a little excessive」
Uzuma instantly returned to her usual calm and composed self, and politely bowed to Rio.
Rio noticed that there was a tinge of red on her face.
(Maybe she was embarrassed by her previous fighting spirit)
「Don’t worry, it was the same for me. I also enjoyed it. If you don’t mind it, please have a match with me again」
「Yeah, with pleasure」
Uzuma chimed her approval at Rio’s proposal with a happy expression.
Her awkward demeanour from before had completely vanished.
Somehow they managed to grasp each others character during their short match.
Sara, Oufia, Alma, and Arthura were still dumfounded with their jaws wide open, even after those two had finished their match.
「Ne, let’s just say！ Onii-chan is powerful, right!」
Amongst them, only Latifa puffed up her plains-like chest with a triumphant face, as if saying [That’s only natural right!?].