Ryou wanted to tease Tomoe a bit and ask if she’d picked that color out intentionally or untintenionally, but Ryou was too exhausted physically and mentally to bother.
“Ahh… I’m beat…”
That’s why the next words that came out of his mouth next were so heavy they seemed to come from the depths of hell itself.
So exhausted was that voice that it seemed even the fathers working through another overtime had it better.
That was neither exaggeration nor fiction but the unadulterated truth.
“You lost one-sidedly today too, huh,” Tomoe said.
And his childhood friend, who was busy reading, was more than happy to point that out as though she found the fact hilarious.
But as someone being tortured by the same master, Tomoe understood his difficulties well.
Of course, Ryou was studying interpersonal combat, while Tomoe was studying jutsu combat, so their respective situations weren’t exactly the same, but they were being trained with the same ‘method’, so the exhaustion they felt was similar.
That’s probably why he had no words to rebut with and just meekly acknowledged her remark.
“Yeah, I lost again. Lose, lose, lose, that’s all I’ve been doing. But day by day I’m also getting a better understanding of what he told me at the start.”
It’s only been a few days since their training began, but Ryou has been repeating this process since.
Shinichi told him that he would thoroughly beat into him the essence of close combat.
He said that he would make him quickly learn how to deftly handle that onslaught he’d received just awhile ago, as well as the ability to read his opponent’s movements.
If one were to borrow Shinichi’s words, then──
『What you lack most is experience in interpersonal combat. If you can’t even read your opponents, then defeating a person stronger than you is just an empty dream. First, you need to understand that your opponent is also fighting to win.』
『But in your case, you won’t be able to get it if I were to throw it at you all at once, so you’ll have to learn the skills one by one with your body.』
──And that’s why they’ve been continuing this training with restrictions until now.
Tomoe was surprised to see Ryou so understanding of Shinichi’s methods despite his slight unhappiness.
“That’s rare. Normally, you’d have started grumbling already.”
“If he hadn’t explained anything, then yeah maybe. He answers properly if you ask, and he can meticulously point out my mistakes too. Also, he told us to attend our lectures properly, right? To be honest, I wanted to use my special privileges to rest, but when I attended the class just once, I understood.”
Unlike the special classes, the normal classes rarely had the opportunity to spar with their fellow students.
Moreover, Tomoe herself was receiving lessons regarding her jutsus, so she was yet to understand it, but Ryou’s next words enlightened her.
“The teachers the students… Everyone else’s movements are becoming slower and slower. I could tell how they would move next, and they moved so different from that guy that I have so much leeway on how to respond.”
Until now he’s never thought about stuff like that and would just send his opponents flying right from the start.
When he thought of how sloppy he used to fight, he couldn’t help but be dumbfounded.
“He might be beating me up everyday, but I’m gradually realizing what he’s been telling me all this time. Don’t avert your eyes, read the next move, don’t be careless, keep using your head… I know all of these in my head, but it wasn’t until now that I’ve become so aware of it. With all that, I can’t really complain.”
The training these past few days has made him aware just how inexperienced he was and how much progress he was making.
Though he didn’t stand a chance in a direct confrontation,
That’s why when Ryou cursed earlier, it wasn’t because he was unhappy about his situation.
“I see. In your case, your training includes your classes too. The knowledge is drilled into you in the night, and then you practice it in the day. Huh, despite hating the idea so much, he’s actually doing a proper job, isn’t he?”
They could not publicize their relationship as master and disciple, they could also only train in a place and time with no other people, but Shinichi was making full use of the other hours too by indirectly training them.
“Well, I’m still no match for Nakamura, though. I can’t keep up with him at all. But what’s really annoying is how it seems like he’s always just within reach,” Shinguuji said as he laughed in self-deprecation.
“Huh, you’re more capable of objectively judging yourself than I thought, Shinguuji.”
The boy who said that as though Ryou had said something funny was none other than their master.
Tomoe and Ryou were speechless. Just awhile ago he was still a long way away from them, but before they knew it, he was right in front of them.
Shinichi pulling things out of his hat was already an everyday occurrence for them, though, so their surprise lasted only for a moment.
But that was likely just because if they actually minded all the oddities about him, they wouldn’t be able to stand fighting him.
“You’re a brat on the surface, but I see now that you’re just dishonest with your feelings.”
It was curious if he’d done that on purpose or was just being serious, but regardless, he happily nodded and appraised Ryou as such, leading Ryou to make a sullen face.
Although he had no faults to find with Shinichi’s teaching, his words frequently irritated him.
All the more so given that he was still just 16 years old, an age at which a person was still highly emotional.
Teens that age would likely revolt if someone started treating them as ‘a good kid’.
Though Ryou might have received the blood of an exorcist clan and carried with him a cruel past, he was still a boy in the end.
“Hmph, who is?”
“I’m sure it’s because your mom did a good job raising you.”
Whatever complaints Ryou had vanished with that one line.
People at his age might tend to be rebellious toward their parents, but in Ryou’s case, his mother literally risked her life to bring him up.
Refuting Shinichi’s words would be the same thing as to refute his mother’s efforts, and Ryou could not do that.
“She raised you up into a fine young man worth training. I’m sure your mother must be looking at you from heaven with pride.”
On top of that, Shinichi continued to praise him while talking even more about his mother. In the end, what was it that Ryou was feeling now? Was it anger? Was it shame?
Perhaps he himself didn’t know, but one thing for sure was that his face flushed with red, neither able to deny nor confirm Shinichi’s words, only glare at him with a face that kept changing.
Of course, Shinichi said all that knowing full well what kind of effect it would have on him.
“…You’re such a bad man.”
Tomoe muttered in astonishment as she watched him toy with Ryou.
But Shinichi’s ears were sharp enough to pick up on that, and he said in response.
“It is an honor to receive your praise,
“Who’s praising you!? And I told you not to treat me like a princess!”
Oh no! Even as Tomoe realized that her remark turned the end of the spear onto her, she reflexively answered back with a flushed face.
Ever since they asked him to train them, Shinichi would pick a time and suddenly start treating her like a princess.
Lineage-wise, it was true that it wasn’t wrong to call her a princess, but emotionally and personality-wise, she didn’t feel like it suited her to be treated as one.
Moreover, the way Shinichi acted whenever he called her a princess made her restless for some reason.
“That outfit suits you so well, it just came out by itself.”
As expected, Shinichi didn’t act like he’d done anything wrong and just laughed.
‘This man,’ Tomoe thought to herself as she glared at him with a face, beet red, but Shinichi didn’t mind that one bit.
“────I got to say, though, to be able to imitate and remodel a shikioni after reading about it just once… How frightening.”
Satisfied with her response, he turned his gaze to the black shikioni.
All hints of playfulness left his eyes as he assessed the craftsmanship of Tomoe’s work.
Tomoe didn’t miss that change in his gaze, so she immediately changed gears and straightened her back.
There was a tension in the air no lesser than those times when her mother assessed her jutsus.
That was how meticulous and stringent Shinichi’s eyes and lips were.
“Ready yourself now, I will test your endurance.”
The time for frolicking has passed, and though neither spoke in the polite language, Shinichi was now her master, and her, his disciple.
Master and disciple changed so quickly that Ryou found himself darting his eyes to and fro, but that was a skill said to be indispensable for exorcists, and Tomoe was able to pull it off.
With a glance from Tomoe, the shikioni nimbly jumped and distanced itself from her, and Shinichi too stood opposite it while wielding his great sword of rock.
As the black shikioni’s face transformed to that of anger, it assumed stance with its watermelon-sized fists, while the boy in black assumed a high stance with his great sword in his right, while his left beckoned the shikioni to come.
That provocation was meant less for the oni before him and more for Tomoe, who had conjured it.
Though to her, that was less a provocation and more a signal to hurry up.
That’s why Tomoe raised her voice and commanded her own shiki.