I dashed across the field, my body’s silver hair elegantly flowing through the wind, and then, in a parallel to yesterday, proceeded to plant my face upon the floor. Ouch.
I woke up this morning to Agnes telling me that everyone of the Second Batch had a month free to them, with a check-in with a First Hero every weekend. It was recommended they spend it training, but it wasn’t enforced. It seems the Church is trying a hands-off approach with us. This can mean a few things. The Church could want us to take time to specialize in our own skills, but the reality of the situation is that the Church probably could care less about us. It just made me more suspicious on why they summoned us in the first place.
Whatever the case may be, it worked out for me. I already had a set plan for how I needed to train this body, and general training with the rest of the Second Batch would only serve as a way to slow me down. I was currently training my endurance by running back and forth across the training field. My chest hurt, but not only from running. Agnes had acquired the binder I requested, and I immediately had put it on. It was uncomfortable, but it really helped me focus on training. It was easier to run, and my mind wouldn’t be focused on unnecessary things.
As I continued to run, and therefore fall, I thought about the original owner of this body. Once I got to Xenomyr and fixed this situation, would the girl be alright with these changes? Her body would have muscle, trained to fight. I had contemplated cutting the hair to a shorter length, but what if she wanted it to keep growing? The hair could be grabbed by enemies or stuck in something, which was my concern, but I wouldn’t want to tarnish the image this girl was going for, so I left it.
In this grueling process of my running and falling, I had noticed two other people at the edge of the field, looking my way. Ugh. They hadn’t moved from that spot. Were they watching me run and fall like a fool this entire time? I ignored them. After falling yet again, I got up and wobbled over to a bench and sat down, catching my breath. I refreshed myself with water and took a look at the field.
This training field is one of 4 in Castle Grawden. They all have names, but it’s hard to remember them. I’m pretty sure this one was Amaz’s Field. This one is the biggest, with it nearing the length of a football field. It is mainly used for military drills and outdoor activities, like a sports festival. It was luckily empty when I had arrived. I had come here because it was the biggest space to run. I wasn’t about to go the smallest training field and dart around like a dog in a backyard.
Shielding my eyes against the sun, I wondered why I was wearing all black. When I had asked Agnes for training attire, she had presented me with a black t-shirt and black pants. They were form-fitting and stuck to me as I sweat. I feared it accentuated this body’s curves, something I really didn’t want to acknowledge.
After a rest, I decided to start running again, but this time with mana flowing at my feet to improve my running. I wanted to improve on the technique I performed yesterday near the library. Focusing, I started to sprint. Each time, I had kept losing my control of my mana flow and stumbled trying to adjust to the different speeds. Finally running the whole field in one go I found that I could get myself at the other edge of the field in half the time, with half the panting.
At the edge, I tried to turn around, but quickly realized I had no traction, and ended up tumbling into the stone wall. Groaning in pain, from both the impact and the cut on my forearm, I got up. What a nuisance. This body doesn’t have the pain tolerance I had gotten used to. A cut somewhat deep, like this one, I could shrug off, at least until the end of a battle. Now, it was pulsing with pain. Sighing, I washed it off and bandaged it.
My enhanced running proved useful, but it seems I would have to cancel it to turn around. I decided to test the limits of my directional movement with it, dashing around the field once more. Eventually I learned to quickly cancel and reactivate the mana-filled run. I would switch directions, left, right, completely backwards. Finally pushed to my absolute limits, I rested on the bench once more. Glancing around, I noticed the people that were at the edge were no longer there. How peculiar. I hope they weren’t some spies or something. The pain in my chest and my aching legs said that I would need to stop for today. Slowly, I walked away and wondered if the technique I was using had a name.
“Miss Ren, what happened to you?”
“… I see. Well, would you like to wash up?”
“Sure, but could I have something to eat first?”
Agnes assisted me in cleaning myself up and provided me with a meal that consisted of bird meat and various fruits.
“Agnes, may I ask you something?”
“Anytime, Miss Ren.”
“Do you know how to dance?”
She gave me a questioning look, for just a moment, but returned to a neutral face.
“Yes, Miss Ren.”
“Would you mind teaching me?”
“…I will do my best.”
It seems Agnes was deliberately confused with my request, but I was grateful to her. She didn’t ask what the reason was, nor quit out of impatience with my incompetence in such an activity. Agnes was taller than me, which was good because Augustus was the same. We practiced steps and how to move around. I had to correct my posture and how I held my partner. Sometimes, I was the leader, but I mostly acted as the follower.
Agnes gave clear and succinct instructions. She demonstrated by herself, and then with me. It seemed like she tailored her speech to better suit a beginner like me. These actions made it all easy to grasp. We went at different speeds, different directions, and we experimented with different ranges of dance space.
I kept tripping and stepping on Agnes, but she didn’t seem to mind. In fact, she smiled. Her smile was pretty, it suited her face well. I guess she was enjoying this, though I couldn’t tell if it was my fault or just the activity itself that caused her happiness.
After about 3 hours of practice, I could just barely perform a basic waltz. I was satisfied with the result for now. I didn’t need to be perfect just yet, and the reason why I chose to do this was because of my fatigue from my physical exercise. This was slower, and it also allowed me to better balance my body.
Thanking Agnes, I went to grab dinner. There I talked a bit with Usagi and Naoki, and then I promptly returned to my room. I took out a Magic Compendium I had borrowed from the Library this morning and started to read. I was scanning the text for physical enhancement techniques.
Finally, I came across one that looked interesting, called [Lightweight]. It described lowering the effort to move quickly by allowing mana to flow at a certain pace. [Lightweight] would ultimately make physical actions less stressful on the body, but I would be going at the same speed I always would. On the other hand, my previous technique, which I had now named [Light Feet], enhanced my speed, but demanded the normal physical strain of my movement. Both of them had their uses, so I made it a goal to learn and refine them both. I read throughout the night, while simultaneously practicing my mana flow.
This process continued throughout the rest of the week. I would wake up with a book atop me, since I would pass out from exhaustion at night. Sore, I would get out of bed and have Agnes assist me with an outfit. Then I would go and physically train myself, whether it was running and stretching, or practicing my sword skills, or throwing knives. Then, I would drag myself to either dance with Agnes or practice magic. By the time the day for my first checkup rolled around, I already felt noticeably stronger. Nowhere near where I needed to be, but it was a start.
Walking towards the second biggest training area, Lowo’s Field, I think it was called, I started humming a tune to myself. It was one Agnes taught me when I asked her about the names of the days of the week, and it was surprisingly catchy. Time here was scarily similar to back at home. There was 365 days a year, with 12 months, and 7 days a week. The differences included other names for the days and months. Also, leap years were apparently once every 2 years, and in the 6th month, not the 2nd.
I was mostly humming this song to keep myself steady, as the thought of possibly revealing myself to one of my former classmates did not sit well with me. It would make sense to pair me up with someone of my class, but no one besides me had the Rogue class. That left two possibilities. One, I could get randomly assigned to a classmate, or two, I could get assigned to a mage, since that was my subclass. I really hope its random assignment. If I have to confront Hisoka, the top mage from our class, I think I might crumble. Revealing myself to her would be just as bad as doing so to Fujimoto.
When I arrived, the rest of the Second Batch was already there. I may or may not have taken the scenic route. When I had settled towards the back of the group, a gruff voice spoke up. It belonged to an older man with wispy, greying hair. He was clad in a full set of dull armor, which was covered in scratches. He had a prominent mustache which flared at the tips and he had golden eyes. His longsword was pointed into the ground, with his hands folded on top of the hilt. I knew this man. He was the one who directed the training for the First Heroes, Sir Bors. He was so blindly loyal to the Church, but his skill was unmatched with the sword. He was known to only use a body strengthening skill, and his strikes could pierce through almost any armor. I’ve heard that he is evenly matched with Fujimoto, but I’ve never seen them duel.
“New Heroes, LINE UP!”
Ah, so we were officially called the New Heroes. That was a bit too cookie cutter for me. I’m pretty sure the Second Batch is a better name. Perhaps I should consult someone about that. Anyway, we lined up and Bors started to call out our names to the First Heroes, who had arrived with him, along with our class.
“Usagi, class: Moirai!1It depends on some myths and folklore, but it is essentially one that can manipulate destiny, or one that eventually provides it. At least, that is my interpretation. I wonder what this means for Usagi?”
“Naoki, class: Synergist!”
“Kaneki, class: Magical Technician!”
Oh? These were some interesting classes. I’ve never heard of them before. A Synergist could be useful for buffs, and a Magical Technician for developing technology, such as magical guns, but what the heck was a Moirai?
Then Bors landed on me.
“Ren, class: Rogue! subclass: Mage!”
Well then, there goes my hopes of keeping my subclass a secret. I guess that hooded figure spilt the beans. I try my best to remain calm, but I’m inwardly freaking out as I hear mutters surround me and eyes drill into my soul. I’m about to crack when Bors reads another name.
“Daigo, class: Hero!”
I heard mutters three times more intense than when I was called. I had to be grateful for Daigo’s existence in that moment, it seems that he shifted the attention away from me. I caught Fujimoto glaring at Daigo, but Daigo himself seemed oblivious to it all, and was just smiling as many of the First Heroes went his way. Fujimoto eventually followed. I could tell that he wasn’t very happy that a Hero besides him was present.
I could only smile to myself. My intuition was correct. Daigo was a hero, and he definitely had the qualities for it. Setting up a meeting on the first day, beaming and full of energy, and probably the only one genuinely excited to be here. Bors raised his voice again.
“HEROES! Link up and check on your progress. First Heroes, we expect reports of the New Heroes’ progress by tomorrow night! Offer advice! Learn and grow together! You are dismissed to your work!”
Both sets of Heroes scattered around, and not knowing which of my classmates to talk to, I decided to huddle in a corner, and see if anyone came to me. After about 7 minutes, yes, I was counting, I dreaded the encounter of a certain person as they walked my way.
It was Hisoka. Of course, it was Hisoka. The class president’s long brown hair was tied into a ponytail that reached her knees. She had a serious look and a balanced stride as she briskly walked towards me.
“Hey there! I’m Hisoka, an Arch-Mage. Nice to meet you.”
I was reluctant to say my name. Did she not hear it when Bors called me out?
“…Hello. I’m Ren, a Rogue.”
“So she really does have the same name and class…”
She muttered something incomprehensible to herself, and then addressed me.
“R-ren, huh? Well, I think that’s a nice name.”
Ah, I could tell from her hesitation that she remembered my name too. Perhaps it was just wishful thinking that people would have forgotten my first name.
“Say, if I heard Sir Bors correctly, you have a subclass of a mage, right? If you need some help, I could teach you.”
While it may be useful to fall under her teachings, I was already going at my own pace, and again, was scared of revealing myself further, so I had to leave her hanging.
“…I’ll think about it. Thanks for the offer.”
Her face gave off the impression that the answer I gave her was unfavorable. Sorry Hisoka, I shouldn’t even be here. I changed the subject of the conversation to end this interaction faster.
“So, are you going to evaluate me, Miss Hisoka?”
It felt weird calling her that instead of Prez.
“Ah, yes, of course, my apologies… So, Ren, what did you do this week?”
I toned down my progress to make it seem like I was less competent like I actually was. I goofed my dagger throwing and I showed her wobbly sword strikes, even purposefully dropping the sword a couple times. I told her I didn’t bother practicing magic. She looked at me critically the entire time, but I ignored her. My head started to pound from the process.
“S-so, Ren… good job on your progress… Keep going strong, ok? Come to me if you need anything, I’m usually by the courtyard…”
She was trying so hard to give praise. It made me a bit regretful putting on that display, but I had to. If I revealed to anyone my accelerated progress due to my previous knowledge, then my chances of laying low will no longer exist.
Rubbing my head, I exited the field.
“Hey, Ren, ya gotcha self a subclass eh?”
I was minding my business eating lunch when a certain nuisance came by. Daigo, smiled his ever-present smile, not noticing the glare I was giving him.
“…Yes. What do you want?”
“Hey, don’t ya be like that. Are ya still mad about the first time we talked?”
The memory of Daigo causing me quite the embarrassment came to my mind. Truth be told, he really had nothing to do with it, and I was just completely flustered, but I guess I subconsciously spited him for it.
“…No. I’m just thinking.”
“I interrupted ya thinkin’? My bad, my bad. Ya always seem so outta it you know?”
“Yep. Like at the dinner the first day ya were just starin’ to space. And when we met the First Heroes today ya tucked yerself away, where I couldn’t see ya.”
Has this dude really been paying attention to me so much? That’s giving me the wrong vibe.
“…And why have you have been looking at what I do?”
“A-ah, w-well ya see, I’m tryna ta get all the peeps here ta work together as a team. I mean, we all got summoned here as Heroes! Aren’t ya stoked?”
“…I wouldn’t particularly say so.”
“Really? I mean, I dunno about ya, but my life here has been waaaay better than home coulda ever been, ya know?”
Interesting. I don’t know his circumstances, but I just can’t come to agree with that statement.
“…I suppose. …Well, enjoy your day, Daigo.”
I got up and left. My head was starting to hurt again from that conversation.
I was walking down the halls when I was stopped by someone. An all too familiar voice.
“You there, with the silver hair.”
A chill went down my spine. I turned around and saw Fujimoto. Great, what was this? All I’ve been having is conversation after conversation today! Get these people out of my sight! Obliged to do so, I answered him.
“Yes, your name is Ren, correct?”
“You are a Rogue correct?”
Shoot. What was he hinting at here?
“Ren, look at me in the eyes.”
Damn him. Sighing, I resolved myself and looked at him. I know exactly what he’s about to say. I cannot show him the reaction he wants. I cannot.
It took all I could not to do anything. Acting innocent, I answered.
“I’m sorry, Lotus, milord?”
“…Don’t mind it. I’ll be taking my leave.”
I released all the stress I had in that moment, and it resulted in a headache. I could feel it pulsing with every pump of blood. I walked the opposite direction of Fujimoto, not daring to look back.
I needed to relax. My head was killing me. What’s with this headache? I decided to go a place that no one would know or go to. In the farthest reaches of Castle Grawden, past even the Tower Library, there was a ruined path obscured by grass. It led to a forgotten courtyard covered in moss, and there was a crumbling statue of some forgotten goddess. I laid down on the bench covered in plants and I closed my eyes.
Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump.
Everything from the past week pounded into my head. Every thought. Every word. Every conversation. Every action. Every second of time swirled in my brain as some sort of vile soup. Every thump of my headache served as a dam leaking just a bit, pouring the concoction throughout my body. Every thump cracked that dam just a bit more. And then it broke. I felt tears leaking down my face.
My body hurt. My legs from running. My arms from swinging my sword and throwing knives. My chest from this stupid binder and my lack of endurance. My head from all these unnecessary thoughts, all this noise! My mind from overthinking every single interaction this entire week. My heart because I wanted to be home. I wanted to see my family.
I hurt. I hurt because I didn’t feel like me. I needed to play the role of “Ren”, and not me. I needed to become the girl of this body. I needed to be perfect and I needed to make sure no one could ever know who I was. But I was failing. Fujimoto knows, doesn’t he? Does Hisoka know too? Is my chance of ever being me again slipping away? I did what I had to do, is it so wrong to go back to what I know?
I halted my thoughts.
Ren, this is why you can’t do anything. You think too much. You think of things that haven’t happened yet. You think of what others think. You assume. You can pull through. Ren, all you need to do is take action. You hurt, but that is a part of reaching your goal. Ren, if you lay here and do nothing, then you waste over 3 years of work. It will all be over soon. You have 3 weeks left of free time. Get to Xenomyr. Do everything you can to get to him. Put every ounce of your life and will into getting to him. GO.
The dam was patched up. The tears stopped flowing. This wasn’t like me. Tears? I’ve not shed such a thing the entire time here in Gresia. I wonder what caused them to fall now. Was I just the things I was thinking about, or was it more? Was it just this week, or has this been building up for the entire three years? I ponder, O, I ponder.
I fell asleep in that courtyard.
When I woke up, I got to work. Agnes questioned as to where I went last night. I said I was sleeping in the Library. She didn’t believe me but said nothing afterwards. I spent the rest of the month training. I ached and creaked and groaned at every part, but I refused to stop. Every day after day after day I would run, throw, swing, read, dance. If I was going to get to the Pope himself, I needed no faults.
Throughout this I distanced myself from everyone. I ignored Daigo, slowly stopped eating with Usagi and Naoki, was standoffish with Hisoka, and avoided Fujimoto at all costs. The one person I regularly talked to was Agnes. It would hard to separate from her. I did not look forward to that moment. She helped me throughout this entire month. She was a big part on why I had gotten more used to my new body. If there was one person I could thank, it would be her.
I woke up on the last day of the month. Today’s the day. I already had set plan in mind. Tomorrow was when Xenomyr would present his formal speech on the Church’s “retaliation” against the Elves. We would be sent to battle tonight ahead of the speech. This was the absolute last chance I had at getting to him. The plan consisted of stealing back my weapons that I had given away as my past self, escaping through my window, getting to Xenomyr’s quarters, and then making him fix everything.
I looked at this body’s nude appearance one last time in the mirror. I had become used to the look, and it looked different from when I had looked at it on the first day. Lean, toned muscles across the body, a thin scar on the forearm, and the beginning of dark circles under the eyes. I truly had tried to keep this body to its former appearance, but this is what I ended up with. I’m sorry, Miss Owner, you can fix it when you get back.
Dressing myself and exiting the room, I addressed Agnes.
“Agnes, I would like to say thank you for everything you’ve done for me.”
“Of course, Miss Ren. I was glad to serve you.”
She smiled her pretty smile. Though, it looked solemn. Sharing her pain, I smiled back, but then turned away. I couldn’t bear it any longer.
With that goodbye done, all I needed to do was keep watch, perched in a certain tree until the perfect time came. I was eyeing the vault. Every day, the same man would go in there to take a look at a gold artifact that he had found and donated to the Church. The problem with the vault is that it required a pass to get into, something I did not have. My intent was to sneak in when he went in.
I heard his ever-familiar whistling. He took his giddy stroll and started talking to the guards. Preparing myself, I took a deep breath.
It was time.