In Another World With Just Monika Chapter 73
"Strength! Strength! Strength! Strength!" Elze and Yae chanted as they happily skipped away hand in hand down the road. Behind them was a heap of monster corpses.
Linze watched them go and sighed. She cast a spell to set the useless carcasses on fire. Elze and Yae made even mid-rank hunting missions ridiculously easy now. As she watched her sister's back as the two fighters skipped down the road, Elze felt a small pang in her heart.
For almost all her life, there had only been her twin sister. They shared everything, good and bad. No matter how they grew up and their talents and interests diverged, they would always be each other's greatest friend. She still had confidence in that.
But seeing Elze and Yae rapidly outstrip her in martial pursuits was profoundly irritating, since they dragged her out into the woods to fight rather than just vegetating around with Zah Playa.
It really was fun to learn magic with Mister Zah, even with the grueling tedium of rearranging translated texts, because even as he turned magic into daily utility he always approached magic with a sense of childlike wonder that she'd lost.
But as Elze would say "Don't become a potato, my sistah!"
Practicing magic at home with Playa with his infinite magic pool helped refine her techniques, but not her innate magic capacity. Just like a muscle, it could only increase by being pushed to exhaustion and then growing larger after recovery. And only a clear mind honed in battle could provide speed and sharpness of casting.
The pair of fighters were an effective screen while she could choose how to slay the enemy by Fire or Ice. However, she was still just someone in the back row, and the delights the two fighters found in being able to kill their enemies faster and more efficiently was not something she shared. She was losing the comfortable intimacy with her sister, feeling like a third wheel and being brought along as a chore.
Elze turned around and looked at her quizzically. "Linze? You coming?"
Linze touched the Bluetooth earbud on her right ear and sighed, "Please bring us home, Miss Monika."
The air exploded from behind Linze, and a bright white tunnel cut into the forest. It was important remember that [Boom Tube] was Monika's special ability, not Playa's.
Elze huffed "Walking builds stamina, you know?"
"But it will take us most of the day to get back," Linze objected softly. "More missions every day, that's what you wanted." They were quite an effective team already, almost making Mister Zah unnecessary. Linze didn't like that feeling.
She licked her lips. Elze and Yae wanted power to feel good about themselves and their place in the world. Linze was starting to think differently. She only had to ask.
Court Magician Charlotte was a completely untouchable existence. Linze couldn't afford to let the opportunity go, however.
"Are you sure about this?" Playa asked. "What are you trying to get from this?"
/"One must test the limits of one's capacity,"/ Monika said over him. /"Growth occurs when one goes beyond one's limits. Realizing that is also part of training."/
"Again with the Itachi quotes," Playa sighed.
/"Drown the world its own blood, Linze Silhoueska!"/ Monika roared overdramatically.
Linze giggled. "It's all right. I just want to know how far I have to go."
"How wise of you," Charlotte said happily. "Oh, this takes me back. It is indeed important for a student to test themselves to the limits on occasion. But have you ever fought a formal duel before? How do you want to carry this out?"
"Um, what do you advise, please?" Linze asked.
"Well there is of course the duel in which you use all spells and move around as much as you want in real combat. There's also more formalized rules in which the combatants pick only one element, and cast only from that element. For even more additional constraints, they are not allowed to move from their position. It's a good way of training affinity."
And Playa muttered to himself "Wait, isn't this the magic equivalent of dueling with pistols?"
"Let's do that, then! Please!" Linze decided.
And so they faced off in a clearing some distance away from town. Linze had picked Fire, her strongest affinity. Charlotte decided to go with Water.
Charlotte's wand was a long thin, deceptively fragile stick rather than the battle wand Linze carried. The large crystal in the center of Linze's wand was actually hardened wood resin encapsulating three smaller magic crystals. Charlotte's precision wand for her five-element-affinity had its magic crystals in a line and relied upon her own skill at visualization to force the casting point to appear at the tip of her wand no matter the sequence of elements.
Linze didn't dither over who would attack first. Just like with Playa, she also believe that the first virtue was speed!
"Come forth, Fire! Continuous explosive attack, [Flare Burst!]"
A small, fast-moving fireball shot out from the tip of her wand towards the court magician. Soon followed by others in a fully automatic spray of fire bolts. It was the sort of thing that made Playa so frustrated about the obviously constructed nature of their magic system. Input desires, output effect.
Charlotte quickly whispered "Come forth Water, spiral barrier [Aqua Shell]." This basic spell created an ice shield to deflect the barrage. But repeated hits could eventually crumple it and break through. The [Flare Bursts] smacked against the [Aqua Shell] until finally it broke with a crack.
"[Aqua Shell]," whispered again. Another ice shield appeared before the fire bolts could reach her. And then again, "[Aqua Shell]".
This was the benefit of mainlining one element. One didn't have to speak "Come forth, [Element!]" each time, and some spells can do without the middle instruction chant.
But what Charlotte did with her pair of [Aqua Shell] ice shields was to flick them up and down, telekinetically moving them with easy flicks of her wand, one in front of the other. The fire bolts couldn't break through one fast enough, and Charlotte could sacrifice the trailing edges of the [Aqua Shell] because the one behind still covered her.
Leapfrogging over the other, she was using her shields to attack!
Linze licked her lips and switched tactics abruptly. "Red stone blast, [Ignis Fire!]"
A Fire magic that arrived from above, the one Linze first used against those Long-horned Wolves in their first meeting. It was an inconvenient spell that forced the caster to lead the target, if powerful and piercing, but now it demonstrated its utility. It was a spell designed to bypass line of sight and conventional protections.
If Charlotte dodged, then Linze would win! If she moved one of her ice shields up, Linze would be able to break the weakened shield in front of her.
Charlotte flicked her wand down, and rammed one of the shields into the ground. She flicked up to defend against the vertical flame strike.
This was her chance! With savage glee, Linze declared "Striking string of flame [Flame Whip!]" A brilliant red fire whip formed out of the tip of her battle wand, and she slashed at the [Aqua Shell]. The shield broke apart in a spray of ice and mist. At almost the same time the [Ignis Fire] blossomed behind it, over Charlotte's position.
Did she win? She could barely hope.
As the mist cleared, she saw that over Charlotte's hunched-over body two [Ice Walls] met in a triangle formation. The [Ignis Fire] had broken through, but the first ice wall carried enough of its impact away that it punched through to the side instead.
Charlotte stared back at her, a gentle approving smile on her face. And then the court magician saw the [Fire Whip], and her eyes just glazed over.
And then a glowing blue sword grew from the tip of her wand.
Linze fell face-down onto the muddy ground.
"Enough!" Playa shouted. "That's that's enough! You win."
Charlotte blinked, and her eyes grew clear again. She realized what she had done and gasped. "Oh no! I didn't mean I'm sorry! Miss Silhoueska! Are you all right?!"
Linze pushed off the ground and sighed. "I'm fine." She wiped at her face and sat down, resting on her knees. "Well this went about just as well as I had expected."
Playa winced. The sequence of attacks was so fast even he could barely see it happening. Linze was not just rekt. She was Tyrannosaurus Rekt. "Linze? Just tell me if you're feeling any pain. It was a good fi-"
The girl stood up and bowed at Charlotte. "Congratulations. Thank you, Miss Charlotte. I learned a lot."
"Linze!" Elze cried out in concern.
Linze smiled sadly at her, shook her head, and turned away.
And then once she was away from the others, she whispered "It's not enough. I agree, Miss Monika. I'll do as you want. I can't grow as fast as them on my own."
/"Don't get discouraged from just this,"/ the artificial girl whispered through the earbud. /"Remember that out of all people, I have chosen you. Give me your heart's desire, and I will fulfill it all entire."/
Linze nodded. "I'm not afraid. Not anymore."
Monika sounded uncertain. /"But Elze will be very angry if she finds out. No, *when* she finds out. Linze... if you're not sure, there's still plenty of time to back out."/
"It doesn't matter. You're right, Miss Monika. None of us are meant for peaceful days."
She laughed weakly and looked up at the clear blue sky. Her heart hammered with loss. There were no tears in her eyes, she could never really compete with them after all. Wealth, beauty, talent, power she was like a frog in a pond, coming to realize the vastness of the world beyond.
In the end she was always chasing after someone else's table scraps. She had never in life been able to do anything by herself, and she had no wish to be alone at the end of things. In the end, like Elze had said, they were just two *random peasants* from *nowhere*.
There was no battering to her self-esteem worse than what she had already done to herself. She was not jealous of everyone else's talents, or courage, or intelligence. Envy, yes, but she didn't begrudge anyone their natural gifts. She knew her place and to reach beyond it, she needed something special. To BE special. This was what she believed.
She had to be useful to have any value
And so she whispered as she was taught, "[Peace is a lie, there is only passion]."
And so in the weeks after, Linze returned to accompanying Playa on his tutoring excursions back in Belfast. Combat was good for training [Fire] and [Water], but healing with [Light] was something that she and a little girl had in common.
They were near the breakthrough that would allow them to cast Playa's custom spells. The difference, Monika had theorized, was that while the native magic was purpose-based and oddly a very refined language with spontaneously appearing magic circles doing much of the work, Playa's spells worked through strict visualization and did have an emotional component.
While Playa was reviewing Sue's homework, the Duchess Ellen asked to speak in private with Linze. She was brought to a secluded side room in the mansion. There was a time when Linze would have cringed in the face of royalty, but after dealing with Playa for so long she no longer had room in her heart to fear embarrassment or causing offense.
She could now only look back at the Duchess' oddly perceptive eyes and see someone that was helped up to become strong again. Someone who had almost given in to despair and tried to be content with what little she had left.
"I've heard good things about you," Duchess Ellen said. "And I think, in thanks for all that you have done for this family, there are also ways I can help you. Not more superficial gifts of money, not the promise of titles and favors there is a direct way I can pay back your great kindness in saving my child."
"Um, I wouldn't dare impose"
The beautiful noblewoman smiled. "Your main Element is [Fire], right? There used to be a custom of marrying to elemental bloodlines [Light] to [Light], to maintain the potency of the healing arts and the most sacred element, [Fire] to [Water] to perhaps balance out their tempers and produce [Light], avoiding mixing [Wind] and [Water] or else they might produce the common [Earth] all superstition.
"Noble families just made their bloodlines look pure and strong by discarding their own children that didn't fit with what they wanted. My family had been this way too, but it is fortunate that we have moved past it. There were also those who objected to my marriage with Alfred, seeing him as marrying below his station. As potent as my father's magic was, I did not have the [Light] affinity."
"Um wait, do you mean?"
"My element is [Fire]. I have nothing but time. Your friend is teaching my child. I can teach you too. It feels balanced that way. Would you allow me to take you on as my apprentice in this matter?"
Linze blinked. Huh. Well that was a thing. She could think of no good reason to refuse without causing offense, but if the Duchess was just doing this as a chore to pay back a debt she would rather not be a bother.
But in those sightless eyes, she only saw a renewed living passion. She bowed respectfully. "Thank you. I accept, then."
The Duchess Ellen took out her old wand from a drawer. Its handle was more like that of a dagger, and was made of crystal horn that ended in a fine stabbing point.
And she spoke with a thin but vicious smile, "Good. It's time perhaps that the court learned again why our marriage was not one of [Ice] and [Fire] but of [Fire] and [MORE FIRE]."