“A practice battle?” Lakshman asked with a curious expression.
“That’s correct,” Sumara said. “I would prefer to call it sparring battles but practice battle sound better. Now, we will be holding practice battles every week from now on.”
“Hmm…” Ondine said in a pondering voice. “So, it’s to improve my master’s training and skills?”
“Lucky isn’t the only one included in this training,” Sumara said. “You will also receive training.”
“Eh? Me?” Ondine said, sounding surprised. “Why though? I’m not a student.”
“It was Indra’s decision to hold the practice battles involving both you and Lucky,” Sumara said.
“It was Dad’s decision?” Lakshman asked in surprise.
“Yes,” Sumara said and nodded. “In fact, it was supposed to be the two of us supervising your practice battles. However, he had… ah… urgent matters to do and told me to supervise instead.”
She suddenly narrowed her eyes and muttered “That cheap stick! Wanting to have ‘fun’ with his wife instead of helping train his son and co…”
“Um…” Lakshman said uncertainly.
Lakshman was quite surprised to hear Sumara insult his father. It looked like Indra really annoyed her by leaving everything to her. Sumara sighed irritably and turned back to them. Ondine, on the other hand, had a complicated expression on her face.
“I am still confused though,” Ondine said.
“What are you confused about?” Sumara asked and she turned to face her.
“Why am I training with master?” Ondine asked. “I am fairly strong as I am.”
Sumara furrowed and nodded as if she understood something. Lakshman suddenly felt a strange aura floating in the air between them.
“I’m impressed,” she said.
“Oh? Are you impressed by my skills?” Ondine asked, puffing her chest.
“No, my impression wasn’t towards you,” Sumara said.
“I’m actually impressed at how accurately Indra predicted your response.”
“I said I am impressed with Indra accurately predicting your response just now.”
“Like I said—!”
“I know what you said!” Ondine said angrily. “I want to know what this ‘predicted response’ is all about!”
Ondine crossed her arms and looked seriously down at Sumara. Sumara looked up at Ondine with half-open eyes and a cold expression on her face. He did not know if he imagined it or not but he thought he saw sparks flare between them.
“Um… Miss Sumara…? Ondine…?”
He exchanged glances between them. He wore a worried expression on his face. Somehow, their stances gave him a chill that ran down the back of his neck and made his hair stand on end.
Sumara said “Indra said you are stupid to believe your Intermediate North Weapon Style skills are strong enough. He even said he and Lakshman could easily beat you if they took the fight seriously.”
“Oh…?! It’s quite surprising to hear such words coming out of the mouth of a demon!” Ondine said.
Sumara sighed and said “Don’t look at me like that, young water spirit. It was Indra who said those words, not me.”
“And…?! You’re saying you aren’t thinking the same about me?”
For a moment, Sumara didn’t respond. Then, she suddenly smirked and she looked at Ondine.
“Ah! Was it written all over my face?”
“Damn you!” Ondine shouted furiously. “What is up with your attitude?”
“Oh? Losing your temper after something this small?” Sumara asked. “You’re really proving how accurate Indra was about you.”
“Seriously and here I was having a better opinion of you, Sumara. I started to believe you were different from all those Manjuvad tribesmen our elders spoke off.”
“What?” Sumara asked looking puzzled. “What do you mean?”
“Well, Manjuvad people are proud of who they are, have an inferiority complex and take great pleasures in putting down others!” Ondine said.
Sumara had her eyes wide open and started to fidget with her hands. Ondine was breathing slightly quickly and she wiped the sweat off her forehead.
“See!” Ondine said and she pointed her forefinger at Sumara. “I’m right, aren’t I?!”
“Look here you…” Sumara said. “Don’t involve my tribesmen in this matter.”
“Ah, so you dislike it when I talk badly about your demon tribe, but you want me to accept what you think off a pure and holy water spirit like me?!”
“What is wrong with you?” Sumara asked in frustration. “Why do you not realise your weakness?”
“If Indra wanted to speak about my skills, I’m sure he would’ve said so in front of me!” Ondine said.
Sumara didn’t respond, but continued to look at her sternly. Lakshman, on the other hand, had an idea. He remembered a few weeks ago how intense the argument between Indra and Ondine raged. Watching Sumara and Ondine argue, he suddenly realised this was probably the reason Indra avoided coming.
“Um… Ondine…” he said, trying to speak to Ondine.
“Master, please stay out of this!” Ondine said, literally pushing him away.
Then she turned back to face Sumara. They were practically throwing daggers into each other with their eyes. He suddenly imagined a wizard and a knight bearing their weapons at each other threateningly.
“Ok then!” Ondine said. “If you think my skills are terrible, then let us duel!”
“What?” Sumara and Lakshman said in unison.
“Like I said, I challenge you, Sumara Manjuvad, to a duel!” Ondine said. “I’ll show you how skilful I am!”
“Um… Ondine? Is it really necessary to… um… fight each other?” Lakshman asked in a worried voice.
“I’m sorry master, but it’s the only way!” Ondine said. “She has insulted my skills. I must prove myself and show this demon giant, that I am indeed skilful at my level.”
Lakshman opened his mouth and closed it several times in a fluster. Not waiting for his reply, she immediately pulled out her two swords and stood at the ready.
“Well? Demon! Will you accept my challenge?”
Sumara stared at Ondine with her usual expression. Then she sighed and looked seriously at her.
“I would prefer to settle this without violence,” Sumara said, “but if it’s the only option I am left with, so be it. I accept your challenge, Ondine!”
So, Ondine and Sumara agreed to duel. They agreed only to defeat each other, but not to inflict serious wounds on each other. Nodding in agreement, they walked several meters away from each other. The intent was to space themselves away from each other for a fair start.
“Um…” Lakshman said, feeling somewhat left out.
Unable to stop them from arguing, unable to stop them from fighting, feeling completely useless, he decided to sit down and watch how things play out. He dropped to the ground to sit on the ground to watch the two ladies fight.
“Are you ready? Sumara asked.
“You bet!” Ondine replied excitedly.
Sumara wore her usual look on her face, but Lakshman thought it was cool as she stood holding her staff in her right hand. Ondine, however, was radiating with excitement. Lakshman was surprised to see her smiling and he thought she might be smiling without realising it.
“Oh boy…” he muttered. “This could get ugly.”
“Alright… DUEL!!” Sumara shouted.
In the instant after hearing the call, Ondine kicked off the ground and rushed towards Sumara. Not hesitating for a moment, Sumara immediately started casting magic.
“Spirits of the earth, block the enemy with a wall of strength. Earth Wall!”
Ondine was a few meters away from reaching Sumara. Suddenly, the earth in front of her rose a few meters.
“What?!” Ondine shouted in shock.
She was headed straight for the earth wall and there was no stopping. Lakshman’s eyes widened.
“Oh crap…” Lakshman muttered as he anticipated what would happen next.
Ondine smacked her face against the wall. The impact was so hard cracks appeared on the point of impact. Then she slid and fell on the ground.
“Ouch!” Lakshman said as he winced when he saw her crash. “That had got to hurt!”
He jumped to his feet and rushed over to Ondine. Just before he reached her, she slowly rose up and sat upright, holding her face.
“Oww…” she said. “My face, my nose… Wuu…”
“This is pretty stupid of you Ondine,” Lakshman said, kneeling down and checking her.
“Not you as well, master,” Ondine said.
Just then, the earth wall sank back into the ground. Turning around, they saw Sumara approaching them. Sumara wore a worried expression on her face as she reached them.
“Are you okay?” she asked in a concerned voice.
Ondine didn’t respond. Instead, she turned away. Lakshman eyed Ondine and sighed.
“She’s fine if she is still this defiant,” he said.
“I am not!” Ondine said. “I just tripped, that’s all!”
“No you didn’t,” Sumara said. “I clearly saw you smack hard into the earth wall I created.”
“I-I was just testing how strong it was,” Ondine said stubbornly.
Sumara’s eyes widened and she said “I don’t believe you. How stubborn can you be before you realise your own weakness?”
Ondine didn’t reply, but continued to clutch her nose. Then she looked up at Sumara and glared at her. Lakshman watched them and he finally sighed.
“Mind your own business- ouch!” Ondine said and winced.
Lakshman had just karate-chopped her on her head. Clutching her head, she turned to look at him. Her eyes widened she saw the expression on his face. He was wearing a serious expression as he stared at her.
“Ondine, stop it,” he said.
“Eh? But master—!”
“I seriously am annoyed now,” he said. “You were clearly defeated even before the match began.”
“Master, if it weren’t for that wall I would’ve won!” Ondine said.
“What are you saying?” Lakshman said sternly. “In any battle, you have to be prepared for the unexpected. That’s the first lesson I learned when I fought and lost against monsters.”
Ondine lowered her head and looked upset. Sumara, however, looked at Lakshman in surprise.
“Ondine… please, listen to me,” Lakshman said beseechingly.
Ondine gingerly looked up and faced him. Her eyes widened, this time seeing his warm expression.
“You have skills. You are skilled with your two swords. I doubt I can wield them like you do. Then, there’s my dad who is a Saint Water Weapon Style. He has far more experience in combat and skills, right?”
“Y-Yes,” she said hesitantly.
“So then,” and he turned to face Sumara. “Miss Sumara, did my father call her current skills ‘weak’?”
“He didn’t exactly call her skills ‘weak’, but he did say she was lacking,” Sumara replied.
“I see,” Lakshman said with a nod of his head. Then he turned back to Ondine and asked “Do you know why he said that?”
“I… I don’t know,” Ondine said honestly.
“I do,” Lakshman said and her eyes widened.
“W-What would be the reason then for him to say that about my skills?”
“It’s fairly simple actually,” Lakshman said and he smiled slightly. “He, like me and Sumara, noticed your skills in your sword were good, but not that great. If it was a serious fight, you would lose to someone of my skills and you know it.”
“Oh… Well… I suppose that’s true…” Ondine said and she had a sad expression on her face.
“However, dad wants you to become strong like me,” Lakshman said with a grin on his face. “He could see your potential and he wants you to cultivate it.”
“R-Really?” Ondine said, sounding amazed. “I really do have such potential?”
“Of-course!” Lakshman said firmly. “Otherwise, why would he want to waste his time training you along with me in these sparring battles?”
“Oh…” she said thoughtfully. “Now that you mention it, it makes actually sense.”
“Yes,” Lakshman said with a smile. “By the way, Sumara didn’t word it properly when she informed you about dad’s decision in training you in combat.”
“Ah!” Sumara said in surprise at the mention of her. “Oh… yes… I’m sorry. It looks like I have created a great misunderstanding.”
“No, it’s fine,” Lakshman said and he looked up at her. “This misunderstanding caused the two of you to fight which revealed Ondine’s lack of fighting skills.”
Then he heard a depressing sound and, looking around, he saw Ondine wearing a slightly sad expression on her face. He quickly amended his words.
“I mean to say, this fight clearly showed Ondine has a lot to learn.”
“I understand,” Ondine said abruptly.
“What?” Lakshman said.
“I said I understand, master,” Ondine said. “So, you can stop now.”
“Eh?” Lakshman said with a surprised expression. “Okay, sure… I got it.”
Ondine rose to her feet and stood facing Sumara. Sumara was unfazed by the seriousness in Ondine’s face. Lakshman also rose to his feet and stood, ready to stop them from frighting further.
“I am sorry!” Ondine said and she bowed deeply.
Sumara and Lakshman looked at her in surprise. Then, Sumara started making flustered movement with her hands.
“Ah… no… It’s alright, Ondine,” Sumara said hastily. “As long as you understand, it’s fine. So please… raise your head, this is embarrassing.”
Ondine raised her head and smiled at Sumara. Sumara was a little startled, but she smiled in return. Watching this warm scene unfold before him, Lakshman smiled happily. For a few seconds they remained in silence. Then, Ondine rubbed her hands and spoke eagerly.
“So, when do we start the ‘real’ practice battles?”