With the unconscious Inosuke thrown back to the sidelines, Nik's opponent turned out to be a lovely girl with a cute face, black hair worn in twintails with two butterfly clips keeping her hair in check and a frowned gaze that revealed a set of deep blue eyes.
"What did you mean back then?"
The girl remained as direct as her frown painted her to be and the girl's words caused Nik to arch his eyebrows upwards with a thinly veiled amus.e.m.e.nt, "That I am stronger?" He asked to confirm the topic that the lady was hinting at. But her head shook in denial.
She stated plainly and her words took everyone except the butterfly girl with surprise. Her expression matched with her words made Nik realise that there was someone else beside Zenitsu who got riled up with his words of 'wisdom'. But not willing to lead the lady into the great misunderstanding his words painted the demon-slaying job to be, Nik smiled and nodded.
"I meant free lodgings, the kindness of the elders and the respect that the citizens, that already know of the demons, gives us. Without such rewards, I think, only the vengeful can continue slaying the demon and those with the determination... and a handful of maniacs."
Nik smiled and continued, "Of course, you could have started with your introduction."
Understanding that terrible approach the situation, the girl softly blushed in embarrassment before nodding, "My name is Aoi Kanzaki. And for my previous misbehaviour... I have no excuses, so please, do not go easy on me during the spars."
She bowed slightly before extending her left foot forward as tension visibly rose around her body. With a stern glare, Aoi let out a short shout before kicking forward. The kick itself lacked any power. It was an attack without intent. Nik knew it the moment he observed the attack. Such attacks were Shigure's bread and butter. Although Shigure lacked the necessary strength to best Saeko, the cute shinobi used her speed and extremely complicated feints to tack initiative of the battle and make the opponent dance on the tune she would set. Of course, Shigure happened to be an expert that could fully express her intent through her feints and each of her attacks was backed by the full momentum and strength she could mobilise.
Such complicated and deliberate gracefulness was what Aoi lacked. To Nik's eyes, her attack was simply meant to be dodged. At least, when such an attack is ready to strike an equally strong opponent. Alas, Aoi wished for Nik to not go easy on her, something he had already planned from the very beginning. In this record, the life of a person could change during a single moment. If Nik could be harsh on Aoi today, leading her to a better future, the incubus would do so with a heavy heart filled with reluctance.
The agile kick landed on Nik's left trap squarely, leading to waves of pain passing through Aoi's foot that was soon followed by a soft chop at the base of her own neck. A miscalculation, Aoi reckoned. A feint is meant to be avoided, she understood this fact deeply. With no motivation to injure the opponent, Aoi failed to grasp a single fact that the gap in their strength did not demand any tactics. It demanded courage. Of course, in such a situation, even courage was a factor that would fall short, but at least, Aoi still learned a few unimportant things.
This time around, Nik caught the small body and gently led Aoi to where the unconscious duo rested. This treatment remained a stark contrast to how the unconscious Zenitsu and Inosuke were 'thrown' back into the sidelines yet his actions remained natural and his smile oblivious to his previous actions.
"I'll go next!"
Nik looked at the next opponent. A well-endowed lady with her waist-length orange-brown hair tied into a thin braid as her large, round eyes remained stern with cautiousness. With each measured step she took, Nik understood a single fact, this opponent's basics were better than his.
"Rei Miyamoto! Please, take care of me!"
Nik couldn't help but smile broadly at her words. Just like Aoi, Rei wore the standard demon-slaying uniform but instead of straight pants that would have traced her curves, Rei sported a black, frilled skirt, just like Mitsuri and the butterfly girl. Finally, her calves remained covered in high boots that slightly dug into her flesh, but instantly, veins popped around Rei's body while a sizzling-like exhalation escaped her lips.
Even her red eyes seemed to be glowing at the moment.
Unlike Aoi, Rei decided to use her breathing technique from the get-go. It wasn't a secret to some of the more informed ones that the pillars are capable of continuously using their breathing technique. But in Nik's case, he used his breathing technique while controlling the strands of gravity. The effects on his body at the moment were minimal, of course.
Rei did not pull her punches. While Zenitsu and Inosuke are also capable of utilising the breathing technique, the state of their bodies left the effect less than desirable, leading to an instant knockout. But Rei was different. Each slash hid a burning passion to incinerate the opponent, Nik knew the fact for crimson Hamon slowly extended out into flames. A physical manifestation of Flame Hamon.
With her braided ponytail swinging wildly, Rei let out a series of kicks starting from a low kick, that was instantly avoided by Nik leading to Rei jumping and shooting another kick towards his chest while spiralling her body laterally, adding even more momentum to her attack.
Blocked by forearms, Rei landed lightly and eyed Nik cautiously. To learn, she must make Nik at least get a little serious. Looking at the silent Nik, Rei still felt a surge of unease and that, too, at a level that could not be compared when she sparred against the eerily smiling Shinobu.
"Breath of Fire First Form" Rei's legs tensed with multiple veins popping out of her calves once again while Nik finally smiled and whispered.
Instantly, Rei and Nik left a trail of blaze in their wake and made a chopping motion from their hands, striking each other's arms simultaneously.
Unknowing Fire. A technique where the breath user is capable of moving at a quick speed and cover short distances before launching a flurry of strikes, each holding a severe intent to decapitate a demon. Rei knew this technique for her senior Kyojuro Rengoku taught it to her after hours of hard work.
Nik also learnt this move after multiple beating session from Saeko. But of course, to Shinobu's eyes, the lack of gracefulness that Rei had cultivated over years of training was something Nik lacked severely. In fact, all of Nik's attacks were extremely 'bookish'. He still lacked a style. This was an understandable fact for no matter how 'talented' his physique happened to be, no amount of talent can replace the effect of years of training and hard work.
But, during the spar, Nik used his enhanced stats to easily identify the path of Rei's attack and break the attack before it could land before letting his left foot snake forward and pulling Rei's foot while extending his arm and pushing her down.
Once again, the soft 'Oomph' marked the end of the spar as Rei looked at Nik with a dazed expression before looking at her own right arm that, theoretical, should have struck Nik straight at the base of his neck. Finally, she exhaled deeply and sprawled down.
"Ahh! I was so close!"
"No, you weren't." Nik snickered as Rei snorted at his words.
"But you are a pillar!"
"Wasn't that the whole point? And also, I don't think I am that much older than you. After all, I'll only be reaching 20 this year."
Rei snapped and instantly sat up with her already round eyes widened in surprise.
Nik shrugged and crouched before gingerly picking up the dazed Rei. Of course, before he even stood up, Rei questioned him with a dark expression.
"What do you think you are doing?"
"I am taking you back where Aoi is resting. You shouldn't move around too much."
Nik smiled and stood up, easily moving even if Rei struggled under his grasp.
"Hey! I can move, damnit!"
"No, no, that won't do."
Rei groaned as Nik finally reached near Aoi and gently placed the disgruntled Rei down before tapping the tip of her nose with his index and facing her stern expression with a charming smile.
"I'll answer that question the moment you manage to defeat me."
Nik smiled and stood up, looking at the remaining three beauties with a hint of expectation in his eyes as he walked back to the center of the training hall and smiling at Shinobu.
"Saya, it is your turn." Shinobu smiled in return while Nik looked at the newcomer with a slight change in his expression. Saya Takagi, Nik knew about her. From Saeko, of course. The sole survivor of the much-respected Takagi Clan. Of course, Yuriko's existence still remains a mystery even to the corps. There was no need to create a suspicion within the corps after Sakonji's name was almost ruined due to the multiple pillars' self-righteous nature.
Gazing at the bespectacled, twin-tailed, pink-haired lady with an equally voluptuous body as Rei, Nik felt his trip to the Flower Mansion a success. But of course, the real treat required patience from Nik's side to truly savour the taste.
"You are not wearing your uniform?" Nik questioned before inquiring softly, "Are you still not a slayer?"
Saya shook her head with a hesitant look.
"I am Saya Takagi..."
Unlike the usual Kimono that would hinder fighting, Saya wore something similar to a baggy pants but still keeping the grace of the feudal era and her torso remained covered by a full-sleeved vest with a thick red belt tightened around her waist, pointing at her curvaceous body.
"Alright, Saya, come at me with everything you have."
Shinobu did not miss the roguish glint when Nik spoke such suggestive words but continued observing the scene in silence as Saya took a basic fighting stance with a little awkwardness hidden in her movements. Saya reminded Nik of his own version when he knew nothing of fights. A phase he would rather not remember for his life simply did not involve pleasing greasy middle-aged wives before encountering the system.
Saya was completely unremarkable. She did not have the wits required for a battle that Aoi showed during her spar neither did she boast heightened physical strength and mystic arts in the way of Hamon. Well, she did wear a pair of glasses, but with such a special condition, only opponents like Nik would hold their punches.
The sparring session with Saya did not involve any high-end moves. It was a pure martial arts spar that involved Nik casually blocking Saya's moves before counterattacking. But instead of punching during the counters, Nik simply tapped the body parts that would have been injured if Nik struck.
And did the spar go longer than expected!
Unlike Aoi and Rei, who already had their own styles and intents planned out and ready to be tested and polished in battles, Nik and Saya had no such exceptional concept in their movements. They were bookish. While Nik's 'bookishness' could only be felt by Shinobu, Saya's condition was as plain as daylight. With one final move, Saya collapsed in sweat and exhaustion as her body quivered due to the pain being transmitted from her sore muscles. With that, Nik concluded that not only Saya remained a bit awkward in combat, but her actual, physical condition also remained far from preferable.
Once again, Nik crouched down and while Rei resisted his touch out of the pure astonishment of the situation, Saya's resistance rose from the fact that her body remained covered in sweat that usually made her body smell undesirable. But, fortunately, the musky scent couldn't even compare to a few things Nik had gone through and he gently picked up the exhausted body before taking her closer to the resting Rei. As Nik placed down the tired, embarrassed, pink-haired lady, he simply heard Rei's soft snort welcoming him as he stood up and then looked at Shinobu.
With a ponderous gaze, Shinobu looked at the 'butterfly girl' standing right next to her and whispered a few words probably asking the lady to not partake in the spar for Shinobu's whispers caused the butterfly girl to look towards Nik silently for a few seconds before turning her heels and leaving the training halls silently.
"Do you think I am too much for her?"
Nik inquired with a smile while Shinobu shook her head and stepped forward with a calm smile.
"At such an important phase of her training, I can't let Kanao get distracted."
"Really? Well, Saeko and Shigure taught me that rest is equally important."
Nik's casual remark evoked a mild reaction from the Insect Pillar as she unceremoniously shot towards Nik without any warning and stopped right in front of him while matching her violet gaze with Nik's shimmering ones.
"Please, take care of me, too." With her smile growing by a few marks, the spar of the pillars ensued in a slow manner probably, a deliberate act by Shinobu to let the others witness the session. Slowly, the speed of the attacks was raised to momentum and speed unable to be followed by untrained senses. Of course, Nik faced the true barrage of attacks that only had a single purpose behind each 'stabs' to sting. Feints, strikes and even kicks with the same intent soon started to override Nik's calm counters before he was forced into passiveness. Had this been a fight, Nik could have used his all, but such excuses fell short to a mere fact that his skills still needed a lot of polishing and refinement.
And honestly, each of Shinobu's strikes allowed Nik to learn a few unimpressive facts that if compiled together, gave rise to impressive teachings. This was in stark comparison to Saeko's brutal beatdown. Both the styles had their own merits and limitations. This fact was deepened when Nik realised that Shinobu simply couldn't start a 'beatdown' for her physical strength barely reached the lowest ranks of a pillar.