"That's it! I quit! I'm gonna go back and train with Professor Robin!" Lead shouts and throws his headband on the ground and stomps hard on it, grinding it into the dirt and grass.
"It hasn't been that bad, has it? I mean, this training isn't what I was expecting, but-"
"You call this training!? She's been working us to the bone, dressing us up as maids, and insulting us at every opportunity for a week!"
It's been a little tough, but it could be worse, right? Yeah, I've had five drinks thrown in my face, yeah I've been forced to wear a maid dress, and yeah I've mostly been doing daily chores for Bachiko during our training as well as carrying her around, but it's way easier than what Hinata put me through. I'm sure we'll get to the real training soon, and for all I know, this could be training too. Maybe Bachiko is just testing our determination or something.
"How are you so okay with this?! It's almost like you're used to it!"
"Well, kinda… not the dress though!"
Lead gives me a skeptical stare.
"This isn't how Rimuru treats you when nobody's around, right?"
"No! No, she's nice! She doesn't force me into dresses either!"
If anything, most of the time Rimuru is the one forced into dresses and stuff, not me.
"Well, good luck, I guess. When you get sick of that brat of a tutor too, feel free to join me."
Lead walks off, leaving me alone with the laundry we were tasked with hand-washing by Bachiko.
I think Bachiko has some kind of plan, so waiting just a little longer is fine!
I continue working away, set on seeing this through.
"Hey." her voice appears behind me without warning
"Master Bachiko! I'm sorry, I'll get these done immediately!"
She told me to be done by the time she got back, but I haven't finished yet since Lead left!
"To be honest, I'm surprised. No one's lasted this long dealing with my orders before. That willpower you have when it comes to helping others out… your drive…"
It almost feels like she's complimenting me. Over the few days of training with her, I hadn't heard Bachiko sound so genuine before.
"...you're the biggest moron I've ever met!"
After dropping that bomb on me, Bachiko turns on her heel and walks away without saying anything further.
… 'Moron'? I'm a …moron?
Bachiko's words hung in my mind for the rest of the day, playing over and over. I couldn't shove them out no matter how hard I tried.
I'm a moron for being helpful? I'm a moron for trying my hardest with Bachiko's training? Does my drive and willpower make me a moron?
I just couldn't let it go.
Am I missing something? Was I supposed to do something different? Is that why she called me a moron?
"Iruma, are you doing alright?" Grandpa asks me at the dinner table.
It's then that I notice that I stopped eating mid-bite and was just staring off into space, completely lost in my thoughts.
"Yeah, I'm just tired from school and my training."
It's not exactly what's happening, but close enough to reality to not be a lie. I am tired from school and all the extra work I've been doing for Bachiko.
At least Rimuru isn't here as she would immediately have called me out on it… actually, where is Rimuru?
"Hey, Grandpa, where has Rimuru been anyway?"
"Training, I presume. It's too bad she is unable to return right now, but with how hard of a worker Rimuru is, I'm certain she is just fine."
"As…expected of..my rival…"
"Tired already? Pathetic!"
Why are my clones acting kinda like Milim and Veldora?
It's exasperating to watch, but at the same time kinda funny to me. Still, it's disturbing to see parts of myself emulate those two blockheaded battle maniacs… maybe I've picked up one or two too many habits from them over the years…
I can't tell if Balam is impressed or confused by the behavior of those two mini-mes. He may just be starting to think my calm attitude was learned, and that I'm naturally more hotheaded. Even though, if anything, it's the opposite.
Azz stumbles to his feet to face the Rimuru copy he's been paired with, his white clothes soiled with dirt and singed spots from the fight that has already been going on most of the day.
His magic flares and he's wreathed in flames, an irritated snarl on his usually composed face.
The flames collect around his hands as he prepares another attack, but almost as if to mock the boy's efforts, my clone does something similar, but with black flames instead.
"Your flames don't scare me!"
"I am well aware of that." Azz confidently answers, not deterred at all by the taunt.
"Why don't you try something different then? Something that might actually work? I'm getting bored here. You keep using the same attacks on me over and over, but the only thing you're getting out of it is exhaustion!"
Meanwhile, Sabnock is also on his feet again, having conjured up a massive war hammer. He swings it hard at his assigned clone, but the small version of me swiftly sidesteps out of the way with no problem.
He's getting sloppy since he's tired… I've seen him fight a lot better than that before.
It probably isn't helping that his opponent keeps mocking him too, but isn't it a given that you can't let your foe's words get to your head? Letting your enemy get in your head like that mid-battle is a rookie mistake.
Not only that, but they keep enticingly waving their arm at Sabnock, specifically the one with the cloth he's supposed to snatch, teasing him like an older child dangling a cookie out of reach of a toddler.
"Stop dodging!" Sabnock screams, causing the clone to just laugh in his face.
He's always hated when others dodge his attacks but seemed to get over that hang-up a while ago. I guess the exhaustion and strain of fighting for hours on end, being teased and prodded the entire time, has worn on his mind enough to bring that back.
Sabnock keeps swinging, and my clone keeps hopping around, dodging his blows and he ends up smashing various rocks and stalagmites in the cave the spar is happening in. Sabnock is getting sloppy, just like Azz is, and any teamwork they might've been using earlier has long since broken down over the hours.
Yeah, the two teens actually worked together for a while, deciding to face the two opponents as a team, but they've both fallen into their old bad habits of being stubborn and adversarial with each other. At least they're not actively hurting each other's fights like they were at Walter Park.
"You are just as challenging of an opponent as always, Rimuru." Azz flashes a determined grin as he faces my clone again.
He shoots what's essentially a flamethrower made of magic at them, but the clone just manipulates the fire right back at him, forcing Azz to step to the side.
"Using your opponent's attacks to fight is energy-efficient." the mini-Rimuru says matter-of-factly.
"Yes, Master Iruma has done similar."
Suddenly, the sound of shattering metal rings out in the cave, echoing a little in the wide open space. Sabnock's hammer has smashed its last smash, hitting the ground and fragmenting into countless useless shards.
Or maybe not so useless, since my mini clone has whipped up a gust that's carrying those same shards into the air, sending them flying in Sabnock's direction. He barely manages to dodge the shrapnel-laden attack, getting away with a few shards embedded in his arm.
Sabnock yanks out the improvised daggers and grins defiantly while creating a new weapon to fight with, a pair of golden gauntlets. It seems like he wants to fight with his fists this time, which I guess is a good idea since his objective is to snatch the band of fabric around his foe's arm. Getting close to them is a necessity.
Sabnock makes a huge but obvious swing, he's telegraphing his attacks and aims so often that he may as well be yelling it out. I know he is better than this so it's disappointing as the mini-Rimuru he is facing easily hops backward to dodge the obvious attacks, taunting Sabnock for being too easy… that is until they crash into the other mini-me currently fighting with Azz. Suddenly, I realize he was going for this all along, the confusion between the two mini-Rimurus creates an opening he goes for, but then…
"Wuh!?" The mini-me facing Azz lets out a startled yelp.
Without warning, the mini-me he was facing grabbed my other mini-me facing Azz and swings them around, tossing them like a tiny cannonball right at Sabnock, who is caught off guard and takes the full force of them impacting him, knocking him to the ground while the mini-mes both quickly recover.
Sabnock yells out in agitation and surprise, "What kind of attack was that!?"
The mini-me responded with a smug smirk and equally smug comment; "A surprise attack! You had a good plan but let your guard down too soon, that won't work on me and it won't work on other tough opponents either."
"I can't tell if you are attempting to teach them or simply showing off," Balam mutters to me while holding his chin thoughtfully, watching the battle just like I am. I can't tell if he's more interested or exasperated by what he's seeing.
I don't like that he's judging me based on that nonsense those clones are committing… they're on autopilot so it's not my fault they're acting like idiots!
"A mix of both," I reply, paired with a shrug.
"As much as this is entertaining to watch, your direct control over your copies is fairly loose right now, am I correct?"
"Uh… yeah, that's true."
"Well, this training is meant to exercise your control, so I want you to make more of an effort to actively control those two bodies."
I guess he really is trying to teach me here.
It shouldn't be too big of a deal to actually control multiple bodies at once, I just don't normally like doing it since it can get confusing if I'm not careful.
"Why don't I toss those other two into the mix first?" I suggest, pointing at the two clones I've tasked with my homework sitting off to the side. Balam nods, finding that acceptable, I guess.
Both have been diligently working away, behaving, and staying pretty quiet.
"Hey, give me those papers back and I'll let you fight, okay?"
One shoots the other a hesitant glance, then both look at the papers, at each other again and back at me.
"Uh… yeah, of course."
The one that answered gathered up the scattered homework and slowly shuffled over to me, their eyes solely fixed on the floor.
That's when I spotted the reason for my clones' awfully guilty-looking expressions.
What was supposed to be my homework now looked like a page ripped right out of Shion's notebook, aka, it's covered in doodles of slimes. Slimes with hats, slimes with mustaches, slime incognitos, slimes bouncing around, splitting, eating, etc.
"So that's why you two were so quiet! You weren't working, instead, you were scribbling away and fooling around!"
"This was boring though!" one of my mini-mes whines.
I just rolled my eyes at this, not knowing why I expected anything different from these clones.
Sighing, I point at the two fights going on nearby, "Get in there and make yourself useful."
Both of the clones that have been sitting on the sidelines enthusiastically nod and throw themselves into battle.
An expression of horror crawls onto Azz and Sabnock's face as they are still struggling as is but it's already being turned up to the next level of difficulty.
Four voices ring out in unison from my bodies now all being controlled by me. "Now…let's get started."
Tossing and turning in bed, I just can't seem to sleep. I'm still thinking about what Bachiko said to me earlier, and I can't decide how I feel about it.
This persistent tension I'm feeling from it is keeping me awake.
I'm insanely frustrated! I've been trying my hardest and Bachiko insulted me for it!
I need to distract myself.
I pull out my phone and call Azz, even though it's pretty late right now.
"Master Iruma! How glorious it is to have you call me!" Azz's enthusiastic voice carries over the phone.
I hear a crackle and a boom in the background.
"Uh…Azz? What was that? Are you okay?"
"I'm… fine! Yes, I am doing well, Master! I'm just training very ha-"
Azz's voice is cut off by another loud noise, this one much closer.
"Hey, who is this?" a different voice says over the phone.
"Um… wait, is that you, Rimuru?"
She sounds a bit higher-pitched than usual, but this is definitely Rimuru talking to me right now.
"Oh, Iruma. Of course it's Iruma… who else would he answer a call from mid-battle…" Rimuru mutters, sounding slightly annoyed. I hear some voices shouting and sounds of movement happening near Rimuru, but I can't really tell what's going on with sound alone.
"Wait, are you two fighting right now?"
"Yeah. Which means I can't have you distracting Azz right now. Oh, wait a sec, I gotta do something."
I hear a whoosh, a thud, and a loud grunt that sounded like Azz's voice.
"Rimuru, please give that back! As much as I respect you, I was speaking with my Master! He needs me for something!" Azz cries in the background.
"Yeah, yeah, why don'tcha try to take it back from me then? You shouldn't have been using it in the first place while fighting!" Rimuru taunts him in response. "Anyway. Azz can't talk right now-"
"I always have the time to speak with Master Iruma!" Azz interjects again.
"It's late. Get some rest. Seeya later."
"They seem to be having…fun…" I mutter, a bit stunned by the sudden end to our conversation. I hope Azz isn't too upset that we didn't get to talk, really.
Clara seems like she's working hard too, based on this picture she sent me earlier, posing with Elizabetta.
Everyone else is working hard too… I can't just let Bachiko call me a moron like that!
I need to show her I'm not just some mindless moron that follows her every order.
Bachiko has been treating me as an errand boy, so that's obviously what she wants from me. So, to show her I'm not a moron, I'll be the best errand boy that I can be! No, the perfect errand boy!
"Where is your sister!?" Professor Kalego loudly asks me the next day in class.
Rimuru didn't come home last night and I also haven't seen her all day at school. Even Sabnock and Azz, who were with her late last night training, don't know where she went. Apparently, Rimuru left soon after our phone call and that was the last time anyone here saw her.
"I'm sorry Professor, but I have no clue. Rimuru didn't come home last night either." I answer honestly.
"Is the Chairdemon aware of this?"
"Yeah, but I'm not sure he knows that she didn't show up for school."
I'm not worried and I don't think Grandpa will be either. We both know who Rimuru is.
Professor Kalego grumbles to himself a little over this but doesn't ask me more questions.
Soon, the school day ends and I'm just brimming with drive to prove myself to Bachiko!
By the time I get home, I'm exhausted. Bachiko just laughed at me when I told her I would be the perfect errand boy for her, but that didn't stop me. I'm sure eventually she'll start taking my determination seriously.
Walking a bit slower than usual, I finally swing the doors to Grandpa's mansion open, ready to crash for the evening. Maybe I can ask Opera to make me a snack too…
I shuffle my way to the living room so I can flop onto the couch for a bit.
"Oh, look who's finally home." Rimuru's flat voice greets me from inside.
"Rimuru?" I look up the stairs and lock eyes with her. "Where have you been all day? Everyone asked about you!"
"Huh? That isn't important. How has your training been going?" She tilts her head and leans on the banister before smoothly sliding down.
"Oh? It's been going well now! I'm very motivated! I won't lose." I say the last part under my breath, Bachiko had inspired a bit of frustration in my heart.
"Really? Well, that's the spirit!" She smiles and takes my hand to lead me to the kitchen. "Good on you, but you should really eat. You look pale."
Rimuru continues dragging me to the kitchen and I start smelling something very good. Once we get there, I see that there's a feast of snacks prepared and laid out on the counter.
"Did you make all this?" I ask, noticing that it isn't Netherworld food.
"Me? No, Ciel did."
"It smells so good!"
We both start digging into the sweets feast Ciel prepared.
"How do you get someone to take you seriously?"
Everyone back in Tempest looks up to Rimuru so I'm sure she can give me some advice on this.
Rimuru brings a finger to her chin and stares contemplatively for a few seconds.
"Just treat people well and they will come to like you over time, and with liking you, they will trust you. Taking someone seriously is mostly a matter of trust too, so that is probably the best way. That is usually what works for you, right?"
I nod, knowing she's right about that. Just being myself and helping others has gained me a lot of friends during my time in the Netherworld. But, the thing is, I'm not certain that will work with Bachiko; she just laughs at me when I try that.
Rimuru pauses for a moment and looks down. "Of course, the right way to do something doesn't always work. People will also always value strength, in whatever form. They will respect you for it. I just didn't think that was the best thing to say here."
"What's this about anyway? Is someone not taking you seriously? Your tutor, perhaps? I don't think Professor Robin is the type to look down on students, but…"
"No, it's not Professor Robin! He hasn't done anything wrong."
"Well, is someone bullying you or something then? This is a pretty serious and sudden thing to bring up over a plate of cookies."
"I'm fine, I was just wondering, after seeing how much people respected you in Tempest."
"Oh, okay. If you say so." Rimuru says, cutting off the discussion by taking a large bite of her cookie.
Whew, that was close! If I told Rimuru what's actually been going on I bet she'd step in and say something to Bachiko! That would just mess stuff up.
**Two Weeks into Training**
"Let's start…" Lead said, holding up a finger. His face is lit only by the circle of candles in the middle of this circle of students sitting on the floor in the dark.
All of us misfits gathered together, just like we planned. It's almost like we're about to tell ghost stories with this kind of atmosphere.
We're all worn out from how hard we've been pushing ourselves and haven't really talked much about our training with each other until now.
Lead points his finger at Goemon and Agares, who are soaking wet for some reason.
"It's truly horrifying just thinking back on it. Master Vepar said that she wants to strengthen our bloodline abilities… so she suspended us underwater so we couldn't use them! Over and over she'd half-drown us, and let us go, then drown us again, and let us go again-"
"THAT'S JUST TORTURE!" Lead screams.
"And that's why Agares has been sleeping nonstop when not training!" Goemon sobs while holding his friend who's visibly drooling.
But doesn't he always sleep anyway?
Either way, being drowned over and over is horrible! I feel bad for these two.
"I'm sorta in the same boat." Lead ominously admits. "Professor Robin asked me to bring him my favorite things, so I brought him all of my games… all of my games!"
Lead visibly shudders.
"'Let's beat them all in six days!' he said. Do you have any idea how many games I have!?"
"Hundreds, if not thousands, right? I remember you bragging about your 'collection' a while back."
"Yeah! Professor Robin made me sit there playing nonstop, calling it an 'exercise of my concentration'. He didn't even let me take a break! I had to go to my classes too, without sleep and after playing games all night long… I feel like my brain's buggin' out!"
"But that's your training, isn't it? Of course it will be a challenge." Azz comments.
"But there needs to be limits! I can't be playin' games until the sun rises every night!"
"We haven't even gone home yet," Sabnock says and Azz nods. "We aren't allowed to until we get a hit on Professor Balam."
"Yes, but that rule only came after three days of torture!" Azz adds, glancing in Rimuru's direction.
"You mean three days of sparring with yours truly? C'mon, I didn't even go that hard on you guys!"
"Rimuru, you taunted us nonstop and didn't even seem to get tired despite splitting yourself into five bodies!"
"I only fought with four of those, to correct you. And yes, I was tired afterward, so don't say I wasn't."
"Anyway, after Rimuru left, we have been trying to land a blow on Professor Balam, but he is incredibly strong! He hasn't been actively attacking us like Rimuru was, but anytime we try to hit him he hits us instead!" Azz complains.
"Yes, at least we were able to hit Rimuru at times."
"I let you hit me. If I just evaded everything, I bet at least one of you would've given up during those three days!" Rimuru corrected them even more.
Azz turns to me with pleading eyes, "That is not true! Master, I promise that is not the truth! I would never give up!"
"Yes, the same goes for me! I would never acquiesce during a battle with one of my rivals!" Sabnock shouts.
I think I should change the subject.
"Hey, where are Jazz and Allocer? I don't see them here."
"I sent them a message asking how their training is going. At first, it sounded like they were having fun… but then their messages got shorter and shorter… and it ended with what sounded like Jazz cryin' for help." Lead explains, looking freaked out.
Most of us gasp.
"But he's probably just messing with us, right? This is Jazz we're talking about!" Lead laughed it off to dissolve the tension he created.
Rimuru reaches forward and grabs the closest candle to her.
"I dunno~, he might've gotten kidnapped or something," Rimuru says ominously, holding the flame up to her face, causing her bangs to cast a scary shadow over her golden eyes.
"I don't think so. We shouldn't say such things." Elizabetta lightly scolded.
Rimuru lightly laughs and puts the candle back in its place.
"Moving on," Lead says suddenly to break the reformed tension in the air.
"Yeah, Clara, you haven't said what you've been doing."
She responds by standing up and doing a pose alongside Elizabetta.
"Um… what are those?"
"We're practicing making you keep your eyes on us!"
"...I don't think that's having the effect you're intending," Rimuru said dryly while glancing at our classmates' weirded-out expressions.
Keroli is even shuddering and muttering to herself off to the side, hugging her knees to her chest.
"Is Keroli okay?" I ask, getting concerned for her.
"Allow me to explain in her stead," Camui interjected. "As summoners, we were told it'd be best to be in the same environment as the beasts we communicate with."
"Spending the whole day in a cage with a wild beast… it was just so filthy!" Keroli loudly complains, hugging her knees even tighter to her chest.
"Truly! I want to get closer to Keroli, not some smelly beast! So why was I put in a different cage?!" Camui screeches.
"You never change, do you?" Azz flatly asks, not amused.
"Tch, not even a painful death could change that chicken's mind," Rimuru scoffs with a surprising amount of malice. I wonder what Camui did to make her so mad?
"Stop bein' so scary, Rimuru, and tell us how your training is going!" Lead said to halt Rimuru's glaring at Camui.
"Oh, that? Well, you already know I spent my first three days helping those two," Rimuru answers.
"Yeah, but what about the rest? We've been training for two weeks." he presses further.
"That's a secret."
"I'm not supposed to talk about my training; or my tutor."
Rimuru sounds serious so nobody pushes further after that.
"In that case, you're the only one left, Master Iruma! What kind of training have you been doing?!" Azz asks with bated breath and barely-restrained enthusiasm.
Clara springs forward and starts jittering with even more excitement.
"Well, I… first, I have to boil water. And then, I prepare my master's breakfast and tea. Then, sometimes, I go clothes shopping with her. Then we have a discussion over sweets. I dry her futons, do her laundry, draw her bath, prepare her dinner, and then go home. That's basically how my training's been going every day!"
"That's not training," all my classmates say in unison.
"What?! B-but master is slowly starting to acknowledge me…"
"You're basically her servant." Keroli stops me.
"Iruma-chi is being bullied…" Clara growls.
"Are you all right?! Should I report this to Professor Kalego?!" Azz offers, sounding angry.
Guys, it's not that big of a deal… please don't…
Rimuru silently stands up and starts walking toward the door.
"Iruma, tell me again who this 'tutor' of yours is?"
"What is her name? Obviously, you didn't stay with Professor Robin, so who is this 'tutor' that has been ordering you around like that?"
Rimuru stops and turns to look at me. She looks calm, but I can tell she's upset.
"Rimuru, please don't do anything!"
"Is this why you were asking me about respect and people taking you seriously?"
"Please… I can handle this myself… I want to make her acknowledge me!"
Rimuru sighs loudly, "Fine, I won't confront her, but if you're not getting properly trained, then I'll have to pick up the slack for your tutor."
"Wait, how do you have time for something like that!? All of us are at our limits!" Lead shouted. He really does look tired with dark circles under his eyes and everything.
"I'll make time for him."
"But don't you have your own training to do?" I ask, wondering how that's even possible.
"If I need to, I can just make a copy of myself. Easy peasy."
"Thank you, Rimuru!"
Meanwhile, sometime near midnight, in the home of a Babyls student, a boy sits watching TV, munching on the Netherworld equivalent of popcorn. He's watching a rerun of a battle tournament that happened over the recent break, and his eyes are glued to the screen.
This one girl is overwhelming her opponents with her strange-looking spear while wearing a flowing, blue cape bearing an unfamiliar symbol. She has blonde hair and is around the age of this first-year student, but she's been defeating demons a good deal older and larger than her, climbing to the finals of the tournament with only a little bit of struggle.
The boy is entranced, getting the strange sense that he recognizes the girl from school, but it's hard to tell with the way the video is framed and with how much the girl is moving around. She's also wearing a mask across her eyes, hiding about half of her face.
It doesn't help either that all the participants are using monikers rather than their true names. The announcer was calling the girl "The Mythical Carnagedestructor", which the boy thinks sounds pretty badass.
It wasn't until the finalists' faces were shown in close-up right before the final match that he finally put his finger on who the girl is.
"Wait… is that Eiko!?" he shouts at the screen, just to immediately get shushed by his mother for being so loud that late at night.