For the next several weeks, Richard was exhausted all the time. He wanted to sleep through his classes, but he didn’t… quite. There was always at least some of him paying attention. Whether his physical body was paying attention was another matter. After classes, he trained until he was exhausted, and then more. Then he did homework, collapsed into bed, and woke up tired. Something about the training was now leaving his muscles tired almost all the time, which was normal, in theory. For a human.
During this time, Richard only sparred with Jot and Hiroshi. Hiroshi was the one closest to Richard’s level, so he often sparred with Richard. Not that Richard was anywhere near that level, but there is always someone who is closest to a given skill level, no matter how far that distance is. Hiroshi was very different from Jot, though, since the Xevaronian martials arts relied heavily on strength, while Hiroshi seemed to rely on speed. Richard was somewhat surprised at how good he was. Maybe he really was a ninja after all. Well, not that Richard was the best judge of fighting skill.
During this time, Richard noticed something interesting. Although Xevaronians didn’t have an aura that he could see, he could feel it. Specifically, only when he was touching them. Except when Jot was adjusting Richard’s stances, such periods of contact were very brief, and usually ended up with Richard flying across the room. However, he gradually began to take note of it. Just like the auras around people, they felt different based on the individual. Richard took note of this phenomenon, but was too busy learning other things to dwell on it for long.
Richard spent most of his time training learning new things. First, he learned how to fall properly. Since it was an inevitable consequence of what he would be doing, it was important to learn how to minimize the amount of damage taken from falling. Learning to orient himself in the air while falling was also important, so that he could get back on his feet and be aware of his surroundings. Then, he learned some basic strikes, grabs, and throws, as well as when and when not to use them. Jot made sure to be clear on which were for use in taking down an opponent relatively unharmed, and which were more dangerous. Relatively unharmed turned out to include anything up to dislocated limbs, but nothing that would kill anyone. Still, Xevaronian martial arts were used for real combat as well, so the most dangerous moves were generally not performed in a spar. Not that a well placed strike couldn’t be plenty dangerous on its own.
Although it was hard work, Richard felt himself steadily making progress and growing stronger. However, he was well aware that he was not much improved except for his physical fitness. Even that he felt reaching a plateau. Although he was a bit disappointed in this, he was still a bit more confident with his physical abilities than he had been. Would he be able to fight another Ulph like the one who broke his ribs? No, probably not. Maybe, though, he’d be able to get less hurt. Then, he’d run away. He was at least confident that he could get to that point now. On the other hand, if he wasn’t ready then the same thing might happen.
One day, Richard was sitting against the wall of the Xevaronian gym, exhausted. That day, and every day that week, he had done the exact same amount of exercises. He wasn’t improving any more. As he sat watching the Xevaronians spar, he thought about the differences in their strength. The Xevaronians weren’t that much bigger than him, at least proportionately. However, even though they were taller than him, they weren’t much bigger in other ways. Yet they were obviously a lot stronger. Richard thought about why. Xevaronians weren’t hugely muscular, visibly. Instead, there was something else. He thought about what Jot had said. He certainly didn’t look 300 kg. It was, however, obviously true. Richard had trouble moving any of the Xevaronians even a little bit, and they didn’t even have to resist his strength. So, since they weren’t much bigger, but were stronger and heavier, they were more dense.
Richard thought about his muscles, and then looked at them with his alternate senses. He’d discovered how closely he could see and control things when he had all of his ribs broken. Generally, he avoided doing so. It still felt weird, at least to half of him. Richard looked at his muscles. He could tell they had room to grow bigger, but he didn’t think they would be as flexible. In terms of density, they seemed to be at their best, as far as Richard could tell. Not that he was an expert on such things, but it was what he felt.
Richard finally felt rested, so he got back up to participate in sparring with Hiroshi and Jot. He could still definitely learn more technique, but without the proper Xevaronian musculature to execute it, it seemed pointless. Richard knew that wasn’t entirely true, but it was disheartening.
At lunch the next day, Ricard sat next to Jot in silence. He wasn’t even looking at him. After a few minutes of awkward silence, Jot spoke. “Have you ever left campus?”
Richard started, as if he had been asleep. “Huh? What? I was… I have, I think.”
“Didn’t we get ice cream at Absolute Zero?”
“Yes. That is on campus, barely.”
“Then… maybe twice since I got here.” Richard seemed lost in thought.
Jot frowned slightly. “Perhaps you should go somewhere. You seem like you could use a break.”
“Why? I sleep plenty at night. Besides, I haven’t seen you go anywhere.”
“Hmph. I don’t spend all of my time with you. I’ve left campus plenty often.”
“Oh, for what, Jot?”
“…They don’t deliver sparring mats to campus, so I have to go pick them up.”
“I don’t think something that’s practically work counts. Maybe we should think of somewhere to go.”
“How about the zoo?” interjected Richard’s father.
“Oh, good idea. …When did you get here?”
Richard’s father smiled. “Just now. However, I heard you talking from across the room.”
The cafeteria was quite noisy, and Richard was going to call him out on his bluff, but then he remembered how, no matter how quiet he was as a kid, his dad somehow always heard him sneak out at night. Not that he ever did anything bad, but sometimes he went to look at the stars.
“Now, I can understand if you don’t want to take your father along with you… but there are benefits to doing so.”
“Oh?” Richard gave his best skeptical glance. “Like what?”
“I’ll pay for everyone.”
Richard pondered for a moment. “Everyone? What if I invite 100 people?”
Mr. Smith nodded. “Of course, I’d pay.” He smiled. “Better get started on inviting people if you’re going to gather that many. It’ll take a while.”
Richard smiled again. “Alright, first, Jot. You’re not suddenly busy with things, right?”
Jot shook his head. “I’m free.”
“Good. As for everyone else… Elena doesn’t look like she ever takes breaks. We should see if she has an opening in her schedule.”
“Well, tomorrow should work.” Mr. Smith answered.
“Oh? How do you know?”
“Simple. No classes.”
“Hah. Obviously it’s End Day. You know, the day when the hundred-year war with the Demoniacs ended.” Mr. Smith stated in his teaching voice.
“Oh yeah, right. It just seems silly to celebrate something we know so little about.”
“Little? Haven’t you seen the vids? There are hundreds of hours, and more.”
“…Isn’t everything from that war classified?”
“Hardly. Just… well, I guess most of it. Still, you should pay more attention in class, we just went over that.”
“Yeah, second and third-hand accounts of things.”
“Of course. Almost nobody survived meeting them. We only have what people could send as messages before they were killed.”
Jot spoke up at this point. “If that is so, how were they defeated?”
“A miracle. Maybe? It’s classified, so probably some kind of superweapon the galaxy would do better without.”
“Right,” said Richard. “Well, anyway, nice of them to give us the excuse for a day off. After Elena, I just have to find 98 more random people…”