Dance Lessons from the Hero
Editor(s): Speedphoenix, Joker
I had what was, in effect, zero knowledge of classical music. I’d only very rarely heard it in passing when I lived in Japan, and I’d never gone out of my way to expose myself to it. That was why, while I suspected the song played by the gramophone-like device was of a classical style, I was unable to arrive at any sort of meaningful conclusion beyond the fact that it was generating the tune through magical means.
Nell and I were in a large room, a well decorated, expansive space that contained a door leading right into the castle’s greenery-filled courtyard. We were dancing. Or at least trying. It was more correct to state that I was trying to dance while Nell played the role of both my partner and instructor.
“Slow down,” she said, after giggling at my lack of comprehension. “You don’t need to try to be so quick about everything. Slowly move your body to the music.”
“Ughhhhhh… Goddammit.” I groaned as I tried focusing on muscles to better move in time with the rhythm.
“And you don’t need to stiffen up like that either.”
While I was far from happy, Nell seemed to be having the time of her life. The smile on her face was one of the happiest I’d ever seen. Pulling me around the room, hand in hand, and slowly spinning around as we went, had done wonders for her mood.
I tried doing everything I could to match her movements, but for whatever reason, I just couldn’t. An absence of experience certainly played into my lack of my skill, but that alone was not enough to explain why I continued to fail so catastrophically even after a long one on one session. Several hours had passed, and yet, I was still just as bad as I had been when we started. The only difference was that my toes felt like they’d been broken. I’d stepped on them a countless number of times even though we were going at a slow, leisurely pace. Moving to the music seemed like it was flat out going to be impossible.
There was only one conclusion to be drawn from all the time I’d sunk into the effort: my talent for dance was just as non-existent as my talent with the sword.
“And even if you are having a hard time keeping up, you can’t let it show on your face,” she said as she observed my expression. “You have to smile.”
After another long, annoyed groan, I flipped my frown on its head and gave her the most fetching smile I could muster. I knew right away that it went over perfectly. I’d long mastered the art of charming the ladies with my perfectly handsome face. Heh. Sorry girls, I know you’re swooning, but this demon lord’s already taken.
“Uhm… on second thought, that might not be all that great of an idea after all,” said Nell. “Smiling makes you look like a bit of a creep.”
“Would it really kill you to be less blunt!?”
The involuntary scream only prompted the girl to giggle with even more intensity than she had before.
“I’m sorry,” she said, between laughs. “You don’t have to force yourself to smile. Just be natural.” She let go of my hands and tapped my shoulders, which had once again stiffened up. “I know that this is your first time doing this, and that it’s not the easiest thing in the world, but you have to relax. Carrying yourself naturally is the most important part. If you do that right, then you should be able to at least get by even if you can’t figure out the rest.”
“A-alright.” I nodded meekly. “I’ll give it another shot.”
There were no protests to be had in the face of her superior knowledge. Her role as hero, and therefore her participation in the court’s affairs, had made her surprisingly knowledgeable about etiquette. I, on the other hand, knew basically nothing. I could only imagine how I was supposed to act to please a crowd of filthy rich schemers. In all honesty, I would have preferred to keep it that way. I didn’t want to learn how to dance. I didn’t want to dress up in a tux. And personally, I did not care what Allysia’s nobles thought of me. But I couldn’t just be me. As Nell’s supposed subordinate, I had to act in a manner befitting my position else risk reflecting poorly on her. At the very least, I wanted to avoid any potential situations in which people denounced her for keeping an uncouth barbarian in her company. There would have been very little to worry about had we been attending a more private gathering, but the ball was something that those that sought to work against us were sure to be present for. Anything I messed up was something that they would nitpick, no matter how insignificant of a mistake it was.
While I did feel fairly driven to pick up on both court etiquette and dance, I wasn’t making nearly as much progress as I would have hoped. Etiquette was fine. Nell had taught me everything I needed to know, and I was confident I could carry it out. But dance? Dance was a problem. It was my first time doing it, and my lack of aptitude didn’t exactly help.
At first, I had failed to realize exactly how bad I really was. I’d assumed that, while I was beneath the bar, I wasn’t awful. And I was wrong. I was so wrong, in fact, that my demonstrations had prompted Enne, whose personality was far blunter than her edge, to fill my heart with shame by asking me if I was attempting to conduct some sort of bizarre, otherworldly ritual.
With removing the need to suppress my sense of humiliation as the main driving force behind my efforts, I desperately worked to improve. I knew that cramming wasn’t going to work as anything beyond a poor short-term stopgap; there was no way I was really going to retain Nell’s lessons if I crammed them all into such a short time-frame. But there was nothing else I could do. The ball was fast approaching, and I had to git gud, even if all my effort would end up being wasted in the long run.
“How about we try it all again from the top?” suggested Nell. “Repetition is one of the most important parts of practice.”
“Sure,” I said, confidently. “I’ve got it all figured out now.”
Nope. Not at all. I didn’t let the truth leave my lips and continued to exude an undue air of confidence.
“Okay! Then let’s make sure you memorize it while you’ve still got the hang of it.”
After walking over to the not-gramophone and restarting the song, she closed all distance between us.
Slowly, “elegantly,” I took her hand and wrapped my other arm around her waist. Whilst keeping everything she taught me in mind, I did my utmost to twirl around the room with every bit of grace I could muster.
While it wasn’t anywhere near the size of a ballroom, the space we had been loaned was more than large enough to allow us to dance freely without having to worry about running into a wall. It was a room that the king had allowed us to reserve wholly for our use after we spoke to him of our intentions. It turned out that his castle, like mine, was vast enough to have many an unused sunroom, even in spite of the fact that it housed a great number of people.
The connected courtyard was, though usually tranquil, just as filled with energy as the makeshift ballroom. Iryll and Enne livened it up by running around and playing whatever games happened to come to mind. The pair would occasionally peek in on our activities, either through the door or one of the windows. Each time, Iryll would giggle as she made note of how little I managed to learn. Enne, on the other hand, remained expressionless, which meant she was likely pondering what we would be having for lunch.
“Hmmm…” Nell scrunched up her face as she attempted to evaluate me after we finished running through the dance. “I’m not really sure if that was better or not. It kind of was, but kind of wasn’t.”
“Yeah uh… you’re not making all that much sense.”
Like, what’s that even supposed to mean? Was I better? Or not? Because I thought I did a good bit better. Ughhhhhh… After some internal grumbling, I decided to throw my sunk cost out the window and invalidate all my practice. Fuck it. We don’t have time for this. I’m pulling out my last resort.
“Give me a second..”
“Uhm… Sure,” said Nell. “What are you opening that up for?” She regarded the floating translucent panel I’d materialized with an eye of doubt.
“I’m using it to fix my dance problem.”
I browsed through the store and added a very specific item to my cart as I offered an explanation I knew she wouldn’t understand. Every member of my household had already gained the ability to see the dungeon’s display. That, however, didn’t necessarily mean that they understood its purpose. The concept of the user interface was one that, to this world, was foreign. The only two who were able to comprehend its functionality were Lefi and Leila. Lefi had figured it out after experimenting, as she had a version of it with limited access. Leila, on the other hand, had bugged me about it until I answered every single one of her overly inquisitive questions.
As such, the all-knowing maid was the only other member of my family that truly understood the menu as a concept. Everyone else, Lefi included, thought of it as a weird floating panel and another one of the powers I possessed as a demon lord. Their inability to read Japanese, the language displayed on the screen, was a major comprehension-impeding factor. It made it so that they were unable to understand the interactions I had with it, even if they looked over my shoulder. Lefi’s UI apparently showed up in this world’s language, but the version she had was much simpler and lacked all but a few select features. Looking over her shoulder didn’t provide enough information to explain the actions that my console made available to me.
“Alright, I’m done,” I said. “Let’s try this shit one more time.”
Nell still seemed doubtful as to whether or not I’d actually accomplished anything, but restarted the music once again regardless. Her preconceptions lasted only until we began to move.
My experience with the Sword Mastery skill and the lackluster effect it had on me had led me to realize that just purchasing a scroll and popping it wouldn’t suffice. That was why I had chosen to not only purchase the scroll for, but also pump a few points into the dance skill. At level 3, its effect was beyond just notable. It was shocking.
Nell was completely flabbergasted. Hell, even I was shocked by how lightly I was able to carry my feet, and how nimbly I was able to twirl about. My movements had, in a matter of moments, gone from being clumsy and unrefined to the very embodiment of graceful.
“T-That was incredible,” said Nell, wide-eyed. “How did you do it?”“Heh. That was nothing.” I threw my surprise under the couch and put on the cockiest shit-eating grin I had in my repertoire. “All I did was get a tiny bit serious.”
Dancing didn’t actually require the Dance skill. Nell didn’t have it, and most people were able to dance fairly well without it. But as someone with no talent or time, I had no choice but to acquire it in order to make myself presentable. Totally not a waste of DP and skill points. Totally. In fact, you could even say that resources exist to be used. So this is totally and perfectly acceptable. Yeah. That.
I wasn’t always able to make use of the dungeon’s power outside my territory. Only recently did I gain the ability to make purchases and access several other functions whilst not within my own realm. It was both an ability that manifested itself shortly after the Lyuu incident and a result of my growth. Becoming more powerful, as a demon lord, meant becoming capable of containing, and therefore exerting, more of the dungeon’s power. Each forward step I took changed me and brought me closer to becoming something along the lines of a mobile dungeon. Mwahahaha! Stagnancy shall never claim me! For I am a demon lord, a creature that knows only of evolution! No part of me that lacks shall remain that way for all! I need only compensate! If I cannot dance, then I will simply obtain a skill that overcomes that weakness! Vive la France! Mwahahaha!
“Thank goodness,” Nell smiled at me whilst I celebrated certain victory in France’s name. “Now we can move onto the next part of the dance.”
“Wait. What? We’re not done?”
“Of course not, silly. We were just getting started,” she said. “I was starting to get worried that you weren’t going to be able to learn everything, but it looks like we’re going to make it in time after all.”
“So uh… how many parts are there anyway?”
“About thirty, I think. Now let’s get started!” She pumped her fists cutely as if to encourage me. “Don’t worry, I’ll be right here for you every step of the way, so keep up the good work!”
“Oh goddammit…” With nothing left to say, I hung my head and resigned myself to my fate.