A Boy’s Feelings
Editors/Proofreaders: JcqC, Ferro, TaintedDream, Namorax, Skythewood, SifaV6, Kaezar
Lower Fire Month (9th Month), Day 2, 23:30
The man lit the lantern hanging from his waist. The special oil gave rise to a green flame that dyed the surroundings with a ghastly hue.
He stepped outside, feeling the heat seep into his body. Though the man wore a bitter expression, he had to attest at least this much to the season. Even when the sun wasn’t up, at this time of the day, everywhere in the Kingdom was humid from the heat. With that said, the worst of it was supposed to have passed and the days to get steadily cooler. Not even the smallest sign of this could be found anywhere.
“Man~ it’s hot today too.”
“No kidding. They say it’s supposed to be cooler up a bit north, near the ocean.”
The man’s partner for the night said in response to his grumbling.
“If it rained then this heat might ease up a bit.”
He looked to the sky as he spoke but saw only clear skies with no trace of even a single cloud in sight, let alone rain clouds. The stars shining brightly overhead, it was the familiar sight of the night sky.
“Seriously, I wish we’d get a good squall… Well, let’s get to work.”
The two men had an air about them that made it difficult to call them ordinary villagers. First was their equipment. A long sword at their waist and leather armor— their gear was too excessive for a village militia. Not only that, their face and body did not belong to those who worked the fields. Rather, they held the dangerous aura of people well versed in violence.
The two men walked into the village without exchanging a single word.
Silent under the darkness, the only sounds that could be heard in the village were their footsteps. A veritable ghost town. With great strides, the two men calmly walked through that creepy atmosphere. Their composure was proof that this was routine.
The village that these men were walking through was surrounded by tall walls and even with a cursory glance, one could see six watchtowers. It was difficult to find such strong fortifications even amongst the frontier villages where monsters were more likely to appear.
Rather than calling it a village, it was more accurate to describe it as a military base.
Though with that said, a third party may see it simply as just another village with tight security. However, the scene that would follow next would make them furrow their brows.
That was how much of a peculiar sight it was. Normally, a wall would encompass the residential buildings or storage warehouses while the fields were spread out outside. Plowing the fields inside the walls would require an incredible amount of work in order to surround all of the vast farmland. However, this village had surrounded the verdant grass swaying in the wind and was guarding them as if they were made of gold.
The man who was walking in that eccentric town felt someone’s eyes on him from one of the watchtowers. In reality, it should be his comrade equipped with a bow. If something were to happen, he could receive help by shaking his lantern above his head.
Considering his comrade’s skill with the bow, he would pass on his covering fire. Rather, just ringing the bell to wake the others was all he needed to feel secure.
But if he happened to accidentally use the signal, he would have to suffer through his comrades who were fast asleep. Despite this, the man was ready to shake the lantern as soon as he felt even the slightest suspicion.
After all, he didn’t want to lose his life.
With that said, it was doubtful that such a situation would arise. He had repeated this same job for the past couple of months and would continue to do so.
As he circled exactly half way through his patrol route, something like a snake struck the man’s mouth. No, it wasn’t a snake. The thing that had latched onto the man’s mouth and would not budge was a tentacle of an octopus.
His chin was forced upwards and followed by a searing pain on the exposed neck. Everything up to this point didn’t even take a second.
A sucking noise flowed from his neck.
It was the last sound the man would hear in his life.
The hand that was on the man’s mouth released its grip. His back, supported from behind so the body would not fall. After confirming that the blade had absorbed the blood, the magic weapon, ‘Vampire Blade’ was pulled out.
The one hugging the man from behind was a figure covered in pitch black attire. Aside from the eyes, the whole face was hidden and the entire body was covered in black garment. The fabric itself was made of cloth but the gauntlets and greaves on the arm and legs augmented its defense. Same for the chest, it was covered with a metal plate but the female curvature was plain to see and easily recognizable.
Similarly, behind the other man was a figure wearing the same outfit. This side also had an uplifted metal plate covering the chest. The eyes turned to the other side and nodded once.
Having confirmed that the assassination was successful, she checked her surroundings. There was no sign that they were detected, a small room for relief in the corner of her mind.
Even with the light from the lantern, they were sticking so perfectly close to the bodies that it was difficult to tell the difference from the watchtower. The only cause for concern was the instant they attacked— the short distance covered while moving between shadows, ‘Dark Crossing.’ But even that concern was over and done with.
With the dagger reddened from drinking the blood still lodged inside, she propped up the body that was about to collapse.
To the people in the watchtower, it would look as if the man patrolling had paused for a bit. Regardless, standing so stiffly like this or falling over would definitely rouse suspicion.
Then it was necessary to immediately move on to the next phase. However, that was not her role.
The woman felt a sensation in her hands; the feeling of the man’s lifeless body growing stiff, as if the inside was propped up by a pillar. As if confirming that she wasn’t mistaken, in the next moment, the man’s body jerked.
Even when the dead body moved, there wasn’t even a shred of surprise. Everything was going according to plan.
The woman released her hands and at the same time, launched a skill. One of the skills she learned from her Ninja class, ‘Hide Shadow.’ As long as a shadow existed, one could completely meld into it and render detection impossible with the naked eye.
Leaving behind the two who were now completely hidden in shadow, the men started to walk forward as if they had just been released from chains. They were returning to continue their patrol route. It was as if they had just remembered their original task. But the speed of their gait was clumsy and heavy. Even if their wound wasn’t finished healing, fresh blood did not seep from the slash on their necks because all of their blood had been drained.
There was only one reason that they could still move. They had become zombies and were now following the orders of their creator.
The one who turned them were not the women.
Looking at it normally, the only people present here were the two men. Even if someone were to see past their concealment ability, there would still be no more than four people. However, there was a fifth. That unseen fifth figure was the one responsible for the zombies.
That figure was invisible even to the women. But their ninjutsu allowed the two to detect hidden presences by using magic or skills. This ability reacted to the one before them.
“Preparations here are complete.”
Low voices rang out and a small voice soon answered in response.
“I know since I’m watching. I’ll move to the next location. I have to capture the one with highest authority here.”
This was also a female voice. But this one had a high-pitch tone that lacked maturity and exuded the feeling of a child.
“Then our side will start the attack. What about the other two?”
“Don’t tell me they’re playing around somewhere since they don’t get a turn?”
“No way. They’re hiding outside, near the village. The plan is for them to mount an attack from the front and rear if there’s an emergency. Alright then. I’ll be moving to our top priority. You two follow the plan as well.”
Their invisible comrade — even if it’s just her presence — rose into the air. She was moving through the air using ‘Flight’.
The presence that grew farther and farther away soon disappeared towards the building that she referred to as the top priority. It was one of the few buildings that existed in the village as well as a key location that needed to be secured first and foremost.
Normally, they would want to prioritize a different building. But the reason that place in particular was a priority was because of the ‘Message’ magic.
There are many who shirk this magic, calling it unreliable. At the same time, there are those who are unconcerned and use it regardless. The Empire that is ahead of even the Kingdom when it comes to nurturing the growth of magic casters, those who want information as soon as possible, and the enemy who rules this village. As such, it was necessary to first secure the liaison agent located in that building.
Now that their comrade was headed there, they also had to lie in wait at their assigned location. Everyone had to match the timing and finish their assault while they were still undetected.
The two ninjas exhaled and ran onwards.
Moving to and fro in the darkness, they would be invisible to an ordinary person. No, if they used their equipped magic item as well, even adventurers would have a hard time spotting them. In other words, there was no one in the village who could see the two women with their eyes.
Her comrade who was running at her side skillfully moved her fingers. Although it looked as if she was just wriggling them around, the other who saw it read their meaning—
—It’s fortunate that they don’t have any dogs.
She answered ‘agreed’ with her fingers.
It was a sign language used by assassins. At their level of expertise, they could communicate as fast as they could speak. Although they had taught it to their other allies, regrettably, the best they could manage were simple phrases or commands. On the other hand, both the speed and vocabulary of their signing was at a level where they could have daily conversations and would often use them to have secret chats with one another.
—I know what you mean. It makes this easier since they won’t be attracted to the scent of blood.
If the enemy had hounds then this would not have been this easy. Although they had prepared ways to incapacitate them, nothing was more welcomed than avoiding needless work.
As soon as she replied, her comrade’s fingers moved rapidly.
—Then I’ll be heading to my target building.
As soon as she answered affirmative, the comrade who had been running by her side split from her.
Now alone, she looked at the fields with her peripheral vision while running at high speed.
What was being cultivated was not a grain like barley or vegetables. It was the raw ingredient plant of the illegal and most prevalent drug in the Kingdom, Black Dust. Surrounded by these tall walls, the many fields in the village all grew the same plant. It was proof that this village was one of the bases for growing these drugs.
Black Dust, also called Laira Powder, this drug was a dark powder that was mixed and taken with water.
It was easy to mass produce and thus sold cheaply. Thanks to the easy high and euphoria, it was the most famous drug in the Kingdom. Not only that, there were many who believed that the drug was not addictive and that it had no side effects, causing it to be spread far and wide.
She remembered that fake information and snorted back a laugh.
A drug like that did not exist anywhere. ‘I can quit whenever I want’ was it? There should be a limit to such naivety. The results from testing the fluids from a black dust addict had shown that the user’s brain had shriveled to about eighty percent of the average brain size.
Made from a plant that originally grew in the wild, Black Dust is a powerful drug. It is a wonder how people can believe that such a poisonous plant would not be addicting. The reason that the Black Dust circulating through the town is listed as an anesthetic is because the cultivated plants that it was made from was less potent.
Nevertheless, the drug was still powerfully addicting and took a long time for it to completely leave the user's system. As a result, it would often be the case that the addict takes the drug again before it has a chance to leave the body. If Bishops do not use magic to forcefully draw it out, the addict will eventually reach a stage in their addiction where it will be nearly impossible to completely quit of their own volition.
The troublesome part of the frightening drug was that it had weak withdrawal symptoms. Even if an addict experiences a bad trip, they will not react violently or cause harm to their surroundings. That was why the Kingdom’s higher-ups did not truly understand its dangers and mostly ignored the Black Dust. Instead, they opt to focus their efforts on exposing other drugs. It is no wonder that the Empire even suspects that the Kingdom may be secretly aiding in its production.
During her days spent living as an assassin, she had used drugs if the situation called for it. And because her organization had cultivated similar plants as well, she didn’t have any ill feelings on the matter. Even drugs can be greatly effective if used with caution. They were not too different from a medicinal plant with dangerous side effects, so to speak.
However, this was a request and her personal opinions were not a problem. Only that—
… Requests that aren’t made through the Adventurer Guild are dangerous.
She frowned beneath the mask. The client this time was a friend of the team leader. Despite the adequate reward, accepting a request that bypasses the guild could have troublesome repercussions in the future. Even if they were one of the only two adamantium class adventurer teams in the Kingdom.
Hmm? Was it three now?
Now that she mentioned it, she remembered hearing that a new adamantium class team was formed— whilst having such thoughts, the woman arrived near the building that they had codenamed No. 2.
Her role was to collect every scrap of information in this building. Afterwards, she was to set fire to the field.
Although it was true that the smoke from the burning plants was poisonous, it had to be done in order for her to complete her mission. Depending on the wind, it may even end up affecting the villagers. There was neither the time nor method for evacuation.
Having told herself as much, she tossed aside the safety of the villagers.
Raised as an assassin, the loss of human life almost never affected her emotionally. She wouldn’t even bat an eye, especially if they were strangers. She only disliked the leader’s expression when there were casualties. But since this plan had the leader’s approval, she did not feel even a shred of desire to go save them.
And more importantly, they had to use teleportation magic as soon as the attack was over so they could move to another village and repeat the job. Her head was filled with nothing but thoughts about the plan.
This was not the only village where the ingredient for the drug was being cultivated. According to their investigations, there were twelve large scale plantations in the Kingdom. Most likely, there were still more that they have yet to find. Otherwise, there was no way to explain the amount of the drug that has spread throughout the Kingdom’s lands.
Weeds have to be pulled as soon as they sprout… Even if a lot of it is fruitless, it’s the only way.
If they found something like written orders in this village then that would be a stroke of luck. Regrettably, it was never that easy. They could only hope that the one in charge of this village would know something.
The leader will be happy if we can get even a small piece of information on the organization.
The powerful syndicate that cultivated the drug was named “Eight Fingers,” named after the eight fingers of the God of Theft, subordinate of the God of Earth. They were the group that controlled the underworld of the Kingdom.
The criminal organization was divided into eight categories: slave trafficking, assassinations, smuggling, larceny, drug trade, security, banking, and gambling. Their reach extended to every criminal group in the Kingdom and the sheer size of the organization meant that they were shrouded in mystery.
On the other hand, what was plain to see was how much influence they wielded in the Kingdom. The village sprawled out before her was proof of that.
They cultivate illegal plants in plain sight. That alone was enough to implicate the noble of the land as an accomplice. But charging him would not lead to a conviction.
It would be a different story if the royal family or someone from the judicial authority were to investigate the matter. But even so, it would be difficult to reach a guilty verdict when it involved the feudal aristocracy. The nobles of this land will claim that they did not know that the plant could be used as an ingredient to drugs. They may even accuse the villagers of acting on their own volition in order to shift the blame.
Public denouncement was ineffective and trying to forcibly curb the circulation of the drug was almost impossible with the organization bribing the nobles with influence over the distribution channels.
That was why the only option left was violence, burning the fields as a last resort.
In all honesty, she believed that even if she burned the drugs here, it wouldn’t even make a dent in their operations. With their fingers even in politics, that was how powerful the organization was.
“A bid for time… If we don’t make a decisive attack someday, then even this will be useless.”
It was raining, accompanied by the noisy ringing in the ears.
The Kingdom did not build its roads with particular attention to drainage, especially when it came to back alleyways. The result was that an entire roadway could transform into a huge lake.
The rain falling on the surface of the lake splashed about, the wind carrying the scent of water and spraying it into the air. It was a part of the reason why the whole Kingdom exuded an atmosphere of being submerged underwater.
Within the world dyed in gray by the sprays of water was a single boy.
He was living in a deserted house. No, even calling it such was doing it a service. Its pillar was wood that was only as thick as a man’s arm. Rags were used in place of a roof and the only walls to speak of were simply the rags draping over the sides.
In the residence that was no different from sleeping in the open was a six-year-old boy. Like garbage that has been carelessly tossed aside, he was curled into a ball and lying on top of a thin cloth.
The wood acting as a pillar, the rags serving as both the roof and walls, they seemed like the sort a child his age would build as a secret base.
This house that was no different from being outside, it’s only merit was the shelter it provided from the rain. The sharp drop in temperature from the unending rain wrapped the boy in a chill that caused his body to shiver uncontrollably. The warmth of his breath that confirmed his existence was immediately robbed of its temperature and vanished into the air.
Before he had fled into the house, the rain had soaked the boy and he was now losing his body heat, fast.
There was no way to stop his body from shivering.
The chill seeping into his body soothed the bruises he got from a beating. Perhaps this was his one, small happiness in this worst case scenario.
The boy lay on his side and stared at the empty alleyway, at the world.
The only sounds he could hear were the rain and that of his own breathing. It was a stillness that made it seem like he was the only one in the world.
Although he was young, the boy knew that he was probably going to die.
He was not of an age to fully understand the meaning of death and thus did not feel too afraid. He also didn’t feel as if there was anything worth living for. The only reason he clung to life up until now was because he didn’t like pain, almost like an escape.
Although it was cold, if he could die painlessly like this, then death wasn’t so bad.
As his drenched body grew numb, his consciousness began to fade.
He should have found a place that would shield him from the billowing wind. But he was grabbed by a group of hoodlums and his current place was the best he could manage with his battered body.
He had a small happiness. Then was everything else misfortune?
His mouth hadn’t touched food in two days, but something like that was normal so it wasn’t misfortune. His parents were gone so he was alone with no one to take care of him. But it had been like that for a long time so it wasn’t misfortune. The unpleasant odor around him also wasn’t misfortune. After all, it was from the rags so it couldn’t be helped. The life that revolved around filling his stomach with rotten food and foul water also wasn’t misfortune since it was all he knew.
Then the empty house where he was comfortable, the home he toiled to build that was trashed by someone in jest, his bruised body aching from the beating from the drunkards, were they misfortune?
The boy’s misfortune was such that he was unable to see it for what it was.
But even that was over.
The misfortune that the boy was ignorant to was to end here.
Death comes to fortunate and unfortunate alike.
Indeed. Death is absolute.
He closed his eyes.
For his body that could no longer feel the cold, even keeping his eyes open was a chore.
He could hear the small, unreliable sound of his own heartbeat from the darkness. In the world where the only noise he could hear was the rain and his own heart, a strange sound was mixed in.
The noise seemed to block the rain. In his fading consciousness, a child’s curiosity drove the boy to channel strength into his eyelids.
In his vision narrow like a string, it was reflected.
The boy opened his eyes wide.
It was beautiful.
For a moment, he did not understand what he was looking at.
‘Like a jewel, a lump of gold.’ Such expressions would have been fitting. But someone who sated their hunger on half rotten foods from the trash could not think of such words.
There was only one thought that ran through his mind.
The most beautiful object in his world and at the same time, the furthest from his reach.
The world dyed gray from the rain, the dark rainclouds covering the sky. Perhaps they were the ones responsible. The sun left for a trip because no one was there to see it and returned, appearing in front of his eyes.
That was what he thought.
A hand stretched out and stroked his face. And—
Until now, the boy was not a human.
No one ever saw him as such.
But on that day, he became human.
♦ ♦ ♦
Lower Fire Month (9th Month), Day 3, 4:15
Located in the deepest area of the capital of the Re-Estize Kingdom was Ro-Lente castle. Its walls surrounded a vast stretch of land measuring 1,400 meters with a protective ring of twelve enormous cylindrical guard towers.
The room was located inside one of these twelve towers.
With all of its lights turned off, a person was lying on the one bed in the room. He was of a delicate age, the boundary between boy and man.
His blond hair was cut short and his tanned skin gave off a healthy complexion.
With no surname, he was the one who was granted permission to stand closest to the girl called the ‘Golden Princess,’ a soldier who invited the jealousy of many.
He wakes even before the sun rises.
The moment he regained consciousness from the world of darkness, his mind immediately turns sharp and his bodily functions almost completely recovers. Sleeping well and waking up promptly was one of the things that Climb took pride in.
His sanpaku eyes opened wide, revealing an iron-like will etched within them.
Climb pushed aside the thick blanket covering his body and stood. Even in the summer, the stone walls surrounding him meant that the nights were still cold.
He rubbed his eyes and found that his fingers came away wet.
“…That dream again.”
Climb used his sleeves to wipe the tears from his face.
A memory from when he was a boy, the heavy rain from two days ago must have been what caused him to remember.
The tears were not from sorrow.
How many times in a person’s life will he meet someone worthy of respect? A person who you are willing to throw away your life for in servitude… just how many?
The girl Climb met on that day was such a person.
These were tears of joy, tears thanking the miracle that was created from their meeting.
Climb stood, his face showing a strong determination and a youthful energy befitting of his age.
His voice, rough from excessive training, recited a word.
The lamp hanging from the ceiling responded to the keyword and illuminated the inside of the room with a white light. A magic item enchanted with ‘Continual Light’.
Even though they were used widely, the reason he was given such an expensive item wasn’t because of his special position.
Even if it was for light, burning something in a tower made of stone, with its poor air flow, was unsafe. That was why almost every room was provided with a magic light source, despite the initial development costs.
The floor and walls illuminated by the light were made of stone. A thin carpet was laid out in a futile attempt to cover the cold, hard surface. Aside from that, the furnishings in the room
included a shoddy wooden bed, a slightly larger closet to accommodate weapons and armor, a desk with drawers, and a thin cushion resting on a wooden chair.
An outsider looking in would think of it as unimpressive, but to others who were of Climb’s rank, it was an incredibly envious treatment.
Soldiers did not get private quarters. They were placed into a large room with bunk beds. Excluding the beds themselves, the only furniture the soldiers were given was a wooden chest with a lock for storing their personal belongings.
Also, in a corner of the room rested a white full plate armor. The spotless armor had a gloss that made it look as if it was shining. No foot soldier would ever be granted such equipment.
This special treatment was not something that Climb had earned with his own strength, but rather a sign of favor from the master whom he swore his life to. As such, it would be impossible to not invite jealousy from others.
He opened the closet and changed while staring at the mirror attached inside.
Having changed into his worn clothes that smelled of metal, he then donned the chain shirt over the rest of his attire. Normally this would be where he put on his plate armor, but instead, he opted for a vest with numerous pockets and finished with a pair of trousers. In his hand was a wooden stick wrapped in towel.
Lastly, he looked himself over in the mirror, checking for anything that was amiss, making sure that his gear was tidy.
Any fault in Climb could potentially become a weapon to hurt his master, “Golden Princess” Renner.
That was why he must always be on alert. His reason for living wasn’t to cause her harm. It was to pledge his all to her.
Climb closed his eyes in front of the mirror and thought of his master’s face.
Golden Princess – Renner Theiere Chardelon Ryle Vaiself.
As kind as a goddess, a benevolent and radiant mind befitting her royal blood, and wisdom that devised many types of policies.
In the truest sense of the word, a noble amongst nobles, the greatest woman.
Possessing the brilliance of gold, nothing can be allowed to blemish such a flawless gem.
If one were to compare her to a ring, Renner would be akin to huge, brilliantly cut diamond. Then what was Climb? He would be the prongs that the jewel is set on. Even now, her worth was diminished because he was lacking, he could not allow it to grow worse.
Climb could not stop his chest from growing warm at the thought of his master.
Even a devout believer of his faith would be hard-pressed to outshine Climb as he was now.
After staring at himself in the mirror for some time, Climb, having determined with conviction that he would not be a hindrance to his master, nodded his head in satisfaction and stepped out of the room.
Lower Fire Month (9th Month), Day 3, 4:35
The place he headed to was a large hall. An entire floor of the tower had been emptied to serve as a training area.
Normally the place would be radiating the heat of soldiers going about their training. However, it was deserted this early in the day. The empty space was quiet; one could almost hear the silence. Because there was stone in every direction, the sound of Climb’s footsteps rang out loudly.
The hall was brightly lit from the semi-permanent light of the magic fire.
Inside, there was armor mounted on stakes and hay dolls to act as archery targets. The walls were lined with weapon racks filled with various arms that were left unsharpened.
Ordinarily, a training area should be set up outdoors. But there was a reason that it was decided to have it inside.
The city of Ro-Lente was home to Valencia castle. Having the soldiers train outside would mean that they would be seen by foreign ambassadors. To avoid the risk of appearing low class, numerous areas within the tower were cleared out to serve as training areas.
A demonstration of strong soldiers dauntlessly practicing their drills would have diplomatic benefits, but the Kingdom did not see it as such. More than anything, there was a trend to be seen as elegant, splendid, and highborn.
With that said, there still were drills that were impossible to conduct indoors. They would either be done discretely in a corner or on a field outside the castle, albeit outside the capital.
Climb entered the quiet hall as if he was cutting through the cool air and slowly started to stretch in the corner.
Thirty minutes later, after a thorough stretching session, Climb’s face was reddened, his forehead was drenched with sweat and his labored breaths were heavy with heat.
Climb wiped the sweat from his forehead and approached the weapon rack. Checking the grip, he makes sure that it fits securely in his hands. His palms were already rough and hard from the numerous blisters that came and went.
Next, he filled his pockets with chunks of metal and buttoned them tightly as to prevent them from falling out.
The many pieces of metal that filled his clothes made it as heavy as full plate armor. Regular plate armor without any magical enchants provided an excellent defense at the cost of one’s freedom of movement. Keeping actual battles in mind, training with it equipped was the right course of action.
But even so, it was rare to bring out full plate armor for mere training, not to mention the white armor that he was given. That was why he was using the metal chunks as an alternative.
Climb gripped the iron weapon that exceeded the size of a greatsword and held it high over his head. He slowly brought down the sword, exhaling as he did so. Stopping just before it struck the floor, he breathed in and raised the sword to its original position over his head. He stared at the space in front of him with sharp eyes, completely absorbed in his training as he gradually raised the speed of his swings.
He had already finished 300 swings.
Sweat poured down Climb’s completely reddened face. His breaths were hot, as if he was expelling the built up heat in his body.
Although Climb trained arduously as a soldier, it was difficult to handle the weight of the large greatsword. Stopping the blade just before it touched the ground was especially challenging.
Such a feat required a great deal of strength.
As the count of his swings reached 500, his arms started to cramp and felt as if they were screaming out in pain. Sweat fell from his face like a waterfall.
Climb knew very well that this was his limit. Despite this, he showed no signs of stopping.
“—Perhaps that is far enough.”
Hearing the voice of another, Climb quickly turned to the direction of the voice and his eyes reflected the figure of a man.
Calling him burly would have been an understatement. The man was like the embodiment of steel. The wrinkles in the face reminiscent of rock made him look older than he actually was. His bulging muscles made it evident that this was no ordinary man.
There was no soldier in the Kingdom who did not know of him.
Warrior Captain Gazef Stronoff, lauded as the strongest in the Kingdom and unmatched even in the surrounding nations.
“Any further would be overtraining. There is no meaning in pushing yourself so far.”
Climb lowered his sword and stared at his trembling arms.
“You are correct. I overdid it slightly.”
Seeing Climb’s expressionless face as he gave his thanks, Gazef shrugged his shoulders.
“If that is what you truly think, could you not make me repeat myself so often? How many times does this make it…?”
Gazef shrugged once more as Climb lowered his head.
This was a conversation that had been repeated countless times between them, like a greeting of sorts. Usually, this was where their exchange would end and each man would pursue their own training. But today was different.
“How about it, Climb. Would you like to try crossing swords?”
At Gazef’s words, Climb’s blank expression almost faltered for an instant.
Up until now, they had never crossed swords upon meeting at this location. It was their unwritten rule.
There was nothing to be gained even if they were to train together. No, it wouldn’t be completely fruitless, but the cons greatly outweighed the pros.
There was currently a power struggle between the King’s faction and an alliance between three of the six great noble families. The situation was dangerous enough for there to be rumors that the only reason the Kingdom is not split is because of the yearly war against the Empire.
In the midst of that struggle, if the personal confidant of the King, Gazef Stronoff — though highly unlikely — were to lose, it would give the nobility faction a great boon.
On the other hand, the nobles would jump at the obvious outcome of Climb’s defeat to whisper that he is unfit to protect Renner. There were many who disliked the idea of the beautiful, unmarried princess trusting a lone soldier with her protection, one with an uncertain background no less.
Both were in a position where they could not lose.
They could not appear weak, to show a weak point that could be exploited in an attack. The two were of one mind in that they were both carefully cautious as to not hurt their respective masters.
For what reason would he break the unwritten rule?
Climb looked around his surroundings.
Because there was no one else here? That was unthinkable. This was an abode of demons.
There was no end to those who would watch from afar or observe them while hidden. But he could not think of any other reason.
Unable to figure out his intentions, Climb did not allow his puzzling agitation to show on his face.
The man standing in front of Climb was a warrior hailed as the strongest in the Kingdom. Keenly sensing the brief instance of emotion that an ordinary person would miss, he spoke.
“Only recently, something occurred that made me realize that I was lacking. I would like to practice with someone who is competent.”
Gazef, the strongest in the Kingdom, just what sort of incident could make him feel inadequate?
Climb suddenly remembered that the number of troops in Gazef’s unit had decreased.
Climb did not have any close comrades so he had heard it from a rumor circulating around the mess hall. According to the story, they had lost a number of their troops after being embroiled in an incident.
“Yes. If I had not met the merciful magic caster, if he had not lent us his strength, I would not be here right now—.”
Hearing this, Climb felt his iron mask crumble. No, just who could remain unsurprised? Before he knew it, Climb’s curiosity got the better of him and he posed a question.
“Who was that merciful magic caster?”
“…He called himself Ainz Ooal Gown. This is just a hunch, but I feel that he may rival even that monster of a magic caster in the Empire.”
He had never heard of that name.
Climb looked up to the heroes and had a hobby of collecting stories of their feats. He ignored their races and even collected stories of famous adventurers from the nearby countries. But even so, the name Gazef spoke just now was unfamiliar to him.
Of course, there was a possibility that it was an alias.
Climb held back the desire to question him further.
Trying to ask him about an incident that cost him his soldiers… even rudeness has its limits.
“I will engrave his name in my heart. …But, is it really fine for us to spar?”
“Not a spar, simply crossing swords. What you get out of it solely depends on you. … You yourself are a first rate soldier amongst the country’s troops. It should benefit me as well.”
Although it was a high praise, to Climb, they were merely empty words.
It wasn’t that Climb was particularly strong, only that the standard was low. The skills of a soldier of the Kingdom were only slightly better than that of its ordinary citizens. Even compared to the ‘Knights’, the Empire’s enlisted soldiers, they were weak. There was also no one in the nearby countries with military distinction. Gazef’s troops were indeed strong, but even so, compared to Climb they fell slightly short. If Climb were to evaluate himself according to the ranks of adventurers, with copper, iron, silver, gold, platinum, mithril, orichalcum, and adamantium, he would be gold. Not weak, but there were many above him.
Could someone like that be considered worthwhile to a man like Gazef? A man, who would, without a doubt, be placed in adamantium class?
Climb shook off such weak thoughts.
The strongest man in the Kingdom was offering to train him. This kind of experience would not come often. Even if the end result is that he disappoints Gazef, there would be no regrets.
“Then I ask for your guidance.”
Gazef grinned and eagerly nodded his head.
The two approached the weapon rack and each picked a sword that fit their size. Gazef chose a bastard sword, Climb a small shield and broadsword.
Climb then took out the metal chunks from his pockets. Facing someone stronger than himself with them was a discourtesy. Not only that, he would have to fight with everything he had for the training to benefit his growth. His opponent was the strongest warrior in the Kingdom. A tall, thick wall must be felt with one’s full strength.
Now that Climb was finished with his preparations, Gazef asked.
“How are your arms? Are they still sore?”
“Yes, I am fine now. They are slightly worn but will not be a problem for my grip.”
Climb flexed both his hands. Seeing that he was telling the truth, Gazef once again nodded.
“I see. … That is a shame in its own way. One will rarely be in perfect condition on the battlefield. If your grip suffers then you must fight in a way to compensate it. Have you ever trained with those conditions?”
“Hm, No. I have not. Then I will resume my swings and…”
“Ah, no. No need to go that far. But since you are responsible for the safety of the princess, you would do well to learn how to fight in situations where carrying a sword is forbidden. Perhaps also verse yourself in handling various weapons as well.”
“… Sword, shield, spear, axe, dagger, gauntlets, bow, cudgel, and thrown weapons. It’s training for the nine types of weapons that serve as the foundation for armed combat, however… If you stretch yourself too thin then everything will suffer. It would better for you to narrow it down to two or three weapons and learn from there. Hmm. It seems I’ve said something unnecessary.”
“Not at all, Stronoff–sama. Thank you very much!”
Gazef wore a bitter smile and answered with a wave of his hand.
“If you are ready then let us begin. First, try attacking me in that stance. Soon… yes, I will not be able to spar with you but I can teach you some tactics using the nine weapons.”
“Yes! Then I will be in your care.”
“Come, but I have no intention of treating this as training. Consider this to be the real thing and attack.”
Climb slowly lowered his sword and turned the left side of his body, covered by the shield, towards Gazef’s direction. His gaze was sharp and his senses already knew that this was not training. Likewise, Gazef exuded a presence that alerted him that this was a real fight.
The two glared at one another, but Climb could not make the first move.
Even if removing the metal chunks made it easier for him to move, Climb did not think he could beat Gazef. In both strength and experience, Gazef was overwhelmingly above him.
Simply closing the distance would be immediately met with a counterattack. His opponent was a master who was leagues above him so it could not be helped. But if this were a real fight, could he simply roll over and die because of something like that?
Then what could he do?
He had to fight him with a factor that Gazef did not possess.
Body, experience, and mind, Climb lost in everything that was necessary for a warrior. The difference was in their equipment.
Gazef wielded a bastard sword. On the other hand, Climb had a broadsword and small shield. If they were magic weapons then it would be different, but these were used for training, there was no disparity in the weapons.
Gazef only had one weapon while Climb possessed two, since a shield could be used as a weapon as well. This also meant that he had more ways to attack at the cost of dividing his strength.
Block the first attack with the shield and slash with the sword. Parry with the sword and strike with the shield.
Having decided on a counter as his strategy, Climb focused on observing Gazef’s movements.
After several seconds had passed, Gazef showed a smile.
“Are you not coming? Then I will attack right— now.”
His calm demeanor absolute, Gazef readied his stance. Hips slightly lowered, strength began to mount in his body like a spring. Climb as well; he gathered strength in his body so that he could block the blade, no matter when it came.
Gazef closed in and swung down his sword while aiming for the shield.
Climb gave up the notion of moving his shield to deflect the blow. He focused his entire mind and body on defending, just blocking the attack.
The next moment – his shield was seized by an enormous impact.
The level of force was enough to make him think that the shield had shattered. It was an attack powerful enough to paralyze the hand that held the shield. Withstanding such an impact would require the strength of one’s entire body.
Deflect it?! How do you match the timing for something like this?! Just the shock is enough to…
Climb’s naïve thoughts left him vulnerable; he felt another impact on his abdomen.
His body flew backwards, his back colliding with the hard stone floor and expelling the air from his lungs. A glance at Gazef made it plain to see what had happened.
Just now, he was lowering his leg that delivered a powerful kick to Climb.
“… Even if it’s the only weapon in my hand, it is dangerous to focus solely on the sword. Like now, you could be hit with a kick. I aimed for your stomach just now but normally, it would be where the armor is lighter. I may break your knees… even if you were wearing a pad over your crotch, if you’re unlucky, armored boots will crush them. Observe your opponent’s whole body and watch every movement.”
Climb endured the dull pain from his abdomen and slowly stood.
The Kingdom’s strongest Gazef Stronoff’s physical strength was truly formidable. If he had kicked seriously, then it would not have been a problem to break his ribs through the chain shirt and render him unable to fight. The reason that was not the case here was because Gazef held back and merely touched Climb’s stomach with his foot and pushed him with the intent to knock him back.
It was an instructional spar after all… thank you.
Realizing that the Kingdom’s strongest had sparred with him, Climb was grateful as he resumed his stance.
He had to be careful so this precious moment did not end abruptly.
Climb once again raised his shield and slowly edged towards Gazef. Gazef wordlessly stared at him as he approached. If this continues, it would only be a repeat of what just happened. Climb had to devise a new plan as he approached.
Gazef waited, exuding an overwhelming calm. There just was no way to make him fight seriously.
It would be arrogant to even feel angry.
Climb’s limit was already visible. Despite waking up early like this to train in swordsmanship, his progress was slower than a snail. Compared to when he first started training, it was too slow.
Going forward, even if he could train his body and raise the speed and weight of his sword, skills like martial arts would be out of his reach.
Someone like Climb, to feel angry over the fact that the man who is the embodiment of talent did not fight him seriously would be disrespectful. He, who was unable to draw out the man's full strength, could only blame his own lack of ability.
His words from before that told him to not treat this as training and attack in earnest was a warning. It meant “attack with the intent to kill or you do not even stand a chance.” A warning that came from a man who stood in a place that was far above him.
Climb clenched his teeth.
He hated his own weakness. If only he was stronger, then he could be of more use. He could become her weapon and fight directly against those who would dirty the Kingdom and harm its people.
The fact that her only sword was so weak that she had to be careful of where to point it filled Climb with guilt.
However, he immediately tossed aside such thoughts. What he had to do now was not to lose himself in negativity. It was to throw everything he had at the man who stood in the world of the strong so he himself could grow stronger, no matter how small.
Only one thought filled his heart.
To be of help to the princess—.
Gazef let out a sigh and slightly changed his expression.
It was because the face of the one who stood before him, who was both a boy and a man, had changed. If he were to compare, up until now, he was like a child who met a celebrity and could not contain his excitement. That restlessness had vanished after the kick and was replaced with the face of a warrior.
Gazef raised his level of alertness by a notch.
More so then Climb himself realized, Gazef had a high opinion of him. In particular, his single-minded, avaricious pursuit of strength, his loyalty that bordered on religious fervor, and his swordsmanship.
Climb’s swordplay was not something he had been taught. He obtained it by sneaking peeks at others who were in the midst of their training. It was unsightly and full of excessive movements.
But unlike those who trained mindlessly, each motion of his blade was meticulously thought out and developed for practical use. To put it badly, it became a sword to kill.
Gazef thought it was very splendid.
A sword was ultimately a tool for murder. One that was trained casually will not be able to display its effectiveness in a real fight. It will not be able to protect those who must be protected.
It will not be able to save those who must be saved.
But Climb was different. He will cut down his enemy and protect the one important to him.
“—Even if you steeled your resolve, the difference in skill with your opponent is still grave. Now, what will you do?”
Assuredly, Climb had no talent. Even if he worked harder than anyone else— no matter how hard he pushes his body, without talent, he will not be able to become strong. He will not be able to reach men like Gazef or Brain Unglaus.
Even if Climb wanted to be stronger than anyone else, it could only happen in dreams and fantasies.
Then why was he giving Climb a spar? Would it not be more useful to spend his time on someone with more talent?
The answer was simple. Gazef just could not stand by and watch Climb endlessly repeat his useless effort. If talent was the wall decided the limits of humans, he took pity on the boy and his unending, reckless charge against that wall.
That was why he wished to teach him a different method.
He believed that although there was a limit on talent, there was no limit on experience.
And because of the anger he felt at the pitiful figure of his once greatest rival.
But even so, trying to get satisfaction from elsewhere… I owe Climb an apology…. But facing me should be useful for this guy as well.
“— Attack me, Climb.”
At the words he spoke to himself, a powerful shout came back in response.
Climb ran as soon as he answered.
Gazef, with a serious expression that was different from before, slowly raised his sword over his shoulder.
It was a stance for a vertical attack above the waist.
Blocking it with the shield will completely restrict his own movements and parrying it with the sword will blow him back. It was an attack that rendered the act of defending meaningless.
Blocking it was foolish. But Climb’s broadsword was shorter than his bastard sword.
The only option was to run forward. Knowing this, Gazef was waiting to counterattack.
It was the same as jumping into the mouth of the tiger— but his hesitation only lasted an instant.
Climb launched himself into the range of Gazef’s sword.
As if he was waiting for this moment, Gazef’s sword was brought down and crashed into Climb’s shield. The tremendous impact was even stronger than before. Climb twisted his face at the pain that was transmitted to his arm.
“A pity. The same outcome as before.”
With a slight hint of disappointment, Gazef’s foot reached Climb’s abdomen and—
With Climb’s shout, Gazef wore a slightly surprised expression.
The activation of the martial art, ‘Fortress’ was not limited only to the sword or shield. It’s possible to use it on any part of the body. The reason that one would normally activate it when blocking with their weapons was simply because it was very difficult to find the correct timing for anything else. Using it on armor carried the risk of receiving your opponent’s attack without any defenses. Reserving the skill for blocking with the sword or shield was simple common sense.
However, the problem was solved if one could predict their opponent’s next move like Climb did with Gazef’s kick.
“Were you aiming for this?!”
The power behind Gazef’s kick disappeared as if it was absorbed by something soft. Unable to channel strength into his extended leg, Gazef gave up on the attempt and tried to bring his foot back down to the ground. Catching him in a disadvantageous position, Climb struck.
A martial art, high slash.
Just one, have a single skill that you can use with confidence.
Taking the words that he heard from a certain warrior to heart, this was the attack that the talentless Climb practiced day in and day out.
Climb’s body was not wrapped by an armor of muscles. From the start, his constitution was never one for that type of figure. Also, even if he did build up muscle, he could not keep his agility.
Because of this, his body was forged into a specialization through endless repetition.
The result was a straight, vertical slash, a high speed attack that bordered on the realm of absurdity. Like a flash of light, a slash that seemed to summon the gale.
This attack was coming down on top of Gazef’s head.
In Climb’s mind, the thought that the blow connecting would result in a fatal injury had vanished completely. It was a technique that was only possible due to the unwavering confidence that the man named Gazef would not die to something of this level.
With the roaring sound of metal, the bastard sword was raised up to meet the broadsword coming down.
Everything so far was to be expected.
Climb poured all the strength in his body in an attempt to break Gazef’s balance.
However— Gazef’s body did not budge.
Even in the awkward position of standing on one leg, he easily held off the attack that had Climb’s full strength behind it. He was like a gigantic tree with thick roots embedded in the earth.
His strongest attack with everything he had, combined with two martial arts, and Climb still could not match Gazef standing on one leg. Despite his surprise, Climb’s eyes moved to his own abdomen.
The fact that he brought down his broadsword meant that their distance had shortened. It also meant that Gazef could again kick him in the stomach.
The kick landed on Climb’s body as soon as he leapt back.
There was a small, dull pain. The two stood face to face with a few paces of distance separating them.
Gazef slightly relaxed his eyes and eased his lips.
Although he smiled, it was not unpleasant, but refreshing. It made Climb feel slightly ashamed.
To him, it looked like the smile of a father seeing the growth of his son.
“That was splendid. I will be a bit more serious then.”
Gazef’s expression changed.
Climb felt goose bumps all over his body. The strongest in the Kingdom had finally shown himself.
“I have a potion with me so there is no need to worry. It can heal fractures.”
The taciturn way Gazef implied that he should be prepared for broken bones made Climb’s heart thump loudly in his chest. He was used to injuries but that did not mean he enjoyed them.
Gazef closed in at twice Climb’s speed.
The bastard sword drew an arc that was low enough to skid the ground and slashed at Climb’s legs. Its speed, filled with rotational force, Climb quickly stabbed his broadsword into the ground in an attempt to protect his legs.
The two sides collided, at the least, that is what Climb believed. In that instant— Gazef’s sword changed course and rode up the side of the broadsword.
Climb leaned his body back and the sword flew inches past his face. The wind from the slash severed a few strands of his hair as it passed by.
Fearful at the fact that Gazef had cornered him this badly this quickly, Climb saw in his vision that the bastard sword had halted and was quickly coming back.
Before he could even think, his survival instinct caused Climb to push forward with the small shield. The bastard sword crashed into the shield and a loud metallic sound rang out.
Climb felt intense pain as he was blown away to the side. The impact as his body crashed violently to the floor forced his sword from his hand.
The bastard sword that had collided with the small shield had moved upwards and delivered a severe blow to Climb’s flank.
“It’s the flow, not simply attacking and defending. You must move so that every action can flow into your next attack. Your defense must serve as a part of your next assault.”
Gazef spoke to Climb in a gentle voice while he picked up his sword and attempted to get up while holding his side.
“I controlled my strength so it wouldn’t break. You should be able to continue…. What will you do?”
Gazef, who did not even seem tired, and Climb, tense and heaving with pain.
This ugly sight of not being able last even a few strikes, he was just wasting Gazef’s time. Even so, Climb wanted to be stronger, no matter how slight.
Raising his sword, he nodded to Gazef and resumed his stance.
“Very well, let us continue.”
With a hoarse shout, Climb charged.
Beaten, flung about, and sometimes even resorting to punches and kicks, Climb collapsed to the floor with labored breaths. The cold chill of the ground felt pleasant as it absorbed his body heat through the chain shirt.
“Hah, hah, hah…”
He did not even try to wipe away the sweat. No, he did not even have the energy to do so.
Enduring the stabs of pain, Climb, unable to resist the fatigue rising all throughout his body, closed his eyes slightly.
“Good work. I tried not to break or crack anything, but how is it?”
Sprawled out on the floor, Climb moved his hands and touched the parts that still gave him pain.
“I don’t think there are any problems. Painful, but they’re only bruises.”
The ringing pain was light; it would not be a hindrance to the princess’ security.
“Is that so… Then we will not need the potion.”
“Yes. After all, careless use will cancel out the effects of muscle training.”
“Indeed. They should be left to heal naturally but magic will end up restoring the muscles to their original state. I assume you will be returning to your duties as the princess’ guard?”
“Then take it with you. Use it should anything happen.”
With a clink, the potion bottle was set next to Climb.
He raised himself and looked at Gazef, at the man his sword could not touch even once.
The man without a scratch looked at him strangely, and spoke.
“What is it?”
“Nothing… I just thought you are amazing.”
His breathing was steady, with almost no traces of sweat on his forehead. Climb breathed a sigh; he realized that this was the difference between him, who was on the floor, and the strongest in the Kingdom. On the other hand, Gazef wore a bitter smile.
“—Even if you ask me how I am so strong, I have no answer to give you. It is simply talent. I learned how to fight during my days as a mercenary. These kicks that the nobles call vulgar, I learned them during those days as well.”
There is no trick to gaining strength, Gazef declared. The hope that adopting the same training would, to an extent, help him grow stronger was easily dashed.
“Climb, you have potential in that sense. Punching and kicking, using your fists to fight.”
“Is… that so?”
“Indeed. In fact, it is rather fortunate that you were not trained as a swordsman or a soldier.
When one holds a sword, they tend to focus on fighting while only using that weapon. I believe that this is wrong. Change our view of the sword to see it as just another way of attacking while incorporating the fists and legs, would that not be more effective in a real battle? Well… my sword is more suited for adventurers.”
Climb’s usual blank face was gone and replaced by a smile. He did not expect the strongest in the Kingdom to praise his skills so highly; his unorthodox movements and skills devoid of framework.
The sword that the nobles mocked behind his back was being praised. His joy was immense.
“Well then, I will take my leave. I must not be late to the King’s morning meal. Will you be heading back?”
“No. There is supposed to be a guest today.”
“A guest? A noble, perhaps?”
As Gazef thought it strange that the princess would be receiving a guest, Climb responded.
“Yes. Aindra-sama will be visiting.”
“Aindra? …Ah! But which Aindra are you referring to? The blue one, right? Not the crimson?”
“Yes. Blue Rose.”
The relief on Gazef’s face was obvious at a glance.
“Right… That’s what it was. If a friend is visiting…”
Gazef must have guessed that the reason Climb was not invited for breakfast was because a friend was coming. In truth, Climb was the one who turned down her offer. Even if he was in a position where such a thing was allowed, to refuse the royal family, even Gazef would furrow his brows at the news. That was why Climb remained silent on the matter and left it to the man’s imagination.
Even Aindra herself, who was acquainted with Climb through Renner, requested that he join them. She would not share the adverse reaction of the other nobles even if Climb were to join their meal.
This was his consideration for his master who had very few female friends. A princess had almost no opportunity to engage in lady talk and Climb felt that his absence would be for the best.
“Thank you for your guidance today, Gazef-sama.”
“Not at all, pay it no mind. I enjoyed myself as well.”
“… If it isn’t too much trouble, could I ask you to oversee my training next time as well?”
Gazef paused briefly— before Climb could apologize, he spoke.
“I see no problem with it if we keep it to when others are absent.”
Climb didn’t open his mouth, he clearly understood the reason for the man’s hesitation. He then forced his creaking body to stand in order to show his sincerity.
“Thank you very much!”
Gazef slowly waved his hand and turned.
“I will leave the cleanup to you. It will be troubling if I miss the meal. …Ah, right. That vertical slash wasn’t bad, but you should keep your next move in mind. Think of what will happen next if your opponent blocks or avoids your attack.”
Lower Fire Month (9th Month), Day 3, 6:22
Having parted ways with Gazef, Climb wiped his sweat with a wet towel and headed for a place that was completely different from the main hall.
The room he was currently in was as wide as the hall he was in before. It was filled with many people engaging in conversation. A delicious aroma was mixed in with the warm atmosphere, rousing people’s appetites.
It was the mess hall.
Climb walked through the bustle of noises and stood behind a line of people. Like the person before him, he grabbed one of the dishes that were piled high. On his tray, he placed a wooden plate, a wooden soup bowl, and a wooden cup.
He was served his meal in an orderly fashion.
A large steamed potato, barley bread, white stew with small bits of meat and vegetables, cabbage pickled in vinegar, and a single sausage. From Climb’s point of view, it was quite a luxurious meal.
As the food made its way onto his tray, Climb smelled a sumptuous aroma and felt it stimulate his stomach. He proceeded to look around the mess hall.
The loud soldiers ate their meals while engaging in superficial conversations like their next day off, today’s food, families, and their trivial duties.
Climb found an empty seat and made his way there through the bustle of noise.
He sat on a space in a wide bench. Soldiers were seated on either side of him, talking merrily amongst their friends. They barely gave Climb a disinterested glance before turning away to resume their talks.
The only silence to be found was near Climb.
An outsider looking in would think the atmosphere was strange.
Despite the merry chatter in the surroundings, not a single person attempted to strike a conversation with Climb. Of course, people would not normally go out of their way to speak to strangers. But they were fellow soldiers who would, at times, trust one another with their lives. Indeed, such a response was quite bizarre.
It was as if the person named Climb did not even exist.
Climb himself made no effort to speak to others, the reason being that he clearly understood his own position.
The ones who guarded the castle were not mere soldiers. A ‘soldier’ of the Kingdom referred to the militia armed by nobles who owned territory. It included the enlisted men whose wages were paid by the governor and those who served as city guard. What they all had in common was that they were made up of common folk.
However, there were many problems with allowing just anyone the job of protecting the palace, the center of important news and information, and placing them so near the royal family.
That was why a recommendation from a noble was required in order for someone to become a guard in the palace. If a guard caused trouble, the noble from whom he received his recommendation from would be held responsible. As such, only those with a clean background and a sound body and mind were given a recommendation.
However, this caused factions to form.
Depending on which faction the sponsoring noble belonged to, that soldier ended up being roped into that group as well. A soldier who refused would not even receive a recommendation in the first place. It was fair to say that there were no exceptions whatsoever to this rule.
It may seem like it would be filled with flaws, but on the contrary, being embroiled into a power struggle meant that soldiers trained their skills diligently. Although their strength fell short of the Empire’s knights, the soldiers who guarded the palace still boasted considerable skill.
Climb’s strength was several levels above them, but that was also one of the reasons why the nobles were against him. They could not stand the fact that he was stronger than the soldiers they had recommended themselves.
Of course, there could also be an instance where nobles who sponsored soldiers did not belong to any faction. However, with the current power struggle of the Kingdom between the royalty faction and the nobility faction, there was only a single noble who could come and go between them like a bat.
And among the soldiers, there was only one man who did not enlist on the recommendation of the nobles.
That person was Climb.
Normally, someone of Climb’s background would not be able to serve Renner by her side.
Protecting the royal family, a duty of such grave importance did not come to a person of low birth. It was common knowledge that only those of noble rank could protect royalty.
Regardless, there were exceptions to this case, like the Kingdom’s elite warriors, as well as its strongest soldier, Gazef Stronoff. And if Princess Renner strongly wished it, there were few who could openly oppose her. Even if members of the royal family could speak against her, just who would interfere when she had the King’s approval?
Climb being granted his own private quarters could be called a result of a very complicated circumstance. A simple soldier would not even dream of his own room and would have to spend his daily life in the larger area. Although Renner ordered it, another reason Climb was given his own room was to isolate him. Not belonging to either faction made him a troublesome existence.
Considering Climb’s circumstances, it was obvious that he belonged to the royalty faction. But that was a gathering of nobles who pledged their fealty to the King. From their point of view, Climb, with his unclear background, was an eyesore.
As a result, the royalty faction saw Climb as troublesome to recruit, but if left alone will work for their side of his own volition. The nobility faction saw merit in pulling him to their side, but at the same time, recognized its dangers.
Even if they are called a faction, it did not mean that the many nobles who make up the groups are of one mind. No matter what, a faction was a gathering in order to further a goal or way of thinking. If the royalty faction had a person who did not welcome Climb — a commoner of an unknown background who was the closest to a princess so beautiful that she was called golden — then it was safe to say that the nobility faction would have someone who wanted to bring him over to their side.
Regardless, currently there was no one in either group foolish enough to approach Climb and splinter their own faction.
The result was that the two factions concluded that they each did not want to hand Climb over to the opposing side, but at the same time, also did not want him on theirs.
This was why he did not to speak to anyone and ate alone.
Simply moving his spoon without speaking to others, nary a glance, his breakfast did not even take ten minutes to finish.
“I should be going.”
A habit possibly formed from being alone so often, Climb muttered to himself in satisfaction. As he was rising from his seat, a passing soldier bumped into him.
The soldier’s elbow touched the wound from Gazef’s training, causing Climb, his expression still blank, to stop his feet.
The soldier continued to walk by without a word. Needless to say, the soldiers around him did not say anything as well. The few who saw the incident frowned slightly but did not speak.
With a long sigh, Climb grabbed his empty plate and walked on.
This type of incident was an everyday occurrence. He even felt it fortunate that it didn’t happen when he had a bowl of hot stew.
Sticking out a foot to trip him or bumping into him on purpose and faking it as an accident, such behavior was quite common. However—
— What of it.
Climb calmly walked forward. Those people could not do any worse, especially so if he was in a place with as many eyes as the mess hall.
Climb straightened his chest, his eyes pointed forward; he absolutely did not look down.
If he were to appear unsightly, it would be a slight against his master, Renner. The reputation of the woman whom he pledged his absolute loyalty was on the line.