Editors/Proofreaders: Ferro, TaintedDream, Namorax, Skythewood, SifaV6, Storm Loki
Lower Fire Month (9th Month), Day 3, 4:01
As soon as he entered Gazef’s residence, the fatigue that had built up in his body hit him all at once and Brain spent almost the entire day asleep. When he awoke, he ate a light meal and again, fell back into sleep.
Although he didn’t want to admit it, the reason he could get this much rest in Gazef’s home was because of the sense of security. Even if he knew that Gazef would be no match for Shalltear, his old enemy’s home, which he considered to be the safest place in the world, gave Brain peace of mind and allowed him to rest.
The light shining through the shutters fell on Brain’s face. The sunlight seeped into his eyelids and woke him from his deep, dreamless slumber.
He opened his eyes and closed them again due to the blinding sunlight, blocking a sliver with his hand.
Brain sat up and scanned his surroundings like a mouse. The simple room contained only the bare necessities. His equipment was lying in a corner of the room.
“This is the guestroom of the Kingdom’s Warrior Captain?”
With a sigh of relief, Brain spoke with sarcasm as he stretched. With a cracking noise, his stiff body loosened as his blood circulation returned.
He let out a large yawn.
“…That guy probably lets his soldiers sleep here from time to time. Won’t they be disappointed with a house like this?”
The reason the nobles lived extravagant lives wasn’t solely due to their love of luxury. It was to show off and keep up appearances.
Likewise, if their leader was surrounded in luxurious furnishings, it would stoke the ambitions of the soldiers and make them work harder.
“…No, that’s just pointless meddling.”
Brain muttered and snorted back a laugh, not at Gazef, but at himself.
For it was now the second time that his heart found comfort after a shock large enough to drive him to despair. It must be, since he had the peace of mind for such trivial thoughts.
Brain thought of the appearance of that powerful monster and could not stop his hands from trembling.
He could not shed the terror in his heart.
Brain Unglaus, a man who gave his all to the sword, could not even reach her feet. She was an existence of absolute strength, a monster among monsters with an appearance as if all the beauty of this world was concentrated in one place. She was a being that possessed true power.
Just imagining it felt as if terror was piercing his entire body.
Ensnared by the fear of that monster chasing him, he fled all the way to the capital with almost no sleep or rest. The fear of Shalltear appearing before him while he slept, of her clawing through the darkness as he ran on the road... he was dominated by that uneasiness and moved without getting a decent night of sleep.
Although the reason he fled to the capital was because he hoped that a place with many people would allow him to hide amongst them, even he himself did not expect that the terrifying ordeal of his escape would exhaust his mind to the point where he would seek his own death.
It could also be said that his meeting with Gazef was also outside of his expectations. Perhaps the small hope that Gazef would be able to do something for him caused Brain to subconsciously turn his feet in his direction. The answer was unknown.
“What am I to do now…”
There was nothing.
In his open hand, there was nothing.
He turned his eyes to his equipment resting in the corner of the room.
The katana that he obtained to defeat Gazef Stronoff, but what good would it do even if he were to beat him? With the knowledge of an existence that was tremendously more powerful than he, what meaning was there in their insignificant bickering?
“Maybe I should work the fields… at least that might still mean something.”
As he laughed bitterly at himself, Brain felt someone’s presence standing outside the door.
“Unglaus, I see you’re awake.”
The voice belonged to the master of the house.
“Yeah, I’m up, Stronoff.”
The door opened and Gazef stepped inside. He was securely wearing his equipment.
“You were sleeping quite well. I was surprised.”
“Yeah, thanks to you. Sorry.”
“Don’t mind it. But I must now be off for the palace. Tell me what happened to you when I return.”
“…It’s a gruesome story. You might end up like me.”
“Still, I have to hear it. Perhaps a drink will make it easier to listen… Until then, treat this as your own home and make yourself comfortable. For meals or anything else you may need, ask the house servants and it will be prepared. And if you wish to go into the city… do you have money?”
“…I don’t… but if need be I’ll just sell the item on my hand.”
Brain lifted his hand wearing the ring to better show Gazef.
“Are you fine with that? It looks quite expensive.”
Originally, this item was also something he obtained in order to defeat Gazef. Now that he realized that it was for naught, would there be any reason to treasure it?
“It may be difficult to sell expensive items and it also takes time for the purchase price to be prepared. Take this with you.”
Gazef tossed a small pouch. The clinking sound of metal rang out from the pouch that landed in Brain’s hand.
“…Sorry. I’ll be borrowing this for a bit then.”
Lower Fire Month (9th Month), Day 3, 10:31
Sebas walked while thinking of how to deal with the five people who were tailing him after he left the residence. He had no particular destination in mind. He only believed that moving his body and a change of scenery would help him think of a good idea.
Eventually, he found that a crowd had formed up ahead.
There, a voice that sounded like both anger and laughter rang out, along with the sound of something being beaten. In the crowd, people were remarking about how someone was going to be killed, and that someone should call the guards.
Although he couldn’t see past the crowd, some kind of violence was certainly occurring.
Sebas thought about taking a different road, but just as he was about to change his direction, he hesitated… and continued forward.
He was heading towards the midst of the crowd.
With that single phrase, Sebas moved between the crowds and stepped inside.
As if they were in awe of the strange movements of the old man who was slipping through, everyone who was in Sebas’ path shrank away from him as he passed by. It seemed like there was another person aside from Sebas trying to make his way deeper into the crowd. From his voice asking to let him pass, he sounded flustered from being unable to go through.
Having arrived at the center of the crowd without much difficulty, Sebas confirmed with his own eyes what was going on.
Several men in ragged clothes were kicking something all at once.
Sebas wordlessly continued on. He approached the men till he was close enough to stretch out his hand and touch them.
“What’s with this old man?!”
One of the five men there spotted Sebas and asked roughly.
“I thought it was a bit noisy.”
“You want to be taught a lesson too?”
The men moved to surround Sebas, revealing the thing they were kicking. It was a boy. Whether it was from the mouth or the nose, blood flowed from his face as the boy lay sprawled out. He was unconscious from being kicked for a long time but was still breathing.
Sebas gazed at the men. The smell of alcohol hung in the air around them, as well as from their breaths. Their faces were dyed red and it was not from exercise. Perhaps they could not control their violence because they were drunk.
Sebas spoke to them with a blank expression.
“Though I do not know your reasons, I believe you have done enough.”
“Ahn? He dirtied my clothes with his food. I’m supposed to just let that go?”
At the place the man was pointing to, there was indeed a slight smudge. However, their clothes was dirty from the beginning. Looking at it that way, the spot wasn’t even that noticeable.
Sebas turned his eyes to the one who looked to be the leader among the group. Although the difference was indistinctable, almost impossible to notice for a human, Sebas could perceive it with his outstanding senses as a warrior.
“Truly… this city has terrible public order.”
From his remark that seemed to be confirming something far off in the distance, one of the men felt that he was ignoring them and let out a voice filled with anger.
“…Get out of my sight.”
“What? Gramps, what did you just say?”
“I will tell you one more time. Get out of my sight.”
The face of the man who appeared to be their leader became dyed red. He raised his fist to strike and— collapsed.
Voices of surprise rang out from every direction, and of course, from the four remaining men as well.
What Sebas did was simple. He used his fist to hit the man’s chin with pinpoint accuracy— at a breakneck speed barely visible to the human eye— and rattled the man’s brain in his skull. Although he could have blown him away with a speed indiscernible to the human eye, but he would not be able to instill fear in the others. That was why he restrained his strength.
“Will you continue?”
Sebas asked quietly.
As if his calmness and strength rendered them sober, the men retreated a few steps while collectively apologizing. Sebas thought that the one they should be apologizing to was someone else but did not express it.
Sebas turned his eyes away from the men as they helped their comrade up from the ground. He then tried to approach the boy but halted midway.
What was he doing?
Right now, he had his own problem that needed to be taken care of immediately. But he was trying to shoulder yet another burden. How foolish. When it came down to it, were these not precisely the types of thoughtless actions and kindness the reasons why he was in such a mess in the first place?
The boy was saved; he had to be satisfied with just that.
Despite such thoughts, Sebas approached the boy who was lying on the ground. He lightly touched the boy’s back and poured in his Ki. A complete recovery would be simple if he were to use his full strength, but that would be exceedingly conspicuous.
Having decided that he should stop at just the bare minimum, Sebas motioned towards the person who happened to be in his vision.
“…Please take this child to the temple. It’s possible that his ribs are broken. Be wary of this and please carry him carefully on a board so that he does not move around too much.”
Seeing the man he gave the instructions to nod his head, Sebas moved on. There was no need for him to squeeze through the crowds. Wherever he walked, the crowd parted before him.
As Sebas was about to be on his way, he sensed that the number of people following him had increased.
However, there was a problem. It was the identities of the new followers.
The five who were tailing him from the residence were without a doubt, Succulent’s men. Then just who were the two people who began following him after the incident with the boy?
By their stride and the sound of their footsteps, they seemed to be adult men. But he could not guess as to whom.
“Thinking about it will not yield an answer. Then I should first… capture them.”
Sebas made a turn on the road and walked deeper and deeper into the darkness. Still, he was being followed.
“…It makes me wonder if they really have any intention of hiding themselves.”
They showed no signs of hiding the sound of their footsteps. Sebas wondered whether it was because they were not skilled enough to do so, or if there was a different reason. Regardless, he could just confirm it for himself. As the presence of passersby grew faint, Sebas was about to make his move when— as if matching his timing— the voice of a man still young flowed from one of the followers.
Lower Fire Month (9th Month), Day 3, 10:27
On his way back to the palace, Climb was lost in thought as he moved his feet.
In his head, he thought of the bout with Gazef and repeatedly imagined how the fight could have gone better. As he was deciding which moves to try if he were to get another chance, a shout rang out. A crowd had gathered. Two soldiers stood next to them and awkwardly looked on.
Rowdy voices could be heard from the center of the crowd. By the sound, it did not bode well.
Climb’s face hardened as he approached the soldiers.
“What are you two doing?”
From the sudden voice coming from behind them, the soldiers turned around and looked at Climb in surprise.
They were equipped with a chain shirt and spear. They wore a surcoat bearing the Kingdom’s coat of arms over their chain shirt. Although they were the standard equipment for a guard, these two did not seem to be very well trained.
For starters, their bodies seemed out of shape. They were not cleanly shaven and their chain shirts were poorly maintained and appeared dirty. As a whole, they gave off the air of a lack of discipline.
Seeing Climb who was younger than him speak to him out of the blue, the guard spoke in a confused voice with a hint of irritation.
“I’m off duty.”
As Climb spoke firmly, the confusion that was in the guard’s voice spread to his face. This boy who was younger than they were was speaking to them as if he were their superior.
As if they judged that it would be wiser to be humble, the guards straightened their backs.
“We think there’s been some sort of a commotion.”
Climb suppressed the urge to reprimand them that that much was obvious. Unlike the soldiers stationed in the palace, the guards who patrolled the surroundings were drawn from the common folk and did not receive much training. In other words, they were like civilians who learned how to swing a weapon.
He turned his eyes away from the awkward guards and towards the crowd. Rather than relying on these two, it would be faster for him to act.
Although he might be overstepping his authority and interfering with the work of the patrols, if he were to ignore a citizen in need, then he would not be able to show his face to his benevolent master.
“You guys wait here.”
Without waiting for a reply, Climb tried to force his way through the crowd. Although there was some space, he could not pass through. No, if any human could pass through here that in itself would be strange.
While he was trying to force his way in even as he was being pushed back, Climb heard a voice.
“…Get out of my sight.”
“I will tell you one more time. Get out of my sight.”
This was bad. They were about to strike the old man.
Climb’s face was dyed red as he desperately tried to push his way inside. What entered his vision was the appearance of an old man and the men surrounding him. A ragged boy lay at the feet of the men.
The neatly dressed old man gave off an elegance that made him seem like nobility, or someone who served one. Each of the men surrounding him had a rough appearance and seemed to be drunk. It was obvious which side was in the wrong.
The largest among the men made a fist. When comparing him and the old man, the difference was overwhelming. The girth of their bodies, size of their muscles, the violent temperament that did not hesitate to spill blood; if he were to strike him, the old man would easily be sent flying. The people around them who realized this imagined the tragedy that was about to befall the old man and let out a small scream.
However, Climb who was in the middle of the crowd felt a small sense of danger.
Without a doubt, the side with the men appeared tougher. But instead, he felt as if it was the old man who was giving off the atmosphere of absolute strength.
That moment of absent-mindedness cost Climb the chance to stop the man’s violence. He raised his fist and—
Voices filled with surprise came from Climb’s surroundings.
The old man had accurately struck the man’s chin. Not only that, he did so with incredible speed. It was so quick that someone like Climb who trained their dynamic vision could only barely catch it.
“Will you continue?”
Composure and skill that you could not tell from his outer appearance. Combined, they had no trouble sobering up the men from their drunken stupor. No, even the onlookers were becoming ensnared by the old man’s energy. The men completely lost their will to fight.
“N-no, it was our fault.”
As they retreated back a few steps while apologizing in unison, the men grabbed their leader and fled. Climb had no intention of chasing after them. As if his heart had been stolen away by the old man with the straight back, Climb could not move.
A posture that was as straight as a sword, it was an appearance that any warrior would long for.
The old man touched the boy’s back as if to check his condition. He then asked a person nearby to treat him and moved on. The crowd parted in a straight line to make way for the old man. No one could tear their eyes away from his back, an appearance that commanded nothing less.
Climb quickly ran to the collapsed boy and took out the potion that he received from Gazef during training.
“Can you drink?”
There was no reply. He was completely unconscious.
Climb opened the lid and poured the contents over the boy’s body. Although it was easy to think of potions as medicine to drink, there was no problem in pouring it over the body. That was the greatness of magic.
The potion seeped into the boy’s body, as if his skin was absorbing the fluid. Seeing that the boy’s complexion regained its color, Climb felt relieved and nodded his head.
The surrounding people saw Climb use an expensive item like a potion and were just as surprised as they were with the old man’s skill. However, needless to say, Climb did not regret it. As long as citizens paid taxes, it was the duty of those who lived off of those taxes to protect them and ensure their safety. Since he could not fulfill his duty, Climb felt that he had to do at least this much.
Although the potion should ensure that there would not be any more problems with the boy, it would be better to take him to the temple just in case. Climb signaled to the guards that he had on standby. It seemed they called for more; the two guards were joined by three more men.
The surrounding people looked at the guards that were arriving only just now with reproach. The guards looked nervous as Climb spoke to one of their men.
“Take this child to the temple.”
“What happened here? Exactly…”
“There was violence. I used a healing potion so there shouldn’t be any problems, but take him just in case.”
Leaving the guards to finish up, Climb judged that there was nothing more for him to do here. Nothing good will come of a soldier who worked in the palace meddling any further with the work of others.
“I assume you can find out what happened here from a witness who saw it from the beginning.”
“I will do as you say.”
Having received their orders, the guards found their confidence and quickly moved out. Climb then stood up and ran, ignoring the voices of the guards asking where he was going.
Arriving at the bend in the road where the old man had turned, Climb slowed his pace.
He then followed him.
His eyes fell on the old man’s back walking ahead of him.
Although he wanted to talk to him immediately, whenever he found the courage to do so, Climb lowered his face. It felt as if the pressure would overpower him— of the invisible, thick wall.
The old man turned this way and that and the paths grew darker. Climb followed him from behind without being able to say a word.
This was the same as tailing him.
Climb felt like pulling out his own hair from what he was doing. No matter how hard it was to speak to him, this wasn’t right. Climb tried looking at it as if the situation was reversed while following him.
Eventually, they turned into an alleyway with no one in sight. Climb took several deep breaths and, like a guy confessing to a girl he liked, squeezed out his courage and spoke.
In response to his voice, the old man turned.
Both his hair and beard were white, but his upright back reminded him of a sword forged in steel. The clear features of his face were lined with wrinkles and although they made him appear gentle, his eyes were sharp, like a hawk gazing at its prey.
He even gave off the air of high nobility.
“What is it?”
Although he could somewhat feel the old man’s age through his voice, it sounded imposing and was overflowing with life. Feeling an invisible pressure from his eyes, Climb gulped.
Climb was pushed back by the old man’s energy and could not speak. Then, the old man appeared to release the pent up energy building up inside him.
“Who are you?”
His tone became gentle. Climb was finally released from the pressure and his throat could now move normally.
“…My name is Climb, a soldier of this country. I’m here to give you my sincere thanks for doing what I should have done in my stead.”
As Climb bowed low, the old man narrowed his eyes as if he was thinking and muttered a quiet “Ahh” as if he finally understood what he meant.
“…Do not mind it. Well then.”
As the old man tried to end the conversation and walk away, Climb raised his face and asked.
“Please wait a moment. Truthfully… though I’m embarrassed to admit it, I followed you. Actually, I don’t mind even if you were to laugh at my forward request, but if it’s okay with you, could you teach me that technique that you used a little while ago?”
“…What do you mean?”
“I am training to become stronger and wish to learn even a small portion of the incredible movement and technique you showed just a while ago.”
The old man scanned Climb from top to bottom.
“Hmm… please show me both of your hands.”
Climb held out his hands and the old man stared at his palms with a piercing gaze. It felt somewhat awkward. The old man flipped Climb’s hands over and scanned his fingernails, then nodded with satisfaction.
“They are thick and tough, good hands of a warrior.”
Hearing his words said with a smile, Climb felt his heart grow warm. He felt a joy similar to when Gazef complimented him.
“No, someone like me is… insignificant as a warrior.”
“I do not think that you need be so humble… may I ask you to show me your sword next?”
The old man grasped the sword in his hand and stared at the blade with sharp eyes.
“Aha… is this a reserve weapon?”
“How did you know?!”
“As I thought, do you see the chip in the blade here?”
Looking at the place he was pointing to, there indeed was a slight crack in one side of the blade. He must have messed up his slash while training.
“I’ve shown you something embarrassing!”
The shame made him want to disappear somewhere. Climb knew that he was inexperienced and was very cautious, even nervous, about the state of his weapon, all in an effort to increase his chance of victory by even the slightest amount. No, he thought he did until this very moment.
“I see. I have gotten a general sense of your personality. A warrior’s hands and weapon are mirrors that reflect their wielder. You are a person who gives off quite an agreeable impression.”
Red up to his ears, Climb glanced up at the old man.
It was a gentle, graceful smile.
“I understand. I will give you a bit of training. However—“
As Climb was about to express his thanks, the old man stopped him and continued.
“I have something that I would like to ask you. You did say that you are a soldier, correct? Actually, a few days ago I helped a certain lady…”
Having heard the whole story from the old man who introduced himself as Sebas, Climb felt an intense anger.
The fact that someone was abusing the liberation of slaves proclaimed by Renner in such a way, realizing that even now, nothing has changed since then, he could not hide his fury.
No, that wasn’t it. Climb shook his head.
The slave market was banned by the laws of the kingdom. However, even if it wasn’t slavery, it wasn’t rare to hear about people having to work in poor environments due to debt. There were plenty of those byways regarding that law. No, it was because of those byways that the law banning the slave market was able to be passed in the first place.
The law Renner had enacted was almost meaningless. Although that sad thought ran through his mind, he tossed it aside. What he had to think of now was Sebas’ situation.
Climb furrowed his brow.
It was an overwhelmingly disadvantageous position. Although investigating the girl’s work contract could allow them to retaliate, it was difficult to imagine that they would leave a weak spot like that in their preparations. If he appealed to the law, Sebas will definitely lose.
The reason their opponent did not opt to settle it legally was because they judged that doing it their way would be more profitable.
“Do you know anyone who can stop corruption or lend us aid?”
Climb knew of only one person, his master. He could say with confidence that there was no noble who was more pure and could be trusted than Renner.
However, he could not introduce her.
The ones who could do what they did would have various connections with powerful people. Without a doubt, the nobles they are friendly with will have significant authority. If the princess, who is part of the royalty faction, used her authority to order an investigation and rescue and it resulted in hurting the nobility faction, it could lead to a full scale conflict between the two groups.
Exercising power was not easy, especially in cases like the Kingdom where there was no guarantee that two large factions getting into a conflict would not lead to a civil war.
Renner could not cause the collapse of the Kingdom.
That was the reason why those topics came up in the discussion with Lakyus and her party. That was why Climb did not say anything. No, he could not say anything.
Interpreting something from Climb’s silence born from his troubles, Sebas muttered that he understood and told a shocking truth.
“…According to the girl, that place had many others besides her, regardless of gender.”
Impossible. Despite not being run by the slave trade organization, a brothel like that exists? Or… maybe that’s the brothel that they were talking about?
“If it was to only help them escape… I could ask my master. She possesses territory of her own so if they were to seek refuge there…”
“Is that possible? …And the girl could be sheltered as well?”
“…I apologize, Sebas-sama. I can’t tell you for certain without asking my master. But my master is benevolent, that person will approve without a doubt!”
“Hoh. If your master is that reliable… must be quite an amazing person indeed.”
At Sebas’ question, Climb nodded deeply. No one could be greater, he claimed.
“Though this regards a different matter, what happens if there is evidence that the brothel is involved in the slave trade and thus breaking the law? Will that be covered up as well?”
“Although that’s possible, if the evidence was given over to the appropriate hands… I want to believe that the Kingdom would not be so corrupt as to ignore it.”
“…I understand. Then allow me to ask you a different a question. Why do you wish to be strong?”
At the sudden change in topic, Climb unwittingly made a strange noise.
“A moment ago, you asked me to teach you my technique. Though I determined that you are someone who can be trusted, I wish to know the reason behind why you seek strength.”
Climb narrowed his eyes and Sebas’ question.
Why did he want to be stronger?
Climb was an abandoned child who did not know the faces of his parents. Stories like his were not uncommon in the Kingdom. Dying in the mud wasn’t uncommon either.
Climb was also one of those whose fate was to die in the rain.
However— on that day, Climb met the sun. The existence that had been crawling in the dirt, in the darkness, was captivated by that light.
When he was young, he longed for her. And as he grew up, his feelings changed shape without hesitation.
—It was love.
He had to be rid of these feelings. The miracles that the wandering minstrels sang of would never happen in reality. Like how man cannot touch the sun, Climb’s wish would never be fulfilled. No, it must not be fulfilled.
The woman that Climb loved, her fate was to eventually be married to another. A princess could not be married to someone of an unknown birth like Climb, someone who was lower than a commoner.
If the king was to die and the first prince succeeded the throne, Renner would immediately have to marry a high-ranking noble. It was likely that such talks were already underway between the prince and the high nobility. She may even be sent away to a neighboring kingdom as a tool for a political marriage.
Rather, despite being at a marriageable age, the fact that Renner did not even have a fiancé, let alone marry, was what was strange.
To him, this moment in time was like gold. So much so that he would be willing to pay any price to be able to stop time. If he did not pour all of his time into his training, then he could enjoy that moment for even a tiny bit longer.
Climb was a simple, ordinary person with no talent. Even so, at the end of training, he had considerable skill when compared with the other soldiers. Then would it not be better to be satisfied and stop his training here so he can serve Renner by her side just a little while longer?
However— was that truly enough?
Climb yearned for the light of the sun. That was not a lie or a misunderstanding. It was a thought born from Climb’s honest truth.
“Because I’m a man.”
That’s right. Climb wanted to stand by her side. The sun shines brilliantly in the sky, a man could never stand next to it. Even so, he wanted to rise even higher so that he could become an existence that can be closer to the sun, no matter how marginal.
He did not wish to always remain as someone who had to raise his face to see her.
This was the insignificant thoughts of a boy, but well suited for a boy nonetheless.
He wanted to become a man who would suit the woman he yearned for, even if they could never be together.
These thoughts were why he was able to endure the life without comrades, the harsh training, and his studies that cut into his sleep time.
If people wanted to call him foolish and mock him, then let them.
Those who did not truly love another could never understand his feelings.
♦ ♦ ♦
Sebas narrowed his eyes as he observed his sincerity. As if he was trying to understand the myriad of meanings behind Climb’s short answer. He then nodded his head in satisfaction.
“I have decided how to train you from your reply.”
He stopped Climb as he was trying to express his gratitude.
“However, I am sorry to say that you have no talent. Training you in earnest will take quite some time, time that I do not have. I wish to train you so that the results will show quickly but… it will be very severe.”
Climb gulped loudly. The glint in Sebas’ eyes made his back shudder.
The reason he didn’t respond immediately was because he felt the power in those eyes. It was a strength that could not possibly exist, one exceeding even that of a serious Gazef.
“I will tell you honestly, you may die.”
This was not a joke.
Climb’s hunch told him that he was speaking the truth. He didn’t care whether or not he died. However, that was only the case if it was for Renner. He did not want to lose his life over a selfish matter.
It wasn’t because he grew scared. No, perhaps that really was the reason.
Climb swallowed his saliva once and then hesitated. The surroundings were dominated by a brief silence, quiet enough to hear the noises in the distance.
“Whether you survive is up to you… If you have something that you hold dear, a reason to crawl forward and cling onto your life, you will be fine.”
Was he not going to teach him about martial arts?
Despite such questions that rose to his mind, that was not the problem at hand. Understanding what Sebas’ words meant, he accepted it and gave his reply.
“I am prepared. I leave myself in your care.”
“Do you mean that you have the confidence to not die?”
Climb shook his head, that wasn’t it.
It was because in his heart, Climb always carried with him a reason to cling onto life, even if he had to crawl on the floor.
Sebas nodded deeply, as if he had read what was in Climb’s heart by looking into his eyes.
“I understand. Then I will start the training here.”
“Yes. It will only take a few minutes. Please raise your weapon.”
What was he trying to do? With his mind filled with anxiety and confusion over the unknown and a faint glimmer of expectation and curiosity, Climb drew his sword.
The sound of the blade sliding from its sheath rang out through the narrow alleyway.
Sebas quietly stared as Climb assumed a middle stance.
“Then I will begin. Concentrate.”
And in the next moment—
—With Sebas at the center, it seemed as if blades of ice had shot out in every direction.
Climb could no longer speak.
A vortex of bloodlust was whirling around with Sebas at the center.
Energy that was so dense that its color became visible crashed into him like a raging wave, making his heart feel as if it would explode in an instant. He thought that he heard a sound like a soul screaming as it was being crushed. It sounded as if it was coming from right by his side, a place far away, or perhaps from his own mouth.
As he was engulfed by the black stream of bloodlust, Climb felt his consciousness become dyed in white. The fear was so enormous that his mind was letting go of its consciousness in order to ignore the situation.
“…Is this all that a ‘man’ amounts to? This is only a warm-up.”
In Climb’s fading consciousness, Sebas’ disappointed voice sounded needlessly loud.
The meaning of those words lodged themselves deeply into Climb’s mind, deeper than any blade. It was enough to very briefly let him forget the fear that was crashing into him from the front.
Thump. His heartbeat grew louder.
Climb released a large breath of air.
His eyes were wet with tears and despite being so frightened that he wanted to run, he endured. The hands grasping the sword trembled and the tip of blade shook as if it had gone insane. The trembling that ran through his whole body caused his chain shirt to clink loudly.
However, Climb gritted his rattling teeth and tried to endure Sebas’ bloodlust.
Seeing his unsightly appearance, Sebas wore a sneer and slowly formed a fist with his right hand that was right in front of Climb’s eyes. After a few blinks, the ball-like fist was completed.
Like setting an arrow to a string, the fist was slowly pulled backwards.
Even as he stood there trembling, Climb realized what was about to occur and shook his head side to side. Needless to say, his signal did not affect Sebas.
Like an arrow exploding from a taut string, Sebas’ fist flew at him with the sound of it cutting the air.
—This will be an instant death.
Climb realized this as time slowed down. It looked as if an enormous steel ball even taller than himself was hurtling towards him at a fierce speed. His mind was filled with the image of this complete, absolute death. Even if he were to raise his sword and use it as a shield, it will be easily shattered by the fist.
His body did not even budge. The enormous anxiety rendered it completely stiff.
—There was no way to escape the death in front of his eyes.
Climb gave in to his fate and at the same time, became angry with himself.
If he could not give his life for Renner, why didn’t he just die back then? It would have been better for him to die alone, shivering in the cold rain.
In his eyes, he saw Renner’s beautiful face.
It is said that when people are close to death, they see their life flash before their very eyes. It is the effect from the brain searching the past memories for a way to escape the situation. Still, he found it slightly amusing that the last thing he saw was the smile of his master whom he loved and respected.
That’s right. What Climb saw was Renner’s ‘smile’.
Soon after she saved his life, the young Renner did not show her smile. When did she start smiling?
He could not remember. However, he did recall seeing her smile shyly.
If she knew of Climb’s death, would that smile be destroyed? Like the dark clouds that block off the sun?
—Don’t make me laugh!
Anger surged from the bottom of Climb’s heart.
She was the one who saved the life that was tossed out on the side of the road. If so, his life was not his own. This body was for Renner, to grant her even the smallest form of happiness—
There has to be a way to get out of this—!
The chains of fear were shattered by the manifestation of an intense emotion.
His hands moved.
His legs moved as well.
The eyes that were about to close shut were opened wide. He tried desperately with the naked eye to detect the ultrahigh speed fist heading his way.
All of the senses in his body were pushed to their limit, to the point where he could even feel the air’s vibrations.
Like how people display superhuman strength at the scene of a fire, during an emergency, the brain releases the safety placed on the muscles and allows them to display a strength that would otherwise be impossible.
The brain secretes chemicals en masse and focuses the mind solely on survival. It quickly processes massive amounts of information and selects the most optimal action.
In this single moment, Climb had stepped foot into the world of first-rate warriors. However, even that was surpassed by the speed of Sebas’ attack. It was possible that it was already too late, that there may no longer be any time left to dodge Sebas’ fist. Even so, he had to move. How could he give up?
In that rapid compression of time, his own movements appeared to be as slow as a turtle. Despite this, Climb desperately moved his body.
Boom. With a roar, Sebas’ fist passed by Climb’s face. The wind pressure from his strike ripped off a few strands of hair from his head.
He heard a quiet voice ring out.
“Congratulations. How does it feel to overcome the fear of death?”
—Unable to understand what he was saying, Climb wore a stupid expression on his face.
“How did it feel to face death? And how did it feel to overcome it?”
Climb panted heavily and stared at Sebas with an absent-minded expression. His face looked as if he had a few screws loose. The bloodlust had disappeared without a trace. It was only after Sebas’ words finally entered his head that he could feel a sense of relief.
As if that intense bloodlust was all that had been holding him up, Climb collapsed like a puppet that had its strings cut.
While on his hands and knees, he indulgently sucked in the fresh air into his lungs.
“…It is fortunate that you did not die from shock. There are times when the body so strongly believes that it is dead that it forfeits its ability to sustain life.”
There was still something bitter left in Climb’s throat. This must be what death tastes like, he thought.
“Repeating this several times will allow you to overcome most fears. But you must be cautious. Fear is what triggers the survival instinct. If it becomes completely paralyzed, then you will be unable to recognize even the most obvious of dangers. You must be able to distinguish between them.”
“…T-though I am being rude, Sebas-sama, what are you?”
“What do you mean?”
“T-that bloodlust wasn’t something that a normal person could give off. Just who…”
“At the moment, I am simply an old man who is confident in his skills.”
Climb could not take his eyes off of Sebas’ smiling face. Although he seemed to be smiling gently, it also looked like the fearsome smile of an overwhelming power greatly surpassing Gazef.
He was an existence that may even be stronger than Gazef, the strongest warrior in the surrounding countries.
—Climb decided that his curiosity was satisfied with just that. He felt that no good would come from digging any deeper.
However, the one thing that burned in his mind was the question of just who this old man named Sebas actually was. He even considered the possibility that he was one of the thirteen heroes from the past.
“Then let us try it once mo—.”
“—W-wait! I have a question!”
The frightened voice of a man sounded from behind, cutting off Sebas’ words.
Lower Fire Month (9th Month), Day 3, 9:42
Brain stepped out of Gazef’s residence.
He looked over his shoulder and memorized its exterior so that he could find his way back. He couldn’t remember what it looked like back when Gazef had dragged him here; his mind had been a bit hazy from hypothermia.
He at least knew the location of Gazef’s house because he had planned to pay him a visit in order to challenge him to a fight. However, since he only heard of it through word of mouth, there was a small error in the information.
“That roof doesn’t have no damn sword stuck in it.”
He closely observed the house while cursing the informant who gave him the wrong information. It was much smaller when compared to the houses that nobles lived in. If one had to compare, the house looked as if a decently wealthy citizen could live in it. Regardless, it was more than enough for three people: Gazef and the old couple working as live-in servants.
Committing it to memory, Brain resumed his walk.
He was not heading to any destination in particular.
He no longer wanted to go around looking for magic items, weapons, or armor.
“What should I do…”
His muttering disappeared into empty space.
It wouldn’t matter even if he were to just go off somewhere and disappear. Even now, his mind was strongly drawn to that idea.
Although he searched his heart for what he wanted to do, he only found an empty hole in its place. Not even the ashes of his shattered goal remained.
So then why—.
Looking down, the katana was in his right hand. Underneath his clothes, he was wearing his chain shirt.
The reason that he was gripping this katana before he arrived at the capital was fear. Even if he knew that it would do nothing to the monster called Shalltear who blocked his attack at full power with the nail of her pinky, the anxiety of being without it was too much for him to bear.
Then why was he still holding it? It wouldn’t have mattered even if he left it behind. As expected, was it because he was nervous?
Thinking it over, Brain tilted his head.
However, as to what emotion prompted him to bring his katana with him, no answer came.
Brain walked while remembering the capital from back when he visited it for the first time. While buildings like the palace and the Magician’s guild were unchanged, he spotted many buildings that were new. As Brain tried to enjoy the gap in his memory, there was a commotion further down the road.
He frowned at the commotion. The sound coming from in front of him was filled with the sharp feeling of violence.
As he was about to turn to take a different path, his eyes became drawn to an old man. The old man looked as if he was slipping through the crowd as he headed deeper inside.
“…W-what? What are those movements?”
His eyes blinked several times as words involuntarily spilled out. Those movements were too unbelievable. They made him think as if he had just seen a daydream, or perhaps a result of some sort of a spell.
It was doubtful whether even Brain could follow the old man’s movements. Such technique was only possible if one could read the flow of the push and pull forces generated by both the individual and the whole crowd.
—What he saw was a mastery of the body.
His feet moved towards the old man without hesitation.
Having pushed aside the other people and arriving at the center of the crowd, what Brain saw was the moment when the old man struck the man’s chin at high speed.
Just how? That attack just now… if it was me, could I have dodged it? That might be hard. Did he trick that man’s senses? Am I just thinking too much? Anyways, that was a clean textbook strike, not a single wasted movement…
He could feel his groans of admiration spill from his mouth as he ruminated over the attack that he had just witnessed.
Not only was he unable to see it clearly, it was very difficult to compare a swordsman and a martial artist using the same unit of measurement. However, even that short amount of time was more than enough to understand that the old man was considerably powerful.
The old man may even be stronger than him.
While biting down on his lips, Brain compared the side of the old man’s face with the data of skilled opponents that he had in memory. However, he was different from all of them.
Just who is he?
In the blink of an eye, the old man moved out of the crowd. A boy walked away, as if to follow him. Acting on impulse, like he was being drawn in, Brain began to follow the boy.
It felt as if the old man had eyes on his back, making it hard for Brain to follow him closely. But with the boy, that was not a concern. And even if the boy was found out, Brain himself would still be safe.
Shortly after he started to tail them, Brain detected the presence of several other followers. However, whether they were following the old man or the boy was none of his concern.
Eventually, the two turned a corner and their path continued to grow darker. Brain felt nervous, it was like he was being lured out.
Does the boy not think it’s suspicious? Just as Brain began to wonder, the boy spoke to the old man.
Because they had just turned a corner, Brain was able to hide in the alley and listen in.
To sum up their conversation, the boy wanted to study under him.
What nonsense. That old man won’t accept a greenhorn like him as a disciple.
When comparing the abilities of the two, if the boy was a pebble, then the old man was like an enormous gem. They lived in completely different worlds.
…How pitiful. I didn’t think that not knowing the difference in skill between you and others could be this pitiful. That’s enough, kid.
Brain thought to himself without saying it out loud.
While he meant it for the boy, it was also directed at his past self who was foolish enough to believe that he was the strongest.
As he continued to eavesdrop— he didn’t pay much attention to the bit about brothels— it seemed to have been decided that the old man would train him maybe once or twice. An old man of that caliber, to a boy like him, Brain could think of nothing that would be worth teaching.
What’s going on? Did my eyes get hazy again? No, that’s not it. That kid’s skills aren’t anything special and he doesn’t even have any talent!
Just what sort of training was he going to give him? But from this position, he could only hear, not see. Unable to resist his curiosity, Brain killed his presence and slowly moved to try and peer over the corner. At that moment—
A terrifying energy pierced his entire body.
His scream could not be described in words.
His whole body froze solid.
It felt as if a giant carnivore was breathing inches from his nose. The world was dyed in overwhelming bloodlust, rendering him unable to even blink, let alone move. It made him wonder whether even his heart had stopped beating.
This presence may even rival that of Shalltear Bloodfallen, Brain thought, the one he believed to be the strongest being in this world.
If the person was weak of mind, their heart would have stopped for real. His legs shaking, he dropped to the ground with a thud.
If I’m like this, could that kid be dead?
If he was lucky, then he would have fainted.
Bent over, trembling as he supported himself with his arms, Brain searched for the presence of the two people— and witnessed an impossible scene. Although it was only for an instant, the shock made him completely forget his fear.
The boy was standing.
Like Brain, his two legs were shaking in terror. Despite this, he was still standing.
W-What’s going on? How can a kid like that stay standing?
He could not understand how the boy could be standing while he himself was on his hands and knees in disgrace.
Did the boy have a magic item that blocks fear or knew a martial art to that effect? Or did he possess some special talent?
He could not say for certain that the possibility did not exist. However, while staring at the boy’s unreliable back, Brain knew intuitively that that was not the case. Although impossible, it was the only thing he could think of.
The boy was stronger than Brain.
Ridiculous! How’s that possible!
Although it looked like he trained his body, he still lacked volume. From watching how he moved his feet and body while following him, the boy didn’t look to have much talent. Even though it was like that, the result was different.
W-What’s going on? Am I that weak?
His sight grew dim.
Brain knew that tears were falling from his eyes. However, he could not summon the energy to wipe them away.
”Uuu, ugh… kuh…”
He tried his best to not cry out loud. Even so, his tears flowed endlessly.
Brain grasped the dirt on the ground and focused his strength in order to stand. But the bloodlust that was crashing into this body made him unable to move an inch. As if he was being controlled by someone else, his legs did not budge. The best he could manage was to raise his face and look at the boy and the old man.
He saw his back.
Even now, the boy was still standing.
Even now, the boy was standing face to face with the old man and his bloodlust. The back that he had thought was weak seemed incredibly far away.
Always this weak?
He felt angry with himself, for even after the bloodlust had dissipated, the best he could manage was to stand.
Their training looked as if it was still going to continue. Unable to endure it any longer, Brain squeezed out his courage and shouted as he jumped out of his corner.
“—W-wait! I have a question!”
He no longer had the luxury of thinking that he shouldn’t interfere with their training or that he should find the right timing to appear.
The boy’s shoulders jumped as the desperate voice caused him to turn around, revealing his surprised expression. If their positions had been reversed, Brain too, would have shown the same reaction.
“First, I sincerely apologize for interrupting you two. Forgive me. I couldn’t bear to wait any longer.”
“…Is he someone you know, Sebas-sama?”
“No, he is not. I see, so you do not know him either…”
They looked at him with suspicion. However, that was something he had already predicted.
“First and foremost, my name is Brain Unglaus. Once again, allow me to express my apologies for interrupting you two. I’m truly sorry.”
He bowed deeper than before. He could feel the two moving slightly.
After what he deemed long enough to express his sincerity, Brain raised his face and saw that their expressions contained less suspicion than before.
“And what is your business with us?”
From the old man’s question, Brain glanced at the boy.
“What is it?”
As the boy pondered, Brain asked him a question, like coughing up blood.
“Why… how can you remain standing after receiving that bloodlust?”
The boy’s eyes widened slightly. Because his face was expressionless, such a slight movement felt like a large change in his emotions.
“I’d like to hear it. That bloodlust was beyond what a normal person could endure. Even this body of mine… excuse me, even I couldn’t endure it. But you were different, you endured it. You were standing. How were you able to do it?! How is something like that possible?!”
He could not talk like he usually did because of his excitement. However, it was difficult to suppress it. He who succumbed to his fear and ran in the face of Shalltear Bloodfallen’s overwhelming strength, and the boy who received a bloodlust that was on par with her and remained standing, just where did that difference come from?
He had to know no matter what.
As if these thoughts were transmitted to him, although the boy appeared to be at a loss, he thought about it in earnest and replied.
“…I don’t know. In that whirlwind filled with that much bloodlust, I have no idea how I was able to endure it. But perhaps… it may have been because I was thinking of my master.”
“Yes. When I thought of the person I serve… strength rose up inside of me.”
How do you endure with something like that?
Although Brain wanted to shout that out, before he could do so, the old man quietly spoke.
“It means that his loyalty was greater than his fear. Unglaus-sama, humans are able to display an incredible power if it is for those who are important to them. Like how a mother raises a pillar to save her child trapped in a house, like how a husband supports his wife with one hand when she is about to fall, I believe that is the strength of humans. This person here as well, he displayed that strength. And he is not alone in this. If you have something that you would not trade for anything, then Unglaus-sama will be able to display a power greater than what you have come to expect from yourself.”
Brain could not bring himself to believe him. The thing that he would not trade for anything, his ‘desire for strength’ ended up being meaningless. Too easily, it was destroyed. Did he not grow frightened and flee?
As his expression gradually darkened and his face headed downward, the following words of the old man brought his face upright.
“…What is raised alone will be weak. After all, it will be over once you yourself are broken. Instead, if you build yourself up with another, if you can give your all for someone else, then even if you are broken you will not fall.”
Brain thought to himself. Did he have that something?
However, there was nothing. He had thrown them aside, thinking them to be useless and unnecessary for his pursuit of strength. It turned out that they were what were truly important.
Brain laughed out loud. His life was filled with nothing but mistakes. Before he knew it, words spilled from his mouth like a confession.
“I’ve thrown it all away. Is it too late for me to try again?”
“It will be fine. Even someone like me with no talent was able to do it. If it’s Unglaus-sama, I have no doubt that you will be able to pull through! It’s definitely not too late!”
The boy’s words had no proof. However, strangely enough, Brain felt a warm sensation spread through his heart.
“You are kind and strong… I’m sorry.”
The boy fell into a flutter from the sudden apology. Someone with this much courage, he had mocked him and called him a kid.
Foolish. I was so, so foolish…
“But if you say that you’re Brain Unglaus… could you be the one who fought against Stronoff-sama in the past?”
“…So you remember… Did you perhaps watch the fight?”
“Ah, I wasn’t able to see it. I merely heard of it from someone who did. That person said that Unglaus-sama was an incredible swordsman and that people with his skill in the Kingdom could be counted with one hand. Now that I’ve seen your posture and how you maintain your center of gravity as you move, I know that the person was speaking the truth!”
Pushed back by his genuine compliments, Brain stammered out a reply.
“…Erm, th-thanks. I-I don’t really think I’m that great, but… I’m a bit happy that you’re giving me so much praise.”
“Elder, just call me Unglaus. I’m not worthy to be referred with honorifics by someone like you, elder!”
“Then since my name is Sebas Tian, please call me Sebas. …Then Unglaus-kun.”
Although he felt a bit awkward at having ‘kun’ attached to his name, it wasn’t strange when considering the difference in their ages.
“How about you were to teach the sword to Climb-kun here? I believe that it will prove beneficial to Unglaus-kun as well.”
“Ah, I apologize! My name is Climb, Unglaus-sama.”
“Then elder …excuse me, will Sebas-sama not be the one to teach him? It seemed you were discussing that before I interrupted.”
“Yes, that was what I intended initially. But I felt that it was necessary that I deal with my guests— ah, here they are. It seems they were busy donning their equipment.”
Brain belatedly turned his eyes in the direction that Sebas was looking.
Three men showed themselves. They each wore a chain shirt and held a bladed weapon in their thick leather gloves.
They clearly gave off a killing intent that surpassed mere hostility. Although their bloodlust was only directed at the old man, they did not seem to be the type to have mercy and spare witnesses.
Seeing the men, Brain unwittingly spoke out in a shrill voice filled with surprise.
“No way! They’re coming this way even after receiving that bloodlust? Are they that strong?!”
Then he could only imagine that each one of them was as skilled— no, even stronger than Brain himself. Was the reason that their shadowing was sloppy because they focused on perfecting their warrior skills instead?
However, Brain’s fears were rejected by Sebas.
“The bloodlust from earlier was only directed at you two.”
Even Brain thought that his own voice sounded stunned.
“For Climb, it was to train him. For you, because you seemed to have no intention of showing your face, I sent it to try and drag you out and to root out any hostility you might have along with your will to fight. I did not do it to those men because I knew that they were enemies from the beginning. It would be troublesome for me if they were to grow frightened by my bloodlust and flee, after all.”
Sebas had sneaked in something terrifying in his explanation. Brain could not even bring himself to be surprised. To think that he could control bloodlust of that scale with such precision, that was no longer something that could be understood within the confines of common sense.
“I-I see. Then do you know the identity of those men?”
“I could venture a guess but am not certain. That is why I intend to capture one or two for information. However—.”
Sebas bowed his head.
“I do not wish for the two of you to be dragged into this. Will you not leave this place immediately?”
Hearing his words, Climb asked him.
“Before that, I have a question that I’d like to ask you. Those men… are they criminals?”
“…It seems that way. I don’t think they’re the type of people who’ve led proper lives.”
Having heard Brain’s answer, fire burned in Climb’s eyes.
“Though I may only be in the way, I want to fight as well. As someone who protects the capital’s peace, it’s obvious that I must protect the citizens.”
In his mind, Brain thought that there was no guarantee that Sebas was the just one in this situation. Well, no doubt that anyone who compares the men who just appeared with Sebas who gave off the impression of integrity would believe him to be the good side. But even so, there was no guarantee.
However, he sympathized with him. When comparing the one who saved that child from the drunkards with these men, it was certain which side Brain would take.
“Though you probably won’t need any help… Sebas-sama, I will lend a hand as well.”
Brain stood next to Climb. Sebas would not need any assistance… no, there would not even be any meaning in them being here. However, in order to try and imitate Climb who was fighting for the sake of someone else, Brain chose an answer that his past self would not. Even if the boy’s heart was strong, his skill with the sword was lacking. He would protect him.
Brain glanced at the weapons the men were holding and frowned.
“Poison… It seems that they’re experienced seeing how they’re using a weapon that could kill them… Are they assassins?”
There were lines engraved on the blades of their daggers, also called mail breakers. The fluid on the blade gave off a sinister glint. And the way their nimble movements focused on mobility, different from those of swordsmen, all but confirmed Brain’s words.
“Climb-kun, be wary. Although it would be different if you had a magic item that blocked poisons, consider yourself dead if you were to get hit even once.”
Even though Brain’s great physical ability rendered the average poison ineffective, it would be difficult for Climb to resist them.
“Seeing how you did not attack immediately after revealing yourselves head on, is it fine to assume that you planned a pincer attack and have two more lying in wait? Since we have already passed that point, first, shall we break through?”
Sebas purposefully spoke loud enough so that his opponents could hear him, causing the men to momentarily freeze. They were shaken because their plan to attack while surrounding them had been seen through.
“It seems that it is the safest option. It would be better to crush the front and then attack those in the rear.”
Brain agreed with Sebas. However, that idea was rejected by the one who made the suggestion.
“Ah, but then there is the possibility that they will get away. I will take care of the three in the front. How about you two turn to the opposite side and face the two who will be coming?”
Brain replied that he understood and Climb nodded his head in agreement. This was Sebas’ battle and they were the ones who were forcefully lending him their strength. As long as Sebas did not make a critical mistake, they would have to follow his instructions.
“Alright, let’s go.”
Brain spoke to Climb and turned his back on the men. Although he showed his defenseless side to the people who were overflowing with hostility, thanks to Sebas, he was not worried. As he left his back to him, he felt a rising sense of security, as if a thick castle wall had been built around him.
“Now, though it is unfortunate… I will be your opponent. –Oh no, I cannot have you be unfaithful with these two.”
When Brain looked over his shoulder, Sebas was holding three daggers in the fingers of his right hand. He flicked his fingers and the daggers that the men threw towards Brain and Climb’s defenseless backs all fell to the ground.
The bloodlust in the men’s eyes lessened considerably.
Obviously, seeing thrown daggers being blocked like that would make anyone lose their will to fight. So you guys finally realized just how strong Sebas-sama is, eh? But it’s already too late.
There was no way to escape from that old man. Even if the three of the them were to split off into different directions.
Climb walked up next to Brain.
“Indeed. If someone were to say that Sebas-sama is the strongest in the Kingdom, I’d have to nod my head.”
“Even stronger than the Warrior Captain?”
“You mean Stronoff. Truly, against that elder, I… I…, sorry. I’ll speak how I normally speak. Even if Stronoff and I attacked him together, there’s no way we could win. …Ah, they’re here.”
Two men appeared once they circled around a corner. As expected, they were dressed like the three from before. There was a sound of swords being drawn and Brain followed suit.
“The reason that they didn’t leave one as an ambush to throw a dagger was probably because the elder saw through them.”
An ambush was only effective if it was a surprise, failing that, they would only be splitting up their forces. Since they were found out, they probably determined that working together from the beginning would give them a higher chance of victory.
“It’s a naive way of thinking. …Climb, I’ll handle the guy on the right, you take the one on the left.”
Brain scanned the way they moved and guessing which one was the weaker of the two, gave the boy his instructions. The boy nodded and raised his sword. The lack of hesitation was unique to someone who experienced a situation with their life on the line. Brain was relieved that the boy wasn’t a virgin of real battles.
Climb should be able to beat that guy but… since he’s using poison, it’ll be a close fight.
Although Climb had real battle experience, he did not seem like someone who walked the kind of bloody path where fights against poison users were frequent. This may even be his first time fighting against poison. Brain as well, he was always overly cautious when fighting against monsters that used acid or venom, making it difficult for him to display his full strength in those situations.
Would it be better if I kill the guy on the right quickly and help him? Will that be to this guy’s benefit? Will I be stepping on his determination to help with his own power? Should I just fight in his stead? No… will Sebas-sama help him in a pinch? Do I have to step in if there’s no sign that he will help him? To think that I would worry about things like this…
Brain scratched his head with the hand that wasn’t holding the katana and glared directly at the enemy.
“Now, sorry about this but I need you to become the sacrifice to fill my idle period.”
Sebas closed in and with his fist, planted a strike into each man. They could not even react, let alone defend themselves. And with that, it was over.
It was obvious. With battle strength that was considered to be top class even in Nazarick, Sebas could defeat assassins of this level with just his pinky.
He turned his eyes away from the collapsed men and watched the fight behind him.
Brain was overwhelming his opponent from the beginning to the end and Sebas could watch him without worry.
The assassin whom he was facing appeared to be looking for an opening so that he could escape. However, Brain did not allow it and fought as if he was toying with him. No, rather than calling it that, it looked as if he was using a wide variety of attacks to try and remove the rust from his body.
He did mention something about an idle period. And it seems that the reason he’s not attacking seriously is because he’s worried about Climb and wants to be ready to jump in and help at any time. He’s more considerate than I thought.
Sebas moved his eyes from Brain to Climb.
This side should be fine as well.
An exchange of blows, although the poisoned weapon caused a bit of unease, the situation wasn’t bad enough that he had to go and help immediately. It pained him that a friendly stranger was dragged into a mess that he caused. However—
Had you not told me that you wished to grow stronger, I would have gone over to help you. A battle with one’s life on the line is also good training. I will help you if it becomes dangerous.
Climb used his sword to redirect the opponent’s thrust.
Cold sweat flowed down his back. It had almost managed to stab into his armor. A look of disappointment flashed across his opponent’s face.
Climb placed his sword out in front of him and measured the space between them. His opponent on the other side shifted back and forth to stop him from measuring the distance.
Normally, Climb would block with his shield and use his sword to attack. His current predicament of fighting with only his sword shaved away at both his mind and body. Not only that, the poisoned weapon also placed a great burden on him. He knew very well that mail breakers were specialized for thrusting, and as such, that was the only part that he had to be cautious of. But even so, as expected, the thought of being unable to sustain even a scratch dulled his movements.
He could feel his mounting fatigue, not only of his body, but his mind as well. His breathing grew ragged.
It’s the same for my opponent. I’m not the only one who’s exhausted.
Like him, his opponent’s forehead was slick with sweat. He was agile, using quick movements to throw the enemy into disarray, it was a style well suited for an assassin. That was why inflicting even a single wound on the arms or legs would make the assassin lose his advantage and destroy the balance of power between them.
The battle would be decided in a single attack.
That was the reason for the restlessness that flowed between them. Of course, this was what a fight between those of similar skill was like. Regardless, it was even more pronounced in this particular battle.
With a heavy breath, Climb attacked. It was a small swing with little power behind it. A wide swing would open him up to a huge blind spot if he were to miss.
The assassin easily dodged his attack and thrust his hand into his shirt. Predicting his next move, Climb became cautious of the assassin’s hand.
Climb blocked the dagger that flew at his eyes with his sword.
It was fortunate. Luckily, he was able to deflect the attack because he had carefully focused his attention.
But without even giving him a chance to breathe a sigh of relief, the assassin charged in low.
A shiver crawled down his spine.
He had no way to block this additional attack. The fear from the dagger had made him deflect it with a large swing. Because his sword was still in the air, he could not bring it back fast enough to match the timing for a counterattack. Although he wanted to focus on dodging, the assassin had him beat in agility.
He was cornered. At the very least, use his arm as a shield and—
As Climb made his resolve, the assassin who was charging at him suddenly covered his face and leapt back a great distance.
A small stone the size of a pea came flying and struck the assassin’s left eyelid. Pushed to his limits, Climb’s accelerated mind confirmed it.
Even without turning around, he knew who had thrown it. As proof, he heard Sebas’ voice coming from behind him.
“Fear is a precious emotion. However, you must not be overcome by it. I was watching from a bit earlier, but this is quite a dull and half-hearted battle. If your opponent had the resolve to sacrifice an arm, it would have certainly meant your death. If your strength leaves you, win with your head. There are times when the mind surpasses the body.”
Answering in his head, he was surprised that he had regained his composure. It was not a feeling of security from relying on someone to help him. Rather, it was because someone was watching over him.
He could not completely wipe away the fear that he may die. However—
“If… I die, please tell Renner-sama, please tell the princess that I fought well.”
He let out a long sigh and quietly raised his sword.
Climb noticed that the light in the assassin’s eyes was different than before. Although their time was brief, perhaps their hearts had found a connection through this battle with their lives on the line.
Like how Climb found his resolve, the assassin seemed to have noticed and found his as well.
The assassin stepped forward. Needless to say, he closed the distance without a word.
Confirming that he had entered his range, Climb brought down his sword. In that instant, the assassin leapt back. He had read the speed of Climb’s sword and used himself as a bait to try for a feint.
But there was one thing that the assassin had missed.
Without a doubt, the assassin had seen through most of Climb’s sword techniques. However, that was only excluding just one attack, the vertical slash that Climb was confident in. It was heavier and faster than any of his other attacks.
The sword that lodged in the assassin’s shoulder was stopped by the chain shirt and did not completely cut him in two. However, it easily broke through his collarbone, cut through the flesh, and even shattered his shoulder blade.
The assassin thrashed about as he rolled around on the ground. The pain was so intense that his scream was silent, spit dribbling from his mouth.
Sebas appeared from behind and effortlessly kicked the assassin in his abdomen.
With only that, the assassin became like a puppet with its strings cut and did not move. He had fallen unconscious.
In the corner of his eyes, Brain had already defeated his assassin and was slightly raising his hand to congratulate him.
“Then let us start the interrogation. If you have anything that you wish to hear, please don’t hesitate and ask.”
Sebas brought one of them over and woke him up. The man’s body shook as he regained consciousness, Sebas then moved his hand to the man’s forehead. All of this did not even take two seconds. Although he wasn’t pressing down on it very hard, the man’s head arched back and returned like a pendulum.
The man’s eyes had already lost focus, like the eyes of a drunkard.
Sebas began his questioning. Although an assassin’s lips should have been sealed tight, the man did not hide anything and chattered away. Seeing that strange scene, Climb asked.
“What did you do?”
“It’s a skill called ‘Palm of the Puppeteer’. It’s fortunate that it activated without a hitch.”
Although it was a skill that he had never heard of, more importantly, Climb frowned at the man’s information.
They were assassins from Eight Fingers who were trained by one of the ‘Six Arms’, the strongest members of the security group. They were following Sebas in order to kill him. Brain asked Climb.
“…I’m not too sure but, aren’t the Eight Fingers a pretty big criminal organization? I think they have connections with the mercenary groups…”
“You’re correct. ‘Six Arms’ is the name of the six strongest members of that organization. I heard that each one of them rivals the strength of adamantium rank adventurers. We do not know what they look like since that is a matter regarding the underworld.”
And Succulent, the one who appeared at Sebas’ residence, was a member of Six Arms who was called the ‘Devil of Illusions’. His plan was to have Sebas killed so that he could freely manipulate his beautiful master.
Having heard up to this point, Climb felt a chill sweep over him. The chill was coming from Sebas.
As Sebas slowly stood up, Brain asked him a question.
“Then what will Sebas-sama do from here on out?”
“I’ve decided. I will first destroy the problematic location. From what he said, it seems Succulent is there as well. A spark should be quickly stamped out.”
Both Climb and Brain drew in their breaths at his wholly unconcerned reply.
The fact that he was going to attack them meant he was confident enough to win against adamantium rank adventurers— in other words, the strongest of mankind.
But even that felt acceptable.
He defeated three of these assassins in an instant and even that famous Unglaus-sama is wary of him. Just who is Sebas-sama? Was he an adamantium rank adventurer in the past?
“…However, it appears that they have kidnapped several people. It will be better for me to act quickly.”
“Right, if the assassin’s don’t return, they would realize that something went wrong and move the kidnapped people elsewhere. Then we wouldn’t be able to rescue them.”
The more time passes, the more disadvantageous it will be for this side whilst at the same time, the more advantageous it will be for the enemy. That was the current situation of the person called Sebas.
“Then I will begin my assault immediately. I apologize but I have no intention of changing my mind. May I ask that you two take these assassins to the guard office?”
“Ahhh, wait Sebas-sama! If it’s okay with you, please allow me to help! Of course, only with your approval.”
“I agree as well, Sebas-sama. As Renner-sama’s subordinate, safeguarding the capital’s public order is my obvious duty. If the Kingdom’s people are suffering, I will save them with my sword.”
“…Though Unglaus-kun will probably be fine, it might be a bit dangerous for Climb-kun.”
“I am aware of the dangers.”
“Hey, Climb… you ever heard of only being a burden? Well, from Sebas-sama’s point of view, there’s probably not too much of a difference between me and you.”
“No no, that wasn’t what I meant. I was only worried about Climb-kun’s safety. Please know that I will not be able to protect you like before.”
“…What we are about to do now may end up harming you, or your master’s, honor. Are there not other opportunities that would be more fitting for you to risk your life?”
“Closing my eyes because it’s dangerous would only prove that I am not a man fit to serve my master. Like how that person helps others, if it’s possible, I want to extend my hand to those who suffer.”
Like when she extended her hand to me—.
As if they had caught a glimpse of his firm determination, Sebas and Brain turned to look at one another.
“…Have you prepared your resolve?”
From Sebas’ question, Climb nodded his head once.
“I understand. Then there is nothing more that needs to be said. Please lend me your strength.”
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