“Refusing all the gifts?”
“Yes, My Lord.”
“Didn’t he even check what they were?”
“No, My Lord. He refused without even opening them.”
Duke Sheretif sat in the stands, he pondered in silence.
He dismissed the high-priced magical items that most people could never afford in their lifetime with just a word.
It arrived as a gift in his name, and anyone with common sense would have anticipated it to be an expensive luxury item, even without inspecting it.
Even if they weren’t like ancestral relics, if they were rare enough to be found only occasionally through auctions, they could be called luxury goods without hesitation.
Did he refuse such things without even looking at them?
“Either very confident or very clever.”
The moment one receives support from Duke Sheretif, a certain ‘favor’ is created. Merely accepting something from him, regardless of whether there’s substantial alignment of interests, creates an implicit obligation.
Thus, if he were to suffer defeat and elimination from the tournament, even in the absence of concrete proof, suspicions would inevitably arise linking his losses to the gifts he received.
Ivan would be subject to speculation by the princess, accused of possibly trading victory to nobles in return for financial gain or other favors.
So, refusing the gifts now could be interpreted as ensuring both safety and maintaining his value.
Of course, there are also those who have lost their minds in the name of reciprocation.
Well, those guys all became corpses during the war.
Loyalists are necessary in times of chaos.
Humans are political beings, and in times when survival and struggle are not urgent, humans are bound to become political beings.
Duke Sheretif nodded.
“Not bad for a third son of a mercenary noble family,” he thought. “After utilizing him effectively and obtaining his value, it wouldn’t be too difficult to discard him without any loss.”
“Elizaveta indeed wields control over Intelligent Command, to have discovered such a man,” he mused.
“If he loses, we shall host a grand feast in honor of the man from Krasilov who fought so valiantly.”
“Yes, My Lord.”
As the herald bowed and stepped back, Duke Sheretif added one more passing remark.
“But if he wins, kill him by any means necessary. This era no longer reveres heroes.”
Third-rate romances like nameless knights winning the princess’s love through sheer valor and leading a peaceful reign are no longer necessary.
The world no longer wishes for one person’s blade dancing above the masses.
Heroic tales easily sway the masses, especially the more dramatic and glamorous they are.
Elizaveta already possessed a sufficient level of wealth and control. If combined with military force and the support of the people… it would be nothing short of the resurgence of a ruler with more solid sovereignty than any absolute monarchy in the past.
Therefore, the last move against that man by Elizaveta. Even if he were to defeat the ‘strongest elf’, it would be the birth of a great nobody. No, precisely because of that.
He must be eliminated now, before he blossoms fully.
[Ivan Petrovich Yermov, enters!!]
Poor-quality armor, not even properly stamped, creaks as it ascends.
Accompanied by heavy footsteps, clanking and clanging.
[Here he comes.]
Edel looked at Ivan approaching, her fingers itching to draw her sword and engage in a dance of blades.
Finally, Ivan stamped firmly on the stage. The eyes of the two knights met.
-Woo, woo, woo, woo, woo, woo!!
The audience booed. Neither knight was showing proper respect to the nobility and the royal family.
The two warriors raised their helmets, not showing their faces, not bowing towards the royal family, just staring at each other.
An elf clad in magnificent magic-enhanced armor, and a third son of an unknown provincial noble.
The two eccentric duelists both slowly drew their swords without waiting for anyone’s signal.
The blades soared towards the sky and simultaneously stopped at a 15-degree angle towards each other.
Ignoring respect for the ruler, the nation, or the people, the two warriors now only displayed deference to each other.
“Come on, Winter Hound. Show me what you’re made of!”
Ivan nodded briefly.
With his superhuman senses, he could even discern the opponent’s heartbeat within arm’s reach.
Was it tension? Or pleasure? The cheerful rhythm of heartbeats seemed to hang in the air somewhere between them.
Ivan studied Edel’s stance.
As usual. Perfectly neutral, without any discernible habits.
Her spine straight, shoulders slightly hunched to conceal the frontal width.
Her right hand extended the sword without any twitch. That signifies perfect muscle control.
Even if dementia were to strike, even if physical abilities were diminished by aging, her youth remained intact.
What are the odds?
Once standing with a sword in hand, there should be no consideration of odds. That’s what he learned. That’s how he had to act.
Can it be done or not. Not that.
Should it be done. If so, then it will be done. Only that.
Ivan tightened his grip on the sword hilt. He would defeat the pinnacle of elven swordsmanship, the master of swordplay, right here, right now.
With that determination, he took a step forward.
The swords met like a playful tap, pushing each other’s blades aside.
A slow clash of swords, neither slicing nor striking fiercely. A light touch, like clapping hands.
– Woo, woo, woo, woo!!!
The audience’s jeers grew louder.
Are they playing around? Is it rigged? Does this duel look like a joke?!
Ignoring the noise of the angry crowd, Ivan takes another step forward.
A slightly faster push sends the sword upwards.
This is met with another precise strike at the exact moment.
Light friction, not delving into each other’s weaknesses or continuing the attack.
But the superhuman senses gather more information.
The weight of the swords, the opponent’s muscle response, the direction of force, countless sword paths derived from the angle of the wrists when the swords meet, and the subsequent moves to block those paths.
Another exchange based on the information gained from the previous one.
And observing the opponent’s condition propelled by the recoil of that strike, another exchange.
– Clang—!! Clang!!
Exchange after exchange, leading to a single sword technique. Understanding the superiority of the sword technique, setting the blade upright to compensate for weaknesses and push the advantage towards the opponent’s guard,
– Clang, clang, clang!! Clang!! Clang—!!
As the clash of swords repeats, it gets faster and faster until at some point it becomes too fast for the audience’s eyes to follow.
The arena fell silent. Only the sound of silence, the swallowing of dry saliva, and involuntary gasps or sighs.
The silent shock that thousands of spectators collectively experience.
– Clang!! Clang!! Clang!!
It’s getting faster and faster, until the swordplay surpasses the limits of vision.
In the silence, the only sound is the metal friction as the blades strike each other, sending sparks flying.
The two warriors standing straight in the silence, moving only their hands to weave the sword paths in every direction around them.
The wind picked up. A chilly breeze that doesn’t suit the pleasant summer day.
In battles within the realm of superhumans, combatants tend to prefer increasingly simplistic attacks and defenses.
After accelerating to the extreme limits of nerve speed, efficiency remains the only aspect left, channeling greater impact. Victory is often sealed through a kind of firepower battle.
Swordsmanship is considered the most glorious method before reaching the realm of superhumans. However, the two superhumans here were proving otherwise, that swordsmanship is undoubtedly effective even in superhuman combat.
They asserted that honed skills, amassed through sweat and effort, never betray.
Comparing the heights of their respective skills, they each prove their superiority with a single sword in this moment.
Their sword strikes were aimed towards each other’s faces.
As the swords clashed, Ivan quickly assessed the condition of his armor.
There was no room for error from its last maintenance. He swiftly analyzed the force and angle of Edel’s strike and, considering the slope of his helmet, thrust his head forward.
Prepared for minimal impact, he extended his hand through the visor of the helmet, letting the sword blade slip through.
Thud!! The steel helmet split open, and a sharp pain shot straight across his cheek.
Simultaneously, his own blade pierced towards Edel’s helmet.
From the moment they exchanged their first blows, Edel had been thinking only of that.
With each strike, he twisted his wrist, precisely interrupting the flow every time she attempted to follow up.
The result of this repetition was what was happening now, almost flawless, like a perfect decalcomania.
As if perfectly imitating her swordsmanship, even when mixing in other styles of swordplay, he instantly replicated them.
With each passing moment, a gleam of anticipation flashed beneath her helmet. Reading the past sword strikes, anticipating the forthcoming techniques, and precisely countering each opposing strike.
Then, shall I try this too?
Edel’s excitement surged as she swung her sword. And once again, he followed. As if he could follow until her swordplay reached beyond the realm of artistry. Rather, as if demanding the next technique to be presented.
Under her helmet, the corners of Edel’s mouth lifted.
Show me more. I will show you more. So, you too, show me what comes next. How far can you go? How far can you keep up?
With a human body, can you ignite starlight in your brief life?
Edel admired the acrobatics of deflecting her sword with the helmet. Ah, yes, you weren’t a knight.
Not a knight, but a mercenary… closer to a soldier.
Weapons, armor, ultimately just military supplies with no attachment.
Even his own body was largely seen as a war tool, willing to sacrifice anything as long as the goal could be achieved.
Then so be it. Let’s see how long that determination will last and what comes next.
Edel leaned back to avoid the flying blade.
The sword grazed off the curvature of the helmet. Meanwhile, Ivan’s eyes, visible between the broken helmet pieces, shook with amazement.
Finding joy in it, Edel laughed.
How about that? There’s merit in “seeing” and imitating.
Fully reproducing Ivan’s defense, Edel stopped with her sword extended.
The two warriors, having struck each other’s heads, froze like posts.
Even the spectators, forgetting to swallow their saliva, stood frozen in silence.
In the midst of the tableau of the tournament, the two warriors looked at each other through their broken helmets, smiling like a painting.
“Wasn’t it dementia?”
Edel fell silent for a moment.
“What… what does that mean?”
“Your skill clearly didn’t reach its peak. Definitely not until then.”
“Well, uh, there were… circumstances, so?”
“Dementia due to old age is inevitable even for elves, so I guessed my chances and came here.”
“Hmm. Uh. So, what now?”
Edel shook her head as she removed her helmet. Her black hair swayed like waves, and she tied it tightly back.
With one eye covered by a colorful eyepatch and the other gleaming golden like an eagle’s, she stared sharply at Ivan.
“Do you see the odds now?”
Ivan also removed his half-broken helmet and threw it to the ground.
As the helmet shattered, blood dripped from the wounds, wetting his beard as it fell with a thud.
“Take off your armor, John. I need to see your full power.”
Clang, clunk. Thick armor fell off the bodies of the two knights and rolled onto the ground.
With a thud, Edel relaxed her body and smiled, dressed in just a shirt and a pair of leather pants.
“Now there’s no distraction. It’s just you and me here. Hold your sword and look at me. Not for victory, not for a goal, not for a strategy, not for a mission. Look at your opponent.”
Edel angled her sword towards Ivan.
The brief exchange of glances, the courtesy towards each other when the two knights first met.
“Step on the ground, reach for the sky, grasp your sword, and only look at your opponent. That’s the first virtue of a swordsman, of martial arts.”
Ivan responded without a word, assuming the same posture.
The two warriors, now without armor, exchanged the same courtesy towards each other.
The crowd erupted like a tidal wave, shouting.
Author’s Note (Postscript): I felt like I didn’t explain the timeline well enough!
Edel in the armor state Ivan first saw: remote-controlled
Day two of the match: Edel arrives at Frechenkaya.
Day three of the match: Edel’s original body competes (in armor)
Day four of the match: Today. Edel and Ivan are competing in their original bodies.
Wow, I’ve been feeling unwell all weekend, and when I got tested, it turns out it’s not the flu, it’s COVID!
Can you believe people are still getting COVID these days? Getting it twice is a bit too much, feels unfair!
Still, as a commemoration of getting COVID, I didn’t have to go to work at the factory today, so I’m posting early! Yes! Please look forward to the next episode!