Chapter 91

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(Ivan’s POV)

Once upon a time. It was a day like any other, with snow falling as usual, in the routine of everyday survival.

The evergreen forest, entangled in the frontlines, was still stained with blood, as always. Before the hot blood of warriors could freeze under the winter storm, it was being painted anew with fresh blood.

The dark forest was composed of only three colors.

The sky was pitch black without a single light.

The ground was covered in snow, pure white.

The foliage, everywhere touched by snow, was bright red with corpses and blood.

Amidst it all, there was one woman emitting her own color.

Her eyes, always slightly squinted, were golden with hope and joy.

The sword in her hand gleamed blue, cutting through the darkness, weaving paths of wonder.

Once, there was a moment when I gazed at that scene absentmindedly.

“Was it like this…? Was it?”

With still trembling hands, I tried to wield the sword following her traces.

My knowledge of swordsmanship was nothing beyond the level of military rituals, mostly rough and formless techniques learned amidst fighting for survival.

It seemed like my eyes were just beginning to open to the study of swordsmanship.

***

Alone in the remaining military camp, Ivan was trying hard to mimic the swordsmanship he saw that night.

But it was not enough. Once was not enough. He couldn’t catch up from the beginning due to the difference in skill levels.

His muscles were not developed enough, and his swordsmanship was so lacking that he couldn’t even look beyond swinging his sword.

So Ivan couldn’t help but feel dissatisfied with every moment he wielded the sword.

Because he couldn’t even mimic a single trace of that brilliant path he had seen.

Logically, swordsmanship is just swinging a stick, so does it make sense that he can’t even replicate that one thing exactly?

Ivan grumbled irritably. Damn this pre-modern fantasy world.

If this is how it’s going to be, just drop me into a martial arts novel.

“Hmm.”

“Huh?!”

Suddenly, a low snicker came from behind him, startling Ivan.

Not far away, Edel was looking at him with a subtle smile.

“Here is the right move.”

“D-did you, did you see that?”

Does this world also have a tradition like in martial arts novels where if you steal someone’s training, they come after you with a vengeance?

Ivan sweated nervously as he thought. It was true that he had stolen Edel’s training.

But the crazy sword-obsessed elf, instead of being angry, approached with a smile.

“Imagine this.”

“Y-yes?”

“Can only bones move?”

“Um… no?”

“Think of swordsmanship as an object. If there were only bones without muscles, tendons, nerves, or blood vessels, could it move?”

Edel gently took the sword from Ivan’s hand. In a flash, the sword was in her hand.

If that woman had harbored ill intentions, he would have already been dead. The thought sent a chill through Ivan’s chest.

“The essence of swordsmanship lies in its concept of bones. It must stand straight, but merely standing isn’t enough.”

Swoosh

The blade cuts through the air.

“The true essence of swordsmanship, the muscles of swordsmanship, lies in the imagination contained within it. To overcome the opponent. But how? For example, the essence of this stance is like this.”

Skaak!

From top to bottom, but drawing a diagonal line. Snap the wrist in the middle, stepping back a beat while drawing a clean arc.

“Against an opponent in upper stance, break their defense and slide in diagonally to strike the neck. That’s the meaning behind this stance. Understand?”

“Yes?”

“Concentrate. This is an expensive lesson. Now, imagine there’s an opponent in front of me. A knight. Height is 1.8m. He’s big, easily over 100kg including the armor. He’s wielding a longsword. Similar to mine.”

Listening to Edel’s words, Ivan looked into the center of the camp at night.

He saw the opponent.

A knight clad in rugged armor, exhaling heavily, visibly tense.

Edel gracefully walks up to the knight, briefly salutes, and adjusts her posture.

“If the trajectory of the sword is the skeleton and the essence of the trajectory is the muscles, what are the tendons?”

Without waiting for an answer, Edel strikes with the sword. It’s the same stance as before, piercing through the upper stance defense.

However, in the final move, she twists her wrist backward and steps back.

“Now, the opponent barely blocked the incoming attack from the upper stance. Since my sword bounced off, it’s their turn now. An attack is coming. Carry the weight and thrust directly. Very strong.”

Swoosh!

Edel gracefully steps back, shrugging her shoulder. The blade swipes the floor in a circle as it sweeps up.

The knight, pierced through, smoothly passes by Edel’s body twice, brushing past her shoulder and waist.

“In combat, there’s a flow. Understanding that flow, making accurate judgments for precise attacks and defenses, that’s what you can call the tendons of the sword.”

Skaak!

Edel continued speaking as she lifted the sword. She slashed, bent, swung, retreated, then struck again before parrying.

The snow falling in flurries had turned into a storm only around her.

In her stance, just by wielding the sword, her surroundings were transforming into a completely different world.

She established her determination. At the limit of her senses.

Demonstrating it firsthand, Edel spoke with her usual rhythm.

“When mastering swordsmanship, if one can adapt to all situations, and if one tirelessly strives to reach that level, then the flowing attack and defense of the sword itself, constantly moving, could be considered the veins of the sword.”

Edel paused and handed over the sword. The hilt she had held was warm with body heat.

“If swordsmanship is considered an object, it’s composed like this. Practice not just looking at the skeleton but observing the body and movement itself. Understand?”

“If swordsmanship is not a means but an object, Lady Cohenulf. What should we use it for?” (Ivan)

“What?” (Edel)

If it’s not just a means to block the opponent’s attack and more efficiently kill, if we should view swordsmanship itself as an object, what is the purpose of that ‘object’?

Ivan found himself asking such a question unknowingly.

Edel laughed and looked up at the sky, then smoothly drew the sword from her waist.

“It reaches the sky.”

“What?”

“What’s at the end of the sword, no one can answer, but… I think like this. The shape of the sword is like this because…”

The sword held in both hands extends straight, tapering gracefully toward the tip, like a person reaching out to the high sky.

A single snowflake settles on the sharp edge of the sword, splitting in half and fluttering down.

“Looking up at the sky, honing one’s skills, building up years of experience. There might be something like that at the end of the sword. A powerful strike that splits the world, or miracles known as the deeds of gods. Not just miraculous feats like annihilating hordes of demons in a single blow.”

Freedom.

Movement unencumbered by anything.

Like clouds flowing with the wind, the swordsmanship continues as desired.

Parting the sky, swaying with the wind, the blade moves silently.

So, the determination to be encapsulated in that entirety is akin to the sky.

“You have great potential. What is your name?”

“Ivan Petrovich.”

Despite being told several times, Ivan can’t believe this woman forgets or mispronounces his name all the time.

Edel gazed silently at Ivan’s face, then reached out and brushed the snow off his hair.

“John. It’s a good name.”

“I’m honored, Lady Cohenulf.”

“No. Since I’ve called you my friend, you should do the same. Edel. Call me that. Anyone who remembers my name deserves that right.”

That was Ivan’s last meeting with Edel.

Edel went on to campaign in the northwest, losing an eye and eventually falling into decline.

Despite her injuries, she constantly returned to the frontline, earning her the name ‘Edel the One-eyed.’

Nevertheless, Ivan vividly remembers the cheerful elf who gazed at the sky with both eyes.

***

“Aaaahhh!!!”

The chilling snowflakes turned into a shower of petals.

The wind that whispered in the ears became cheers from the audience.

The woman who once illuminated both eyes now remained with only one.

A vague memory flashed by. Ivan squeezed his blurred eyes shut and took a deep breath.

“Edel.”

He opens his eyes. The bright blue eyes shine differently from those days.

Desires for hope, faith in improvement, determination for survival – all of these were set aside on the battlefield.

Even in an era after the war, the two survivors who lived like on the battlefield, holding swords, faced each other with changed gazes.

“You’ve become a good swordsman. Now you have the eyes of a respectable swordsman.”

“Is that so?”

“Yeah. Did you look up at the sky?”

“No.”

There were no noble ideals harbored at such times. Ivan shook his head. Swordsmanship meant no more to him than a means of survival.

Therefore, what he desired, the determination within his heart, the purpose and essence of swordsmanship, were ultimately one thing.

Homeland.

Just as Edel wished for freedom while wielding her sword towards the sky,

Ivan wielded his sword towards his homeland.

“Homeland.”

“Good. Now that you’ve established your own unwavering determination, you are no longer beneath me. So…”

Edel twirled the sword around, changing her stance.

A surge of blue magic suddenly pulsed within her body.

“Come. Leave your determination with me. John. Let your will merge with mine. Assert our superiority and claim victory by enforcing each other’s determination.”

Ivan took a slow breath and assumed the same posture. Mimicking Edel’s readiness, like a decalcomania.

However, even if two artists paint the same scenery, will it become the same picture?

No, it won’t.

Even if swordsmanship shares the same skeleton, muscles, and tendons as an object.

Because the direction and goal an object will pursue are not the same.

The clash of swordsmanship imbued with determination is just a process of channeling each other’s convictions to the opponent.

Thunk

Slowly, the senses were severed. With each beat of the heart, the emanating magic intricately blocked the nerves, sharpening only the sense of battle.

Overloaded nerves disassembled seconds into the time between them.

The shouts grew less frequent. To be precise, time was elongating.

Under the realm of the superhuman, segmented time, slowly falling flower petals, and the excitement emitted by the heated crowd were all cooling down in that moment.

The murmurs of the noble spectators, the throwing of flowers by the excited masses, the refreshing summer day, and the drifting flower petals in the breeze all blurred together.

Amidst it all, only the gazes of the two remained clear and bright.

Swish!

Only the trajectory of the swords boldly flowed in the solitary time.

They parried each other’s strikes, clasped hands, and began to dance.

***

“Beautiful, Vanka.”

Elizaveta clenched her fist as she watched the arena.

The anxiety about the outcome, the cheering for him, were no longer important.

Victory or defeat. At this moment, they held no meaning for those two warriors. Their struggle itself was the result, the purpose, and the reward.

Everything that a wielder of the sword could show, everything that those who wielded the sword dreamed of, lay before them. They could boast of that.

Even if it was a technique created for war and survival, if one could control it to its extreme, it became an art.

Those who knew swordsmanship, those who did not, all were cheering and shedding tears, captivated by excitement, shouting in excitement.

In the midst of it, the two knights only extended their swords towards each other.

It’s beautiful. It’s a fight that cannot be expressed with refined words. It’s like a dance, like a well-orchestrated symphony.

Years of life invested in reaching the pinnacle. The clash of their beings itself evoked a musical sensation beyond mere sound through friction alone.

“You make me proud.”

Elizaveta quietly smiled and nodded her head.

****

“I cannot let him live.”

Duke Sheretif clenched his fist, feeling even the fear.

All tools must be tools. Useful only according to their purpose.

Relying on a hammer, a spear, or a sword should not be. Tools should not be revered by people.

In times of peace, heroes are not needed.

The era where one hero ruled over the vast majority with a single sword had to pass. The era of blind fanaticism must fade away. It was the ignorance of the past.

People should not follow anyone.

That was the teaching of the crown prince. Although he had suddenly departed now, his ideology had firmly taken root among the noble families of Frechenkaya.

Therefore, the man brought by the princess was dangerous. He was the subject of heroes. If it had been an exhibition, he might have stood shoulder to shoulder with the Heroes.

How could such a man remain unknown? It was quite strange, but that was not important now.

Regardless of the outcome of this duel, that man had already left a great impression on the people of Frechenkaya.

He must be killed. A tool that cannot be controlled is no longer a tool.

“Prepare yourself.”

“Yes, My Lord.”

In the ancient estates of Frechenkaya, which had grown over centuries like a nation, there lay countless legacies.

One person’s bravery can never overcome the power of the majority. Even the demon king had not fallen before a party of heroes.

Then, he would become a warrior of the nobles, thwarting the new demon king.

Duke Sheretif shook his head with a bitter smile.

War was different from a duel. It was different from the pretentiousness of facing each other’s martial arts with honor.

How many times had he seen a knight skilled in duels fall miserably on the battlefield?

That man would be no exception. It had to be so.

Duke Sheretif quietly rose from his seat.

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