Chapter 92

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When the swords clashed, sparks flew, but the sound echoed in the distance. This was because the visual nervous system reacts faster than the auditory.

This meant that their battle was transcending the fleeting moments of nerve transmission.

Reacting at the moment of seeing is not advised. One must anticipate the next move before seeing it.

The delay in cognition and judgment coming together was soon approaching the turning point of the match.

-Clang!!

The sound of the first sword clash now reaches the ear. Ivan clenched his teeth and moved his body.

The clash of swordsmanship is akin to a chess match. With each clash, there’s the recoil, the opponent’s movement, and the myriad of possible paths, among which finding the correct one is a long battle.

It was only then that Ivan realized.

So, this is what they call swordsmanship.

Up until now, all the sword clashes he had shown were mere imitations fixated on swinging the military sword.

It was merely mechanically learning the sophisticated techniques established by someone else and imitating them. Therefore, now, by judging and choosing to push the sword, he was finally mastering martial arts.

-Clang!!

The phrase “good eyesight” was what he had considered his only asset. Perhaps it was a curse.

Instead of realizing and improving himself, he had been content with imitating the answers of those before him.

It was like a growth limit. Just as there is a limit to the growth of grass and trees no matter how much nutrients are supplied.

His exceptional learning ability itself was limiting his potential. The moment he encountered someone else’s answer, he might have considered it the only solution.

Now, Ivan could finally understand Edel’s praise for the sword.

Building up years to reach for the sky.

Even if it’s unreachable, maybe. Perhaps it’s just a vague notion that can never be reached in a lifetime. Just a wish.

Not recognizing limits. Or, even if recognized, not acknowledging them. So, a lifetime.

Dedicating one’s entire life to throwing oneself into challenges.

Freedom.

That was Edel’s creed. Her life. Even amidst the flames of war, as countless lives perished, her sword sang the song of freedom as it fluttered.

So, on that day, amidst the dark forests of the northern frontlines. The trail of the sword she wielded alone.

It was solace for the survivors, a memorial for the fallen, a trial for herself, and a yearning for freedom.

Just as the sword of a warrior symbolized hope, her sword symbolized freedom. That was the meaning of establishing a creed.

Can it be reached?

Will this dullard, who now realizes the true essence of martial arts, reach this ordeal of establishing a creed and honing the essence of swordsmanship?

Can he stand shoulder to shoulder with the giants of past eras who walked before him?

Ivan silently swung his sword, gradually sinking deeper into thought.

***

Ivan.

Follow me.

Edel grinned widely, brandishing her sword. They clashed, her speed increasing as she mixed feints with genuine attacks, each strike meeting hers solidly as he kept pace.

This fellow is growing.

She sensed it, fueling Edel’s impatience.

Like witnessing a dragon emerge from its egg or the first sprout of a rice plant.

Similar to what some of her disciples had experienced over the years.

The initial stage of growth, its brilliance.

The courage, willpower, and eagerness to explore new, unforeseen horizons—how exquisite they are.

Ivan’s swordsmanship mirrored Edel’s, a natural progression. With keen eyesight, he could mimic her techniques instantly and wield them to their fullest extent.

So, this moment.

-Kaaang!!!

Whenever he sporadically displayed “unknown” swordsmanship, a deeper smile graced Edel’s lips.

He, who considered himself a soldier rather than a knight.

He, who had simply repeated input and output like a precise magical engineering device.

Now, witnessing him take a step forward on his own path, Edel was thrilled.

“Have you seen? Jhon, can you see this spectacle too?”

Knowing it wouldn’t be heard. Their fight had already transcended the realm where cognition allows for dialogue.

At this moment, the conversation between the two was only the clash of swords and the slow follow-up collision.

But now, in the clash of swords between the two.

Edel believed that he was feeling the same as her amidst the conversation of steel.

“That is the path leading to the end of martial arts!”

***

In the process of honing their combat senses, countless sensory organs given up created a peculiar empathy.

The falling rain of petals is seen with the eyes, and the stifling cheers sound like the howling of a blade-wind.

The clear day’s arena disappeared, and at the edge of the northern frontlines, the two faced each other, exchanging swords.

“This foolish lad.” (Edel)

Edel lowered her sword and laughed. With a voice containing a slight reproach but also a great satisfaction.

“You’re quite late. Jhon, if you had realized the moment you saw it, it would have been the point you should have reached upon realization.” (Edel)

“I apologize.” (Ivan)

A faint smile appeared at the corner of Ivan’s mouth.

He approached Edel, the toothless sword meeting hers.

“How can someone handle a lack of talent?”

“Even at this moment?”

“Let’s discover what you’re capable of.”

“Okay.”

Clang, the steel sword, which had already surpassed its durability limit, broke and flew away. Ivan dropped the sword without regret.

This is the battlefield. Around them, the ground was littered with discarded military swords.

Among them, Ivan easily pulled out an axe.

“What did you pick up?” (Edel)

“An axe. 73cm in length, blade width of 12cm. It weighs just under 2kg.” (Ivan)

“A nimble and sturdy weapon. Come.” (Edel)

No response was needed. Ivan’s assault shifted. Unlike the sword, the axe isn’t a weapon that draws lines.

All strikes converge in curves. It focused solely on slashing and splitting.

And all his attacks transformed into long rotations under Edel’s blade, like a storm hitting the ground.

“It’s the way of Einar.” (Edel)

“Yes.” (Ivan)

“What’s next?” (Edel)

“Spear and shield.” (Ivan)

After throwing the axe, Ivan swept the ground with his gaze and then picked up the next weapon. A infantry spear and a round shield with a long dent.

The style of attack changed again. Mark, swipe with the shield, mark again. It’s a firm but sharp blow.

“This is the way of Jill Ber. Well learned. It’s difficult to deal with.”

Is there more to come?

There is. Instead of a response, Ivan grabbed a dagger. He mimicked Enrique’s attack style, fast, stealthy, and deadly.

The sense of limit that he thought couldn’t be accelerated anymore, clink. It’s the sensation of breaking away with the sound of chain links intertwining. Yes, humans can move faster here. It’s a new realization.

Opening that horizon, onto the next weapon. And the next weapon.

With a mace, a halberd, long and short swords, sometimes mixing in shooting, occasionally throwing daggers.

When Ivan had conceived the last weapon in his mind, he stood before Edel.

“So this is your homeland, Jhon.”

“…”

“The only homeland you can think of now is here. You filled too much of your short human life with battles. What you hold onto, unable to let go of what you’ve lost, you call it your homeland.”

“…”

“I won’t call your creed your homeland. At least, not as much as I am. Your will is never a homeland.”

Edel brushed the flower petals off Ivan’s head and smiled.

“Don’t call it memories. Call it what has accumulated with you. Leave the homeland for now. When you reach a place where you can settle down, where you can finally put down all your burdens and rest, only then will I say you’ve reached your homeland. So….”

***

At present.

Petals dance in the air, and the battleground is marked with numerous sword slashes, resembling an abstract painting.

Edel stood motionless, observing Ivan silently before casting her gaze towards the sky.

The weather is clear, with the summer sun shining down on them.

With her remaining eye tightly shut, Edel murmured softly.

“Lord Veolgrin, I apologize for failing to execute your commands.”

Then, without hesitation, she discarded the sword she held and bowed to the astonished onlookers.

“I, Edelflat Cohenulf of the Kalion Federation, concede defeat. With humility, I honor the victor.”

She walked silently out of the arena. As the shocked spectators stood up and cheered, the arena behind her trembled like an earthquake.

“The winner is!! Ivan Petrovich Yermov!”

With a mix of astonishment and commentary.

Thud, quieter than that, lower and smaller. The sound of something heavy crumbling.

Yes, rest easy. It was worth it.

Edel smiled and continued her halted steps, leaving the tournament corridor.

***

“Are you awake?! Vanka, do you recognize me?!”

“Yes, Your Highness.”

Ivan’s jaw clenched as he opened his eyes, and he glanced up at Elizaveta, who approached him.

He quickly glanced around. It’s a hospital room. Late at night.

The presence around… probably the riot guards.

It was only then that Ivan relaxed and let his body go limp.

“How did the match go?”

“Do you not remember?”

“Yes, regrettably.”

Only memories of wielding a sword in a nearly deranged state remained. It seemed like he had heard a very embarrassing sound, but it was difficult to remember exactly what it was.

His muscles were screaming. Every joint, every muscle fiber squeezed to the limit, even the tendons were stiffened.

The neural network accelerated by magic was overloaded as if it would break. It was almost as severe as the aftermath of fighting a dragon. Ivan chuckled.

His opponent was that strong.

Even in defeat, there was not a trace of regret left.

“You won. Vanka, you won.”

So, it took some time for Ivan to understand Elizaveta’s words. He had to ask unexpectedly.

“I… faced Edel… right?”

“Hehe, yes. Vanka. You won.”

“Did the result… satisfy you?”

It was only then that Elizaveta realized how absurd her order to Ivan had been. To order someone to ‘overwhelmingly win’ against the strongest elf in the world.

How was it any different from sentencing the obliteration unit to death in the past?

Struggling to hold back the welling tears, Elizaveta spoke with a boiling voice.

“Yes, Vanka. Your triumph… surpassed all expectations. For us all. For every individual. I declare you as the pride of our royal lineage.”

“That’ll do.”

Ivan nodded and got up, ignoring the protests from his sore muscles. He slowly straightened his clothes.

“Ivan…?”

“I apologize, Your Highness, but my tasks are not yet fully completed. Your Highness, is there anything that Dmitri or Pavel have not reported to you?”

“Huh? What do you mean…?”

“I will take responsibility for that part and make inquiries. Now it’s time for Your Highness to execute the plans you have prepared.”

“Huh? You? You’re saying… you prepared the plans yourself…?”

That was about marrying you, wasn’t it?

Elizaveta murmured absentmindedly, looking at Ivan. Ivan stood up, impeccably dressed, in a manner that would not be believed for someone who had just been lying down.

“Wait a moment. Where are you going? What more can you do with that body?”

“I’ll adhere to Your Highness’s directives, as I did during my time in the Cleanup Unit.”

“What…?!”

So, it turns out he’s been talking about the Cleanup Unit all along?

Elizaveta was clever enough. She easily recalled the events from ten years ago as if they had happened yesterday.

If it was a speech she often made when she was in the Cleansup Unit…

– You are the pride of Krasilov!

No, not that.

– The homeland trusts you!!

Not that either.

She said something more teenage-like…!

– Only death can stop your holy war!

Ah.

Damn.

Elizaveta clenched her forehead and bowed her head. She had said that. It seemed cool back then.

So, if we fully accept those words, let’s think about it the other way around.

“As for the final match?! Blah blah about the final match! Shouldn’t you be conserving your energy to ensure another overwhelming victory in the final?!”

“No need to go to the final match, Your Highness.”

Ivan gently chided Elizaveta and stood up. Watching Ivan leaving, Elizaveta sighed and grumbled to herself.

“You fool… Thinking you have to win to get the prize….”

***

Leaving the hospital room and walking down the corridor, Ivan stopped his steps when he saw a shadow lurking at the end of the corridor.

“Dmitri.”

“Yes, senior!”

The shadow cheerfully waved its hand.

Ivan moved past him. Dmitri followed behind him.

“Any contact?”

“Yes, just as you predicted, senior. There were two invitations, one high-grade potion that got messed with, and one guy disguised as a priest from Tylesse. That’s how it was.”

“What about Pavel?”

“That gentleman is lying in ambush at the strike point.”

“It’s not too late yet.”

Ivan flicked his hand. Dmitri quickly handed him a well-packaged envelope with the seal of Duke Sheretif on it. It was an invitation letter.

“Is it possible for you to be late, senior? It’s just the right timing.”

“Let’s begin.”

“In our own way?”

Ivan nodded. Dmitri smirked and disappeared under the hospital wall.

“In our own way.”

In the Cleanup Unit’s way.

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