“Why are you asking? Is it weird if I talk to you?”
“No, I didn’t mean it like that…”
“I just asked. Knowing that I have a nasty personality, you always react seriously. It’s funny.”
Dissatisfied, Judith continued to grumble.
Of course, that wasn’t all.
She came closer and pointed to the bench.
“Would you talk to me for a moment?”
He wasn’t free.
But he wasn’t busy either.
Besides, it was the first time Judith had asked to talk to him, so he didn’t want to refuse out of curiosity.
Airn nodded and sat down on the bench. Judith sat next to him.
For about a minute, the girl who looked up at the night sky without a word, spoke.
“Are you all ready?”
“Yes, for the final evaluation. It’s less than a week from now, would I talk about anything other than that?”
To be honest, he wasn’t conscious of it.
He knew how important the final evaluation was.
The result of the evaluation would determine whether his efforts over the past year would pay off or be in vain.
However, there was something more concerning for Airn.
“Well, I am working hard.”
Of course, she wasn’t stupid enough to say it out loud like Airn.
“I don’t have the strength to answer that.”
“Well, you always do act like that”
“… how about you? Confident?”
This time, Airn asked Judith, which brought in questions.
“Confident about what?”
“To stick around?”
“I guess that question is natural to ask. Other than that, Ilya, you should ask if I can beat that nasty wench.”
“… can that be done?”
Judith said Ilya’s name as if just saying her name could be a bad omen for her.
Airn knew that others hated her, but that didn’t change the fact that she’s the first and most precious one who helped him.
But to Judith, Ilya was a foul wench.
She answered in a groaning voice.
“Of course, I worked hard. No, I wasn’t just working hard! I can win. Well, I will win.”
“What! Respond a little more.”
“Ha, enough. You really are a boring guy, man.”
With the apology from the boy, there was silence between the two.
Judith silently kicked the floor with her feet, and Airn timidly played with his feet.
It was the red-haired girl who spoke first.
“I’m also sorry.”
The words which came from her mouth were apologies.
Flustered, Airn couldn’t even answer. Judith was apologizing?
No, what did she have to apologize for?
The boy stared blankly at the girl, and Judith continued to speak with her head down.
“I haven’t been paying much attention. At first, we were practicing with each other, and then we helped each other with our awkward movements.”
“After the school master’s sword dance, it seems that I hardly paid attention to you. I’m sorry.”
“No, there is absolutely no need to be sorry for that…”
“I’m an orphan.”
A spur-of-the-moment remark.
Airn went silent.
He had also lost his mother, but he had no idea how to react to Judith’s words.
As if she didn’t expect an answer, she continued.
“I don’t expect you to take pity on me, I just… as a child living alone, the only thing I could do was pickpocket and shoplifting, and since I lived every day like that, and with the adults acting the same as me, I couldn’t…”
“Anyway, that’s why I never thanked people, or you either. Which was why I couldn’t say thank you even when you saved me in the midterm evaluation. In fact, even now, I can’t say it.”
“So, instead, I thought of doing this and that, to help you and pay off my debt, but when I came to my senses, everything happened. So… I’m sorry.”
Phew, Judith exhaled.
Maybe she felt relieved. Her expression didn’t seem as stiff as when she first came.
Airn couldn’t think of what to say, so he just stared blankly at the other person’s face. Thanks to that, when Judith turned, her eyes met with Airns’.
And she spoke again.
“Stick around, the final evaluation. Stick around here and formally enter the Krono Swordsmanship School and become an official trainee…”
“I’ll help you properly and even harder than before so you won’t feel lost, so stick around. Understand?”
Airn nodded his head.
Looking at that, Judith grinned and got up from her seat.
And patted the boy on his back.
“Then, this noona will go. Do your best.”
Saying those words, Judith disappeared without looking back.
The red hair fluttered as she moved away. Airn looked at her for a long time and then lowered his gaze.
No matter how much he racked his brain, he couldn’t understand why Judith had to apologize to him.
The one who should be apologizing was him.
“For the past two months, I didn’t care for anyone…”
Although she said that she neglected Airn, Judith would make sure to visit him once every week.
She wasn’t that kind to everyone.
Bratt Lloyd would give out a lot of advice, and after he handed her the present, Ilya Lindsay too began to take care of him again.
Although the frequency of them being together had decreased, they were back on talking terms.
‘On the other hand, I was far away from them because of my actions.’
Right. He was only concentrating on his dreams.
He was so buried in the man’s swords that he didn’t pay any attention to his surroundings.
It wasn’t a bad thing.
Still, he did his best to get close to the mysterious man… aside from that, the feeling of remorse towards Judith began to rise.
‘She apologized, it makes no sense.’
Rather, he was the one who had debts to pay.
He received a lot from Ilya, Bratt, and Judith.
On the other hand, he gave nothing. He couldn’t even give his time to them. And the final evaluation was in two weeks. Airn felt regret.
‘No, it isn’t too late.’
Right. It wasn’t too late.
If he failed in the final evaluation, it was the end, but it was a different story if he passed.
As Judith said, if they all formally entered the school, their relationships would last longer.
He could spend time in the future trying to make up for the times he neglected them.
He finally felt relieved, and Airn smiled.
The boy closed his eyes and looked back at his past.
He locked himself up in his room all his life. There was a time when joy, anger, and sadness were all covered in depression and lethargy.
However, in school, the boy had changed.
Even he was amazed at his changes.
When he rescued Judith from drowning, when he gave the present to Ilya, and when he stood proudly in front of Bratt, who asked for a duel… each time, he felt an unfamiliar and strange feeling realizing that he could do such things, emotions he never felt before.
The past year had been the time where Airn got to know himself.
To know himself.
It was strange, but it didn’t feel bad.
The boy who used to live like a sloth, not realizing the time which he wasted.
But it was only for a while.
With that thought, he jumped to his feet.
He held the wooden sword he placed on the bench. Walking over to the center of the hall where he normally trained. Breathing after taking the position.
And what he was missing, he had to pursue what he was missing.
‘… it isn’t just a matter of imitating the stance.’
It wasn’t just the stance that mattered. What was in the stance and action was more important.
At the sudden realization, the boy closed his eyes and began to meditate.
The cold evening wind blew past his ears, but the boy didn’t move and maintained his posture.
“Won’t ask me? If he is doing well?”
“He will be doing well. I told you before, he’s a strong guy. Even if we stop caring.”
“You’re really bad with words. Do all the nobles act cheap like this?”
“The eldest son of the Lloyd family is educated from an early age in manners and culture.”
“Then why are you like this?”
“If everyone you see looks cheap, then the problem isn’t the people but you. You are the one who needs correction.”
“Are you saying that I haven’t been educated, right?”
“Yeah, let’s start.”
Bratt Lloyd raised his sword.
And then everything changed.
A very dense sphere of water. It felt like the boy’s body was tightly wrapped in it.
Not a single gap could be seen.
Judith smirked at the sight.
“This is always fun to watch.”
Bratt and Judith decided to join forces in the final evaluation.
It was because they thought that they could help each other improve their skills, and they were suitable partners.
In fact, the instructors seemed glad about it too.
But Judith knew one thing.
That her current self wasn’t capable enough to be called Bratt’s rival.
‘Ilya may win, but this guy…’
She knew him better as she spent a long time with him.
This guy is a monster.
His swordsmanship showed no gaps, and she couldn’t even imagine how Bratt’s breath-taking stance could be broken.
For now, that was it.
‘After becoming a formal trainee, I will win.’
Bratt Lloyd too.
Sublimating the burning frustration into fighting spirit, Judith raised her sword.
Eventually, a fight reminiscent of a real battle unfolded.
It wasn’t just the two of them.
The final evaluation wasn’t far away, keen energy stayed in the eyes of each prospective trainee who gathered in the hall.
This was something that couldn’t be seen during the midterm evaluation.
Each individual’s realization strengthened them.
In the eyes of Ian and the instructors who were watching from afar, their expectations couldn’t be hidden.
2 weeks later.
For the official admission of the Krono Swordsmanship school, the final evaluation has begun.
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