“Just like that, that thought went to my head.”
At a bench in the corner of the training hall, there were two people sitting there, looking ahead.
Bratt Lloyd continued his story as he drank some water and Judith just listened to him.
“What I am looking for isn’t to become the best swordsman, but rather, a good Lord. The sword is just a means, so I do not want to suffer from the concept of it. I do not want to be swept away and lose myself because of this unnecessary competition. I don’t want to lose my way but…”
At some point, he wondered if such a thing could be used as an excuse. Bratt’s voice was calm even though his mind wasn’t.
It was for this reason that he ruined the meeting with his dear friend, Airn.
He knew very well that Airn wasn’t ignoring him. But he still wanted to hit him. Even if it was too much, he too wanted to be drunk with a fighting spirit.
As a swordsman, he wanted to closely follow the guy who was ahead of him and whom he never even thought of catching up to.
The purpose of this contest?
That was good.
That was good too. The more active he was in this contest, the greater hope he would give to the people on the continent, and that would lead to the people having positive emotions.
Both his parents and brother would be proud of him.
All of that was important to Bratt.
“This contest. I want to fight completely for myself.”
“Even if it feels cowardly and undignified… I want to meet Airn. And I want to win too.”
“… how do you plan to do that?”
Judith mumbled the words with a sad expression.
Didn’t it sound like Bratt would lose?
He thought that it was more likely. She felt it the moment Airn stepped into the banquet. He had changed, he had really changed a lot. And it wasn’t some conclusion she came up with through logic, but something she realized instinctively.
He was a monster. Even if they search the entire continent there would be very few who could defeat Airn today.
So, she was curious.
What was Bratt’s plan to fight Airn?
Did he have a chance to win?
Or was it to just hold the sword against Airn and to feel proud?
As her confusion grew, Bratt opened his mouth with a soft smile.
“Whether I win or not… it doesn’t matter. He and I… we will always be best friends. Just like we are now.”
“So, don’t worry too much.”
The moment she heard that, Judith realized.
What was she being so anxious about?
How could she be restless and impatient throughout the festival and come to Bratt’s training hall? And have a conversation like this?
It was because she was worried. Because she was afraid that the relationship between her lover and her friend would be ruined. And it was so frightening that she couldn’t stand it.
Embracing Bratt, she thought.
‘… I changed a lot.’
Her former self wouldn’t care about this.
It was always her and her alone. No matter what other people said, she didn’t focus on anything other than herself. So that she could become the strongest swordsman on the continent and so that she could stand on top of everyone.
So, she ignored everyone around her.
The thought that she was supported by others made new feelings bloom in her heart.
… and as that happened, she realized that she couldn’t even hold her sword when she felt concerned for others.
More than anything, it was Bratt, Airn and Ilya and the hope she had that they could keep sharing a harmonious relationship in the future.
“I think it was because of you that I was able to have this courage.”
“I think I was more influenced by you.”
“Huh. So fight without regrets. This is a contest we participated in, so I need to do my best. At any cost, I need to go up till the quarterfinals. And win.”
“… I will support you.”
Several thoughts were running through her mind.
However, the only thing which came out of her lips was the cliché answer of ‘I will support you’.
And Bratt liked that. He stroked his lover’s head with a smile and said.
“But why did you come here?”
“You should prepare for the Round of 16. Your opponent… is Ignet.”
Judith looked at Bratt. His eyes were full of concern.
He had no choice but to be that way. Even if the others didn’t know, the four from Krono knew the true extent of Ignet’s skills.
Because they kept meeting her. Her image like the sun in the sky was vivid in Judith’s mind.
‘And now it is stronger than ever.’
But it was fine.
She finally felt at ease. When the problem which kept bothering her had been resolved, it felt like she could take on the match confidently.
‘Rather, I think I can do better than I would’ve before.’
It was a smile to make Bratt feel confident. As her lover did for her, she too tried to do the same for him, and when she was about to say something nice.
“Get yourself together.”
“What is with you today? Get yourself together.”
She looked at Bratt who answered her.
“You had a strange expression on your face, so I hope you get it together.”
“It wasn’t that.”
Judith, who lowered her voice, grabbed her lover’s hand and got up.
“…it was just a game between us two. So please, calm down.”
With a spark of anger in her chest, she raised her sword as she looked at the blue-haired man.
Violent sounds of metal clashing could be heard throughout the training hall in the corner till late at night.
It was mainly Judith who attacked, and Bratt just took her blows. It was an incredibly bloody date.
However, in the midst of that dreadful date, both of them felt connected.
Judith brushed off the burden she was carrying until then and created a purer spark, and Bratt’s advice even helped her sharpen her movement.
And the two of them parted in the morning.
The greeting wasn’t too brief nor too long. It was because they knew this wasn’t the end. Because they knew they would be together forever.
There was clear joy in Judith’s face as she shed the worries she had for Bratt who looked different now.
The curtain rose for the Round of 16.
Of course, from now on all the contestants were superhumans with skills which would shock anyone, but the faces of those who reached this point after winning three victories were different from the beginning.
While listening to the speech from a high priest, the audience chattered.
“Isn’t it amazing?”
“What? Ah, right. All of them are great. They are a lot different from what I initially expected, but it is more fun this way.”
The biggest surprise was the Sword Masters in their 20s.
The total number of the Masters were 24, who were participating. And most of them weren’t those who reached great heights, but were those who had built a reputation for themselves for 10 to 20 years.
Therefore, it was safe to say that few people expected much from Airn, Ilya and Bratt Lloyd who had made it to the Round of 16.
“Bratt Lloyd… is quite great.”
“Right. I didn’t know exactly what all happened but after listening to the explanation later I understood it. How did he manage to get such an aura at this young age?”
“Bratt Lloyd isn’t the only one who can use an aura which feels like water, but he is definitely using it in a refreshing way.”
“Is Ralph Penn his opponent? Things might become a little tense.”
“Right. Devan Kennedy lost because he couldn’t fight. On the contrary, seeing that Bratt’s evaluation had changed now, Ralph Penn must be under a lot of stress, and…”
“Inashio Karahan, that man must be under pressure as well.”
“That is true.”
Considered to be the god of the Southern part of the Continent, he was a very strong man who rose to the rank of Master at the age of 28 and had been standing tall for 20 years.
The initial atmosphere of his in the tournament made people think that he would dominate over Camrin Ray and win the contest. However, Devan Kennedy’ believed his own skills were a lot better. And yet he was defeated by a dark horse, Bratt Lloyd. Thanks to that, the evaluation of the young Master rose.
This meant that the road to the winner position was going to be tough.
“We don’t know how strong Airn Pareira is, but he has to be pretty strong. Even if he takes down this opponent, he would have to fight the winner of the match between Ralph Penn and Bratt Lloyd and then he might even meet Camrin Ray. And…”
“Right. What awaits would be Ignet in the finals.”
“She kicked a master and took him down effortlessly…”
“Um, if I was Inashio I would be under stress too.”
“Right? There are no more easy matches.”
“Still, it will be fun for us to watch. It might be a little uncomfortable for the Southerners.”
“Right. We get to see interesting matchups and it is a good thing…. It’s starting!”
As soon as a person said that, everyone looked at the magic screen.
On the stage, there was one middle-aged swordsman and one young swordsman.
But neither of them could be ignored.
It was the same with Inashio Karahan who was more prideful than anyone else. As he looked at Airn Pareira standing on the other side he thought.
‘… I made a mistake. I was prejudiced.’
And his look.
His sleek movements, his facial expressions, the air around him and the other things that only a Master could effectively display.
All of that was telling him that this opponent was no child.
‘I cannot afford to hide my skills.’
An intense energy poured out from his body and the eyes of those in the waiting room went wide.
They couldn’t know for sure since they were all watching through the magic screen, but it still felt surprising.
They could feel the pressure despite not facing him directly. The power of Inashio Karahan. The unique holy power which the Karahan family had which was known throughout the continent.
No, it was the strength of the person who was the strongest in the southern part of the continent!
So they couldn’t help but feel surprised.
Inashio shocked the viewers with his display and Airn’s momentum seemed to be erased.
There was now a golden aura soaring out from Airn’s sword. A callus studded hand was holding it tightly, with the wielder’s lower body and free arm stretched out wide.
Finally, Inashio looked at his deep unwavering eyes that seemed to embrace everyone.
“… you monstrous bastard!”
The eyes were looking at someone other than Inashio.
And despite knowing that, Inashio couldn’t yell at the opponent who was acting cocky.
His opponent who was the new dark horse.
No, another winner candidate…
Airn Pareira finally began to show off his skills.
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