Editor: Thor’s Stone
I spent my time training with the imperial guards, and on the second day of my stay at the imperial palace, the tournament’s swordsmanship duel phase was finally going to begin.
“I ended up participating in the qualifying rounds after all. I was a seeded player though.”
Wasn’t the winner of the tournament supposed to earn the right to challenge me? Such a hope was splendidly crushed by that whimsical emperor. His Imperial Majesty, no, that f**king emperor, even had the gall to say it was difficult to judge the caliber of a Gold Star awardee with just a few bouts, so I ended up entering the tournament right from the get-go as a result. Maybe my entry as a seeded participant was a form of mercy or something.
“Just give up already.”
“Please do your best!”
Worse still, my waiting area was in a special location overlooking the entire stadium. Since it was overlooking the entire match venue, all the people in the stadium had a clear view of my seat as well. And for some reason, there was only a single goddamn sofa placed on my waiting area that seemed far too small and cramped for comfort. In other words, three people could only sit on it if they squeezed their bodies together really tightly. Thanks to the sofa’s splendidly arched back, we could only give up and stayed glued together without any space between the three of us.
“Now then, let us turn our attention to the person who singlehandedly caused this tournament to be held – Captain Hiro! However…… Please take a good look, everyone! He is now sandwiched between two ravishing beauties! What composure he has!”
“I feel the surging passion of the mass media folks from here…”
“……The arrangements for the venue were all handled by the Internal Affairs Bureau.”
“In other words, it’s that fu–”
“That’s no good, Hiro-sama!”
Mimi panicked and covered my mouth with her hand. Well, I guess calling the emperor a f**ker in this kind of place is a recipe for trouble. I have to thank Mimi for stopping me–
“Is this the composure of the strong!? He is flirting with the girls without regard for the audience folks!”
“It looks like the eyes of each participant have become 20% sharper. Their fighting spirits have been ignited to the max!”
The announcer and the guest commentator were having the time of their lives at my expense. Okay, you idiots! Which company do you guys work for, huuuh!?
“Now then, everyone has been fired up, and the matches will finally begin.”
Maybe they noticed my murder-filled glare. The announcer and commentator shifted their attention to the challengers on the field.
The first match consisted of a knight who was a member of the imperial military and a noble from the Drawn Sword faction.
“What do you think?”
“The Drawn Sword expert seems to have a slight upper hand. It’s probably because the objectives of their training methods are different.”
“What do you mean, Hiro-sama?”
“The knights belonging to the imperial military primarily train to fight against enemies who don’t wield swords themselves. Pirates, soldiers from enemy countries, and the like. On the other hand, Drawn Sword faction nobles usually train with fighting other swordsmen in mind. That’s where the difference lies.”
Just as I expected, the Drawn Sword faction noble handily defeated the knight from the imperial military. The second match was between two noblemen, but the gap between their skills was too obvious and the match was over in the blink of an eye. Next, it was an imperial guard versus a noble. The imperial guard narrowly secured victory. There was also a match between two imperial military knights, but they were far too similar in skill, so the match dragged on for a while. However, the final winner ended up being the knight with a smaller stature. That knight was probably a woman.
“Captain Hiro-sama. Your match is going to be held next, so please start your preparations.”
A woman dressed in a maid outfit appeared before us and called out to me. Her eyes were biting cold as she gazed at my appearance while being hugged by Mimi and Elma from both sides. Yep. She was definitely looking at me as if I was utter trash. I got the shivers from her gaze.
“I’ll be going then.”
“Please do your best, Hiro-sama!”
“I’m sure you won’t get yourself injured anyway, but be careful out there.”
I followed the maid after I waved goodbye to Mimi and Elma. The place the maid led me to was filled with various types of training swords. I selected training swords that corresponded to the length, shape, and weight of my personal swords and inserted them into my sword belt. Right after I selected my swords, I heard cheers erupt from the stadium. It looks like a match was decided again.
The maid sounded like she was giving me a heartfelt cheer while still glaring at me icily. Oh c’mon. It’s not like I was the one who prepared that damn sofa. It was your Internal Affairs Bureau. Gimme a break, will you?
“Without further ado, everyone! Let us welcome the up-and-coming mercenary who made this entire tournament happen, Captain Hiro!”
The entire stadium erupted in cheers and jeers. Is it just me, or was I hearing more boos instead of cheering? Is it just my imagination? Should I give these rude folks the middle finger with both hands just for kicks then? I don’t exactly hate playing the heel myself y’know.
“The one who will be facing him is Lord Crias, a young baron who is making a name for himself as an up-and-coming swordsman of proven skills!”
A familiar nobleman appeared on the other side of the stage amidst a bevy of cheers.
“I challenged you on that day in the hopes of this happening. It looks like I managed to achieve my goal in the end.”
“Hahaha, I see. Does that mean you really, really want to get miserably beaten up by me? You an M or something, man?”
“You bastard…… A rootless nobody like you dares to fling insults at me!?”
Baron Crias’s expression warped from a mocking smile to a face filled with rage. Uh, isn’t this guy’s mentality a bit too fragile?
“Noo, how scaaary. Your swordsmanship will suffer if you don’t control your emotions you know, oh Mr. high-and-mighty noble.”
“I’ll maul you to death.”
Lord Crias drew his sword. I also pulled out my own swords and got into a fighting stance.
“It looks like both sides are raring to go! Well then, match start!”
The buzzer rang out at the same time as the announcer’s shout, and the match finally started. Lord Crias raised his sword in an overhead stance and charged straight at me. His move expressed his single-minded intent to mow me down in one swing and his fierce temper. Maybe that’s just how his personality is. I thrust my left sword forward and placed my right sword over my shoulder as I took one step ahead.
Lord Crias quickly closed the gap between us and unleashed a fierce diagonal downward slash. The speed of his slash was akin to a flash of lightning. This must be what they mean by having a lightning-fast sword huh. I met the slash with the sword on my left hand– Not.
I don’t have any intention of taking such a strong attack head-on, so I changed my posture and pulled my leading foot backward in order to avoid Lord Crias’ lightning-fast slash. I then launched a counter using the sword in my right hand. The speed of my slash was above average, but its power was lacking a bit.
However, Lord Crias immediately swung his sword upward when his first slash missed. It was a follow-up blow that was used in case the first swing failed to bring down the enemy. I immediately aimed at the hand Lord Crias gripped his sword with. His slash was fast, but mine was faster, and it connected first.
Lord Crias’s wrist and fingers were collectively judged to be『cut off』, and he could do nothing but drop his sword. I then mercilessly unleashed a slash with my left sword to cut off his right leg as well. Lord Crias’s right leg immediately lost mobility and froze up.
Since he was already helpless after losing his weapon and losing his mobility, I quickly finished him off by cutting his neck with my right sword.
The buzzer signifying a death penalty rang out, and a commotion erupted in the stadium once more. Lord Crias, with his neck cut off and given the death penalty, gazed up at me with a blank stare.
“W-What a shocking result! Just what happened over there!? Lord Crias suddenly dropped his sword and the match was settled in an instant!?”
“……What terrifying swordplay. There were no wasted movements in Mercenary Hiro’s sword swings at all. He completely saw through Lord Crias’ attack, predicted his moves, and perfectly countered him. His swordsmanship style combines uncanny dynamic vision, prediction ability, and unrivaled slashing accuracy and speed. Truly superb!”
I sheathed my training swords back on my sword belt and left the match stage. Lord Crias was still stunned frozen and couldn’t stand up on his own. Oh well. The officials will take care of the guy.
As I made my way back to my personal waiting area, one of the nearby spectators gave me some applause. Gradually, more and more spectators clapped, until the entire audience was up on their feet and cheering. I responded by waving my hand at them and returned to my seat.
“Hiro-sama! You were amazing!”
“It’s the result of getting beat up every day by Mei after all.”
“That’s right. It’s the result of me spilling buckets of tears and blood.”
The fighting style of Baron Crias was used on me by Mei a great number of times already. It seems that style was the basic style used by the Drawn Sword faction. They opened up the opponent’s guard by preemptively launching a lightning-fast and powerful strike. And in case the first attack got avoided, they immediately launched an equally fast combo slash to finish the job. In other words, it was a two-hit kill sword style. If I tried to receive the first slash head-on, my defense would crumble due to its power, and when I tried to avoid it, the follow-up slash would get launched immediately. And so, I got beaten up repeatedly by these two slash attacks during my training to the point of vomiting blood until I could successfully counter them…… I vomited blood again and again. It was after vomiting buckets of blood and bile that I was finally able to reliably counter this two-hit kill sword technique. But the moment I succeeded, Mei suddenly changed her moves!
Don’t just watch the opponent’s sword but the entire body in order to predict their moves, you say? Predict what kind of attack the opponent will throw at you from various positions? Learn with your body about the effective methods to respond to your opponent’s attacks? And so, Mei forcefully cultivated my ability to read ahead with such over the top training sessions.
Meh. It was easier than predicting how the enemy ships would move based on limited information from the radar. As long as the opponent was human, their range of motion was more or less fixed. It was relatively easy to remember what kind of attack they would be capable of pulling off based on their body posture.
Well, if I failed to predict an attack, I’ll be blown away by a black metal baton and vomit blood all over again after all. I was pretty desperate.
I then fought two more matches. The second person I fought was an imperial military knight. Instead of going on the attack, the female military knight focused on defense and fought me steadily. But I pressed on the attack myself instead, and after a fierce exchange of counter-slashes, I managed to incapacitate her.
The next person I fought was an elderly knight belonging to the imperial guards. This elderly knight was quite strong. He’d pull away when he needed to pull away, and attacked when there was enough of an opening. However, he was still slower than Mei, his sword was less precise, and his power was weaker. I repeatedly locked swords with him and fought at extremely close range while whittling his stamina and concentration until I managed to deliver a deadly blow to his flank. He was a great opponent.
And so, it was now my fourth match.
“To be honest, I almost gave up on challenging you since it seemed that I wouldn’t be given an opportunity.”
“Is that so.”
The man who stood in front of me had distinctly long ears. And his face resembled someone I knew very well to some extent.
“If I win against you, I will have you release Elma immediately!”
“No, uh, don’t use a precious imperial edict for something petty like that, brother-in-law.”
“Don’t call me brother-in-law!”
The elven man, Ernst Willrose, pointed a finger at me with saliva flying out of his mouth as he shouted in anger. He then brought his hand to his sword’s hilt. I drew my two swords and got into a stance myself. The buzzer for the start of the match rang out.
Ernst circled around me and launched attacks from spots beyond my reach. He never tried to close in on me and kept trying to whittle me down with numerous attacks that lacked some punch.
“Oi, oi. Getting cold feet, are you?”
“I won’t fall for such provocations!”
Apparently, Ernst has analyzed my previous battles quite well. He seems to be wary of committing to an all-out attack and eating a counter. He’s also keeping enough distance so I won’t be able to easily close in on him if I wanted to.
No matter how much I’ve trained, it would be impossible for me to attain the same level as nobles who’ve undergone the best physical enhancements since they were young. And so, I won’t be able to close the gap with an enemy noble intent on keeping his distance. …Normally, that is.
I held my breath, and the entire world started moving at a snail’s pace.
My body’s movements also slowed down a bit, but not as much as the movements of everything else around me. I closed the gap with Ernst, who now sported a shocked expression, unleashed a slash with the rest of the world moving in slow-motion, and hit the hand Ernst used to wield his sword without him being able to defend or evade at all.
“Impossible!? What were those movements earlier!?”
“It’s basic to have one or two trump cards in reserve for emergencies you know.”
I closed in on Ernst, who had already dropped his sword and whose expression was filled with utter shock, and unleashed consecutive slashes using both my swords. If I were using real swords, I would have cut his body up into four parts cleanly. The death penalty buzzer rang out once more, and the match finally ended.
“Alrighty then. Don’t mention the thing about Elma in the future again brother-in-law. I won after all.”
I left Ernst, who sported a frustrated look, and walked off the stage.
I won two more matches after this and achieved a grand victory in the swordsmanship competition.