Commence Operation – Part 05
Seriously?! He can tell from this distance? She’s at least five hundred meters away! Is it the 6 points on his Instinct?
Lawrence did not give Hikaru time to think. Lawrence leaned forward. He was aiming straight for Lavia.
No, you don’t.
Hikaru couldn’t put her in danger. He moved faster than he could think.
He threw the stone in his hand with a sidearm motion. His Soul Board had improved his strength and accuracy. If it hit the right spot, it could knock a man unconscious.
An attack from behind Lawrence, from his blind spot.
With a grunt, Lawrence turned his body around and swung his sword.
There was a sharp clink, and the stone split in half, flying left and right.
He sliced such a small target?!
Hikaru froze momentarily, shocked.
“So you were there all along,” Lawrence said. “This is the end for you.” He raised his longsword with one hand.
A shiver ran down Hikaru’s spine. He knew he couldn’t stay where he was.
The sword sliced through air, the pressure cleaving through the tall grass.
Hikaru couldn’t believe it. His swordsmanship was beyond human levels.
Shit. Fuckin’ monster!
Hikaru leapt to the side, but his left arm was hit, blood spurting out. His head was boiling hot. Just one point on Power Burst was not enough. But if it wasn’t for Power Burst, his body would have been cut in half by now.
Calm down. Calm down.
Words filled Hikaru’s head—injury, pain, what to do, death.
Times like this, you have to keep a calm mind.
He bit back the urge to scream.
First, hide the blood.
He pulled out a hand towel and tied it over the wound. He had trouble doing it with his mouth, but he managed to stop the bleeding temporarily. It should last a few minutes.
Let’s just quietly retreat for now…
Leave, and then what?
He didn’t see how he could beat Lawrence with his current Skillset.
The man could easily cut a thrown stone.
Damn it. I don’t mean to kill him, while he shows no mercy. I have to think of something—hmm?
Something was off. An odd sensation, like failing to remember the name of someone you knew.
Hikaru racked his brain hard as he ran through the bushes.
What is it? What’s bothering me?
Sweat was pouring out of his body, but he felt cold. Was it because he was losing blood?
Soul Board. A thrown stone. Cut in half. Lawrence’s slash.
He stopped in his tracks.
How did he notice the stone?
Hikaru had to be within five meters to summon Lawrence’s Soul Board. The man sensed a gaze on him, but he wasn’t certain where the enemy was.
He must have simply swung his sword in the direction from which the stone came from.
The issue was: Lawrence did not notice him even when he was within five meters, but he noticed the stone.
Because it moved away from me.
The stone was flying away from Hikaru and eventually moved out of the range of his Stealth.
Lawrence heard the wind and swung his sword.
In that case, there is one way out of this.
Hikaru came up with an idea.
A very risky gamble, the kind he had never made before.
Suddenly, Hikaru heard the rustling of bushes.
“Hikaru? Where are you?”
It was a teary-eyed Lavia.
“What are you doing here?!”
Hikaru approached her and grabbed her arm. Lavia jumped, but she immediately realized that the voice belonged to him. Hikaru activated Group Cloaking.
“I just thought… that you couldn’t beat him.”
Lavia knew. Lawrence was indeed incredibly strong. In contrast, he was just a lanky boy.
“Let’s get away from here,” Lavia said.
“We’ll be fine. We don’t have to go back to town.”
It was a tempting suggestion. His mind wobbled.
The situation was different from earlier, when he thought a life of wandering might not be a bad idea.
“Your arm!” Lavia gasped.
Hikaru was wounded. It needed to be treated as soon as possible. The only way to do that was to go back to town or find an adventurer outside who could use Healing Magic. The latter required luck.
After a bit of thinking, Lavia said, “You go ahead, Hikaru.”
“I’ll be fine. I can wait for a couple of days. Five or ten, even. I’ll be all right. I’m not hurt.”
That was not an option.
If they let Lawrence go, he would find out about Lavia’s disappearance and try to get back to Pond faster than them. And he would take this road.
Hikaru would have to bet everything on Group Cloaking to hide his injury, all the while risking the chance of running into Lawrence.
There was another possible risk. Even if Hikaru and Lavia made it to Pond safely, the town would already have learned about Lavia’s disappearance, and the guards would get to work.
After entering the town for treatment, there was a good chance of Hikaru’s wound drawing suspicion to him. Besides, what about Lavia? She would have to stay far away as the guards would be searching the area around the town.
Lavia, who had no Stealth, would have to leave and go to monster-infested regions.
It was too dangerous.
Hikaru could feel it. He was holding her hand, so he knew. She was trembling.
Lavia was scared. She told Hikaru to retreat while hiding her fear.
In that case… If we’re going to gamble anyway, might as well not leave it to chance.
Their mind would be put to the test. To overcome fear.
“I’m not heading back without you,” Hikaru said.
“We’ll take down Lawrence as planned, you and me.”
Lavia looked confused. “Me too?”
“You will be exposed to danger. But if all the options come with risks anyway, I want to choose the one where I take the future into my own hands. Would you help me?”
“…I’ll do it.”
“Are you sure?”
Lavia smiled. “The danger is nothing compared to what you did for me.”
Her hands were no longer shaking.
Hikaru’s mind was made up.
After swinging his sword toward the long grass, Lawrence approached warily, and frowned when he didn’t see a body.
But a short distance away, he found a trail of blood.
“I knew they were around here somewhere. The way they conceal themselves is worthy of praise. Not a bandit, I presume? Someone from outside the kingdom—the Empire?”
There was no one to answer his questions.
“You can run, but there is no escape.”
He followed the trail of blood. It stopped halfway, but all he had to do was follow the trampled grass.
“Strange… They can conceal their presence so well, yet these tracks look like they were left by an amateur.”
The assailant clearly passed through here. Lawrence continued following the tracks.
He found himself back out on the road.
“What’s going on here?”
Lawrence had been keeping an eye on the road. He didn’t want merchants and travelers taken hostage.
So he was certain that not a single soul passed by the highway. He could understand hiding in the grass, but it was hard to imagine them crossing the road.
“Then they’re still in the grass somewhere?”
Lawrence pondered. Come to think of it, it looked like there was another set of footprints.
His distress was understandable. Lawrence had never fought anyone who had the same level of Stealth as Hikaru. He never thought that they could cross the road in broad daylight unseen.
Hikaru had already considered crossing the highway as an escape route. As a matter of fact, he attacked from the opposite side of the road from Lavia, so that even if Lawrence dodged, Lavia would not be noticed.
However, he didn’t expect to run into her as soon as he crossed the road.
The grass on the other side suddenly caught Lawrence’s attention. He thought he saw something move. He stepped out onto the road and listened carefully, but heard nothing.
This happened all the time. Small animals were good at hiding. When humans became aware of their presence, they seemed to just vanish.
“It could be the assailant… Too many possibilities.”
One thing was for certain: the assailant would not attack again.
Lawrence was starting to think that they got away.
“Frustrating, but I suppose I should just let them go.”
He collected himself. He checked his horse—it was dead. The stone used to kill it was lying some distance away.
“A single throw from a small stone. A very capable individual, but I can’t afford to lose any more time.”
He looked to where he was headed. If he ran, he should make it to the carriage that the adventurers were escorting.
Lawrence took a deep breath. His muscles swelled up as he leaned forward.
The moment he started running, he drew his sword and held it at the ready.
He sensed a tremendous presence from the grass.
What he saw stunned him. Stunned Lawrence the Sword Saint, the strongest swordsman in the Kingdom of Ponsonia, a man who had come face-to-face with death on numerous battlefields.
An enormous magic circle was hovering in the air.
The size of a magic circle needed for regular spells was about one meter. Even Mages who were considered highly skilled in Ponsonia’s Alchemists’ Guild could, at best, only create a magic circle of about two meters.
Yet the magic circle that Lawrence saw had a radius of five meters, a feat that only the best Mages in the royal court could achieve. Symbols flickered inside like living creatures.
An incredibly huge fireball emerged from the magic circle, expanding as soon as it materialized.
“The caster… is right there!”
Lawrence spotted a hand sticking out of the grass, facing the sky.
It was about a hundred meters away. The fact that he was able to see the small feminine hand so easily was a testament to his experience and innate ability.
“I will not let you cast your spe—”
An indescribable sensation seized Lawrence.
He felt the Reaper’s gigantic scythe right at his neck.
His instinct told him that someone was out there.
Someone other than the Mage was close by.
“You can tell, huh? Instinct sure is a pain.”
The moment he heard the voice, Lawrence felt warm liquid gushing out of his throat.
He put his hand on his neck. Fresh blood stained it red.
He knew then that his jugular had been cut, but he had no idea who did it, or how they were even able to do it.
Lawrence turned and saw a boy standing with his back to him.
In his right hand was a dagger, blood dripping from its tip.
He was showing only the side of his face—a face covered in a silver mask.
“Unless you want to bleed to death, don’t move. Most people would die from this, but you’ll survive.”
“Wait! Who the hell are you?!”
After a moment of thought, the boy said, “Call me Silver Face.” He walked into the grass, and vanished.
Lawrence couldn’t move.
The magic circle had disappeared; the spell was not cast. If it was, Lawrence would have been vaporized.
The realization dawned on him: he was spared.
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