No matter how I plan it, there's no way I'll move according to the schedule Seregia told me about. It was cumbersome and it took too long, but that wasn’t the main problem. I just wouldn't be able to take it.
Before the three days are up, I'll explode and start arguing with someone or I might even run away somewhere.
Ultimately, even when the mission starts, there would be no guarantee that it doesn't include empty formalities.
"Do you have a map?"
"Did you need a map? There should be one here. Please, come this way."
I followed Seregia, and we reached the living quarters. There was a huge map stuck to the wall.
This place seems to be a conference room, since there’s a huge table in front of the wall with chairs arranged around it.
"Please wait for a moment. I need to first light a candle…"
I could see the map without light, but Seregia wouldn't be able to.
I heard her rummage for something in the dim room, so she must be looking for flint or a magical tool with similar uses.
But it's never easy to find something in the dark, especially when you didn't know where it was to begin with.
I spoke to Seregia, who was hurriedly looking through the drawer.
"It's fine. I'll do it."
I went up to the candle and used my magic.
I brought my finger that was emitting a tiny flame to the wick of the candle and lit it.
I lit up around five candles and managed to illuminate the room.
"So you could use magic as well. You're truly amazing," Seregia complimented, with a somewhat embarrassed expression.
I've been steadily practicing magic, so I can use a little bit now.
I've only gotten to the point of using Fire, and Wind Arrow, but I'll only be able to master the rest once I get past the 30th floor and receive a new book about magic.
"Yes, well, that's how it is."
Honestly speaking, it felt great to be complimented but I acted indifferent.
"I didn't think you would be a Magic Swordsman. I heard that in order to become a Magic Swordsman, you need to be naturally talented and put in a lot of effort…
"Wait. One second, please."
Seregia stopped and I asked.
"How did you know I was an swordsman?"
"Are you not?" she replied.
Seregia just inadvertently revealed that I was a swordsman. But how? There's nothing sticking out that says 'I'm an swordsman!'.
I don't have a sword. I don't have a sheath or a sword rack either. Besides my light armor, I'm completely unarmed.
After seeing my appearance and my magic just now, she should've assumed that I was a Magician, rather than a Magic Swordsman.
Even after I pointed that out, I stubbornly asked how she knew that I was an swordsman.
"Yes… well, I just knew. I knew when I saw the magic at your fingertips, and even by just looking at how your hands hang normally. You're right-handed, right? With a longsword about yay big," Seregia explained, stretching out her arms to indicate her assumed length of his longsword.
It was the length of the Thousand Arms longsword form that I often used.
"How do you know the length of my sword?" I asked.
"I saw it in the palace," Seregia said.
I don't remember drawing my sword in the palace.
"Could you please explain in greater detail?"
"I was also in the palace, so I was able to observe you, Warrior. I realized that you have three ‘intervals.’"
[PR Note: These “intervals” are actually attack ranges or the distance between him and his enemies. Think about 3 concentric circles with Ho Jae at the center. The three different “zones” represent his attack “intervals.” Depending on which ring the enemy is in, Ho Jae’s reaction will differ. slightly.]
"What ‘intervals’ are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about the intervals of your attack ranges. Firstly, from this short distance, within that interval, when another warrior has closed in, you would have immediately reacted. As your left foot stepped back this way, you would be able to react immediately. The next interval is about the distance between me and you right now. Say another warrior is about this far away. I'd say it's a range where you would be able to swing your sword after taking a single step. Then, based on your stance and the fact that you're right-handed, it'd be a sword, about this long."
After I listened to Seregia's in-depth explanation, I saw her differently.
When we had first entered the estate, she had conversed with me but had never once stepped into the range of my sword.
She had accurately measured my effective range and she had always maintained a half-step away from it. Even now, she kept her distance.
She's a genius.
Seregia's physical strength or her mana capacity may fall short to the warriors in the palace, but the level of her natural ability wasn't lacking compared to theirs; it might actually be far superior.
Her genius-like ability wasn't something just anyone could attain.
She was born with that ability.
It doesn't simply end with a detective-like observational ability.
That ability could be used on herself as well as against an opponent that she’s fighting against.
"Okay, then what is my third effective range?" I asked.
"I felt it when you spread out your mana, Warrior. Because I'm not strong enough, I don’t know for certain, but it easily includes everything within the Emperor's vicinity at the bare minimum."
I thought she'd just be a burden, but it turns out she has abilities.
"You're quite amazing," I said.
* * *
"This mountaintop will be the place where the Demon King awakens," Seregia said.
"How long will it take to go from here to the top of the mountain?" I asked.
"Even if we go by horseback, it should take at least four months."
It was much farther than I thought.
"Once you acquire the holy sword, you should be able to use the teleport magic circle to travel to the Bulut Fort. The Bulut Fortress is close to the frontlines and is also the closest teleportable location from here.”
"Then how long will it take if we go from the fort?"
"It should take a bit more than half a month."
Kiri Kiri had assured me that I would never be able to clear the 26th floor within a month . Now I understood why. There were too many empty formalities and procedures to go through.
The stage's setting was much too large.
I didn't think it would take this much time just getting there.
"Can I freely use that teleportation circle?"
"Yes, you can, but it's not in your schedule."
So I can use it.
It seems like I'll have to skip parts of the story.
Supposedly, I'll acquire the holy sword after I finish the missions, and defeat the Demon King. Yeah, no. Rather than following that storyline, I'll just defeat the Demon King myself. Yeah, that'd be better.
Acquiring the holy sword and defeating the Demon King should be enough to clear the stage.
"Knight Leader," I said.
"You can use my name," Seregia said.
"Then may I call you the Lady Cromwell?"
"You can call me Seri."
It's strangely difficult to maintain a conversation with this woman. She's fickle and she oddly seems to miss the point.
"For the next few days, I really don't think I'll need my schedule," I said.
"Yes, I agree," Seregia replied.
"So for the next three days, I'll visit the Bulut Fort. I'll go reconnoiter our enemies and prepare for the upcoming battle. I believe that would be more useful to us."
"Yes, I understand. Then I'll prepare the teleportation magic circle for you. Will you leave tomorrow morning?" she responded naturally, maintaining her characteristic poker face.
I was a bit taken aback since she was so straightforward.
Strangely, there were a lot of events that agitated me today.
"Isn't it against the rules to go off-schedule?"
"Of course it's not allowed."
"Then shouldn't you be stopping me, Lady Seregia?"
I had thought she would stop me, so I had formulated various excuses and I had even thought about threatening her if that didn't work out, but…
"I'll report that I had tried my best to stop you, but that I failed," Seregia said.
"…Ok, do as you wish."
It turned out for the best. Her actions wouldn't harm me, either.
She said she would make the preparations herself, so what is there to complain about?
Although it felt awkward, I decided to ask for another favor.
She said she would fulfill all of my requests, so let's see if she was telling the truth.
"Lady Seregia, then can you teach me some swordsmanship?" I asked.
"Did you say swordsmanship?"
"Yes, I'd like to see this world's swordsmanship."
Seregia briefly pondered on it before responding.
"I'm sorry, but I don't think I can. Because the Kunon Knight Order belongs to the royal family, it is forbidden for me to teach an outsider our swordsmanship," Seregia replied.
I recollected the knight on the 16th floor.
The knight had eagerly taught him the essence of the royal swordsmanship as if he was passing out snacks.
"Teaching our swordsmanship to outsiders is such a grave offense that if others were to find out, there would be severe punishments, like being exiled to the Kunon Knight Order. Since I'm the only member of the Kunon Knight Order, they may confiscate my wealth, so it would be difficult to just hand over the kingdom's swordsmanship."
[PR Note: Apparently, being sent to the Kunon Knight Order is implied as a PUNISHMENT.]
…Were you exiled to the Kunon Knight Order?
I didn't think it was such a severe punishment.
Since I gave her an unreasonable request, I apologized.
Also, I thought that it was quite unfortunate that she had been exiled to the Kunon Knight Order.
"It's alright. I get paid each month."
"I see… Then I'll see you tomorrow morning?"
"Yes. I'll finish the preparations and come pick you up tomorrow morning. Good night."
Seregia finished her goodbyes and left the residence.
She was a complex person in many ways. That had been our confounding first encounter.
* * *
After I had parted with Seregia, I used my Sneak skill and left the residence.
There didn't seem to be anyone with the ability to sense my presence in the vicinity.
Plus, I had used my Sneak skill, so I wasn't worried that anyone would find me.
I arrived in the castle's basement without interference. The castle's basement contained the sleeping holy sword.
There were soldiers guarding the center passageway, but when they briefly turned their attention elsewhere, I seized the opportunity and passed by them.
The holy sword was at the end of the passageway. It was stuck inside of a magic circle on the floor.
It was wildly spurting out mana and within that mana, I could feel a small trace of a God. It was definitely the holy sword.
As I got close, the holy sword hummed and began vibrating. The surrounding mana vibrated as well.
It’s just a sword… how could this be happening?
I felt an overwhelming amount of mana coming from the sword.
If this was a person rather than a sword, I wouldn't think twice before fighting him.
I grabbed the continuously humming holy sword with my right hand and drew it.
It didn't really feel like a holy sword and I just drew it from the floor.
I think I passed the holy sword's test?
A voice rang out in my head. It was the voice of a big, middle-aged man. He sounded like a narrator from a documentary.
[Warrior, can you hear me?]
It must be this sword's voice.
[Warrior, can you hear me?]
The dignified, middle-aged voice continuously asked.
If it could talk, they should've made it a girl's voice.
[Warrior, please listen to me. Please. Please . . .]
[Oh! Dear God, thank you very much! Warrior, why didn't you respond immediately? Did you know how surprised I was?]
What a talkative sword. Should I say that it's a sword with an ego?
"You're the holy sword, right?"
[Yes, of course. I am truly the holy sword. To be exact, I am a magic sword imbued with the sword spirit, Ahoubuch. I am a sword with a blessing from the great god of the blue skies. Wow. It feels great to talk after such a long time!]
[That's my name, Warrior. You have my respect, Warrior. I love you, Warrior.]
It was quite the affable sword.
It did have one flaw, though.
It said it loved me with a man's voice… when I heard that, I felt goosebumps.
"By the way, don't most of the spirits in swords have a female voice?"
[…My apologies. When I was still a human, I was born as a man.]
So he was a human before.
I wonder how he became a sword spirit.
[I'll try harder, Warrior. Like this, or like this. Shall I try to make my voice cuter?]
"No, don't, before I stick you back into the ground."
[Yes. I'm sorry, Warrior. Please don't put me back, Warrior. This is the first time I'm speaking to someone in 200 years, Warrior. Please.]
It seems like he wasn't normal even when he was a human.
The holy sword suddenly became serious, speaking calmly.
[Warrior, could you please tell me your name?]
"Lee Ho Jae."
[Yes. Warrior Lee Ho Jae, you should now be able to handle the holy sword's power. If we're together, we can defeat any wicked foe. Normally, whenever you're in danger, I'm supposed to tell you my hidden abilities one by one, but since you're the warrior who pulled me out after no less than 200 years, I'll specially tell you all my abilities from the start. First . . ."
While the holy sword told me about its abilities, I thought about the stage's difficulty.
The first mission, acquiring the holy sword was so…boring.
Perhaps acquiring the holy sword is supposed to be difficult.
If that's true, it's somewhat regrettable that I passed the mission this easily.
[…Next, justice! Love! Friendship! Cry out those words and I will shine light. With that, the magic will be invoked.]
"What would happen to an unqualified person who tried to draw you?" I asked, cutting off the holy sword.
[I'm sorry? An unqualified person? They just wouldn't be able to pull me out. And they would feel a little pain in their grip. That's all.]
"How do you determine who's qualified?"
[I determine who is qualified by their fundamental abilities. You must also be acknowledged by many gods and you must be able to handle your mana in various ways. That's because I'm fundamentally a magic sword. Of course, you must also have a certain mastery of swordsmanship.]
They're terribly specific conditions: basic abilities, being acknowledged by the gods, handling mana, and swordsmanship.
The holy sword had somewhat explained the criteria for drawing it, but it couldn't be that simple.
All those skills must be extraordinary.
Amongst them, the most difficult condition was knowing swordsmanship.
What if a challenger for the 26th floor didn’t know how to use a sword? What are they supposed to do?
Of course, it's supposed to be a party stage with a 25 person party, so at least one of them should be able to handle a sword. Maybe it's purposely set up like that.
But using common sense…
How the hell are 25 people going to get up to the 26th floor on Hell Difficulty?
The next challenger will definitely have to take on the 26th floor alone.
And if they're not proficient with a sword, they'll have to stay on the 26th floor and practice their swordsmanship.
What's worse, there's no reset on this stage.
Seriously, the difficulty is way too damn high.
Lee Hyung Jin only focuses on daggers, so even if I wanted to warn him now…
He might barely be able to use swords, but a dagger was his main weapon.
I'll tell him to start practicing with a longsword starting tomorrow.
The holy sword's conditions were terribly specific, so it wasn't easy to get its approval. The ten missions were even worse.
The difficulty was certainly hard enough.
Next, let's think about taking down the Demon King.
[Warrior? May I continue explaining?]
"No, let me organize my thoughts."
[Yes. I understand, Warrior. Take your time.]
The holy sword is definitely really powerful.
If I take into account the sword's magic spells, I'll become even stronger. If I master those and use them well, I'll be able to exert overwhelming power.
Also, the warrior who holds the holy sword becomes the leader of the five groups of warriors, and plays a pivotal role in defeating the demon king.
Theoretically, the five groups of warriors should number 125. Add to that the Empire's knights.
When we attack the Demon King, they'll probably send soldiers as well.
I tried to estimate the Demon King's strength.
"It sounds like fun."
[I'm sorry? Shall I continue explaining, Warrior?]
"No, I'm really sorry, but I think I'll have to put you back. Since it'd be theft if I just took you. I'll take down the Demon King first and then I'll come back."
I'd finally found a strong opponent, so I didn't want to borrow the sword's strength to take on the Demon King.
I want to test my growing strength.
I'll fight him once and if it doesn't work out, it wouldn't be too late to fight him with the holy sword after.
[What are you…Warrior? Warrior, please don't. Please.]
The holy sword pleaded, but I flipped the holy sword around and stuck it into the ground.
[Warrior, please. You can just keep me with you. Don't put me back into the ground . . . Warrior, wait a moment. Seriously, just wait a minute!]
I put the sword deep into the ground.
[Seriously, give me a minute…You asshole…!]
I pushed the sword all the way down until I couldn't hear the sword's voice anymore.
Its last words sounded like curses directed at me.
Was I imagining it?