"Then rather than warriors, they're more like mercenaries."
"Yes. That's true. They're closer to mercenaries, who move between dimensions, and some among them hide behind the righteous mask of the Warrior group.”
TL Note: The Warrior group is comprised of mercenaries that the Empire just calls ‘Warriors’.
So that's how it was.
I had thought that the Empire thoughtlessly giving them tasks for this and that was abnormal after summoning them. Instead, in exchange for their summons, the Empire would promise to pay the mercenaries upon the request’s completion.
I can understand why they were so flustered when I was summoned by myself.
Since the ‘ordered’ item had been incorrectly sent.
"Then why does the empire cover them up under the position of a Warrior? Can't they just work as mercenaries?"
It seemed that Seregia herself didn't really understand and scratched her head.
"I also don't understand, but it probably has something to do with honor or fame. Wouldn't the royal family which makes the request, just do it to look admirable? These kinds of stories remain as legends or tales and are passed down to the future generations. If they complete their task well, they'll be given plenty of hospitable treatment and they'll be given a heavy responsibility by the Empire or they'll get the support of the subjects in the capital that may even involve a parade. If you're the type of person that likes that sort of thing…"
I thought it was likely that they'd do something like that, but I couldn't relate to it.
If you wanted to do that, you should be a celebrity instead.
Ah, would celebrities in this world not be given preferential treatment?
I conversed with Seregia about this and that along our way back to the fort that we used the portal to travel to.
It was valuable time where I could learn about this world's sensibilities and knowledge.
I also learned a lot more regarding swordsmanship.
Seregia voluntarily revealed the movements she used as well as her stances in theory and explained them to me, maybe because it would just be more comfortable or maybe because it would be better.
She explained why they were efficient, what were their pros and cons, and also in what situations you could apply them to.
It wasn't the way I trained my swordsmanship but this was also of great help to me.
From the start, I was also confident in studying theory.
Except, I just never had the opportunity to study combat theory before.
Seregia even explained the contents of what she taught to the academy students.
Since she had been a teacher in the past, I could learn some points even from the most basic content.
"Here you move swing your sword diagonally and take a step back. Then, you just need to swing your sword, stopping it right beside their waist. The reason for this movement is..."
[TL Note: To visualize, she's explaining a technique where you slash with your sword.You actually take a step back with her style; normally, you'd take a step forward, putting your weight on the front leg.]
"Then, the opponent will push into you, aiming for that gap after a large movement, so they'll rob you of the time spent on the diagonal sword swing. But in the next moment, you'd respond with a stabbing attack or you would take another step back."
"Yes. You're right. The movements are just as you see and it looks like there's nothing special to it, but this style’s distinct feature is its footwork."
"Are you talking about the steps?"
"No. Honestly, the steps aren't special either. It's just your foot should be aimed in this direction. It's unusual, isn't it?"
"Yes it is. Normally, the stance makes the foot in front bear the weight as the center of balance. That's more efficient and more comfortable. Even if you thoughtlessly land and stand in this direction…"
"Yes, that's normally the case, but if you turn your foot in this direction..."
"It seems you'd be able to kick the enemy who's pushed in and prepared for a sword strike. You may fall, but if you push them enough with your kick, even if you fall, it seems that you'd have bought enough time to stand before they can rush back at you again."
"Yes, you're correct."
In my case, I wouldn't fall after pushing them away with a kick.
It's definitely great.
"But it's not normally a technique that the knights use."
The move itself was devised under the assumption that they’re being attacked from both sides and while countering this, they must roll on the floor.
"Yes. I studied existing swordsmanship as a basis to create it. But I've honestly never tested it in actual combat."
"If they're at this level, these movements can definitely be used in actual combat. You're amazing."
Of course, I couldn't just apply her teachings directly into my fights.
I, as well as my opponents, weren't fooled by normal swordsmanship that fit inside a mold.
However, if I theoretically understand the process and the result, the cause and the effect, I could utilize its techniques into other fights or other situations as much as I want to.
It was a worthwhile experience.
At the same time, it was also pretty fun.
At least, our personalities didn't clash and since our area of interest coincided, our trip back to the fort was both valuable and fun.
That's how one week passed and we had arrived in front of the fort.
* * * * * *
I heard a deafening sound before me and I muttered when I saw the fortress gate close.
"They must have caught onto the fact that you were illicitly accumulating money, Lady Seregia."
[TL Note: Remember how she said earlier that her pockets were always full? Yeah, it's probably that.]
"No way. I don't take more than my fair share, Warrior."
So you're saying you did do it.
If they hadn't uncovered Seregia's past crimes, why are the fort's soldiers so hostile?
Just a little while ago, the soldiers that had seen us approach the fortress gate exchanged words noisily and hurriedly entered inside the fort.
Now, suddenly the fortress gate had been closed.
No matter how I think about it, it looks like they're denying our entrance.
Of course, there were a lot of things that stuck out.
Seregia and I had left unannounced and our arrival to the fort was no different.
In the process, we had even secretly used the magic teleportation circle.
We had hid in the fort, watched the battle unfold, and I had even trespassed into the battlefield.
However, I don't think those are issues that they'd lock the fortress gate over.
"What do you think?"
"I also don't really know what's going on. It seems like the commander's up there, so let's hear what he has to say."
Like Seregia said, there was a man wearing a fancy military uniform above the fortress gate.
The man who looked to be the commander yelled at his soldiers.
"Open the gate!"
Just as he ordered, the closed gates started to reopen.
"It seems like there was some sort of mistake, Warrior."
"It seems that way."
It seemed that it was some sort of mistake, but just as I had my hopes up the commander shouted again.
"Get him! Catch the thief who tried to steal the holy sword and failed!"
Huh? A thief?
Soldiers were pouring out of the reopened gate.
Seregia saw that sight and calmly asked, "Warrior. Did you try to steal the holy sword and fail?"
"No. I pulled it out and then put it back into the ground."
"Why did you try to pull out the sword?"
"I was just… curious."
To be exact, I used the holy sword's power to take a peek at the difficulty of the stage and estimate the Demon King's strength.
There was a little bit of curiosity mixed in there as well.
Seregia seemed to look at me, dumbfounded.
And rather than admonish me with that expression, she asked, "When did you draw the holy sword?"
"The morning of my first day here."
"Did you receive permission before you drew it?"
"I obviously just snuck in."
"I see. Did you take care of the surveillance crystal?"
"What's a surveillance crystal?"
"It's a magic crystal that allows someone to observe a restricted space from another location."
It seems like a magical tool that has a similar function to a CCTV camera.
I didn't even think they'd have something like that.
"So that was the problem. When you commit a crime, you have to first think about destroying evidence first, Warrior."
"Yes. I'll keep that in mind next time. Do you think it'll be alright if I just say that I had drawn it out of curiosity and put it back?"
"Probably not. Just the fact that you trespassed into the room that seals the holy sword is a serious offense. Above all, if you want to convince them with your words, you'll be arrested and have to go all the way to the capital to meet the ruling authority. And then the transfer and imprisonment process will be considerably rough. You made a mistake, so obediently following them may be correct, but I don't want to."
"Let's just run away. I had already considered disappearing, so everything works out in the end."
It doesn't seem like everything will work out in the end.
I wonder what I should do.
In any case, I have to attain the holy sword in order to clear the stage.
Should I just go right through them?
Just blindly charging through them requires the magic teleportation circle.
I don't know how to use it.
I also don't really know the location of the capital, so I can't just fly there.
While I was pondering, the soldiers that had been rushing towards me stopped in their place.
The stopped soldiers split into two columns and opened up the path.
There appeared some faces that I thought I'd seen before in that gap.
A group of around a hundred men, wearing fancy armor and equipped with weapons that looked like ornaments approached.
"Hoo hoo. We meet again," the man at the head said.
It seems they are people I've seen somewhere before, considering that he's saying that we're meeting again.
"Lady Seregia. Do you know who they are?"
"They're the warriors, Warrior."
Ah? Ahhh. They're the guys I met on the first day.
It seems that the warrior in front was the one nearby me back then.
There were two points that were surprising.
"You tried to steal the holy sword and failed, and ran away. Aren't you ashamed to be called a Warrior? Lee Ho Jae?" the leading warrior asked.
The number of surprising points went up to three.
"Lady Seregia. How do you think they know my name?"
"During the ceremony, there was a time you told us your name, Warrior. Don't you remember?"
Since I had just solved one of those surprising points, it's gone back down to two.
"Hm. So what's a fugitive doing at this fortress? Did you perhaps know that we would be coming? Our glorious Warrior group has finished all the Emperor's tests and we're on our way to defeat the Demon King that is being summoned on that mountain range."
The first surprising point was that the guy who calls himself a warrior has the holy sword.
Just because you have the holy sword, it doesn't make you a warrior.
"If you're thinking of asking for forgiveness and taking a spot within our group, then give up. We've already finished all our preparations to defeat the Demon King and we don't need help from the likes of you. Though you showed something at the capital that day…"
The second surprising point was that the prattling Warrior had acquired the holy sword and had appeared here in only fourteen days since the stage started.
It had only taken fourteen days for the contest for the holy sword to be over.
I had thought it would take around the 33 days like Kiri Kiri had mentioned.
It might've finished quicker because I, the challenger wasn't there.
Let's sort this out.
I had confirmed that the next challenger would have around two weeks to become qualified to wield the holy sword and acquire it.
Also, the entire group dispatched to defeat the Demon King numbered a little over one hundred warriors.
And the holy sword was over there.
The holy sword definitely possessed a tremendous amount of power.
It had enough power to rival the Demon King.
However, drawing out that power depended on the competence of the wielder.
That's how weapons are.
Also, if we combine the holy sword's and that warrior's strength...
It's nowhere near enough.
All the members of the warrior group would be annihilated by the Demon King.
Of course, they're supposed to be supplemented by the challengers' strength but… it still looked like it would be tough.
I summarized all the organized contents in my head and came to a conclusion.
[PR and TL Note: The next few sentences are written in fragments as is the author’s style; there are few minor edits.]
The key tasks to clearing the 26th floor are as follows:
Acquire the holy sword within 14 days.
Have a talented swordsman included in the group.
Fight the Demon King on the assumption that the Warrior group and the Empire won't be helpful.
Don't provoke the Demon King and when he's being unsummoned, send him off graciously.
Is this enough?
If socializing is a challenger's forte, they may get along with the Warrior group or may draw the Empire's support, but it won't be of much help.
I finished sorting my thoughts and Seregia was dragging the collar of my hand.
I followed Seregia's line of sight and when I turned my gaze, I saw the reddened faces of the warriors.
Behind them, the other warriors seemed to be uncomfortable as well.
Ah. I had been organizing my thoughts so I hadn't realized that I had been ignoring them this entire time.
"Sorry. I didn't hear you since I was thinking about something else. What were you saying?"
The Warrior panted and started to say something.
Come to think of it, their clothes have changed.
I guess I can understand how I couldn't identify them right away.
In a few days, they had gotten a bit fatter and their faces looked smoother.
In the case of the female warriors, their skin looked visibly milky-white.
It seems that they were supervised in the capital.
They were summoned as Warriors, so they probably received a warm welcome.
Looking at it this way, I know why the stage doesn't reset even when the round ends.
If it reset, the challengers would intentionally not clear and enjoy their thirty days in luxury and repeat without clearing.
"You, you impudent bastard! You ignore me even to the end..."
I got a hold of myself when I heard the sound of his angry yelling.
I took out a Thousand Arms from my inventory and immediately dashed towards him.
I hadn't rushed into combat because of the Warrior's yelling.
It was because the Warrior had lifted the hilt of the holy sword with his right hand.
If he had just brandished a normal sword at me, I wouldn't pay much attention to him.
Of course, it would worsen my mood.
However, that holy sword was different.
It was a weapon that could easily endanger my life with just a rough swing.
Simultaneously, I considered the Warrior who had the holy sword strapped onto his waist as an ‘enemy’.
As soon as I approached the Warrior, I plunged my longsword-shaped Thousand Arms into his chest.
When the Thousand Arms collided with the Warrior's armor, the sword snapped into two pieces.
Although I was flustered from my weapon suddenly breaking, aside from that, I calmly prepared myself.
I discarded the broken Thousand Arms and turned my body to the side, evading the course of his sword draw.
At the same time, I yanked the Warrior's wrist.
The Warrior urgently put strength in his grip so he wouldn't lose the holy sword.
Rather than unreasonably stealing the hilt of the holy sword, I manifested a sharp aura within my left palm and cut off the Warrior's wrist.
After I wrenched the stolen holy sword from his hand, the other warriors behind him dashed towards me.
Taking the holy sword from the Warrior had really only taken an instant.
Despite that, seeing as how the Warrior's colleagues that had been behind him are rushing me simultaneously, I could tell that they also weren't amateurs.
At least, compared to what I had thought.
When I saw them running towards me immediately, I stepped back and slashed diagonally with the holy sword.
No, I tried to slash downwards with the holy sword.
[Hello, Warrior. It's truly an honor to meet you again. Since I'm in your hands again, rather than that half-wit, I feel a lot better. Normally, you'd have to learn the spell, but I'll give you a special service this time.]
While the sword chattered, it flung a wave of energy from the blade.
[PR Note: For reference, it’s like Excalibur’s Exalted Blade from Warframe.]
I was surprised by the strength and the attack that had been aimed at the warriors. The warriors were surprised by that strength and the trajectory of the sword that had been aimed at the warriors suddenly turned upwards.
The sword attack flew not at the warriors, but to the rampart behind them.
And as if it were slicing through tofu, a part of the rampart was cleanly sliced off and started to collapse just like that.
The soldiers atop the rampart and the soldiers that had left the fortress gate to capture Seregia and I could do nothing but be swept away.
I saw the soldiers being buried under the collapsing rampart and couldn't help but mutter.
[Hahahaha. How is it, Warrior? I'm the best, right? Right? Would there be another sword like me in the entire world? Now, you'll go without throwing me away, right?]
"…No, this isn't a holy sword. It's a demonic sword.”