‘What a strange feeling.’
A wrinkle formed between Sungchul’s eyes. He could guess who was behind the Swordslaves the moment they arrived to support him. Krill Regall, when he had given him the Bracelet of Alias, had urged Sungchul not to be surprised if something unexpected happened. He must have been talking about the appearance of the Swordslaves. What didn’t add up was why the Swordslaves were aiming at Ahmuge.
‘To hunt a Regressor in such a public place? Why use a nobody like Krill Regall for that?’
The Regressor Hunt was the deepest of secrets, enjoyed by only the most powerful of individuals. The organizers of the Hunt were all famous masters that had the complete trust of those powers. There was no way that such a no-name Mage would be used for such an important task.
‘Something is wrong. Was I mistaken?’
There was no way that Sungchul could have known that a person exists who would issue a kill order over a mere stolen staff. He decided to step back from the situation and continue observing the arena. The Swordslaves simultaneously pulled out their blades.
Vicious and chipped blades glistened dangerously in the sunlight. Ahmuge retreated and spoke to the newly appointed Drill Sergeant.
“Isn’t the Selection Match a one vs. one battle?”
The Drill Sergeant was loudly and busily chewing on some candy.
“It is time for some snacks. There will be a chance to talk after snack time.”
It was deliberate ignorance. Ahmuge smiled bitterly and tried to step down from the arena, but the Drill Sergeant spoke revealing his saw-like teeth, as though he’d been waiting for this exact moment.
“Anyone who steps down after rising to the stage will be disqualified! Thirty consecutive penalty games will be given to all who are disqualified!”
These words felt like a death sentence to Ahmuge.
‘Is this perhaps…?’
Pessimistic speculations were teeming in her mind. It had to be a trap. It wasn’t something a newbie Summoned had cooked up either, but something prepared for her by external forces.
The Swordslaves drew closer. She pulled out the Spirit Wolf Staff and summoned the two Spirit Wolves; they protectively drew together in front of her. Holding a staff in one hand and a sword in the other, she watched with cold eyes as the Swordslaves closed in.
One of the Swordslaves dove forward.
The Spirit Wolves bared their teeth as they charged towards the Swordslave. He stopped and backed up to where the other Swordslaves were, working together to slay the wolves without much difficulty.
It wasn’t an intentional cooperation, but something which occurred coincidentally. The audience cheered, but Ahmuge began chewing her lips while regretting her failed tactic.
‘I was too impatient. There’s still a three-minute cooldown before I can Summon the wolves again…’
The Summoned beasts that were supposed to guard the front had been slain all too easily. She only had her sword to attack with, but her opponents were much too tricky for her to rely on that. Swordslaves lacked in any form of personality and couldn’t be negotiated with or reasoned with. The only way to defeat the Swordslaves was by overpowering them, but Ahmuge lacked the required strength.
The Swordslaves lunged at Ahmuge. A sword barely missed, but nicked her on the neck. The sharp assault was just a few inches off from leaving a hole in her neck.
Sungchul was within the audience that was overlooking this spectacle. Unlike the others, he wasn’t observing the fight itself; he was instead examining the underlying motive to this chain of events.
‘They don’t intend to capture her. They would’ve aimed at her legs or her arms if that was the case.’
At that moment, another sword came rushing at her neck. She dodged the sword once again, but it managed to catch a bit of her hair leaving a few strands fluttering behind. This resolved one of the questions he had. The Swordslaves’ aim was not to capture, but to kill her. But why?
Sungchul moved his attention to the audience. There must be someone relaying commands to the Swordslaves. They could be using Magic or some type of primitive signal. A man soon caught his eyes. He was dressed in a worn tracksuit and a white beanie. It was a different style of clothes from usual, but his face was one which Sungchul knew very well.
‘Krill Regall. So that scum is ordering around the Swordslaves.’
He held a small whistle in his hand. It was a whistle used by the Slave Hunters. A fog of suspicion lifted from Sungchul’s mind as soon as he saw the whistle.
‘Krill is holding hands with the Slave Hunters. He must have borrowed the Swordslaves from them, but why is that guy aiming for Ahmuge? I don’t know what it could be, but one thing is clear: he’s unrelated to the Regressor Hunt.’
This meant that there was no reason for him to not go help Ahmuge. However, she was handling herself quite well on the arena. To most people, it would look as if she would soon be killed, but to Sungchul things seemed quite different. She was dodging the attacks by a hair’s breadth, but she wasn’t facing any real danger.
‘Should I sit back and watch her skills?’
He crossed his arms and leisurely observed the fight.
In that same moment, Ahmuge was dodging another blade. She could have parried it, but rather than engaging them she focused on maximizing the distance between them. That was because even though the Swordslaves’ blades might be difficult to predict, their feet were still slow. After avoiding a series of attacks, Ahmuge gained some distance and began utilizing more of the arena’s available space.
The mode of this battle changed from an encirclement to a chase. The Swordslaves were slowly chasing Ahmuge as she circled farther from the center of the arena. If they had independent thoughts, they might have been able to properly gather their strength and prevent her from escaping, but this proved too difficult for the Swordslaves with their muddled minds. It was thanks to this weakness that Ahmuge was able to utilize clever movements to delay their attacks. This scene was enough to elicit cries of admiration from the crowd, and the cheers for the delicate female underdog only grew louder as time passed.
Three blood curling minutes passed under a roar of cheers. This time, Ahmuge didn’t make the mistake of immediately summoning the wolves. She circled the outer limits of the arena while waiting for the Swordslaves’ formation to weaken. It didn’t take too long. Ahmuge allowed for some distance from the front most Swordslave, and he quickly broke formation to stab at her with his blade. She evaded the strike then held out her staff to call out the wolves.
With a sudden flash of light, two Spirit Wolves appeared by her feet.
Ahmuge rushed over with her wolves at the exposed Swordslave in a three-directional assault. The Swordslave mechanically tried swinging his sword to defend himself, but Ahmuge bravely pushed forward to draw all of its attention to herself. At this moment, the wolves lunged and sunk their teeth into the exposed neck and heel of the defenseless Swordslave.
Belatedly, the other Swordslaves tried to attack the wolves and Ahmuge, but Ahmuge pulled back the wolves and quickly retreated while watching the critically wounded Swordslave.
Color returned to the iris of the Swordslave.
The Swordslave’s shackles were undone on the moment of its death. With his remaining strength, he stretched out his hand before slumping over. Now there were only two Swordslaves remaining.
Her breath was ragged, but her expression had a bit of leisure to it. It didn’t last very long, though.
“W-what? What are these guys?”
Another group approached the stage. They were also wearing rags with hats that covered their faces. More Swordslaves. This time, five Swordslaves stepped up to the arena.
Ahmuge’s face quickly grew dark.
‘It’s over. There’s no chance with this.’
As her mind grew dull, her body also lost its strength.
‘This wasn’t why I came back…I still have a mission I need to complete!’
The difference in the level of difficulty between facing three versus facing seven opponents was incomparable. They slowly approached, seeking to overwhelm her with their numbers. The Spirit Wolves growled loudly and tried to retaliate, but they were quickly cut to shreds. There was nothing left for her other than slowly backing away and holding up her sword. She quickly approached the end of the stage.
“It is a disqualification if you step off the arena!”
The Drill Sergeant taunted while he continued to chew on his candy. It was a do-or-die moment. Just then, a face that she had briefly forgotten appeared before her.
‘Ah, that man! What is he doing now?’
Help came as if he was waiting for a signal. Ahmuge watched as a man climbed into the arena. Dressed in rags, sporting messy, unkempt hair, he was a man of few words, unpersonable and cold…yet had unbelievable finesse in cooking. Sungchul Kim had arrived.
“Stand behind me.”
He curtly said as he drew his sword. Ahmuge simply nodded her head and moved behind him.
The Swordslaves hesitated as Sungchul approached them. Sungchul’s eyes flashed.
‘As I thought…’
The Swordslaves wouldn’t attack the person wearing the bracelet. It would actually be more accurate to say that they just couldn’t. This was because its bearer was someone their controllers absolutely needed to protect, but would a Swordslave who had completely lost their will ever understand such a complex situation?
Sungchul’s blade flew towards a Swordslave’s heart. It didn’t even try dodging or defending itself. The blade easily pierced through its heart.
This was the limit of those that had lost their ability to decide for themselves. Existences that only moved on command could never decide for themselves when one command was contradicting the other. Sungchul used that weakness to drive his blade through the heart of the Swordslave.
“U-ugh…I want to go home…”
The Swordslave, who had been struck in the heart, regained its mind before dying. The Plaza was instantly filled with whispers.
“What…How did that happen?”
“Who…is that person? Is he the leader of those bums?”
Sungchul pulled off the bracelet on his wrist and handed it to Ahmuge as he whispered,
“Wear this, and you won’t be attacked.”
He stepped off the arena after leaving behind those few words. The Drill Sergeant could not threaten Sungchul with disqualification due to not only having been qualified earlier but also having the bracelet in his possession.
The Drill Sergeant only looked towards Krill Regall with confused eyes, but he didn’t receive any answer. The Swordslaves approached Ahmuge in confusion, but when she put on the bracelet, they froze like statues and refused to come any closer. Ahmuge pierced one of them in the heart just as Sungchul had done before.
“Let’s go…to victory…!”
The man wearing the red shirt fell with his blood pouring out. There was no resistance nor defiance in him. Ahmuge, who had gotten her second wind, began rapidly ’liberating’ the Swordslaves. Three Swordslaves fell in just moments, and a very low-pitched whistle rang out.
The frozen Swordslaves fell back and stepped down from the arena. The audience that had been holding their breath while watching Ahmuge’s struggle broke out in cheers. Jungshik was not an exception.
“Wow, fuck! That was great!”
Sungchul turned towards a man hidden amongst the crowds within the chaos of cheers. He had hidden his identity with a tracksuit, but the face that was hideously smeared in panic and rage was definitely Krill’s.
Sungchul waved his hand at him. Krill grew bright red with rage and disappeared with the Swordslaves.
Ahmuge approached from behind as Sungchul watched Krill leave. She looked up to him as she returned the worn brass bracelet.
“Really…I’m truly grateful.”
A heartfelt gratitude would have a sincerity that could not be expressed through flowery words.
“…I only kept my promise, that’s all.”
Sungchul turned his back to her and started walking away. There were too many people heading in their direction for them to talk any more personally. And there was also the message delivered by a Sky Squirrel that had drawn his interest.
[There is something we must discuss at length. Come to the Forsaken Church immediately.]